It’s many years since the text below was written, and a lot of things have changed in the whip market. There are a lot more whip makers and it’s easy to buy from anywhere in the world. Nylon whips have come of age, and parachute cord is now the material of choice for many whip makers, who are getting great results from it. For beginners I normally recommend a nylon bullwhip or cow whip, six to eight feet in length depending how big you are and how much space you have to practice in.
When choosing a whip maker, here are a few things to think about: How long have they been in the business? Is is a full time job or a hobby? Who did they learn from? Though there are some notable exceptions to this, generally whip makers who learned from a master whip maker themselves, and have been doing it full time for decades, produce better and more consistent whips.
The very best whips are made out of kangaroo hide, which is very strong and dense. These are the Aussie whips referred to below. If you order directly from Australia you should only order from a member of the Australian Plaiters and Whipmakers Association, as they will expel any member who does not follow ethical business practices. In recent years the best nylon whips have become equal in performance to all but the finest kangaroo hide whips, and are half the price or less.
It’s very important that you have a good whip. The usual cheapies that you find in stores just won’t cut it (unintentional pun, actually). Like JuggleBug diabolos, they will give you so much grief just trying to learn the basics that you will probably throw it away before learning. The weave should be very snug. The edges of the leather strips should lay flat against each other and not stick up (run your hand down the whip, it should be somewhat smooth). The “fall” (the part that connects the braided part to the string popper) should be a continuation of the smallest diameter of the whip. Many cheap whips have a fall that is wider than the thong. This fall should be trimmed with a razor so that it is at least a bit narrower than the smallest part of the thong. At 8 to 10 feet, a whip should be pretty heavy. A good whip has a healthy heft to it. If the whip is too light, it will be very difficult to pop properly. My 6 foot Aussies cost me between $125-150 and my 12 footer cost $250 (in 1991-92).
The longer the whip the harder it is to handle properly, but the louder the pop will be. When beginning to learn you should use a whip that isn’t too long. 6 foot or less is best, 8 foot is the top end. Beyond that the whip will be unwieldy and you can learn bad habits trying to get it to pop.
Dubé’s whip is OK, but if you are looking for a GREAT whip, get in contact with Mark Allen. He has the best selection I’ve ever seen. I am not a great fan of that Whip book, mostly because it is a book. I, Dubé and Mark Allen sell a Whip Video called “Whip Cracking Part 1 and Part 2” (about $25.00 from all of us). There is another video called The Art of the Bullwhip that is more exhibition then instruction.
As for prices:
- A whip you probably don’t want to use and won’t last – $25- $40US
- A good whip – $60-$100US
- A Great whip that will last you for years, $200-$350US
For the last category of whips, you will have to go to see Mark Allen. (1-800-858-5568) say Hi for me.
Steve replies to Greg:
There is another video called The Art of the Bullwhip that is more exhibition than instruction.
“The Art of the Bullwhip” is essential for anyone who appreciates the bullwhip. There are things on that vid that are stupendous! Vince Bruce, Leonard Wheatley, Joyce Rice, and the Bradys are just incredible to watch. The other two vids are good for instruction. Part 1 covers the basics and Part 2 specifically covers four advanced techniques. I did the sound engineering on that vid and I’ll be damned if one of those students doesn’t look really familiar! 😉
A whip you probably don’t want to use or wont last – $25-$40US
I’m not comfortable with that price range. The whip sold by Dubé and Mark for $40-60 is the absolute minimum which can be used properly. There are whips out there for less, but due to the improper construction, they are not able to be popped properly as they are too light and do not taper. You will probably not be able to learn on one of these.
A good whip – $60-$100US
I haven’t seen one for this price range that qualifies as good. Though our mileage probably varies. Both Mark Allen and Brian Dubé sell a halfway decent American bullwhip that costs around $60. It’s not very smooth or accurate, but it’s heavy and tapered enough to learn well with. I did. It has the wide, fall that I described which should be trimmed down. And the popper it comes with won’t last very long.
A Great whip that will last you for years, $200-$350
Again as mileage (and superlatives) varies, I say $200-350 is a “Very Good” whip. A GREAT whip is handmade to order by a recognized expert (David Morgan, Leonard Wheatley), will probably cost more and will definitely take a long time to order and make. You’ll wait for it, but it’s worth it if you are really serious. [Note from Andrew. Since this was written David Morgan has largely retired from whip making and Leonard Wheatley has passed away]
There are some nylon whips out there which are good for beginners as they are not expensive, handle well, can take wet conditions, and do not need conditioning. Billy Anderson, Rhett’s Whips, Greg DeSaye, Mark Allen and others sell nylon whips which I think are the best value around $100.
For more expensive whips, the quality of the braiding and the leather are important, but there other factors: How much ‘life’ does the whip have? When you hang it from the handle, and then move the handle slightly, how fast and how big is the movement in the popper?
Is the density distribution smooth? Does the weight of the whip decrease smoothly along the length? If it is all concentrated in the handle, or spread evenly along the length, that makes the whip harder to crack. The construction of the belly (the part inside the thong) is really important for this. Good whips have a smaller whip woven inside. Bad whips have rope or even paper inside.
Are the fall and the thong the same width where they meet? If not this interrupts the density distribution.
Finally, how much effort does it take to crack, and how does it feel in my hand? The better the whip, the less effort it takes to crack, and a really fine whip will crack with a very small motion of the hand, provided you get it just right.
The higher the plait count, the “livelier” your whip will be. Imagine a two foot long chain. Which will be livelier (a) the two foot chain made from three links, or (b) the two foot chain made from 400 links? You can directly interpret this to the number of plaits. A 12 plait will be more supple than an 8, and a 16 more than a 12. But of course the time and skill required to make a 16 plait whip is FAR MORE than that for an 8… and you are going to pay for it!
“Life” is extremely important in a whip. It is what transfers your intended hand movements out across the whip. It can be viewed as “less life” equals “static interference” on your television. The liveliest whip will broadcast every nuance of your delivery without any loss. A less lively whip will lose a lot in the transmission and accuracy and subtlety will be lost.
I don’t know enough about the “belly” to give an opinion, but any whip from a decent whip maker (not mass-produced) will likely have at least one decent, hand-woven belly with proper filling.
Type of leather is up to your personal taste. Most favored seems to be Kangaroo, but well treated Cow is beloved too. I’ve even held a whip made of Rhinoceros (or was it Hippo? Don’t remember now).
So much of whip choice is personal taste. Though in the beginning it’s pretty much either (a) ask someone where to buy one, order it, and if you like it Voila! You now have a favorite whip-maker who you will recommend. Or (b) you use someone else’s whip and order the same kind.