So, how does one actually "get into" whip-making? Well, if you live say, in Australia, there’s a good chance of being born into the trade, due to a family member passing down the knowledge to you the same as it came to them. Australia is rich in tradition when it comes to whip-making. For the rest of us, especially here in the U.S., it’s not exactly a well-known trade or vocation. It always fascinates me when I hear stories from others on how they came to whip-making.
For myself, my interest in whips was sparked by Indiana Jones. From then on, any movie or TV show that featured a whip always grabbed my attention. My friends & I made "whips" out of thick rope, electrical tape bound for the handle section with a knot on the end. My whip holder was a shoe-string that wrapped around the coiled rope & fastened onto a spring clip which hung from my belt. As you can imagine, this "whip" didn’t really crack all that well, if at all, but it worked great when swinging on it from a tree branch or the roof of my parents’ garage!
As time passed, I was flipping through an old Field & Stream magazine my dad subscribed to. In the back, amongst the classifieds, was an ad for an 8 ft latigo swivel-handled bullwhip. I didn’t know much at all about whips, but I knew I had to have it, and "screen-accuracy" wasn’t in my vocabulary back then. I think the whip cost about $89 or so, which I paid for with the money from my paper route, sent in the form of a money order. In a couple weeks, I had my first real bullwhip.
Years passed, and from time to time, I’d dig out that old latigo bullwhip & swing it around some, getting a few cracks here & there, but never really mastering it. Somewhere along the way, amidst packing & moving, the whip was lost, never seen again, but not forgotten. After high school came college, which found me hanging drywall for about 3 years. From there, I worked in a couple different machine shops, learned to program a CNC lathe & so worked at becoming a machinist. Then I worked for a friend who bought a rental store, did that for a couple years. Eventually, I went back to doing sheetrock, which I’ve done now off & on for almost 20 years. It’s a good trade to know when the work is there, but as anyone who knows it will tell you, it’s feast or famine. So, most of my life has dealt with construction & manufacturing of some sorts.
One day at my board-hanging job, I got to thinking about cracking a whip when I was a kid, and how I’d like to do that again. So again, I bought myself an inexpensive latigo bullwhip, this time a 10 footer. This time around I decided that I was gonna learn how to crack it correctly, and learn how to handle a whip. After a month or so of routinely practicing with my new whip and reading everything I could find online about whips and the people who make them, I decided that I’d try to make one myself. I thought that I was good enough at working with my hands that I could learn this skill, however long it took. So I bought the Ron Edwards book, How To Make Whips, and so it began.
The first several whips I made were cowhide, various thicknesses of veg-tanned tooling leathers, one from buffalo hide and one from kangaroo hide. Through numerous emails to people like Mike Murphy & Bernie Wojcicki, I learned bits & pieces of the process. Because leather can be pretty expensive, especially kangaroo hide, I decided to better my plaiting skills with a less expensive material, nylon paracord, a.k.a. parachute cord. I had seen pics of whips online from Rhett Kelly, Steve Koliski, Joe Driver & some others.
That’s when I learned about the increasing popularity of nylon whips, how their durability & versatility has made them a good complement to leather whips. There are some people who just cannot accept that nylon whips have a place in today’s sport of whip-cracking. I won’t argue with them, to each his own. But I feel, and will make a point of this in the ongoing debate of nylon vs. leather, that nylon is a good complement to leather, not an alternative. It has its place, both as a less expensive option when buying a whip & for its functionality. There’s nothing that can be done with a leather whip that can’t be done with a well-built nylon whip.
So, here I am, some 4 years & 300+ whips later. I love working with my hands, enjoy making whips & constantly looking for ways to improve upon a good product. Did I ever plan to build primarily nylon whips? No. But I love cracking whips and am thankful that I can help offer products to others who also love whips, even provide them maybe with their first whip. As time goes on, I’ll devote more attention to building leather whips, which was in fact my first intention. In time, I hope to reach a point of offering quality whips in both leather & nylon.
A point of thank you to all who’ve ever given me help or answered a question I’ve had regarding making whips: Mike Murphy, Bernie Wojcicki, Rhett Kelly, Joe Driver, Robert Duke, Benjamin Scott, and most recently Tony Layzell.
Hope this has been an enjoyable read.
Till next time,