As I mentioned before, I’m going to have a lot of fun things I discover here on the blog. One of those things I recently have learned about is the use of a leather strop for knife sharpening. I’m not manly enough to shave with a straight razor, so I never gave strops much of a second glance, but it turns out that while they are great for razors, they also have their uses with knives! And they are versatile in way more way than that!
Let’s Start At The Beginning
First things first, for those who don’t know, a strop is a piece of leather that is used to sharpen blades, usually razors. They can either come in the form of a hanging strop, or a paddle type strop. The paddle strop generally has a wood handle that has leather on both sides of the flat faces, or the paddle part.
The hanging strop is more flexible(obviously), and is usually two pieces of leather hanging off a swivel clip with some kind of handle at the other end. They all look a little bit different, but that is the general appearance. Which is better is really up to you. Wikipedia is quick to point out that the hanging strop seems to have a history of being used in the corporal punishment of spanking, so depending on your parenting style, that may be a point for or against it.
So How Do They Work?
It seems weird that leather could sharpen steel, but strops don’t work like conventional sharpeners. When you are honing a knife, you are shaving off the bits of steel that are out of line to give yourself a fine, sharp edge. Leather strops don’t shave off very much metal. They more of…shape it.
I feel like that’s not the best explanation, but that is pretty much how it works. It aligns any of the metal that may be even slightly out of line, so it creates an absurdly sharp and polished razor/blade. That is why they are important for barbers or users of straight razors. When that blade is sliding over your neck, you want to make sure it is perfectly in line. There is no room for mistakes there.
Now For Knives
Deep down, the use of a strop for a knife is just like the use of a strop for a razor. If you want your knife to be perfect and sharp, the strop is the way to get it there. This is especially popular with high quality knives. If you are going to pay big bucks for a knife, you may as well put in a little effort to keep it in good shape.
How Do I Get Started?
Luckily strops are pretty easy to come by. The easiest way to get all the stuff you need is to just get it from here at Amazon. They have everything from high quality pricey strops, to basic starter strops. You can also choose between the paddle strop and the hanging strop, and some of them come with complementary compounds!(Keep reading to get the full lowdown on compounds). It is up to you to decide what your style is. If you are new to stropping, then maybe you want to buy a cheap one, and see if you like the hanging or paddle style before you buy one of the higher end ones. Have some fun with it. They are pretty low cost, so you can afford to experiment a little.
What Is This About Compounds?
Compounds are well…compounds that are added to the strop in the form of a powder in order to alter the effect of the stropping. They are abrasive and help you shape the blade. They have very fancy science type names, but most the time people just refer to them by color. You know, red compound, green compound, and so on. You can also buy them on Amazon, in big blocks that will last you a long while. I can’t tell you which one is best, because that is a personal decision. Some people like a finer compound, some like a coarser one. If you want to experiment and try a bunch without spending tons on compounds, you can buy a handy starter pack and do some testing to find your ideal.
How Do I Use It?
Alright, you have your strop, you have your compound if you want one, and you have your blade. What now? Your instinct is probably going to be to use the strop like you use a whetstone to sharpen the knife, but this would be wrong. You always strop away from the blade to avoid cutting your strop. Check out the YouTube video below to get a visual as to how the strop works. I would recommend that you skip to about 3:00 minutes in to avoid hearing him talk about his watch forever and get to the good stuff.
So that’s stropping in a nutshell! Great for razors or knives or anything with a blade. If you have experience in stropping, or you start after reading this, tell us about it in the comments!