Yesterday I got an email with a bunch of questions from someone that wants to try to make a bullwhip. I’m going to answer them here because I get emails with very similar questions quite often.
Also here’s my little disclaimer, I’m still in the beginner phase of learning to make whips. I’ve been making them about a year and a few months and I’m trying to find “my style” with whipmaking. So what I say below is based on my personal preferances and experience. It could be right…or it could be wrong and I just don’t know it yet.
Anyway here’s the Q & A:
Q: I noticed that you’ve been using the spring steel for your handle foundation. In what ways is it better/different than your previous handles?
A: Spring steel if flexible unlike a steel spike. So it will bend slightly while cracking. I think that also gives the bullwhip a slightly thinner profile than when using a spike. Spring still is lighter than the spike, so you don’t get the weight that a spike has.
Q: One thing that I’m curious about is how the handle is weighted for a given length whip? You already have several layers of braiding/bolsters over the steel so how is the weight added?
A: I’ve done this several ways. you can add the lead directly to the spike and have the leather start just past the lead. Or you can add the lead on top of the a layer or two of leather (currently this is my preferred method). Finally you can can the leather on top of all the layers of leather. Obviously you can get a bit more lead and weight with the first method, but securing the lead to the spike gets tricky.
Q: After the overlay is plaited, how is the knob started and built up/shaped?
A: The knot foundation is under the yoke of the overlay. If you aren’t using lead, then it’s a strip of leather. If you are using leather than the foundation is the lead and the yoke(s) over it.
Q: What weight hide do you use for your whips?
A: I use whatever kangaroo I can get! This is more of a personal preference (in my opinion). For Indy Style bullwhips I think part of the look comes from using the heavy hides from David Morgan. But for a non-indy bullwhip I normally use a medium kangaroo hide.
Q: Do you use just kangaroo for all layers of the whip?
A: I use kangaroo for the braided layers and Kip/Calf for the bolsters and core.
Q: What leather do you use for the falls?
A: I use whitehide, but pretty much any leather of the proper thickness works.
Q: How do you cut/taper your strands? Strand cutter?
A: I freehand cut my strands with a knife. It’s a pain in the butt to learn, but worth taking the time and wasting a hide or two to learn. You’ll waste a hide or two learning to use a strand cutter as well, so learning free hand in my opinon is a better option. It’s faster and you get better results because it’s easier to adjust on the fly as you are cutting when you get to a stretchy part, scar, etc.
Q: Just how ‘perfect’ must the strand width be as your cutting? Is there some room for error (i.e. varying differences in wide/narrow cutting) or does it need to be spot on?
A: In a perfect world all my strands would be spot on, but they aren’t. Since a bullwhip is a handcrafted item, so none of your strands are going to be perfectly straight and exactly the same width (unless you are someone like Joe Strain).
Q: Do you stretch the hide before cutting strands to alleviate/lessen the stretch of strands when braiding? If so, what technique do you use?
A: I cut the set for the belly or overlay, then I stretch the strands before I pare them. As for technique I put the yoke in a vise and grab each strand at the base and pull as I move my hand towards the tip of the strand.
Q: Finally, how many hides should initially be purchased for working on the first few whips?
A: Depends on your budget and desire. Your first whip will take you a while to make and remember that you will mangle at least a hide learning to freehand cut (or learning to use a strand cutter). The mangled strand can still be used to make a whip, they will just be pretty wavy. I get about 4-6 hides at a time when ordering from Australia because that seems to offset the shipping a bit. Ordering just one hide from Australia isn’t really cost effective. When I get hides from Morgan I get them one at a time because he’s local in my area, so it pick them up and it saves on shipping and it’s a great excuse to chat with him.
I hope that answers some questions about getting started making a bullwhip.