"What are the parts of
the bullwhip called?"
"How do you tie a cracker to the fall?"
"What is the best material to use for a cracker?"
Good question! I cannot say there is any one "best" material for a cracker. They all have their plusses and minuses.
Personally, for everyday use, I use mason's twine from hardware stores. I can skin it down to the thinness I want, I can choose my own colors (lighter for darker rooms) and it is not cost-prohibitive. I also use embroidery thread, which is durable and makes a sharp crack.
I've been given some human hair to see what I can do with it, and that experiment is still going on. I have used horsehair, silk, polyester thread, twine, fishing line, etc.
After choosing the material, I look at the end use of the cracker -- will I be performing soft wraps around a finger, or do I need to be able to slice a banana, or do I want a LOUD crack with the least effort. This allows me to make the cracker that will most suit the purpose, because when you make your own crackers, you have a lot of control over that aspect of your whip's performance.
The key, whatever the material, is make it as tightly as possible so it will carry the energy wave without losing power due to internal friction. Here's how: Figure out how long and how thick you want the final cracker. However many strands you decide on, the cracker will be one-quarter of the length of the original strands and four times as thick.
Make a loop (add a knot), put a chopstick through each end of the loop and start twisting one while you anchor the other one between your knees. When it is tight as a guitar string and won't go any tighter without starting to double on itself, pinch the center of the twirled string and pull toward yourself, allowing the two chopsticks to rest against each other.
When you let go of the string, it will spring into action and become your cracker. Add the knot wherever you want, making the fuzzy part as short or long as you like -- or as I often do, snip it half and half for a two-tone crack. Trim off the excess (such as the original knot when you made the loop). You're ready to go.
If I want something more aerodynamic, I will tie the cracker's knot in a fisherman's double hitch, making the knot smoother and smaller.
When in doubt, remember that tighter is always better. It's all about the physics.
"How often should I condition my whip, and what should I use? "
The whip itself will tell you when it needs a dose. It doesn't go by the calendar.
Condition your whip when it feels relatively dry and stiff. Don't overcondition it, because this will weaken the strands over time.
Usually, the fall requires conditioning more often than the thong. Wipe on, leave it for a few minutes, then wipe off with a soft rag, stroking from the handle toward the lash.
You do not need to condition the whole whip every time you do it -- just the end. The handle is rarely conditioned.
As for which product, there are many good choices out there. You can use Blackrock Leather 'N' Rich, Pecards, Fiebings, Jay-El, or Dr. Jackson's Hide Rejuvenator. (Pro whip handler Joyce Rice told me she used dish soap for its lanolin!)
By the way, more than once I heard from old cowboys that the sweat on your hands is the best grease.
Whatever you do, DO NOT use Neatsfoot Oil!
It chemically "burns" leather the way gasoline will burn your bare arm.
"Can I really swing on a bullwhip like Indiana Jones?"
Swinging from a whip will stretch the leather, making your whip wrinkle up like taffeta afterward.
The whips used in the Indiana Jones movies have nylon rope cores or aircraft cable with an overlay of kangaroo.
They are made specifically for swinging, not for cracking.
It's a great fantasy, but reality is elsewhere.
Simply put, swinging on it will kill your whip. Don't do it.
"What's the single best source for information about bullwhips?"
There are three good ones. First, I honestly recommend my own book, "Let's Get Cracking: The How-To Book of Bullwhip Skills."
Second, I recommend Ron Edwards' book, "How To Make Whips". You can get a copy at Amazon.com.
And third, I strongly suggest you bookmark The Bullwhip FAQ. Started by whip teacher and author Andrew Conway years ago, it's been continually updated. The information is good and the writing is interesting.
"Did you ever hit yourself? And did it hurt?"
Yes. As I am fond of saying, "Show me a juggler who never dropped a ball, and I'll show you a whipcracker who never hit himself."
When you're learning (or even when you've got a lot of experience), there will be the occasional misthrow. You will get whacked.
This is why I urge folks to wear eye protection (safety glasses), long sleeves, and a hat with a brim (to protect the ears and nose).
And yes, of course it hurts! Sometimes it's a sting, sometimes it's a smack, and sometimes it's a good wallop. This is why I urge you to use safety protocols.
Incidentally, when you hear the crack of the whip, the energy is expended. This means if you get hit after it cracks, the injury will probably be minor -- but it can still hurt! However, if the whip's lash hits you before the whip has cracked, all that pent-up energy will go right into your body -- and that means you may be looking at a welt or a bruise. After all, we do live in a world of logical consequences!
So have fun, and be safe! See you down the road --