Strops come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and can be handheld, bench mounted or attached to a hook of some kind. There are, however, two distinct types of strop that we will be looking at in this article. One is called a ‘Honing Strop’ and the other is called a ‘Razor Strop’, both are used in a similar way, but do very different jobs.
To put it simply, a Razor Strop is just a soft flexible strip of leather, or other lithe material that is used to re-establish an already sharp cutting edge. A Razor Strop does not remove metal from the cutting edge since it has no abrasive properties, but can be impregnated with a wax or other similar product so that the strop has extra resistance when stropping. A Razor Strop is primarily used to realign a cutting edge that has begun to distort or ‘Roll Over’ to one side and is not designed to re-sharpen an already dull or un-sharp cutting edge.
A Razor Strop that is impregnated with any form of honing compound, such as White Jewelers Rouge or Honing Paste, such as Tormec, then becomes a Honing Strop; a Honing Strop is then used to abrade extremely minute quantities of metal from a blade thereby bringing back, to full sharpness, a slightly dulling cutting edge.
Neither kind of strop can be used to re-establish an excessively dull cutting edge, for that you will need to re-sharpen it. How to sharpen a cutting edge is described in full in the article ‘Sharpening Knives’ and also in the article ‘The Japanese Water Stone’.
Stropping on either a Razor Strop or a Honing Strop is done in exactly the same way. It is very important that you always use a Strop in one direction - always drag, never push, the cutting edge along the length of the strop or you will cut into the leather.
To strop a cutting edge properly you should always place the cutting edge on the strop in the following way:
To strop a cutting edge properly you should always remove the cutting edge from the strop in the following way:
The stropping process is a relatively simple procedure:
Continuous back and forth stropping is done when you have completed the initial stropping of the cutting edge; it gives the cutting edge symmetry, by evening up the cutting edge on both sides. You should only use the weight of the blade to strop your cutting edge at this stage of the stropping procedure since you are finishing the process and do not want to roll the cutting edge to one side or the other.
Back and forth stropping means the blade should not be removed, if possible, from the strop after each stroke. To accomplish this you will need to roll the cutting edge over to the other side of the cutting edge, via the blades spine, at the end of each stroke. The cutting edge is then pulled in the opposite direction, where it is again rolled over ready to be pulled back again. Effectively you are stropping on alternate sides of the cutting edge with each stroke. However, this process may not be possible if the strop is relatively small (as in the Bushcraft Pocket Strop) or the blade is quite big (as in an Axe), if it is not possible, the cutting edge should be removed and then placed back on the strop as previously described. Either way will in fact get the same job done.
Once you have completed a single stroke on each sides of the strop, you will have completed one full turn. To finish this part of the stropping process you will need to complete 10 to 20 full turns.
As a Honing Strop abrades it will become darker from the micro particles of metal that has been removed by the abrasive. This darkening effect is great for showing you, when stropping, what condition that cutting edge is in. If the cutting edge has any defects, such as micro chips and nicks, or is rolled over, you will see nicely defined, but very small parallel lines appear on the surface of the strop. These micro lines are caused by the cutting edge as the damaged area scratches the surface of the strops abrasive coating. Once you see these scratches you know that that area of the cutting edge needs some more attention; a few extra strokes across the strop should resolve the damage and once the parallel line have gone the damage will have been resolved.
If the scratch lines are quite wide, however, you will need to carefully look at the cutting edge and determine whether re-sharpened will be necessary to remove the damage or not.
The Honing Strop, as already explained, removes minute quantities of metal from the cutting edge, so it is ideally used whenever a cutting edge is in need of minor repair and or a quick re-sharpen when the cutting edge is becoming too dull to be brought back with a Razor Strop or Steel. Regular use of a Hone Strop, and with just a few strokes each side of a cutting edge, will often keep that cutting edge in a peak condition for a considerable length of time, delaying the need to re-sharpen until it is convenient or ultimately necessary.
You will usually find that after a good stropping session on a cutting edge that is slightly dulling, you can restore that cutting edge to be able to satisfy your immediate cutting needs. The Honing Strop is a quick and convenient way of restoring a cutting took to peak condition with the minimal of fuss, however, you may need to assess whether the cutting edge needs to be actually re-sharpened or not.
Honing compounds usually come in a variety of grits sizes that range from quite course to very fine. For the purposes of achieving a razor sharp cutting edge, if you intend to use a Honing Compound, your Strop will need to be charged with the very finest honing paste that is available. High quality honing compounds such as Tormek and White Jewelers Rouge are the best that we have used and will allow you to maintain a razor sharp cutting edge when applied to a good quality strop.
Honing compounds are usually made in three distinct ways; they can be made into a water-based paste, as a hard block that is applied like a crayon or as a soft waxy cream. Whichever process is used in the manufacturing of the honing compound, all honing compounds work in the same way, and that is by abrasion.
Whichever type of honing compound is use, all that needs to be done is to apply a thin layer to the honing compound to the Strop and then work it into the fibers. You should add a little more of the honing compound as and when you feel that it is not honing as well as it should be.
Stropping compounds and honing compounds are worlds apart and should not be confused; a Stropping Compound should have no abrasives in it at all, unlike a Honing Compound.
Applying a Honing Compound to a Razor Strop will change the nature of the Razors strop converting it into a Honing Strop. Once a Razor Strop has been contaminated with a Honing Compound, it is virtually impossible to remove the abrasive without washing the Strop. If, however, you apply a Stropping Compound to a Honing Strop (one that already has a Honing Compound worked into its surface) you will be simply conditioning the leather.
A Stropping Compound is there to create extra drag on the cutting edge as it is Stropped across the Strop. The application of a Stropping Compound to a Razor Strop will enable the Strop to have more resistance, or drag, against the cutting edge. The increased drag will speed up the Stropping process, by pulling on the cutting edge and thereby realigning the cutting edge that much faster.