Skip to content

Whip Terminology (Part 2): Internal Construction of Whips

July 21, 2009

Whip Terminology Part One covered some basic terms used to describe the external appearance of finished whips, and Part Three will cover the different styles of whips out there.  But here in Part Two we will focus our attention completely on the internal construction of whips, and the terminology associated with it.

First, let me say that no two whipmakers construct their whips exactly alike, and when finding a well-made whip it is partially up to the consumer to ask the right questions about the insides of the whip, and partially up to the whipmaker to truthfully and clearly explain to their customers what is inside their whips.  Knowing what is inside a whip is important because a whip’s insides are just as important to the overall performance and durability of the whip as its outside appearance.

Let’s start with a few basic terms, and to give a visual of a few of these terms, here is a picture from MidWestWhips that shows the insides of a double belly kangaroo hide bullwhip.

1. Braided Belly – Quite simply, braided bellies are little lower plait count whips that exist inside the finished larger whip.  Braiding a belly or bellies inside a completed whip helps to give the finished whip more density (by compacting each layer, especially in a thicker whip), and helps to strengthen the whip’s durability.  When a whip is braided, there are two sets of strands which spiral about in opposite directions down the whip, overlapping each other often, which creates a braid.  These spiraling strands all work together, flexing and moving when the whip is cracked, much like a slinky moves and bends easily as it walks down stairs.  As you can imagine, a slinky flexing and bending over and over again will hold up and hold its form much better than a straight group of wires together being flexed and bent over and over again.  The same concept holds true for a whip – a plain tapered piece of solid leather will flex and bend and crack, but it won’t hold its form as well as a bunch of strands braided together and tapered, and it will likely break before the braided bunch will as well.  So of course the outside layer of a whip is most often braided, which is great, but adding more little braided whips inside the big whip will increase the durability (especially in long whips) by expanding the slinky durability concept to the insides of the whip as well.

2. Bolsters – Bolsters are generally long thin solid triangles of material that the majority of whipmakers (though there are exceptions) use in between the braided bellies of a whip.  The idea behind using bolsters is to twofold.  First, bolsters are used as a buffer inbetween bellies, a smoother surface for each braided layer to bend and flex around.  Second, bolsters are also used to help expand the overall diameter of the finished whip.  Even in kangaroo hide whips where all bellies and the outside braiding of the whip is fully kangaroo, bolsters are often made from cow or kip hide.

3. Core – The core is the innermost layer inside the thong of the whip.  Core materials vary wildly with different whip constructions and whipmakers.  Cheap poor quality cores may be made from rope, newspaper, tape, or even rolled together plastic bags!  A good core will be a quality piece of material, and will be tapered so as to begin the overall taper of a well-made whip.   Usually the core will be made from either the same material as the final layer of the whip (the overlay), or another sturdy material like nylon, cow/kip hide, or kangaroo hide.

3num12shotrsz4shotbagssinewrsz14. Shot loaded/Shot bag – Shot loading a whip or using a shot bag on the inside of a whip will increase the overall weight of a whip, which in different whip types and lengths has different effects.  In general, very short whips benefit more from being shot loaded than longer (6ft+) whips.  Shot loading can be accomplished in many different ways, all with different results, but the most common is to create a long, thin cone-shaped core which is then filled with lead shot.  A good shot bag will be made with leather for maximum strength and durability, but some whipmakers might also use a bit of tape either as the shot bag or to secure the cone shape of the finished shot bag.  Having tape inside a whip isn’t something that I would probably be completely comfortable with, but many leather whipmakers have and do use it with what seem like good results.  Also, most nylon whipmakers do use tape, specifically most often electrical tape, on the insides of their whips as binding or bolsters, and this practice in synthetic whips has produced many very nice whips.  There are exceptions, but the majority of nylon whips will have some shot loading or added weighting on their insides to help make up for the inherent weight and density nylon paracord lacks.

5. The Overlay – The overlay is the final layer of braiding on a whip, the part you can see when the whip is finished.  Even though it is important to have quality materials throughout the insides of a whip, it is particularly important to have a good material with which to create the overlay.  The finest whips with the best performance, hands down, will have kangaroo overlays (and hopefully braided kangaroo bellies as well).  Other materials also have their uses as well though.  Nylon whips with nylon overlays are great for added resistance to abrasion when cracking on rough surfaces like concrete, tend to be less expensive, and they are uniquely able to be used in rainy or wet conditions without sustaining damage.  Cowhide, although it is a lesser quality leather for whipmaking because it is not as strong in the same sizes as ‘roo is, can make great “rougher” whips with wider strands, and can generally be a more affordable option for whipcrackers who are on a budget.  Also keep in mind that there are different tannages of leather that produce different final qualities of material.

6. Shellac (leather whips) or Wax (nylon whips).  Both of these items are finishers for whips; they coat the overlay of a whip.  Shellac provides a small amount of protection to a leather whip, but is often there mainly to create an attractive finish on a brand new whip.  Shellac wears off over time and with use, and really doesn’t much affect the performance of a leather whip at all.  Wax on nylon whips however, is a slightly different story.  Some nylon whipmakers like to coat the outsides of their whip with wax, and some don’t.  There are good arguments in either direction the way I see it, and I have cracked both waxed and non-waxed nylon whips – the only conclusion I have come to on this subject is that both have the ability to be very nice and well-performing whips so long as the whipmaker is a good one.  For more opinions and thoughts on this topic, you can check out these links from two different skilled nylon whipmakers: Rhett waxes his whips, and Steve doesn’t wax his whips.

Bringing all of these different parts of a whip together well into a finished product is more important however than any one part or combination of parts.  A skilled and experienced whipmaker can make a whip that performs well out of just about any material, and can even leave out some of the above described parts (sometimes on purpose) and still end up with an excellent whip.  And an inexperienced or unskilled whipmaker can have every individual component “correct” inside his finished whips, but the whip will still perform poorly.  So as much as you research and talk with whipmakers about how they construct their whips, in the end, the thing that matters most is the caliber and experience of the whipmaker him or herself.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2010 2:59 pm

    On the subject of waxing whips, here’s the video I made on how I do it:

    (Pardon the unsolicited link)



  1. Whip Terminology (Part 1): The Complete Whip « The Whip Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: