Your whip is made of leather so you should be careful to keep it clean and dry. A whip’s worst enemy is dirt and moisture. Dirt can rub and erode the leather, and moisture can cause it to stretch, shrink, kink and even Mildew (ugh!).
DO NOT USE OILS ON YOUR WHIPS. Neet’s Foot Oil will make the whip feel really nice at first, but I’ve been told by many whipsters that eventually it will weaken and break down the leather. I used this on my first Dubé whip and it fell apart pretty fast.
The best way to “break in” a whip is to use it. A great whip will have a lot of “life” in it. After being broken in It will carry a little wiggle all the way down its length. This means you won’t have to work hard to get it to react. A well broken in whip will do what you want with very little effort. A whip is “yours” when it feels like an extension of your arm. You can smack something with your fingers without having to consciously aim. Good whip work is like that too. You just look at your target and the whip goes there. Oops, too much philosophy. Back to work:
Before you use your whip rub it down really well with a paste made of Saddle Soap. Shave the soap off of a bar into a bowl and add just enough water to make it pasty/foamy (not too much water!). You can buy a bar of Saddle Soap at any Tack shop (that’s horse supplies for all you greenhorns).
Using your fingers, work the paste into the leather uniformly from the handle right down to the end of the fall. Then let the whip dry for 1-2 days. Hang it by the handle or lay it down flat so that it doesn’t dry with any kinks. You can also leave it in a very loose coil. This applies for any time it gets wet: Don’t let it dry with a kink in it.
The old-timers say the best stuff to rub into your whip is the fat from around a sheep’s heart. Second best is from a cow’s heart. It has to do with the salt/protein content or something or other. I don’t mind killing a saddle for its soap, but I draw the line at…
oh forget it 🙂
After it dries, rub it down with a clean dry cloth to remove any excess soap. It might look like hell as it dries because the soap looks kinda crusty, but after you rub it down it will shine like a sexy new car. Keep it clean. Rub it with a cloth after every time you use it. Well, that may be a bit obsessive actually. Just keep it clean of all obvious dirt and dust accumulation.
Store it in a dark dry place. Sunlight can dry it out like an old lampshade. Store it rolled into a loose coil along its natural bend. Don’t force it to coil any tighter than it wants to.
Steve, your comments about neet’s foot oil are quite right and I have repaired many whips which have suffered from this scourge. However, it has been my experience that most people use far too much oil on their whips and this is as bad as using water and will rot the leather at the end about four inches from the fall. The other problem occurs when people use whips around wet grass etc. so they apply more oil to the whip in an effort to get rid of the moisture, unfortunately, quality neet’s foot oil is sulfonated which helps it penetrate the leather better but also acts as an emulsifier and only traps the water in with the oil, making the problem worse. Remember, neet’s foot oil can be great for leather but use sparingly on dry whips only.
For water proofing, lubricating and in the making of the belly of my whips I use a paste that my father used to make for the Australian army during WWII made from mutton fat and specially treated mineral oils, testimony of its effectiveness is a couple of 80 + year old whips which still look and feel new.
I totally agree, if you have to use Neats foot oil on your whips use it sparingly. Many whip crackers around the World recommend using animal fat products like kidney fat and tallow to grease their whips. I have the concern that these fats have the potential to grow bacteria that could attack the leather. I use a product called Pecard leather dressing on my whips. It is based on a petroleum Lubricant with the addition of selected waxes such as bees wax. It seems to be recommended by whip maker David Morgan, and to be honest that is good enough for me. It is available through his web site.
As the oils in leather dry out, it loses strength and flexibility. I give my whips a good coat of grease/dressing about every 6 months, with lighter coatings in between when needed. Be sure the whip is clean and dry before you apply a leather dressing to them. For a heavy coat, be sure to allow it time to absorb in, (up to a week or more for dry or dense leather whips) then wipe the excess off with a soft cloth. It seems to work well. I also try to keep my whip falls treated on a more constant basis as they seem to last longer if kept well dressed. I recommend giving a new whip a good coat of dressing before use too. You do not over grease a whip though. It should not feel sticky or tacky after the excess dressing is removed. The amount of use your whip gets also determine how often it should be dressed. Whips in storage or that are not frequently used can probably get away with a light coat of dressing every 6 months. Where as a whip being used on a daily basis or that are being exposed to harsh elements will need more frequent dressing.
