After sharpening using the finest stone, a strop is utilised for the final stage of sharpening. A strop’s purpose is to polish the edge and remove any burrs left by sharpening stones. Leather is the most common material for strops, while other materials are also used. Suede and smooth leathers, referred to as flesh side and grain side, respectively, are used. They can be attached to a rigid foundation, such as a table or vice.
Strops are typically used with honing compounds, which are ultra-fine abrasives that polish an edge to a mirror finish. If you’re going to use a compound, start by rubbing it into the strop’s surface. There’s no need to use a lot of compound because a little goes a long way.
When stropping a plane blade, press down with moderate pressure, press the bevel against the strop’s surface, and slide the blade away from the cutting edge. On the back of the blade, lay the blade flat on to the surface of the strop and slide the blade to remove the wire edge. Flip the blade and repeat as before. They call this chasing the burr. On any stropping surface, with or without an honing compound, the procedure is the same.
Never move the blade towards the cutting edge because it will cut into the strop, dulling the edge and causing strop damage. Usually, a few strokes are adequate.
Without any compound, a strop can be used. The leather polishes the metal and removes any burrs from the edge, resulting in a crisp, sharp edge.
On the other hand, other users frequently use a compound on their strops. The compound works relatively fast to bring the edge to the next level of sharpness.
Whether to utilise a compound is a question of preference. Both methods produce excellent results, while honing compound with its abrasive particles will show results faster than plain. Many of us do both in the purpose of being thorough, using one strop with compound applied and then finishing with a few strokes on a plain strop.
Sharp or Suede Side
Again it comes down to personal preference. For plane blades and chisels the consensus is that the smooth side is used. This idea is taken from the barbers who use the smooth side to sharpen their razors as it doesn’t round the bevel. The suede side is holds a compound and there is a slight rounding of the bevel under the compression. The slight rounding is miniscule and should not be a concern however, it is desirable to some. I have used both sides and have found the suede with a compound to give me a quicker and better edge than the smooth side.
To Mount or Not
Mounting a strop is more versatile and provides better ease of use than one that isn’t. A mount is simply a block of wood the strop is glued to. The wood doesn’t need to be fancy nor is it necessary to be out of hardwood like maple, as it is commonly seen. A simple 2×4 of pine is sufficient. The mount should be about 10-12 inches long, 2 3/4-3 inches wide and 1 1/2 – 2 inches high. I can butt them up against a planing stop or clamped in a vice. The height is a comfortable height to strop with and also gives ample grip without the concern of the mount buckling under the pressure of the vice when clamped in the vice.
The life span of a strop is not indefinite, it will depend upon how often it’s used. In my workshop I use mine every day and several times a day until the rough sawn boards are smooth. The use will lessen over the days as I progress through the project and planing isn’t critical anymore. So a single mounted strop would suffice for a year under my current workshop practice. If I only worked the weekends, then I wouldn’t need to replace it for several years.
To answer the initial question to strop or not to strop, I would have to answer yes. I would say an emphatic yes even if you sharpened up to 8000 grit on your Waterstones. It may at the time seem unnecessary, but it only takes a few seconds to reach 30 or 40 strokes on the strop to gain an edge that is surgically sharp. You will notice a big difference in hand planing a board, planing of the end grain, paring to a shoulder line and all with very little effort. If you have stropped none of your edge tools before, give it a go. I guarantee you won’t look back.