What is Stropping? How to Refine Your Knife’s Edge

Stropping is the final step in obtaining a razor’s edge on any knife, after sharpening and honing. The word “strop” also refers to the piece of leather used in the process.

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What Does Stropping Do?

Stropping further sharpens and refines an edge by removing microscopic fissures and jagged edges. It is done after honing an edge to remove larger burrs and rough spots. This also reduces the width of the apex (absolute edge) of the blade, allowing for effortless push-cuts, shaving, and incredibly thin slicing of delicate material.

Types of Strops

Pictured: 8″ Double-Sided Paddle Strop (bottom); Herold Solingen Razor Strop (top)

Mounted strops are made of leather or fabric (canvas, linen or felt) affixed to a wood paddle or backing. Razor strops are also called hanging strops. They’re made of heavy leather like cowhide, horsehide, or bison.

Suede vs. Smooth Strops

Leather has two sides: One provides a smooth grain and the other, soft and “fuzzy” suede. A quality strop is often double-sided and provides both grain and suede sides. Straight razors and blades with narrow edge angles tend to favor stropping with the smooth (grain) side, while “EDC” knives and larger blades favor the suede side.

Stropping Compounds

Pictured: Herold Solingen Red Paste (2-4 micron); Green Honing Compound (chromium / aluminum oxide)

Compounds are used to coat a leather strop for finer, faster results with a better polish. These are very fine grit and take the form of pastes and waxes. They contain particles measuring 5 to 1 microns, or between 4,000 and 20,000 grit (see our sharpening grit chart for conversions). Compounds like these also help to keep the leather supple, and they give an edge the mirror finish some knife enthusiasts prefer. Though recommended, compounds aren’t required.

How to Strop A Blade

Stropping a blade is like sharpening and honing with a stone: Draw your knife along the leather or fabric, ensuring the edge is flush with the strop’s surface. Unlike using a stone, you’ll pull the blade to strop it, instead of pushing it. Pulling the blade along the strop aligns the edge and strips it of microscopic imperfections, leaving behind a cleaner, narrower apex.

1. Prep Your Strop with Compound (Optional)

We’re using a BeaverCraft Leather Strop, made by the fine people of Ukraine. It comes with a green wax honing compound, which we’ll apply liberally to the leather before starting.

2. Pull Both Sides of Edge Along Strop (20 to 30 Times)

Again, don’t push the blade across the strop. This won’t refine the edge, and it’ll cut and damage the leather or fabric. Pull the blade across, like you would while sharpening and honing. Use the same angle as when you sharpened the knife. Use less pressure, too — about 2 pounds works well.

Make 20 to 30 passes across the strop with each side of the blade. If you’re going for a mirror finish, you’ll need to start with a compound measuring about 5 to 4 microns, then move down to a 1- to 0.5-micron paste.

Once you’re finished, gently wipe the blade down with a microfiber rag or cloth.

The Effects of Stropping, Visualized

Science of Sharp provides some excellent high-magnification photography (5,000x) with a scanning-electron microscope, or “SEM,” that shows the effects of transitioning from a sharpening stone to a honing grit, then lastly to a strop with compound.

Note how the edge of the blade gets cleaner, with fewer cuts and jagged edges, as the grit count increases. Final results are achieved at 16,000 grit, or about 1.5 microns.

Sharpened Edge at 1,000 Grit

Credit: Science of Sharp

Honed Edge at 4,000 Grit

Credit: Science of Sharp

Stropped Edge at 16,000 Grit

Credit: Science of Sharp

View of Apex Thickness, Before & After

Credit: Science of Sharp. Left: 1,000 grit; Center: 4,000 grit; Right: 16,000 grit.

The apex gets noticeably thinner as the edge is further honed and stropped. A thinner, refined apex will easily push-cut and provide better slicing for more delicate work. By removing imperfections along the blade’s edge, it’s also less likely to catch and roll, improving edge retention.