Stropping plays a fundamental role in the maintenance of a shave-able straight razor. Every time a straight razor's cutting edge touches your face you can feel the results of your last stropping and whether the results are consistent. The purpose of this article is to help explain why stropping is important and how to achieve consistently good results from stropping.
Good stropping helps to keep the razor's edge in its optimal shave-ready condition. There are different kinds of strops and pastes that can be applied to strops for the purposes of helping keep a razor sharper longer. If you find that your razor dulls after just a few shaves, you may want to examine your stropping technique as a good strop should keep a good razor sharp for many shaves. You may also want to examine your strop and make sure it is in usable condition. Strops need to be properly maintained in order to achieve optimum results.
Nothing mentioned in this text is set in stone. Individual needs, habits, personal interests and many other things are variables which allow freedom for the stropper to trust his or her learning abilities and find what works best.
Why proper stropping is essential
Jack La Lanne has a saying, "Exercise is king, nutrition is queen, put them together and you have a kingdom!" Along the same lines "stropping is king, honing is queen." Good honing and good stropping are both absolutely necessary for a good straight razor shave, but even a perfectly honed razor by the best expert will not make up for poor stropping technique.
Stropping helps keep a fine, shaving edge on a razor. The most commonly held understanding  is that stropping knocks oxidation off a razor's edge, removes some metal from it, and realigns it.
There are two basic considerations to make when stropping: How the strop will be secured in place and how the user will perform the stropping motions.
If these considerations are solid then stropping technique will be learned much more easily. It is important to make sure everything is in place and ready before beginning to strop.
Muscle memory is a factor in stropping. Therefore it is difficult to correct poor technique, and is worth it to take time and effort to learn it correctly from the start. Regarding muscle memory in martial arts there is a saying that one needs a thousand repetitions to learn something the right way but ten thousand repetitions to correct having learned it the wrong way.
Securing a strop
Be sure that your strop is properly secured to a stable, non-moving point i.e. not a door handle, arm of a chair, back rest of a chair, etc. (unless you have bolted or anchored it but I dare to doubt it). Pull the strop and make sure the attached end is stationary. If it moves around you will not achieve good results.
One exception for this is when traveling where you must use a paddle strop or attach your hanging strop to something less secure. It is wise to learn to strop on a steadied paddle first before attempting to hold it freehand while stropping.
Try to secure the strop at a height which will let your hands and body strop comfortably. You should not have to tense up in order to hold the strop or strop the razor. It is much easier to strop with proper technique if you are relaxed.
Find a peaceful place to do your stropping. You have a sharp edge in your hands and there is no point to put others in danger. While you're familiar with sharp edges, many people are scared of them. And you may not be able to relax if there are kids or pets running around while you're trying to strop.
Basic strop handling
How to hold the strop
Many hanging strops have a leather handle or d-ring on the non-secured end which can be firmly held to get a good grip. Strops that do not have any such attachments need to be held firmly with one's palm several inches up from the end of the strop. Do not squeeze too hard: if your knuckles turn white it might be time to release a little bit of pressure.
How to hold the razor
Open the razor's handle a full 180 degrees so that it's easier to roll the razor around. Take the tang between your thumb and forefinger. Find the best point to hold the razor so that it will freely flip from side to side. If you have a poor and uncomfortable grip, it slows your stropping speed and you will constantly be trying to compensate for it.
Tighten the strop
Pull the strop until it is a taut. It doesn't have to be overly taut, but it avoids further problems if the strop is held tightly in a straight line. Make sure that you orient the strop in such a way as to provide a flat, non angled surface for the razor to travel down.
Watch your wrist angles, and see how your hands move during stropping to prevent unnecessary twisting.
Loading the blade pressure
Neither too much nor not too little. That is as precise a description as you will get.
Tensioning the strop and loading the pressure of the blade against the strop go hand in hand. This can only really be learned by doing and testing. Then doing and testing again... and then again... and again. I think you get the point. I suggest that you start with a comfortable yet firm tension and very light pressure of the blade against the strop. It is natural to load too much pressure instead of too little. This is especially important to remember when stropping full hollow ground razors which are more flexible than wedges.
How to strop correctly (and incorrectly)
Improper stropping can cause a properly sharpened razor to feel duller and/or rougher than it should during the shave. Issues resulting from poor stropping include the following:
- Uneven feel across the razor's edge - caused by the razor not making good, even contact with the strop throughout the stropping stroke
- A rolled edge - caused by bending the razor's edge against the strop with such force that the strop begins to bend the fine edge of the razor away from the blade
- An increasingly dull, harsh edge - caused by the razor not making enough good contact with the strop (eg. very slow stropping, stropping too infrequently or too few times across the strop)
Simply returning to good stropping is often enough to correct these issues. However if damage caused by poor stropping is severe enough, the razor will have to be repaired and/or resharpened.
