Whips in Movies (Or, Get a Rope)

Whips in Movies (Or, Get a Rope)

The other day while talking with some friends the subject of whips came up. Someone asked me, “Does it seem like more people contact you about buying a whip soon after they’ve seen a whip in a recent movie release?” The answer is always “yes.” Without a doubt, whips featured in movies create or rekindle an interest in whips among movie-goers. People who are avid whip-crackers decide it’s time for a new whip, while some who’ve never cracked a whip or had little interest in it, now feel like they’d like to give a shot at learning to handle a whip. So, movies featuring whips means an increase in whip sales among whipmakers.

Unfortunately, though movies have helped much in stirring an interest in whip-cracking from time to time, they do account for some impractical uses of whips. One of them… swinging or climbing with a whip.

Flashback: Indiana Jones swinging across the seemingly bottomless pit with his bullwhip wrapped around the wooden beam overhead.

Can this be done? Sure it can. Should it be done? Only if you absolutely needed to escape from a booby-trapped temple that’s falling apart and caving in around you. A whip can be used to swing from, though every whipmaker who takes pride in the whips he builds for a living will tell you, as do I, that a whip isn’t made for the purpose of swinging over chasms or rivers or from building to building. It is made to crack. If it’s used for any climbing or swinging, there’s a good chance of damaging the whip. Here’s just three ways in which a whip can suffer damage when used for swinging or repeated climbing:

1. Separation of handle & core.
2. Breaking of strands, either internal or external.
3. Stretching of strands, weakening their strength & causing gaps in the plaiting.

A good bullwhip is built in layers. I won’t go into depth on whip construction, rather give a simple breakdown on a whip’s components. A bullwhip starts with a handle & an attached core. Over this is usually a plaited (braided) layer of strands, whether leather or nylon, to a pre-determined length. Next, there’s usually some form of bolster covering this plaited portion. Another layer is plaited over this with a specified number of strands to another pre-determined length & longer than the first layer of plaiting. From here, another bolster or plaited layer can be added, depending on the desired thickness of the whip when it’s finished.

The internal components of a whip are integral to how a whip handles & cracks. One particular area of concern, when it relates to bullwhips, is what is known as the transition zone, or transition area. It’s that particular juncture where the solid handle & the core of the whip meet. Some whipmakers make this area very stiff with the binding of each layer of construction, usually with artificial sinew or waxed thread. Some whipmakers simply rely on the tightness of the plaiting to keep this area strong. This area receives much stress when a whip is cracked. It also would receive even more stress if a whip were to be held by the handle when using the whip to swing or climb. This area’s strength can be greatly compromised if the whip is used for swinging or climbing, even separation of handle from core.

More damage that could befall the whip is a strand or two breaking on the whip from excessive force. This can happen either on the inside of a whip; which would most likely never be known unless in fact the whip broke through completely at that point; or it could happen on the outer layer of the whip, showing more readily. This now makes for an ugly looking whip.

The least amount of damage that I can think of happening to a whip that’s used for swinging or climbing would be stretching. I don’t believe that a whip that’s used for swinging or climbing will definitely be ruined and unable to use for its intended purpose of cracking. Yet I do feel that the strength of the plaiting will be weakened to an unknown degree when used for those activities and the whip’s life-span will be shortened. Once the whip is stretched to a good deal, it has changed dynamically, both in function & esthetically. Will it still crack? Most likely, yes. Yet there may be gaps showing between the individual strands of plaiting. Again, this causes the whip’s appearance to look rather ugly.

In the movies, when a character swings from a whip, it’s usually not a finely crafted whip that he’s swinging from. Rather, it’s a cable that’s been covered with braiding to appear as a whip. Usually the handle end has some type of coupling or fastener that clips onto a harness or belt the actor is wearing. Even if there is no attachment, still the whip being used is not likely a whip at all. Safety is a top priority when stunts are performed and a cable is stronger than a whip.

Many, many times customers ask me how much weight will one of my whips hold. Right away, I know where they’re going with this. They want to know how much a whip can support in safely swinging or climbing. I always say that a whip is designed to crack and not to be used for anything else. Of course, if you’re facing a survival situation, and a whip is the only thing to use to climb up a high wall or fence, or swing over a pit, anything is fair game when it comes to saving a life. Otherwise, get a rope.