Whip Terminology & Physics Of A Whip

Hi, my name is Joshua Waters, and welcome to SharpshooterJD.com. Today I will be giving you a basic overview of whip terminology/anatomy, and I’ll be talking a bit about the physics of a whip and how it actually cracks. All of the information is laid out in written form below, but I will also have a video at the bottom of the page that goes over the same information, less in-depth if you prefer to watch. That video also contains a whip cracking demonstration if you are interested in that. Enjoy!

Anatomy/Terminology Of A Whip

The whip I own and the one I will be talking about today is a 12 plait nylon bullwhip. This means it has a stiff handle about a foot long and is made from gutted nylon paracord. A nylon whip compared to a leather whip is much more durable and lower maintenance, but is not as supple and doesn’t crack quite as well. I will be focusing on this whip in particular, as it’s the only one I own, but I will do my best to provide as much general information as I can, that applies to all whips. I’ll be starting at the butt end of the whip, and moving down towards the tip.

External Construction


The first piece of the whip is called the pommel or the heel. This is generally made using a crown knot or turk’s head knot and is sometimes filled with lead to change the balance of the whip, or to add weight. With a bullwhip like this one, the pommel is actually what you hold on to. It fits into the palm of your hand really nicely and makes for a good grip. For other whips it’s different, but for a bullwhip, that’s generally the most comfortable way to hold it, where you have the most control.


Next, we have the handle, and I believe on this particular whip the handle is made from a steel rod or a steel pipe, but each whip type has a different type of handle. Since this is a bullwhip, it’s going to have a stiff handle that’s usually about a foot long, and these handles are generally made of metal. Other whip types, like snake whips, don’t have a stiff handle at all. For those, the pommel sits on the end of the thong (main body of the whip) and you hold it there, similarly to a bullwhip. The lack of a stiff handle makes them slightly harder to crack, and less accurate for cutting targets, but it allows them to be coiled very tightly so they can be put in a pouch or in a pocket. As you can imagine, this makes them much more portable. Another whip type, the stock whip, has a much longer handle and these handles are generally made of wood and are sculpted to fit your hand very nicely.
Thong & Overlay

Moving on from there, we have the main body of the whip which is called the thong. However, what you can see on the outside is only the topmost layer of the whip, which is called the overlay. On this particular whip, the overlay is made up of 12 strands of gutted nylon paracord that have been woven together. As the whip continues downward, the weave will drop strands until only a 4 plait weave remains. The thong/overlay extends from the end of the handle all the way to the fall of the whip.


Attached to the thong, we have what’s called a fall, which is a strong thin length of material. As on this whip, these are often made from 550 paracord.


Attached to the fall we have what’s called a cracker, and this is what actually breaks the sound barrier to make the sound of the crack. These are generally made from twisted string and are cheap and easily replaceable by design because they take the most beating out of any part of the whip. I just made this cracker from some paracord guts and it’s working pretty good, it’s a bit high pitched for my liking though, so I think I need some more volume in the end of it. Maybe I can add a couple more strands to it next time around. To make this one, I used the counter-twist method, (which is how you make bowstrings) also called a Flemish twist I believe, and it works pretty good and is pretty simple to make.

Internal Construction


Working from the inside out now, the innermost part of the whip is called the core. This core can be made from a wide range of different materials depending on the design of the whip and the whip maker. In quality whips, the core is often made from the same material as the whip itself and is generally tapered to begin the overall taper of the whip.


On top of the core, there are generally braided bellies, which are basically just smaller versions of the overlay, but on the inside. There can be multiple bellies to a whip, I’m not exactly sure what this one has inside of it, but I know there’s at least one belly. The function of the bellies is to give the whip its density and its shape. The quality of the bellies more directly affects the whip performance than any other part of the whip and generally determines the efficiency and fluidity of the whip.


Sometimes between bellies, there’s what’s called a bolster, which is generally a triangular shaped piece of material that decreases the friction between the bellies, adds a bit of durability to the whip and increases the overall diameter of the whip when it is completed.

Physics Of A Whip

So now that you know all the different parts and pieces of the whip, we will move on to the physics behind it and what makes it work. Basically, the taper of the whip is what generates all of its power. The traditional crack, or the first one most people learn, is called the cattlemen’s crack, or the circus crack. This crack involves swinging the whip up and back, and then as it’s coming back past your head, you throw it forward reversing directions and creating a loop. As this loop moves forward, it’s going to start rolling down, this, in turn, generates speed as the whip gets thinner a lighter towards the tip. The loop should reach the tip of the whip as you finish following through on your throw, and the end of the whip finally breaks the sound barrier. This is really hard to explain as it all happens at practically the same time, in the span of half of a second. I’ll try once more to explain in a different way. So you’re putting force into the handle of the whip, and this is a pretty heavy handle. So you are creating a lot of potential energy, and then as that energy, or force rolls down the whip, the whip gets lighter and lighter and lighter, so the force is exponentially multiplied, and starts accelerating, until the end of the whip gets accelerated so fast that it breaks the sound barrier.


Whip Cracking + Anatomy And Physics Of A Bull Whip Video


Final Thoughts

While whips are not my field of expertise, I have done my best to provide the most accurate, and highest quality information I could get, using my own experience, mixed with insights from professionals on the subject. I tried to keep it as straight-forward and as easily digestible as possible so that anyone could understand it regardless of their experience in this subject. I hope you found it helpful and enjoyable. If you did, please consider subscribing to my newsletter below to get updates on future content. If you want to learn more, I have links below to some really cool videos and articles I’ve come across in my research for this article. There is a ton of great information there if you are interested in learning more.

If you have any questions please leave them down below, I love lending a hand in any way I can, and I am very quick to respond.

Thanks for reading, have a great day, and God bless!

Joshua Waters

Extra Information/Resources:

Whip Cracking In Slow Motion 1
Whip Cracking In Slow Motion 2
My Last Whip Cracking Video
Where I Bought My Whip
Whip Terminology Part 1
Whip Terminology Part 2
Whip Terminology Part 3
Weighting A Nylon Whip


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10 thoughts on “Whip Terminology & Physics Of A Whip”

  1. Awesome article! Very well written. I learned so much and love having the videos available too. Keep up the good work!

  2. Joshua,

    You have it all correct. I have been braiding leather whips 20+ years so was reading with a professional eye to detail.
    The info here is concise, which in this day and age is a blessing.

    Rob (avid slingshooter as well)

    1. Hi Rob! Thanks for the comment and the kind words. I appreciate the confirmation. Looks like I did my research well. I have been cracking whips on and off for about 6-7 years now, but only recently took the time to learn the details about how they work and how they are made. It’s really fascinating!

      It’s good to see a fellow shooter here. I hope you’ll stick around! If you are interested in future articles, please subscribe to my newsletter! You’ll find it at the bottom of my homepage, and at the bottom of each article.

      Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

  3. I never realised what went into making a whip. I have only associated a whip with training animals in a circus or the old slave days.Now i can see that there are actual individual parts that make up a whip. Just for curiosity does any one use a whip today for professional reasons or are they for demonstration purposes.?

    1. Great question! They are most widely used nowadays for performances and entertainment purposes. But I believe they still serve functional purposes in the equestrian world, and for cattle driving. Apart from that, I am not sure. From what I have heard, at one point in history, they served as multi-use tools and weapons that were used for cattle driving, combat, disarming, binding, etc. But I cannot speak to the legitimacy of those claims as I haven’t really done any research on the subject. Most of us that still practice it, consider it a lost art and use them mostly for fun.

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