Introduction: How to Make a 24 Plait 5 Belly Nylon Bullwhip
Yes you read that correctly, I said 5 bellies. In this Instructable I will lay out my method for making a basic nylon bullwhip of any length with 5 bellies and a 24 plait overlay. I have been making bullwhips for about a year and a half now so this is by no means the definitive, one and only way to make a whip. This is just one method that works for me and I like the end result that I get using this method. This guide goes into enough detail that a novice should be able to follow along but I am also going to assume that you have made one or two whips before already and I’ll be glossing over things like how to do a herringbone braid. I will however try to link to relevant resources or videos in case you would like a little more info than what I provide here. I will also show all of the tools I use and where possible provide links for where to get them.
For this whip I’m going to be using a specialty paracord called 3/16th Whip Maker's Cord, and you can find it at https://www.theparacordstore.com/whipmaker.html. It is 100% nylon and made in the USA. This material is what makes this design possible. Nylon whips are often made from common 550 paracord, as well as 650 paracord with 2 or 3 bellies. This is a much narrower and thinner material, which allows for the high plait count and the admittedly ridiculous number of bellies.
If you have never made a nylon bullwhip before, an excellent place to start would be making the one that Adam Winrich demonstrates in this video for Nick’s Whip Shop
Also just to be clear up front, this is a legit bullwhip. Don’t let the paracord fool you, these are very loud and will draw blood if used irresponsibly so no whipping other people or animals. With that out of the way let's get into it.
- 3/16th steel rod https://www.grainger.com/product/GRAINGER-APPROVE...
- Whip Maker’s Cord https://www.theparacordstore.com/whipmaker.html
- 550 Cord https://www.theparacordstore.com/550-paracord.html
- 17 Cal Steel BB’s https://www.amazon.com/Daisy-980040-446-Caliber-4...
- Hockey Tape https://www.amazon.com/Black-Hockey-Tape-Sticks-G...
- Artificial Sinew https://www.amazon.com/Single-Black-Beading-Threa...
- Paraffin Wax
- Bonded Nylon Thread https://www.amazon.com/Bonded-Nylon-Thread-Modific...
- Bolt cutters
- Jet Lighter https://www.amazon.com/Single-Lighter-Windproof-Re...
- Vice https://www.harborfreight.com/2-1-2-half-inch-tab...
- Tape Measure
- Lacing Needle https://www.amazon.com/Multi-Color-Stitching-Jig-...
- Utility knife
- Metal straight edge or ruler
- Staple Gun
- Roaster Oven https://www.walmart.com/ip/Oster-18-Quart-Red-Roas...
- Thermometer (an IR thermometer is handy but anything works)
- Tongs or something to lift the whip out of hot wax
- Rags or paper towels
- Gloves (I use nitrile gloves over cotton glove liners)
- Needle Nose Pliers
Step 1: Planning
Sorry in advance if this part is a little long winded, I just wanted to make sure it all makes sense.
The first thing to do is decide some of the attributes for the whip we are going to make. Things like how long of a whip do we want, how long do we want the handle to be, and how fine of a point do we want. In regards to length, the longer it is the slower the action of the whip, the shorter it is the faster you have to be to make it crack. At the extremes of both ends you need more skill to make it crack, so a medium length of 6 to 8 feet is a good place to start. The longer the handle the more leverage it affords you, a longer handle can make cracking easier and rapid consecutive cracking will also be easier. You could also make a Snake Whip, which only has the heel knot and no handle, these are still easy to crack but take a little getting used to. And then for the point of the whip, a finer point ending in two strands may crack easier but wear out faster, whereas a heavier six point fall hitch will be more durable but put more weight out at the end of the whip. Also the six point hitch is good if you want to use 550 cord for the fall although I like to use a 4 point hitch with a fall made from the whip maker's cord.
Now for the part with a bunch of math. To be honest this part is the meat and potatoes of this whole guide, if you have made paracord bullwhips before and know what you’re doing but want to know how to make a whip out of only the whip makers cord, then this will probably be the only step you need to bother with, just to get an idea of how to pull it off. This step is going to give you all the strand lengths and drops, so if you’ve made whips before that’ll be all you need from this guide, then you’ll be off to the races.
Once I know what I want the overall length of my whip to be from the heel knot to the fall hitch, and how long my handle will be, I need to figure out where each layer, or belly, is going to end. What I do is I’ll take the overall length in inches, subtract the handle length plus some for the end of the whip (so that the last belly ends a few inches before the fall hitch) and then divide that by the number of bellies. So for example, if I want a 6 foot whip with a 10 inch handle, and I want the last belly to end 6 inches before the fall hitch, then I’ll take 6 feet times 12 inches per foot to get 72 inches, minus a handle of 10 inches and the 6 inches at the tip brings me to 56 inches of bellies. Take that 56 and divide it by the number of bellies, in this case 5, and I get 11.2. So that means that each belly will be 11.2 inches longer than the one before it. If I add back the handle length that will give me the overall length for each belly. So in this example the first belly is 21.2, second will be 32.4, third is 43.6, fourth 54.8, fifth and final belly will be 66, and then our overlay will end in our fall hitch at 72 inches. I know that's a lot of numbers flying around but hopefully that formula for how I figure out my bellies makes sense. You can also of course massage those numbers however you want and then work the formulation to get a whip of a different overall length or handle length as you want.
