One interesting area of whip making is splitting leather. Some whip makers split everything, some nothing, some just bolsters, some just the bellies, some just the overlay or pretty much any combination of those.
If you don’t know what splitting is it’s when you run leather under a blade/knife to make it a more uniform thickness. You can do this by hand with a knife or through a splitting machine:
As I understand it pretty much all leather leaves the tannery after going through some sort of splitting process to even out the leather. So if you buy leather it’s probably already been split. That doesn’t necessarily mean the leather is the same thickness throughout. It means it’s been evened out a bit.
Here’s a good example if you take a side of any time of leather off a cow (kip, calf or adult cow) there are firmer parts and stretchier parts. So if you are cutting a bolster across the hide your bolster may be mostly firmer leather, but at some point have a bit of stretch. That stretch is going to give you a thinner spot once you stretch the leather (yes I stretch my bolsters). So a trip through a splitter after the bolster is cut out will make sure everything is more even.
Is this 100% necessary?
It comes down to a matter of preference to the whip makers. Some makers like everything 100% uniform some like the the natural variance in leather. No one way is right or wrong. In theory if everything is uniform you’ll get more consistent whip…but since leather is a natural product that’s next to impossible because you have things like density of the leather that you can’t control. Sure you can get pretty close, but not exact. For example even if you cut a strand from the tail section of a kangaroo skin it’s going to be more dense than a strand from somewhere else.
Currently My thinking on splitting is I pretty much always split the core and bolsters. The exception is on cheaper whips. I split the bellies and overlays on a case by case basis. That’s how I currently do it and that will probably change over time.
Here’s a quick splitting tip: Keep you blade sharp!
I strop mine before and after every time I use it (or at least I try to)!
Right now I’m working on a matched pair of bullwhips. These are going to be six feet long and because there are two bullwhips made from two different kangaroo skins I need to split them to get the the matched effect.
So for these bullwhips every layer will be split down to the same thickness. This helps me match them as best as I can.
Here’s some in progress pictures of the pair of bullwhips:
Right now both inner bellies are finished and the next step will be cutting out and attaching the inner bolsters. I also have already cut out a prepared the outer bellies, so hopefully today I’ll have the time to both out bellies plaited!