Pair of bullwhips

Pair of bullwhips

Yesterday I started working on a pair of 6 foot bullwhips.  These are 4 plait cowhide bullwhips with one plaited belly.  I did do one thing different with these whips while making them, I used veg tanned split leather for the bellies.  If you don’t know what split leather is, it’s leather that  has no grain.  Basicially it’s the flesh side of a piece of leather after then split it to thin it down.

I’ve been told that Terry Jacka uses split chrome tanned leather for his bellies, so this isn’t completely new territory for whip making.  However after doing a bit of plaiting with it, I’m starting to realize why his whips are the way they are.   As far as I know most whip makers (me included)  just bind the heck out of the transitions of their whips when trying to make a “jacka-like” transition.  That will give you a stiff transition, but it’s still not like Jacka’s transition.  I think the combination of materials and binding are what make it so unique…not just the binding which is the common thinking.

I do have enough of the split cowhide to make the insides of an 8-ish foot bullwhip and I do have kangaroo in the correct  colors to make an Indy IV style bullwhip…

Here are the two 4 plait bullwhips that I started yesterday:


I should have time to finish the heel knots on these later today.  My idea for them is to have a pair of whips that are inexpensive that someone could use to learn two handed whip cracking…without spending $700-$800 for a pair of roo whips.

I made them as a pair…but not a matched pair.  What I mean by that is that the core, belly, filler and overall lengths are the same and they were cut from the same hide right next to each other.  However there are  a couple of things that I didn’t do like make sure the strand are exactly the same width at every spot or split them to the same thickness.

The goal for these whips is to have whips that are close enough but keep the cost low so that they are affordable for someone to try out two handed crackinghowever if you want and exact pair, spend the extra money and get a nice kangaroo set.


13 thoughts on “Pair of bullwhips

  1. Isn’t split cowhide weaker than full grain?

    I always thought that by removing the grain layer, a good part of the hide’s strength is also removed…

    Can you expand on what you mean by the quality of a Jacka transition? I’ve only used well-worked in Jacka bullwhips that were made well-before Indy 4, so I don’t know if his transition was very different then as on the Indy whips…

    1. Franco, i

      Split cowhide is still very strong…but not as strong as it is with the grain side still attached. With the split cowhide as bellies inside the whip I’m not really worried about it breaking. As long as it doesn’t get bone dry it shouldn’t crack or fail. Also with the bellies they strands are wider (all my bellies are 4 plait, I don’t do that 4, then 6, then 8 plait belly B.S.) so unless there is a weak spot I won’t break it while braiding a belly.

      The Jacka reinforced transition or I think he calls it progressive flexibility is where the whip is very stiff off the handle and gradually gets more flexible as it goes out for a few feet. I’ve seen some older Jacka’s where it’s not as drastic as his current whips, it’s almost like they are a caricature of an older model. The difference between the 8 foot Jacka I used to had which was 3 or 4 years old and one made 6 – 8 years ago is HUGE!

      Most whip makers myself included when they try to do a jacka transition they bind the hell out of the whip for a foot or two. That will give you a stiff whip, but it’s not stiff like Jacka’s are…his are a very unique whip. I’m unaware of any other whip maker that has tried doing a combination of binding and the split cowhide to get a transition like Jacka. I don’t know why I’m thinking of trying it. Personally I’m not a fan of his transition, but I do think it will be a fun project to try to really duplicate his transition.


  2. From what I understand, Terry Jacka uses no lead in the butt of his whips and uses a fiberglass core instead of a steel spike for the handle. I’m not sure how long the fiberglass core is, but perhaps this is also a contributing factor to how he gets his whips as stiff as he does?

    1. Nathan,

      Terry uses a little bit of lead under the heel knot of his whip and he’s used a variety of things for handles over the years. I got to crack some super old Jacka with cane handles. I’m guessing whatever his current handle foundation doesn’t taper and extend into the lash because I’ve seen well broken in Jacka’s and either there’s no fiberglass in the transition or it’s snapped in half.

      If you’ve ever handled a Jacka you’ll notice the handle definately ends, instead of gradually tapering away to nothing. The would indicate to me that he’s not using a taper piece of fiberglass…but I could be wrong!


  3. I know at this point this will sound weak, but it’s true. What Jacka does is what I’ve always been doing, with varying degrees of success…

    For example, I know that Morgan basically relies on the amount of leather at the end of the handle to support its own weight, and doesn’t do much binding in the transition zone.

    But since one of my early mentors was Bernie, bindings have always been a part of my process, and although I’m sure my approach varies considerably from his, his was the basis from where I started.

