The dreaded scenario goes something like this:
You’re at a whip practice and inadvertently leave your whip bag on the ground. Some very inattentive person comes walking up, doesn’t see your bag lying there, and steps right on it. Simultaneously, you hear a loud “crack,” but it doesn’t come from the popper of the Noreast nylon bullwhip you were just volleying, rather, it comes from inside your whip bag, from a toheti cane handle snapping in two like an old crusty chopstick. You resist the urge to yell at the idiot who just stepped on your bag, but you also want to kick yourself for being foolish enough to leave the bag lying on the ground in the first place. You regret not opting for a fiberglass handle on your nylon stockwhip. When you get home, you promptly fire off an angry email to that Rhett Kelley guy who made the whip…
This humorous, very exaggerated scenario demonstrates what I’ve read online about toheti cane whip handles becoming brittle over time and breaking if tread upon inside of a whip bag. What I want to do is examine the claims I’ve seen on the web that stockwhip handles made of toheti are prone to breakage. To be specific, I want to look at the probability of breakage with half plaited, unskinned cane handle. Now as a matter of personal opinion, I’ve always liked the looks of a half-plait cane handle whip and I believe they make an excellent handle for a stockwhip. However, this is not a discussion of what’s “best” or the most aesthetically pleasing. Such discussions are subjective, based largely on personal opinion, and of no real value to me.
I’ll be the first to admit that I do have a dog in this fight. I use a variety of materials on for my stockwhip handles, but cane is my favorite and seems to be preferred my diverse customer base. In the age of the internet, people do lots of research and form opinions based upon what they read. In light of some of the claims out there, some may shy away from my half-plait cane handles as a result of reading that cane can become brittle and break if it is tread upon.
When I started making stockwhips, it wasn’t long before I got some cane to use. I didn’t know what to expect before I got it, but I had read that compared to hardwood, toheti cane was preferred by Aussie stockmen because it was less apt to break, splinter, and injure a rider if he/she fell from a horse onto the handle of the whip.
Cane Cross Section
When my first cane shipment arrived, I was amazed at how light and durable it seemed. Sometimes the cane needs to be straightened a bit, and again, I was amazed at how even when place it over my knee and applied all the pressure I could muster, it would not break! It reminded me somewhat of one of those black plastic combs we carried in our back pocket in grade school. A look here at the cross section reveals that the cane is nothing like either bamboo or hardwood. In my estimation, this is what makes it so tough and flexible.
Before writing this article, I contacted and consulted with a number of my whipmaking friends Down Under. Having just over a year’s experience using the material, I didn’t want to make claims about anything based off of my limited experience alone. Each agreed that perhaps a shaved down, full plait cane handle might be subject to break if not steel lined, but that the chances of an unskinned, half-plait cane breaking from someone stepping on it is virtually nill.
One of my Aussie friends -who is a renowned whipmaker with decades of experience- tells me that only on extremely rare occasions has he seen a piece of toheti cane that would break easily. He theorizes that it was probably as a result of someone harvesting an already dead piece of cane and putting it into a bundle. No doubt, this can probably happen from time to time, but any alert whipmaker with a pulse could probably spot it and cull it out before making a handle from it. He also told me that he recently had a redhide stockwhip come in for repairs; he made the whip over 25 years ago and the handle “was still as good as new.”
I did a bit of experimenting with a very thin and very ugly piece of cane that I culled out of a shipment I received about a year ago. This piece has been left out under the shed and exposed to the elements in ways I hope my whips never are. I put it through a series of tests and got my son to catch the clips on video. I hope this demonstrates that there’s not much to worry about as far as breakage when you buy an unskinned, half-plait cane handle: