A couple of days ago I was looking at the whips for sale on ebay and I was struck by a picture that one of the makers had posted on their listing. It looked similar to this:
I’ve seen this type of picture before. Supposedly it shows the “balance point” of the whip. This is a very misleading picture. While the whip is technically balanced in that picture, there are a couple of other things going on with the physics of balance that make showing the true balance point of the whip fairly difficult by simply laying it over your finger. However if you could somehow weigh the whip in sections you could probably find the true point where half the weight is on each side…but you can’t find it with your finger like in the picture below.
Imagine this yellow hook is the handle of the whip and my belt is the lash (the belt weights a lot more than the hook):
Where’s the balance point in the picture below?
No one in their right mind would think the 5mm of the hook on my finger weigh the same as the rest of the hook plus my belt. However its balanced there because of physics.
Look at this picture of the whip balance. Is my finger at the balance point?
Here’s an expanded view so you can see the whole whip:
Notice that part of the lash of the coiled whip is under my finger. Every bit that is below my finger and under the handle is helping to add artificial weight to the handle side.
In the picture below I’ve added my belt to use as a makeshift line to show what’s below the handle side. Now it’s not much, but it’s still skewing the results.
Assuming the whip is tightly plaited the picture below is probably a better way to check the balance and in my opinion probably the most accurate way you can do it by laying it over your finger:
Notice that by laying the whip over my finger differently I’ve moved the balance point about 6 inches further up the lash. So in my opinion when someone is showing you a coiled whip balanced over their finger to show the balance of a whip, they don’t know what they are talking about and/or are simply trying to add hype to a subpar whip.
Another thing to consider
While the balance point may be near the end of the handle, that’s not where you hold it. Now I do realize that your leverage point is the end of the handle, for a whip to be truly balanced you’d need the weight that’s actually in your hand to be equal to what’s not in your hand. The handle makes a difference for putting the loop or hair pin turn in the lash to crack it, but aside from weight the stiff handle doesn’t move the balance point at all.
So in my opinion most bullwhips are point heavy by virtue of you only holding a couple of inches actually in your hand.
What does this all mean?
In my opinion the exact balance point of a whip doesn’t really matter. For example a 12 foot whip could crack the same as a 6 foot whip, but will most likely have a different balance point.
As you use the whip the balance point will constantly be changing during a crack. Let’s take the flick or forward throw as out example. To help you visualize this, I’m going to pretend that at each point we can magicially stop the whip and freeze it in its position and try to balance it with our finger.
Let’s say you start with the whip laid out in front of you, then you drag it behind you, lift it up and throw forward to get the crack. When you start out with the whip on the ground it’s handle heavy because the ground is holding a good portion of the lashes weight. as you slide it behind you the ground is still holding the lash’s weight until all the lash is off the ground. Once the lash is off the ground and the lash is essentially laid out in a straight (or almost straight) line in the air. Remember due to you only holding a few inches of the handle the whip is still point heavy.
Now you will begin to push the whip forward. As you push forward the whip quickly becomes butt heavy as soon as your hand is in front of the lash. Then as more and more the the lash moves forward the whip will once again be point heavy. Now the whip cracks and your drop your hand to your side and just like at the beginning of the crack the whip becomes butt heavy again when the ground starts to support the weight of the lash.
“So what should I look for instead of balance point?”
That’s a good question. Everyone likes different qualities in a whip, some people like a heavy lash, some people like a lighter one. Generally I think of whips balance in two ways. Each are determined by how they feel when you hold the handle. Does it feel:
1. Point heavy
2. Butt heavy
One isn’t necessarily better than the other.
However the important thing you are looking for in a whip is the actual taper of the lash. In my opinion this is more important than where the balance point it. Personally I want the lash to evenly taper from the handle to the point. That’s going to give me the best transfer of energy down the whip.
If a whip is super thick all the way to the 6 inches shy of the fall hitch it’s going to have a hard crack…but you’ll have to throw it a lot harder to get that crack.
If a whip tapers sharply right off the handle and is thin for the whole length of the lash, it’s going to be a lighter cracking whip, but you’ll still need to put some force into your throw to get a good crack out it.
Both of those tapers aren’t the best transfer of energy down the whip. Now with a bullwhip with an even taper all the way down the whip you will get the most crack for the least amount of effort on your part resulting in a more elegant crack.
A long time ago I was talking to David Morgan about why he puts lead in the handles of his whips. He said that it’s mostly to help you keep the whip from wanting to jump out of your hand when you crack it. While that is a balance thing, it’s more of an anchor thing. I like David’s thinking!