How to Strop a Straight Razor (Everything You Need to Know)
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You finally took the step of faith and jumped on the wet shaving bandwagon, armed with the best straight razor or a straight razor shaving kit for your needs. So far, you’ve learned how to hold a straight razor at the correct angle, make quality lather with a block of good shaving soap, and apply it to your face with a shaving brush. All that’s left is to acquire a strop and learn how to do it right.
To purchase the right shaving strop, you must learn about the different types, sizes, components, and brands. But before we dive in;
Honing Vs. Stropping
Some people use these terms interchangeably, causing a world of confusion among wet shaving beginners. Although they have a similar goal, honing and stropping are different.
Honing is a process through which the edge of a dull blade is aligned. The process is often confused with sharpening since sharpening stones are used. However, honing stones are finer since they are intended to smoothen wired edges made when sharpening.
If your straight razor isn’t completely dull, you can realign the blade edges without sharpening – this is where honing comes in to realign the straight razor’s edge back to the center to regain sharpness. Honing stones are often lubricated using:
- Clove oil
- Mineral oil
- Liquid paraffin
- Soapy water
What is Stropping for Straight Razors?
Stropping is the process of straightening and polishing the blade’s edge using flexible fabric (felt, denim, linen, weave), a newspaper, or a strip of leather to remove microscopic imperfections
There are different variations of stropping, but the process and technique are the same. Below is a quick overview of how to do it.
The Stropping Process
Stropping requires a gentle hand and boatloads of patience. Whether you’ll be using a leather strop, denim, or a piece of newspaper, the technique is the same.
Note: This process assumes you’ll be using a leather strop.
1. Find an Anchor Point For your straight razor Strop
Tie your strop to an anchor in preparation for stropping. Generally, a secure door handle or a towel bar will do the trick. The goal is to ensure the anchor is fixed.
2. Get a Good and Secure Grip
The key to good stropping is having the right tension on your strop. Once you’ve secured one end of the strop to an anchor, pull the other end with your non-dominant hand. To keep the strop taut and remain comfortable, stand facing the anchor point and position your body to the strop’s side. Tuck in your elbow to reduce strop or hand movement and pull with just enough force for the strop to lie flat.
3. Keep the Razor Flat
Using your dominant hand, keep the blade flat on the surface. The spine should always be in contact with the strop’s surface. In this position, the spine will be farthest from you and the blade edge closest to you.
Tip: Don’t allow your strop to sag or roll the edge away or towards you. Learn more about how to shave with a straight razor.
4. Push Away, then Flip
With the spine touching the surface, push the straight razor away from you. The straight razor should glide on the stropping surface with light pressure. As you get to the strop’s end, halt the forward motion and flip the razor over its spine. You’ll do this by rolling the tang between your fingers. The flip is complete when the edge is flat on the stropping surface. The spine is closest to you in this position, and the edge is the farthest.
5. Pull Towards You and Flip
Pull the straight razor towards you and stop at the end of your strop. Be keen to stop while you still have enough space to flip the razor’s edge over its spine and start pushing it away from you. Repeat this process 25 times on the prep side and 50 times on the finishing side.
If you have a smaller strop, you’ll have to strop using an x-stroke.
Types of Strops
Although hanging strops are the most commonly used. There are other strop types that you should know about:
Yes, newspapers are great stropping material, and the ink makes the paper abrasive enough to deliver a nice cutting edge. You don’t have to worry about slicing or maintaining it. Because of this, it’s ideal for beginners. You can use it with compounds and pastes.
Balsa Wood Strops
These strops are made from balsa wood designed to support the addition of a stropping compound or paste. Balsawood strops are cheap, readily available, and deliver good results. However, they aren’t ideal for everyday use.
Some time ago, these were used for chisels and knives, but now they are commonly used as straight razor strops. They are simply a piece of leather installed on a wooden base. They are great with abrasive sprays and pastes to finetune your stropping efforts. Some bench strops are removable, making it possible to use different components.
These strops come with leather wrapped around a wood or metal bracket, making a loom shape. They were once popular, but their limited options and high costs kept many users away. Today, only a handful of companies manufacture loom. But with the uptick in straight razor use, the number is expected to rise.
What sets loop strops apart from other options is that you can adjust the tension. This feature makes it versatile for varied stropping needs.
