I’m still making whips in my hotel room and I’ve learned to cut down a bit of clean up time. When paring my the strands initially I would pick up all the debris by hand, so that I didn’t leave a crazy mess for the housekeeper. This was a pain, and very time consuming, so I went to the Walmart and bought some plastic sheeting and taped it to the floor.
The plastic sheeting is very cheap and did an excellent job collecting all the scraps!
The nice thing about it is that I can reuse the sheet!
In a leather working forum someone who is new to braiding mentioned that the tools for splitting, cutting and beveling were expensive. You don’t need any expensive tools to get into braiding. If you were to buy a decent quality splitter, cutter and beveler you’d probably spend at least $500 in tools. And these tools still have a bit of a learning curve.
You can do the same doing it “freehand” with a $1 box cutter and a bit of practice…plus when doing it free hand you can do cut at a taper much easier (which is a must if you want to make whips!) than with a strand cutter.
Here’s some video of cutting, paring and splitting kangaroo by hand. The first is an old video of me cutting freehand:
I no longer use the caliper to mark out widths, except to see how wide my starting point should be. The next video is an old video of me paring the kangaroo lace:
And finally recent video of me splitting the kangaroo lace by hand:
Pretty much the only time I use my bench splitter anymore is when I’m thinning down leather that’s an inch or so wide (like for bolsters).
I’ve read it many times, but it’s been about a year since I’ve read it. It’s one of those books that every time I read I get something new out of it. For example towards the back of the book David writes about how to pare different thicknesses of leather…and how to tell if a strand of leather doesn’t need any paring at all!
This book is fantastic, while it may seem a bit cryptic when you are a beginner, everything you need to learn to make a bullwhip is in there!
Right now I’m working on getting improving my paring when done to the top left side of the strand. Normally I pare the top right side and I can do the top left…just not as quickly or accurately as the top right. Here’s a little practice session:
When paring the top left side I generally need to do two passes to get the strand nice and straight, where when doing it on the top right I can get it in one pass. Also when doing the top left I’m going at a snails pace, hopefully it’ll get as fast as the other side soon.
Also right now I’m working on an 8 plait kip bullwhip. I’ve got about half of the overlay finished. This one is built on a spring steel handle foundation. I should be able to get it finished this week before I go on vacation.
A lot of work goes into getting leather ready to plait into a bullwhip. First if the leather (cow or kangaroo) is dry you need to grease it up. Then you need to cut out strands. Because there are no cow or kangaroo hides that are 12 feet long, you can’t cut the strands in one straight line. You have to cut around the hide giving you a strands that aren’t straight.
So once you’ve cut your leather you need to make it straight. There are several steps to doing this. The first is stretching the leather. Stretching the leather will straighten out the curves a little bit. Kangaroo being a stretchy leather makes stretching to straighten very effective. With cowhide you’ll notice the effects of stretching a little bit.
After you’ve stretched the leather you need to pare it. When you pare leather you are cutting off the corner of the strand the full length of the strand. Usually you only pare two corners, either the opposite corners (top right and bottom left) or both of the bottom (flesh side) corners.
Paring will help straighten out any unevenness from your cutting or from stretching. Paring also helps make your braid tighter and smoother. This is especially important when braiding in thicker cowhide, unpared strands will give your whip a very rough texture.
Then I stretch the strands again to further reduce any curves left in the strands. The last optional step would be to split the leather to an even thickness. I split the hides on my kangaroo whips, but generally don’t on cowhide whips (unless it’s a very uneven hide).
That’s a lot of work that goes into making a whip and you haven’t even really begun assembling the bullwhip. A lot of people wonder why leather bullwhips generally cost a lot more than nylon ones, it’s because of all the preparation that goes into making them (and that leather as a raw material is typically more expensive than nylon).
Right now I’m working on a two 12 plait kangaroo signal whips. They are both black and 4 feet long. I guess you could call them a pair because I’m making them the same way, at the same time from the same hide…except one is for an order and one will be listed for sale on my IN STOCK Whips page when it’s finished.
I’m making two signal whips instead of just one because it’s not too much extra work to do a second one at the same time. Also I can get two 4 foot signal whips out of one kangaroo hide. If I made one signal whip out of the 61dm kangaroo skin, the rest wouldn’t be enough for much more than another signal whip, so might as well make it.
