Manila Rope - No Longer the Strongest, Still a Popular Decorative Rope
Manila rope – often referred to as hemp – is a natural fiber product of a type which has been in use for thousands of years.
It is made from the ‘abaca’ or musa textilis plant, which is grown in the Phillipines and is related to the banana plant. Over the last 50 years synthetics have taken its place a lot of applications, especially where safety is involved.
Manila tends to wear from the inside (it self-abrades), so it may be unsafe even though it appears to be in good shape. And if it is stored wet, it will mildew and rot (again, on the inside first, so the damage isn’t visible). Manila rope is weakened by and should be protected from exposure to chemicals or chemical fumes. So there are certain applications where our premium unmanila is a better option.
But there are still a surprising number of cases where manilla is the experienced users first choice – sometimes because of its good feel or other preferred characteristics, sometimes because it’s what has been used in the past.
Kendra added our 1 1/2" Manila rope to her deck under the wood top rail.
“I have to say I have been bragging to friends about finding this rope from your website. You have been very helpful and we are pleased how it turned out.
My husband and I drilled the holes and pulled the rope ourselves.
Thanks again, Kendra”
Manila rope Applications and Properties
Utility contractors spec manila rope lanyards because, unlike synthetics, it doesn’t melt when it comes in contact with hot wires (it will burn in time, though). It’s also used as fliplines – with the addition of a wire rope core unless work is being performed around live power lines – by tree trimmers. The wire core construction is also used by some rock climbers as safety line.
Manila rope – without the wire core – are used, largely due to their good ‘hand’ and ability to absorb perspiration, in gymnasium and obstacle course climbing systems, and in a number of exercise and hand strength building applications. Frequent inspection and padded landing surfaces are required for climbing or other load bearing systems.
Long a standard for stage rigging, many still prefer ‘hemp systems’ over systems using stronger, higher cost synthetics. Used in diameters 5/8″, 3/4″, 7/8″ and 1″ (mostly 3/4″), its low stretch and good ‘hand’ are important here. The wire center construction is sometimes used for added strength.
Despite preferences, habits, and its-what-we’ve-always-used traditions, there are stronger, more durable synthetics for use in towing, safety, or climbing lines, or in applications where rope failure could cause damage to property or personal injury or worse.
On the other hand –
Manila is a popular choice for tug of war because it won’t snap back – potentially causing serious injuries – as nylon rope has been known to do. Manila’s good grip and ability to absorb sweat make it popular for obstacle courses and numerous strength building exercises.
Scouting projects using manilla rope in ‘monkey bridges’, pontoon ferrys, and obstacle courses.
Landscaping contractors and designers and fence contractors specify manila rope for fence rails and frames around gardens, decks, piers, and along pathways, usually in 1″, 1 1/4″, 1 1/2″, 2″ and, occasionally, 3″ diameters. It has the advantage of decomposing over time, making it the ‘greenest’ of reasonably high strength ropes.
But it also has a tendency to run over size, and when used outdoors, to shrink (temporarily)10 – 15% in length each time it rains and expand in thickness over it’s life. These dimensional characteristics should be considered when ordering. We recommend following the ‘landscaping rope’ link above for guidance.
Manila rope Alternatives
Other popular natural cordage fibers include sisal, a hard fiber that has about twenty percent less strength than manila, and jute, a soft fiber with considerably less strength than either of the above.
Sisal twine is popular in packaging and as baler twine. Sisal rope is used in industrial, decorative, and agricultural applications but is probably most familiar as the light colored rope wrapped around cat scratching posts.
Jute twine is popular for gardening use – frequently dyed from its natural tan color to a dark green. It’s also used in apparel, accessories, and craft work.