    Essentially, by always binding the next layer further than the last and by varying the STYLE (closed loop or criss-cross) of binding depending on what point on any particular layer I happen to be binding, I get different effects. For example, the criss-cross binding has more flex to it than the closed loop, but the closed loop can break if there isn’t enough support for it on the other layers. So I use both and the result is that although the whip does have a longer breaking in period, once it’s broken in, it tends to stay a bit more stable in how flexible the thing is past the handle, instead of always becoming softer and softer.

    Anyway, I don’t know if this is how Jacka does it, but it’s how I’ve been doing it. Also, my bolsters are veg tan kip, so they tend to be pretty solid once in there, this dds to the stiffness of the new whip and the transition zone.

    Just my two cents…

    1. Franco,

      I used to bind my whips for a little while right off the handle and down the lash a little bit. However I’ve stopped doing that. My reason for that is based on conversations with Joe Strain, Adam Winrich and of course David Morgan. I do bind it very tightly for about an inch and a half of the handle, but that’s it. The important thing is not whether it’s right or wrong to bind or to not bind, but that I’ve thought about it and have a reason for why I do it the way I do. Basically my thinking is that the main point of flex is right off the handle, not 12 inches into the lash. It needs a bit of reinforcement at the tip of the handle, but no where else (in my opinion).

      Now a current Jacka whip will still be pretty stiff a foot or so off the handle and when broken it will be more flexible right off the handle and then stiff for the next foot or so, then it will get flexible again at the end of the binding. This gives the current Jacka whips a very unique way that they crack.

      Also if you haven’t experimented with binding with different materials, they will give you slightly different results in the finished whip.


  4. Louie,
    well you’ve had the talks with the masters so I trust that your methods are, if nothing else, based on tried and true conclusions.

    My goal has been to make a (bull)whip that has a progressively more flexible thong, and my reasoning is this: in my mind at least (hehe) if the transition zone is reinforced at least a bit, the wear and tear on the leather will be minimized, and by having a progressively more flexible thong, the spring-like quality helps in certain forms an d usage of the whip, like hard and fast volleys.

    But having said that, I’ve also made whip that were very much like what you have described and probably closer to a Morgan, and with whips of this nature I’ve found that it is best to not use a lot of wrist action and use it like Indy uses his bullwhip.

    Anyway, thanks for the shop talk :-)


    1. Franco,

      One of the cool things about a whip making is that there are soo many right ways to do things…and if everyone came to the same conclusion, then that’d take a lot of the art out of making whips.

      Also while I’m personally not a fan of how Jacka’s whips handle, they are definately unique, and one day I hope to develop a whip style that’s mine!


  5. Hey Louie,
    I try and fololow what I learned from your tutorial and other ideas I’ve picked up from Bernie’s and comments here and there on the Internet. I started using veg-tanned cowhide split for boltsters but it tore easily. I was at Tandy Leather one day looking at kip and came across chap leather. It is about 2oz weight and has made for great bolsters. I also use it for cores. I bind each bolster on using a criss cross pattern twice for each bolster. I use artificial sinew for bindings. I don’t bind the bellies though. I would think it would cause bumps between strands where they cross over. Its like the sinew would slip into “grooves” on the belly. I bind out to about 1 foot past the handle and a little extra around the transition area. One comment I received about an “early” whip I made that it tracks well when targetting. Overall I am happy with how my whips are turning out, but I am always looking for ways to improve.

    1. Jeff,

      Whenever I’m making a kangaroo whip I always use kip for the core, I’ve found I can get it tighter than anything else…but then I’ve never tried chap leather. Maybe I could buy a core off you? Also for what it’s worth for my core I roll it grain side in, that gives me a tighter core and the belly’s flesh side being up against the core’s flesh side gives me a slightly stiffer core.

      Also for the sinew you can get it real smooth and real tight over a belly, you just have to wrap it tight! It will actually smooth out the belly. Also if it made a bit of a bump, the bolster should correct that (unless you are using the very thick sinew that Tandy sells).

      I can’t imagine how you tore the split cowhide on a bolster…unless it already had a flaw (like a scar) or there was a weak spot in it. One thing you have to think about if you use split is there is soo much friction due to its texture on both sides, that it makes things like lining up a splice in the bolster (the way I do it) harder.


  6. Interesting Louie,

    I was fortunate enough to purchase a 10 Ft. Terry Jacka Indy 4 bullwhip. I’m not exactly sure I understand the method Terry used to make it, but it definitely is unique. Having owned several whips from some of the great whip makers, it’s clear that everyone has their own preferred method for construction and the result is that each whip handles differently from one another. As you yourself said, there is no “right” way to construct a whip, it just depends on how the whip will be used, that demands certain construction techniques.

  7. Hey Louie, I had a double shoulder split from Tandy at first. I had greased the whole thing before I started using it. It was real cheap stuff I found. It had almost no strength to it at all, but compressed really well. Lots of weak spots in it. This chap leather is pretty solid and makes for great bolsters. I’ll send you a piece or two.

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