Knife Sharpening: Adventures In Stropping

Image: Chris Dumm

I’m taking the long, slow road to becoming a really good knife sharpener. I started with a diamond-steel sharpener, then progressed to ceramic sticks, and finally Japanese waterstones. Now I want to put the final polish on my reasonably-sharp edges. Since I don’t have a bench grinder, this is where the Green Polishing Compound Strop makes its appearance.

I’ve been stropping with old leather belt for a long time, but I wanted something with a little more bite and rigidity. And I still wear that old leather belt, so I didn’t want to cover it with green polishing compound.

So I hit a Big Lots store for a $10 leather belt (extra long) and then Harbor Freight for a $4 tube of green polishing compound. After removing the buckle, the belt is exactly the same width and twice the length of a 2-foot scrap of hardwood 2″x 2″ I already had.


Image: Chris Dumm

I know the tacks are not terribly elegant. I’ll glue it later.

A few tacks later, and…voila! A long, if not terribly wide, double-sided strop. I tacked the rough side of the leather on one side of the 2″ x 2″, and the smooth side next to it. The rough edge is now thoroughly impregnated with the green polishing compound, and the smooth side doesn’t get used much. I do a few final strops on it after I’ve thoroughly cleaned any residual polishing compound from the blade, but I don’t think this final strop does very much.

Image: Chris Dumm

Sharper than new.

How’s it working? After a diligent session with a 6000-grit water stone, this Mora was already pretty damned sharp. My improvised strop has put the final edge on that edge, and made this knife the sharpest I’ve ever owned. It flawlessly slices through the thinnest Shotgun News newsprint, which is the most challenging test medium I’ve usually got on hand. It won’t slice hanging Kleenex (yet) but it’s sharp enough to shave my face with. It’s actually sharper than when it was new, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to make a knife that sharp.

My only dissatisfaction with this strop is that it’s too narrow. The next one will be wider, although that will probably require a piece of leather that doesn’t come from Big Lots, and it won’t need to be two feet long.


10 responses to ‘Knife Sharpening: Adventures In Stropping

  1. When you strop that Mora, do you follow the rumored-to-exist microbevel, or do you align the Scandinavian grind with the leather?

    What about the waterstone business? Do you just follow the grind?

    • I follow the primary bevel with whatever sharpening tool I’m using. The Scandi-grind bevel is big and obvious and I know there’s no way I can get the angle wrong. After a bunch of waterstoning and stropping, I think I’ve got most of the microbevel set back to the angle of the primary grind.

  2. If you have a Tandy Leather nearby, they usually have scrap bins with pieces of strap that shouldn’t cost you too much, or you could just drop under $20 on a 2″ x 6′ piece of strap that could make several stropping boards. I’ll bet you could resell the extras on Craigslist and make your money back.

  3. I might have to try this. I’ve been using a surgical grade Arkansas stone for finishing for past five years or so, and while it’s great for putting that scalpel edge back onto VG-10 kitchen knives, it’s a little time consuming and sort of overkill for my hard-use blades. Plus, it might be fun to do a side-by-side and see if that stone was really worth the money.

  4. Brough back some memories. When I was a little spud I used to watch my old man shave with brush, mug and straight razor. He had a strop hanging right next to the bathroom mirror and he hit that razor a few passes every day.

    I don’t know where the leather came from but we lived on a farm and he plowed with a team of mules so the barn was full of leather bits and pieces.

      • ok, I found some triple wall cardboard at work, and used the edge, where you can see the wavy layers end on. about a dozen strokes per side, and the good edge on my spyderco was noticeably sharper, more bite when you thumb the blade. I shaved a bald spot on my arm with it. That is sharp enough for me. it does not feel uniformly sharp along its entire edge, so I probably have to work on angle and technique.

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