Plaiting Soap

Plaiting Soap

I’m running low on plaiting soap, so I picked up a few ingredients at the store today:

Plaiting soap

If you’ve never made plaiting soap to lubricate the strands of lace while making a whip it’s pretty easy.  I have a container that I fill with water and dump into a stock pot.  I have no idea how much water it holds, it’s pretty much the unit of measurement I’ve used ever since I started to customize David Morgan’s plaiting soap recipe for what I liked.  I start heating that up and then I cut up about half of the box of lard and toss it into the stock pot.  Then I take three bars of the Ivory soap and grate it in to the stock pot.  I let it boil until everything is melted occasionally hitting it with a hand mixer.

Finally I let it cool off, but every now and then I give it a quick stir with the hand mixer to keep it from separating. Once it’s a solid it’s good to go!

Choose Your Own Bullwhip Update

My Choose Your Own Bullwhip experiment on ebay is moving along.  I have the outer belly cut out and attached to the handle, you can see pics of this on the auction listing at  Today I’ll plait the outer belly and probably some time tomorrow I’ll cut out and attach the outer bolster.


8 thoughts on “Plaiting Soap

    1. Leather dressing has more oils, water resistors, etc in it than plaiting soap does. Plaiting soap is used more as a lubricant while braiding than as a dressing. Where leather dressing is to replace oils and good moisture that have been lost from the leather. A small tub of pecards isn’t that much more than making a batch plaiting soap and will prolong the life of your whip better…however I guess if I had to choose between using plaiting soap as a dressing or no dressing at all then I think plaiting soap is better than nothing.

      I’ve also heard (but never tried) adding bees wax to plaiting soap to turn it into a dressing. I have no idea how much to add or if its effective.


  1. I have, at various times, added some beeswax to my plaiting soap. Not much, about a large spoonful for one-pound of fat. If you add too much, you may start noticing it but at this amount, all it seems to do is bind things a little better. I was concerned about adding any more because I didn’t want to ruin a batch of plaiting soap, so I don’t really know what the cut-off is before it starts to become a hindrance. My guess is you could add a few spoonfuls and it would still be OK.


  2. Did you ever notice after plaiting a whip with an animal fat-based plaiting soap and you let that whip sit neglected for a while that it develops a white surface mold? I’ve noticed that it occurs sooner on whips made from roo, typically drum-stuffed, and with the shellac finish worn off. Of course, the best way to prevent the moldy-looking stuff from occurring in the first place is to use the whip often and clean/dress it periodically.

    I sometimes see this happen on all of the professional whips I own, in addition to some of the whips I’ve made using the lard plaiting soap recipe and it’s something that I’ve been paying attention to over the years. I’ve noticed if the place where the whips are stored tends to be a bit more humid and/or dark over a considerable period of time, there is a likely chance that a light amount mold will develop prior to the next periodic cleaning. At an extreme case, I remember seeing David Morgan’s priceless whip collection that sit in boxes and some of them had so much surface mold that they looked like a powdered donut. I’m not 100% certain if this is mold, but it I remember asking David about this and he believes it to be mold. It would have to be sampled and tested at a lab for confirmation (costly).

    My concern is for a couple of reasons:
    1. A future customer may buy a whip from me and rarely use it. If the person were to store it in such a way that after a few years of being stored, he or she would return to an unsightly-looking whip. Sure, it can be cleaned and it might not be a problem.
    2. If it is mold, is it a mold that could cause a health issue?
    3. Is this mold actually feeding on or deteriorating the leather?
    4. Could it discolor or stain the whip?

    Based on these concerns, I usually make my plaiting soap with Crisco. I have yet to see the appearance of white mold. However, the problem with a vegetable-based fat is that it does not provide the same amount of “slip” during braiding than the lard plaiting soap. It must be lower in cholesterol or something. So I add a small amount of either paraffin wax or beeswax to it, and sometimes a touch of some other things I’ve been experimenting with.

    I remember you mentioning in a post a while ago that Joe Strain turned you on to Pappy’s dubbin. I haven’t tested it yet, but besides the mold issue and cost, how does this compare? If I remember correctly, I think I read that some folks over the pond use all kinds of things – hand lotion, stuff made with eggs, motor oil….

