Stropping a knife with a belt is an old-fashioned skill that never goes out of style since you’ll always need a knife to be sharp to perform at its best. This sharpening skill is best known to be associated with sharpening straight razors, but this technique can be used to help any blade hold its sharp edge.
Stropping a knife with a belt should be done by rubbing the belt with stropping compound and passing each edge of the blade back and forth across the grain side of the belt. A belt can be converted into a strop by adding a placement loop and removing any parts of the belt, which might prevent the blade from moving smoothly across the leather.
Stropping a knife with a belt isn’t a difficult process and taking the time to maintain your kitchen knives and other blades properly can make using them much easier. Read on to learn more about how to strop a knife with a belt and why it’s a good idea.
How to Strop a Knife with a Belt
Stropping a knife with a belt is a simple procedure and only requires a few supplies. Here are the things you’ll need for stropping your knife with a belt:
- A belt
- Stropping compound (optional)
- A knife that needs sharpening
Secure the Belt First
After preparing the belt with the stropping compound, if you plan on using it, you’ll need to lay the belt strop out flat, either over the top of your thigh, along the top of a flat surface, or hung from a secure hook. Once the strop is secured, you are ready to begin.
How to Strop a Knife
Here is how to use a belt to strop the knife:
- Take the knife by the handle in your dominant hand.
- Drag the knife’s edge along the grain of the leather belt, applying firm pressure as you pass the edge along the leather until you reach the end of the strop.
- Flip the knife over by just rolling it in your hand and then drag the knife back up the strop towards you, making sure to maintain pressure on the strop by pressing down slightly with the knife. Remember to focus on moving the blade smoothly on the belt versus applying pressure. Note: Move the knife blade at an angle so you don’t accidentally cut the belt or cut yourself.
- Pass the knife back and forth on the strop for roughly 5-10 passes or until an inspection of the knife shows that it is fully sharpened and polished.
- Clean both the knife and the strop with a soft cloth to remove any debris from stropping.
- The sharpened knife is now ready for use.
As you can see, stropping isn’t difficult to do, but it has an important purpose when it comes to maintaining your kitchen knives and other household blades.
What is the Purpose of Stropping a Knife with a Belt?
The purpose of stropping a knife with a belt is primarily to sharpen the blade and remove any burr left on the blade’s edge by sharpening the blade on a whetstone. This can make the knife’s edge both sharper and more polished.
What Are the Advantages of Stropping a Knife?
There are several advantages associated with stropping a knife regularly (that is, whenever you notice that the knife’s edge is beginning to go a bit dull). Stropping should also be done afterward whenever you hone a knife on a whetstone first.
Here are a few of the advantages of stropping your knives:
- Your knives will be safer. Contrary to what you might think, dull knives are more dangerous than those that are sharp because more pressure needs to be applied to make them effective. With a sharp knife, you’ll need little pressure to apply your cut, and you have a much lower chance of slipping and cutting yourself.
- Your knives will be easier to use. Everyone has tried the tedious task of going through a kitchen prep activity such as chopping vegetables with a dull kitchen knife versus one that has been properly sharpened—the sharp knife is much easier to use. It can also result in nicer-looking knifework with cleaner, more consistent cuts.
- Your knives will be more resistant to corrosion. Roughing up the edge of your knife with a whetstone can cause texture on the blade that makes it more vulnerable to rust and other forms of corrosion caused by environmental factors, but regular sharpening and polishing of the blade can keep it functional for years.
- Your knives will be more beautiful. One of the more aesthetic advantages to stropping a knife is that this gives the knife’s edge a glistening reflective quality known as a “mirror’s edge.” This makes knives on display gorgeous to look at and can even inspire you to take up knife-related kitchen work more often.
There are plenty of reasons why you should regularly strop your knives, and it’s a simple process, so there isn’t really any good excuse not to do it.
What is the Difference Between Honing and Stropping?