Next we need to figure out where we are going to drop our strands for each belly, and that means more math. At this point it's also worth mentioning what the plait count is going to be for each belly. The first belly will be 6 plait, and then 8, 12, 16 and 20 finishing with our overlay in 24 plait. Continuing our earlier example of a six foot whip with a ten inch handle, each belly will be 11.2 inches longer than the last. Because we want all of the drops to happen after the handle we’ll take the belly length, minus the handle, and dividing it by the plait count. That will give us the interval for each strand drop. So for our first belly we’ll take 11.2 and divide by 6, to get 1.8 ish. So with our interval of 1.8, we’ll drop our six strands at 11.8, 13.6, 15.4, 17.2, 19, and the last drop at 20.8. Our target overall length for the first belly was 21.2 inches, so we can drop that last strand at 21.2 instead of 20.8. Ultimately these are all rough numbers that we’re using as a guide so while I try to drop as close to on target as possible, we don’t need to be exact.
Lets go ahead and figure out the next belly. With the second belly we’ll take our interval between bellies of 11.2, multiply by 2 because it’s the second belly, and then divide by the plait count of 8. So 11.2 x 2 = 22.4, and then 22.4 / 8 = 2.8. So now we take our drop interval of 2.8 and add to our handle length to work out our drops. That means we’ll be dropping our strands at 12.8, 15.6, 18.4, 21.2, 24, 26.8, 29.6, and the last one at 32.4. Then we just do that again for the next three bellies.
For the overlay it's going to be the same process to figure out our drops, however it's at this point that we need to decide how we’re going to tie off the fall hitch. That is because depending on how many strands we’re tying off the fall hitch with, there are going to be a different number of strands to drop in the overlay. So if we are finishing in a six point fall hitch, there will be 18 drops plus when we “drop” the final six strands at the fall hitch, so 19 drops total. That means we’ll take the overall length of 72 inches, minus the handle of ten inches, and divide by 19, to give us an interval of 3.26315blah blah so we’ll call it 3.2. We’ll use the interval of 3.2 to work out our drops just like we did for all of the bellies. The last drop before the fall hitch is going to be at 67.6 and then we just keep going in 6 plait until we get to 72 inches and tie off our 6 point fall hitch. If we were to end it in a finer 4 point fall hitch we would have 21 drops, with an interval of 2.9, putting the last drop at 68 inches and then 4 plait to 72 inches where we'll tie off the fall hitch.
Ok, almost done with the math, I promise. Next thing we need to do is figure out our strand lengths, now that we know where we’re going to be dropping them. For this we are going to take every second drop and just multiply the target drop length by four. For the shorter strands this will be just enough cord to have some extra. At the longer lengths though you may notice you have feet of extra cord. Once you have made the whip once, if you kept notes as you went along you can adjust your strand lengths the second time you make the same whip. So if on the first belly the first two drops are at 11.8 and 13.6 inches, then we want double the length to the drop for the second drop, which is 27.2. And then because the cord has two ends we multiply by two again to get 54.4 inches, or 4.53 feet. I would usually round that up to 5 foot, and that is our first strand length for the first belly. Also you can see why it is simpler to just multiply by four instead of by two twice. Now you just repeat that process for all 43 strands of paracord that are going into this whip and you’re all set. You can also then add up all of those lengths to figure out how much cord you’ll need, or at least a ballpark number to budget for.
Now at this point we have planned out how long the whip is going to be, how long our handle is going to be, where each belly is going to end, where we need to drop each strand, what each length of cord needs to be, how much cord we need total, and how we’re going to finish off the overlay at the fall hitch. Plus we’re done with all the math. Again everything I just laid out is meant to be more of an explanation and example that you can use to figure out how to do your whip. I have used this exact same process to make whips from 4 foot to 12 foot and it's worked out great every time. Also if you are wanting to make a whip out of 550 cord, instead of the whip maker’s cord, you can use this method too to figure out your lengths and drops. Keep in mind that this is going to make a whip with a consistent taper from handle to tip, if you want to massage the numbers in order to have a faster taper or more weight out towards the point you can.
Step 2: Building the Core of the Handle
For this design I start with a 3/16th steel rod for the rigid core of the handle cut to the finished length of the handle. Attached to the end of it will be some gutted 550 cord which will be loaded with some steel BB’s to make up our shot load. That all then gets wrapped in one layer of hockey tape and then bound with artificial sinew to stiffen it up a little. And that's about it.
For the steel you want to use something high carbon like a spring steel. You can use the cheap rod stock from the hardware section at Lowe's or Home Depot but it's a softer steel that may bend on you so just be aware of that. The high carbon steel is tough to cut so you’ll need something better than a hack saw to cut it, I like bolt cutters personally but an abrasive cutting disk may be the better option. Once it's cut to length a file makes quick work of the scratchy bits and a rounded end helps prevent it from wearing through over time.
