Webbing varies widely in its construction and best usage. I’m going to talk about the kind you will usually see in sewing and marine supply shops to help you pick the best one for your project. I will not be talking about tubular webbing (think jack lines) or the super thick “seat-belt” webbing or others of that sort. We’re talking the regular old straps that you might use as a purse strap, inside a hem to strengthen the edge, or to attach a webbing buckle to, say, an awning. These straps are generally made of nylon, polyester, or polypropylene. Let’s dig in and see how to tell the difference!
Choosing the Right Webbing for the Project
Webbing varies in its performance characteristics depending on the material is is made of. Some of the characteristics you might care about include:
Abrasion resistance is important when the webbing may rub against other objects such as a lifeline, or other kinds of standing and running rigging.
Strength is important when your webbing is used to support loads. For sewing use most webbings are strong enough, but for webbing used to secure loads or haul things this could be significant.
Mildew resistance and time-to-dry are important in boats particularly for exterior uses.
UV resistance is obviously important in boats for exterior uses.
Stretch percentage is mostly important when the webbing is not sewn down, such as when used in awnings to attach with webbing clips. It would be annoying to get your awning cinched down nicely and then have to re-cinch it continuously because the webbing straps are stretching.
Floatation – Whether webbing floats might be important when used with fenders or other in-water uses.
Note that cotton webbing is best for decorative purposes such as purse straps. It fails mosts of the tests above as it is not durable around water or sun. If your project has a technical aspect, review the list above to determine which characteristics matter for your project, then select the appropriate material from the list below:
Comparisons of Webbing Materials
|Strength||Strong - 2000 to 10000 lbs||Moderate - 1400 to 6000 lbs||Weakest - 300 to 1800 lbs|
|Mildew resistance||Good||Good - dries quickly||Good|
|Abrasion resistance||Best - 5x the abrasion of nylon||Fair||Poor|
|Stretch||Low - 10%||Moderate - 25%||High - 50%|
|Floatation||Doesn't float||Doesn't float||Floats|
|Price (1" wide, per foot, also depends on color)||$.35 to $.59||$35. to $.45||$.15|
|Summary||Excellent all round. Good smooth finish and excellent performance makes it the choice if the price is not an issue.||Smooth, shiny to make attractive straps. Not as robust as polyester in most situations, but good enough for general purpose.||Stays strong when wet and floats, fine as seam-strengthener, but otherwise this scratchy material which pills should be avoided for aesthetic use.|
You probably have a bunch of miscellaneous webbing in your scrap pile, I know I do. If you decide you want to know which is which, here are some tests you can perform.
Cut a small piece off the webbing and put it in a glass of water. Only polypropylene webbing will float – so if it floats it’s polypro and you’re done.
Place a lighter or hot knife against the strap to perform the burn test. The smells are hard to distinguish, but between smell and ash tests you can probably figure out which is which.
Webbing Burn Test
|Smell test||oily, sooty smell||celery, fishy||asphalt|
|Ash test||blackish||white||shrinks away from flame|
Where to Get It
Sailrite – great prices but black and white only; only 1, 1 1/2, and 2 inch widths.
Strapworks – great selection of colors; widths from 3/8″ to 2″.