Many people who first start researching knives may think that the terms “honing a knife” and “stropping a knife” are interchangeable, but this is untrue. Honing is the primary act of sharpening a knife that is typically done on a whetstone or with some other type of sharpening implement.
After a knife is honed, this is when stropping is performed. Stropping is the final act of polishing, sharpening, and cleaning the blade that helps remove any burrs or imperfections that might have been introduced to the knife’s edge by the whetstone.
When stropping is completed, the knife is gleaming, sharp, and ready to use.
Ideally, you should both hone and strop your knives regularly, especially if they see heavy use. This will help prevent them from gradually becoming dull and losing their edge. This is even more important if you use your knife to chop hard items such as bones during butcher work since these kinds of activities in the kitchen can dull a kitchen knife very quickly.
Can You Use Any Leather Belt for a Strop?
It’s fine to use a leather clothing belt as a strop for knives, but you can’t just use any kind of belt. Here are a few things you should look for when you’re considering leather belts for stropping:
- The belt should not be embossed or having an inlaid design. The stropping surface should be as smooth as possible so that the edge of the knife blade is sharpened evenly across the surface of the strop and stropping a knife on an uneven belt can lead to an inconsistent stropping job.
- The belt should not have stitching. It’s common for fashion belts to feature stitching or rivets along either edge of the belt’s length, but belts that feature these designs should not be used for the same reason that belts shouldn’t be used with embossing—it creates an uneven surface for stropping, and you need a smooth surface.
- The belt must be genuine leather: Belts that aren’t genuine leather often contain coatings and other chemical treatments that you don’t want to interact with the blade of your knife. These belts also won’t withstand the action of stropping in the same way that a genuine leather belt will, so be sure to check for an indication (such as a stamp) that your belt is genuine leather.
When it comes to choosing a belt to use for stropping knives, flat, unadorned leather is best. Any genuine leather belt can be used in a pinch if you’re in a survival situation, but if you’re just trying to take care of your best kitchen knives, you’ll want to use the best strop you can find.
What Are the Best Leathers for Stropping Knives?
Just about any leather will do for stropping a knife in a pinch. However, there are two types of leathers which are favored above other types when it comes to stropping knives:
- Kangaroo leather: Kangaroo leather is super smooth (which makes it excellent for stropping), and because it is thin, this type of leather is usually secured to a stropping board rather than used as a belt strop. This prevents the leather from being accidentally cut by the knife-edge during the stropping process.
- Russian leather: Russian leather is tanned with a special process that makes it especially supple and sleek, which makes it a good option for stropping knives. This type of leather is also tough and can withstand lots of stropping without getting worn out.
Even though these two types of leather are known as being premium leathers for making strops to maintain knives, any kind of genuine leather will work as long as it is smooth.
How to Turn a Leather Belt into a Dedicated Strop
The best way to use a belt as a strop is to turn a leather belt into a dedicated strop. By doing this, you can’t continue to use the belt as an item of clothing, but it’ll be easier to make other modifications to the leather to make it a better strop for sharpening knives. Here is how you can take a leather belt (secondhand or new) and turn it into a leather strap for stropping knives:
- Cut off the hardware. This includes anything on the belt made of metal such as buckles, pins, clasps, caps, and rivets. These can dent your knife or nick the knife-edge if they meet it while stropping.
- Cut off the holed section of the belt. This part of the belt has an inconsistent surface and shouldn’t be used for stropping.
- Decide whether you’re going to halve your belt. If your belt is long enough, it’s possible to cut it in half to make two separate strops. Otherwise, if you’re using a naturally short belt, skip this step. Doubling your strops gives you a ready-made replacement when your first strop starts to look a little tattered.
- Drill a hole for the corded loop. One of the easiest ways to use a strop is to hang it up on the pull of a drawer or some other hook so that you can pull it taut and straighten it for stropping. Once you have a hole drilled, find a strong piece of cordage such as leather lacing to loop through the hole. Make sure it is tied securely so that it can’t come undone during stropping.
