Introduction: Paracord Bullwhip

Hello everybody!

I've been enjoying this site for long and have finally found enough time to write a first Instructable by myself.

I'll will share with you how to make a real paracord bullwhip.

It should not be that hard for those of you who know their way through ropes, knots and braiding.
I wouldn't recommend this as a beginner project though.
It involves careful and regular braiding of up to 12 strands a bit over 12 feet long, which can be a bit messy or frustrating if you're not familiar with manipulating such lengths of cord.
You will also need to know ( or be willing to learn) some 'advanced' knots to make it look nice, and I won't cover that lengthly point in this Instructable since there is already a lot of resources on that topic on the Net.
I however do plan on doing a few other Instructables on that topic if people are interested in it.

We will be making a 2.50m ( ~8.2ft) whip, from handle tip to fall, not including the cracker.

Take your time with this one, you'll get what you give.
It took me maybe a week or so worth of evenings to complete it.

The result was well worth it, this thing cracks loudly and easily as expected and it ended up being a very rewarding project.

I'd like to thank "Bullwhipcracker" for his nice info  about whip making that served as an inspiration for this project and saved me some headaches about figuring out the correct lengths for the different steps.
I was unable to find a homepage or anything that links directly to his work to give him proper credit though.

Now, let's get to the fun stuff :)

Here's a short vid showing that it's indeed the real deal.

Step 1: You Will Need...

First things first, for this project you will need :

-    Paracord ( lots of it ) I started with 60m (196 ft.) and had maybe 15m left after I finished.
      But better be safe than sorry on this point :)
-    2m (6.5ft ) of some light chain, the kind you find on lamps or that holds your sink plug.
-    Duct tape and/or electrical tape
-    1 "Big" Nail ( Big meaning that it would do the trick as a handle )
-    Some medium width string to tie the cracker
-    Something that cuts ( my trusted Surge in that case)
-    Something that makes fire to neatly melt the ends of your butchered paracord.
     A Zippo is a nice choice, it will get you a nice flame and stand on the desk by itself while you use both hands to melt/cut the paracord over the flame.
-    Measuring tape
-    Patience

Optionally you might find useful to have:
-    Some kind of marlinspike needle for dressing the fancy knots.
-    A file or some kind of grinder or Dremel tool to cut grooves in the "handle"
-    A spot  to tie the whip to while you're plaiting ( holding it between my knees worked well in my case ) you could also use a lightly tightened vice.

Also this project works with mainly gutted paracord so you will end up with vast amounts of unused inner strands.

Let me know if you think making a hammock, net or bag out of them would be an interesting Instructable :)

Step 2: Some Usefull Knotting Ressources

As I said in the introduction, this project will also require you to know and master a few knots, both for practical and decorative purposes.

I'll assume you either do know them or will be able to learn them so I will not be covering them here . There are a lot of great ressources about that on the Internet.
( I also plan on doing separate instructables on these various knots soon)

- The half hitch and the overhand knot ( you DO know them ,trust me :) )
- Basic rope whipping ( to hold strands together, the picture below should be enough )
- The constrictor knot, serves the same purpose as the above.
- The star knot ( makes a wonderfull handle knob)
Best explained here :
- The matthew walker knot ( holds well as a final knot around the handle)
( Sorry, I couldn't find any really clear tutorial to share on this one )
- The turk's head if you want to mark the end of the handle.
- Any kind of multi-strand knot you know and would like to use as a decoration on the handle ( crown knot wrappings, half hitch coverings, various round braids..)

Only the first three of the list are really mandatory if all you need is a working whip.
But it would be sad not to wrap things up in your favorite fancy knots.

See the last picture to see what goes where.

Step 3: Cutting Things to Length

Ok, so here i'll sum up all of the various lengths you will need.
I'll remind them in the revelant steps so you don't need to take notes for now.

Our whip will  be made of 3 layers :
The guts, that will provide some weight and springiness, and two layers of plaiting around it.