Razor is not making a good, even contact with the strop through the stropping stroke.
Some parts of blade will be stropped and others will not.
The first thing to check for is that your strop hand is not leaning the strop too much to the left or right side during the stropping motion.
The second possible cause is that your blade hand might be leaning too much to the left or right side during the stropping motion
Bending the razor's edge against the strop with such force that the strop begins to bend the fine edge of the razor away from the blade.
This can be caused by pressing the blade against the strop too hard.
This can also be caused by flipping the razor over on its cutting edge at the end of a stroke instead of flipping it over on its spine
Timing and contact problems
Razor is not making enough good contact with the strop.
First reason for that might be that the stropping motion is too slow. You can start with slow motion to get the feeling but after that you must add the speed. But it does not need to be a speed contest. Check out the good videos.
Secondly your stropping speed may be too inconsistent. If you start with low speed increase the speed steadily to keep the feeling. There are more speeds than too fast and too slow.
Lastly you might not be stropping enough. Check out section 5 to avoid this.
- Sloppy rolling/flipping
- When concentrating on your stroke up and down the strop, you might lose your technique, especially when flipping the razor at the end of each stroke. You may actually end up fumbling around by manually changing your grip on the razor at the end of each stroke, thereby affecting the consistency of your speed and blade angle. Whether your roll, or flip, the razor with your thumb or wrist, just make sure it supports a smooth, and consistent stroke. Doing it correctly might actually feel a bit unnatural at first, but it is essential. We recommend that you practice the flip with the razor in mid-air, and move to a practice strop. You may cut your strop occasionally while learning, unless you have way better hand/eye coordination than most beginners. We recommend that you learn on a cheap strop and watch some member stropping videos.
- Excessive slowness
- Excessive slowness in the stroke is considered even more counter-productive than too much pressure. For most, a light stroke is much easier to learn than a solid, confident, quick stroke. Many beginners stroked lightly and incorrectly for months, because they were too slow and inconsistent. You do not have to strop in a blur to be effective, but as a general rule, 40 - 60 light strokes per minute gets you much farther and sharper than 10 - 30 strokes per minute.
- Lifting the spine
- When stropping, it is important to focus on maintaining good steady contact between the strop and the spine of your razor. Because the point of stropping is to maintain the edge of the razor, it is common to focus so much on the edge that maintaining good contact between the spine and strop is neglected. Lifting the spine causes more pressure to be applied to the edge and can damage the cutting edge of the razor. It is helpful to think of the edge as just being along for the ride. As the edge trails along behind the spine, it will make contact with the strop effectively if you maintain good constant, even contact with the spine and strop. It is much better to do laps without the edge touching than it is to do laps without the spine touching. Focus on the spine to avoid this mistake.
Using your senses
As you are stropping, collect all the sensual information you can in order to learn more quickly and reach better results. You can hear different things when stropping. Here are two examples
Uneven contact, you don't want to hear this
Proper contact, this is real music to your ears.
Watch your strop and blade during stropping and find out if they lean too much to one side or the other.
The strop and blade give you a lot of feedback during stropping. If you're not pulling the hanging strop too tightly you can get a better feel for how the stropping is going.
Other things to mention
- Different steels can vary your stropping times and strokes a lot. Harder steels naturally need to be stropped more often than softer ones. The best thing to do is to simply strop, shave, and see if you are satisfied with the results.
- Different blade widths produce different feels.
- Different grinds also make an impact. A near wedge is stiffer than a full hollow which can suffer a rolled edge more easily.
- Different leathers: A latigo strop gives more feedback and draw than smoother horse hide.
- As if this is not enough there are also pasted strops and newspaper stropping.
Here are many things to take care of but don't be scared. It isn't hard. Be patient and do not rush yourself too much. There is still so much to learn.
Have fun & enjoy
Stropping demonstration by AFDavis11 of SRP
Forum thread discussion on Alan's two videos can be found here
- ↑ http://www.jacklalanne.com/mission.html
- ↑ http://straightrazorplace.com/strops/8864-stropping-king.html
- ↑ http://blog.modernmechanix.com/2008/06/02/wonder-photos-reveal-unsuspected-facts-about-razor-blades-and-shaving
- ↑ http://straightrazorplace.com/strops/22461-interesting-article.html
- ↑ Taken from FatboySlim's post: http://straightrazorplace.com/strops/32667-common-stropping-mistakes.html#post339770
- ↑ http://straightrazorplace.com/members/AFDavis11.html
Originally created by TonyJ on 22:37, 23 December 2008 (UTC). He would like to point special thanks to Robin who inspired him to write this.