Here’s a email I got and I figured the answers would be relevant to some others:
“I’ve made a couple whips before and they turned out alright. But I’ve been asked to make an Aussie stock whip for a girl from Australia. Any tips or advice? And what is your take on saddle soap as a conditioner and plaiting agent? Thank you for any advice you might have.”
Let’s start out with a general thought about making stock whips:
A basic stock whip is a lot easier to make than a bullwhip.
While I don’t know the length you are going for, there’s a great pattern for making a stock whip in David Morgan’s book Whips and Whip Making. If you basically follow that and adjust it based on the length of the whip you should do fine.
Next up is using saddle soap. I personally do not use it, the main reason is I can’t stand the smell. Every brand I’ve tried stinks! There are other valid reasons to not use saddle soap as plaiting soap and as conditioner.
First for plaiting, you really can’t beat using soap and lard. You can find the recipe for making this in David Morgan’s book Braiding Fine Leather (I think it’s also in Whips and Whip Making). Soap and lard is much cheaper than buying saddle soap, and it’s usually much easier to buy, as you can get everything you need from the grocery store.
Now as for using saddle soap as a conditioner. Yes, it has some stuff in it that’s good for leather, but it also has stuff in it that’s bad for leather. Products like Pecard’s Leather Dressing and Fiebing’s Aussie Conditioner are generally accepted as better for kangaroo. The nice thing about products like Pecard’s is that it’s ready to go, you don’t need to add water. You can throw a small tub of it in your whip bag and you can add conditioner to that fall you didn’t realize was dried out when you are at the park cracking your whips.
I’m in Lancaster, CA and working on some whips. I didn’t bring any plaiting soap down here with me due to what I needed to pack and not wanting my bags to be overweight. So I bought what I needed make a batch of plaiting soap and managed to cook up a batch in the microwave in my hotel!
A question I get asked a lot about making a whip is whether you should use plaiting soap or if you can use leather dressing like Pecards for plaiting. To put is simply you can use either for plaiting, however each will have its own advantages and disadvantages.
When using leather dressing for plaiting it’s best for leather that isn’t drum stuffed. Drum stuffed leather has oils worked into it at the tannery and is already nice and full of all the good stuff that’s in leather dressing. So if you use it for plaiting you will probably end up with a really greasy whip.
Leather dressing is also more expensive than plaiting soap, so there’s a little bit of an extra cost.
Leather dressing is great to put on layers of a whip that may be dry like a bolster that’s cut from cowhide that isn’t drum stuffed.
Plaiting soap is great for using on all types of leather, however if you are braiding leather that isn’t drum stuffed remember that it doesn’t contribute as much oils to the leather as a leather dressing would. It’s primarily a lubricant to make plaiting tightly easier.
Plaiting soap is very cheap a giant pot of it will cost you a few bucks.
What Do I Use?
When making whips I personally use a combination of the two. If the leather hasn’t been drum stuffed I give it a hit of leather dressing and let that soak in. Once the dressing has soaked in I use plaiting soap for the actual braiding.
I was running out of leather for bolsters, so yesterday I stopped by my local Tandy Leather Factory. I was looking at their 2-3 oz which is $5.35 a square foot. Then I noticed that they had 3-4 oz on sale for $49.99 a side! Normally I run my bolsters through a splitter to knock off any high spots, so getting a slightly heavier leather isn’t really adding much more work.
My local Tandy had just gotten a batch of these in, so I got to dig through a lot of them! The skins I bought were on the thinner side of the 3-4 oz weight and they were huge! Both of them were just over 35 feet (the average skin they had were 25ish square feet)! One was a nice clear skin, the other has some holes on the belly, however they were in an area I normally cut of so they are no big deal.
The nice thing about getting these two sides was that I was already in the area of the Tandy and picked them up, so there was no shipping or extra gas spend on them. They were a total of just under 70 cents a square foot! If you need some bolster leather now’s the time to check out your local Tandy Leather Factory!
I almost feel like I need to make a long whip so that I can take advantage of using the longer skin to make a bullwhip with a longer bolster with no splices!