    Any thoughts?

    1. Don,

      If I recall right David Morgan told me that he thought the white stuff has something to do with the grease solidifying and working its way out of the leather. However I think that the cause of that is more moisture based than from the lard. I know that mold loves moisture and while it could very well be mold I think storing the whip in a dry area is much better than a cold moist area.

      In Seattle where I live it’s pretty humid due to all of our rain. I’ve only see this happen once to a one of my personal whips and I just noticed it yesterday. This particular whip was made for last summer’s performing season and for some reason I packed it away with the show in a tub in my shed instead of storing it with my other whips in the house. When I was cleaning out the shed yesterday I found the whip and it had the white stuff on it. However a the practice / back up whip from that show was stored in a closet the house didn’t get that, so that’s what leads me to think that moisture protection is a must!

      Properly storing a whip is important and if a customer buys a whip and leaves it in a cold, moist, dark shed for a while and finally takes it out and it’s got this white stuff on it, they shouldn’t be upset with you because you aren’t the one who stored it improperly or failed to maintain it. It’s the same thing as living in the an area that gets a lot of snow and they use salt on the road. If at the end of the snow season you don’t get the bottom of your car washed eventually it will start rusting out.

      On the flip side of this another problem from moisture is an overly dry whip. Someone could leave a whip out in a barn or something like that in a dry climate for a couple of years and end up with whip that has leather so brittle it’s cracking. That’s not the whip maker’s fault. I remember one time at David Morgan’s shop they had a whip come in for a fall replacement that was so dry when Meagan (even after giving it several coats of Pecards) tried to untie the fall hitch it just disintegrated.

      As for Pappy’s I love the stuff, however to use it for plaiting and with drum stuffed leather it almost overkill and wasn’t really necessary. It’s great on falls and dry leather.

      Another thing to consider is that you don’t need lard / crisco / fat in your plaiting soap. If I remember right Chris Barr only uses soap and water. I use a lot less lard that the DM recipe and it works for me. I have made some batches of plaiting soap that are just soap and water. when I apply plaiting soap it consider it as a lubricant and not something that’s adding oils to the leather. So I don’t slather it on.

      Hope that helps!


      1. Don,

        I just had an interesting development with the whip of mine that had the white stuff on it. After I found it yesterday I put it on the table in my office with the intention of cleaning it off today. Just now to my surprise the white stuff is gone! Not of trace of it anywhere. This table is near the window and gets a bit of morning sun. That (at least in this instance) supports the dressing solidifying and working its way out over mold.

        If you think about it the white stuff seems to be more common when whips are stored in colder areas. The skin may be contracting due to the cold forcing dressing / oils out of the pores.


  3. Interesting observation. It might be an instance where the dressing has leached out and solidified, however the sunlight, I’ll say, could’ve “killed” the bacteria/mold just the same. What seems to correlate is that a dark environment encourages “growth”. Cool areas encourage growth. Also, if those areas are not airy, such as enclosed spaces such as closets, sheds, boxes, etc., that encourages growth. Either way, it’s a nuisance. I suppose I don’t need to sweat it so much based on your dry-rot analogy. But I have a couple older 10-foot David Morgan’s that I don’t swing around and one of them without shellac will occasionally develop a surface haze on it if I forget to maintain it. At least once a year, I brush them down and lightly wipe Pecards on them. And I’m trying to limit the natural darkening of the whip by intentionally keeping in out of direct or indirect sunlight. They look fantastic too. One of them has never been cracked, still has the shellac on it and the cracker has not unraveled. That one never glazed on me, probably because of the shellac coating. I know, I’m a big dork…

    About your other point that Chris only uses soap & water, I can see the logic in that when using drum-stuffed hides. I’ll give this a try with different soaps and proportions to see if I like it. Thanks for the tip!

    1. Don,

      I think it’s unlikely that in an hour or two the sunlight would have killed the mold…however I’m not going to say that’s impossible either. Whatever the white stuff is proper storage and upkeep is critical in prolonging the life of a whip.

      I think you’ll be amazed with how the plaiting soap works with little or no lard. For me that changed a lot of how I thought of plaiting soap, it became a lubricant and not a dressing.


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