These are available in different forms. The strops range from a one-side material design to multi-faced material designs. Basic options resemble bench strops with leather fixed to a wooden paddle, while complex versions have sides with canvas, felt, or leather. The idea behind the paddle strop design is to apply different compounds and pastes and use them on different progressions to refresh dull blades.
These strops were popular in the 19th and 20th centuries but went out of fashion. Today, only a handful of artisans make them, so they are harder to find.
Conventional Hanging Strops
These were initially designed for barbers, but today they are used by everyone. They are versatile, convenient, and fit into different budgets. When getting a hanging strop, you should consider several things: material, size, and whether it’s vintage or new.
When choosing a strop, size is an important selling point. Strops are measured in length and width. However, most people often consider width than length. For a long time, 2- and 2.5-inch varieties were the most common, but today, 3-inch options are available, reducing the need for the x-stroke stropping technique.
Regarding stropping results, size is a luxury instead of a necessity since it has little impact on the straight razor.
This is where things get a little complicated. After settling on the size, you’ll have to pick the type of leather and any secondary component you need.
Generally, different leathers perform differently. Strop manufacturers classify strop performance based on the straight razor’s resistance when pulled from one end to the other (the draw).
Leather with heavier draws has more resistance, while lighter draws have less resistance. Although there’s a lot of debate on whether draw matters or delivers different results, wedge-style straight razors perform well with heavier draws, while sprays and pastes work best with lighter draws.
But you should worry about all this – provided the strop has quality leather, it’ll perform great.
Types of Primary Leather for Strops
- Basic cowhide – it’s available in light to medium draw, different price options, and takes a short time to break in
- Vegan is made from synthetic material, features medium to high draws has few options available, and goes for an average price tag. It’s a good alternative to leather and doesn’t have a break-in period.
- Buffalo – ranges between medium to heavy draw and attracts a medium to high price. It’s not readily available and takes a long time to break in.
- Kangaroo – it has a light draw, limited options, and goes for between medium and high costs.
- Cordovan – this is horse shell leather with a medium draw, and it takes some time to break in and is considered a high-end product
- Latigo – it’s a type of cowhide that has a heavy draw and is affordable. It’s readily available and doesn’t take too long to break in
- English Bridle has a light to medium draw and takes a long time to break in, and it’s not readily available and is often costly
Secondary material options include:
- Cotton webbing
- Seatbelt and fire hose
New or Vintage
If you’ve recently fallen in love with straight razors, you might also be interested in the history. As such, you may prefer a vintage strop. But tread carefully when dealing with vintage strops. Many will require some restoration, and it helps to have a mentor guide you in the purchase process. Restoring vintage strops takes a lot of time and effort, but the result is always rewarding.
On the flip side, purchasing a new straight razor strop means dealing with the break-in period, which varies from several days to months. During this time, the stropping results will vary.
Maintaining the Leather Strop
For your strop to last, it should be a part of your straight razor maintenance routine. Luckily, there isn’t much to it. Rub your palm over the stropping surface after every other use. The natural oils in your hands will help keep the strop clean and oiled. When you notice the strop is losing its draw or becoming slick, it’s time for cleaning.
To clean the leather surface, you should have:
- A clean rag
- Neatsfoot oil
- Saddle soap
Create a lather with the saddle soap and scrub the leather. Rinse the rag and wring it to remove the soap and ensure the leather is clean. Allow it to air dry before applying some neatsfoot oil.
Cleaning secondary component sides, you’ll need:
- Warm water
- Two tablespoons of powdered laundry soap
- Fingernail brush
Add your laundry soap to the warm water and dip the brush into the water. Using the brush, scrub the strop for several minutes and leave it out to dry.
And there you have it, everything you need to strop a straight razor efficiently. You should strop the razor before every shave. Experts recommend doing it after your shave as the whole process helps to get rid of excess moisture.
While it may take some time to get the hang of it, don’t stress out; it’s part of the process. Instead, have fun as your straight razor shaving experience improves. Learn more about the 5 reasons not to be afraid of shaving with a straight razor.
Ruiru Kibet is passionate about beard care and male grooming. He believes it’s an art form and is happy to share his insight with men across the globe. He’s into wet shaving and evidence-based grooming, a passion that helps him analyze men’s grooming brands, products, and wet shaving practices presenting you with the best recommendations and advice. Kevin's profile on Linkedin.