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WPI Technical Theatre Handbook: Rope
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There are two main categories of rope available -- natural fiber and synthetic fiber. It is not uncommon to work with both types of rope at a given theatre, so knowledge of how to properly care for and work with each rope type is important.

Manila rope, often called hemp, is made from manila hemp material, and is quite durable and strong. It is typically made up of three strands, and comes in many rope diameters. Most modern manila ropes are chemically treated to resist moisture and mildew. This treating only helps marginally, so keeping ropes dry is very important, as moisture and the resulting mildew are the largest enemies of manila rope. Manila rope is tough on the hands, so when working with it, it is always recommended that a pair of gloves be worn to avoid splinters.

Cotton braided rope does not have the appropriate structure for lifting loads, but it is a quite suited to drives and pulley systems for curtains and tie lines for soft goods. Cotton braided rope is typically soft and easy on the hands, thus gloves need not be worn when working with it.

Synthetic fiber ropes include ropes made of various man-made materials such as nylon, polypropylene, polyethylene and polyester. Synthetic fiber ropes have the advantage of being made out of continuous strands of material, as opposed to short overlapping fibers as in manila rope (Arnold, 278). These continuous fibers can not tear or separate as they can in manila rope. Other advantages such as near-complete immunity to water and mildew, chemical resistance, and a braided outer sheath make synthetic fiber ropes an attractive option for many rigging tasks.

While it's important to be familiar with the type of rope you are working with, there are some general guidelines that apply to all rope types. These are listed below:

  • Know the rope you're working with. Before you use a rope for a rigging task, be aware of its type and associated working load limits.
  • Never exceed rope load limits. In fact, always figure in for an 8 to 1 safety factor. This means use a rope that is rated for eight times the load you need to carry.
  • Avoid exposure of rope to heat, excessive light, chemicals, fumes, and ultraviolet light This means keep rope out from under stage lighting, out of direct sunlight, and away from the set painting crew. Sometimes contact with fumes or light can not be avoided. In these cases, exposure should be minimized, and special attention should be paid to the rope being used.
  • Keep ropes clean and free from abrasives. Don't drop rope into a pile of dust or dirt or drag it on the ground. If rope becomes dirty, it should be cleaned with cool water and air dried. Never put rope into a clothes dryer to dry it.
  • Coil and store rope properly. Learn to coil rope properly from someone who knows how. A coil of rope should appear very relaxed and stay in its coil with no outside help. Rope should be stored in a dry, cool room, away from direct sunlight.
  • Never bend rope sharply. This can halve the effective load bearing capability of rope.
  • When cutting rope, treat the ends appropriately. It is common to use a hot knife to cut synthetic ropes. This both cuts the rope and treats each end properly such that it will not fray. In the absence of a hot knife, synthetics can be cut with a knife and the remaining ends can be melted with a lighter or small propane torch. Natural fiber ropes require binding or a vinyl whip treatment to avoid fraying and untwisting of the rope.

next up previous contents index
Next: Wire Rope Up: Common Rigging Hardware Previous: Common Rigging Hardware   Contents   Index
Steve Richardson 2000-07-06

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