Whip Finishing with your hands

It looks cool and saves a tool

By Martin Joergensen

Proper preparation of the thread will aid any whip finish dramatically.
- Make a smooth and hard head as a foundation. The whipfinish will not add much volume if done properly.
- Make sure that enough thread is out of the bobbin holder to accept some fairly 'wild' motions of the fingers.
- Untwist the thread and flatten it by spinning the bobbin holder and running two fingers down the thread pressing it flat.
Whip finishing without a tool is not at all difficult. Lots of people use and praise the whip finishing tool which comes in many variations. I have personally never used one, and hence totally fail to see the advantages in using a tool for something that can be done by hand - faster and with better results in my opinion.
The advantage of the hands is foremost that they are always available. I personally feel that I have better control over the process, and the hands can be used to control material near the knot as well as the thread. They are just nearby anyway.

Describing in the process in words is quite difficult and it is much more time consuming to read than to do. The best way is of course learning from someone else, but I hope these pictures and this text can help.

[A] Pull the thread downwards and expose a fairly long piece out of the bobbin holder

[B] Form a V-sign with the index and middle finger of the right hand and turn the hand with the back facing yourself. The index finger is now lowest.

[C] Place the tip of the extended index and middle fingers on your own side of the thread and press a bit. (1)

[D] While constantly pressing and holding the thread tight, twist your hand 'forwards' or clockwise while keeping the thread on the two fingers.

[E] While rotating the hand you need to follow the thread on the index finger upwards with the bobbin holder to a horizontal position. (2)

[F] If properly done this will leave you with the palm of the hand facing yourself and the thread going from the bobbin holder along the hook shank to your index finger, down to your middle finger and up to the hook. The thread forms a cross and a triangle. (3) [G] Now you need to slowly rotate the hand back again - meaning 'towards' yourself or counterclockwise - letting the thread slip against your fingers. What we want is that the fingers switch position but the thread remains as it is. (4) [H] The next step is the first turn of the actual whipfinish knot. Guide the vertical strand of the thread over the horizontal strand and the hook shank. (5) This will lock down the horizontal thread against the shank. (6)

[I] When winding the thread a full turn over the hook shank, you need to let the thread slip on your fingers without loosing it. Do this by turning the hand back counterclockwise in one contious motion while you lay the thread over the shank, bringing the hand back to the starting position shown in (5).

[J] The result is seen in (7). The process is far more diffcult to describe than to do.

[K] Now repeat the twisting, slipping motion of the two fingers several times, each time adding a turn of thread over the hook shank and the horizontal thread going to the bobbin holder. (8)

[L] Each turn of thread must be laid in front of the previous

[M] When sufficient turns have been made - that's typically 3-5 - you pull down the thread with the middle finger and pull your index finger out of the loop

[N] Now you press your index finger against the back of the hook, holding the thread.

[O] When you let go of the thread with the middle a loop will form under the hook shank. (9)

[P] Tighten this loop by pulling the bobbin holder to the rear of the hook. Guide the loop in place with the fingers of the right hand and pull tight the thread. If the loop twists and becomes a knot, you will need to untwist the thread before doing this the next time.

[Q] Cut the thread

Controlling the loop
By Hans Weilenmann

While most articles/books describing a hand whip finish suggest using your bodkin/scissors/pointed object poked through the loop as their 'solution', I agree with the opinion that this would defeat the purpose of the exercise to a large extent.

And it is not necessary!

This is how I do it. My whip finish is done using my index finger and my middle finger (though thumb and index finger also works well) After making the required number of turns, the middle finger is slipped out of the loop. The index finger holds the loop tight. With the thumb and index finger you form a full circle, tips of thumb and finger touching. With the other hand you start to pull the loop tight. (Pull parallel to the hook shank to avoid 'opening' the whip-finish turns.) As the loop draws smaller the tread slides forward towards the tip of the index finger and the nails of thumb and index finger move towards the hook at the whip finish spot. In its final stage the nails only hold the 'disappearing' loop, just before it gets drawn under the turns. At no point in the process there is any slack and you are in control all the way.

User comments
From: Anne · anne·at·caorann.co.uk  Link
Submitted April 25th 2010

Thank you, thank you, I'm much better with written instructions, and was reluctant to buy a book to learn one knot, as I want to try this knot for finishing jewellery. Watching a video and trying to make the knot ties me in knots, five minutes with your instructions and I've finally mastered this, practice will make perfect.

GFF staff comment
From: Martin Joergensen · martin·at·globalflyfisher.com  Link
Submitted September 1st 2009


We also have a video of the process. It's a lot easier to show than to describe.


From: Johny U. · stoaks_320·at·yahoo.com  Link
Submitted August 31st 2009

This address below has a video of how to do it , its much easier to understand. i picked it up in no time at all. copperfly.net

Also if your thread knots up on you or twist when you pull it tight, don't pull too hard, but move the thread to the other side of the hook and give it steady pressure pull. 99.9% out of a 100% it will cinch the knot tight. P.S. DONT GIVE UP. ITS FASTER AND IT FEELS GOOD TO BE ABLE DO SOMETHING THAT PEOPLE NEED A TOOL TO DO. LOL

From: hansw · hansw96·at·gmail.com  Link
Submitted June 19th 2009

Great article. I've always used a whip finishing tool. I tried the above method, and after a couple of tries I made perfect knots! Thank you!

If you still have problems:
1. Make sure there is no twist in the thread. If there is, the loop will knot up.
2. Make sure you have a finger on the turns, when you pull the thread.
3. Make sure you keep some tension on the loop, when you pull the thread.

GFF staff comment
From: Martin Joergensen · martin·at·globalflyfisher.com  Link
Submitted December 19th 2008


There was nothing wrong here, but I have now simplified the layout, and you should be able to see everything now.


From: Barry Freeman · mbfreeman·at·telus.net  Link
Submitted December 18th 2008

Please note that Instruction H is blocked by figure 5 and 6. If you could let me know when this is fixed, I'd greatly appreciate it.

From: Nik · railcar79·at·clanwos.org  Link
Submitted July 31st 2008

I have tried for an hour and still can't get it figured out, I guess I will have to buy a whip finisher afterall.

From: ob · trebor500·at·sbcglobal.net  Link
Submitted August 19th 2006

I have read a lot on flytying and have never read it so plainly as well as illustrated as well as you've done. Thank you.

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