The bull whip
developed independently in different parts of the world. Variants
can be found in numerous parts of Europe, and elsewhere. The predecessor
of the modern American bullwhip may have originally hailed from
Spain and Portugal, whence it traveled to the Americas as the
New World was explored.
We've recently learned that a handful of bull and stock whips
are still used, in Wales and Scotland, by shepherds; who use the
sound of the whip in training sheep dogs: signalling with the
crack when the dog makes a mistake or gets over enthusiastic.
The bullwhip is also still used in the cattle industry in some
parts of the world, and a well made work whip has provided many
people with an economical introduction to the sport of whip cracking.
Hollywood, the bullwhip is the only one, used by sport whip crackers,
to have maintained a place in the British public's imagination
- as the whip used by countless cowboys (and girls), as well as
characters such as Indiana Jones, Cat Woman, Zorro and many more.
whips can come in any size, from tiny hat band whips up to monstrous
forty footers. The whip is measured from the butt of the handle
to the end of the thong; although some American whip makers measure
the fall as well.
A modern one
has a solid, or nearly solid, handle, or 'cane'. The handle may
be bare or braided over. The thong is permanently attached to
can be made of anything from nylon webbing to butyl pond liner,
but are usually some kind of hide. Whips made from nylon parachute
chord are often now very good indeed; the best of them being better
than many roo hide whips.
bullwhips have narrow replaceable falls. 'Texas style' whips feature
a wide fall that sometimes cannot be replaced and will ultimately
wear out. This style of whip is still made in large numbers for
the American tourist industry, and occasionally to a reasonable
standard at a fairly low price, but is increasingly rare amongst
sport whip crackers.
either the fall or the cracker, are likely to be poor quality
'novelty' whips, and will fall apart if you try to use them. The
vast majority of 'genuine leather bullwhips' available in online
auctions, and from adult and joke shops, are of this type.
The snake whip,
or shot whip, is a forgotten whip of the cowboy. The snake lacks
the rigid handle of the bull whip, but is otherwise similar. This
allows it to be tightly coiled (hence the name) and put into a
saddle bag. Small ones can even be carried in a jacket pocket.
These whips were sometimes favoured by cattlemen and teamsters
working on foot, because they could be carried slung around the
neck, available for instant use.
The snake whip is the one type of whip used in our sport, that
was often carried as a weapon; not for whipping but for cracking
skulls with the weighted Turk's head knot! We're told that in
some parts of the United States, ownership of a snake whip was
at one time illegal.
whips were generally fairly long, and were often made with a sewn
leather cover over most of the belly, with only the lower part
of the thong being actually braided. Although this tip could be
replaced, these whips were mass produced and considered almost
a 'throw away' item, and very few of this design survive today.
whips range from about 3 foot long to around 12. Most are under
6 feet long. Short ones behave very similarly to a signal whip,
longer ones are used like a bull, but require more sensitive handling
for technical use. Either way, a good snake should be accurate
enough for target cutting but lively enough for rapid cracking;
and a good choice for the whip cracker who finds storing a whip
with a rigid handle to be something of a problem.
would seem that the original snake whip was a distinctly American
whip, most whip makers now produce them. Most are made from kangaroo
hide, with 8 to 16 strands in the overlay, although decent 4 plaits
can be found; and there's no reason why cow hide ones can't be
good. Higher plait whips are very rare. All good snake whips have
replaceable falls and crackers. They are almost always shot loaded
- hence 'shot whip' - although longer cowhide ones don't need
to be if made well.
and stock whip owners find that the lack of handle makes the snake
whip harder to use; while signal whip owners will find the action
of a snake whip to be quite familiar.
As with all
whips used by whip crackers, true snake whips are noise making
machines. Any 'snake whip' lacking either a cracker or fall will
perform disappointingly for whip cracking; and is best avoided
except possibly as a novelty.
are snake whip variants that were originally designed for use
with dog sled teams, and are still used by some mushers. They
are a surprisingly modern design, only having been around since
the 1970's. As the name suggests, they are meant to signal to
the dogs to help steer them, and the length is strictly controlled
to prevent them accidentally striking the team.
used by whip enthusiasts are sometimes up to six feet long. At
that length, you have a very elegant, accurate and efficient whip,
which is not very suitable for sport whip cracking. Commonest
are whips between three and four and a half feet, including cracker.
whips are made from kangaroo hide. We've seen pictures of them
made from buffalo hide and buckskin.
