Out of the Shadows
Disclaimer of a legal sort
As floggers were less available in former days, many people made their own in various styles and weights. Even if you are not doing so, some basic principles of design might help you select a superior one from the regrettably large supply of the other sort. I shall not include specific designs, the subject has been done to death before, and they are readily available elsewhere. As Janet Heartwood has provided excellent information in her 'Heartwood Catalog', I have used a similar format in my materials listing below. Although I have not ordered from her and can give no opinion, her wares seem well received among posters here.
(aside from Domina-"My next three floggers will be Heartwoods)
The wider the tail, the more surface area to be forced through the air, and again, the more lands at once on the skin. As a general rule for the same material, thin tails 'sting', wide tails 'thud'. Thin, rounded thong tails sting much more than 5/8 inch wide flat tails, for example.
If all things are equal, the more tails a flogger has, the slower it travels, and the longer the tails are, the more leverage is gained. Both of the above make a flogger heavier, but the longer tails can make it disproportionately more difficult to control, therefore many of the 'standard' floggers have tail lengths between 15 and 22 inches. It is possible to do quite interesting things with a long flogger, such as laying it down an entire back at once, but this is not recommended for beginners as it can take serious practise to do well. Very short floggers have special uses for close work, one nipple at a time, that sort of thing. Floggers with perhaps 15 to 25 tails are average, twice that makes a heavier version of the same design.
For safety, flogger tails must remain fixed to the end of the handle; this region is where the most stress occurs in use. A good covering knot will help reduce this strain, and keep the tails together. The handle must work with your hand, not against it, neither too large nor small for a proper grip, and a knot or swelling near the end of the flogger serves to prevent slippage. Short handles are better for control, longer handles provide more leverage. The weight of the handle must feel 'right' with the tails [something one must feel, not read about. If the sellers will not allow a cautious swing of prospective purchases, find another shop].
Beyond weight, width and length, the materials matter most. I have personal experience only with the following, perhaps others may share their knowledge as well. A selection from the below provides a range of severity and feelings from 'did you start yet?' to 'Omigod!'. Again in general, the softer and lighter the material, the safer it is [the harder/longer it may be used without risk], and the softer it feels. As ever, *the RESPONSIBLE TOP TESTS each implement on hirself before it touches a bottom, and checks for breakage or other safety problems before each use.
Chamois- a more permanent version of the above, a 3/8 inch tail width 20-tail is a specialized tool for flogging either a complete novice or one who prefers nearly no sensation. Noise, a very light skin-level sensation, and nothing else, tested as above. Of course it may also cause hir to look back at you and ask if that is all you plan on doing....
Fabric- silk and other softer fabrics can be made into floggers. Avoid fraying of edges by sewing the fabric into closed tubes, ironing each tube flat, then sewing the flat sides together along the long axis. Similar to chamois, more decorative colors available, and many fabrics are washable.
Deerskin- soft and caressing, a tiny bit of sting, a bit of thud, and little else. Unless one is hitting exceptionally hard, a deerskin flogger can be used for a very long time without any notable skin reactions beyond a light flush. My personal favorite for light play or the less experienced.
Light Nylon Cordage [1/8 inch diameter for a start]- Take 15 loops 34 inches long [circumference], tying them together in a knot at one end. Cut the other end [tail length now perhaps 15 inches], fray the cut ends and attach to a handle. Two sensations, a very light one from brushing with the tips alone, and a heavier one from the non-frayed section. Simple to clean, quite inexpensive, and different weights of cord are readily available.
Elkhide- heavier than Deerskin, yet soft and compressible, almost entirely thud. A lovely flogger for a slow building scene, very easy to relax into, and can be used with astonishing force with little risk of harm.
The next three are varieties of cowhide, the 'standard' leather. These are not specific cuts or tanning terms, but are classes of weight and type.
Suede- in the lighter varieties, slightly harder than Elk, in the heaviest, just below the thick Topgrain below. Many floggers are made from various suede 'splits', these are inexpensive and simple to work. More thud and more sting than those above, may mark if swung sharply.
Topgrain leather- smooth leathers create less friction than suedes, yet usually feel more 'sting-y' on the skin. Available in many weights, from light garment leathers to heavy saddle leathers, the more flexible varieties are recommended.
Oil tanned thick leather- thick, heavy, and spongy leather, less flexible than thinner skins. Feels rather like an extremely heavy Elk as it compresses, yet a far more 'serious' thud.
Bison- Interesting rough grain, heavy, rather inflexible, unless careful attention is taken the edges may cut the skin. Not a material for the beginner, but certainly something to use if desired.
Rubber-flexible, yet quite 'harsh' feeling, stings rather like a thong flogger, leaves immediate marks. Different weight to air resistance ratio than any leather I am aware of. Exceptionally simple to clean.
Horsehair- Extreme sting with no thud, entirely skin-level sensation of a very intense and itching sort. It is possible to break skin with horsehair, and it creates deceptively intense stinging at a very light touch. Cleanliness and body fluid precautions are required here, IMO.
