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Thread: yucca cordage

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    naturalist primitive your_comforting_company's Avatar
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    Default yucca cordage

    Yucca is one of those wonderful plants that can provide you with a lot of daily needs. It's leaves are full of long fibers that can be cleaned fairly easily of plant matter. The flowers and fruits can be eaten, and soap can be obtained from the leaves as well. I thought I would show my way of processing the leaves into cordage. It's really easy but time consuming.

    A flattish rock to pound with, a flat surface to scrape on, and a rock with a semi-sharp flat edge to scrape with.
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    pound the leaves all over to break up the thick material that surrounds the fibers.
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    Hold your rock at a little less than 90 degrees to the leaf. and draw it towards you. Work from the thick end toward the pointy end. The fibers along the outer edge of the leaves are a little shorter and they will pull backwards and make a mess if you go from tip-to-thick. I did this one backwards to show you the fibers being pulled against the grain. notice how some fibers are in the chaff. this is avoided almost entirely by going in the opposite direction
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    now you can see the fibers on this side. don't scrape too hard or you'll tear the fibers. Flip the leaf over and scrape the other side in the same manner to expose the fibers.
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    A pot of warm water will wash out any loose chaff that may have become tangled or stuck in with the fibers while you were working. stick them in the water and slosh them around. I accidentally discovered that this particular species LATHERS in the water. All of them contain saponins but this particular species seems to lather MORE than any of the others I've tried, like beargrass and adams needle, or even mound-lily.
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    Once they are cleaned out, I like to dry them a little. I hang them on a clipboard to dry and in a few days I take them down, roll them in my hands to crumble any chaff that's left, then remoisten them before twining.
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    For those of you who prefer more modern tools, you can replace the scraper with a dull knife or any other flat edged tool. you can replace the hammerstone with any other object flat enough to pound with. I prefer primitive tools, but the principles still apply with whatever tools you choose.
    In a pinch you can eliminate the flat scraping surface and use your leg, but you will get wet and it will stain your clothing green.

    I'll show pics of twisting into cordage when I have time to fool around with them later.
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  2. #2
    Administrator Rick's Avatar
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    One the plant material is scraped from the leaves can it be used to eat?

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    Senior Member Ted's Avatar
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    Great tut YCC! I have one the front yard,it certainly does make some very fine cordage, stronger than anything eles that I've used, thats for sure.

    I personally let them drie ,and then just rub them between my hands until the fibers are all thats left.
    Last edited by Ted; 01-31-2010 at 02:05 PM.
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    Nice tutorial. Thanks - looking forward to the rest of your process.
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    naturalist primitive your_comforting_company's Avatar
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    i have not eaten any, but would assume that it contains the same saponins and could be used to make the soap mentioned. I have some saved and drying out now to test this. I have read that beargrass leaves were eaten, and presumably in the same fashion as above.

    Ted, I find that I'm left with stubborn chunks of chaff that way. seems a bit more tedious to remove, to me. I prefer to give a good going over to remove the bulk before drying and rubbing. these are in the drying stage now and I'll rub them to remove what little chaff is left once dried.
    It readily makes cordage in this stage, but as the chaff dries, the twists loosen slightly and the splices won't be quite as durable. In my experience it is better to dry them before twining. I have several pieces I made over a year ago experimenting with both methods and the ones I twined while green have failed to one extent or another, either breaking or unraveling under a load. The pre-dried ones are still together and very much usable.
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    Default getting started

    now we get down to the meat of the matter. the actual twining is very simple to envision and understand. sometimes it's not so easy to do lol. I see lots of folks start twisting in the opposite direction if they change their grip. Once you develop your technique, it becomes a thoughtless process and you just do it. don't overthink it, just feel it.
    now, let me see if I can put into words what is going on with the cordage, then a few pictures. I'll probably break this down into sections too keep each post from being too heavy.
    We are working with two (sometimes more) strands, the strands when twisted make a cord. each strand is twisted in one direction, I prefer clockwise, and the strands are twisted about themselves, into a cord, in the opposite direction, for me, counter-clockwise. This counter-friction is what holds the whole thing, and makes it strong by displacing the tensile force across it's fibers. simple enough.

    gather your dried fiber bundles and roll each one in your hands aggressively. Flaky chaff like confetti will fall out and the fibers will fluff a little.
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    once they are all cleaned, pick one to start with. I reused the same water I washed them in, I just warmed it up on the fire. a quick dunk (not a soaking) will make them plenty pliable, without swelling. squeegee it out right quick with your fingers. If you flatten it back out somewhat at this point, you'll notice that the fibers are thicker at the base end, and thinner toward the tip. We want a nice average thickness, so split it in half, and swap ends with one half.
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    now you have a fairly even thickness fiber bundle. we want to be able to splice into each end of it as we twist, so we can make longer ropes. for stronger splice points they have to be staggered. make a bend in your fiber bundle about 1/4 to 1/3 the way down. This will be at one end of the rope. this is where our kink will be to begin our twining.
    Grab about two inches between your hands and twist in opposite directions. continue twisting in opposite directions till it kinks.
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    once it kinks, keep twisting in opposite directions and the cord will actually counter-twist itself! so easy a caveman can do it
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    once you reach one end of the first bundle, it's time to splice in.
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    Default splicing

