A Day In The Life Of A Whipmaker

Most mornings, before I head into the workshop, I’ll answer emails while having some coffee, look at the weather forecast online, maybe pop onto a couple forums or read a few blogs, send an email or two to another whipmaker somewhere in the world. The whipmaking usually starts around 9 am & I finish around 6 or 7 pm. Today I’m finishing up a 6 ft Standard Bullwhip in black & yellow. Then I’ll start the plaiting on an 8 ft Standard Bull which I started yesterday. The handle & core was done yesterday.

There’s normally something built & ready to ship each day of the week, though I don’t go to the post office every day. I’ll wait till I have 3 or 4 packages & ship them all at once to help save time. At lunch time I’ll look over the work list & kind of mentally prepare the rest of the week. There’s a work list & a wait list which I refer to often. The work list is of the customers who’ve already ordered & paid. The wait list is made up of people who haven’t yet ordered, but are waiting to order. It may sound confusing I know, but some people who are on the waiting list will contact me, inquiring about the order they placed some time ago. If they’re on the waiting list, then they haven’t actually placed the order yet. The reason I have these two lists is because the wait time after someone had ordered grew to over three months. When customers would ask me what the turnaround time was, it was getting difficult to give an accurate prediction. I’ve stopped telling people just when I can take their order & give an approximation of when it can be filled.

Many customers have been extremely patient for the orders to be filled, and for that I’m very grateful. Thanks to all of you who’ve been patient with the wait. Right now, when I tell people how long the turnaround time is, I say that it’s an approximation, not a definite time frame. Most whipmakers work alone. I work alone. Everything that needs to be done is done by me. That includes answering emails, ordering materials, building whips, going to the post office, keeping accurate records of incoming orders, etc.

The whips are hand made one at a time. There are no machines to do any of the work while I do something else. If I’m sick & don’t work one day, that’s another day that delays the orders being filled. When I worked as a machinist, I ran a CNC lathe most of the time. The machine was set up with the proper tools on the turret for the machining, the computer was programmed, then the program was run & the lathe spit out the pieces one after another. After the set up & programming of the machine was done, I stood around most of the time. Sometimes I deburred parts or cleaned up my work area, anything to keep moving. Now & then I’d check the dimensions on the parts to make sure everything was within tolerance. Other than that, it was pretty boring. Whipmaking isn’t like that, there’s always something to do, as nothing is automated.

When the whipmaking is done for the day, I’ll hit the computer again to answer some emails that came in during the day while working. It’s frustrating at times when someone will send me a couple emails within an hour or two of each other, asking why I haven’t replied to them yet. I don’t sit at the computer all day; if I did, no whips would be built. So, answering some emails in the morning before work & some when I’m done working helps break it up some. There are times I don’t answer emails for a couple days, if I need to spend more time in the shop plaiting away.

There are days that aren’t so filled with work, waiting for an order of nylon to come in, or out doing some errands, picking up materials locally. Recently, an order of nylon was shipped to my old address which was on file with one of my distributors I use. It was returned to them & resent to my current address. This of course posed another delay. A local surplus store carries very small amounts of nylon, from which I ended up buying a few hundred feet. It helped me finish up a couple whips so I could ship them out.

If I’m plaiting every day for several consecutive days I may decide to take a day off from whipmaking, or at least from plaiting. I can still put a bunch of cores together, cut some bullwhip handles or something. Nylon is tough on the hands, worse than leather. Whenever I build a roohide whip, the leather feels so easy in the hands. By mostly plaiting nylon, I’ve learned to plait very tightly, and feel this helps when I do build leather whips. Some cowhide is also tough on the hands. One thing’s for sure, because nylon is stronger than leather, it’s virtually impossible to ever break a strand of paracord while plaiting. I normally break a strand when building a roohide whip.

Well, that’s just a little narrative of a normal day in my life whipmaking. Hope I haven’t rambled on too much and that some of you enjoyed reading it. Right now my coffee’s gone & it’s time to get in there & build some whips. Thanks for reading.

~Steve.

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