Yesterday morning I filled the shot bags, plaited both bellies and attached the bolsters:
Then I cut out the two 12 plait kangaroo overlays:
I also did all the strand prep for one of the whips and have about a foot of it braided. I should be able to finish this whip today.
Thoughts on Preparing the Strands for Braiding
Yesterday while I was doing the strand prep on one of these 12 plait sets, I thought about everything that goes into getting the strands ready to braid.
To make a whips all you really need to do is cut out the strands and start braiding. That will make a pretty rough looking whip, but you can do it. All the other stuff will improve the tightness of the braid, and look of the whip.
Right now my process is:
Grease (optional): Some kangaroo hides are dryer than others, and strands cut from a dry hide will stretch better if you grease it and let the grease soak in before you do anything else. If the hide is nice and greasy this step is unnecessary.
Stretch: The initial stretch takes most of the stretch out of the lace. Also it will hopefully let you know of any weak spots before you start braiding.
Straighten: Since I cut by hand and cut stretchy parts a bit wider than they need to be, I straighten out my strands by running them through my David Morgan Lace Cutter.
Pare: Having two of the corners beveled will help me get a bit of a tighter braid and give the whip a smoother look.
Stretch: After straightening an paring, parts of the strands may not have been fully stretched because of the parts that were cut off. For me this second stretch is more of a strand strength test, but will also take more of the stretch out of the lace.
Split: This evens out the strand’s thickness and gives me a more uniform strand to work with. Throughout the kangaroo skin, the thickness can vary a bit, maybe .1mm, but that 1.mm when braided will add .4 mm of extra thickenss to the whip at that point and could result in a small lump.
My strand prep has gotten a lot more involved than it was three years ago when I just stretched and pared. In the end I think it helps
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.
Quite often people email me asking me about paring kangaroo. I’m not a complete expert on this, there are tons of poeple that are better at this than me. I’ve only been making bullwhips for just over 2 years, where there are many other makers that have been doing it a lot longer.
One thing that I’ve learned about paring leather is that it’s a knack and will take time and experimenting to learn. David Morgan told me that he knows he has a good pare when he cuts off one piece the whole length of the lace.
I took a little video of my paring some kangaroo lace. It’s almost how I normally do it, the difference is that I had to hold the camera with my neck, so my posture was different than normal.
A few minutes ago I finished tying the knots on a 10 foot Indiana Jones (Morgan) Style bullwhip.
It still needs a coat of shellac, but I’ll give it a few test cracks first.
This morning I had a show about 10 minutes from David Morgan’s shop, so I chatted with him a little bit. I told him about my new way of paring my strands and he confirmed that it will give me the desired results. What I’m doing is paring the top right and bottom left of the odd numbered strandsof the set. Then I’m doing the even numbered strands on the top left and bottom right. What that does is has all the downward angled on the leading edge of the seam when the strands are plaited. That gives a slightly smoother look to the bullwhip.
My next project is an 8 foot 8 plait bullwhip with a long handle. I’m enjoying making the long handle bullwhips and the hides for this bullwhip just showed up today, so I can get to work first thing monday.
Yesterday I cut out the bellies for an 8 foot Morgan Style Indy and a 6 foot KotCS. I managed to get both bellies of the 6 foot plaited and about 4 1/2 feet of the overlay done. So that whip should be ready soon!
This morning I need to cut out falls. Cutting the falls is still my least favorite part of whipmaking. I guess it’s because it doesn’t seem “interesting”, all I’m doing is cutting out straight lines. I seem to got through them very quickly. If I cut out 10 falls and each whip shipped has two (one on the whip and one extra) then they go pretty quickly.
Oh…with the 6 foot KotCS style bullwhip I’m beveling the bullwhip differently. Normally I do it on opposite corners. With this whip I pared the strands on both of the flesh sides. David Morgan is 100% against this! Basically he says that over time the edges will push together like techtonic plates an create a very coarse whip.
Another whipmaker I know does this and the last time (and only time) I tried it was a long time ago. I figured I’d give it a try now that I’ve got a little bit more experience (not much more). The angle I cut the strands at is probably an 80% angle so this whip has a chunkier look.