I was also finally out of plaiting soap, so I cooked up a batch:
A couple of nights ago I started working on a riding crop. For this one I decided to use an exotic leather for riding crop’s hand grip. The hand grip on this riding crop is sharkskin and the core is rawhide with a cane center.
The overlay on it is 12 plait kangaroo.
There are a couple of patterns on it, but for the most part it’s a 4 seam plait.
Here’s the almost finished riding crop:
I still need to roll and shellac this riding crop.
I’m running low on plaiting soap, so I picked up a few ingredients at the store today:
If you’ve never made plaiting soap to lubricate the strands of lace while making a whip it’s pretty easy. I have a container that I fill with water and dump into a stock pot. I have no idea how much water it holds, it’s pretty much the unit of measurement I’ve used ever since I started to customize David Morgan’s plaiting soap recipe for what I liked. I start heating that up and then I cut up about half of the box of lard and toss it into the stock pot. Then I take three bars of the Ivory soap and grate it in to the stock pot. I let it boil until everything is melted occasionally hitting it with a hand mixer.
Finally I let it cool off, but every now and then I give it a quick stir with the hand mixer to keep it from separating. Once it’s a solid it’s good to go!
Choose Your Own Bullwhip Update
My Choose Your Own Bullwhip experiment on ebay is moving along. I have the outer belly cut out and attached to the handle, you can see pics of this on the auction listing at http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=220965764135. Today I’ll plait the outer belly and probably some time tomorrow I’ll cut out and attach the outer bolster.
Today I did some work on a Deluxe Budget Bullwhip and after I cut out the strands for the belly and overlay I gave them a coat of grease. That got me thinking about why I think it’s important to grease a lot of leather. Most veg tanned cowhide that you see in leather shop (like a Tandy) is pretty dry.
When you are using a dry hide you really need to put some grease into it and let it soak in…not just plaiting soap before braiding. If you braid a really dry hide you can tear the fibers by plaiting too tightly. However if you grease them would might normally tear on a dry hide hopefully the fibers will stretch or bend a bit and not break. Also by putting more oils into the the whip you are making a the beginning you will increase the life of the whip…and make the users not have to put multiple coats of grease on their new whip before they use it.
Another advantage of grease is that when it softens the fibers on an internal layer, you are able to get the whip a little more dense by plaiting over the top of it.
Also by adding grease early on you are adding a bit a weight of the leather in the bullwhip, and that little bit over all the strands adds up.
So all those reasons are why I always grease up a dry hide or skin.
Yesterday I cooked up a new batch of plaiting soap…well altered a batch that I had made a little while ago. I had heard that some people use plaiting soap that’s just a paste of soap and water (no fat or lard). I made a batch and tried it out, what I didn’t like about it was that it was slick right after you applied it, but then it quickly got very tacky feeling. However the soap paste didn’t discolor the whip at all when I got to the point of the bullwhip.
So yesterday I took the soap paste and added some water and lard and cooked it up.
One thing I’ve learned when mixing up plaiting soap is after it’s cooked together and it is cooling the water/soap/lard wants to seperate. So about halfway through the cooling process you need to mix it up, then mix it again when it’s almost solid.
With the batch of of soap paste I did a little experiment, I cut a fall and let it sit in the paste overnight. It softened up the fall and gave it a nice smooth texture. I might try soaking some falls in the plaiting soap with lard and see what that does.
Lately I’ve been experimenting with how I make my bullwhip falls. A lot of people have commented to me when they’ve seen pictures of me making falls that they were surprised at how much goes into making a fall.
At it’s most basic level a fall is a piece of tapered leather. However after talking to David Morgan and Joe Strain about falls I’ve realized that there is much more to a bullwhip fall.
One of my experiments turned out a nice fall. What I did was cut the fall, then pared off the corners. Then I oiled it and rounded it. After than I have it a coat of braiding soap and rounded it again. It’s made a nice round and smooth fall. Now I’ll have to see how it holds up.