The one thing you can assuredly find in a barn is a bucket load of binder twine, also known as baling twine, baler twine, baler string, hay twine, hay string and probably a few other names.

I like to call it handy, because it is.


During university, several of my communications classes were spent discussing the word affordance, which in the design world means possible actions between a user and an object. For example, and I’m determined to use every inch of my degree, a chair is designed to sit on, but a user can also stand on it as a stool, therefore a chair affords us both a place to sit and stand.

And if we are looking for another great example, we need look no further than binder twine. Never a simpler item has been created with so many uses.  

It was of course invented to bind bales of hay together and has been around, in one form or another, since the 1800s. The list of affordances may not be as old, but it’s long and varied.

We can use it to fix broken hay nets, fence boards, gate closures, drooping mufflers and other such issues with farm vehicles. In times of need, it can turn into a belt, a hair tie, a bucket handle, a lead shank, a holy crap strap for riders, a measuring tape, a whisk, a clothesline and a hideous string curtain.

It can be used to tie up fans and horse toys in a stall, tie up bundles of blankets for the cleaners and as breakaway ties on a horse trailer, in crossties or with tie rings.

You can also use a length of twine to open a bale of hay in a give-and-take pulley motion. Though there are some concerns with this method 1) starting a fire as things tend to smoke a bit and 2) not using a long enough piece to burn the string on the bale causing the bit in your hands to break, thereby unexpectedly releasing the tension and you from your standing position. But in a pinch, it works a treat.

The only limitation of binder twine usage is your imagination. 

The Colors

According to the internet, twine comes in a wide variety of thicknesses and strengths. I’m not sure why I find this surprising, but I do. Admittedly, I have spent zero hours of my life pondering binder twine and I suspect this is where my surprise comes from.

Some binder twine companies work with a color-coded system, so if it’s a fine twine you want then you will go for the blue, if you are in the market for something more robust you may opt for the white. Oddly, not all twine is coded and if you want to pick a color simply because you like it or you think it works well for the season, then you can do that.  

The main ingredient in most twines is Polypropylene, which means it will still be holding your fence together long after you’re dead.

The other option is the more au naturel sisal twine that comes from the Agave Sisalana plant. It’s normally a burlap color but does apparently come in various shades and strengths. The great thing about this twine is that it’s biodegradable, which is nice.


Knots are a big concern when it comes to twine, which is something I hadn’t expected. Though, if I think about it, I can see how it might be important given how annoying it is when a bale breaks open.

So important are knots that twine is measured in knot strength, ranging from 110–500 kilogram forces (Kgf), which is how many kilograms of force a knot can handle before breaking. Tensile strength is also important and is measured the same way only on a length of unknotted twine. Once the twine is cut and knotted its strength is reduced up to 75%, which is why knot strength is the most important number.

Some machines are “single-knotters” and are used on conventional bales like the ones we lug around the barn. But then you have the “double knotter” balers that create those enormous square bales that we definitely don’t lug around the barn.

Ergo, binder twine is either categorized as a “single-knotter” or a “double-knotter.”


If your love of binder twine knows no bounds, then you will be dismayed to find out that the Kleinburg Binder Twine Festival in Ontario no longer takes place. Though it was around for more than 50 years. After that disappointing news, let me remind you that next time you find yourself in Cawker City, Kansas you might take a gander at the world’s largest ball of twine. Who doesn’t want to see that?

Thank heavens for twine

Who knew so much went into twine? All these ignorant years of pulling strings off bales and using it for all manner of things and having no idea of its knot strength or why the farmer picked the color orange. And we will never know.