Plaited Belly in a Bullwhip

Plaited Belly in a Bullwhip

Yesterday I did the strand prep and  plaiting the outer belly for the 8 foot 12 plait bullwhip that I’m working on. And this morning I finished plaiting the outer belly:



It got me thinking about the importance of a plaited belly in a bullwhip.  A plaited belly creates density inside a bullwhip and that density transfers energy.

The two belly two bolster construction method that the top bullwhip makers use is amazingly good at creating density within the bullwhip.  The core is compressed by the inner belly.  Then a bolster goes on to of that and the outer belly is plaited over the inner bolster.  What that bolster does is no only add shape and a bit of weight to the bullwhip but it also fills up air space.

For example if I were to make a bullwhip using only plaited bellies you’d have small pockets inside the whip where there is no leather from one of the plaited bellies.  There is no way to avoid this, that’s just how plaiting works, it doesn’t create a smooth surface.  Sure you could really minimize air pockets by using a very high plait for the belly and splitting the strands down really thin.  However I don’t imagine that would be a lot of work and wouldn’t give you an improvement over a low plait belly and a bolster…or that anyone would be willing to pay a premium for that!

So bolsters solve the problem of air pockets in between belly layers…why not just make a whip out of all bolsters (ie the only plaited layer is the overlay)?

You can do this and since a bolster is flat you don’t  have to worry about air pockets.  However you now have a density problem.  How do you get the inner layers packed in tight?  Maybe you could plait the overlay really tight and it will compress the bolsters and core?

Here’s a little video I made to demonstrate why I don’t think that would be very effective:

Basically in a whip that internally is all bolsters, the force of the plaiting is dispersed across all the layers giving you a whip that isn’t as dense as a whip that has the two belly, two bolster construction which I use.



3 thoughts on “Plaited Belly in a Bullwhip

  1. I know a cowhide whip maker who uses all bolsters and he binds over every bolster except the last one. I haven’t used one of his whips but I haven’t heard anything negative about his whips. I’m definitely not going to change from plaited bellies and bolsters though…

    1. Jeremy,

      In my opinion going all bolsters is a step backwards…however there are reasons to do it. For example cost. It’s way cheaper and faster to make a whip with bolsters and then bind them down. Binding them is going to be faster than plaiting a belly and will create a bit of compression…but not nearly what a plaited belly will give you.

      Not getting complaints about a whip and having a high performance whip are two very different things. Remember there are people that like JRZjoe’s crappy whips. I know the whip maker you are referring to and I’m not lumping him in with JRZjoe slum whips. However not using a plaited bellies does greatly reduce the time of the whip maker and that is reflected in the whips sale price.


  2. Let’s not forget that any plaited layer, whether it has 4 strands or 12, will help in reducing the wear and tear effect of back and forth bending, which a single layer cannot do. Granted in a whip made up of multiple layers of bolsters, this effect would be somewhat minimized as there would be some slipping in between each layer, but ultimately the inevitable would still happen. Whereas plaited whips, or rather whips with a plaited inside, won’t suffer this nearly as much. I will say that I think anything above a four-plait will hold up better to the bending in my opinion simply because of the pattern of the herringbone plait, but not so much that I would go herringbone bellies, which is partly why I stick to a four-strand belly. Not having to drop strands in the belly is also a big plus as is the stabilizing effect of the wide belly strands in the transition zone…

    I once handled a whip (a thin 6′ bullwhip made in roo) that was about a year old, and that thing looked good on the outside but I know the guy who made it and I know he didn’t use any bellies in it and it had the floppiest, most wet-noodle transition zone you could ever not wish to have in a bullwhip! That pretty much confirmed the whole belly & bolster construction method for me. I have whips that were used more often that that one was and were still not fully broken in after more than a year! So ya, the proof is in the pudding as they say.

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