Primitive tools are a great way of practicing a wide variety of bushcraft skills and can give you a fun thing to have a play around with (carefully) at the end of the project.  This how to guide will take you through the process of making a bolas which will test your knot tying abilities and then put your technique and accuracy to the test if you have a suitable space to let loose.

Before getting into the how let’s have a look at the history and uses of the bolas.  When you see the make-up of a bolas it becomes unsurprising that the name derives from the Spanish word bola meaning ball.  The styles, uses and throwing techniques do vary around the world with the key places being China, Inuits and South American Indians.  The constant theme, however, is that they are designed to entangle the target animal but this ranges from hunting of large ground dwelling birds to cattle control – so this has an impact on size, type of weights and the number of weights used.  With the design I’ll be taking you through it has no particular historical accuracy but it plays to two areas.  Firstly available resources – the bolas were also constrained by what was around so cordage styles, stones etc would change from area to area so for this example I’ve used 10mm Sisal rope and some golf balls as that’s what I had.

Secondly I wanted to focus on a knot tying technique called the monkey’s fist which is designed to weight the end of a rope ready for throwing.  I’ve never seen this knot used in a bolas but it seemed like the perfect experiment to implement it, practice a knot and it does look quite aesthetically pleasing once tied well.

So rest assured whilst I’m taking you through a particular step by step process feel free to experiment and use what you have available.

Before we start there are a few things to keep in your mind that will help you get a good end result and understand descriptions and photos.  Try and keep all turns even, give yourself plenty of rope to work with based on the size of ball/object you’re adding inside and as I’m right handed the working end is always being worked with my right hand in the photos and is highlighted by the striped tape.

Step 1 – Take time to estimate how much rope you need to allocate to create the monkey fist at the end of the rope.  It can take a surprising amount and as you’re working towards the end of the length of rope the danger is that it will run out before you’ve completed all the turns and will have to start all over again.  In total you will be making 9 turns but what I found was it helps to give plenty of excess and then tighten at the end of the process but more of that later.

Step 2 – Make three turns around one hand, working towards the end of the rope (my left in the picture) by laying it over your palm from bottom to top and over the back of your hand each time.  As you’re about to start a fourth turn stop.

Step 3 – Turn the loops at a right angle and hold by putting your left thumb inside the loops you’ve just made and the end of the rope (working end) hanging down towards the floor on the side of the loop closest to you. And then create a further 3 loops in the same manner as step 2 but this time around the outside of the first three loops rather than your hand.  This can be a little tricky as at this point you’re running out of hands to hold everything but persevere and practice because it’s worth it to get a neat finish.

Step 4 – For the final 3 turns you’re going to tuck the working end inside the first 3 loops you created and over the second set of three turns that you’ve just done.  This should start to resemble something approaching a ball shape but don’t get everything too tight at this stage as we want some gaps.

Step 5 – On the final of the last 3 turns place the working end underneath the 3 loops of the second set of turns so when tight it will hold it all in place.

Step 6 – through the gaps insert your weight.  I’ve used golf balls but stones, tennis balls etc. are all acceptable just appreciate the rounder the object the neater it will look and obviously the bigger the object the bigger the loops need to be at the beginning.

Step 7 – To complete the knot you’re now going to tighten things evenly and steadily away from the working end back along the rope to the beginning.  Take your time on this as the more attention you give the neater the final result will be – and remember we don’t want the weight flying out as it’s spinning round your head so it’s worth the effort.

Step 8 – Repeat steps 1 to 7 to create the number of bola you wish to have – in my example, and for the eagle eyed amongst you, one is on a longer length than the other two.  This has been done to help how it throws and the resulting tangle but feel free to experiment with the lengths and number of bola based on what resources you have.

Step 9 – Tie all the bolas together securely.  I can’t stress that enough as you really don’t want them flying off in several different directions if it come undone.

Step 10 – Find a large space to have a go in and make sure any spectators and breakables are well out of the way because to begin with you might find they don’t necessarily head in the direction you intend.  In terms of how to throw them there is the holding at the joining knot or alternatively hold one of the bolas weights.  Start slowly building up revolutions above your head carefully so as not to get tangled up in them accidentally and then release towards your intended target.  Stay safe and have fun.

Barry Hammick- Instructor and Woodland Wayer Alumni

Related posts