One of the most mysterious things about making bullwhips are the bolsters. There’s not much written about them in any of the handful of bullwhip making books.
Here’s what I know about what they do:
- Increase the diameter of the bullwhip.
- Add weight to the bullwhip.
- Smooth out the bullwhip’s profile.
- Move weight further out into the thong (this is different from just adding weight to the bullwhip)
- Help define the “natural curve” of the bullwhip.
- Help give a bullwhip the proper taper.
What is a bolster? For me a bolster is a piece of cow or kip leather that goes between the plaited layers of a bullwhip. Some people use kangaroo, goat, etc for the bolster, I don’t see why it couldn’t be pretty much any leather that’s the desired thickness. Early on I used pigskin for a bolster is a few bullwhips.
The bolster wraps around the thong and usually the handle and it plaited over. Below are two bolsters and a core cut out:
I make my bullwhips with two plaited bellies and two bolsters. The bolsters are staggered in length so that one is shorter and one is longer. By having one shorter and one longer it will give you a better taper on the bullwhip than having two bolsters of the same length. If they are the same length your bullwhip’s taper will drop sharply a that point and it won’t have a nice smooth taper (usually).
I suppose you could make a bullwhip with the longer bolster first and the shorter one later, it would in theory give you the same taper. However if you did it that way your bullwhip would probably not be as smooth looking. A bolster on a bullwhip softens the transition from plaited belly to filler strands and makes that part of the finished bullwhip less noticable on the finished bullwhip.
The thickness of the bolster will add that much multiplied by two to the diameter of the bullwhip. So if you are trying to calculate the diameter of your finished whip before you start it’s very helpful to know that. For example if your bolster is .8mm thick then it will add 1.6mm to the diameter of the finished bullwhip.
By simply being there the bolster adds weight to the bullwhip. The bolster can run the entire length of the handle or just the last inch or two. That will give you a sleeker or thicker look on the handle.
The length of the bolster will help move weight further out into the thong. For example a 6 foot bullwhip with a bolster that’s 5 feet long will have more weight closer to the point than the same bullwhip with a 4 foot bolster. There’s no right or wrong length for the bolster of a bullwhip, it’s what you like. And it’s possible to have a bullwhip with a shorter bolster have more weight toward the tip than one with a longer bolster…the bolster is a tool for moving weight around inside the bullwhip.
For me the fun part about making bullwhips is playing around with the insides and making different parts different lengths or thicknesses and seeing how that changes the final product.
I hope you find this post interesting and/or helpful if you are trying to make a whip. If you have any different thoughts on bolsters, if you found this helpful or any comments on this post, click here to email me, I’d love to hear from you.
Now I’ve got to go and tie a couple to knots to finish a bullwhip!