Here’s an email I got recently:
…I’m currently playing Slim, the jerk line skinner in a community theater production of ‘Of Mice and Men’. Stage directions indicated Slim is making a leather bullwhip while all the dialog takes place in act 2. I like historical accuracy and verisimilitude, plus I’ve always wanted to do leatherwork. I would love any feedback you can give me on kits or supplies and instructions for making an historically authentic (1930s) working mans bullwhip.
Even just some whip lore would be great. Thank you,
I just want to give you a heads up that a bullwhip typically isn’t something I’d recommend as an introduction to leather braiding. I’d recommend you get the book Braiding Fine Leather by David Morgan and work on a couple of the projects in that book before tackling a bullwhip to learn the basics of plaiting. Once you’ve made some of the easier projects you’ll have a lot more success with your first bullwhip.
As for making something that is historically accurate, pretty much not a lot has changed in the whip industry from 1930’s the tools etc are pretty much the same, a knife and a hook on the wall. In my opinion it’s gotten less high tech because there aren’t really any big whip making companies that use machines to braid anymore, it’s become a “craft industry” where it’s all hand done.
For the history of whips and some info about whip making, I’d recommend reading David Morgan’s Whips and Whip Making and for the history of whips in the USA you should read Whips of the West by David Morgan.
Hope that helps,
On July 8th the world of whips and whip making suffered a HUGE loss with the passing of David Morgan. The next four paragraphs are from the David Morgan company’s facebook page:
David Morgan of Woodinville, WA died July 8, 2015. Born May 21, 1925 in Vancouver, Canada, David is survived by his wife of 62 years, Dorothy, their four children (Olwen (Robert Ruggeri); Barbara (Chip Zukoski); Meredith (Ed Orton) and Will), six grandchildren and one great grandchild.
David was a metallurgist by training and an entrepreneur by nature. He and Dorothy founded Austral Enterprises in 1962, which continues to this day as David Morgan, LLC.
David was kind, helpful, gregarious, generous, and an excellent problem-solver. He will be missed. The family wishes to express gratitude to Lawrence and Michelle’s Adult Family Home for the loving care they provided.
Services will be private. In lieu of flowers or contributions please do something kind or helpful in David’s name. David W Morgan, co-founder of David Morgan LLC, died on July 8, 2015 at 90 years of age.
I was very fortunate to discover that David Morgan’s shop wasn’t too far away from where I lived when I first got into whip making. I’ll never forget showing him a whip that I was proud of and him pointing out all the mistakes that I made. That “tough love” really helped make me a better whip maker.
I learned to plait from the Ron Edwards books, however I learned to plait correctly by having David show me all the places where I had extra movement or was just plain doing it wrong.
Pretty much all the skills that I use to make a whip David helped me with and was always very generous with his time and I will miss him!
I’ve been very busy lately, and yesterday ran up to David Morgan bullwhips to pick up another kangaroo skin.
One of the very cool things living so close to David Morgan is that I don’t need to keep a huge stock of kangaroo. I can go up and pick through their stock and find the exact skin I need! It’s pretty awesome!
A couple days ago I popped by David Morgan again to pick up another kangaroo skin. This skin is 58 dm and will be for a 6 foot bullwhip:
Here’s the skin after the initial trim:
Today I’ll be making the internal layers of the whip and tomorrow I’ll start work on the overlay.
Seems like I always need a kangaroo skin that’s a color I don’t have in stock. So that means a quick drive up to David Morgan to pick one out.
I picked out a 70 dm heavy kangaroo skin in black.
This is going to be parts of several different whips.
I’m very fortunate to live in the Seattle area where I’m very close to David Morgan. Whenever I need to buy kangaroo leather I can simply drive up there and dig through what they have in stock and pick up what I need!
Everyone up there is awesome and very helpful. One of the nice things about buying kangaroo from a whip maker that you know is they don’t sell you bad skins. I’ve ordered kangaroo from leather supply places and gotten skins that were horribly scarred, strangely shaped or a size that wasn’t ideal for the project.
