Bullwhips – Handmade by Louie

Strand Drops in a Bullwhip

February 14th, 2012

One thing that I think is important to the construction of a bullwhip is dropping strands while it’s being plaited.  Now this is something that in my opinion you have to do on some level on a bullwhip 12 plait and above (there are some exceptions to this).

If you don’t know what a strand drop is, it’s making the whip have a one point have less strands than the part before.  For example I’m making a 12 plait bullwhip, at some point you will put strands into the core making it starting at that point  10 plait.  Look at the bullwhip below:

Bullwhip

It starts as a 12 plait and ends with 6 plait point.   One of the reasons for a lower strand count towards the point is that it by having less strands you have thicker strands.   Lets say each strand at a 6 plait point is 5mm thick, then the strands of that same point would be 2.5mm thick at 12 plait.  To give you a bit of perspective 2.5mm a hair thicker than the edge of a U.S. Half Dollar.

With a thinner strand you run the risk of cutting a strand whenever you are out cracking if the whip it comes near anything remotely abrasive, like a rock.  Obviously with a thicker strand you don’t have the same problem.

Also at  the point of the whip you generally want to plait very tightly because that’s where a lot of stress is put on the lash of the whip.  With a thicker strand you can pull harder before the strand would break than with a thinner strand.

The general rule of thumb that I follow when making bullwhips (for any 12 plait and above) is that the point will have half the plait count as the beginning of the whip.  So a 12 plait whip will have a 6 plait point and a 24 plait bullwhip will have a 12 plait point.

Wait a minute…didn’t I just say that a 12 plait point had strands to thin?

Yes I did, but typically something like a 24 plait bullwhip isn’t something you’d use for everyday cracking.  That’s into collector whip territory where it’s a functional piece of art, versus something you’d take out to move cattle or for a beginner to be cracking into the dirt.

Also strand dropping shows the skills of the whip maker.  Strand drops aren’t easy to do, especially when compared to not dropping strands.  I suspect the reason most people would make a 12 plait bullwhip that’s has no strand drops is simply lack of skill of the maker or lack of pride in the finished product.

Louie
http://bullwhips.org

7 Responses to “Strand Drops in a Bullwhip”

  1. JeremyM

    Have you ever made a 24 plait whip with the strands not tapering at all? Ending in an 8 plait

    point because of so, it makes the whip fancy and still gives you the strand width at the end to

    allow you to crack it normally. Plus you don’t have to taper strands, so you can do a few things

    that makes it go really quick. For instance I hope to eventually get a good bench splitter, and

    the the bevan rossack beveler / resizer. My plan with this is for something like 24 plait, I can

    cut 1 strand really really long, stretch it, then split it all at once, and bevel it all at once. Then

    I just cut the strands to the length I need. You’ve probably tried this, but JUST in case, I

    thought I’d mention it.

    Strand drops, wasn’t it Nolan that said they’ll always be a problem? I’ve been trying a lot of

    methods trying to see which one I like best. Still working on it! I have a hard time getting past

    the fact that there is no method that we’ll never be able to completely hide a strand drop. I’m

    going to keep trying until I can get close though!

  2. Nathan

    I would also assume that by dropping strands it also helps shape the taper of the thong which would enable the whip to crack. By having the point of the whip taper it would allow more flex when the loop is formed (when cracking) allowing the energy imparted into it to increase as it travels down.

  3. admin

    Nathan,
    That is true (sort of), however you can achieve tapering of the lash by tapering the strands. So you could do a strait 12 plait and taper the strands and have a great taper of the lash. I thought about including that as a reason to drop strands, but decided against it because you can still get the desired results with a lot of strands at the point. A good example of a lot of strands at the point of a whip and the whip still having amazing taper would be this: http://www.deadringer.com.au/album/album/72plait.html

    Louie

  4. admin

    Jeremy,

    I’ve done a couple of 24 plait whips and they all had straight strands initially. I think I ended up resizing them at some point so that I didn’t have any drops until after the end of the second plaited belly. The thing with very high plait count whips is that instead of tapering the strands you are dropping them to fit the lash of the whip.

    Another thing to consider if you are going to make one long strand is paring it. I find it’s a pain in the ass to pare anything longer than 15 ish feet by hand. If you are using a lace cutting / beveling machine it’s not that much of a pain to pare longer strands, but it’s still faster to cut by hand. If you are going to use a lace cutter / beveler my advice is don’t just into it with your 24 plait whip, learn to use it with smaller projects like a couple of bracelets. While they aren’t that hard to use, there is a bit of a learning curve.

    I’ve made a lot of “Straight 8″ whips and so while I like the look of an 8 plait point, if I’m doing an 8 plait whip it’s much faster to make and the point is more durable as a 6 plait.

  5. JeremyM

    That’s what I’m saying, if cut out a single strand, of even width, that is very long ( enough length

    to cut 24 strands of varying length, wherein 8 would be the length needed the plait the whole

    whip’s length ) I would use the bevan rossack tool that Bernie uses to bevel and resize them so

    that I wouldn’t need to do it by hand. Overall that would be faster than cutting out 24 strands

    in a yoke, because you could simple go around and around the hide, not needing to back

    up to go to the next strand, not needing to measure any strands, etc. That’s where the

    bevan rossack tool would come in handy, because you could pull the entire strand, likely

    200+ ft. in length, through the beveler at once.

    I do agree with you that in general paring the strands by hand is faster, when it comes to

    paring the strands in a yoke, but the one continuous strand is where the tool would help.

    But, until I actually start a 24 plait whip, I’m not getting that tool because it would be of no

    use to me seeing as I do pare all my lace by hand.

  6. Nathan

    Good to know! Thanks Louie.

  7. Franco

    I know the question was addressed to Louie and I hope I am not being rude by chiming in here. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong on this or at any point.

    Nathan,
    the main reason why whips aren’t cut the way you described, which in theory is simpler and faster, is for two main reasons. The first is the assumption that you are working with kangaroo hide, and the second, which is based on the first assumption, is that kangaroo hides are not the same everywhere in the hide. The outside of the hide, especially around the neck, forearms, belly and hind legs, are very stretchy, while the center of the hide or if you prefer the middle of the animal’s back, is very firm and consistent.

    Why is this important? Well it’s important because the stretchy areas are weaker than the more stable leather from the center of the back. So if one were to cut a whip by cutting out a single strand round and round the hide and then simply dividing that strand into the various lengths needed, you would get a bunch of strands that would have a lot of stretch, some with less and then others with very little. But beyond the fact that they would all stretch to very different widths prior to skiving, some would break leaving you with a pile of leather that you couldn’t make a whip out of, or at least not a decent one.

    The idea of cutting the overlay as a set is so that once the most stretchy bits have been removed from the outside of the hide, the first sets to be cut out are the belly sets, which are cut with wider strands than the overlay, thereby minimizing the effect of the stretchy leather somewhat. By the time you get to cutting the overlay, a lot of that stretch has been cut out of the hide and what is left is leather that is more stable and stronger. As you cut around the hide to finally cut the tip of the whip from the very center of the hide, you are cutting those last feet from the strongest leather in the hide, which is exactly what you need at the point of the whip, since that is the area that undergoes the most stress and abuse.

    So you see, it doesn’t come out to the same thing. There is a reason for cutting out a whip in this way. I remember reading in one of David Morgan’s books that this was the custom in the Sidney shops at one time, and as you can see, with ample reasons.

    Hoping I haven’t stepped on any toes here and that this was a pertinent comment.
    Regards,

    Franco

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