There has been a lot of discussion, good discussion about stropping in the past few months. The opiniions have been from stropping as a necessary tool to get the ultimate edge to strops almost destroy an edge. A lot of information has been typed and has caused me to do a lot of thinking and working on improving. Also, comparing a stropped edge with an edge that I've only used stones on. Now this can be hopeless because if the edge starts of SHARPER after stropping than it does after just using stones you are not starting with identical edges. So your results can't be worth anything IMO. Also, it has been pointed out that the way I test stuff like this is not very valid just because I don't have accurate methods or equipment. Very true. Finally, I have said several times when I can get an edge as sharp after using only stones as I can by using strops I won't need strops and will stop using them. At this point I wouldn't need to worry about any damage a strop may do to an edge. The basic concept if I'm not mistaked is even if the edge is a little sharper after stropping the edge retention is degraded. So if you need a razor edge for a short period of time, strop it. Barber is an example. But if you need high edge retention, don't strop and live with an edge that is not quite as sharp. It is still VERY sharp and VERY adequate though. So this is just a matter of the edge needed. ALL of this has been discussed and can be found in this forum if you search or ask for what threads to look at.
Now my reason for this thread. I HAVE GOTTEN TO THE POINT THAT I CAN'T GET AN EDGE SHARPER WITH A STROP THAN I CAN WITH A STONE. This is not because strops are bad or that they don't work. It is because my skill has improved when using stones. If it sounds like I'm bragging that's ok. What I'm TRYING to say is if I can do it anyone can. Just keep practicing. Just know what your are trying to do and not just moving the edge back and forth. Practice makes perfect but it takes perfect practice. I read posts and watched videos of people whittling hair swearing they did this after using a Spyderco UF stone. No stropping. I found this hard to believe because I couldn't do it. Not even close. My edge whouldn't whittle a hair unless I first used a strop with a very fine grit. At this point I didn't consider myself a beginner. I considered myself competant and still needing improvement. I don't have a Spyderco ultra-fine stone. The last stone I use in a progression is the Spyderco fine grit. Finishing the edge with it using very light push strokes (NO pull strokes) I am getting an edge to slice phone book paper with almost no resistance, push cut into the edge of phone book paper with no slicing motion AND when I get lucky and hold my hands still enough the edge will whittle a hair. This is after the Spyderco fine grit ceramic stone and no stropping. Now this edge requires a serious amount of concentration during the final strokes, not just a quick touch up sharpening session. I now have done the following "test" 3 times. I tried to get the edge as sharp as possible and then used strops to improve the sharpness. The stropped edge did not cut any better than the not-stropped edge. Why? Because it was already as sharp as I could get it using a strop without using a strop.
About skill and saving money. The finer the grit stones OR strops you want to use the higher your skill needs to be to get the results the tools are capable of. I used to have a medium and a fine grit Arkansas stone. I got the edge very sharp with the med. grit but when I tried to refine it with the fine grit stone the edge got duller. This was because my skill was low. I didn't know that nor did I care that much. I just quit trying to use the fine grit stone. Then in the past few years I COULD get a great edge with a finer grit stone but the ultra-fine grit tools were useless. My skill had improved but still needed more improvement. Then I could use the Spyderco UF stone and get a very sharp, smooth edge. My skill was improving. Then I started buying strop stuff. I've spent about $300 is stropping material and expensive coumpounds and I've developed the skill to use them. The finest strop I have is naked kangaroo hide. Roo hide puts a serious smooth edge on the blade. The trick is getting the kangaroo to hold still. Yep, that's the real trick. (Oh my god I crack myself up!
) I also have diamond (and other) sprays on leather, balsa wood, etc. and can use them for a purpose the different types are for. I'm not the best by any means and can still improve and just might. What I'm getting at is if you spend a bunch of money on really fine grit stones and strops before your skill is high enough to benefit from them you've just spent money on tools you can't use. Keep the UF stones or whatever. Your skill will improve if you work on it and then the Spyderco UF stone will do what it (and you) are capable of.
Are strops for beginners? Yes they are. They are also for edges needed for specific uses. Strops are also good for people who are past the beginner level but still need a strop to improve the edge after it is as sharp as it can get on the stones you have. Strops become "not needed" when the edge is as sharp as you can get it off a stone and it doesn't get sharper when you strop. Just recently is when I'm seeing this happening and know it can be done BY ME. Not hearing it has been done by someone else. Not that I didn't believe it before. But seeing is REALLY blieving.
If you are going to use strops they also require practice or they can roll a burr, create a burr or just dull an edge when used improperly. Brand new beginning sharpeners need to know this. More experienced sharpeners already know it. If you are a brand new beginner I recommend the $20 strop on knivesplus.com. It works good for two things. First, the edge off stones need to be at least pretty sharp or any strop is useless. So when the edge gets sharper after using this strop you know your skill on stones is at least pretty good. So call the strop an edge testing tool. If the edge doesn't get sharper your skill on stones is a failure and you need to practice on stones some more. If your edge does get sharper your stone skills are getting good and the edge is sharp enough to be used as a knife.
Now the second use for the strop comes into play. Just getting the edge sharper. Keep using these tools until or if you feel your skill has improved enough to justify spending money on the tools to refine the edge even more. Before you go spending $20 -$40 on a bottle of diamond spray be sure your skill is high enough to benefit from what these high quality compounds can produce. These high dollar products are really for the SERIOUSLY OCD folks IMO. Or for the professional sharpeners who need tools to produce any type edge the customer may want. If yo want a super smooth edge the really fine grits are needed IMO. Grits below 1 micron is what I'm referring to. There is a difference in the edge stropped with 10 micron and the edge stropped with .5 micron strops. We could also get into leather vs balsa but that's not what I intended for this thread.
One sentence summary: If you are skilled enough using stones strops are not needed.
This is my opinion at the moment and some may agree with it and some may disagree with their heart and soul. And maybe I'm wrong. I think I'm right or I wouldn't be writing all this. I also know my opinions have changed many times over the past months and years about this sharpening issue. With more experience and knowledge my opinion may change again. I think it's called learning.
After typing all this and after someone reading all this I sure hope it made a little sense and hopefully someone will benefit. Also, I hope I will benefit by other outlooks on this issue. A lot of what I've learned has come from people on this forum. I have realized I thought I was right but wasn't a few times. So, I change my mind and method. This way I can be right again.