Commercially made cordage of one sort or another is available for sale almost everywhere you go so there’s no excuse not to have some in possession. Keep a bag in your vehicle with at least 100 feet of rope as well as other items like an axe, machete, fire starter, plastic tubing, fence tool, hammer, pliers, screw driver, monkey wrench, hacksaw, tin cup, canteen and whatever else you think you might need in an emergency. To provide more cordage you can attach your keys to parachute cord assembled in various ways like the popular cobra stitch. Fifty feet of parachute cord in you backpack or shoulder bag and another ten on a bracelet and you’ll have more than enough cordage on you when you need it. There are times however when you might want to preserve your cordage and instead make a quick connection between two objects by using materials available in nature. I’m referring here to something that can be made quickly and will be strong enough to hold up a shelter frame or tie three sticks together to make a tripod or perhaps used to construct cooking platforms. Readymade cordage is available everywhere if you know what to look for but in the Southwestern United States as well as most of northern Mexico plants in the Agave (Agavaceae) family make excellent string and rope. In fact, if you walk into a store and buy jute string or rope it will have come from this same family. It only takes a few minutes to make the type of cordage I’m referring to here and all you need is a pocket knife, small hunting knife or machete to cut a section of either agave or yucca. Below are photos taken of two members of the agave family that grow abundantly in the region.
Use a section of the Century Plant’s leaf to make cordage in as little as five minutes.
Yucca is also called pita in South Texas and can be used for making quick cordage.
The first thing to do is cut a narrow section of the leaves of either the agave or yucca. Be careful to keep the section as straight as possible as this will make the process easier. Cut the leaf section by bending the spike at the tip of the leaves down slightly and then by slicing at a shallow angle into the leaf.
Begin pulling the leaf section downward until the section is removed.
Yucca section is being pulled downward. You’ll want a section from 15 to 20 inches long. Remember to keep it straight as seen in the photograph below.
Here’s the same process but with the agave leaf below.
Now cut the section free from the main leaf as seen below.
Some people slap the cut agave or yucca section against a tree trunk or large branch. But if none of those things are available then simply begin scraping the pulp off the leaf using your knife, a small rock chip or a twig. Keep scraping until most of the pulp has been removed. I use my finger nails to remove all the pulp and I find this method works best for me. This should only take a couple of minutes to complete.
The process from this point when making quick cordage is somewhat different with the yucca and the agave. For the yucca I make several small cuts at the end of the leaf as shown in the picture below.
After I’ve made the cuts as shown above I begin stripping the narrow section forward towards the spike at the tip.
After stripping the sections forward towards the spike I’m left with thick strands in the photo above. These strands dry quickly and the drier they get the stronger they become. But you need not wait. This simple yucca cordage can be put to use almost immediately. You can tie strands together to make a longer section or you can employ one section for small jobs. Some people tie yucca leaves together and this works quite well but if sliced the way I’ve shown you in the photos the overall cordage will be stronger and will dry more efficiently.
Above I am doing the same process to an agave leaf but instead of cutting into the base of the section I am simply cleaning out the pulp and exposing the fibers that will dry within a few hours.
Some have suggested that indigenous people used the spikes at the end of the leaves as needles for sewing but I don’t think the process works well if done that way. Instead, think of the spike as an awl for making a hole. The size of the hole will depend on how deeply you insert the spike. If you are not going to need to make any sort of hole you can simply remove the spike and twist the fibers to make a simple cord.
This type of cordage becomes more durable the drier it gets. By the way, above is a sneak peek of the machete Bowie I’m going to show you in an upcoming post.