Sharpening a knife’s blade is likely to end up with tiny burrs on its edge. To remove these burrs, stropping is essential. Many people believe that stropping is just for polishing the knife’s edge. Well, that is only a partial truth. Read on to know what exactly stropping is and how to strop a knife.
Overview of Stropping
A well-known analogy of strop, also known as the strap, is a traditional barber’s strop using which a barber strops a straight razor. Barbers tend to use long leather straps to make their razors sharp. In the world of knives, a strop is conventionally a leather strip used to polish, maintain, or sharpen an edge by employing the process of abrasion.
It refers to a surface during the final sharpening stage once the finest stone is used for sharpening. Strop functions to polish the edge, but it also realigns the cutting edge and smoothens the blade apart from removing excess metal shavings left by your sharpening stone.
While other materials such as linens are also used, strops are commonly made using leather. Both smooth (grain side) and suede (flesh side) leathers are used. Leather strops are usually made using cow leather, which is not acceptable by animal lovers. For them, there are other strops, such as those made using textile materials.
The word ‘strop’ applies to anything that is useful in the last sharpening stages and is not a stone. It encompasses build materials such as kangaroo and/or horse leather, newspapers, balsa wood, fire hoses, and textiles such as linen, denim, and cotton. The latest ones come with microfibers and nano cloth in them.
In short, you can perform knife stropping with a piece of leather, cardboard, denim, newspaper, or even wood. However, each of these stropping media has a unique impact on the edge, typically in terms of aggressiveness.
So, what precisely stropping does? On their own, genuine strops work to reposition an edge without generating any actual abrasive action. They just push the rolled or bent edge towards its original position without abrasion.
If you choose a treated, also known as a loaded strop, their surface comes with abrasives. Alternatively, they can be embedded with oils and waxes. The included abrasives are capable of discarding metal at different degrees as per the abrasive type. They refine, sharpen, hone, and polish an edge rather than merely only realigning.
Types of Strops
Before you know how to strop a knife, you need to know the different kinds of strops. There are two major types for you to know, namely, hanging and bench strops. The latter encompasses even the paddle strops.
Hanging strops are those that the straight razor shavers and barbers use; whereas, the bench strops are more commonly utilized for razors, woodworking tools, and knives. The former is affixed to a towel, hook, or a knob. It’s capable of being pulled tight and conforming to the edge.
On the other hand, bench strops are usually mounted on a hard surface and are evenly flat. The surface can be acrylic, metal, or wood. They are flexible.
Yes, you also have mounted and razor strops. The former ones come with leather affixed to solid wood, such as maple. As per your work style and the edge to be honed, you will find options such as handheld and bench mounted strops.
All of them can be found in suede or smooth leather sides. Some famous and versatile paddle strops come with smooth leather on one side and suede leather on the other.
On the other hand, razor or hanging strops are wide belts with heavy linen on one side and leather on the other. A few users first strop using its heavy linen side to clean the blade before switching to the leather side for stropping. Well, to do this or not before stropping is a personal choice.
These strops are hung from a wall or chair for use as well as storage. A hook is at one of its ends and a liberally sized handle on the other.
Overview of Stropping Compounds
The strops for barbers’ straight razors do not have any compound applied to it. But, those for knives are used with a compound. Strops for knives are commonly used with honing compounds, which are micro-abrasives capable of rendering a mirror polish to the intended edge.
If you, too, want to use such a compound, consider applying it to the strop’s surface. Whether to use or not to use a honing compound is your preference. You can get the desired results with or without a honing compound, although using it will give outcomes more swiftly.
If you wish to use a honing compound, know that it is available in a variety of grits and is in the bar form. It is best to choose an extra-fine compound for getting the best result.
Before you add this compound, consider coating the strop evenly with some petroleum jelly. Now, you can apply the compound as if you are coloring with a crayon. Just be careful to avoid adding too much of it.
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Steps to Strop a Knife
To get started, you should first find out whether your knife is eligible for stropping or not. If it is serrated, you simply cannot strop it. Stropping a serrated knife will harm your knife. If your knife has a curved blade, only a razor strop is reliable.
Next, ensure that you have sharpened your knife well. Or else, you will be stropping for hours and yet get no outcome. Following are the steps to strop a knife using a honing compound:
- Prepare for stropping by collecting all the necessary tools. This is where you need to buy and keep a suitable leather or no-leather strop ready. You also need to rinse your knife quickly.
- Now, you should clean your strop if it is not new but a used one or a loaded model. This step is not for those who are using the newly brought strop. They can proceed to the next step. Whenever you stop, some metal shavings are left along with formerly left stropping compound on the strop. As you need a clean strop, it is essential to remove this mess. As a removal solution, consider applying rubbing alcohol.
- Next, add the stropping compound to the strop for refining and polishing.
- Next, it is time for getting the right stropping angle. Here too, you need to comprehend angle positioning. As a good rule of thumb, you should not use the same angle for both sharpening and stropping. For example, if the sharpening angle is 18 degrees, the stropping angle should be different. An effortless way to get the right angle is to hold the knife upright to the surface, which means at a 90-degree angle. Its half is 45 degrees, which will give you an idea of where you should be.
- Finally, start stropping. Here, just keep in mind that the motion of stropping is precisely the opposite of sharpening. As cutting into a strop is to be prevented, it is essential to pull backward. To get started, position your knife on the strop at the right angle.
- Gradually pull your knife in a backward motion to the tip from the heel. Fix the same angle throughout the stropping process.
- Flick your blade for repeating the 5th and 6th steps for the other side. Repeat for having seven swapping passes. In simple words, first, perform a single draw on one side and then on the other side. In this way, you complete seven such passes on each side.
If you are looking to strop your wood carving knives refer to the video given below
That’s it! Stropping is successfully done. Once it is over, ensure you clean your blade with the help of warm water. Similarly, also clean your strop immediately. As you may be aware, it is easier to do so instantly instead of waiting to do it later.
At some point, the strop is likely to turn into black. Well, do not worry about it, as it is a good indication. This color is of polished steel. It might be so that the strop begins to shine. Well, this is not good, as it indicates a swift decline in the effectiveness of the strop.
You need to know that a little rough strop is always more effective. Polishing is quicker with such a strop. So, it makes sense to roughen the strop, which is an easy job that can be done in more than one way.
One of the easy ways to roughen a strop is to use a wire brush. Start by applying it gently to know the amount of pressure required for roughening. You can even choose a saw to do so. Just move it sideways across the stropping surface without damaging it, and the surface will be roughened.
So, isn’t stropping easy? It is easy if you choose a quality strop along with an optional honing compound.