A bullwhip is a single-tailed whip, usually made of braided leather, which was originally used as a farmer's tool for working with livestock.
Anatomy of the Bullwhip
A bullwhip consists of a handle section, a thong, a fall, and a cracker.
The main portion of the bullwhip's length is made up of a braided body or thong. Made of many strips of leather, the number of braids or plaits is an important factor in the construction of the whip. Often times the thong is multilayered having a "belly" in the centre. Unlike the Australian stock whip, the thong connects in line with the handle (rather than with a joint), or even engulfs the handle entirely.
Then handle is usually short, being between 8 and 12 inches long. While mass-produced low-quality whips generally have an exposed wooden grip, it is very common for high-quality whips to have an intricately braided leather-covered handle.
Bullwhips are measured from the butt of the handle to the end of the plaiting of the thong. They range in length from 3ft to very long bullwhips of 20ft with some examples being even longer. The thong terminates at the fall hitch - a series of half hitches that neatly tie the replaceable fall (or tail) to the whip.
A fall is a single piece of leather typically slightly thicker than the braids used in the thong, and between 10 and 30 inches in length. During trick shots, or target work the fall is usually the portion of the whip used to cut, strike, or tie the target.
Tied to the end of the flexible fall, is an even more flexible piece of string or nylon cord or wire called the cracker or the popper. The cracker is the portion of the whip that supersedes the speed of sound causing a sonic boom. This can cause severe fraying and punishment to the tip, and well used whips frequently require new crackers.
Bullwhips come in many different weights, materials, and designs. Some light whips use shot loading or lead weighting to affect their balance. Though usually made of strips of leather, nylon whips have become popular in wet climates where leather is difficult to maintain. In America cowhide and oxhide leathers are most common for construction; these tend to be quite thick and sturdy and are good for harsh conditions. Most whip-crackers doing target work prefer a whip made of kangaroo skin.
A word of warning. Bullwhips can cause severe injury and should be used with extreme care. They are not suitble for SM play unless in the hands of an expert.