This 64dm veg tanned drum stuffed kangaroo skin is for an 8 foot 12 plait bullwhip that’s going to end up in a stunt show at a theme park in Germany:
I’m currently working on an interesting little project, it’s a six foot 4 plait bullwhip in kangaroo. You don’t see a lot of 4 plait kangaroo bullwhips, it’s more common on stock whip lashes. I think they are less common in bullwhips because the lash is thicker and it can be harder to get the wider strand out of a kangaroo skin.
Personally I have two 4 plait kangaroo bullwhips that I use, one four feet long and I use it for throwing cards because the edge of the cards ding the strands on the whip and the wider strands hold up better. The other is four and half feet long and I made it to use on a TV show to grab bottles with:
A four plait whip for a beginner will hold up a lot better to abuse like using it on abrasive surfaces than a 12 or 16 plait will.
To start this bullwhip I went up to David Morgan to pick out a kangaroo skin:
This skin is 66 dm2 which is much larger than I’d normally need for a 6 foot bullwhip, but due to the wider strands in a 4 plait whip I figured it’d be helpful to have a larger skin to cut around. Currently I have all the internal layers finished and today I’ll start working on the overlay.
One thing about visiting David Morgan, besides getting to pick out the perfect skin for the job I’m working on is getting to peek at all the cool whips kicking around:
The bullwhip in the upper right corner is probably one of the most beautiful bullwhips that I have ever seen!
I’ve posted about this before and I’m always amazed at how many email me to ask why are my Indy Bullwhips so expensive compared some whips being sold places like eBay as “Indiana Jones Whip. One of the reasons is that my Indiana Jones style whips have all the technical specifications that David Morgan built into the original Indiana Jones bullwhip. These are:
* 6 plait wrist loop
* 5 X 4 three pass heel knot
* 5 X 4 two pass transition knot
* Checker board handle
* 12 plait overlay ending at a 6 plait point (4 Seam pattern)
* Whitehide fall
* Nylon Cracker
I was learning to use a new video program, so I quick video using it pointing the different specs of and Indy bullwhip:
And I made another video pointing out why a whip that’s frequently sold on eBay as an “Indiana Jones” whips is not an Indiana Jones whip, but simply just a whip:
You can view the auction here and see how the seller uses a lot of hype to try to make you not see that this isn’t an Indiana Jones whip.
So if you’re in the market for an Indiana Jones style bullwhip hopefully you can make an informed decision.
I’m currently working on an 8 foot 12 plait “Indy” bullwhip. Lately my Indy bullwhips have had a thicker handle that resembles a more Modern David Morgan 450 series bullwhip. After visiting Paul Nolan a couple of months ago and looking at the slimmer handle profiles he puts on his Indy bullwhips I kinda liked that look. The look on Paul’s resemble a more “vintage” Morgan bullwhip.
One of the reasons that mine end up with a thicker handle, and a thicker general profile is that I like using the thick kangaroo skins on the overlays. It gives good chunky look to the strands one the whip. When making the whips I usually even out the bellies on my bench splitter, but not thin them down very much. For this whip I thinned down the bellies quite a bit. I also thinned down the yoke more than the strands, that’s going to give my handle a slightly thinner profile. I also adjusted my core a bit to be thinner on the handle foundation.
Here’s the inner belly finished:
And here’s the outer bell finished:
I also made a little adjustment in how I put the lead on. I normally add the lead on top of the final bolster. For this whip I added the lead, then put the bolster on the whip. That’s goingn to reduce the size of the heel knot a little bit.
I’ve gotten a bit of work on the overlay in and I’m liking the little differences that this is making the the overall look of the whip (so far).
On Monday I went on a little field trip up to visit with the folks at David Morgan and to pick up a kangaroo skin for an 8 foot bullwhip. I like going up there because I get to chat whip making and I get to dig through their skins and pick out the perfect skin for the project I’m working on. Here’s a bunch of strand sets for signal whips hanging at David Morgan:
Since I’m making an 8 foot bullwhip I needed a skin that is in the upper 60 to lower 70 decimeter square range. I picked out this 71 dm2 skin:
I also had to stop at my local Tandy Leather Factory to pick up another side of cow for bolsters and maybe a couple of 4 plait whips.
Now it’s time to start cutting up leather and doing some plaiting!