Reprinted by permission of Phil Frank/San Francisco Chronicle


1) I said earlier that in the hands of an expert a whip is safe, but in anyone else’s hands… ouch. First off, you have to realize that you are going to whack yourself on the arms, legs and back of the head and neck. It goes with the territory until you learn how to control the whip.

2) The popper can pick up dirt and gravel and fling it through the air at 700 miles per hour. SO DON’T AIM AT PEOPLE IF YOU ARE OUTSIDE .

3) Including your arm’s reach, your 10 foot whip will travel in a circle covering some 26 feet in diameter. So be very careful where you swing that thing. And always be aware of what’s behind you. The whip travels backwards before it goes out in front of you. [Also look out for overhanging tree branches and electric cables – Andrew]

4) Swing easily at first. Proper whip technique does not require much muscle – it’s timing. Swinging harder does create a bigger bang, but it also creates bigger welts and blisters too.

5) A proper whip throw is like casting a fishing line or throwing a baseball. The grip is just like holding a fishing pole. Grasp the handle and have your thumb on top pointing straight down along the length of the whip. You aim by pointing the thumb at your target and following through to that point. Pay close attention to the words “Follow through”. The pop comes from following through towards your target NOT by pulling the whip back at the end. This is so important that I wish I could shout louder than typing in CAPS. Also, don’t try to throw the whip out in an underhand throw and “snap” it back. As my mother used to shriek “you’ll put your eye out”. She was right. If the tip of the popper doesn’t get you, the gravel will.



Other posters have suggested wearing safety glasses, leather jackets, crash helmets, chaps etc. Personally I wear normal glasses and a leather top hat, but I have been known to don a leather jacket and a hard hat when working on new stuff. The whip is at its most dangerous right at the tip just before it pops. After it has cracked, most of the energy has been expended, and it just hurts really badly, instead of slicing flesh and breaking bones.



There’s a lot of commentary about the dangers of the whip. This is completely and absolutely justified. But don’t be too scared by it. For a whip to actually slice through tin or flesh, it must contact the target right at the point of highest acceleration. That’s right at the point where the popper reaches the end of it’s travels and pops. For most amateurs and newbies, that would be a rare shot… BUT IT COULD HAPPEN! So be CAREFUL! OK ‘nuf said.

One Response to Safety

  1. LOAP says:

    I have smacked my self with my whip numerous times, but I never hit myself with an actual crack of the whip (which I am thankful for!). I started off wearing jeans, a leather jacket, and my fedora to protect myself and found these articles especially useful when first trying to learn to form the loop in the whip. I believe my main area of trouble that involved safety was my natural fear of the whip; I did not want to get cut by the whip. This fear held me back many times at the beginning of cracking; to conquer this fear, I wore the clothing I mentioned earlier for protection and allowed myself to become familiar with my whip before I attempted to begin cracking. Each of the cracks did not come easy; I struggled with the front and side cracks because of my fear, but eventually I can now perform them. The key that worked for me was:
    1. Expect and be prepared to get hit by the whip. Wearing jeans, a leather jacket, and a wide brimmed hat can protect you from a crack or simply reduce the pain of getting smacked by your own whip! I did start off wearing safety glasses too, but once you get comfortable with the whip, I feel the need for safety glasses will diminish.
    2. Practice the cracks slow and easy till you are able to follow the motion of the loop without hesitation or fear.
    3. Never give up on cracking, but do not tire yourself out in one training session. Practice the cracks a little every day, but mess with your whip (such as swinging it over your head) to get a feel for the flow of your whip. I began to feel more comfortable once I knew how my whip flowed and grew bolder in making attempts to make the front and side cracks.
    4. Never rush at making loud cracks! I tried doing that plenty of times and am surprised how I never hit myself with the crack (though I have hit myself with the thong plenty of those times).
    5. PATIENCE! Patience (as mentioned in Galatians 5:22) is a characteristic of God. Man does not naturally have patience, and patience is needed if you wish to teach yourself bullwhip cracking. After 2 and a half years, there is still many manuevers I have not attempted yet, but I thank God at how far I have been able to get with patience and perseverence. Do not give up; take breaks if you need to, but do not quit because of hardness or pain; endure it!

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