Additionally, most of these have tactile and scent qualities that may attract some, with the exception of the pillowcase, fabric, nylon, and the oil-tanned leather [much of which smells rather nasty]. All except the pillowcase may be made into floggers that look rather nice, and all of the above are now available ready-made through shops and catalogues.
As 'flogging' is something that covers much by way of different activities, I have taken the liberty of separating it into 'light' [entirely sting, no deep tissue effects], and 'heavy' [sting and/or thud, reaching and jarring deep tissue]. *Hint* it is impossible to do 'heavy' flogging with a 20-tail chamois flogger, and quite difficult to do 'light' flogging with anything over deerskin in the materials progression cited above [with the exception of horsehair, again a sting-only material].
Of course all of these are merely physical *possibilities* rated solely on my own opinions of [relative] safety, all limits and preferences of top and bottom must also be considered.
The face, head, neck, the fingers and toes, over healing skin [if you want it to ever heal].
The palms and back of the hands, over any joint, the lower front and back and sides between the top of the pelvis and the lower ribs [kidneys and other internal organs], the spine, the tops and bottoms of the feet.
N.B. Both feet and hands contain many tiny bones, once broken, these rarely heal well. Joints do not respond well to stress internal or external. Crippling is neither safe nor sane, and unless one has an X-ray machine at call one cannot tell. Internal organs are more fragile than one might think, avoid thud entirely in their area. Many people have particular problems with body areas as well, do attempt the above *very* lightly indeed if at all!
Lower legs, arms, inner arms, breasts, genitals [skin is more fragile there], upper shoulders [accuracy], top of buttocks near spine, the muscular ridge on both sides of the spine [accuracy], the ribs where not protected by muscle.
N.B. There is some evidence that 'thud' on the female breast is not advisable for reasons of health, nipples are far better suited to strong stimulation. The top of the buttocks protect the coccyx, a small and fragile triangular bone at the base of the spine, avoid striking between the upper buttocks.
Buttocks, upper back on each side of the spine, thighs, lower shoulders. These areas are principally composed of strong bones protected by muscle tissue and a fatty layer, any other organs present are reasonably protected. There are reasons for these traditional areas being so traditional, they reduce the likelihood of major damage, making an extended safer session possible.
Body position affects the position of both skin and muscles. If someone is bent over, the muscles of the rear lengthen and are not as thick, so the muscles themselves no longer protect in the same way. If the skin is stretched as well, it will feel more than it would if relaxed. Flogging someone who is standing unsupported may lead to falling, and seems foolish given the known physiological and psychological effects ['going away']. Standing bondage changes without warning to partial suspension if someone faints, plan for that possibility.
The more ways one knows to do an action, the more effects may be created, and the less one's arm aches afterwards. Varying the motions has a good effect for top and bottom. Practise the following until you can do them from various directions and speeds, they all feel and work differently. Knowing the techniques is only one part, knowing which to use and when is beyond my ability to suggest in a post.
I know of four basic ways to end a stroke of any force:  The tails land 'flat', with all of the force hitting at once [the tails either bounce off or drop almost vertically after this].
 The tails swing 'through', with the some part of the tips hitting and moving past the target area. From there, you may stop them [see 'Accuracy-' below], or use some elliptical pattern to bring them round again, such as vertical or horizontal figure-8, circle, and the like.
[2a] The tail tips strike, go past, then immediately return via a swift spinning motion. If fast enough, this can seem continuous and the light, sharp touch has some sensational advantages.
 The tails are snapped or 'whipped' for a smaller point of stimulation that is more discrete and feels 'sharper'.
 The tails land all at once on the body in a strongly forward motion resembling a punch or push more than a swing. Difficult to describe, and not as common, a hard thud stroke.
Each of these and all their variations may be primarily accomplished by wrist motion alone, or with arm and wrist moving together, this depends on your strength and the effect you seek. A properly balanced flogger requires less effort, and may be used for a longer time with less fatigue.
I would like to add my voice to [I believe] Mauser's previous post on this, bad technique is simply inexcusable; although we are all fallible. misplacing a stroke is not something to be taken lightly. There is indeed an art to the physical act of flogging. This may be learned as any other physical art, by observation, thought, and practise.
Practise in the air will teach you the balance of a flogger, but there is no substitute for actual impact. I believe it was STella who suggested a velvet pillow, and another person suggested suspending it in a way that allowed for movement. This works nicely, a safe and useful simulation. If you rarely find velvet pillows strewn about, a towel wrapped round a pillow will serve the same purpose, you will see the path of the flogger tails quite nicely in the nap of the fabric. When you are able to land all the tails in one area on the pillow, practise moving that aiming point about until you know exactly where it will land each time. Now practise varying the speed, pace and strength of the blows without sacrificing that accuracy. When you have that in balance, try these variations on your own leg, get the feel of that specific instrument, *then* consider using it on the willing form of another.
