I was just down in Las Vegas a few weeks ago at a trade show and a bunch of the people went out to Gilley’s at the Treasure Island to see a band. Gilley’s is a country bar and on the wall was this bullwhip:
It’s nothing crazy special, it’s a cheap bullwhip. I find it interesting to see these in person. It amazes me that anyone would buy them for anything other than decoration. The lash has virtually no taper, making it very difficult to get a good crack out of it without “dish ragging” it.
A proper whip should taper from the handle to the point. That’s one of the principles that allows it to build up the speed to break the speed of sound in an efficient manner. Good taper is something you should look for when shopping for a whip!
My current project that I’m finishing up is a six foot 8 plait kangaroo bullwhip. This bullwhip has two plaited bellies and two bolsters. Here’s it as of last night:
I cut out the fall, but am trying something new with this one. What I did was cut out the fall with an “oval” sort of shape for the slit instead of a line:
The theory here is to reduce a little bit of the bulk at the fall hitch. Because you need to add a fall at the fall hitch and tie off the plaiting there’s no way to completely eliminate the slight flare at that point. And honestly how much of a difference does taking out 1mm of bulk do? Probably not much. While the fall hitch is bulkier that the plaiting right before it, the fall is generally lighter and more flexible that the point of the whip. So once the whip has its (very) slight slow down at the fall hitch it jumps back up in speed as it hits the fall. Or at least that’s how it goes in my head.
I’ve also recently switched back from hanging the whip on loops of kangaroo lace on my hooks to hanging it by the yoke at the end:
This change is mostly because it’s easier and faster on my end to simply punch some holes than to loop lace that keeps falling off my hook and disappearing between whips.
Right now I’m working on a 6 foot 8 plait bullwhip. I’ve got the inner plaited bellies finished and just waiting on some grease to soak into the outer bolster. One thing I’m doing with this whip that I used to do a long time ago, but stopped is I’m tapering the bolsters thickness. So it starts out thick and gets skinnier towards the end, sort of like my weight when I’m getting ready for vacation. Here’s a quick Q&A about this:
Question: How do you do this?
Answer: To do this while I’m running it through my splitter about 1/3 of the way down I simply deepen the cut about half turn. Then about 2/3’s of the way I deepen the cut a little bit more.
Question: Does this make a better whip?
Answer: Not necessarily. The reduction of mass that I’m creating by tapering the bolster can done other ways like tapering the width of the filler strands. Tapering the filler strands is an easier and equally effective way to do this.
Question: Why am I doing it this time?
Answer: Basically to make this whip more interesting for me the whip maker.
Before tapering the thickness of the bolster I had the super fun chore of sharpening my bench splitter’s blade!
Normally I take my leather splitter to my local Tandy LeatherFactory and Andy will sharpen it for me (because he’s awesome!), however the last couple times I’ve been up there I’ve forgotten to bring it. So I got to do it by hand (insert sad face here).
Right now I’m working on two bullwhips: A six foot beginner’s bullwhip and a four foot 12 plait kangaroo bullwhip.
The six foot bullwhip’s lash is finished, I just need to do the knots.
The four foot bullwhip is almost finished. In need to cut some more falls before I can call the overlay done. t feels like it’s been a while since I’ve made a four foot bullwhip and this one is turning out well (so far), I’ll post pictures later today.
One question I’ve seen a lot in a forums about braiding is how to determine how thick you need the strands to be to cover a core. I use a pretty simple formula that I think for me has its roots in a Ron Edwards book. With a whip I take a piece of scrap lace and wrap it around the thickest part of the whip. Usually that is near the tip of the handle, and where I”m going to put the transition knot. I wrap the lace around the thickest part and mark it and then measure it to get the circumference. Then I multiply that by 1.5. Then I divide that by the number number of strands to get the width of the strand.
There are some other formulas that people use to get the strand width, like taking the diameter and multiplying it by 4.5 then dividing it by the number of strands. Which for the most part gives you the same number as the formula I use. The main reason I prefer the circumference multiply’d by 1.5 is that is easy math to do in my head (it makes me feel smarter) and it’s one less thing I’d need to plug into a calculator.
When it the time comes to cut them out, I start a bit wider in case there is any stretch and taper by eye as I cut. Of course I’m aware of the stretchy spots and make the strands wider as needed when I get to them. Then after they are cut out I resize them to the correct size while I pare them.
Right now I’m making a 12 plait signal whip and the overlay is almost finished. I was just looking at it and admiring my strand drops in this particular whip. That got me thinking about dropping strands in a bullwhip.
If you haven’t made a whip, or don’t know what a strand drop is, basically it’s when you take plaits out of the whip (or more accurately drop them into the middle of the whip) to reduce the overlays diameter.
For example an Indiana Jones style bullwhip (like David Morgan’s) starts as a 12 plait (12 strands) at the handle and ends with only 6 strands at the fall hitch. The 6 strands that disappeared between the beginning and the end were dropped into the middle of the whip.
Having good technique for dropping strands will give you a whip that when coiled doesn’t have kinks in it and will help give the whip a nice taper.
For me the hardest part about strand drops was to avoid:
- Having a bump at the strand drop
- Having a dramatic decrease in diameter at the strand drop
- Kinks in the whip when coiled
A long time ago I used to cut out filler strands equal to the strand about to be dropped in to reduce the bump in the whip. This took away the bump, but gave me a sharp decrease in the whips taper (David Morgan scolded me for that one time, but helped me fix it!). What I currently do is cut out approx 1/2 of what I’m dropping into the bullwhip.
Also I’m dropping one strand from the front and one from the back of the plaiting at the same point. What that does is gives me to opposing small kinks in the whip that almost cancel each other out. If you drop to strands at the same point on the same side of the whip, you put two slightly weak spots together and it gives you one larger weak spot and a more visible kink in the whip.
There is more to it that that, and a lot of it is plaiting technique or knowing when to drop a strand. I know there are other ways to do this, this is how I figured it out to give my whips a smoother taper and coil.
When you are making a bullwhip one thing that’s very important is taper…and having a smooth, even taper. You don’t want any sudden drops in diameter of the whips thong.
Pretty much everything in a bullwhip gets smaller. The core, bolsters, belly strands and the overlay. The overlay strands don’t always taper, sometimes you get the tapering action by dropping strands, so you have less of them. I consider that tapering because you are reducing the diameter of that layer of the whip.
Tapering is what helps makes a whip crack, so whips that use things like rope or cable for a core generally aren’t the best because the core doesn’t taper.
For me one of the fun challenges of whipmaking is figuring out how to make the taper as smooth as possible…that comes from David Morgan lecturing me years ago about sudden drops in my whips diameter.