Currently I have both plaited bellies finished. Today I have some morning shows and should be able to at least get the outer bolster cut out and attached. Realistically I’ll probably be able to get the overlay cut out today.
While I was making the bellies of the bullwhip I kept hearing in my head something that Joe Strain told me years ago when I visited him the first time: “I like a hard hitting whip, so I…” Well it’s not my place to say how Joe makes his whips, but it’s something that he told me years ago and it’s only started to make sense to me in the last 9-12 months.
That’s one of the things that I think makes whip making an art. Someone can tell you something simple, but you may not really understand it until years later. Where for something like changing the oil in you car, it’s step one, step two, etc.
I don’t do a lot of plaited ring work on the handles of my bullwhips, probably because I do a lot of 12 plait bullwhips. You can do designs with a 12 plait handle, but you can do a lot more with a 16 plait bullwhip handle. I think another reason that I haven’t done a lot of designs into the handles of my bullwhips is that I don’t have a good eye for what looks good.
On my last visit with Joe Strain we talked a bit about what makes a plaited whip handle design. Joe mentioned to me that what makes a good handle isn’t complex patterns, it’s balance. There should be a visual balance to the bullwhip.
I’m working to achieve balance in my 16 plait two tone bullwhips. Here’s the bullwhip I’m working on right now:
One thing I’ve gotten better at is transitioning between plaiting pattern. It’s something that gave me a lot of trouble with my early attempts at doing different patterns (not designs) on bullwhip handles.
This particular bullwhip has about two more feet of plaiting to go, maybe I’ll be able to finish it today.
Currently I’m on the road performing in Spokane, Washington, which is about 4 1/2 hours from home. I’ll be back home around midnight tonight (makes for a looong day!).
Yesterday I got to visit Joe Strain and as always I’m amazed at how beautiful his work is! If you are on the fence about ordering a bullwhip from Joe, get one…his whips are amazing!
In the near future I should be having more cowhides come in for the beginners bullwhips that I make. I have some of the cowhides that I use for the belly in my beginners bullwhips in stock and took one side with me on the road. This morning I cut out the sets for 6 or 7 bellies:
Hopefully that will give me a bit of a jump start on those bullwhips when the cowhides that I use for the overlay arrive. I’m hoping to have time this week to braid a bunch of the insides for the beginners bullwhips so all I have to do it the overlays when the other cowhide shows up.
This morning I was looking at what bullwhips were being offered on ebay (besides my current auction) and I noticed something that doesn’t look right. Some is selling a “Joe Strain” bullwhip…but honestly I don’t think it was made by Joe Strain.
Below is a picture of the bullwhip that’s being auctioned:
There are a couple of things wrong with this bullwhip based on the seller’s description:
1. It was only used once: It very well may have only been used once by the seller…if the seller had gotten it used. The transition on Joe’s whips don’t get that limp after one cracking session.
2. The Turkshead: If you look a the turks head on the bullwhip it’s not the one that Joe usually uses on his Indy style bullwhip. You can only get taht knot as a special order from Joe. From having seen and handled several of Joe Strain’s bullwhips and watched him tie a turkshead before, I’d bet money that Joe didn’t tie that one…it’s not neat enough for Joe’s work (unless it’s an OLD Strain whip).
3. It just doesn’t look right: Right now there are two bullwhips on ebay that were made by Joe Strain and this one makes the 3rd. Compare the way this bullwhip coils to the other ones currently listed on ebay and it just doesn’t look right.
I’m not accusing the seller if intentionally trying to mislead anyone about the maker of it. Whoever gave/sold this whip to them could have told them it was made by Joe Strain.
So that said, would I spend $499.98 on that particular whip…NO…especially when there are two other Joe Strain whips currently on ebay. But that’s just my opinion.
In my opinion roohide is easier to cut than cowhide, so you’ll figure it out faster with kangaroo. when I first started making whips I used to cut with the RM williams strander and got prettygood at it, but then I started visiting David Morgan and he encourage me to give up the strander. I tried practicing with cowhide and never got good results…then I started visiting Joe Strain and he told me to stop wasting my time with cowhide and start freehand cutting with kangaroo. Joe told me, “You’ll mangle your first hide” I think I mangled 2 hides…I was soo pissed at Joe’s advice…until it clicked and I was able to semi compently cut freehand. It will take many more hides after you get the knack to get good at it.
