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Whip Terminology (Part 3): Types of Whips

July 21, 2009

So, now that you know how the insides of whips are constructed (see Part 2), and you know the names of the different parts that come together in various combinations to make whips (see Part 1), now we can talk about the whips themselves.  There are six basic types of whips, and below you will see a picture representing each type with numbers pointing to the distinguishing characteristics of each whip.

1. The Bullwhip

whiptypebull The first type of whip is a bullwhip, classicly known in iconic American history and film, including the Indiana Jones movies (see the Indy Whips category for Indy whip related topics).

1. The rigid handle, connected directly to the thong.  Historically, many bullwhips were made with wooden handles (not covered by braiding), and even today there are a few modern whipmakers who make excellent whips in this style, such as Victor “Skip” SanSoucie.  Most other modern American and Australian bullwhips have handles which the overlay is braided over as a part of the full whip.

2. The Transition Knot.  Not all bullwhips have this cosmetic component, because it is not a necessary part of the style.  However, the braiding pattern of the handle and the thong often differ, and the transition knot is a decorative piece to mark the transition between these two patterns.

Pictured is a gently used 8ft bullwhip from the workshop of MidWestWhips in 12 plait, with a 10 inch handle.

2. The Snake Whip

whiptypesnake2 The second whip type is a snake whip.  Snake whips are handy little creatures, and after they’ve been broken in gently and naturally, they can often be coiled up to fit in a purse or large pocket.  Some are used for self-defense because they are so portable, some just for fun, and snake whips also have a decent following with the alternative lifestyle crowd because they are compact enough to use in an enclosed indoor area.

1. The snake whip is basically the exact same thing as a bullwhip, except it is missing the rigid handle.  Instead, the entire length, from butt knot to popper, is flexible.  This unique feature gives the snake whip its compact portability and its ability to be used in smaller spaces (assuming it’s a short snake, not a long one), but also removes the leverage that the rigid handle of a bullwhip provides.  This lack of leverage makes handling, targeting with, and doing multiple cracks with a longer snake much trickier.

3. The Signal Whip

whiptypesignal The third whip type is a signal whip.  The signal whip owes its roots most probably to sled dog racing, where the rules for the total length of the whips allowed were very stringent.

1. The signal whip also does not have a rigid handle, the same as a snake whip.

2. Braided-in Popper/Cracker.  Now this is the truly unique part of a signal whip – no other common whip type has this feature.  The signal whip completely eliminates the need for a fall or fall hitch, and instead the whipmaker braids the popper gradually directly into the end of the thong.  The shortest, most compact useable whips of the whip world are signal whips.

Pictured to is a gently used 3ft signal whip in 12plait by David Morgan.

4. The Stock whip.


Native to and still most common in Australia, the stockwhip is one of the more ingenious designs for a whip in my opinion.

1. The Keeper.  The keeper is actually made from loops of leather on both the end of the handle, and the beginning of the thong.  The two loops are fitted together in an impermanent fashion to make the hinge that is known as the keeper, which means that the thongs on stockwhips are replaceable and even potentially interchangeable.

3. Long rigid handle (sometimes known as a crop).  Generally a good deal longer and thinner than bullwhip handles, which provides more leverage when cracking, and historically also helped to keep the dangerous end of the whip farther away from the horse while the stockman was mounted.

The hunting whip or hunt whip, is very similar to and based on the same concepts behind the Australian stockwhip.  The biggest difference a hunt whip sports is that the keeper is often elongated, to further ease the rider’s ability to hang the whip over his or her arm.

Pictured above is a 6ft 24×12 plait stockwhip by Janine Fraser.  (Stockwhips are often plaited with a different plait number on the handle versus the thong.  When you see two numbers together describing the plait count of a stockwhip, the first number should stand for the plait count on the handle, and the second number the plait count of the thong).

5. The Cow Whip


The cow whip is native to Florida, and most often has a fully wood (not plaited) handle, unlike the one pictured above.  However, this one is made from nylon, which has become very common in recent years on cow whips because of the moist environmental conditions in Florida.  Before nylon became widely used in Florida cow whips, whipmakers often used deer leather.

1. This attachment between the thong and the handle is completely unique to cow whips.  The handle is at least partially hollow at the tip, which is where the beginning of the thong fits an inch or so down into.  The beginning of the thong has two pieces of leather or nylon which poke out of a hole in the handle and are wrapped around the handle and knotted – this is what secures the thong into the handle for the whipcracker, and also makes this whip the second whip type on this list with a thong that can be replaced without replacing the handle.

2. Another unique component to the cow whip is the twisted end.  Cow whips historically, and also many modern cow whips, have this tapering twisted ending before a fall or popper.

The slightly modified cow whip pictured above was crafted by a whipmaker who unfortunately no longer makes whips very often for orders… we are sad to lose Chris Hall from the world of whipmakers, and hope that his is only a temporary break from making whips.  However, if you are looking for a whip similar to this one that has the construction of a nylon cow whip and performs a bit like a nylon stockwhip, check out the MidWestWhips Performance Hybrid Nylon Whip.

6. The Bullock Whip

whiptypebullock Oh yes, this is the mac daddy of all whips.  The bullock whip will use just about every muscle in your trunk and arms to crack, and is not a whip for the weak or lazy person, trust me.  This type of whip was created solely to produce the LOUDEST crack possible.

1. The keeper.  Like a stockwhip, the bullock whip has the same replaceable thong feature thanks to a keeper.

2. A massively long handle.  The handle on this particular bullock whip is about five feet long.  Bullock whips require two hands, both arms, to crack.

This was a quick and simple introduction to the different most common types of whips available today.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 17, 2009 12:14 am

    I was wondering if you knew where (website) i could buy a cheepish bullock whip.


  1. Signal Whip Poppers/Crackers Info « The Whip Blog

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