When I make a bull whip I write on the bolster. I don’t write and inspirational quotes or anything like that, I just write the distance every foot. This helps me keep track of where I am during the plaiting process and this will help keep me aware of the taper and what it should be at that point.
So here’s the bull whip at three feet:
And here’s the bull whip at four feet:
When I was first starting out I used to draw a line down the middle of the bolster in addition to putting marks every foot. The line used to help me keep my seam from wandering to much around the whip.
When making a longer bullwhip and using bolsters quite often you’ll have to splice two pieces of leather to get one long enough for the outer bolster. When splicing together bolsters I don’t doing them in a straight line cross the bolster. I use a diagonal splice.
This makes the splice much easier on the whip maker and reduces any possible gap in anyone area to a very small amount.
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.
Right now I’m working on a 6 foot 8 plait bullwhip. I’ve got the inner plaited bellies finished and just waiting on some grease to soak into the outer bolster. One thing I’m doing with this whip that I used to do a long time ago, but stopped is I’m tapering the bolsters thickness. So it starts out thick and gets skinnier towards the end, sort of like my weight when I’m getting ready for vacation. Here’s a quick Q&A about this:
Question: How do you do this?
Answer: To do this while I’m running it through my splitter about 1/3 of the way down I simply deepen the cut about half turn. Then about 2/3’s of the way I deepen the cut a little bit more.
Question: Does this make a better whip?
Answer: Not necessarily. The reduction of mass that I’m creating by tapering the bolster can done other ways like tapering the width of the filler strands. Tapering the filler strands is an easier and equally effective way to do this.
Question: Why am I doing it this time?
Answer: Basically to make this whip more interesting for me the whip maker.
Before tapering the thickness of the bolster I had the super fun chore of sharpening my bench splitter’s blade!
Normally I take my leather splitter to my local Tandy LeatherFactory and Andy will sharpen it for me (because he’s awesome!), however the last couple times I’ve been up there I’ve forgotten to bring it. So I got to do it by hand (insert sad face here).
I had a chance to get a little bit of work in on the 6 foot 12 plait bullwhip that has kangaroo bellies and kangaroo bolsters.
I’ve got it braided to about the four foot mark which on this whip is also the 12 to 10 plait strand drop. Unfortunately I’m not going to have a lot of time to work on it over the weekend due to my heavy performing schedule. Hopefully it will get finished monday.
Right now I’m in the middle of a little experiment. I’m making two bullwhips, these are cowhide leather bullwhips made with 8 plait overlays. Where they are different is the internal construction. One bullwhip has a flared core and a plaited belly. The other has a straight core, plaited belly and a bolster.
When I use the flared core the idea is reduce the drop off at the end of the handle foundation when using a spike for the handle. That’s the same thing that’s accomplished by using a bolster that starts at the end handle (ie not covering the whole handle). However by using a bolster you get the advantage of it filling up air pockets in between plaited layers.
Normally when I make kangaroo bullwhips I do both a flared core and a bolster that doesn’t cover the entire handle. However these whips that I’m experimenting with are cowhide whips and are intended to be made to sell for less. So the less time I can devote to them the cheaper I can sell them.
I’m hoping that I like how the one with just the flared core performs because it’s less work on my end.
I was running out of leather for bolsters, so yesterday I stopped by my local Tandy Leather Factory. I was looking at their 2-3 oz which is $5.35 a square foot. Then I noticed that they had 3-4 oz on sale for $49.99 a side! Normally I run my bolsters through a splitter to knock off any high spots, so getting a slightly heavier leather isn’t really adding much more work.
My local Tandy had just gotten a batch of these in, so I got to dig through a lot of them! The skins I bought were on the thinner side of the 3-4 oz weight and they were huge! Both of them were just over 35 feet (the average skin they had were 25ish square feet)! One was a nice clear skin, the other has some holes on the belly, however they were in an area I normally cut of so they are no big deal.
The nice thing about getting these two sides was that I was already in the area of the Tandy and picked them up, so there was no shipping or extra gas spend on them. They were a total of just under 70 cents a square foot! If you need some bolster leather now’s the time to check out your local Tandy Leather Factory!
I almost feel like I need to make a long whip so that I can take advantage of using the longer skin to make a bullwhip with a longer bolster with no splices!
I was also finally out of plaiting soap, so I cooked up a batch:
A couple of nights ago I started working on a riding crop. For this one I decided to use an exotic leather for riding crop’s hand grip. The hand grip on this riding crop is sharkskin and the core is rawhide with a cane center.