You will need:

For the guts :
-    x1    2m strand  ( 6.5ft )
-    x1    1m strand   (3.30 ft )
-    x1    80cm strand   ( 2.6ft )
-    x1    50 cm strand (1.6 ft)

along with the corresponding 3 lengths of  lamp chain for the shorter ones :
-    90cm   (2.95ft )
-    60 cm   (1.95ft )
-    30 cm   (1ft )

The first layer wil be a 8 strand round plait ( 4 strands folded in half will make it neater )
-     2x 5m       -> 4x 2,5       (16.4ft )
-     1X 3m      ->  2x 1,5      (9.90 ft)
-     1x 4,30m -> 2x 2,15     (14.10 ft )

The outer layer will be a 12 strand plait ( again, 6 strands folded in half )
-    2x 7,30m   (24 ft)    
-    1x 5,50m   (18 ft ) 
-    1x 5m         (16.4ft)
-    1x 4,30m   (14.10ft )
-    1x 3m         (9.90 ft )

Please note that this is not an exact science.
These are the lengths I used and that worked for me.
I had some leftover after this,but it is still better than lacking some length after hours of plaiting right ? :)
The exact amount of cord you'll end up using depends on many factors ( how tight you plait, the thickness of the core...)

You don't have to cut all that mess in advance, especially since you're going to gut most of these strands.

I also suggest to think in advance of a way of storing the leftover inner strands for later use if you don't want to end up with 7times more of an inner strand spaghetti meal than what you began with :)

Step 4: Preparing the Core

For this first step, you will need your first 4 strands of paracord and the 3 corresponding lengths of lamp chain:

-    x1    2m strand (6.55 ft )
-    x1    1m strand (3.30 ft )
-    x1    80cm strand (2.60ft )
-    x1    50 cm strand (1.60ft )

-    90cm     (3 ft )
-    60 cm    (2 ft )
-    30 cm    (1 ft )

You will remove the inner strands from the 3 shortest pieces... but wait !
You will then have to put the corresponding lengths of chain into the corresponding strands and this can be a real pain without the proper technique.

I've tried a few:
Making a wire needle to pull the chain through the strand, hand threading cm by cm, threading a whole wire through it first and pulling it back with the chain taped to it...
None of them worked...

On the other hand, this last technique did wonders :
Carefully remove 6 of the 7 inner strands taking great care not to let the last one slip along with it's friends ( you can tie it around a finger, a pen or anything that will stay out of the paracord sheath).
Then tie one end of the last inner strand 1-3 balls away from the end of the lamp chain using the smallest knot possible.(  preceding it with half hitches between every ball might  help to improve it's lengthwise pull tolerance as knots tied in those slick inner strands tend to be a bit slippery )

Then just pull the inner strand out of the cord to get the chain in place and cut the string off.

If by mistake your last inner strand slips out of the sheath early or alone, you might try to feed it back through the cord by tying it to a long piece of stiff wire ( longer than the cord ).
Or you might just cut another piece of paracord and start over.

Step 5: Beginning the Core

We will now bind those first strands to the handle.

Using your grinder/file/dremel/teeth (no, don't ! ), put a small groove near the tip of the nail.
That way you'll be able to tie the strands efficiently here and only have a minimal thickness change.

Then, tie the 4 strands evenly spread around the nail.
Fasten them where the groove is using a constrictor knot ( or two ) and using one of the inner strands you just took out ouf the cords.
Do this as tight as you can get it, you don't want your whip to break there.

Now you can wrap the constrictor knots with a basic whipping to ensure it won't slip.

Being paranoïd, I also whipped mine once above and twice below the main whipping to be sure it wouldn't come apart.

You could also add a bit of duct tape there being careful not to make it bulky.
I diddn't since the whippings were going to hold well anyway.

Trim the cords close to the whippings ( not to close so as not to let them spill open )

Step 6: Properly Twisting Strands

To make sure your whip will have consistent behaviour when bent in all directions, you should then twist the strands together.

If you've ever made your own twisted rope, you know how to do this properly.

If you haven't, here is a short video illustrating the process.

Basically, you twist every strand a bit in one direction and then lay it against the others wrapping it in the opposite direction.
The same techniques applies for 4,3, or 2 strand sections.

Twisting the strands:

Step 7: Wrapping the Guts

When you're done neatly twisting the strands, you are ready to wrap the guts in Duct Tape.
Lay the tape 45° across the strands, and wrap it up to the end of the 3rd cord in a single and even layer.

Take great care to keep the inner strands untangled to get an even surface.
Try to keep them in a round section as much as possible.

I used some thin duct tape that i had laying around  at the momment and the result felt pretty limp to me at this point.

So i decided to add a 2nd layer of some thicker more rubbery electrical tape.`
You may or may not want to add this second layer depending on what you have on hand and how your whip behaves at this point.