A flogger [as opposed to a crop or whip] 'flops around more', it naturally covers a wider area and is more difficult to control. If one avoids any spin on the handle, the first stroke may be accurate with the tails close together. Unfortunately the next ones tend to be less so unless some care is taken with the tails between strokes. The tails may be caught in the free hand between strokes, allowed to wrap gently on the top's torso or leg to gather them together, or hang straight down between strokes. Any of these options will make the next stroke more accurate as the tails will at least start together. It is possible to stop them in mid-air as well, but more difficult to cause them to swing together. With practise, a well-made flogger that is 2 inches in diameter with the tails gathered together may be precisely placed within a 3 to 4 inch target path.
As a suggestion for beginners, start with the bottom reclining face down and the top kneeling or standing a-straddle, thus allowing gravity to assist in the guidance of the tails.
Swinging at a body part that protrudes ensures accuracy. The buttocks of a standing bottom whose entire front is pressed against a rigid support are a classic example of this, a straight side-to-side swing with the tips of a flogger can strike only the intended area, leaving the lower back and upper thighs untouched. Costuming may help as well, certain corsets may provide some protection for the kidneys, and may act as a sort of armor against mishap.
If the middle section of tails strikes first on a rounded 'edge' of the body, and the tips 'wrap' following the curve, the tips actually accelerate far more than the original swing [physics, try it on something inanimate and see]. This is 'wraparound', and is usually a bad thing, causing inadvertent hard blows to areas one did not intend to touch at all, or ruining the controlled stroke one did intend. Keeping the flogger handle the same distance away from the skin as you did in practise will help here, as will being very careful to plan where the tips will fall at each stroke, avoiding curved edges to wrap around.
Being 'tip conscious' is the best way to avoid wraparound, but placing a pillow to protect the side of a reclining bottom works as a temporary solution for those who have this problem [works neatly with 'whippy' canes and crops as well].
An average of one stroke every few seconds often proves best, with the exception of the spinning technique above, a fast version of which will seem constant. This 'blow-rest-blow' allows processing time to feel each sensation, and this rhythm once established may easily be changed for effect. No doubt some people will differ with me on this, but I maintain that it is a suitable pace to maintain in many cases. Increased speed near the end is also popular, and pacing oneself early on will allow for that.
Different people seek to give and receive different experiences. I offer two quite diverse scenarios to begin the discussion, perhaps others might volunteer their own favorite experiences or methods.
Start slowly and lightly, begin by placing the flogger on the skin, holding the tail tips in one hand and the handle in the other, moving slowly to and fro on the skin. Then a slow caress with the tips for a bit, using more and more of the tails in a soft motion, building the movement into a partial swing, then a full swing. Vary placement gradually, work up and down the body in a methodical pattern with few surprises. When changing to a 'harder' flogger, repeat the above 'accustomization' process in minature, the ideal being that although the actual force applied increases markedly, the 'feeling' remains much the same, matching the growing ability of the bottom to enjoy the increasing sensations. In a person looking for this, it is often possible to cause a 'flying' sensation of complete relaxation, buoyed by trust and natural reactions of the body to slowly increasing stimulation, with little or no feeling of actual 'pain'.
More of a 'hard' style than the above, to take a bottom past the 'comfortable' area into one more likely to push hir strongly. Useful for 'sensation overload' and for those who seek a more 'painful' feeling. Beginning as above, vary the speed and intensity of the blows much more, pushing more, being less predictable. Work upper body and lower at seemingly random times, not allowing the bottom to grow used to the sensation before moving on. When changing instruments, do so with less subtlety, let hir feel the change as an increase in intensity. Should sie enjoy both sting and thud, use these interchangeably as well, surprise is often more effective than merely increasing the power of blows.
A few suggestions in this admittedly most subjective area. A flogging of even the gentlest sort may have exceptionally strong effects on both participants; leaving time and energy to 'wind down' at the end of the session is, in my view, a requirement. Reassurance, a caress, or a simple touch during the flogging may do wonders also. Do not expect verbal responses if the flogging takes the bottom into new areas, sie may not be possible to speak readily, and it may be that sie will not be hearing well either. I find that flogging the front of the body, use of ear plugs and blindfolds, stringent bondage to open up delicate body areas, and making the bottom look at hirself being flogged all are more 'serious' and have more emotional impact than a 'simple' flogging. Bruises may appear immediately, not appear at all, or suddenly appear after as much as a day or two, depending on the body concerned, and most people have some reaction to such marks, whether positive or not.
(Domina feels that if you are playing with someone, you should make sure that they can reach you AFTER the scene in case they have a reaction a day or a week later, which CAN happen. If you are playing, it is your responsibility to be there for the bottom in case of need.)
Flogging can be a powerful and loving act, top and bottom not separated by the flogger, but connected through it. While basic competence and sensitivity will increase the chances of this, caring does help a bit too.
All work is copyright the listed author.