Once I have an inch or so of the gutted 550 over the end of the steel rod I’ll put in the BB’s. For the shot load I like using the cheap Walmart brand 550 cord, it's cheaply made and loosely woven so the BB's go in easy (and that's the only place I use the cheap stuff). As I’m loading in the BB’s I’m only using enough to extend the shot load to the middle of where the first belly will be in 4 plait so that I can plait over the end of the BB’s (though I may use less to aid formation of the taper). The shot load mostly just helps transition the weight of the steel rod into the thong and build up the transition area. I’ll then hit the end of the BB’s with a jet lighter just long enough to melt the 550 so that the BB’s don't move. A good jet lighter is a vital tool, so take your time finding a good one. Then I cut the 550 to end in between the fourth and fifth drop. It's not supercritical where it ends, I just want it to end before the belly does and to keep a nice taper going. If you wanted the whip to be slightly heavier and stronger you could have the gutted 550 go the full length of the whip out to the fall hitch and then finish it off in 6 plait with a fall made of 550 cord.
With the shot load in place the next thing to do is to wrap it with hockey tape from the end of the steel up to the shot load ending just past the BB’s. This will give the cord in the first belly more to bite into so that it is not slipping over the steel, and help the BB’s stay in place (this is also the last place any kind of tape is used until we get to the heel knot foundation). After that I do some binding over the shot load starting from over the steel rod, then just past the BB’s, and back. While binding the shot load it's good to wrap a little extra just past the BB’s to hold them more firmly in place and then right at the end of the steel rod. The end of the rod is where it is most needed so it's good to build up that spot a bit and make it more rigid. Once that's done, we just give it a quick roll and it's on to plaiting the bellies.
Step 3: Bellies for Days
Now we’re ready to start plaiting the bellies, nothing really special about this process but I do have some finer points that I like to do. Oh, and I really do mean bellies for days, as in you’re gonna be at this for a while, so jam some tunes, turn on a podcast, queue up an anime marathon, whatever floats your boat.
I like to mark the center of my strands with a knot, just personal preference. I’ll start plaiting with all the strands part way down the handle and then slide the whole mess into position at the top of the handle and cinch it down in place. Once I get all of the strands around once I’ll plat two strands at a time until I get closer to the transition. That just makes getting past the handle go a little faster.
To strengthen the transition, for the first three bellies I’ll do single stranded diamond plating. Structurally this is a stronger way to braid the strands and it helps make the transition more rigid. This is beneficial not only because of how much stress this part of the whip encounters but also because we won't be doing any kind of binding over any of the bellies in this whip. Instead of the binding we just have the tapered rigidity that comes with the multitude of layers we’re building up (if we added binding to each belly our whip would get chunky quick). For the first belly getting the diamond plait going is as simple as over under over on both sides. The second belly will be under over under over on both sides and then the third belly is, well you get the point. I start the diamonds an inch or so over the steel and take it all the way up to the first strand drop.
When dropping the belly strands I just leave them hanging out the side and move on without them, nothing special. As you need to you can just switch your over unders to get the greater number of strands on top for the next drop. So if as you're going along dropping strands and you get to plaiting under 3 over 4, you can just switch it up to under 4 over 3, I just wouldn't do it on both sides without spacing it out a little. As I go along I’ll also mark on the belly with a sharpy where the next drops should be so that I don’t have to keep reaching for a tape measure. Again the target length for each drop is a reference or guideline, the drops don’t have to be perfect, just close. The target lengths for the drops just help to ensure we get a consistent taper. As you make the drops take notes of how much excess you have, that’ll help you save cord next time. Once I get down to 4 plait, I’ll go for an inch or so and then tie it with some thread or string. This keeps it from coming undone until the next belly is in place and will remain in the whip. For the four strands left hanging off the end I just cut them at the target drop length I worked up in the planning phase. After that we just trim and burn the other drops along the thong of the belly, give it a good rolling and move onto the next belly. To roll my whips I just use two cheap cutting boards and a chunk of rubber so it doesn’t slide around. Also I recommend flipping the whip over so your last belly is facing down before you start the next one, just to avoid building in bias to one direction.
Step 4: The Overlay
So this is the part where we start getting fancy so pick out your favorite colors and start cutting your 12 lengths of cord. If you want you can just do a regular herringbone pattern over the handle, but you’re already putting all this work into making something awesome so lets do some fancy plaiting. I highly recommend checking out Face Plait http://www.whipinfo.com/faceplait/ this is a really cool tool to help you plan out the design you want to do. Hit the menu button and go to Project Settings. Inside the Project Settings menu you’ll want to set the strand count for left and right both to 12. If you want to change the colors for the strands you can do that too, that will make it easier to see and understand whats happening and where your strands should be going. After the settings are where they need to be you can start clicking around until you have the design you want. After that click on the menu button in the top right again, then click on Start Braiding. Now you’ll see the over and under counts on the sides of your project for each strand. As you are looking at it though understand that when you are looking at the left side and it's giving you overs and unders, that is for the strand that you are taking from the right side of the whip, around behind, and then to the front from the left.
For an example here is what I use to work my way through the handle of my whip in the pictures:
To do something simple with the handle I recommend giving the two stranded diamonds a try. Starting from either side it's just U2 O2 U2 O2 U2 O2, and you are bringing around two strands at a time as you do this. Go slow and take your time, the end result is worth it.