Try to make it neater than in the first picture, I took it hastly on a new nail after the project was finished to illustrate this step.

Step 8: Begining the First Layer

You are now ready to begin plaiting the first layer.

Get the appropriate lengths of paracord to make this 8 strand round plait:

-     2x 5m           -> 4x 2,5      (16.4ft)
-     1X 3m          ->  2x 1,5     ( 9.90 ft )
-     1x 4,30m     -> 2x 2,15    (14.10 ft )

Take the inner strands out of them, save for later use.
Don't forget to melt the ends before going on.
From now your gutted paracord will tend to lay flat.
You can run it once or twice around a soft round spot to make it even if you want. ( a metal bar or pipe of some kind )
You could also just run it through your fingers as I did, but do this carefully so as not to burn your fingers, you'll need them later  ;)

Next, fold the 4 pieces in half and work with the middle of the cords.
How you group them doesn't matter for the next step.

From there, follow the pictures to lay them out properly :

-    Using a first pair ( again, which strands doesn't matter), cross them in front of the handle as pictured.
-    Then, thread the second pair through the loop and lay it as in the third picture.

Make sure all the lengths are even on both sides while you still can :)

( For the sake of simplicity i'm not showing the actual whip here but a "model" of it using 2 different colors.
Also note that your strands should be gutted and flat at this point )

Step 9: Plaiting the 8 Strand Layer

Now the actual plaiting.
Don't let the amount of strands frighten you, the actual thing is actually quite easy to remember.
( Although mastering the technique might take some mishaps first ;)

From now on, remember to keep your strands neat, flat and dont let them overlap.

You will have 4 strands laying neatly arranged on each side.
Begin with the right top one, this will be the "working strand" for that pass.

-    Take the working strand
-    Pass it around the back so it gets to the left side
-    On this  side you have your 4 left strands.
-    Pull the working strand under the first two, and over the last two
-    Lay it on the right side
-    The working strand ends lined up with the remaining 3 strands of the right side.
-    It began at the top of the right side, and ended up at the bottom of it.

You've just completed one "pass"

Now , do the same with the top strand from the left side, only in reverse :

-    Take the working strand
-    Pass it around the back so it gets to the right side
-    On this side you have your 4 right strands.
-    Pull the working strand under the first two, and over the last two ( no inversion in this step )
-    Lay it on the left side
-    The working strand ends lined up with the remaining 3 strands of the left side.
-     It began at the top of the left side, and ended up at the bottom of it.

At this point you probably got the trick, that's all there is to it:
-    You take one sides' top strand,
-    make it travel around the back ,
-    under 2-over2 on the opposite side
-    lay it at the bottom of it's beginning side.
-    repeat with the top strand of the opposite side, on and on...

Step 10: Keeping Things Neat

You want your plait to be as even and smooth as possible.
The tighter the better also.

It would be very hard to plait it tight right as you do it.

Instead, I suggest that you first plait 4 "passes" ( 2 right, 2 left), then hold on tight on both sides and tighten the last lines one by one , beginning with the top ones and alternating sides.
( top right, top left, 2nd top right, 2nd top left  .....   bottom right bottom left )
Follow the  numbers on the first picture if you don't get it.

The upper strands should hold tight if you don't release your pull on both sides too much.
The 2-4 bottom ones may not stay very tight but that's ok: after the 4 next "passes" they'll become the top ones and get tightened as desired.

Continue plaiting and tightening regularly up to the spot where the shortest gut-strand ends.
When you reach it , go just a bit past it ( by a few passes ) and then you'll proceed to "drop" a first couple of strands to accommodate the thickness change: see next step.

Step 11: Dropping Strands

When you reach one of the points where the whip gets thinner, you'll need to cleanly "drop" two of your working strands so the number of them remains adequate to the thickness.

This step is an easy one as well and should produce a seamless transition from 8 to 6 strand-plait.

As you reach the thinning spot, two of your strands will be close to running out as you'll probably have only a few inches left on them( 10-15 cm or so (0.5 ft )).
These will be the strands you will drop ( the shortest ones to make things simple ).

The actual drop:

-    As you plait, each strand becomes the active one for each pass when it reaches the top of it's respective side.
-    The drop will occur just before the short strands reach the top position.As you're about to work with the opposite side's top strand.
-    Simply let the to be dropped strand fall under the plane in which all strands of the corresponding side are aligned.
-    Then, push the 2 bottom strands of the same side up, close to the top strand
-    You end up grasping 3 strands :the top one+ the 2 bottom ones.
-    Now work with the opposite side's top strand as you would if the drop did not occur.
-    The formula changes now : form "under 2, over 2 ", it becomes "under 2 , over 1 "

Make sur you "trap" the dropped strand agaisnt the core with the working one.

