How To Strop Your Straight Razor
Learning to strop a straight razor might feel intimidating, but West Coast Shaving breaks it down.
Stropping is something that is done every time before you go to use a straight razor. It doesn’t have to be intimidating and it isn’t hard to do. It can be accomplished with just one try/lesson.
Why do we strop a straight razor?
Let’s start with the “why” of stropping before we tackle the “how”.
The theory is that stropping aligns the blade. (In the same way you use steel on a knife, it doesn’t remove metal or sharpen but it straightens it.) When you shave, you create microscopic nicks in the blade that can cause it to be rough. When you strop your straight razor, you are aligning the blade again and preparing it to shave smoothly.
Stropping is not a visual difference. You won’t be able to SEE what you’ve done. It's just a little bit of shaving magic, wink, wink. There are some deep physics in it, but mostly we do it because it works. . . and it has worked. For over 100 years, men have been using this technique to smooth out their blades and restore them for a proper shave. You might not be able to see it, but you will FEEL the difference, as the blade runs smoothly on your face. If you didn’t strop, you would likely feel it on the very next shave.
How do we strop straight razors?
- Hold the razor. Open the straight razor to 180 degrees (maybe even a bit more), so it is nice and balanced in your hand. Grip it on the sides of the tang, with your thumb on top.
- Pull the strop taut with one hand. Lay the blade flat on the strop with cutting edge facing toward you. Drag the blade flat across the leather (with the cutting edge trailing). Make sure the blade stays flat making full contact with the leather, push the straight razor away from you (leading with the spine).
- When you get to the end of the strop, it is important to flip the blade correctly. NEVER turn the blade on the cutting edge. (This will drive the razor into the leather dulling the edge and damaging the leather.) Always flip the straight razor on the spine. On the return pass, you will pull the straight razor toward you and the cutting edge is now facing away (trailing) from you.
- There is no award for speed. Use just the weight of the razor and go at your own pace as you get the hang of it. Usually 10 passes are adequate for what you need, although you won’t hurt the straight razor if you do more.
Parts of the Strop & Caring for your Strop
Many strops sold today have two sides: leather and linen (or canvas). A linen or other material side is used first, to clean the blade as much as possible from oxidation, dirt, or oils before you bring it to the leather side of the strop. Sometimes, you will find that non-leather side used with different pastes for sharpening or polishing.
The goal is to always take the cleanest blade possible to the leather of your strop, so if you do use pastes, make sure to wipe them off completely before completing your stropping.
Strops today come very supple and don’t need a lot of prepping. Just a good warming/rubbing with the oils of your hands is usually enough to get them ready. Older, stiffer strops had to be oiled, flattened, etc before they reached peak performance. Today’s tools are pretty much ready to go. Avoid rolling up your strop, even when traveling. Try to keep it as flat as possible. If you do use a conditioning oil, do so sparingly. Too much oil makes your leather gummy, sticky, and gunked up. When storing, keep it out of a really humid environment like a bathroom.
Strops can last a lifetime and continue to provide a great service in aligning your straight razor.
Stropping is a pretty simple principle and practice which you don’t need to fear. What makes you hesitant to take the plunge? Any tips for newbies? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.