Once you’re past the handle it won't be long before you need to start dropping strands. There are various ways to go about dropping strands for the overlay, the key thing is just to make them invisible. The best way I know of hiding them is by doing a flip trick I learned from another one of Nick's videos. Its a little difficult to explain but you can see how to do it here:
Basically when you drop your strands you’ll be pulling them down from the bottom and plaiting over them, thereby making them disappear. In order to keep the greater number of strands on the bottom though you can use the trick in the video and avoid having strands getting doubled up. This all makes for a much cleaner looking finished product. You’ll also see that in the video he is dropping two strands at a time. In the bellies it's important to make the drops close to the target length so that we are developing the taper that we want throughout the whole whip. For the overlay however we already have the taper established so we’re more concerned with function and esthetics. With that in mind target drop lengths again are a good guide but if you feel like the strands are getting bunched up then go ahead and drop one of your shortest strands. And by dropping two strands at a time like we see in the video, you’ll have an easier time maintaining straight lines down the length of the whip as the braiding won't be lopsided. Dropping two at a time may also help maintain a pattern you have going with different colored strands.
Keep plaiting and dropping your strands into the core, go ahead and use your lighter to melt the dropped strand and stick it to the belly underneath the overlay. Once you get past the final strands of the last belly be sure to have a tape measure handy to workout when you're ready to stop plaiting and have reach the desired overall length. If you have a bunch of excess hanging off the end of the handle be sure to account for what will be getting cut off when you measure your whip. If you want your whip to be dead on at a specific length, you can reverse the next 2 steps of this tutorial and build your heel knot first, then measure from there to get your whip at exactly the length you're going for when you tie off the overlay with your fall hitch. For my whips I like to have everything tied off first and then build my knot so nothing is coming undone. So up next I'll cover tying off the fall hitch to finish the plaited overlay.
Step 5: Tying the Fall Hitch
Almost done with the overlay, now we just need to tie off the fall hitch. Here again we have options, you can do a six point hitch, a four point hitch, you can use 550 for the fall or you can use the whip maker's cord for the fall. Or if you felt so inclined you could hide the last three drops by using a paracord lacing needle and inserting the strands into each other in pairs so you have two strands that then twist them together and finish it off by lacing one into the other so that one of your overlay strands becomes your fall (also seen in that video in the previous step). Using that last method though would make it annoying to repair if or when the fall wears out, but it’ll make one hell of a crack. If you wanted something more durable, then I might recommend doing like I mentioned when going over the construction of the core and have your 550 cord with the shot load in it come out the entire length of the whip and tie off the overlay with a six point fall hitch. Once the hitch is tied with a fall made from 550 cord, you would trim and melt the little bit of the core 550, preventing it from slipping into the overlay, or the overlay from slipping off that 550 core strand. Also if you are going to finish in a six plait, I like going right into a diamond plait after the final drop. That just makes the end of the whip rounder and should be a little tougher. If you want something that cracks just that little bit easier then you can bring it down to a four plait with a four point fall hitch and use the whip maker’s cord for the fall. This gives a nice fine point to the whip that is going to crack easily and will still be easy to repair as the fall of the whip wears out. Whatever material you use I recommend making the fall a little on the longer side. Having the fall of the whip be about 2 foot seems to work the best for me, but if you give yourself some extra you can tune the whip by shortening the fall a little at a time, say an inch or so. I'll come back to this topic in Step 8.
Tying the fall hitch is not a complicated affair. We start with making the fall by taking a 5 foot length of cord (550 or the whip maker's cord) and using one of our lacing needles we'll insert one end of the cord into the middle of the strand. To use the lacing needle you'll cut one end of the cord at an angle and melt it with the lighter. While its still melted (and hot) roll the melted tip of the cord between your fingers to make a point. The lacing needle then gets threaded onto the melted point of the cord. Inserting the cord into its middle will make an eye or a loop that we will pass over the loose ends of final strands of our overlay to get it on the whip. With the eye of the fall in place, measure the overall length of the whip to make sure we're tying everything off at the right length, keep plaiting if you need to. When everything is to length you'll slide the the eye of the fall down into place and start tying half hitches from top to bottom one at a time. If you did decide to have a 550 core strand going the length of the whip you'll leave it hanging out of the fall hitch and not do anything with it for the moment, I'll come back to it in a minute. Take the top strand from the overlay and wrap it around behind the overlay and the fall, and tie it off with a simple half hitch and pull it snug. Repeat that with the next strand, wrap it around the end of the overlay and the fall and cinch it in a half hitch, and then keep going with the remaining strands of your overlay. When you get to the last strand go ahead and work back through all of the strands to pull them tight and dress the knot, but don't pull the fall tight yet. The last step of dressing the knot will be to take the tag end of the last hitch you tied and to bring it up, over the rest of the half hitches, and pass it through the eye of your fall along the overlay. This will keep that last hitch from coming undone. Or you can use your lacing needle or hemostats and pull it through all of the half hitches. With that strand in place you can now pull tight the fall and give the whole fall hitch one last snugging up. Trim and burn the excess, leaving some so that the knot can be retied if the fall should ever need to be replaced. If you have a 550 core hanging out the end of your fall hitch, you'll want to trim off most of the excess and carefully melt the end of it so that it swells a little, while hiding just at the very end of the fall hitch. And that is your fall hitch tied.
