Making Your Own Leather Whip
When I made the decision to make my own leather signal whip, it was some ungodly hour of night, and I had just watched two Youtube videos explaining how to braid 4 to 8 strands in the round. I am sharply reminded of a similar moment, about two years ago, when I was looking up left-handed knitting tutorials on Youtube. These are the patterns that lead to obsessions, which lead to energetic projects in my world.
So it was that I could be found one late June night, sitting on my bedroom floor in my pajamas, practicing an eight-strand round braid with some neon pink nylon cord that I had on hand. By the time I woke up the next morning, I was convinced I could braid a leather whip.
Days of dedicated research ensued, and I slowly collected the materials I needed: leather scraps generously donated by one of my housemates, #12 lead shot, duct tape, a vise, a utility knife. Following various instructions and advice taken from online forums, videos, written tutorials, and two whipmaking books gifted to me by a good friend, I cut out a long, tapered piece of leather for the innermost layer of my future whip, the shotbag. Using duct tape, I sealed the edges of the leather together into a long cone, carefully poured in the lead shot, and sealed the opening with a leather plug and more duct tape.
A quick note about lead shot: Because I know nothing about guns or procuring lead shot, I tried to find the material online, thinking it would be easier to obtain that way than trying to find a hunting store in San Francisco. I looked at hunting sites, gun supply sites, ammunition sites, and finally found two stores carrying bullets containing #12 shot, which, while I knew could not be the only way to get lead shot, were the only sources I could find from looking at ammunition. It would not be until after I'd already meticulously dissected half my copper bullets to fill my shotbag that I thought to look at reloading supplies and found lead shot being sold in ten pound bags.
After completing the shotbag, I cut out another tapered piece of leather to wrap around the core. This was the bolster, which helps to smooth out the inner belly and provide some added density to the whip. Once I cut it to fit snugly around the shotbag and tied it on with sewing thread, I was ready to begin braiding.
This would prove to be the most agonizing part of the process. I had looked into buying a leather lace-cutter but then thought that I might be able to cut the laces by hand with my utility knife. My forearm, wrist, and fingers very much regret that decision now. I bought several six foot straps of leather from a local supply store to cut into the thin 8mm strips I needed to braid around the bolster. Once cut, they then needed to be beveled so the strands would sit more cleanly together.
Yes, I beveled each strand with my utility knife as well.
I gave my whip an eight-strand braided belly over the bolster and finished with a twelve-strand braid overlay. I was careful to pull each strand tight as I wound the leather around the core, a process that rewarded me with several impressive blisters. The temptation to leave the eight-strand braid as the overlay fought with my stubbornness to stick with my original plan. My stubbornness won. By the time I finished the twelve-strand overlay, my arms were sore to the bone and my fingers cramped. And I still needed to braid the cracker into the end – the part that actually creates the cracking noise when a whip is thrown.
I gave myself a couple days for my hands to recuperate before putting the finishing touches on my new whip: a turk's head heel knot and wristband. And then, I was done.
Over the course of the two weeks that it took to research, buy materials, and put this whip together, I absorbed an incredible amount of information and gained an intimate sense of appreciation for the work it takes to create this beautiful instrument. When I started my project, I had only a passing interest in whips as a BDSM toy; for me the fascination lay in the process and challenge of learning a new craft. But now that I have this sensuous piece of leather in my hands, I am committed to learning how to use the whip, and use it well.
Already, I have become entranced with the way the whip flows from my arm, an easy uncoiling that is as delightful to feel as it is to watch. I am, I admit, enamored with my new toy.
That said, every step I took with this project was so completely ineffective to the point of being ridiculous. From taking apart bullets to get my lead shot, to cutting and beveling twenty strands of leather with a utility knife, I made this the most labor intensive process possible. I have learned, more than anything else, how not to make a whip.