Sharpening methods #4: Stropping (honing on a leather strop)

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Blog entry by mafe posted 11-14-2011 02:59 PM 38388 reads 24 times favorited 52 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: The Eclipse & Record honing guides in use Part 4 of Sharpening methods series Part 5: Old Danish honing strop and making a copy... »

thanks to Div.

Dear LJ’s it’s been a while since my last confession on LJ, this one is about stropping.
(It is actually an old set of photos that just never became a blog for a reason at that time).

For those who never heard of stropping, it is simply to hone the edge of your iron on a piece of leather with some compound or paste as the honing material, just as you have probably seen a barber do on his leather strap with the razor knife.

A long time ago I read about the term stopping and woodworking, I was really exited but when I told this to a Danish woodworker he just laughed at me and said that that he never heard of this, no one did this, and all his fellow woodworkers was laughing at this when they heard of it, and so I put this out of my head for a while.
But my friend Div then one day told me that he always stropped, he stropped his chisels regularly while using them and also his plane irons got a fast tour on the stop once in a while, and since I have a big respect for the words of Div and know he normally do nothing without a reason, I decided to make some strops and give it a try, the worst that could happen was that I would waste some leather.

After having used stop for a good time now I can say; ‘I will probably never go back’, I love the fact that you during your work can make a fast stopping and have this razor sharp edge right back, and after i started stropping – paring with a chisel is a new world, I am completely in control and I can leave a perfect surface on the wood.

So any bad sides? No!
Is it magic? No, just a wonderful fast way to hone your chisel back to razor while you work. It cannot sharpen a chisel, just hone it when you slowly wear down the edge, when the edge is worn down you still need to go back to the stone.
In a way it feels like using a Japan knife, you just strop instead of breaking of the blades as you go, and then at some point you have used the full capacity and need to take the full tour.

Is it difficult? No!

So let’s take a look at it:

Any piece of lumber!
Cut it to square.

Then cut it in the width you desire, a good all-round strop can be 206×68 mm (app. 2,7×8,1 inch) this is the size of a standard Japanese water stone.

Cut to length.
Now I think we cut enough!

I choose to give one of the strops a handle, simply because I have seen this on the web and are thinking it could be cool for knifes.

A rounding bit on the router.

Rounding the handle fast, and with noise…

Rounded rough.

Sanding and final shaping the handle.

So time for what it is really all about; the leather.
Cut some strips to fit your wood blocks.

A good quality leather belt can be used also as you can see.
The small one is a gift for a friend that is doing some linoleum prints and so she can now hone her knifes.
You want a quality that is relatively thick and hard, but not too stiff.
The smooth side up, do not listen to those who say differently.

For glue I use a contact adhesive (two side stick glue).
Papers on the table!
Yes mother…

Glue applied both sides and time to wait fifteen minutes.
It can be done with a good pipe of tobacco.

Notice the funny clamping on the right.

Glue up and keep under press.
The Festool table is brilliant for this.

I punch my leather mark into it.
Yes I’m a child!

And here we are four new straps.

I bought a honing compound from Veritas, but you can use many other compounds but this you can go searching about on the web, I will not go deeper than this here, since we are talking religion to some and sience to others.
So what you do is simply to apply the compound to the leather and as you see it will stay on the smooth surface.
On this strop I left the other side with only the leather strop, this because some say you get the best result if you give the iron a tour on this after, personally I see no difference and use therefore only the compound side now.
(And read that in a microscope you could see absolutely no difference also if there were no compound).

And this was my first test, it worked really well, even the steel are quite hard on these Barco’s.

And here you see just weeks ago while I work, I always have the strop around now, a quick fresh up while you use your chisels and you will be amazed how much more smooth the work goes.
I also used the strops with great success when I was using my carving irons, and here again it is priceless.

So what do you do?
NEVER PUSH THE BLADE, then you will cut up the leather.
Hold the chisel down to the strop in the angle of the bevel, and pull it against you.
Repeat this a couple of times.

Then turn the chisel and lay it flat on the back and again pull it against you a couple of times.

Turn and give it on or two more.

Now the chisel is razor sharp again and ready to use, no mess, no time, no trouble.

I love this more and more, with a sharp chisel you will master any kind of detail.
So go make yourself a strop!

Hope this little blog can inspire others to try the stop, and perhaps not always listen to what others tell you as I did in the first hand,

Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

52 comments so far

View jjw5858's profile


1135 posts in 3755 days

#1 posted 11-14-2011 03:12 PM

Awesome mads, great job on this. I had made one a while back too, not nearly as nice is this one. Hope all is well!
P.S. Nice chisels to work with!

-- "Always continue to learn, laugh and share!" JJW

View Mike DeCarlo's profile

Mike DeCarlo

40 posts in 3911 days

#2 posted 11-14-2011 03:19 PM

Good info! Where did you buy the leather?


View Maveric777's profile


2694 posts in 4230 days

#3 posted 11-14-2011 03:26 PM

Good stuff Mads and very informative…. My one question. Do you need to use any special honing compound? I never used it or even know where to find any. Would be nice to be able to find it locally at a hardware store or some place similar.