Whatever you choose to do for the fall hitch, I recommend tapering the fall itself. That's as simple as pulling back the outer layer, once you have laced the cord into itself and secured it in the fall hitch, and then cut out the inner piece of cord about halfway down the fall.This will continue the overall taper effect and reduce the mass and weight out at the very end of the whip. Leather whips achieve the same effect by literally tapering the piece of leather being used, kinda like a really long wedge shape. That is hard to pull off with a braided cord but this technique of cutting out the inner section part way back achieves a similar effect.
With everything tied off, the excess dangley bits trimmed and burned (by burned I of course mean lightly melted with that handy jet lighter) and the fall in place and tapered, the overlay is pretty much complete. We just have some final dressing up to do.
This is another solid video, this time demonstrating one way to tie off a fall hitch.
The same YouTube creator also has this really great video on doing a two point fall hitch.
Step 6: The Heel Knot
For the heel knot I won't go into a whole lot of detail but again there are some finer points I’ll mention.
At the end of the handle, know where your steel is. If you have been marking the center of your stands with knots as I have you may have a bunch of cord hanging off the end that needs to go away. I bind the end of the handle and then place my knot foundation before I cut off the excess. When trimming that excess it sucks to cut off too much and have a quarter inch of spring tempered high carbon steel sticking out that you now have to deal with after all the work that got you this far. And If your knot foundation is hanging off the end of the steel then the heel knot won't feel solid when you’re cracking the whip.
The first thing to do is bind the end of the handle over the steel rod, if you have a bunch of cord hanging off the end like I do in the example I'm building you'll have to make your best guess where that steel is. If you give it a wiggle you can tell pretty well where the steel ends. For the foundation I just use an inch wide chunk of leather, bind it in place with artificial sinew and then staple it to guarantee it says put. A few taps on each staple with the hammer helps set them flush. Once the leather is in place the excess cord gets trimmed off. Use a sharp knife to cut off all of the excess and then trim up the mess with some scissors. Melt the end if the whole mess with a lighter and then press it firmly with a small hunk of metal to ensure it's all fused and to smooth it out (I just use an old zippo to squish it all flat). One or two quick wraps of Hockey tape around the foundation is helpful too, it prevents the lacing needle from going under the sinew while tying the knot and makes gaps a little less noticeable by providing a dark background. Lastly just tie off whatever kind of decorative knot suits your preferences.
With the knot foundation in place you can tie on the decorative knot over it, the most common knot being some form of turk's head knot. A 3 pass 5 by 4 turk’s head knot with 550 cord is common, if on the third pass you go between the previous two passes while going over where they go under, and vice versa, you can make a globe knot that fully encloses the heel and makes a nice woven pattern. You could also do a 2 pass 7 by 6 and then place a broach, concho, or a coin under the knot at the very end as a decorative piece (if you look around Amazon there are some cool 1 inch buttons that would look good too). If you use the whip maker’s cord you could do a 2 pass 9 by 8 turk’s head knot, maybe with a herringbone or a pineapple weave.
This is also the point when you would do a transition knot, I’m not the best at doing them so I usually leave them off. Having a transition knot though may be nice if you plan to carry your whip from you belt as it gives more for a whip holster to grab onto. If you want to do one it's basically the same setup as the heel knot, tie on a foundation and staple it in place. Then tie on your turk's head knot over the foundation. With both the heel knot and the transition knot, be careful when melting the trimmed ends, you don’t want to scorch the fine work you put into the overlay up to this point.
When I started making whips I used the end of this video to help me learn how to tie a heel knot. Skip ahead to 1 hour 15 minutes.
This is another excellent video on how to setup your heel knot foundation and tie on a herringbone knot.
To do the knot you see me doing in the pictures, watch that first herringbone knot video and then watch this one.
In the very first video I linked to in the introduction to this Instructable there is also an explanation on how to tie a simple globe knot.
Step 7: Waxing the Whip
The final big process in making the whip is waxing it. This step is optional but highly recommended. Waxing it does a lot of things for the whip. As the hot wax soaks into the whip it is displacing a lot of the space that water could soak into, thereby weatherizing it. The wax is also adding mass to the whip, this is going to make the whip a little bit louder when you crack it. The wax will cause the whip to swell a little as it soaks in, this will help everything tighten up a little and make your handle and heel knot more solid. And most importantly, the wax reduces the friction between all of the strands of cord. This makes the whip flow much easier and the whip won't be fighting itself to crack, again making it louder but also easier and more pleasant to crack. You may have also noticed the build of this whip didn't include any kind of electrical tape, duct tape or other stuff like that, like can be seen in some other tutorials. While the use of tape in a whip can and does make a whip that cracks very well, it will prevent the wax from penetrating deep into the whip. Also it breaks down over time making the whip become, well, not great. You also dont want the adhesive trapping grit and dirt inside the whip.
When the whip gets waxed you'll notice that the color of the whip is going to change slightly, and become darker. Just like how most materials become darker when they become damp with water the paracord in the whip is also going to become darker so keep that in mind as you are doing this step. Also after waxing the whip if it gets scuffed you'll notice it because of the wax and the scuff will stand out. By applying some gentle heat you can get the wax to flow and you'll see those scuffs disappear and darken again. You can also preempt this somewhat by rolling the whip one more time after waxing.
