For those who have made the switch to a straight razor, there’s a bit of a learning curve. It’s essential to maintain that razor properly so it will stay at optimum sharpness for a close shave. That means sharpening it on a stone, then keeping it buffed and honed on a barber’s razor strop.
The strop straightens and aligns the razor’s edge, correcting any microscopic damage that might have occurred during use. This is essential for maintaining an edge that can deliver a close, even shave. Strops can be made from a flexible length of canvas, denim or even balsa wood, but in most cases they’re fashioned from a strip of leather or split leather. For some uses, the strop may be used along with an abrasive compound to attain a mirror-like finish and edge to the steel. Mild abrasives might include chromium oxide, aluminum oxide, half-micron diamonds or jeweler’s rouge.
Strop technique is especially important with straight razors, as the steel used is some of the thinnest found in any edged tools. As a result, it’s vital to strop and burnish the blade more frequently than with a kitchen knife or a butcher’s knife.
The Proper Strop Technique for Shaving
Developing the proper technique for using a razor strop takes some time and practice. It’s a different set of skills than what’s needed to sharpen a blade on a sharpening stone. While you sharpen on a stone by pushing the blade along the surface of the stone edge-first, a strop requires drawing the blade edge along the surface of the strop, with the spine toward you. Pushing the edge of the blade, like you would when sharpening on a stone, will damage the razor and the strop by cutting into the grain of the leather. At the end of the stroke, roll the razor onto its spine before removing it from the strop. A light touch is absolutely essential in this process.
With the right touch and technique, stropping as a final step can bring an old, somewhat damaged blade to like-new condition again.
So, What Makes A Good Razor Strop?
Like everything else that pertains to shaving and using a straight razor, quality (and personal preference) counts for a lot when it comes to razor strops. Some go by the width of the strop, while others make their call depending on the type of draw the strop has.
Most prefer a strop that’s about 2.5” or 3” wide. Many have found that a 2.5” strop with a medium draw is perfect for their razors. Look for a good, smooth piece of leather or cordovan with a slight chamfered edge and no bumps or cracks. Some prefer the strop to be mounted on a paddle, but most prefer a strop that’s loose with a D-ring at the end. Although paddle strops are a little harder to find, some have more than one material, with sides that include leather, felt or canvas, which is certainly a nice feature.
Linen or felt strops can work for some shavers, but leather or split leather is still the preferred material for a good razor strop. Believe it or not, some people have even advised using newspaper as a strop. You would, of course, have to use many layers of folded or rolled-up newspaper, but the ink and the grain of the paper are just abrasive enough to work (this is also why experts say that cutting newspaper is one of the worst things you can do with a blade).
Razor Strop Pastes – Different Colors Do Different Things
Some strops come from the factory impregnated with a slight abrasive (be sure to check this detail when you purchase a strop). If you need to use an abrasive paste, these products are color-coded according to their degree of abrasiveness:
If you’re thinking you’re ready to make the switch to a straight razor, learning how to use a strop is a must-have skill. Just find the right strop and develop your technique and before long you’ll have a straight razor that you can keep in like-new condition, with an edge that will deliver a clean, close, even shave every time.