Lead Loading a Bullwhip Handle

Lead Loading a Bullwhip Handle

This morning I got an email from someone asking about when to load the butt of a bullwhip.  There are two ways that I’ve done it:

  • Add the lead directly to the handle foundation (so it’s the first thing you do before adding any leather)
  • Add the lead after you’ve finished the overlay (so it’s the last thing you do before the knots)

Of these two times to load the butt of a bullwhip, I started out adding it directly to the handle foundation.  The advantage of doing it this way is that it makes it easy to build a nice looking knot over it.

Currently I’m adding it after I finish braiding the thong.  The advantage of this is that you can feel the whip and add the amount of lead it needs, instead of guessing like when you add it directly to the handle.  The disadvantage of doing it this way is that it takes a bit more work to build up the knot foundation, unless you are doing a more “can” shaped knot.

I don’t know if I’d say one way is right and one is wrong, just about every bullwhip maker does things their way and they have their reasons for doing it that way.  Personally I like the idea of being able to see and feel how heavy the whip is before I add the lead.  Honestly I’ve rarely changed the amount of lead that I was planning on adding based on the finished bullwhip.

Lead loaded bullwhip

I get the sheet lead that I use from a local hardware store called McLendon Hardware.  It’s a locally owned hardware store, the big chain hardware stores like Home Depot don’t sell lead.   You can also get sheet lead on Amazon.com.  I’ve always bought my lead locally from McLendon’s because it saves me shipping and while I’m there I can pick up 8 inch spikes.


11 thoughts on “Lead Loading a Bullwhip Handle

  1. The last bullwhip I’ve been working on I didn’t add any lead at all. I used a 3/8 chrome steel rod and it seems heavy enough. For fun I took extra lace and bits and pieces of ‘roo leather and made a mini bullwhip for a friend. The foundation was a nylon tube I bought from Moprgan. The handle was too light so I added leather after braiding was complete (outside). Only place here in Reno I could find lead sheeting was a train hobby store, and they won’t keep any more in stock after current supply is gone.

    1. Jeff,

      Lead loading isn’t always necessary, and when I first started making bullwhips I didn’t use any. Currently I pretty much use at least a little bit of lead in the butt of everything. I use a 3/8 spike for a lot of my handle foundations and it does contribute to the weight…but you might want to try lead loading it and see what difference it makes. It will make you a better whipmaker to know the why or why you don’t use lead.

      I asked David Morgan one time how much lead to put in a bullwhip. He told me that he uses as much as he can! Keep in mind he makes short handle bullwhips and the need the weight to make up for less leverage in the handle. He also told me that another purpose of lead loading the butt of a bullwhip is to make the handle stay firmly in your hand when cracking it. A good way to see the difference is to make a 8 or 10 foot whip (where you add the lead after the overlay is finished) and try cracking it before you add the lead…then add an 8 to 12 inch strip of lead and try cracking it. You’ll feel what a huge difference that balancing out the bullwhip has.


  2. Hey thanks for the info much appreciated. Working with your e-book and learning to make whips. I also have three other books on whip making. Thank You. Thomas

    1. Thomas,

      No problem with the help. Learning to make whips just takes time…but sometimes asking questions will streamline the learning process. One thing about whip making is that soo much of it is done by “feel” and is more art that science. David Morgan, “once told me once you make a hundred or so whips you’ll start to figure out what makes a good whip”. Keep in mind he says a good whip…not a great whip!


  3. This last bullwhip I made (8 footer) the handle was a 3/8 steel rod 10 inches long. I should tape a piece of lead on and see what difference it makes. I seems pretty balanced already, but that is my un-educated opinion. For the heel knot foundation I used a strip of tapered leather, staples, and sinew. It would not be hard to tear it down and replace it.

    1. Jeff,

      If you feel up to it you could tape a piece of lead to the whip and try it out. The only problem that I see with doing it that way is that taping it over the existing heel knot would make a very unnatural grip. A better option would be to rebuild the knot with the lead…or an easier option would be to try it on your next one.

      When I was out visiting with Joe Strain he mentioned that you’d think the extra 2 inches of leverage and weight that a 10 inch spike gives over an 8 inch would compensate for adding a bit of lead, but putting a bit on a 10 inch spike makes a difference. I agreed with him having done that experiment already.


  4. I was just wondering if there were any risks associated with having lead in a bullwhip. Obviously prolonged exposure to lead can cause cancer, but considering that the lead isn’t coming into direct contact with the skin, it would be safe I would presume? I’ve wondered about this for quite a while now.

    Thanks, Nathan

    1. Nathan,

      I’ve thought a lot about using lead and it’s safety. You’ll notice that all of my whips for sale that contain lead say that the whip has a lead loaded butt. Also in a bullwhip typically the lead is under several layers of leather, so you aren’t in direct contact with it. You probably directly touch more lead on a fishing trip than cracking a bullwhip…and you eat the fish that you just caught on the end of your line that has a lead sinker.

      Most of the health related risks are from breathing it in as a dust or vapor which you really can’t do with a bullwhip unless you throw the whip in a furnace or a woodchipper. The other major source of lead poisoning is through eating it…it’d be very hard to accidently eat your bullwhip.

      You’ve probaby seen this warning label: “WARNING This product contains chemicals, including lead, known to the State of California to cause cancer, and birth defects or other reproductive harm. Wash hands after handling.” Most computers carry that label but most people don’t wash their hands after using their laptop computer or even worry about it. My laptop has a cooling fan in it and that fan is possibly blowing lead dust out of my computer and into the air!!

      Keep in mind that a lot of children’s jewelry is made with lead and from what I’ve read at http://www.epa.gov/lead/index.html children have the most health risks from lead. Wearing the jewelry isn’t the problem, it’s when the kid puts in in their mouth and chews on or swallows it.

      Diet soda causes cancer, it seems like just about everything now days does. I wonder how hard it would be for someone that didn’t want any contact with any product that contained lead or had contact with lead to function in today society. They may not be able to use a cell phone, computer, etc.

      The thing about a bullwhip is that someone can choose to not buy one if it contains lead, it’s not something like food or water. It’s a luxury item, and they can decided if it’s a risk they want to take.

      Me personally when I’m making my bullwhips I always wash my hands immediately after handling any lead or having contact with it. My personal tollerance level with lead risk is that once it’s under it’s first layer of lead and under any string/sinew that I’m using to build up the knot, I’m not as worried about the lead while tying the knot.

      One thing I started doing recently on bullwhips where the lead is under the knot (so no yoke wrapped over it) I dip the lead in PlastiDip to put another barrier between the lead and the users hand. I basicially use that technique in my 4 plait beginners bullwhips because of how I make the overlay and knot.


  5. Hey Louie,

    Thank you for answering my question. I figured it wasn’t really an issue, and I even thought about things that you mentioned as well as wearing a lead skirt when you get an ex ray and things like that. I just was curious about it and I figured, who better to ask than a whipmaker!

    Thanks again,


    1. Nathan,

      Keep in mind that my answer to the Lead Question is based on my opinion, I’m not a scientist. However the EPA’s website is a great resource.

      I had completely forgotten about the covering you with lead to protect you from X rays…that’s a silly situation: we’re going to cover you with lead a potentially toxic substance while we blast you with xrays and another potentially toxic substance…don’t worry it’s totally safe….


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