Now the to-be-dropped strand on the other side should have reached the next-to-top posiion.
( if it ends up on top right now,this means you began your drop one pass to late and should have beginned dropping on the other side).

Simply repeat the manoeuver on this side :
-    let the shortest strand fall and lay it against the core
-    put the remaining bottom strands up where the dropped one used to be
-    work as you would with the opposite's side top strand.

Remember, from now on, you're plaiting a 6 strands plait.
The formula is under 2 , over 1.

Do this a couple of inches or so ( 5 cm , 0.15ft ), being sure you trap both dropped strands against the core with each pass, then cut one of the strands.
Go on for another couple inches and cut the 2nd one.
Both strands will remain hidden under the plait.

Once again, the pictures for this step are an illustration and not the actual whip.
The drop does not occur on the handle, but on the guts , at the spot where the whip becomes thinner.

Step 12: Finishing the First Layer

You will have to perform the 2 strands drop routine again at the next  spot where the whip gets thinner .
The technique remains the same.

When you reach the 4 strand plait, the formula simply becomes  " under 1 over one" on each side.

Plait the 4 strand plait up to the point where the core becomes the single unwrapped paracord strand.
You should have a few inches of strands left ( up to 15-20 cm / 0.5-0.6 ft )

When you're there, temporarly tape the strands together so they dont come appart while you're plaiting the second layer.

You might want also want to mark the spots where the whips goes thinner, it will make it easier to know when to drop strands on the next layer.

When you reach those spots, tie a small constrictor knot using one of your leftover inner strands or use a bit of duct tape depending on your preferences.

Step 13: Making the Handle Transition Stiff

At this point the whole thing should start to resemble a real whip and behave like one.

Resist the temptation of playing with it too much though, you wouldn't like to see all that hard plaiting coming undone would you ? :)

You might find that the transition between the handle and the core is still a bit limp, we're going to reinforce things up a bit.

FIrst , cover the transition with a looong, tight whipping.
When making the round turns, let the inner loop be out for a few turns every now and then.
Otherwise the combined friction of all those turns wouldn't allow you to pull the loop inside the knot at the end.
Take some time time to make this really tight.

Then cover the whipping with a tight layer of strong tape as you did for the core.
Don't go all the way up, just cover a few inches before and after the knot.

What you're looking for, is this part of the whip to stand up straight when held vertically (  = not bending at a wild angle under the whips own weight ).

Step 14: Plaiting the 12 Strands Outer Layer

You already guess what goes in this step.

First , get/cut your strands for this layer :

-    2x 7,30m
-    1x 5,50m
-    1x 5m
-    1x 4,30m
-    1x 3m

Once again, take the inner strands out and fold your gutted paracord in half .
Work from the middle to get your 12 strands.

Begin this layer as you did the first one, only arranging the strands by groups of  3 instead  of pairs (see pictures)
Begin plaiting with the upper right strand, then go on as you did so far.

The formula for the 12 plait is under 3, over 3 .
remember to keep things tight and even.

When you reach the marks where the whip becomes thinner,go a bit past them ( remove your marking aid ) and drop 2 strands as in the previous steps.

The formula for the 10 plait is under 3, over 2.
For the 8 plait it is under 2 over 2.

Continue the 8 strand plait until you reach the point where the taped part of the inner layer is.
Remove the tape.

Cut the 2 shortest strands of the inner layer there.
Cut the remaining 2 at 10cm(0.30 ft)  and 15-20cm (0.5-0.65 ft )

Continue the 8 plait over these.

Drop to a 6 plait ( under 2 over 1 ) as you progress.
Then to the 4 plait ( under 1 over 1) when to the end of  the lone inner cord.

Keep 15 cm of strands at the end to tie the fall knot.( next step)

  Once again, the pictures featuring orange paracord are illustrations, they're not what your actual whip should look like at this point.

Step 15: Finishing Off

This part might be a little tricky.
I'll once again show it with 2 colors of paracord to make things clear.

When you reach the end of the plait you will have:
-    4 strands from your plait
-     1 strand from the core.

