Stropping is the last but not the least important step in the sharpening process of any blade. But which side of the strop provides the best finish- the smooth leather or the suede side? Many people are unsure of which side of the leather strop should be used to polish the blade.
The answer is that straight razors are typically stropped on the smooth side of the leather, while knives and larger blades are usually stropped with the suede side to round the bevel of the blade.
As a sharpener, why would the type of leather matter you strop a blade with? Isn’t a blade just a blade? Let’s take a more in depth look at the stropping process and why the type of leather used is so important.
Why Use a Strop After Sharpening a Blade?
Knife experts promote stropping as the best way to sharpen and maintain a knife. With the right strop and skilled technique, knife owners will keep their knives sharp and always ready to use.
A strop is used as the final step in preparing a blade for use after it has been sharpened. To the human eye, blades appear to be smooth. But there’s more to meet the eye.
If you were to view the blade under a microscope, you’d see that it has thousands of little “teeth.” When used regularly over time, those little teeth start to bend out of alignment, causing the knife to dull.
This is where stropping comes in. Stropping does not sharpen the blade, but it does refine it by bending the little “teeth” back into alignment. This is done by running the blade over a smooth, porous surface.
Stropping your blade after sharpening it will prolong the life of your blade. The best surface for stropping is leather. When stropping a straight razor, the smooth side of the leather strop is most effective, and the suede is best for larger blades such as a carving knife.
Using the Smooth Side to Polish a Straight Razor
Typically, straight razors are stropped with the smooth- or plain leather side of the strop. This smoother leather provides a softer surface for stropping. The grain of the surface is perfect for gently polishing the low angle edges on straight razors.
The smooth leather helps to create a finely sharpened blade by gently resetting the microscopic teeth on the blade into place.
How to Effectively Strop Your Straight Razor
To strop your razor to refine the sharpness of its blade, take the following steps:
- Hook the strop to a fixed object (wall, counter, barber chair)
- Hold the razor between the blade and the handle with your fingertips
- Lay the blade flat on the strop
- Move the razor towards the back of the blade
- Pull the blade gently towards yourself at 40-degree angle to the strop
- When you reach the end of the strop, roll the blade over the back of the razor
- Push it back to the hook
- Repeat 4-5 times for best results
Do not put too much pressure on the blade, or you will cut the strop. Also, the back of the blade should maintain contact with the strop.
There are razor strops that come with high quality leather on one side and heavy linen on the other side.
Some razor sharpeners prefer to strop with the linen side first because it cleans the razor blade before the final strop with the leather, further refining the sharpness of the blade.
Should You Use a Compound with the Smooth Leather?
Whether or not to use a compound with the smooth side of the strop is a matter of personal preference when stropping a straight razor. The smooth leather of the strop can still provide a fine polish and removes any stray burs without adding compound.
Those that elect to use a compound appreciate the even, fine, edge that the compound in conjunction with the smooth leather provides the blade after sharpening. This is achieved by the abrasive particles further pushing the blade teeth back into place.
Often, sharpeners who use the smooth leather side of the strop do not use much, if any compound. The grain size of the leather lends itself to providing an exceptionally fine polish for the blade.
Why the Suede Side Is Used to Polish a Knife Blade
Most carvers and knife sharpeners opt to use the suede side of the strop to polish their blade after sharpening. The soft surface of the suede compresses under the blade to help round the bevel of the blade.
There are some woodworking tools and chisels that get better results from using the smooth side of the leather strop.
The suede side is also a good option if you choose to use a compound to fine tune the stropping process. The nap in the suede absorbs the compound nicely and adds extra grain to the leather.
Some sharpeners prefer the reinforced finish that results from a combination of suede and compound. The difference may be miniscule, but to the perfectionist, even the tiniest details make a difference in the sharpness of the knife.
How to Effectively Strop Your Knife Blade
For the sharpest blade possible:
- Lay the strop flat and firm
- If you are using a compound, apply a small amount to the surface
- Lay the knife flat on the suede
- Hold the bevel away from the cutting edge
- Pull the knife toward you with the sharp edge pulling away from you
- Turn the blade over and repeat the motion on the other side
- Do this 4-5 times for maximal results
As soon as your knife doesn’t feel as sharp as it should be, strop it again before it becomes dull. Accidents are more likely to happen with a dull knife, so the sharpness is more than just for best cutting results. It also decreases the chance of cutting yourself.
Should You Use A Compound When Stropping Your Knife Blade?
As with stropping a razor, whether to use compound boils down to personal preference. Using a compound (also known as a loaded strop) is an efficient way to polish the freshly sharpened knife.
The grains in the compound work in conjunction with the suede to push the microscopic teeth in the blades back into alignment. It also helps to remove any extra bits of metal that can’t be realigned.
This combination of coarse grains from both the smooth leather and the compound gives the blade an extra refined and polished finish. However, some sharpeners are satisfied with the results of stropping with the suede alone.
To review, the side of the strop you use will depend on the type of blade that you are sharpening.
After sharpening a razor, stropping with the smooth side of the leather is best for getting the smoothest blade. Stropping regularly will keep the razor nice and sharp and prevent cuts when shaving.
When sharpening a knife with a beveled edge, you will want to use the suede side of the strop. This will help keep the beveled edge nice and round while wiping away any microscopic excess material to keep a nice sharp blade for easy cutting.
Whether or not to use a compound when stropping a razor or other type of blade is really a matter of personal preference. Some sharpeners like the extra finish it gives your newly sharpened blade, while others are satisfied with the leather alone.