    Fan out the last two inches or so of the end of the strand that is twined, and the one you wish to splice in. each new piece added to the rope should be rewetted, etc. as described above. stick the two fanned ends together so that two inches of each one overlaps into the other fan. close it up and start twisting. I used a clipboard to hold one piece so I could work the camera.
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    By now, you probably know whether you are allergic or not. I'm not. If you are, find some other way, but my mouth makes a good extra hand when working splices. I intentionally left this one a little tatty so you can see the beginning and end. Remember which way you are twisting relative to the cord, and don't start twisting backwards or it'll never work!
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    another splice done a little more neatly. keep everything twisting in the same direction and keep it TIGHT.
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    Now you have a nice little run of twisting before you need to splice again. you seem to lose about half the length in twists; that is to say after the first leaf, each subsequent leaf, if 2 foot long will yield about a foot of cord.
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    twist that up and keep going, adding splices for as long a rope as you want. I used 7 leaves, around 20" long, and in about 30 minutes of twisting (and taking pictures) I had about 3 foot of rope.

    I apologise for all the pictures, but it's easier to show than to tell. I hope you guys understand
    Now I'll show you how I finish the end.
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    Default The Twist

    Here's a quick show of the twist
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    the right hand, in my case, goes over the left as each strand is twisted clockwise.
    this is the pass off of strands.
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    sooner or later you'll decide it's long enough. I don't know if there its a "proper" way to finish a cord, but this is how I like to do it.
    You will end up with a splice point and some extra material left for twisting.. you could cut that off, but I like to use it. I like to merge the two strands by halfing them, putting opposite halves together, and continuing to twist. this gives a tapered thickness on the end, which has come in handy, but is considerably weaker than the whole. Tie the ends in a square knot when done and hang it out straight, or roll it up, or go tie something up with it.. it's ready.
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    finished rope and some comparisons to older rope. top one is a 3 strand twine, bottom one is some smaller diameter stuff. at least a year old.
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    hunter-gatherer Canadian-guerilla's Avatar
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    great tutorial YCC

    i think this thread is sticky material

    1 what's the longest length you've made ?

    2 what kind of strength do these have ( guesstimate ? hanging a weight from it )

    3 have you ever had any splices come apart ?
    Last edited by Canadian-guerilla; 01-31-2010 at 11:37 PM.
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    I have made about 8 foot of cordage this way in one continuous cord, only to find it was really too long to be practical. mostly I use shorter lenghts for bindings or tying things up.

    The smaller of the cords above will hold up 20 lbs easily. the triple strand held up a sizeable log, just guessing 50 lbs. I have used 2 leaves per strand (4 per section of cord) to accomplish a rope that would suspend myself from the rafters. I abused that rope quite a lot and finally destroyed it, but it was pretty tough.. oh yeah, I weigh about 150.

    my first couple ropes had very weak splices. also processing the leaves green with a lot of chaff will lend to splices coming apart. Keeping splicings and wraps tight will reduce the frequency, but it takes lots of practice to really get the hang of making nice tight splices that won't seperate. I started using longer splicings, around 2" which reduced the failures quite a lot, in conjunction with tighter twisting. the more "lap" used in each splice makes each one stronger, so if you haven't developed your splice twist, just use longer splices
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    Another great tutorial - thanks.
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    Voice in the Wilderness preachtheWORD's Avatar
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    Very good. I have made Yucca cordage, but nothing of that diameter. It is surprisingly strong.

    Since you seem to have a knack for cordage, how about a tutorial on Dogbane cordage?
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    Quote Originally Posted by preachtheWORD View Post
    Very good. I have made Yucca cordage, but nothing of that diameter. It is surprisingly strong.

    Since you seem to have a knack for cordage, how about a tutorial on Dogbane cordage?
    Here ya go.

    http://www.wilderness-survival.net/f...ogbane+cordage
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    Great job, intresting.
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    oooh. I was re-reading some info on some flowers I spotted in the garden. Cutleaf Evening Primrose (Oenothera laciniata) and the book says that the stems are fibrous and can be made into cordage. I'm gonna be keeping my eye on it for it to get big and I'll try some.
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    I found that you can just take a yucca leaf and split it into 8 sections and twist that way. Its not as good as using all of the fibers, but its much, much faster. Its good for quick shelter lashings.
    Also, why are you supposed to dry the fibers? I made cordage out of green leaves and they are still strong after 3 months.

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    When the fibers are fresh / wet, they are swolen. If you twist it right away, the shrinkage will allow your twist to get loose and your rope possibly fail. If you dry them out in the sun or otherwise, the shrinkage is minimized and your rope will last longer and not tend to deform, or unravel.
    I've made cordage from the fresh wet fibers and found that the rope tends to get a little loose for my taste, and I've also had a few to fail. I started drying the scraped leaves and that solved the problem.
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    Junior Member Sarah's Avatar
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    I followed your instructions exactly today and the results were magic! My sister and I played tug-o-war with the yucca rope; she was amazed at how strong it was haha. And it's so easy to make too. I do have one suggestion, however. When you're picking the yucca leaves, try and get the ones that are the greenest and don't have any brown spots (the spots are where the cording of the plant has rotted away) otherwise you'll be working with fibers of different lengths and it's more time consuming.

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    Good tip. Thanks.
    Glad you tried it. It's a good skill to have.

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