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.
Recently I had a whip come in that was damaged by a dog chewing on it.
This lash was an older one and I found it very interesting internally based on what I could see. the core appeared to be sash core and very fine electrical wire. The metal in the wire that was exposed was soft and didn’t add any stiffness to the whip, and since it was very thin it couldn’t have added much weight. When it was newer the wire might have added a bit of rigidity to the whip, but with such a thin gauge it couldn’t have added much.
The wire ran the full length of the lash.
I made a 6 plait kangaroo lash to match it, however mine didn’t use any wire.
A while ago a movie production company needed some Cat O’ Nine Tails. They needed 1 – 2 actual floggers and two that were just the handle. I started making the two complete Cat O’ Nine Tails as a matched pair. So I built up the insides at the same time.
Then the company let me know they only needed one of the complete Cat O’ Nine Tails. That left me with one that only had the inside of the handle and 6 tails finished. This has been sitting across a couple of pegs by my plaiting hook for about a year. I’m finally getting around to finishing it up. It still needed the overlay of the handle and last 3 tails to be finished.
So yesterday I cut out the 12 plait overlay and did all the strand prep.
One of the reasons well made leather goods cost more than the imported junk is the amount of leather that can’t be used. After I trim a kangaroo skin, keep having to trim the skin while cutting out the lace, paring and splitting sometimes it feels like I throw away more leather than I use!
I plaited the overlay with finished the last three lashes.
There is still a lot of work to be done before this is finished! I need to put a wrist loop and knots on the handle. I also need to tie knots at the ends of the lashes. Once this is finished it will look pretty cool!
One of the reasons the movie production company chose my Cat O’ Nine Tails was that mine didn’t look junky. There are a lot of them out there where the tails and handle are two separate parts that are attached together. When I make mine the handle and tails are the same lace, so unless you cut them off, they shouldn’t ever come off. Sure you pay a bit more for one that I make over the imported novelty ones…but mine will last longer!
Yesterday I started a 4 plait stock whip with a latigo lash and finished up the handle this morning:
This whip has a great crack to it! Since it’s made from latigo which is heavier than veg tanned leather it doesn’t have a plaited belly, but does have a latigo core. Another thing I did was thin the latigo down as I went down the lash. So it’s full thickness at the beginning of the plaiting, then about 1/3 of the way I thinned it down a bit and they about 2/3’s of the way down I thinned it down a bit more.
Here’s the pair of stock whips that I started last week now that they are finished:
It’s amazing the different in the amount of energy your body saves once lead is put in the handles! A bit of lead makes the whips much easier to hold on to. Also I tried out these whips with kangaroo and with white hide falls (one on each lash) and cracked them on the same handles.
After trying it with both types of falls I was surprised to find out that I preferred a kangaroo fall over the whitehide. Keep in mind this is on a pair of stock whips which quite often have a finer point than a bullwhip. Here’s the two stock whips being test cracked once I put a kangaroo fall on the second lash:
Recently someone asked me about what I use for spring steel in the handles of some of my whips. Now first of all the main reason I use spring steel instead of a spike in some bullwhips is that it gives me a thinner diameter handle. Also since the spring steel rods are custom made it allows me to have them be any diameter I want. When using a spike you have very limited choices, I think 3/8 inch is pretty much the only size you can easily find 8 – 12 inch spikes in.
The reason I use spring steel and not a plain ol’ steel rod you get at the hardware store is spring steel won’t bend permanently. For example if you were to go to your local hardware store and take a thinner diameter steel rod and bend it, you’d never get it straight again. Where spring steel will always go back to it’s original shape…unless you heat it to something like 600 degrees and bend it while it’s that hot.
Spring steel rods are more expensive than regular steel rods, but I like the advantage of it always retaining its shape. For example if you made a bullwhip with a regular steel handle and someone stepped on the handle it could bend and you’ve have a broken bullwhip. Now with spring steel you could jump on the handle and afterwards it’s still be straight (as long as you didn’t put so much weight that it would snap the steel, however you’d have the same problem with a regular steel rod).
Here are two examples of the spring steel rods that I’ve used:
The top one is 8 inches long and just over 4mm thick and the bottom one is 12 inches long by just shy of 6mm thick. Also I refer to these as “rods” because to me that’s what they are…but if I recall right within the spring steel industry these are technically wire.
Generally I don’t use spring steel in bullwhips with 8 inch handles, however I have a few spring steel rods in that length for projects where I want a slimmer handle.
Right now I’m working on a pair of stock whips. These have 5.5 foot lashes and so far only the lashes are finished (still need to roll them).
Today I’m planning on making the half plait handles and hopefully the weather will hold out and I’ll get to take them to the park!
Yesterday I finished making the other 16 plait two tone bullwhip! This bullwhip was cut out the same time as the last one, but I didn’t immediately bang it out. This bullwhip is 6.5 feet long and made in black and saddle tan kangaroo.
Here’s a close up of the handle:
Another thing that I did with this bullwhip was putting a couple of plaited patterns in the lash. I’ve never really don that aside from right off the end of the handle. Here’s the birds eye plait:
And here’s the 2 X 2 squares:
With this bullwhip I took a lot of care as to how I got into and out of different patterns on the whip. So that the plaiting flows well and symmetrically into and out of the different patterns on both the handle and the lash.
The next few whips that I’m planning to make are going to be stock whips. In the past I’ve only made a few stock whips and they are something that I’d like to make more of and eventually a pair for myself.
Here’s the work that is completed on the bullwhip with the stingray handle in the last couple of days. I finished the outer belly:
The outer belly was attached:
One of the biggest challenges wasn’t the 20 plait lash, but figuring out a way to attach the stingray to the handle. For the handle the lash’s overlay has a long yoke that covers the whole handle, so the 20 plait lash is well secured under the sting ray. Then I cut the sting ray to size, put a bit of a “sealer” on the flesh side to give me a nice solid back to glue to the handle. Then I used contact cement to hold it place along with some stitching at the seam. It seems to be pretty solid right now. I also had to use my dremel to grind down some of the sting ray’s bumps at the seam so that there wouldn’t be any sharp edges.
Here’s the stingray cut to size:
And here’s the back of the sting ray after I coated it with gum tragacanth:
This bullwhip is my first whip that has a 20 plait lash (I’ve done some 24 plait handles before) and I was amazed at how easy…or how not super difficult it it. In the past the plaiting that I’ve done above 16 had fancy patterns, while this whip just has 4 seam work, which is pretty easy. And the strand drops aren’t too hard because the strands are soo thin there isn’t too much bulk you are dropping, however I am dropping 10 strands (or 5 drop points) in the last three feet of the bullwhip.
For some reason I tied the transition knot before the lash has been finished.
I should be able to find time to finish the lash of this bullwhip today…but I need to make some falls before I can complete the lash. So at some point today I’ll start cutting out falls.