-- Dan ~ Texarkana, Tx.

View snowdog's profile


1179 posts in 5136 days

#4 posted 11-14-2011 03:28 PM

Nice work. I need to get into the shop more. I have been flying RC planes to much this summer.

-- "so much to learn and so little time"..

View bluejazz's profile


56 posts in 3940 days

#5 posted 11-14-2011 03:55 PM

Thanks Mads. I have been looking to purchase one of these. But you have freed me from that idea. I love the idea of making my own and you have made that an easy process. Please never stop posting my friend, I have learned a lot from you.

-- I'm 58. In my mind, I still feel 28. Until I do something physical; then I feel 78.

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 4268 days

#6 posted 11-14-2011 04:12 PM

thank you Mads
one question though ..... to what kind of grit on a stone can you compare
the polishing compound with ….. I know there is different compounds with different grits
but I talk about the end polishcompounds
I use 8000 grit as my last stone … and I´m not interressted in going down by using compound
with lower grit number … nomatter how much I like the idea

thank´s for sharing Mads as usual we learn something when you confess …. :-)

take care

View Mauricio's profile


7166 posts in 4305 days

#7 posted 11-14-2011 05:27 PM

Dennis, Veritas claims that the average grit size is .5 micron which is around 10K grit. However since thats the average it means there are larger particles which help the compound cut faster. There is no telling what the largest grit sizes are.

But like Mads says this is a great way to touch up your blades in between honings.

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View Mauricio's profile


7166 posts in 4305 days

#8 posted 11-14-2011 05:28 PM

Mads, thanks for posting, as always very informative and great pictures.

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View PurpLev's profile


8652 posts in 4802 days

#9 posted 11-14-2011 05:46 PM

wonderful writing Mads, but if you say ‘don’t listen to others’ should we listen to YOU? ;) (yes we should)

Are you using the stropping wheel on the sheppach? I found that it really does put the best edge on blades.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Don W's profile

Don W

20120 posts in 3721 days

#10 posted 11-14-2011 05:59 PM

I posted this on your project as well but here we go again:

I strop after i finish sharpening, but use just leather, no compound. At the point the process is meant to remove any final burr. I’ve tried with and without compound and not seen any difference. I leave the right on the jig if sharpening a plane iron.

When stropping in between the sharpenings like you describe the compound makes an improvement.

As always Mads, great post. It did remind me I’ve been meaning to make a couple more of these.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View blackcherry's profile


3346 posts in 4976 days

#11 posted 11-14-2011 07:16 PM

I sold my Tormack awhile back and miss the leather stropping wheel, now I’m off to the shop to make a couple of pads because of your inspiration Mads the professor…thanks for your writing and sharing soul, your friend in woodworking Blkcherry

View lanwater's profile


3113 posts in 4087 days

#12 posted 11-14-2011 07:55 PM

As always your blogs are awsome. Very detail and refreshing.
There is always something to learn.

Thanks Mads.

-- Abbas, Castro Valley, CA

View ratchet's profile


1391 posts in 4940 days

#13 posted 11-14-2011 09:06 PM

Ok, so my strops use the other side of the leather along with some application of green oxide stick. It seems to work good. I’m now going to make new strops with the smooth side up. Hopefully that will work even better. Maybe you can teach this old dog a new trick or 2.
I really like that handle on yours.
Thanks for posting this Mads!

View Brit's profile


8334 posts in 3996 days

#14 posted 11-14-2011 09:23 PM

Mads – You know I love you, but I can’t help thinking you’re getting off too lightly here. I know you hesitated for while before you made your first strop because you were confused as to whether it should be smooth side or rough side up. I remember you telling me you went with the smooth side after seeing what barbers use. But…

You say ”You want a quality [leather] that is relatively thick and hard, but not too stiff.
Joel over at Tools for Working Wood is selling stropping leather which is 'Genuine Horse Butt' which he says is the hardest leather he’s seen.
Clifton sell soft chamois leather for use as a strop.
Some people just use compound on a piece of MDF.
Others say that if you finish honing on a Norton 8000 waterstone and ease up on the pressure at the end when removing the burr, stropping afterwards does not really add any benefit.
Some people say to condition the leather with a few drops of oil before applying the compound and others say the oil is not necessary.

So, I’m wondering whether the hardness of the leather AND whether you use it rough or smooth side up really makes much of a difference. If you are just dragging steel over leather a few times, I suspect it doesn’t really.

What we really need is for someone to do side by side rough and smooth tests for each leather hardness with the same compound. Then put each of the chisels along with a chisel honed on a Norton 8000 waterstone into the hands of someone else to try and see which one they think is best.

Now who could we ask to do this test I wonder? :-)

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View Mauricio's profile


7166 posts in 4305 days

#15 posted 11-14-2011 09:29 PM

I agree but I say we need a Lumber Jock with a microscope! Any lab rats in the group that can do some testing for us?

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

showing 1 through 15 of 52 comments

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