This post talks about how the number of strands in a whip overlay impact the function of the whip, as well as what you might look for in terms of aesthetics when considering a high plait count vs a lower plait count. I get this question a LOT, of course, and I thought I’d jot my thoughts down here to hopefully spare myself a lot of typing going forward. So far, I’m going to allow comments on this post, and we’ll see how that goes.
Right then, here’s my two cents. The thing to bear in mind is that this is my take, and not my FULL take (that would take too much time, and really you need to BECOME a whip maker to get the full monty, as it were), and too, I am always looking for ways to improve what I do, or new techniques to add to my arsenal of making, so folks can add to what I say here down below in the comment section.
When a client asks me about high vs low plait count, typically they are coming from a perspective that expects one to always be superior to the other. This is not the case. Not ever. Both have advantages and trade offs, and what you choose will depend on what you want both in terms of functionality and aesthetics, as well as circumstances in which the whip will be used (including how often/how long per use, etc.).
I just want to make this clear: A high plait count does not mean a better whip. A low plait count does not mean a subpar whip.
A good whip is one that pleases you. That’s it!
Now, the nice thing about a high plait count is you have more flexibility in terms of what kind of decorative design you can create. That’s about it as far as clear advantage goes, so I often tell my clients that really, it just depends on what pleases your fancy. My lower plait count whips are just as lovely as my higher plait count whips, just from different aesthetic perspectives.
If you want a high plait count on your overlay, then that means I construct your belly with that in mind. Since the leather is sliced and diced finer with a high plait count, you want to make sure you have enough support so that you don’t get a negative impact from this (and it’s just a minor consideration in terms of what it takes to account for it, because of course the overlay is just the last bit of the whip construction, isn’t it?). Constructing a whip is tricky because as a whip maker you need to think in terms of the whip’s lifetime which is spent in motion, and not just how it will throw when it’s new. Yes, typically a whip with a high plait count will–all things being equal, which they never are–be a bit more supple out of the box compared to a lower plait count whip. However, over time, as the two whips you’re theoretically comparing work in, the difference will diminish, and may become insignificant (assuming the difference was large enough to start with). In addition, a higher plait count whip is at greater risk of getting too limp over time, but that risk is slight in particular if, as mentioned, the belly is built with this in mind. Also, “too limp” may simply mean that it takes a touch more work to throw the whip. It doesn’t mean that suddenly one day your whip collapses on the nearest fainting couch and refuses to budge, right?
Conversely, if you want a lower plait count, I bear that in mind as I’m constructing your WHOLE whip, as well.
In view of this discussion so far, I’d like to say a few words about high plait counts on really short whips. For a whip maker, a high plait count usually means that more strands will need to be dropped along the length of the thong in order to preserve the taper of the whip as you progress to the tail of the whip, and usually the target number of strands to end up with varies between 4 and 10 strands (and more usually between 6 and 8), depending on what kind of whip it is and how big it is. Dropping strands entails a certain technique: you can’t just stop plaiting with one or a pair of strands and carry on, of course, rather, you have to pull the strands NEATLY into the belly, and then plait the remaining strands over them, and you have to do that long enough so that the dropped strands remain secure and so that they don’t create bulges in the overlay or interfere, due to bulk, with the roll out of the whip. In other words, the dropped strands have to taper rather than end abruptly, which requires a certain length of thong for success. As you can imagine, the shorter the whip, the less space you have to drop strands. For really short whips, i.e., less than 4ft long, this becomes highly problematic. It can be done, but it requires a great deal of finesse and, even so, entails a certain amount of risk that later on a strand might pop loose, or you end up with indelible (although likely small) lumps in the profile of your whip. It might even interfere with how well the whip rolls out and works in. Since a high plait count is not necessary for a whip to function beautifully and be supple, you don’t need it in a short whip, if you’re thinking that will help your short whip be more supple. Again, it might be more supple out of the box compared to a lower plait count whip, but over time as both whips you’re comparing work in, the difference will diminish to the point where it’s no longer significant, and in fact, your high plait count whip is at greater risk of “noodling” compared to a lower plait count whip, in particularwith a short whip, because odds are you’re throwing it harder at first to get it to roll out (unless you’re a superbly experienced thrower, of course).