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Knife sharpening is an art form that can seem daunting to many, but it doesn’t have to be. Stropping a knife is part of the process of sharpening a knife and also part of regular knife maintenance on its own. If you are wondering what stropping a knife actually does to the blade, you are not alone. It is often difficult to visualize what stropping does because it happens at almost microscopic levels. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty about what the process of stropping actually does to a knife.
A strop will re-align a rolled-over knife edge, remove the burr raised during sharpening, remove minor imperfections from the sharp edge, and polish the edge for a very smooth finish that reduced friction in the cut. Stropping is a maintenance task for your knife to prevent frequent sharpening.
Stropping a knife is an important part of keeping the knife sharp and well-maintained. There are a variety of types of strop that you can use on a knife, but the most common type is a leather strop. The action that a stop performs on a knife depends on the circumstances for using the strop. A strop can essentially be used for 4 main functions on the edge of the knife.
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What Is A Strop?
A strop is a device that has been used to maintain the edge of knives since man started using and sharpening knives.
A strop is a slightly abrasive material that is used to hone and maintain the sharp edge of a knife. The strop can be made from a variety of materials such as leather, denim, or other coarse material. A strop can be used as-is or with a compound to increase its abrasive characteristics.
A strop can be made from a surprising variety of materials, including any coarse-grained material such as denim, cheesecloth, canvas, newspaper, and even softwood such as balsa wood or maple.
Other fine-grained cloth can also be used, but then it is usually impregnated with a diamond emulsion which is sprayed on and allowed to dry.
The most common material used as a strop, however, is leather and usually veg tanned leather. This gives two sides to the leather, a coarse side, or flesh side, and a smooth side, which effectively gives you a strop with two different “grits.”
The strop can be used with a hard backing, such as a wooden paddle, or without a backing, such as in the form of a belt. Many shaving razors are sharpened on a stop without a hard backing.
What Does A Strop Do For A Knife?
A stop is used in a variety of scenarios for the maintenance of the knife edge. The purpose for using the strop will depend on which task you need to perform on the knife at the time of stropping.
The following are the main uses for a strop on a knife and are used in certain circumstances to refine the knife’s cutting edge.
- Re-aligning the sharp edge.
- Removing the burr or wire after sharpening.
- Removing minor imperfections from the sharp edge.
- Polishing the cutting edge of the knife.
We will examine each of these functions that a strop performs and discuss what the strop does to the edge in each circumstance. This will provide you with a good indication of when to use a strop on your knife.
TIP: Do you want to know how to use leather for stropping a knife? Check out a step-by-step guide in the article below:
A Strop Re-aligns The Sharp Edge
A sharp knife will lose some of its sharpness when it is being used for its intended purpose. The knife may still be sharp, but it has lost some of its keenness, which you will be able to feel as you cut with the knife.
Stropping a knife will re-align the edge of the knife and correct any roll-over issues or waves in the thin steel on the edge. This restores the edge to its original sharpness and prevents the need to re-sharpen the knife from scratch, which will remove material from the edge unnecessarily.
Because the cutting edge of the knife is such a thin piece of metal, as the knife is used, the edge can roll over, or curve over, which makes the knife feel like it has lost some of its sharpness.
At this point, you may think the knife needs to be sharpened, but this is not the case. What it actually needs is to be stropped to re-align the cutting edge.
In this case, passing the edge of the knife over the strop lightly four or five times will restore the sharpness of the knife without removing much metal.
In effect, what the strop does in this instance is that it rectifies the rolled-over edge by re-aligning the edge and making it straight again.
BTW: If you want to know more about Japanese and other knives and their sharpening, check out the books listed above. These books are recommended by professional sharpeners and knife makers (Amazon links):
- Japanese Kitchen Knives: Essential Techniques and Recipes
- The Knifenerd Guide to Japanese Knives
- Knife: The Culture, Craft, and Cult of the Cook’s Knife
- Sharp: The Definitive Introduction to Knives, Sharpening, and Cutting Techniques, with Recipes from Great Chefs
Stropping Removes The Burr After Sharpening
Sharpening a knife and going through the progression of coarse to fine sharpening media makes the edge of the knife. The final stages of the sharpening produce a wire along the edge or a burr which needs to be removed in the final stage of sharpening, which is stropping.
Stropping a knife after sharpening removes the burr that has been created by the sharpening process and then refines the edge to produce an extremely sharp cutting edge. The light abrasive action of the strop gently removes the burr without removing further material from the fine edge of the blade.
Consequently, stropping is seen as the final stage of the sharpening process and finesse the edge of the knife to produce the final sharp cutting edge.
TIP: Many kitchen knives have a hollow grind edge. If you are interested in how to sharpen such a knife, click on the article below and follow the 5 simple steps.
Stropping Removes Minor Imperfections On The Blade Edge
Stropping can also be used as a regular maintenance task on your knife blades. With use, the fine, sharp edge of the knife can develop tiny knicks, dents, and other minor imperfections on the steel.
When the knife edge is in this condition, the edge is almost serrated and hooks in the item that you are trying to cut. This results in the edge ripping through the material as opposed to slicing.
Stropping with a light grit abrasive compound on the strop will act to rectify the problem of knicks, dents, and minor imperfections on the knife edge by removing a tiny amount of steel and re-establishing the sharpness of the cutting edge. This is preferable to sharpening, which removes more steel.
Stropping a knife regularly as part of your maintenance regime for your knives will prevent the damage on the edge from getting to the point that stropping will be ineffective, and more drastic measures need to be applied.
Less frequent sharpening and regular stropping will make the edge on the knife last longer and thereby extend the life of the knife.
Of course, if the dents, chips, and damage to the edge are too severe, then no amount of stropping will be able to rectify these issues.
If the edge of the knife is in this type of condition, it would be necessary to sharpen the knife from scratch and then stop the edge as the final part of the sharpening process.
Stropping Polishes The Knife’s Cutting Edge
The polishing action of a strop is one action of the strop that is easy to see with the naked eye. As you strop the knife, you will see the edge begin to become very shiny. This is when the very light abrasive nature of the strop acts to polish the cutting edge of the knife.
A polished and shiny knife edge means that the metal on the edge is extremely smooth, and there will be less resistance to the knife slicing through the material that you are cutting. The slight abrasiveness of the strop will act to polish the sharp edge to achieve this result.
When a knife has a polished cutting edge, it will feel like the edge cuts through the material with very little effort and almost glide through whatever you are cutting with little resistance.
Our choice: Are you interested in buying a leather stropping kit? Find below our recommendation for leather stropping kits:
Budget option: BeaverCraft Stropping Set Leather Stropping Kit (Amazon link)
PRO option: Sharp Pebble Classic Leather Strop Kit (Amazon link)
The goal of stropping is not only to sharpen the blade but also to remove any knicks or imperfections on its surface. A strop typically consists of some sort of material like leather or canvas, which has been glued onto a backing board for stability.
Stropping is a final step in sharpening knives that can take your blade from being sharp to razor-sharp. It doesn’t change the shape of the knife edge, but it does refine and polish it by removing small scratches or burrs on the cutting surface. This will make for an extremely sharp blade that is capable of slicing through items with ease.
It’s important to note that stropping won’t remove any major defects like chips in your knife edge, so if you’re looking for something more than just a quick touch-up before using the knife, then a sharpening may be required.
Strops are best used when you want to put an extra fine finish on your blade without removing a lot of metal from the edge.
TIP: Whether the knife is easy or difficult to sharpen depends on the type of steel of the knife blade. In the article below you will find the types of steel that are easy to sharpen.