Recently I got an email from someone who wanted to know the names of the different parts of a bullwhip. There is some variation in the terms that people use. The variation is usually a geographic thing, but it can also be a generation thing.
We’ll start at the end you hold and work our way to the end that makes the noise.
The knob on the end is called a heel knot.
Moving up the whip, you then have the handle. Despite it being called the handle, most whip crackers hold the whip in their hand by the heel knot. Holding the whip by the heel knot allows you to use the full length of the handle as leverage to put more energy into the whip with less effort on your part.
Here’s the handle:
Visually at the end of the handle is the transition knot. This know is mostly decorative. There are specific instances where this knot has a function, but is most whips it’s purely for aesthetics. A whip doesn’t need this knot to function, in fact I’ve made many by whips by request that don’t have that knot.
This knot typically sets at about the spot where the rigid handle ends. It’s main purpose it to hide the transition from the plaiting pattern of the handle to that of the lash.
Past the transition knot is the Lash or Thong of the whip. The lash is the flexible part of the whip that’s braided.
Extending past the lash is the fall. The fall is attached to the lash by a knot called a “fall hitch”. The way a bullwhip is designed the fall which takes a lot of stress is easily replaced.
Finally we to the end of the whip that makes the noise and that’s the crackers. Like the fall the cracker is designed to be replaced, and replaced very easily. The cracker takes the most abuse out of all the parts of the whip, it’s also cheap to replace.
My current project is working on an 8 foot Indiana Jones Style Bullwhip. I’m trying something that I don’t normally do when I make these whips. I’m trying to get a slightly lower profile on the heel knot.
Basically there are few ways to do this:
Use thinner leather: This option will change the entire whips profile, not just the heel knot.
Use less lead: This will also accomplish making the heel knot smaller, but may potentially give the whip an undesirable “in the hands” feel.
Put the lead on sooner: By putting the lead on a lower layer, I can use the same amount and it will stick out less.
I opted for adding the lead on a lower layer of the whip. Normally the lead goes on top of the outer bolster. My thinking all the layers give me some meat to attach the lead to.
If you look at the picture above you will see the layer that’s cut short is the outer belly. By attaching the lead in that space, the lead will not be on top of two layers (the outer belly and the outer bolster). That’s going to reduce the profile of the heel knot, however visually I won’t know how much until the whip is done.
One thing that I used to do and stopped doing when making whips was that I used to cut out all the internal layers at the same time, before I did any plaiting. I don’t know why I stopped doing this, however recently I starting doing it again and it’s a huge time saver! I also find it’s easier to do one task several times than to constantly switch my brain to doing different things.
So for the whip I’m currently working on I cut out the core, bellies and bolsters before I did any plaiting. When I used to do this people would ask me how I knew how wide to cut everything. It’s pretty easy since everything is going to be approximately the same thickness withing fractions of a millimeter. I cut the bolsters a little bit wider, then tweak them when it’s time to put them onto the whip.
Here’s the whip I’m currently working on, this is the inner belly completed.
This whip has a spring steel handle. With the handle I think spring steel is the way to go over just a steel rod. The reason is that normal steel can be bent and spring steel cannot (except under very extreme circumstances).
Today I’ll finish up the interior layers of this whip and then move on to the cutting out the overlay.
I just got a bullwhip in the mail that got chewed up by a dog. The handle is in rough shape:
It’s not just the overlay that got tore up, it’s the bolster under it as well.
Luckily it looks like the layers under the outer bolster are OK, which is a good thing.
The game plane is to cut off the bolster above where it’s damaged and replace that leather. This will be a little bit tricky as I’ll need to match up the thickness. For the overlay on the handle, I’m going to have to untie the transition knot, and secure the strands under it. Then I’ll have to cut off the strands below where I secure them. Then I’ll have to add in new strands and plait them and of course redo the knot foundation.
Yesterday I got some work in on the 6 foot bullwhip that I’m working on. I got the outer bolster finished. I also did something with the bolster that I don’t always do…but whenever I do it I wonder why I stopped. When I was running the bolster through the splitter as I got closer to the end I thinned it down a bit more. So the bolster didn’t just taper by width, but also by thickness.
Here’s the whip in it’s current state:
Currently I’ve got it braided to the end of the plaited belly. Unfortunately I don’t think I’m going to have any time to work on this whip the next couple of days, so it won’t be finished for a few days.
Something I’ve done in the past and occasionally do now when making a bullwhip is glue the layers together. I’m not using glue on the entire bullwhip, simply the non plaited layers on the handle. I do this using a Leather Cement:
It’s pretty easy to do I simply put some on the part of the core that touches the handle foundation, then tightly bind them together with artificial sinew. I repeat this with all non plaited layers of the whip. What that does in theory is if the artificial sinew were to ever breakdown hopefully the glue will keep the whip from twisting on the handle.
Is this a realistic concern?
Probably not. The artificial sinew on the handle doesn’t really take any stress, so it’s not going to break from that. And it degrading over time really isn’t a concern.
So why do I do it?
I’m not sure and I pretty much only do it on cow leather whips. My reasoning is that typically they have a slightly different construction than my kangaroo whips and there is 1-2 less layers on the handle tied down, so less force compressing it on to the handle. Also with cowhide generally being thicker the bindings on the outside of a layer of cowhide doesn’t necessarily translate to as much force on the inside as it would with kangaroo.