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Why do Whips have a Natural Curve or Coil Direction?

July 21, 2009


I don’t suppose anyone scientifically currently knows exactly why a hand-braided whip will have a natural coil direction even before it has ever been “forced” into a coil for shipping purposes after being braided, but there are theories.

First, whipmakers braid on the front of the whip, the side facing us. This allows us to see and manipulate and pull tight every strand more easily. So the “front” of the whip is always a handful of strands ahead of the back side in terms of being braided. And whether the whipmaker pulls in the front or on the back, the front will always be pulled slightly tighter because the braiding is ahead on that side. Add to this that the front strands are constantly being manipulated by the whipmaker, and the back strands are generally left alone unless they start to gap and need to be pushed up. This braiding on the front issue happens not just with the overlay, but also with the bellies.

Second, most whips (particularly leather ones) have bolsters which are triangular pieces of leather that will be solid on one side of the whip and broken in a seam on the other side of the whip. This may be a contributing factor, though IMO it has much less to do with creating the natural curve than the braiding.

Third, and this matters more the longer the whip is, is the fact the the whip hangs in a particular direction as it is being braided. The longer the whip is, the more weight there is pulling the whip down in an arc between where the whip is fastened to the braiding anchor and the whipmaker. Also the longer the whip is, the more time the whip will spend “learning” this arc, because it will take the whipmaker longer to finish the whip.

I’m sure there are other theories as well, but these are the top three I could come up with off the top of my head. In order to eliminate #1 and #3 which I think are probably the biggest contributors to the natural coil, the whipmaker would have to be able to braid the whip from every direction at the same time, and in a place where there is no gravity. There are ways however to lessen the original natural coil direction.

The tighter a whip is braided, the more it can resist gravity and the further up each strand is being pulled tight so the braiding on the front matters less. This can lessen the natural curve. Also, a whip can probably be forced to have a “natural” curve different from its original by being coiled several times in its new direction – this can happen accidentally when a whip is braided so tightly that it’s a little difficult to find the original natural curve. A shorter whip that has been very tightly braided can be an extra challenge to find the natural curve on, but most whipmakers know their whips well enough and are consistent enough that the curve (no matter how minuscule) usually happens on the same side every time, within a few degrees.

There are only two reasons I can think of for a new or used whip, leather or nylon, to absolutely not have any natural coil (assuming it was made by a human and on the planet earth of course, lol), and both of them revolve around the whip being just too floppy. Either the whipmaker never braided the whip tight enough, or the whip user beat the tar out of the whip and bent it in a million different directions, never coiled it the same way twice, and maybe even used way too much leather conditioner. Or a combination of these two problems. On the whip user’s part, this has to be pretty extreme abuse – and usually only really happens if the user is trying to achieve that effect.

Personally, I like a whip with a nice natural direction to the coil… I think most of us do, including professional whip performers like Chris Camp “The Whip Guy,” Adam “Crack” Winrich, and Anthony Delongis. I think it makes the whip track better when you’re cracking it. Performers who have a special whip just for precision targeting often avoid doing multiple cracks that change planes with that whip so that the natural coil stays straight and true and the transition section is better preserved. In the end, a good whip made from any material in the hands of a whipcracker who is using it with care will have a natural coil, wherever anyone thinks the natural coil came from, and that’s a good thing in my book!

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