Is stropping woodcarving tools common practice?

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Forum topic by woodcarverhurr posted 05-23-2018 01:21 PM 2428 views 0 times favorited 20 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1 post in 781 days

05-23-2018 01:21 PM

Topic tags/keywords: stropping sharpening woodcarving knives honing

Hey everyone,

I just started whittling and know that I need to sharpen it frequently to prevent the edge from getting dull, but I’m trying to find out the different between using a high grit sharpening stone and using stropping with compound.

This post does a great job at explaining HOW to strop with different woodcarving knives and apply the compound

but it doesn’t explain what the difference is so I’m confused on what to purchase.

Sharpening stones seem to be slightly more expensive than strops, and both seem to take care of things like blade blemishes and rolled edges. So I’m a little torn between the two.

Any advice?

20 replies so far

View John Smith's profile

John Smith

2442 posts in 940 days

#1 posted 05-23-2018 02:00 PM

I don’t know if it is a “common” practice among carvers today to strop their tools
as the diamond stones are becoming more popular. (so it may be an age/generation thing).
I guess I am too Old School and I have an assortment of leather strops which is
leather glued to plywood with different grades of buffing rouge on each one.
I think this is just another “personal choice” in the wood shop.


-- there is no educational alternative to having a front row seat in the School of Hard Knocks. --

View Planeman40's profile


1499 posts in 3538 days

#2 posted 05-23-2018 03:00 PM

Let me give you some advice from an old codger who has been at this for 60+ years.

1. I view sharpening as divided into two parts, (1) shaping the edge, (2) sharpening the edge.

2. Shaping the edge is rough work that can be done on a grinder as long as you don’t over heat the edge (it begins to turn blue). Constantly dip it into a jar of water to keep it cool.

3. The actual sharpening begins with a coarse grit (around 200 to 300 grit) You want to refine the grinding, finish any needed small shaping, and remove all of the coarse scratches from the grinding wheel.

4. You now want to move through two or three sharpening stones of increasing fineness until you get to around 600 to 1000 grit. The object is to remove all of the scratches from the preceding stone. I favor diamond “stones” for this. I use the ones from Harbor Freight which work very well. Periodic viewing of the sharpened surface under magnification as you work is very helpful, particularly if you are new at this. Watch your progress and learn.

5. At this point you move to the very finest stone. Personalty, I favor Arkansas stones as they are hard and stay flat unlike water stones which are messy and wear relatively quickly and need periodic flattening.

6. Now its time to check to see if you really have sharpened your edge enough. This is hard to determine for beginners. The best way and the one I use is to use a 2X (two power) magnifying visor. Walmart has one for $13 that is probably as good as the $40 ones. A jeweler’s loupe would work too. Shine a strong light directly on to the sharp edge and view the edge through the magnifier. If you see the edge as a streak of white light, the light is reflecting off the edge. You are not sharp enough. Go back a step or two and work some more on the edge until when you view the edge as above you see NO light! That means the edge is so sharp as to not reflect the light!

7. Now you need to final polish the edge by honing. These hones all use an ultra-fine abrasive like jeweler’s rouge (an abrasive in wax) worked into the surface to do the polishing. Keep “stropping’ the edge like a barber strops a straight razor until you can easily shave the hair off your forearm !!! THAT’s the final test.

A good source of sharpening supplies can be had here:

Also, take a look at the wood carving gouges and knives I made a short while back:

-- Always remember: It is a mathematical certainty that half the people in this country are below average in intelligence!

View Lazyman's profile


5446 posts in 2164 days

#3 posted 05-23-2018 03:44 PM

I seem to recall that Mary May uses diamond stones followed by a strop. Her online classes are pretty good for beginners. Here is a link to the free classes, which includes her sharpening techniques and she posts videos on YouTube as well. If you are just starting out these are worth a look.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1335 posts in 2712 days

#4 posted 05-23-2018 04:56 PM

Short answer – the grand majority of videos, books, articles etc. on carving that I have ever seen do include stropping as a vital part of the sharpening regimen of carving tools.

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View Aj2's profile


3090 posts in 2575 days

#5 posted 05-23-2018 05:07 PM

I use both as planeman points out stones are for shaping. As in changing the bevel angles on your knives. You will be lucky if a new knife is ready to cut.
Most will need some work.
I strop edges for very fine work just enough to draw out a small wire on the edge.But you have to be careful not to over do it.
Good luck

These are my favorite or best carving knifes they all have different shapes.I used a stone with good light to shape them.