The main way you’ll mess up when learning to cut free hand with either cowhide or roohide is cutting your strands too thin. So try to error on the side of wider than thinner, and cut wide at the stretchy parts of the roo. What David Morgan taught me to do with my hides is to trim off the outside (uneven, jagged edge) then pull around the perimeter of the hide to find the stretchy spots. By locating the stretchy spots and giving them a bit of a prestretch they are easier to see, and be ready for them when you get to them.
Also something that I’ve done in the past (but I got a very firm lecture from david morgan when he heard I was wasting this much leather) was to cut my strands very wide initially. Then stretch the strands and then taper them by paring. This was a safe way for me to cut before I got good at recognising and adjusting to the stretchy parts. Now I pretty much taper as I cut, and even out strands when I pare them.
Hope that helps anyone starting out with freehand cutting kangaroo for bullwhip making.
I’ve got a bullwhip in the works right now that has a 12 plait thong and a 24 plait handle. This bullwhip is being made in whiskey colored kangaroo hide.
The first plaiting challenge I ran into while working on the handle was that the pattern wasn’t giving me a lot of trouble. Then I counted my strands and learned that I was trying to do a 24 plait pattern with 22 strands!! So I added the two extra handle strands and it’s coming along much better.
When planning a design for the handle I did a lot of looking around on the internet at pictures of other bullwhip maker’s higher plait count bullwhips to get a feel for what I would like. One thing I noticed with my first two high plait count whips (20 plait bullwhip and 24 plait stockwhip handle) was that I was trying to cram in as many designs as I could. But after reflecting on those to projects and the pictures of the whips that I really liked I decided simplier is better.
I’m just finishing up using my first side of whitehide, and I just ordered a couple of more sides (one whitehide and one Indian Tan Latigo). A whole side of whitehide which is usually over 20 square feet lasts a while when it’s just used for falls.
Speaking of whitehide I’ve always wondered why people make whitehide stockwhips, but nobody makes a whitehide bullwhip? I asked Joe Strain when I visited him last month is there was a specific reason why nobody makes a whitehide bullwhip and he told me there’s no reason why you can’t. I think I saw a side of whitehide at MacPherson Leather that was fairly thin…maybe I’ll crank out a few whitehide bullwhips…if they still have the side of whitehide.
On thing that took me forever to learn about bullwhip making was how to choose the correct fall for a whip. David Morgan lectured me many times about the importance of the correct fall (and cracker) being attached to a bullwhip before I finally understood it. Basically the fall should be an extension of the weight and width of the point of the whip.
Bullwhip Projects in the Works
Right now I have a few things I’m working on. I’ve got a 4 foot signal whip in two tone kangaroo about halfway finished. I still have the pair of 4 foot bullwhips to shellac (I’m waiting to finish the signal whip and I’ll shellac them at the same time). After I get those whips done I’m makinga 4 foot 4 plait bullwhip for myself, I have the core for this whip cut out, however I still need to cut out the rest of the bullwhip.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the look of the handle of bullwhips. Specificially the way the handle transitions to the thong. There are bascially three looks to this transition:
Slow Taper: the handle gradually increases in thickness. It’s a bit hard to see the taper in this bullwhip’s handle, but here’s an example of the Slow Taper:
Bump: I can’t think of a better name for this, but it’s where the handle is basicially the same thickness the whole length of the handle, then at the transition it gets thicker all at once. That’s also where the transition knot it (covering this bump).
David Morgan’s Indiana Jones whips have the bump look, I think it gives them a very rugged look.
Straight: The bullwhip’s handle and thong appear to be the same thickness from the handle to the thong.
Normally you see this on bullwhips with longer handles, like this bullwhip by Mike Murphy:
Aside from style, I don’t think it really makes a difference in how the bullwhips handles or will last. I’ve experimented with making all three types of handles in the past and personally I like the Slow Taper look to whips. I’m sure at some point in the future my opinion will change.
Also the length of the handle willl affect how the good the transition looks. For example I think the Bump that David Morgan uses looks great on an 8 inch handle, but it would look pretty strange on a 12 inch handle.