Before you wax the whip you'll want to give it one more good rolling and be sure to also roll your heel knot and transition knot. If you need to touch up one of your knots or snug up the fall hitch do it before is goes into the wax. Also as a note, I'll sometimes trim the excess from the working strands of the heel knot but not melt the little fuzzy bit left behind until after I wax the whip. The wax pulls heat away as it melts so I can be a little more careful as I melt that last little bit of the cord to dress it.
The best way to wax a whip at home is to buy something along the lines of a countertop roaster oven. I purchased an 18 quart one at Walmart for about $30 over the holidays and it works great. Also at Walmart in the canning supplies, or hiding over by the jello and pudding, you should be able to find Gulf wax. It’s just pure paraffin wax by the pound, you’ll want about 10 to 15. You can also get blocks of wax at craft stores like Micheal's or Hobby Lobby where they sell it for making candles. One thing that you can add to the wax to make it a little softer, resulting is less flaky white bits, is some petroleum jelly (Vaseline), totally optional but I like the results I've been getting so thought I'd mention it.
Once you get all that home you’ll want to set up somewhere you can afford to make a mess and that has some ventilation. Also as a quick safety note, hot wax is a pain to clean up, burns like hell on exposed skin and it gets more flammable the hotter it gets, so be careful. I'll lay down a drop cloth when I'm waxing my whips in order to contain any drips, but you don't have to if you're doing this step in a location where it's not a big deal. I hear recommended most often to bring the wax up to 180 - 200 degrees freedomheight, but I like pushing it to 250 ish. The higher temp makes the wax thinner so it soaks in a little easier. Safety comes first so don't push it too far with how hot you get the wax. If you push the temp too high you risk deep frying the whip and literally melting it in the wax. Once the wax is up to temp just lower the whip in slowly. I'll also turn of the power to the roaster over at this point. You should see a bunch of air bubbles coming out of the whip, you know it's done when the air bubbles stop. This can take a while as the whip it self has to come up to temp in order for the wax to flow into it. Plan on it taking 45 minutes to an hour and keep an eye on it. If you buy a brand new roaster oven it may come with a rack insert for lifting out whatever you're cooking. If you hold onto that you can set it on top of the whip in the wax to keep it submerged in the event that the whip decides to float.
When you're ready to pull it out, wipe off the excess wax and then let it cool off. Gloves would be a good idea, but not something the wax can soak through while it's hot. After it does cool off you’ll want to flex it back and forth a bit, maybe roll it one more time, just because as the wax hardens up it’ll need to be broken up a little so all the cords aren’t stuck together.
Step 8: Crackers, Sometimes Called Poppers
Crackers, or Poppers, are really simple to make and can be made from a lot of different materials. Ideally you want to use a synthetic material with high tensile strength, materials like Kevlar, Spectra or Dyneema. But you can also use simple nylon, like bonded nylon thread or some of the core strands from your 550 cord, or even some of the artificial sinew. When I got started making whips I went looking for whatever I had laying around to use for making a cracker and I came across some braided fishing line. Ever since I have been using Power Pro 100Lb test braided fishing line, which is made from spectra. It works ok but wears out a little quickly with regular cracking each week. I have also been curious to use archery bowstring material since its often made of Dacron and Spectra and available in a vast array of colors, but I haven't tried it out yet. Though I have seen mention of someone using B55 string material for their cracker. Be careful using Kevlar, while crackers made from all of these materials will be capable of drawing blood, Kevlar is notorious for cutting deep.
For a whip with a fall made of whip makers cord I make my crackers using two lengths of the braided fishing line, two foot each. For whips with a heavier fall I’ll use three or four lengths, again two foot each. The key thing being that I don't want the cracker to be heavier than the fall. We want the whip to reduce in mass towards the tip so having there be a sudden increase in mass works against the physics we're making use of in the whip. Start by clamping them together at the ends with the hemostats and then twist. By holding one end up in the air you can just spin the other end to get the twist going. Once you have a tight twist going the next step is to do a counter twist. With the twisted lengths wrapped around the punch in the vise we start the counter twist by passing the hemostats hand over hand. As you’re holding the hemostats if the twist in the strands is clockwise, then you’ll twist the ends together counterclockwise, or vise versa. Once you have six inches of twist, tie it off and then cut the excess off two inches past the knot. To tie the knot you take one end and wrap it around the twisted section above where the finished knot will be twice by passing the line through the loop that is formed as you are making the wraps, then pull tight. As you're pulling tight use your fingers to push the loops together so the knot comes together. It's helpful to use some needle nose pliers to grab the working strands and pull the knot tight to make sure it's cinched firm. As always this is just what I do, I get consistent results but I know other people have simpler methods as well.
For another simple way to make crackers, check out this video. The overall principal is the same but this way is a good bit faster and makes use of bonded nylon thread.
