How to Strop a Razor
Stropping a razor is a pretty simple process and it’s easy to learn, but if done incorrectly can damage the fine cutting edge of your razor.
There is an abundance of information available detailing specific techniques, stropping patterns and shave prep processes, so this just meant to provide a quick primer on the topic. Just keep in mind that much of this is about personal preference, so try things a few different techniques and stick with what works well for you.
Why strop a razor?
Stropping is the art of keeping a straight edge razor properly sharpened/tuned in order to maintain a good, clean, comfortable shave.
How does stropping actually work?
Microscopically, shaving against a rough beard actually bends over the fine cutting edge of the razor and can cause nicks in the razor’s edge. Corrosion can cause even more damage. (see carbon steel care for more information on this) Stropping re-aligns the blade’s edge by bending back the edges of the microscopic steel fibers and lessens the nicks in the blade to make the edge straight and sharp once again. It also removes any rust damage due to corrosion.
There are hanging leather strops, paddle strops and loom strops. Paddle and loom strops are not used that much these days as most people prefer the hanging leather strops.
Most strops are available in varying widths ranging from 2“ to 3”. If your blade is 3” wide, 3” wide strops are preferred. When stropping with a 2” strop, you can use an X motion to be sure the entire blade is stropped properly. With a 3” strop, you can usually condition the entire blade without using an X motion.
The fabric side of a strop is first used to clean the blade of any rust and burrs before the leather stropping. The main fabrics used are linen, cotton, felt, etc. The amount of friction in the cloth determines the amount of heat used to condition the blade.
Next, a leather strop is used and there are many types of leather used for stropping. If the grain of the leather is too smooth, it will not repair the blade properly. If the grain is too rough, it can damage the blade’s edge. Cheap leather can flex during stropping, which is unwanted. Some common leathers used are Natural Horse Strip, Latigo, and English Bridal to name a few.
Assuming we’re using the hanging strop, attach one end to a fixed surface so it doesn’t move. Hold the other end in your non-dominant hand at an angle that is comfortable enough for your other hand to strop, usually about a 30-45-degree angle.
Open the blade completely and make sure it’s balanced in the palm of your hand. Put the neck between your thumb and first finger so you can rotate the razor as if you were controlling a volume knob on a radio or rolling a pencil between your fingers.
Place the blade between your thumb and first finger and rest the razor’s spine against the strop, then rotate or roll the razor so that it is laying level and flat against the strop - not too hard, but firm enough that the edge touches the strop.
Note:The sharp cutting edge of the razor should be facing away from the direction that you are pulling the razor otherwise you’ll cut into the stop possibly damage the blade.
Starting at the bottom of the strop, Move the blade away from you and along the length of the strop maintaining a level and steady pass. As you approach the top of the stop rotate the blade over the spine so the edge now faces away from you and pull the razor towards you. Again make sure that you maintaining a level and constant contact between the razor and strop through the entire stroke.
This simple up and back process should be repeated on the cloth about 20 times, and then about 40 times on the leather strop and at a pace similar to brushing dust from a jacket. Going too slow won’t generate enough warmth to align the blade and going too fast can cause damage to the blade.
Conditioning the Strop.
It is not recommended to condition the leather with oils and fats. They can accumulate too much and damage the blade. It’s best to just wipe the palm of your hand over the leather strop and let your natural oils keep the strop conditioned.
Enjoy the Process.
Through practice and proper stropping technique, you can maintain a good shaving edge on your razor for many months. Keep in mind that much of this is about personal preference, so try things a few ways and stick with what works for you.