One thing that I think is important to the construction of a bullwhip is dropping strands while it’s being plaited. Now this is something that in my opinion you have to do on some level on a bullwhip 12 plait and above (there are some exceptions to this).
If you don’t know what a strand drop is, it’s making the whip have a one point have less strands than the part before. For example I’m making a 12 plait bullwhip, at some point you will put strands into the core making it starting at that point 10 plait. Look at the bullwhip below:
It starts as a 12 plait and ends with 6 plait point. One of the reasons for a lower strand count towards the point is that it by having less strands you have thicker strands. Lets say each strand at a 6 plait point is 5mm thick, then the strands of that same point would be 2.5mm thick at 12 plait. To give you a bit of perspective 2.5mm a hair thicker than the edge of a U.S. Half Dollar.
With a thinner strand you run the risk of cutting a strand whenever you are out cracking if the whip it comes near anything remotely abrasive, like a rock. Obviously with a thicker strand you don’t have the same problem.
Also at the point of the whip you generally want to plait very tightly because that’s where a lot of stress is put on the lash of the whip. With a thicker strand you can pull harder before the strand would break than with a thinner strand.
The general rule of thumb that I follow when making bullwhips (for any 12 plait and above) is that the point will have half the plait count as the beginning of the whip. So a 12 plait whip will have a 6 plait point and a 24 plait bullwhip will have a 12 plait point.
Wait a minute…didn’t I just say that a 12 plait point had strands to thin?
Yes I did, but typically something like a 24 plait bullwhip isn’t something you’d use for everyday cracking. That’s into collector whip territory where it’s a functional piece of art, versus something you’d take out to move cattle or for a beginner to be cracking into the dirt.
Also strand dropping shows the skills of the whip maker. Strand drops aren’t easy to do, especially when compared to not dropping strands. I suspect the reason most people would make a 12 plait bullwhip that’s has no strand drops is simply lack of skill of the maker or lack of pride in the finished product.
The last couple of days here in the Seattle we’ve gotten (for us) a lot of snow. I think our city normally averages something like 5ish inches a year and in one day we got about 9 inches of snow! Add that to the topography of the region which is mostly hills and you get a slippery mess!
Also this is a chance for me to point out that you can take kangaroo bullwhips and use them in the rain and snow. There’s this general misconception that if you take you kangaroo whips outside in the rain you’ll ruin them. That’s simply not true.
What is true is that if you do take your whips outside in the rain or snow you will need to maintain them properly and it’s not that hard to do. A coat of dressing before you take them out will help block the moisture from getting into your whip while you are cracking. When you are finished cracking your whips you dry them off and give them another light coat of dressing.
I put a coat on my whips and took them out in the snow:
One thing I noticed was that my whips didn’t really get wet! After cracking them in the snow they ended up very cold, but not wet. I gave them a rub down with a towel anyway and another light coat of dressing.
I expected the falls of the whips at the very least to pick up some moisture but they never felt like they picked up any additional water weight while cracking. Keep in mind that snow is a lot different from rain, where snow is basically a solid unlike rain which is a liquid.
Yesterday I finished making the other 16 plait two tone bullwhip! This bullwhip was cut out the same time as the last one, but I didn’t immediately bang it out. This bullwhip is 6.5 feet long and made in black and saddle tan kangaroo.
Here’s a close up of the handle:
Another thing that I did with this bullwhip was putting a couple of plaited patterns in the lash. I’ve never really don that aside from right off the end of the handle. Here’s the birds eye plait:
And here’s the 2 X 2 squares:
With this bullwhip I took a lot of care as to how I got into and out of different patterns on the whip. So that the plaiting flows well and symmetrically into and out of the different patterns on both the handle and the lash.
The next few whips that I’m planning to make are going to be stock whips. In the past I’ve only made a few stock whips and they are something that I’d like to make more of and eventually a pair for myself.
One of the classic tricks with a bullwhip that you read about are people “Knocking the top off a bottle with a bullwhip”. The first time I remember reading that trick in my mind the person was opening a bottle, not merely knocking a a cap that was placed on top of it of.
Here’s a video of the Seattle Snapdragon’s bullwhip group and in the second half of it you see them trying to knock the top off of a bottle…but it’s an opened bottle with the cap set upside down on top:
And here’s a link to an old time news reel that shows a guy knocking the stopper (cork) out of a bottle: http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=10509 The bottle trick is showN at the beginning and again in slow motion at the end. And this one has a clearer view of another performer knocking the cork out of a bottle: http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=65287 Finally here’s Dan Hassett knocking the cork out of a bottle while on horse back: http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=28283
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of actually opening a bottle with a bullwhip. I don’t know what recently got me thinking about this, but it’s been in my head for the last few weeks. Unfortunately the Seattle weather has been to wet to go out and try it, but that gave me time to think it through. I’m using a long neck Coke bottle instead of a beer bottle with a shorter neck. Also the coke bottle is made from fairly thick glass on the neck compare to a beer bottle. For a bullwhip I’m using a fairly heavy four foot bullwhip that’s kangaroo and only 4 plait. I use this bullwhip for a lot of tricks where there can be abrasive damage to the bullwhip.