The overlay on it is 12 plait kangaroo.
There are a couple of patterns on it, but for the most part it’s a 4 seam plait.
Here’s the almost finished riding crop:
I still need to roll and shellac this riding crop.
For this being a budget signal whip it’s got a really nice crack! The construction is very simple it’s a leather shot bag (filled with lead shot of course) and a 4 plait overlay. The overlay is veg tanned cowhide leather and the cracker is plaited nylon.
The big difference between something like this signal whip and a standard one that I would make from kangaroo will be longevity. This Budget Signal Whip is an entry level signal whip and one that’s not intended for someone to still have 10 years from now. Hopefully if you get this one and crack it for a year or so and after that you’ll decide whether or not a signal whip is for you. If they are something you like you’ll invest a bit more money in a nicer whip
Here’s a picture of three of them in various states on construction:
The bottom is just a core, the middle is with the overlay plaited and the top is a completed signal whip.
I’m still working on the bullwhip for my Choose Your Own Bullwhip auction on ebay and I just posted an updated photo of the handle on the auction listing. Currently I’m working on plaiting the lash of the bullwhip and one thing that I’ve already done is plaited over the splice in bolster:
The picture above is about 1/4 of the way into plaiting over the bolster splice. I splice my bolsters at an angle which is how David Morgan taught me how to do it. I think this is the best way to do it because you aren’t adding any thing to the bolster like tape or string so it’s a nice, clean splice. Also the angle splice is very fast to cut out and to put into the bullwhip.
When I make my bolsters the completely encircle the plaited part belly below them. I also try to have them completely surround the filler strands that extend past the plaited part of the belly for as long as possible.
Yesterday I was driving home and happened to pass by MacPherson Leather in Seattle. I decided to pop in and see if there was anything that caught my eye. In their scrap bin was a piece of alligator that was big enough for a bullwhip handle:
When I got home I started work on this bullwhip! First I cut out all the cowhide leather layers:
By cutting out all the bolsters and prepping them all at once it really shaves off a lot of time in the making process. I cut them out a bit wider than I need them and split them to the thickness that I want. Then when it comes time to put them on I tweak them to fit the whip.
I had originally planned on taking some more pictures of the making of the internal layers, but was talking to another whip maker on the phone while I was working and forgot to take more pictures.
I’ve got about half of the overlay cut out (it’s 12 plait in kangaroo) and I’m hoping to find time today to finish the entire bullwhip before I leave town tomorrow for a few days.
A while ago a person who had ordered a snake whip about 1 1/2 to 2 years ago from me sent me an email saying the whip was leaking a tar like substance. Here’s one of the pictures that he sent:
He said the that he’d clean it up, but it’d just reappear again in the next day or two. I’d never heard of anything like this before and set out to do a bit of research (calling my whip maker friends).
Pretty much everyone’s first reaction was that it was weather related. However that was just everyone’s first guess. No one had ever seen or heard of this except Paul Nolan! One of the vintage Cecil Henderson whips that Paul has also does this, but he doesn’t know why.
At this point I became very curious…personally I like to know why things do things (not just how). So I offered the snake whip’s owner a trade, I’d make them a new snake whip if I could take apart the old one to see what was happening.
Before I show you the inside of the snake whip, here’s a very good tip for any whip maker, You can learn a lot by taking apart one of your own whips! That’s right, I knew what was inside this snake whip, but I learned a lot about how my construction techniques hold up by taking apart a well used whip that was about 2 years old.
Here’s the whip dissection photos:
What was happening inside the snake whip was the tar was being formed at the core and because I plait very tightly it ran out of room in the core and had to go somewhere and that somewhere was outwards. So it found the seam in shotbag and exited there.
Next up was finding its way through the plaiting, which wasn’t a big deal because the plating is all seams. So it didn’t really stop there, it just sent straight out until it hit the bolster. Now here’s where something that I already did helped, I put my bolster’s seam 180 degrees from the seam in the core. So the direction it leaked from once it got through the belly hit the side of the bolster opposite the seam.
Unfortunately once it hit the bolster it started pooling there until there was enough of it to go all the way around the bolster and get to the seam where it finally made its exit through the plaiting where it finally emerged as the tar like substance.
Simply having my bolster seam 180 degrees from the seam of the core was almost enough to stop the leaking and in fact stopped it in several other spots on the whip. However after taking apart this snake whip I still don’t know exactly what was causing the tar to be created in the first place. I don’t know if it’s part of the natural breakdown of the lead, or environmental factors…but my money is on a combination of the two.