As you are practicing with your whip you may notice that the material you chose for your cracker isn't lasting as long as you would like. The cracker is literally slapping its way through the sound barrier and often getting beat on the ground so it experiences a lot of wear and tear. If you find that you want them to last a little longer with out having to change the material you use (because what else are you going to do with the 100 yard spool you bought) then there is a way to get a little more life out of your cracker, and that is by tying wear knots into it. Basically you just tie the same knot described above, and shown in the pictures, every couple inches in the cracker as you're doing the counter twist. The cracker will likely wear from the tip back to the next knot, so having the knot there will preventing the entire cracker from blowing out all at once. If you were to make the cracker a bit longer and loaded with knots every inch or so then you would have what is sometimes called a Chainsaw Cracker. These are often about two foot long and are used for cutting larger targets like soda cans or maybe fruit. The knots act like saw teeth, concentrating the force of the whip crack on each spot that they contact the target. If you wanted a whip specifically for doing that kind of cutting work then you'll want it to be really heavy and have a fall of maybe six inches or less with the two foot chainsaw cracker attached to it. This tutorial doesn't quite work for making that kind of a whip but you can still practice accuracy with the whip that you do make.
To tie on the cracker the first thing you want to do is melt the end of the fall to keep it from fraying. Next use an awl to open a hole at the tip of fall and pass the end of the cracker through it. Then just open the loop in the end of the cracker that was passed through the fall and pass the other end of the cracker into it, then cinch it down and pull tight. And with that your new bullwhip is now 100% complete so head out to a park or your backyard and give it a crack.
Now I mentioned previously that you can actually tune the whip by shortening the fall a little at a time. Again I find that 2 foot on the dot works great for me with most of my whips, however as you are trying out different options and designs you may find that your whip is a little difficult to crack or you may feel some shock, or wobble, coming back into the handle after each crack. Dialing in your fall length may help with this. When you go to crack your whip for the first time bring you scissors, an awl and your lighter with you so you can trim a little off the fall and reattach your cracker. Depending on how much extra you gave your self, you'll only want to remove an inch or two at a time. After you make each adjustment and reattach your cracker take your time testing it out, once you find a length that works for you don't get carried away and trim off more trying to make it even better. Its easy to take away length but adding it back means tying on a new fall. If you're not sure that you want to worry about all of that, then start with a fall that is a little long and once its tied on with the fall hitch I recommend measuring out 2 foot and and trimming it to that for any whip 6 foot and longer.
Step 9: Well Since You Made It This Far
So when I started writing this I didn't plan on putting nearly as much detail into as I actually wound up with. Sorry again if parts of it felt long winded, I just wanted to make sure I was getting enough detail in so that anyone can pick this up and run with it. To keep that trend going, and reward you for making it through the whole thing here is a complete template as an example of how all of the math works out. This project is not for the faint of heart but I highly recommend it, the sense of accomplishment when you're done is well worth it.
12 Foot Bullwhip with a 12 Inch Handle and 5 Bellies ending in 4 point Fall Hitch
3/16 High carbon steel rod, 550 cord shot load 10 inches of BB’s, cut the 550 at 31 inches
12ft x 12in = 144 Overall, (144 - (12 + 6)) / 5 = 25.2 Interval between bellies
1st Belly 37.2in OAL, 6 Plait, 4.2in Drop interval
12in handle plus 25.2 = 37.2 Overall Length, 25.2/6 Plait = 4.2 interval
2nd Belly 62.4in OAL, 8 Plait, 6.3in Drop interval
(25.2x2)+12=62.4 OAL, (25.2x2)/8=6.3 Interval
3rd Belly 87.6in OAL, 12 Plait, 6.3in Drop interval
(25.2x3)+12=87.6 OAL, (25.2x3)/12=6.3 Interval
4th Belly 112.8in OAL, 16 Plait, 6.3in Drop Interval
(25.2x4)+12=112.8 OAL, (25.2x4)/16=6.3 Interval
5th Belly 138in OAL, 20 Plait, 6.3in Drop Interval
(25.2x5)+12=138 OAL, (25.2x5)/20=6.3 Interval
Overlay 144in OAL, 24 Plait, 6.3in Drop Interval
(144-12)/21=6.2857...we’ll call it 6.3
Funny how the math works out aint it?
1st Belly Drops and Strand Lengths
16.2, 20.4 / 7
24.6, 28.8 / 10
33, 37.2 / 12.5
20.4 x 4 is 81.6, divide that by 12 inches to a foot is 6.8 so we’ll call it 7. And then so on for 28.8 and 37.2
2nd Belly through the Overlay Drops and Strand Lengths
Just repeat the strands lengths and add the next two as you get to that belly.
18.3, 24.6 / 8.5
30.9, 37.2 / 12.5
43.5, 49.8 / 16.5
56.1, 62.4 / 21 (2nd Belly)
68.7, 75 / 25
81.3, 87.6 / 29.5 (3rd Belly)
93.9, 100.2 / 33.5
106.5, 112.8 / 37.5 (4th Belly)
119.1, 125.4 / 42
131.7, 138 / 46 (5th Belly)
144 / 48 x 2 (Overlay)
2 Foot Fall using the Whip Maker’s Cord
Your choice of cracker and heel knot to finish it off.
Again these are first draft rough numbers so there is going to be some excess. That being said if you total up all of the strand lengths for the bellies and overlay you’re looking at 1,025 feet of cord, plus 4 ish feet to make the fall and another 10 for the heel knot if you do a 9x8 herringbone turk's head. By the way, if you do actually try making the 12 footer, it’ll be a test of endurance to do that much plaiting on one whip but the next whip you make will feel like it takes 5 minutes to make (do it, 12 footers are awesome).
