Razor sharp blades by hand... Your Great Grandaddy did it... so can you. And I’m gonna to show you how! So pull up your favorite chair and gather in close as I show you how to put the finishing touch on your blades - taking them from “sharp” to “razor sharp”, and before we’re all done, I’m even gonna show you how to make and use your own leather strop.
What You’re Going to Need - *Your knife. *Any kind of scrap wood for the base of your strop. The main thing is that you need something that is thick enough so that when you are stropping, your hand doesn’t scrape against the table. Something smaller could be more like a hand-held field strop that you could throw into your bug-out bag or something like that. *Some sort of leather. I’m using a piece from a random leather-tooling kit....but if you don’t have a whole lot of access to leather, you could use something like an old tool pouch or the back of a glove. *5-minute epoxy. *Something to stir the epoxy with. *A razor blade. *Honing compound.
Let's Get Started - So to start, you’re going to want to select your wood base and that is going to be kind-of dependent on what you want to use your strop for: a thinner piece for smaller knives...a thicker piece for the bigger knives. I like to get a piece that’s about as wide as the length of the blade of the knife.
Basically, all stropping is, is polishing your blade. You end up with a bunch of micro-grooves on your edge after using even the finest sharpening stone, and the strop is really going to smooth your blade out and polish it. And actually, if you maintain your knife by stropping, you may not even have to sharpen it more than every couple of months, or every six months. A testimony to that is that I do some wood carving, and I have various wood carving blades which I’ve never had to sharpen. All I’ve ever done to keep them sharp is strop them. Doing a few strops every day might be all you need to keep your knife sharp all the time.
Cutting Your Leather
The first thing that we’re going to do is to cut the leather, and then glue it to our piece of wood. Now, leather usually has a smooth side and a suede side. I prefer the suede side, and it actually gives you a really good tactile feel as you’re stropping; you can actually feel that edge getting honed down. Another thing with leathers is that you’re going to want a leather that’s not too thick or too thin. My basic rule is leather that’s 1/16th - 1/8th of an inch or 1.5-3mm is probably going to work pretty well. It’s going to be pretty important, too, to select a piece of wood that is perfectly flat, because you’re going to want leather that will flatten out nicely when you stick it to the wood. Now we’re going to cut our leather. This is not an exact science. I just use my razor blade to cut the leather to the width of the piece of wood. I leave a little bit of the wood with no leather at the end, as a spot to hold onto the strop without tainting the leather.
Bring on the Glue!
Next, we’re going to grab our 5-minute epoxy, and squeeze it onto the board where we’re going to stick the leather, making sure it’s coming out of both sides. You’ve got to work pretty fast with this stuff, because it will set up on you. A lot of times I’ll mix up the epoxy in a plastic lid or something, but here you can just grab another stick or chunk of wood and mix it together and smooth it out right on the board.
Now place your leather on top of the epoxy, making sure there’s epoxy under the whole thing, and turn the wood upside-down, so that the leather is under it, being careful not to shift it. Apply some pressure on top of the wood for a little bit. Clean up your edges while it’s still soft, if you need to.
While you’re letting that dry (which could actually take longer than 5 minutes depending on the conditions of the area you’re working in) you can put a weight on top of the wood to help keep it flat and make sure everything is tight, and ensure that there’s no bumps or bubbles on the bottom of the leather that could mess things up. If you see that your edges have gotten a little messy from the epoxy oozing out while it dried, you can get out your razor blade and cut those areas off just a little bit, wherever that epoxy ended up on top of the leather.
Yellowstone - Not Just a National Park - Next, we’re going to use our Yellowstone. Now, you could strop your blade and polish it up without any compound, but the compound is going to make your stropping a lot quicker. I use a Yellowstone, which is actually kind of hard to find; this is the kind of stuff that wood carvers use, and it’s the stuff I’ve always used. I know there’s a bunch of green stuff out there, and I’m sure that works fine too - I just have a preference. This stuff is basically just like a big crayon, and you just go ahead and rub it all up and down your leather.
To strop, basically we’re going to go back and forth, alternating sides of your knife, pulling it towards you with the blade facing away from the direction you’re pulling. And you can feel when there’s just a hair of resistance on the strop, and there’s a little amplified sound that comes off of there; a little bit of a scratching sound.
One of the ways I test the sharpness is just relative sharpness. You take a razor blade and make a cut down a piece of paper, and you can see how well that blade went through the paper. Do the same thing with your knife. Then you just compare the look of your knife cut to your razor blade cut, and when they are about the same, you know your knife is approaching “razor sharp”. You can watch this tutorial on our YouTube channel if you want to see the entire process live... Check it out!