One of the quickest ways to damage a good whip is to hit it against hard or sharp objects like walls, fences, rocks, concrete and gravel. So don’t hit those things. Also cracking a whip with excessive force can stretch the thong affecting the taper as well as cause the fall to break. With a good technique you should not need excessive force to crack your whip. If you going to be doing a great deal of cutting or smacking objects out of the air with your whip, Let the fall and cracker (popper) take the brunt of the wear. They are replaceable for just that reason. Dirt and sand can also sometimes get inside the braid of the whip causing internal rubbing that in time can cause damage to the whip. If you suspect this has happened and it is causing a problem you can carefully wash the dirt out in warm mild soapy water then rinse it. DO NOT SOAK the whip. Then let it dry properly and completely. Then give it a good heavy coat of grease or leather dressing. While I normally never recommend getting a leather whip wet, (if you can avoid it) this is one rare case where it is necessary, however this is not something you want to do often. For general cleaning you can use a high quality saddle soap or other good leather cleaner as long as it does not contain any salts or solvents.
While it sounds obsessive I try to wipe down my whips with a soft cloth before I put them away, I find they stay much cleaner this way.
A braided leather handle and the knot work on a whip requires slightly different care than the rest of the whip. Most leather dressings lubricate the leather causing it stretch a little in order to encourage flexibility in the leather. While this is the desired effect with the thong and fall, It’s not what you want with a braided leather handle or the knot work. First off, do not treat them as often as you would the thong and fall. Over dressing a braided handle of a whip can in time cause the leather to become loose and slide on the handle assembly. Aside from keeping them clean, try to use only enough leather dressing to keep the leather in good shape. Wipe on an extremely light coat, then wipe it off to remove the excess.
This is also the case with the fancy knot work on whips. You want to keep those knots tight so that it doesnt loosen up and become undone. An occasional wipe on wipe off with a good leather dressing is ok, but for the most part they don’t need it. Instead a high quality leather shoe polish has been recommended and can be use to keep the leather knot work in good shape, with out causing them to loosen up on you. Again though with any product you use on your whip, make sure its not going to contain any harsh chemicals or salts that could eventually damage the leather.
The last foot or two of the whip takes the abuse. You really don’t need to worry about the top half. You may use a leather dressing such as Pecard’s. Make sure you wipe the whip down after you condition it. Leaving it oily will only attract the dirt and dust that damages the leather. Treat the whip like your skin. When you feel it getting dry, put some on.
To disinfect the cracker, I have found from the medical supply store a product called Staffine. It’s a 20oz. aerosol spray, and it kills HIV after 30 seconds. It’s also colorless which is very important for the whip. You may use it only on the cracker or you may use it on the leather as well. If you spray part of the fall of the whip, make sure you spray the whole length. You don’t want to discolor just one part.
I’ve been hearing more and more hype about Staphene, and it’s getting to the point that I’m slightly alarmed about the virtues being attributed to it. So from my own perspective as a medicinal chemist with 12 years in the chemical and biomedical industries, I wanted to post some fact and dispel some myths.
First, the good news. Staphene is a very effective bactericide, fungicide, and virucide. It is safe for use on leather, in the sense that it won’t harm leather goods.
However there are some dangerous myths about Staphene: Most importantly, Staphene WILL NOT SANITIZE LEATHER!!!! I can’t overemphasize this, because this is the biggest part of the hype about Staphene. People think that because Staphene is safe for use on leather, it is also effective against most of the viruses we worry about. And in the case of leather this is not true. In fact, the only use on leather that the manufacturer recommends is spraying leather surfaces to prevent mildew.
Here’s the problem: leather and wood are very porous. Blood and other body fluids soak into leather, and at that point Staphene can’t reach the dangerous micro-organisms lodged in those pores. For surface molds and mildew Staphene works great, and if your leathergoods get wet Staphene can be part of the rehabilitation process to get them back to normal. But please, don’t trust it to sanitize leather, cloth, or wood that has come into contact with body fluids.
The only way to sanitize porous organic materials that have contacted body fluids is an autoclave. And of course that will destroy most leathergoods.