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Stropping is for beginners???

Posted: Thu Jul 25, 2013 10:50 am
by jackknifeh
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! :D ) 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 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. :D

Miller time.

Posted: Thu Jul 25, 2013 4:24 pm
by w3tnz
Forgive me for not reading all that, im on my phone, but I dont consider a strop as sharpening an edge, I strop to remove burr after sharpening. Or to align/hone an already sharp edge as in a straight razor.

Posted: Thu Jul 25, 2013 4:36 pm
by kbuzbee
I would agree with you, Jack, for the most part. I think in the earlier stages of learning to sharpen, stropping does two things. It can remove a burr (or worse, straighten it) that shouldn't still be there, at the sacrifice of a nice clean edge. And, it can polish the "teeth" of your finishing grit.

This is the place strops do have "value" (effect?), IMO, polishing the edge. Because of the softer medium and the very fine grits available you can even polish out scratches left by a 12,000 water stone.

Is this necessary? Is it even a good thing? To me the general answer is no. If you are talking edge retention, in general, folks seem to find anywhere from 600-1200 to be the sweet spot. If you are talking the smoothest push cut you can get, moving on to the 8,000-12,000 range does help. But, while I can see the polishing result of stropping, I can't feel it using the knife. And even at that level of refinement, if does reduce edge retention just a touch.

Good post!


Posted: Thu Jul 25, 2013 9:04 pm
by noseoil
Jack, very well thought out and written. I would have to agree with you about strops in general, as I'm still new enough to all of this. At 62 I consider myself at "year one" or just a beginner at seriously learning to sharpen. I must admit that I cheat each time, I still use a strop for finishing when I sharpen. At some point, I would like to be able to say that I'm able to get a perfect edge with stones alone, but I'm still learning & working on it for now. I've invested about $25 in some 6, 2 & 1 micron diamond paste from Amazon, made my own leather strops & ramp and am enjoying the process and the learning. I'm comfortable enough now to have re-done the edge on my new Native 5 and it is sharper than it came from the factory yesterday, so I'm on my way.

I look on strops as being like training wheels for a bicycle. Sooner or later they come off and then will most likely stay that way. For now, at least for me, they're still there.

Posted: Thu Jul 25, 2013 9:47 pm
by vampyrewolf
24yrs of sharpening, and I can't truly call myself a master because I still pick up some tricks and changes... I still use a stropping surface in my system, even though it's only the side of the case on my 303mf.

I have made a couple full strops, and had a strop hanging all the time at my last place.

A strop serves to remove a burr or help align an edge, with polishing at a very low level. Personally I use a strop on an edge that is 90% complete, to either remove that final burr or to align the remaining burr to help remove it. I can get a pretty **** workable edge without the strop, but getting that final burr pushes it over the edge.

It's a difference of about 5min with a fine grit stone compared to ~20seconds with a stropping surface, when it comes down to me putting an edge that'll pop hair.

Posted: Fri Jul 26, 2013 12:42 am
by w3tnz
vampyrewolf wrote:24yrs of sharpening

It's a difference of about 5min with a fine grit stone compared to ~20seconds with a stropping surface, when it comes down to me putting an edge that'll pop hair.
I'm most certainly in the beginner category, but to elaborate on my initial post, I don't think it has to do with the experience level but more so the sharpening method an individual uses.

For instance my "sharpening" process finishes at a 1000 grit diamond stone, no matter how light you stroke you are perpetually chasing a burr (creating a new burr while knocking off another) so for me stropping is a crucial part of my routine. I don't plan on changing my routine just perfecting it, so a strop will always be a part of that.

I guess the flip side of that is the guy that works his way up to stones so fine that he can remove a burr that way, is he a better sharpener? Probably so, is his knife sharper? Probably not.

Is stropping "inferior"? I don't think so, but like I said I'm no expert either, all I know is I get a **** fine edge off a strop.

Posted: Fri Jul 26, 2013 1:59 am
by vampyrewolf
For instance my "sharpening" process finishes at a 1000 grit diamond stone, no matter how light you stroke you are perpetually chasing a burr (creating a new burr while knocking off another) so for me stropping is a crucial part of my routine. I don't plan on changing my routine just perfecting it, so a strop will always be a part of that.

I guess the flip side of that is the guy that works his way up to stones so fine that he can remove a burr that way, is he a better sharpener? Probably so, is his knife sharper? Probably not.
It's not so much the grit, as the pressure and control on the angle. I can get a shaving edge from an 800 AO, just as easy as the spydie fine (~1200). I've had years of tweaking my freehand methods, and inspect my edges with a 5x loupe. As mentioned before (and I'm sure the whole method is here in a few places), I can fill up a full page with my basic methods.

Over that same 24yrs of using knives, you learn to appreciate degrees of sharpness. A shaving edge does not mean a working edge. I can put a working edge on a knife with just about anything, and I'll usually cut more with a working edge than a shaving edge before it needs to touch a stone again.

Posted: Thu Aug 01, 2013 8:20 pm
by American1911
If you can get a finer edge right off a stone than finishing with .5 CrOx on a block of balsa, I'm impressed. I do agree if you just need a good usable edge then all you need is a stone. I test the edge by cutting a rolled gloss magazine page (looking for bite or bounce) and push cutting a ripe tomato (gauge the resistance or lack thereof).

Posted: Fri Aug 23, 2013 10:36 am
by NorthernPanda
When I sharpen free hand my edge don't seem very sharp until I strop. I'm very new to free hand and suspect I have a burr left at the end which the strop removes. I do find stropping can help restore the sharpness of an used edge within minutes. Remember "a strop a day keeps the stones away"