Finally after a lot of thought I tried opening a bottle and here’s my first attempt:
Honestly I’m amazed that I got it on the first try, that’s why after I opened the bottle I stand there doing nothing, I’m stunned!
I’m always amazed at the lack of training that many people have when they pick up a bullwhip and try to crack it! Number one priority is protecting your eyes, you need to wear safety goggles/glasses! However a quick search of the term “Bullwhip Fail” on youtube found tons of videos and virtually everyperson’s eyes were not protected!
The next thing that drives me crazy is how many people think that they instinctively know how to crack a bullwhip. In fact they will tell you they know how, but are lying! Cracking a bullwhip is not something you can automatically do…and if you think that because you can snap a towel that skill translates to a bullwhip you are 100% wrong!
I found a couple bullwhip videos that I think illustrate what not to do. Here’s the first one:
In the video above the guy is trying to have some sort of form besides simply dishragging the bullwhip. However he’s missing the follow through after the point where the bullwhip is supposed to crack.
Imagine someone playing baseball and they are batting. If you watch any sort of baseball you’ll know the batter follows through with their swing after the bat has made contact with the ball. Once the ball has contacted the bat and taken the energy from the swing the batter could technically stop the swing, but they all follow through. Why? Because if they forced a stop they could injure themselves…same with cracking a bullwhip, you don’t do a follow through you can injure yourself like the person in the above clip!
There are a couple of things that I find hilarious about this next clip:
First of all for the overhead crack he’s wildly swinging it over his head without purpose. Cracking a bullwhip is like dance, you need to move with intention. Notice about halfway through the video his body language get’s more “angry” and his swing gets crazier and crazier. That’s not good, whip cracking is all about control. He claims to have learned to crack a whip in school…but any competent teacher would tell you not to crack the bullwhip in front of you like he did at the 46 second mark. Finally the title of the video is “Pretty Cool Things I’m Pretty Good At” cracks me up! It should be, “Pretty Cool Things That I’m Incompetent At”!
Heck take the movie the Blues Brothers, even Belushi has proper form when he cracks in the famous Rawhide Scene:
So what I’m trying to say is if you are new to cracking a bullwhip finding a local bullwhip cracking group or whip cracker to learn from is a good idea. If that’s not an option there are tons of videos (DVD’s and online) that will teach you proper form. Bullwhip cracking is a sport has risks built into it and there’s now way to avoid it, but through proper training and safety (like goggles) you are reduce that risk!
I’m cleaning up my office and I realized that I’ve got tons of scrap kangaroo and cowhide leather kicking around (mostly kangaroo). Here’s a sample of what I have:
The pieces are in all shapes from and sizes. There’s a ton of lace, which would be perfect for small braided goods like key chains. In fact that’s how I used to use up my lace: making keychains, miniature bullwhips, etc
I’ll never use the amount of scrap I have because I generate a lot more than what I use. This is a great chance to get some kangaroo corners, lace and cowhide corners and lace. So here’s what I’m offering for $10.00 shipping and handling I’ll fill a 9 X 12 manila envelope full of kangaroo scrap. That’s it, a flat $10.00, so if you’ve ever thought of braiding or maybe just need a bit of lace click the buy now button:
Here’s a few of examples of what I’ve made from my scrap:
For this deal I can’t guarantee you’ll get any specific colors, shapes, lengths of lace, etc. I’m just grabbing handfuls and putting it into an envelope. This is limited to the amount of scrap I have and is available on a first come first served basis, so click the buy now button now!
Oh, if you want more than one envelope of kangaroo and cow leather scrap, simply order more that one!
One of the cool things about living in the Seattle area is there is a ton of cool things happening around the city. For example the Seattle Wushu Center has a once a month Bullwhip Study Group. That’s right it’s a group that meets up and cracks bullwhips.
The Bullwhip Study group is run by Restita who has one of the coolest names ever and is super friendly! Here she is teaching a whip crack combination:
I cracked whips with them over the summer and had a great time. The Bullwhip Study Group is open to all levels of whips crackers from beginners to advanced whip crackers. The day I came there were several people that had never cracked whips before…and they have loaner whips to learn on! So if you’ve always wanted to learn to crack a whip contact the Restita, for details visit: http://seattlewushucenter.com/FREEmonthlyevents.aspx