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.
A couple of years ago I started making a snake whip. I finished the overlay, and never put the knot on it. It hung 98% completed on a hook, waiting for a know. This was a whip that I was making out of leftover leather for fun, not for an order, so there Tagswas no rush to finish it.
I finally put the wrist loop and knot on it:
I just listed it for sale on my IN STOCK whips page. Since it’s just been kicking around my show for a long time, I’ve got it listed at a great price!
One of my least favorite parts of any whip to make it to put on the heel knot.
I think it’s because at that point all of the plaiting is finished and I just want to be done and making the heel knot isn’t fun. However it’s something that’s got to be done and in comparison to plaiting, or cutting out the leather it’s pretty quick!
The point was blown out, so it needed to have that replaited and a fall/cracker put on. The handle was completely worn out, however the owner wanted to keep that worn out handle so it looked old. However he did intend for the whip to still be used occasionally, so I did put a heel knot on it. If I didn’t the knot foundation wouldn’t last long.
Here’s the finished bullwhip:
I took it to the park and gave it a few cracks, it’s got a lot of life left in it!
The 4 plait bull whip that I made for myself a few weeks ago for a specific trick has taken quite a beating! In this particular trick the heel knot is getting hit on the ground a lot and with quite a bit of force. This is a very unusual type of stress for the butt of the whip and most whips will never take the abuse that I’ve given this whip in the last few weeks in their lifetime.
As a result of my practicing this trick the leather cap that goes over the butt of the handle had worn out and the end of the spike was poking through. This was a strictly cosmetic damage and didn’t change the function of the whip at all. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of it before I started my repair. The fix was simple I added another leather cap over the one that was wearing out and put a new knot over it.
I didn’t remove the old leather cap before I added the new one, so the heel knot is slightly larger than before.
Recently someone in a forum asked a question about how to get shape into the heel knot of a bullwhip. In the whip that I had just made I happened to have taken some pics that show a bit of how I shape my heel knots. It starts with the completed interior of the whip:
On top of that I wrap lead and tack it in place. Then over that I put a bit of waxed string:
This string will give a bit of a base for the leather cap to sit on:
That layer is secured with a few wraps of artificial sinew. Then I add a wrist loop and a some more wraps with string or artificial sinew and tie the knot:
On many of my kangaroo bullwhips I put a bit of lead in the handle of the whip. This is put under the heel knot to add weight into the palm of your hand when holding the whip. A lot of people think this is to make the handle the same weight as the lash giving you a balanced bullwhip. If you think that or want to know where I am coming from please read my *brilliant* post about Bullwhip Balance before continuing reading.
Okay, so now you know what I think of balance points on a bullwhip and why it doesn’t really matter if the handle weighs exactly what the lash weighs. So that brings me to the next question, “if it doesn’t matter, why bother putting lead in the handle?”
Good question. The main reason that I put weight in the handle of the bullwhip is to give you something secure to hold on to. That’s it. Simply to make the whip not want to jump out of your hand when you crack it.
Alright so now you know why I put lead into the handles of whips you might be curious as to how I determine how much to put in. When I make a bullwhip I always add lead towards the end of the process. If I’m adding lead before the overlay is put on then I can crack the belly and sort of get a feel for how the whip is going to end up to help me determine what it needs. If I am adding lead after the overlay is plaited I can crack the whip without lead to see what it needs then add the lead and crack the whip again and adjust if necessary.
One thing to consider is that I do not have a fixed amount of lead that I add. I have a starting point that I always use, but you need to keep in mind that you can have two 8 foot bullwhips that crack very differently without lead. However for the most part most whips of the same size and style will have the same amount of lead.
Another thing to consider is that lead isn’t added proportionally i.e. a 12 foot bullwhip doesn’t have double the amount of lead as a 6 foot bullwhip. If that were the case and everything scaled up proportionally then the diameter of the 12 foot bullwhip’s lash would be huge! However you can add more lead without adding much bulk. Because the lead is wrapped in a circle as the diameter of the lead on the handle gets larger you are getting more lead around it with only adding 2mm to the diameter of the lead load on the whip.
If you are trying to make a bullwhip the best way to figure out how much lead to put in is basically to experiment!
Here’s the first finished bullwhip (of the three I’m making for myself):
On thing that was fun for me when making this bullwhip was the heel knot.
This knot is a two pass 7 X 6 knot with a black interweave. I’ve always wanted to do a knot like this, but until now I’ve only done it as a one pass 7 X 6 with interweave. From a distance you really can’t tell the difference between a one and two pass with the inteweave, but close up you can see the two white strands (passes) between the black strands.