Cutting out a Bullwhip

Cutting out a Bullwhip

Yesterday I cut out the strands for an 8 plait bullwhip.  Here’s what the process looks like:

It looks like my schedule should allow me to do most of the plaiting today and with a bit of luck probably get the whole bullwhip finished.


Finishing Up Works in Progress…

Finishing Up Works in Progress…

Today I spent a bit of time working on half finished projects that have been kicking around.  First I put the heel knot on the white bullwhip that has a sharkskin handle:

kangaroo bullwhip

This whip isn’t finished yet, it’s got a few more finishing things to go.

I did put some more knots on a set of Romel Reins that I started a while ago:

Romel Reins

This set of Romel Reins is made from 4 plait cowhide with kangaroo knots.  This is the first set I’ve made and the romel ends need few more knots.  One thing I learned from making this set is to not wasting my time making a cowhide set, there is too much work involved in all the knots to make a “cheap” set.

Finally I finished making a 4 plait cowhide leather Reata, traditionally they are made from rawhide.  I’ve wanted to make one of these for a long time and eventually I plan to make a rawhide reata.

La Reata
cowhide reata

This one measures approx 35 feet…and for the first 30 feet I did more  untangling that braiding!


Finished shark skin handle whip

Finished shark skin handle whip

Yesterday I finished the 24 plait bullwhip with the shark skin handle:


I gave it a couple of flicks on my deck and it’s got a nice crack!

I really like making these whips with “exotic” handles.  I think they look cool and no one is really making whips with different non-plaited handles.  Terry Jacka at one point offered whips with simulated alligator and simulated leopard handles.  While they are different they aren’t actual exotic leather for the handles.   Oh, for what it’s worth the sharks skin that I used for this whip was from sharks that were caught for food…not just their skins.

I’ve got enough of this shark skin left over to make two or three more bullwhip handles.  Also right now I have a line on  getting some other interesting exotic leather…

My next project is  going to be making a 6 or 7 foot Indy style bullwhip.

P.S. This bullwhip is for sale on my IN STOCK whips page.

Bullwhip with Sharkskin Handle

Bullwhip with Sharkskin Handle

The project that I’ve been working on all last week is a 24 plait bullwhip with a sharkskin handle.  This whip would be finished by now, but my schedule has been full of performing and other things…but the whip still isn’t finished.

I’ve always wanted to make a sharkskin whip, but there are a couple of problems with making one.  Due to a sharkskin’s “H” like shape it’s be hard to get enough strands out of one skin, so I’d need multiple skins and that leads to the second problem…cost.  One sharkskin is in the neighborhood of $150, so I’d have at least $300 into the whip in materials alone!

The other  problem is since I’ve never actually touched a full sharkskin I don’t know how much usable skin there would be on it.  For this whip I found someone that would sell me a small piece of scrap based on this piece it was really spongy, so not the best whip making leather.  That’s why I’m not going to peruse making a full whip in sharkskin.

This whip has two plaited bellies, two bolsters and a 24 plait overlay that is jade colored veg tanned kangaroo:

Jade veg tanned kangaroo

Here’s the whip right after I finished the overlay:


One of the engineering challenges with this whip was to make the handle much thinner than the thong.  The piece of sharkskin I had was very thick, and I didn’t want a huge handle and a thin thong, or a thick thong and a thin handle.

how to make a bullwhip

I wanted them to be pretty close to the same diameter and I think I did a pretty good job matching them up.

bullwhip with sharkskin handle

To attach the sharkskin on the handle I used a different stitch than I used for the stingray handle that I put on a whip a while ago, I used a “baseball” type stitch.  The process was pretty simple, first I punched all the holes for the stitching, and then I coated the handle and the underside of the sharkskin with contact cement.  Once the cement was dry I very loosely stitched the sharkskin (off the handle) and then slipped it onto the handle and pulled the stitching tight.  It seems to be holding very tightly, so I’m not worried about it loosening or falling of.  Also the string I put under the knots will help hold it in place.

I do have the transition knot finished, but haven’t tied the heel knot just yet.  I should be able to find time to do that later today.


The Myth of Cowhide…

The Myth of Cowhide…

A couple of days ago I was talking to Paul Nolan on the phone and the subject of cowhide whips came up.  We both agreed that the perception that cowhide whips should be cheaper than kangaroo is completely false.   I think there are a few things contribute to this myth:

  1. A side of cow is usually cheaper by the foot than kangaroo.
  2. Most budget whips are made of cowhide.
  3. If kangaroo is the best, then cow is second best it much be cheaper

I’m going to talk about these things one at a time.

Cow is Cheaper Than Kangaroo

Usually cowhide is cheaper than kangaroo…but for a nice cowhide not by much.  You can get bargain basement junk that won’t really work for plaiting for around $1-$2 per foot, however most cowhide suitable for whip making will run between $5-10 a square foot. Where a kangaroo skin is about $12-$20 a square foot.  Now on the upper range of both kangaroo is twice the price of cow, but on the lower ranger it’s only a couple of bucks difference.

When you order any kind of leather through the mail you never know what you are going to get.  So your 10 dollar a foot  cowhide could be completely unusable for whip  making where the $5 per foot hide could be perfect.  I have several sources of kangaroo and for the most part they all get the kangaroo from the same place, so I’m getting the same skins, but the price will vary $8 per foot.  So I usually try to buy in the $12 -$15 price range…however I don’t mind paying more when I can actually go in a select the skins personally and find one with the characteristics I want.