Prepare the "fall" as shown:

-    Cut an armlength of paracord
-    Be sure to melt both ends
-    Pierce it near the top
-    Thread the other end of it through the hole ( This can be very tricky, make sure you melt the end of the cord in the smoothest and sharpest fashion you can.)
-   Put the loop you just frmed around the end of your whip.

Then you will need to tie that mess together in a clean way.
The theory behind it is quite simple: you will use each of the 5 strands in turn to make a half hitch around ALL the other strands.
It's easy to get lost at this point since all those strands will look alike.

Don't make it tight yet.

When you've tied your 5 knots ( the last one being the one tied with the core strand), use the help of something thin like your marlinspike, a big nail or the awl from your favorite multitool to thread this last strand through all of the previous knots.

Then put it's end through the loop of your fall, tighten the loop, and pull on the fall so it goes inside the knots, altogether with your last strand.

Then you can finally make it as tight as you can, and trim the edges.

Don't get frustrated if you can't get it right, i had to do this again a few times, both during the original project and the shooting of the additionnal pictures.

Step 16: Making the Cracker

The last thing we will need to make things fully functional is the cracker.
It's the part of the whip that makes the actual noise.

This is a throw away part of your whip as it will wear with use.
When it becomes to damaged, just untie it,trash it  and make a new one .

To make it :

-    Take an arm length piece of your string
-    Fold it in half, then twist the two strands together as you did when making the guts.
-    Tie both strands in an overhand knot a few cm from the end
-    Fray the ends

Then tie it to the fall as pictured.

Step 17: Making It Yours !

Congratulations !

You just got a homemade fully functional whip :)

At this point the finishing touch is up to you.
Fell free to decorate it with all your favorite knots or any other skills.

Here is what I have done:

-    Tied a star knot at the end of the handle
-    Made it hold with a Matthew Walker's knot.

Here are some suggestions for making yours unique :

-    Use different colors of paracord in your plaiting
-    Build up handles using fancy knots ( see the marlinspike picture for an example )
-    Use turks heads to mark the upper end of the handle
-    Wrap the handle in leather
-    Use various braids to make the handle
-    Use a hollowed out golf ball at the end of the handle, cover it with a monkey fist..
-    Use some carved wood handle instead of the nail, do something nice with the protruding end.

I will probably soon make a few other Instructables on the advanced knots if you lack inspiration.

Step 18: Trying Things Out

Ok, now go outside for a test run of your new toy.

Cracking your whip is about technique, not force ( and my technique just plain sucks , these are my first tries :)
They're lots of vids on youtube teaching you proper moves.Be sure to check a few out before trying to go Indianna Jones.

Remember to do this outside, and wear proper face protection untill you feel completely confident with it.
( A full face paintball mask would not be too much for beginners, it's SO easy to have the thing jump back at your face even if you think you are being carefull... And trust me...that hurts.)

I hope you enjoyed this instructable as much as I did doing this project.

Have fun and play safe!

Leave suggestions in the comments if you think that some steps deserve further explanation.

Step 19: FInal Reference Sheet

Here's a final reference sheet with all the revealant data for making the whip once you've understood the process.

It sums up everything number related :)

You will need (Total):

-    60m (196 ft.) of paracord
-    2m (6.5ft ) of lamp chain

Then cut it to the following lengths:

For the guts :
-    x1    2m strand  ( 6.5ft )
-    x1    1m strand   (3.30 ft )
-    x1    80cm strand   ( 2.6ft )
-    x1    50 cm strand (1.6 ft)

Along with the corresponding 3 lengths of  lamp chain for the shorter strands :
-    90cm   (2.95ft )
-    60 cm   (1.95ft )
-    30 cm   (1ft )

The first layer is a 8 strand round plait
-     2x 5m       -> 4x 2,5       (16.4ft )
-     1X 3m      ->  2x 1,5      (9.90 ft)
-     1x 4,30m -> 2x 2,15     (14.10 ft )

The outer layer is a 12 strand plait:
-    2x 7,30m   (24 ft)    
-    1x 5,50m   (18 ft ) 
-    1x 5m         (16.4ft)
-    1x 4,30m   (14.10ft )
-    1x 3m         (9.90 ft )

The formulas for the various plaits:

12 strand:   Under 3 Over 3
10 strand:   Under 3 Over 2
8 strand:     Under 2 Over 2
6 strand:     Under 2 Over 1
4 strand:     Under 1 Over 1

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