The tying of a knot may be very straightforward (such as with an overhand knot), or it may be more complicated, such as a monkey's fist knot. Tying knots correctly requires an understanding of the type of material being tied (string, cord, monofilament line, kernmantle rope, or nylon webbing. For example, cotton string may be very small and easy to tie with lots of internal friction to keep it from falling apart once tied, while stiff 5/8" thick kernmantle rope will be very difficult to tie, and may be so slick as to tend to come apart once tied.
The form of the material will influence the tying of a knot as well. Rope is round in cross-section, and has little dependence upon the manner in which the material is tied. Nylon webbing, on the other hand, is flat, and usually "tubular" in construction, meaning that it is spiral-woven, and has a hollow core. In order to retain as much of the strength as possible with webbing, the material must be tied "flat" such that parallel sections do not cross, and that the sections of webbing are not twisted when the cross each other within a knot.
The crossing of strands is important when dealing with round rope in other knots; for example, the figure-of-eight loop loses strength when strands are crossed while the knot is being "finished" and tightened. Moreover, the standing end or the end from which the hauling will be done must have the greater radius of curvature in the finished knot to maximize the strength of the knot.
Tools are sometimes employed in the finishing or untying of a knot, such as a fid, a tapered piece of wood that is often used in splicing. With the advent of wire rope, many other tools are used in the tying of "knots." However, for cordage and other non-metallic appliances, the tools used are generally limited to sharp edges or blades such as a sheepsfoot blade, occasionally a fine needle for proper whipping of laid rope, a hot cutter for Nylon and other synthetic fibers, and (for larger ropes) a shoe for smoothing out large knots by rolling them on the ground.
The proper tying of a knot can be the difference between an attractive knot and a messy one, and occasionally life and death. It is important to understand the often subtle differences between what works, and what doesn't. For example, many knots "spill" or pull through, particularly if they are not "backed up," usually with a single or double overhand knot to make sure the end of the rope doesn't make its way through the main knot, causing all strength to be lost.