Also a lot of people don’t know how much leather is wasted when you trim a cowhide, you are getting rid of a lot more than you would trimming a kangaroo skin.  That unusable leather is wasted money…so now a $10 cowhide is equal with a $12 kangaroo skin.

Cheaper Whips are Usually Made of Leather

Most of the budget priced whips for sale are made of cowhide, so that leads to the perception that cowhide is cheaper.  Here’s the thing, it’s hard to make a 4 plait bullwhip out of  kangaroo due to the roo skins smaller size which is why you don’t see a lot of cheap whips in kangaroo.

For example the 4 plait beginners bullwhips I make are in cowhide and one of the reasons for that is because I can’t get kangaroo skins that are big enough to do an 8 foot whip in 4 plait.

Another reason cheap whips are usually made in cowhide is that it’s easily obtained in the USA, but kangaroo can be tricker.

Cow is Second Best, so it Should Be A Lot Cheaper

If kangaroo is the best, then cowhide is in second place and by a lot of people’s thinking it should be drastically cheaper.  Think of a brand name can of corn at the store and let’s say it sells for $1.00, but the generic brand is only 75 cents, that’s 25% cheaper.  I think that this thinking has carried over to whip buying, where a 12 plait kangaroo whip is $500, then a cowhide one should be 25 % – 50 % less.

You have to consider that the biggest cost make a whip isn’t the material it’s the skilled labor to make it.  A skilled  whip maker isn’t going to use less skill to make  a 4 plait cowhide whip than a 12 plait kangaroo one.  It’s actually more work to work below your level than at your level…try asking Scorsese to intentionally make a bad movie.  He’d either not take the project or if he did he certainly wouldn’t discount his fee…same with whip making.

Here’s an example of cowhide costing more than roo.  Recently I had someone ask me for a price quote on a 16 plait cowhide whip, and that quote was $200 more than the same whip made of kangaroo.  The reason the cowhide whip was more is that it’s much harder to make a higher plait count whip out of a material that’s not really suitable for making a quality 16 plait whip.   Using the wrong material for the job (even if the material is cheaper) will increase the labor…like trying to make Origami out of bark instead of paper.

Wait a Minute…

I know what you are thinking, you’re saying, “Hang on there Louie, don’t you make a cheap 4 plait cowhide whip?

Yes I do.

My four plait whips come in two types a Beginners Bullwhip and a Deluxe Beginners Bullwhip.  The difference between the to is that he latter has a plaited belly.  With these whips I find close out leather, or leather that’s on sale from local vendors where I can actually see so I can pick the one or two cowhides that are suitable for whip making.  Occasionally I get a call from a mail order vendor that I trust when they have something suitable for me…but for the most part when buying on price (not quality) I have to see the leather with my own eyes.

Due to the fact that I use leather that’s on sale my 4 plait cowhide whips vary a bit.  That’s because the what’s on sale last month might not be what I can get a good deal on today.  Then the thickness variations in the leather that’s on sale will change how I internally construct the whips.  For example a heavier hide needs less filler near the point…and a lighter  hide needs to be built up a bit more near the handle.

Another way I can offer four plait whips is that I don’t make them to order…I make them when I have time.  Driving all over town looking for quality cowhide that’s on sale to fill one order would raise the cost a lot…but only making them when I can find suitable leather for a good price and making them when I have free time keeps the cost down.  If I got backed up in 4 plait orders and had to make them I’d probably stop.  They are no fun to make.

So next time your shopping for a 12 plait cowhide whip and think it should be drastically cheaper than a kangaroo whip, just save up the extra money and get a kangaroo whip…or downgrade to a 4 plait cowhide whip.




About half an hour ago FedEx dropped off a shipment of four whiskey colored Veg Tanned Drum Stuffed Kangaroo skins.


Our new puppy was very interested in the package…she had to inspect the skins to make sure they were good enough to turn into whips:

veg tanned kangaroo

The kangaroo skins were a bit smaller than I had requested.  I asked at least three of the four to be a minimum of 60dm, however what I got was a 52dm, 55dm and two 56dm skins.  From what I’ve heard the kangaroo supply over the years has been slowly dwindling and this may be a result of that.  Based on the “industry gossip” I’ve heard it’s not because of any lack of kangaroo, but lack of people who will go out and get them.

This morning I also finished the strand prep for the 16 foot bullwhip:


Today I’m going to probably trim up the kangaroo skins that came in today and maybe cut out some bellies before I have to get ready for my evening gig.




For a long time I’ve wanted to make a bullwhip with a sharkskin handle.  The main problem is that it’s very expensive and I’m  unaware of anyone locally that sells it.  So I can’t see it before I buy it.  I didn’t want to spend $150 or $200 on a skin that was totally unusable.

Well I finally found someone that was willing to sell me a small piece of sharkskin.  While it was much more expensive by the foot than a whole skin, a 9 x 12 inch piece will satisfy my curiosity and if it’s usable it will make  1 – 2  handles.  Here’s the piece that’s on it’s way to me:

shark skin

I think it’d be cool if the skin is braidable and I could make a sharkskin whip!  However from what I’ve read it’s got some texture to it, so the plaits rubbing against each other over time probably wouldn’t be good for the whip.