-- Aj

View John Smith's profile

John Smith

2442 posts in 940 days

#6 posted 05-23-2018 05:25 PM

an assortment of “slips and Stones” is nice to have in your bag also.
the further you advance in the hobby, the more “stuff” you will collect.
and to spill some blood on your workpiece is a Right of Passage.


-- there is no educational alternative to having a front row seat in the School of Hard Knocks. --

View Carl10's profile


115 posts in 1234 days

#7 posted 05-23-2018 06:09 PM

It depends on how good of a finish you want on your work. My dad (when he was alive) started writing a book on sharpening (but never finished). Along the way of his years of carving he would always strop his blades after sharpening. Later he developed and sold the ‘Power Strop’ . It is several ~1/4 leather discs glue together and mounted on a mandrel that you could power with a drill fixed to a bench, etc (some sharpening machines now have these type of wheels attached). I was fortunate enough to absorb a little of his knowledge. What he saw under a microscope after sharpening, but before stropping, were tiny burs still holding onto the new edge. More sharpening would not remove them, but stropping would. Without the stropping you sometimes see the gouges left in the wood from the burs. This would depend on the wood of course, but a stropped edge also makes easier cuts.

Hope this helps.


View TravisH's profile


717 posts in 2712 days

#8 posted 05-23-2018 07:13 PM

I do initial sharpening with stones, sand paper, etc…. once there a loaded strop is used frequently as I carve and rarely go back to more aggressive means unless I drop a knife or hit something hard with it to damage the edge.
Cut quality will tell you when to strop.

Basswood and paulowina about all I have carved however and both carve very easy.

View ClaudeF's profile


1147 posts in 2484 days

#9 posted 05-23-2018 08:03 PM

I do the same as Travis: the only time a stone touches my knives is when I break a tip off, or drop one, or otherwise get a nick in the blade edge. The rest of the time I use a strop every 20-30 minutes when carving. The cheapest, and easily most effective, strop is one made from a flat board such as MDF, with a strip of cereal box cardboard glued to it with rubber cement. The cereal box cardboard has stropping compound rubbed on it. I use the green 0.5 micron chromium oxide on one strop and on another strop I have the Flexcut Gold. The cardboard is very thin so as the knife edge is drawn over it, it does not spring back up as most leather will. When the strop springs back up, it rounds the edge of the blade. The light reflecting from the edge is a good indicator of the sharpness (or lack thereof…). Another is to cut across the end grain of a piece of basswood. The cut surface should be smooth and shiny. Any nick in the edge will appear as a little line along the cut surface.

I also don’t use a stone on my gouges and V tools unless I have a nick in them.



View TheFridge's profile


10859 posts in 2263 days

#10 posted 05-24-2018 02:03 PM


-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View waho6o9's profile


8909 posts in 3354 days

#11 posted 05-24-2018 02:10 PM

View polaski's profile


16 posts in 1994 days

#12 posted 05-26-2018 12:19 PM

What everyone said. Stropping is the final dressing on a very sharp carving knife. Some knives made with specific steel (like FlexCut) can be stopped frequently without going to sharpening stones.

-- Jeff Polaski

View Robert's profile


3748 posts in 2258 days

#13 posted 05-26-2018 01:52 PM

Chris Pye has the best instructional on sharpening IMO.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View Andre's profile


3568 posts in 2583 days

#14 posted 05-26-2018 03:59 PM

Not just carving tools but also chisels. I just use a flat piece of hardwood loaded with green compound and give the blades a few strokes every so often.

-- Lifting one end of the plank.

View Phil32's profile


1067 posts in 680 days

#15 posted 10-09-2018 04:10 PM

Woodcarverhurr – Like you, I started with whittling with a knife, and soon discovered that my knife blade would get dull. So I would carry a pocket stone. With a little spit and elbow grease I’d get it back to its previous sharpness. But as I got deeper into carving, I found that technique was not good enough. I then added a leather strop to my sharpening routine.
The process has continued to evolve. Now I use an oil stone only if the cutting edge is damaged. I maintain the edges of my tools, mostly gouges now, with green compound on cereal box cardboard.
There are many rituals for sharpening hand tools. Try one. If it doesn’t make your tools “carving sharp.” try another. But go slow. Rushing the process is likely to damage your favorite knife or gouge.

-- Phil Allin - There are mountain climbers and people who talk about climbing mountains. The climbers have "selfies" at the summit!

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