- Clean and oil the strop. Once you’ve finished drilling your hole and tying your cordage, your leather stop is ready to use. Before using, make sure that no debris is leftover on the strop’s surface by cleaning it with a soft cloth and adding a few drops of leather oil to keep it supple.
After you’re done, you’re ready to start sharpening!
Can You Still Wear a Belt After Using It as a Strop?
So, what do you do if you want to use a belt for a strop, but you don’t want to ruin the belt to do it? Can you still wear a belt after using it as a strop?
The answer is yes, in a pinch, you can use a working belt (that you actually wear) to strop a knife; you just need to clean it first to make sure that there isn’t any kind of debris just as fabric fluff from your jeans or anything else caught on the belt that might prevent the knife from making a smooth connection with the surface of the belt.
Keep in mind that using a belt as a knife strop can cause damage to the surface of the belt if it is used as a strop over time. Even a single time stropping with a belt may cause it to roughen or otherwise look different than it did when it was new.
This isn’t a good idea to do with a fancy or expensive belt that you’re planning on wearing with nice outfits. This is a good job for one of your broken-in, worn leather belts.
What Compounds Do You Need to Use with a Stropping Belt?
When you strop a knife with a belt, you have the option of using chemicals known as stropping compounds along with the belt to add extra polish and sharpness to your knife’s edge. There are three factors you need to look at when choosing a stropping compound:
- Bite: The bite of a stropping compound is the measure of how fast it strips away bits of the knife during the stropping process. The bite of the compound is what determines how sharp the knife becomes because of the compound.
- Polish: Polish is the aspect of the stropping compound that allows it to create a reflective surface, increasing the beauty of the blade and its edge.
- Grain size: Stropping compounds can be either coarse or fine, depending on the ingredients included. This applies to both compound sprays and compound pastes. The larger the grain size in a stropping compound, the more bite it typically has.
There are two main types of stropping compounds that are used when stropping knives: diamond sprays, compound blocks, and compounding pastes. Both of these compounds are a good option for using with a belt strop, so choosing one depends on the preference of the knife owner.
Changing Stropping Compounds on a Belt Strop
If you want to change from one stropping compound to another, you’ll need to remove the old stropping compound from the strop. To change from one compound time to another, perform the following:
- Get a piece of mid-grade grit sandpaper (240 is a good grade).
- Use the sandpaper in a circular motion across the grain side of the leather strop, just enough to roughen the surface of it.
- Clean and oil the surface of the strop.
You don’t have to have stropping compound to strop knives on a leather belt—you can just use the surface of the belt alone and still achieve a good edge—but stropping compound can help take the sharpness and polish of your kitchen knives to the next level. Here are a few good stropping compounds you can use with a belt to maintain your knives:
- Sharpal Polishing Compound
- Gritomatic CBN Stropping Compound
- Venev Diamond Stropping Compound
- Tormek Honing Compound
- DMT DiaSpray Diamond Suspension
No matter which stropping compound you choose, using one when you use your belt strop can greatly improve the result of your knife sharpening tasks.
Why Do Knives Need to Be Kept Sharp with a Strop
Knives—especially kitchen knives—need to be kept sharp with a strop primarily for safety reasons. Many people have been injured by their own knives while using them when they’re dull. Many people may have a kitchen knife for years without ever thinking to sharpen it, and the duller the knife becomes, the more dangerous it becomes.
Sharp knives are also faster to work with. Anyone who has ever tried to prep with a dull knife understands how much more tedious this task gets when you don’t have a good edge on your blade. Not only do you have to use more pressure (which can cause you to become more fatigued over time as you do knifework), it also increases the chance that you’ll get an uneven cut.
Is a Belt Strop Better for Sharpening Knives Than a Whetstone?
Ideally, a whetstone or sharpener and a belt strop should be used together on knives to keep them polished and sharp. This is because the whetstone does a more thorough job of sharpening, but the stropping belt is what adds that final extra polish. A strop alone may not be strong enough to sharpen duller blades, while using a whetstone alone can cause the edge of the knife blade to burr.
