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:
- A side of cow is usually cheaper by the foot than kangaroo.
- Most budget whips are made of cowhide.
- 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.