Leather Whip Care
Like any 90s adolescent American with access to a TV screen, I grew with a healthy appetite for plundering ancient treasure chests filled with incorporeal vengeance ghosts and running away from giant rolling balls. My favorite memory was, on my fifteenth birthday, receiving my very own leather whip. At last my ambitions were complete! All I needed was Mum to drive me to an ancient ruin in the middle of Egypt, and I’d be the world’s richest amateur archaeologist. Unfortunately, my plan did not pan out, mostly due to there being a giant ocean between America and Egypt, and I couldn’t afford a biplane on piggy bank salary. Ah well. Needless to say, my whip helped me get a grip on things afterwards, as I took out all my broken dreams on a very undeserving punching bag.
It took a lot of work keeping that whip in shape, let me tell you. Back then, I wasn’t particularly practical, but I was sensitive. I knew how to keep my ninetails purring happy. Today, I’m going to show you how to keep you own leather whip purring happy, like an African lioness perching over a dead antelope.
It’s About the Mileage
First things first. It’s best to have a whip made from full grain leather. This is leather that has the uppermost portion of the hide preserved, where the skin is dense and most defensible. Many natural scars are likely to develop here, with patterns and marks that were present on the cow who donated your leather. It needs to be tough, to protect the cow from harm. Sometimes the scars and marks on this leather are a touch unsightly, so the tough upper layers is removed to make top grain. This is the leather equivalent of taking a support beam out of your house because you want a piano there. Things will look real nice until everything gives way and you’re left with a pile of rubble and piano keys. If you want your leather whip in for the long haul, you’ll find no leather sturdier than full grain.
Once you’ve chosen your leather whip, whether full grain, top grain, or other variety, it’s your personal job to keep it in shape. This involves a lot of things, like breaking it in, storing it, maintaining it, and proper use.
The Old Snap
When you first get your hands on your leather whip, it may feel a little stiff in your hands. It won’t wriggle and flow like a snake, but instead just kind of flail around like a dead fish. This won’t do at all. Your whip should be an extension of your own arm, part of your body and an instrument of your will. So pretend you’re a newborn suckling babe again and work with these strange limbs of yours. Move it gently at first – excessive force and dramatic swings are for baseball and luchadors. The whip is graceful and cunning. If you’re getting flashes of Syrio Forel’s water dance from Game of Thrones, you’re on the right track.
Another thing to keep in mind is your target. If it would hurt you to punch the object you are whipping at, probably not a good idea to whip it either. Gravel, concrete, stone and the like tend to have very abrasive effects. Same goes for Ser Chew-a-lot the dog and whatever heavy objects get placed on top of it in your cluttered workspace. Your leather doesn’t have blood, but its skin can nonetheless wear away when lashed against something tougher than it is. Leave the big tentacular mayhem to Cthulhu.
But metal sticks and stones aren’t all you have to worry about. A far more likely enemy to cause you trouble is something much more subtle, and far more plentiful than concussion-bait brick walls. The very elements around you are as dangerous as any abrasive rock. Instead of wearing you out on the outside, dirt, sweat, grime and the like wear your whip out on the inside. It’s the difference between getting eaten whole by a T-Rex or your intestines getting chewed out by worms. With that rousing mental image, let’s figure out how to stop that from happening.
Now You’re Getting Nasty
First thing you need to do is remember to clean the thing. Something to know about leather: this animal may be dead, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still breathing. Leather pulls stuff out of the air as easily as you and I, absorbing anything it can get its pores on through a very breathable surface make. What this means is that dust and dirt and sweat are all getting inside of your leather every time they make contact. Why’s this so bad? It turns out these invaders clog up leather’s pores, so that nothing else can pass through. This includes any moisture trapped inside, which can slowly rot the fibers away, or else it can prevent moisture and oils from coming in, whereby everything dries up. When this happens, the fibers lose their lubricating, and they all start chafing against each other like razors anytime the leather is flexed. Over time, your leather will grind itself to dust.
That’s not to mention all the non-microscopic stuff that can happen to your leather bullwhip when the elements are allowed to frolic away with your leather whip. Leather whips left wet may stretch out, shrink out, dry out, erode, and even develop unsightly mold and mildew. Disgusting! You can read about how to fix that latter problem here.
So it’s important to clean. I recommend Straight Cleaner No. 2 for this – it’s an alcohol-based leather cleaner that penetrates pores very deeply and pulls out grime few other cleaners can scratch at. If you’re lacking this, you can also use the spuds from a bubbly concoction of mixed mild soap and water. Spread that stuff evenly and thinly over the surface of your leather, and let it dry for a night afterwards. Make it a cool, dry, and clean place away from sunlight and direct heat. Also, make sure the whip doesn’t have any kinks. Allow it to lay straight or hang upside down, or else loosely coil it, to ensure best results. Before any of this, however, make sure your leather’s receptive to your cleaner in a good way by testing it in a discreet area first, and check its results after drying. Do this test with any recipe you plan to use on your leather.
Don’t Lay it On Thick
After you’re done cleaning your leather, you’ll also want to give it some conditioner. Consider conditioner analogous to the oils in your hand, which disappear after you’ve spent a substantial amount of time in the pool, turning your skin into a giant, wrinkly raisin. Unlike our skin, leather’s got no way of restoring its oils naturally, so when you cleaned your leather, you didn’t just get rid of the dirt. You got rid of its lubrication, for good. Imagine getting called “Wrinkly Guy” or “He Is Raisin” the rest of your life. Leather doesn’t like those names either. In fact, without those valuable oils lubricating your leather whip, its fiber matrix is going to dry up fast, forcing the microscopic tangles to chafe and grind against each other every time your leather is flexed until the whole thing is a big pile of dust. No bueno.
Conditioner also has the added bonus of giving your leather a more attractive finish. Chamberlains have got another magic brew for this occasion: Leather Care Liniment No. 1. Not only will this conditioner nourish your thirsty leather whip, it’ll freshen up the color too! Apply it much like you did Straight Cleaner – test first, light and even layers one at a time, and allow to the conditioner to set for a day after. Be careful not to apply too much conditioner. When oils are used in excess, or thick consistency conditioners (mink oil, for example) are applied, they can often clog up your leather’s pores and prevent it from breathing, as well as leave a sticky residue. If moisture is trapped inside, it can rot your leather from the inside out. Instead feed the leather whip a little conditioner at a time until it stops absorbing, and buff the rest off with a clean cloth.
Keep it Out of the Museum
When your bullwhip isn’t getting action directing cattle or reliving Indiana Jones fantasies, it’s a good idea to store it some place safe. For one, sunlight isn’t good for leather, so keep it in the shade. Some place cool, clean and dry is preferable. Better yet, stuff it inside a dust jacket or wooden box to keep the dust out. Or a sanitized Egyptian tomb. You know, if you have any of those laying around.
Long story short, handle your whip with care. A good whip’s like a dinosaur. Treat it right, you’ll make millions in box office and endless acclaim for an eternity and a half, or in your case probably just a really good whip. But treat it wrong, and it’ll be tomorrow’s museum exhibit. Fortune and glory, people.