Bullwhips, fids and lace cutting

Bullwhips, fids and lace cutting

Yesterday I shipped out this pair of 8 plait bullwhips:


I think they came out really well and at 8 plait look pretty cool!

Now my current project is to work on two 4 plait snake whips  using the extra two shotbags that I had cut out for an order of four snake whips a few weeks ago.  The piece of leather I cut the four shotbags from was bit enough to cut six, so I had two surplus ones.

snake whip

When I was filling the shot bags I learned that on one of them I didn’t tie off the tip tight enough.  When I started to fill it the lead shot just dumped all over the floor.   It sucked to clean that up!

snake whips

A couple of days ago I stopped by a leather place in Seattle to pick up a couple of Osborne Fids (I keep setting mine down and losing them).  While I was there I noticed they had an Osborne Lace Cutter:

Osborne lace cutter

I’d only seen the picture above and was curious to see it in real life.  It was interesting, but not something that I could use.  It’s one of the lace cutters where you start with a hole in the middle of the skin and it cuts outward.  I guess if you had a perfect skin with no scars and you were cutting lace without any taper it might be useful, but it’s not for me.

While I was there the kid working the counter tried to sell me on an Aussie Strander

strand cutter

I told him that I cut by eye with a box cutter and didn’t need one.  His reply was my lace would be neater if I used a strand cutter.  I told him I cut plenty straight freehand, but he didn’t believe me.  We had a little contest with some scrap.  I cut and pared a  piece of lace about 2 feet long in the time it took him to just cut and my was much straighter than his!

But cutting free hand is a skill and not everyone wants to spend time to learn the skills made in whip making…which is fine, but by taking short cuts you will only get so far. There’s nothing wrong with using a lace cutter and I’m not saying I’m a “master whip maker” or any thing  like that, but by having a level of competency with doing things the hard way has made me more aware of the art of whip making, not just the manufacturing process of a whip.


6 thoughts on “Bullwhips, fids and lace cutting

  1. Hi Louie,
    I’ve tried cutting free hand once and it was pretty bad; lot of uneven lace that had to be resized and as a result, a lot of wasted leather.

    I am however, interested in learning it, any tips or pointers?


    1. Franco,

      Freehand cutting is something that took about three skins to get an okay level of skill with. One thing that was very helpful to me was actually seeing Joe Strain, Meagan Baldwin and David Morgan do it. The main thing is you pull the lace tight as you are cutting and use a sharp blade!

      One way I practice things that I’m not good at is on the bellies. So if you cut your bellies free hand and you end up resizing them the leather you are wasting is the stretchy part of the roo, so it’s no big loss. That’s how I practiced paring the top right of my strands.

      Also I used to be concerned about wasting leather when resizing, but as I’ve cut more and more I’ve gotten confident with knowing how the roo will stretch and cut very wide at the stretchy parts. Once again its not bid deal to waste the less desirable leather it’s no big deal.

  2. Hi Louie,
    Very nice pair of whips you have there. I have a red roohide I’m just itching to start cutting into…
    As for cutting freehand, I don’t think I could manage without my Dene Williams strander. Best investment I’ve made for whipmaking. Another tool I love is a small 3 inch bench grinder from Harbor Freight tools. It has a cable that plugs into the side with an attachment for Dremel style tools. I put a diamond tipped cutting wheel in it. I use it for cutting and shaping steel rods for bullwhip handles. What took me hours with a hacksaw and grinding wheel in my drill takes me less than 15 minutes. Also good for grinding a cutting head on a spring steel rod for a stockwhip handle. Best $35.00 I’ve ever spent!

    1. Jeff,

      I Still do a lot of cleaning up of spikes with a heavy duty file by hand. I should probably get a bench grinder at some point.

      When I get my spring steel I have it cut into 8 -10-12 inch lengths, so I don’t need to resize it.


  3. What do you think of the table mounted cutters? I hear they are slower than free hand or hand held methods like the Australian strander. Do you think that the Australian strander in the hands of someone with same years of experience could be as good as well trained free hand person in quality? Are table mounts any good cutting the strands?

    1. Madidos,

      I’ve used a table mounted cutter and it’s very slow compared to freehand. Also with a table mounted cutter or all handheld strand cutters (except the Dene Williams Strand cutter) when you cut a taper like the strands of most bullwhips it’s very difficult because they aren’t designed to do that.

      So in my opinion learn to do it free hand, you can adjust instantly to a stretchy part of the strand, it’s easier to cut around tighter corners and when you learn a skill it’s something that you will always have. For example let’s say you rely on a Dene Williams Strand Cutter and it breaks or gets lost. If you have to get them from him you may have to wait several weeks for it to show up…or they may not even be available when you need one.

      Strand cutters (handheld or mounted) can be a way to resize strands after they’ve been cut.


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