If there’s any interest in more Instructables like this, I may show how to make a three tailed whip using the Whip Maker’s Cord and 550.
Step 10: Final Thoughts
Yeah, this is my new favorite whip. Please excuse the poor audio, this was recorded with a Galaxy S9. The whip cracks like a dream and doing a fast figure eight is surprisingly easy with this whip. That being said it kills the forearm pretty quick doing the consecutive combos.
There were a few other things that I wanted to mention about this build that don't really fit into the steps already covered, or those steps were already long and wordy so I'm adding this step to include all of that here.
First, about the Whip Maker's Cord. It is an awesome material and I highly recommend everyone or anyone that is into making whips try it out, however it has its quirks. For instance the black cord is a very tightly woven cord with absolutely no stretch to it all, as compared to all of the other colors of this cord which are a little more loose. When making a whip with this material the difference in the black cord from all the rest becomes more noticeable. As you're plaiting and pulling everything tight the black cord will look and seem the same as all the rest of the colors of this cord however once the whip has been waxed you may notice that the other colors of this cord seem to stick up slightly as you run your fingers over the whip. If you use just black for the overlay and different colors for the bellies then coming out of the wax the whip may have some subtle bends in it that don't seem straighten out when the whip is laying naturally. That being said said the one I have with a black overlay seams to crack better and more loudly then an identical one with a red overlay. I have also made a small snake with using almost only the black cord and it is very springy. At some point I plan to make a 6 foot whip using my method and only the black cord to test this a little further. All of that being said, its hard to plait too tight using the other colors of the Whip Maker's Cord but easy to plait too tight with specifically the black cord.
Update 9/7/21: I recently picked up a book called "Paracord Knife Handle Wraps" by Jan Dox. On page 15 the author explains the shrinking factor of paracord, as well as the difference in shrinking between milspec cord and commercial paracord. When paracord is heated it can shrink by as much as 20%. Milspec paracord is preshrunk so subsequent shrinking is only 1-2%. When waxing the whip the paracord is going to shrink and this causes the plaiting to tighten up and the whip as a whole becomes more rigid. I suspect that the black cord may shrink more than the other colors of the whip maker's cord. In my next whip I want to try building each belly with the two longest lengths of cord being the black whip maker's cord. My idea in doing this is that the black cord, shrinking more than the rest, would act like binding integrated into the belly, instead of being wrapped over the belly.
Update 10/5/21: I built an 8 footer with the two longest strands in each belly being the black cord. It cracks fine but it had some odd kinks in it and didn't roll as well as some of my other whips. I think moving forward I'll just use black for an accent color in the overlay. That being said, I do at some point want to test it further by making a 6 footer using only the black cord. It should be interesting.
This design for a whip is still a little new and I'm still learning. With that in mind I have been spending more time practicing whip cracking and have been beating up the whips I have made this way to test the design. The whips are holding up well but there is one thing I should definitely mention. With heavy cracking the falls made of the Whip Maker's Cord wear out a little quickly. Right now in a park nearby there are two crackers of mine that disappeared off the end of my whip. I then had to trim the frayed end of the fall, melt it, and attach a new cracker. These things crack great but if you want something sturdy then a 550 fall is going to be the way to go, there is just more material there to take the abuse. I have also found that tying a not right where the cracker attaches helps. Also if you mostly practice over grass, it may be a good idea to choose colors that hide the dirt and grass stains.
When I'm cutting the strands for my overlay I'll group every other strand into two piles. When I start plaiting the overlay one group gets wrapped around the handle and the other passed through the first. This way I don't have all of the short strands grouped together as I'm plaiting the overlay. Depending on the pattern you are trying to achieve in the overlay this will help keep it randomized as you are dropping strands.
The fishing line that I have been using for the cracker has been working ok, but with extended use and hard cracking they do wear out. Over time the fray at the end wears down and eventually the knot blows out and its just done. I haven't really noticed that there is any real periodicity to how many cracks they can take, it just seams like the harder you crack the more abuse it is taking. Practicing things like the volley often results in knots forming in the fall and the cracker and also lead to more wear. That being said I have been seeing in some online forums that many other people also happen to like using braided fishing line for their crackers and these do work well, so I don't know that I'll be changing things up any time soon.
If you found this interesting but want to try something with 550 cord also check out this video from Nick's Whip Shop. This build also makes for a good first build and in his video he covers a lot of fundamentals.
If you haven't seen this video about how whips work you should really check it out.
Once you've made your fist whip you'll want to try it out of course, so this video from Adam Winrich is a good place to start learning.
I want to say a special thanks to Nick Schrader of Nick's Whip Shop for his awesome videos that helped me learn whip making and also for working with The Paracord Store to make the 3/16th Whip Maker's Cord available for all of us. I'm still relatively new to making whips but I'm enjoying it. If any one has any tips feel free to share. Let me know what you guys think of this build in the comments and if you want to see more like this. I also have been messing around with other designs and recently worked up a simple holster to carry this whip from a belt which you can see here https://www.instructables.com/Simple-Whip-Holster...