A good signal
whip has a dense, slim, thong that tapers for almost it's entire
length. Without knots to cause drag or dissipate the energy of
the throw, it will offer exceptional control. Consequently, such
whips are usually bought for adult play; and are particularly
suited to the 'Bob Deegan' style.
This is the
archetypal Australian whip. It is said to have been developed
from the English hunting whip, but there are early photographs
of English stock whips with intricately carved wooden stocks;
as well as photo's and film footage of early arctic explorers
using something that looks like a short stock whip (or yard whip,
see below), so it seems to likely to us that the stock whip is
very much a part of our English heritage and was taken to Australia
by English thong makers during the 19th Century. Although one
or two can still be found on farms, the stock whip is not well
known in Britain.
Australian whip makers insist that the name refers to the long
handle (stock). English whip makers used term 'stock' for the
solid parts of a number of different types of whip; and the Australians
made different whips with the same basic design (for example,
the short heavy 'knockout') so, perhaps, the name originally referred
to it's intended use.
gained it's name, the long stock makes this whip particularly
suitable for use from horseback. Because of this, stock whips
are traditionally long - usually over 7' in the thong. Shorter
ones are now commonly available for enthusiasts and children -
our shortest whip being around 3 to 3.5 feet in the thong. For
Australian target cutting competitions, six foot is the minimum
a stock whip features a cane stock, often with a steel insert
to provide shock absorption and strength - the long ones are powerful
whips, and a lot of strain is put on the wielder's wrist and forearm.
The stock may be partially or fully braided over. The fancy braiding
of the stock on roo hide whips has almost become an art form.
thong are not permanently joined. Instead, each part has a loop
through which the other part is threaded. This is the keeper and,
as the name suggests, it keeps the thong attached to the stock
(or crop, including keeper). This may be a throwback to the English
whip making industry's heyday, where the profession of whip maker
(making the crop) was entirely distinct from that of the thong
maker. It has the advantage over other designs of whip that, if
one part of the whip becomes damaged, it can be replaced without
having paying for an entirely new whip.
tend to be made using some kind of hide, with anything from 4
to (very rare indeed) 40 strands in the overlay. Nylon stock whips
have started to appear over the last few years. These tend to
have a much faster action than hide ones, and can get wet without
worrying about maintenance. Older stock whips are usually shot
loaded. However, unless added in small quantities, lead weighting
makes for a heavy thong that gives a 'top heavy' feeling to the
whip's handling. Refinements in technique means that most good
stock whips are now 'naturally falling'.
Only the length
of the thong is used in determining the length of the whip. Thus,
a 5' stock whip is almost twice as long as a 5' signal whip.
yard whip is currently in use on a farm on the Isle of Skye 'Short
stock whips. As the name suggests, they were developed for used
on foot in the cattle yard, rather than from horseback. Great
for precision target work and energetic routines. A yard whip
with a four foot thong has a reach of around 8.5 feet
had the pleasure to send a yard whip (pictured) to Scotland, where
it joined the very small number of traditional whips still used
in British agriculture. The customer told us that he had used
whips as a lad but, when his last one broke, he had been unable
to find anyone to make him a replacement and, despite his best
efforts, he had been unable to make one that was up to the job.
He had been motivated to try again after finding that his son
uses a bullwhip in his work in Wales. It's a satisfying feeling
to think that these whips, the descendants of cattle whips that
would once have been common place on British farms, are still
finding a place in helping people to make a living from the land.
These whips hail from Florida in the United States. Although quite
popular amongst enthusiasts in America.
Cow whips have long handles like stock whips, but the thong is
attached by passing strands through the handle, then knotting
them. Modern ones are usually made from nylon chord due to the
climate, although hide - especially buckskin - used to be the
norm. The handle is usually wooden, and left unbraided.
Unlike some other types of whip, they are still made primarily
as a work whip, which is why so many are made of nylon. If you're
out in humid conditions every day, you really don't want the hassle
of giving a leather whip the care it really needs if it's going
to survive for long.