What is a Burr in Knife Sharpening?
When you use a whetstone alone, this can cause excess waste metal to build up on the edge of the knife. If you run your finger gently (and carefully!) along the edge of the blade, you can feel burrs as inconsistencies in the otherwise smooth surface.
A burr is an indication that the blade has been sharpened, but this catch in the metal should be removed for the blade to be brought to its sharpest edge. This is where a strop comes in. A strop can help remove burrs from the knife-edge and polish the edge at the same time.
Can You Use Belt Stropping with Any Knife?
While belt strops are most commonly associated with traditional shaving razors, a strop can be used with any blade around the house. This includes the following knives:
- Kitchen knives
- Outdoor knives (such as buck knives)
- Pocket knives
A strop can be used on just about any knife as long as it’s long enough to give the blade a good pass down the length of the leather, so once you have a good working strop, you can find plenty of uses for it around the house.
The one major type of knife that should not be used with a strop is a knife with a serrated edge. A strop won’t sharpen a serrated edge, but the serrated edge of the knife will end up destroying the strop.
Alternative Methods for Stropping Without a Leather Belt
So how do you strop a knife without a belt if you don’t have one that’s suitable for the task? There are other stropping implements available that can help you strop your knives if you don’t have an old belt you want to convert into a leather strop.
Here are some of the other methods people use to strop knives without a belt:
- Paddle strops: Paddle strops are often found in high-end shaving supply stores and are much less commonly found than other types of leather strops. However, a paddle strop can be a good investment if you have a lot of smaller knives that need regular maintenance.
- Mounted strop: Many knife sharpening kits come with a mounted strop, which is a piece of smooth grain premium leather that is mounted on top of a wooden block. These mounted strops are usually sold together with a stropping compound and can make a good investment if you are planning on doing a lot of knife sharpening.
Even if you don’t have a belt available to turn into a strop, the tools above give you a few alternative methods to get the job done. These are also good backup options if you have discovered all your belts are unsuitable for stropping due to design aspects of the belt or lack of genuine leather belts. You’d be surprised at how many of your “leather” belts are actually faux leather.
Risks of Stropping with a Leather Belt
Since you are working with sharp knives, there are a few precautions you need to take while stropping your knives with a belt. Performing this maintenance task recklessly can lead to a bad cut or worse, depending on how sharp your knives are and what damage is done when you lose control.
Here are some of the risks you take on when you strop with a leather belt:
- You could accidentally cut yourself. This is the biggest threat you face when you’re working with a leather strop. To avoid it work slowly and carefully, applying even pressure on strop while you pass the blade but not so much pressure that the belt strap is strained.
- You could accidentally cut your strop. If you press the edge of your knife blade too hard into the leather of the strop, this could cause the strop to be cut. To avoid this, be sure to use thicker grades of leather and make sure that you run the knife’s edge along the strop at an angle so that the sides of the edge are sharpened.
- Your loop cordage could come loose. If you don’t tie your loop carefully when constructing your strop, it could pull loose in the middle of a stropping operation. This could put you in a dangerous situation. Make sure that the loop is completely secure and avoid pulling down too hard on the leather strop to prevent it from being pulled loose.
If you learn how to use and build a leather strop correctly, you can avoid most of the pitfalls associated with this knife maintenance too. The most important thing is to be careful when working with any kind of sharp tool. Make sure that you have a first aid kit handy in case of any cuts and have a telephone nearby in case of more severe injuries. Never become complacent when working around sharp objects.
Stropping Your Knives is an Important Part of Knife Maintenance
You might never have heard of the term stropping before you looked into knife maintenance, but even though this process is simple and doesn’t take long to perform, it’s a vital part of making sure your kitchen knives stay in good working condition. Otherwise, you are making your kitchen cutting duties more difficult at best and threatening yourself with an injury at worst.
Be sure to get a belt or some other tool to strap your knives to make sure your blades are always at their best edge!
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