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         This article appears in Issue #24 of The SandMUtopian Guardian, along with articles about Pirates, an interview with the late Philip Miller, ... and much more. Get your copy for $6.00 including postage.

The Secrets of Flogger Tress & Handle Design

by Mitch Kessler writing as "Adam Selene"

     Tress is such an apt description of the thick, flowing bundle of strips at the business end of the modern pleasure flogger. It is a fairly modern term; I learned it from the New York whipmaker, “Luchia,” at the club Paddles in 1987 or ‘88. If one wants to be pedantic, there are traditional terms: “cats” have 4 - 10 tails, while “whips” have a single lash or thong — but in everyday usage, the term “tress” covers the business end of both cats and “floggers.” A flogger gets most of its effect from the final few inches of the tress. Everything else in the design exists to deliver those tress tips to their target accurately and at the desired force and speed.

    A well-designed general purpose flogger should be able to make the tips either hit together in a tight bundle even at slower speeds, or can be made to spread out and fall in a gentle “cascade” of tress tips. In judging the tress itself you want to see uniform width and cleanly cut material. On a new flogger you want to see uniform tips, and tresses all the same length — give or take a leather-thickness or two. As a whip is used, the tresses may stretch, (this is true especially of deer and moose hide) or they may fray (particularly with very narrow tresses or with suede). The answer is an occasional trim with a sharp scissors.

    Very little cowhide made in the last five years is “struck” — i.e., dyed all the way through. As that trend emerged, some of the more particular premium whipcrafters began to dye the cut edges of their leather. As a result, colored tress edges came to be associated with the highest standards of workmanship. Attractive as this embellishment can be, it doesn’t actually add anything to the quality of the flogger, but it does add to the cost — and can be used to make a second- or third- rate product resemble the top of the line.

     Assuming the arm (the speed and power of the stroke) is constant, the performance of the flogger and its actual effect ... what it feels like, whether or not it will make bruises or break skin, for example — is determined by the tress design. This includes the length, width, thickness, shape, texture, and hardness of the individual tresses, as well as the length and mass of the total tress bundle.

      Here the raw number of tresses in a flogger is only half the story. Garment weight cowhide, for example, ranges from 1/32’’ to as much as 1/8” in thickness. In thicker leathers, strips taken from different places on the same hide can vary in thickness by as much 50%. The thickness of the individual tresses needs to be considered, or else the diameter of the bundle as a whole must be specified.

Adam then goes on to discuss the following topics:

Braiding — Braided tress is a luxury, but it is more than an affectation. ...

Variables -- In choosing or designing a flogger these variables need to be considered:

* Denser tresses move faster and hit harder than “airy” ones.

* Soft, flexible tresses are more sensual and less likely to do less skin damage than hard, stiff ones.

* Thin, hard, narrow or round tresses in sparse tress bundles (typical of cats) are usually intense and severe.

* Wider tresses have more wind resistance than narrower ones and therefore move slower.

* The narrower tress has more “sting”— the wider, more “slap.”

Materials --- Full Grain Cowhide, Cow Suede, The “Game Hides,” deer, moose, elk, Rubber, Cordage, Pigskin and Pig Suede, Horsehair ...

    There are few substances that have not found their way to the front end of someone’s flogger. This includes all kinds of plastic tubes and sheet, fish and reptile skins, insulated and bare wires, and even light chain. However, the ones discussed in this article are the most common and most “safe and sane.” ...

     As with cameras, swords and handguns, in the last analysis, the “right” balance is the balance that feels right to the user! Whipcrafters work towards an optimum “feel” relying on experience and experiment rather than formula. Changing the weighting without also adjusting handle and tress dimensions rarely improves an established design. If your personal preferences are very specific, you will need to find a Whipcrafter whose standard designs suit your tastes, or consult with a Whipcrafter who does custom work. Often a very small price premium will get you exactly what you want. However, when a Whipcrafter must copy another’s work “exactly,” that Flea market special you paid fifteen dollars for ten years ago, may cost hundreds of dollars to recreate!

     “Adam Selene” (aka Mitch Kessler) has been a whipcrafter since 1987, when friends started asking him to “make one for me,” of the designs he had crafted for his own use.

Adam and Gillian's Sensual Whips and Toys    40 Grant Avenue Copiague NY 11726
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