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’m cleaning out my shop and I’m selling a book set that I don’t use anymore. It was helpful for me in learning to understand how to make turkshead knots and is a great resource for anyone wanting to learn to tie different types of knots.
Here’s what I’m selling:
You get the Turkshead Cook Book Volume 1 and 2 along with a Knottool (tube style). For mot details about this book set visit: http://www.knottool.com/
This is about an $80 value and it’s yours for only $50 shipped in the USA. For delivery outside the USA change the Shipping option to “Outside the USA” To order simply use the “Buy Now” button below!
THIS HAS BEEN SOLD
This set was custom put together for me by the author. Normally the Turkshead Cookbook kits come with a flat Knottool this one has a tube style Knottool. I chose this type because it visually represented the end of a whip better than the flat Knottool.
Also this doesn’t come with string and needles, I used kangaroo lace (not included) that I had cut out with this book set.
Yesterday I did the strand prep and plaiting the outer belly for the 8 foot 12 plait bullwhip that I’m working on. And this morning I finished plaiting the outer belly:
It got me thinking about the importance of a plaited belly in a bullwhip. A plaited belly creates density inside a bullwhip and that density transfers energy.
The two belly two bolster construction method that the top bullwhip makers use is amazingly good at creating density within the bullwhip. The core is compressed by the inner belly. Then a bolster goes on to of that and the outer belly is plaited over the inner bolster. What that bolster does is no only add shape and a bit of weight to the bullwhip but it also fills up air space.
For example if I were to make a bullwhip using only plaited bellies you’d have small pockets inside the whip where there is no leather from one of the plaited bellies. There is no way to avoid this, that’s just how plaiting works, it doesn’t create a smooth surface. Sure you could really minimize air pockets by using a very high plait for the belly and splitting the strands down really thin. However I don’t imagine that would be a lot of work and wouldn’t give you an improvement over a low plait belly and a bolster…or that anyone would be willing to pay a premium for that!
So bolsters solve the problem of air pockets in between belly layers…why not just make a whip out of all bolsters (ie the only plaited layer is the overlay)?
You can do this and since a bolster is flat you don’t have to worry about air pockets. However you now have a density problem. How do you get the inner layers packed in tight? Maybe you could plait the overlay really tight and it will compress the bolsters and core?
Here’s a little video I made to demonstrate why I don’t think that would be very effective:
Basically in a whip that internally is all bolsters, the force of the plaiting is dispersed across all the layers giving you a whip that isn’t as dense as a whip that has the two belly, two bolster construction which I use.
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’s been a busy day for me, I did two shows, put an alternator in my car, rode bikes with my daughter and finished the overlay of a beginners bullwhip! I actually cut out all the layer, did the strand prep and plaited the overlay of the bullwhip.
In the picture above you can see that I’ve got the bullwhip hanging from a hook that’s at the top of the doorframe. On the left side of the picture you can see where I normally plait my bullwhips, and that hook is lower.
What I do when I plait my bullwhips is that I braid on the lower hook, then once the whip is 6 feet long, I move it to the higher hook and keep braiding (for bullwhips longer than 6 feet).
I should be able to find time to finish this bullwhip tomorrow. I need to tie the knots and attach the fall.
Well my mind is made up kip sucks for whipmaking! For the first couple feet of the kip bullwhip that I was making it was doing alright, but once the strands started to taper and weren’t 8mm wide they were breaking like crazy. I was breaking a strand every 6-9 inches.
I wasn’t pulling very hard either (maybe 60% -70% of the pull that I’d use for kangaroo), and after fixing the strands about 6 times I’ve decided to cut off the overlay. I don’t know what I’ll do with the bellies that are done…maybe I’ll cut out a kangaroo overlay and plait that over the kip bellies.
Anyway as far as my whipmaking goes, I’m not going to mess with kip for anything other than bolsters or 4 plait whip.
Tomorrow or Sunday I’ll start on making a 12 plait kangaroo signal whip.
Right now I’m working on a pair of 4 foot 8 plait kangaroo bullwhips.
The picture above is of the plaited bellies of both bullwhips. I’m getting the bellies braided soo tight and the core soo dense that you can hold them by the handle sideways and they will stick straight out!
The more you think about what happens to a bullwhip as it get broken in and used, you will see how important it is to get a tightly braided whip. Kangaroo is a stretchty leather and a whipmaker tries to get as much stretch out of the whip before plaiting it.
All the lace prep and braiding will take a most of the stretch out of the kangaroo lace by the time the whip is finished. But over time and use the whip’s strands will stretch. So if you start with a bullwhip that loosely briaded the stretch overtime will make the whip limp and lifeless. But a whip that’s very tightly braided at the beginning after it’s broken in will still be firm and lively.
It’s also this stretching action that will make a “matched pair” of bullwhips unmatched with time. Since no two pieces of kangaroo (or cowhide) are exactly the same they will break in differently. One strand could stretch (break in) differently than the one cut right next to it and when you are dealing with a pair of whips from two different hides you will definately have two different whips. also if i you always use the same whip for your right and left hand, then you will throw the whips differently and they will break in differently.
In my opinion a pair of bullwhips should simply be made off the same pattern so the weight is about the same in the whip.
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.