Using a leather strop is a vital part of the sharpening process and is just as crucial as sharpening stones.
Why do I need to Strop my knife?
You need to stop your edge after sharpening to eliminate the bur that is left after sharpening. A bur is a small piece of metal that is left on the blade after making the edge so thin that it folds ever so slightly on the edge’s apex. This can lead to a rougher edge and make any cutting tasks infinitely harder. To combat this, you can use a leather strop with some polishing compound to take the bur off and make the edge as sharp as possible.
What types of strops are there?
There are two main types of leather that are used in strops, suede and smooth. Suede strops are typically used to sharpen normal knives because they can hold polishing compounds easily. Smooth strops are most commonly used for straight razors and woodworking tools.
This is due to suede strops rounding the edge slightly while stropping. This reinforces the edge by giving it a small convex edge, but because the edge is wider, the cutting power is lowered while raising the lifetime of the edge. Even so, it only affects cutting performance for detailed or delicate work, such as shaving or wood carving.
Smooth Strops are better for an edge with a lower angle like you would see with a straight razor. The smooth surface of the strop isn’t as grippy, so it doesn’t hold compound as well but can produce a finer edge without the rounding that you see from suede strops.
There are many options for strops, mainly pertaining to mounted and barber strops. Mounted strops are, much like the name suggests, mounted onto a larger surface, typically wood, whereas barber strops are long strips of smooth leather that you mount on a chair, wall, or counter.
When using a barber strop, you can adjust the amount of tension depending on how tight you hold it, which will change as you get more used to stropping. Typically, the newer you are to using barber strops the tauter you will need to keep it to ensure that you maintain consistent contact and a proper angle with the edge. Mounted strops also come in either smooth or suede leather, whereas barber strops come almost exclusively in smooth leather.
What is a Stropping Compound?
Stropping compound is an abrasive material applied to the leather’s surface to aid in polishing the knife’s edge. Different levels of polishing compounds usually lie within the same range as sharpening grits designated as Course, Medium, and Fine. They can be more in-depth as some compounds are measured in microns, which are only used for precise sharpening and mirror polishing.
Be careful where you set it down when you put rouge on your strop. If anything contaminates it, it can affect how well it can strop your edge. Although not necessary, many people put their strops in a Ziplock bag to ensure that it stays clean and contaminant free.
Ok, now that you know what everything is, let’s get into how to strop.
Stropping is very simple. Prepare your strop in whatever way you see fit, with stropping compound or not. Then, all you need to do is place the blade facing the edge away from you and move the edge along the leather, moving the blade away from the cutting edge. To strop the other side, you can either pick up the knife and flip it over to strop the other side of the edge or rotate it on its spine and then do the same on the other side.