What exactly is stropping?
I believe, and many experts agree that Stropping should be the last stage in sharpening your bushcraft knife.
Stropping usually involves polishing the edge of a sharp knife on a leather strap or belt.
Most times stropping will come after honing, which takes away the burr formed by the sharpening process.
Stropping on the other hand removes the inconsistencies that occur on a microscopic level to ensure that your edge is truly razor-sharp.
Here are a few steps on how to strop your Bushcraft knife easily!
1. Effective Preparation
Preparation is the key to doing anything in my humble opinion. Failure to plan is planning to fail as the famous proverb goes, and the same applies to stropping.
This step may differ depending on the equipment you are using. I like giving my knife a quick rinse and making sure that my leather strop and compound are close by.
2. Clean your Leather Strop
This step might or might not apply to you. For first-time users, this step doesn’t apply to you as your strop will be new and therefore clean, feel free to skip this step.
My more seasoned compatriots, however, shouldn’t skip this one.
This is because every single time you strop, metal residue from your knife is left on the leather strop.
This coupled with the stropping compound that you use reduces the efficiency of your work if you go straight in cleaning it.
A simple way that I discovered was using rubbing alcohol.
Pour a few drops on a piece of cloth or a paper towel, depending on what you have close by, and have a go at your leather strop.
Make sure that by the time you are done, most of the residue is removed as the goal is to always have a clean strop.
3. Apply the Stropping Compound
If you skipped the previous step I’m sure the first thought you had when seeing “stropping compound” was, what is a stropping compound?
What is a Stropping Compound?
Stropping compounds are meant to treat your leather strop and help in removing metal from the knife’s blades when polishing. These usually come in the form of a bar.
These compounds come in different grit and color levels, which translates simply to how much metal the compound removes with each stroke.
Here are a few examples:
Black – Rough grit. I use this a lot when I’m in the bush as the only phase of sharpening my bushcraft knife.
Green – Fine grit. I use this mostly for touch-ups on a blade that is already sharpened to make it razor sharp. If you are the person that doesn’t let your knife become less than razor-sharp, then this is the compound for you.
White – very fine grit. I only use this when I want an exceptional level of sharpness.
Once you have your leather strop in place, apply some petroleum jelly and spread it evenly.
Take your compound and apply it on the strop in a manner that resembles coloring it just remember not to add too much of it.
4. Understanding Stropping Angles
I know at this point you’re dying to strop your blade, trust me I understand, but before you do one fundamental step to grasp is the sharpening angles.
The basic rule of thumb that I follow when it comes to angles is, the same angle that you sharpen your knife to is the same one that you should strop it to.
An easy trick that I use is placing my knife perpendicularly to my leather strop i.e at 90 degrees. Halfing this gives you 45 degrees and another half of that lands you on 22.5 degrees.
This can help you easily remember the angle you are using.
5. Now let’s strop
The first thing to note is that stropping takes the opposite motion of sharpening. This means that instead of cutting into the strop, you will be pulling the knife blade backward on the strop.
Hold your knife on your strop at the angle of your choice, and remember that you’ll be moving from your knife’s heel to its tip.
Slowly pull your knife ensuring you’re moving from heel to tip while maintaining your angle throughout.
Change sides and repeat the previous two steps.
I would advise doing this for 10 alternating phases. A pull on one side, followed by the second on the side, all the way to 10.
Once you’re done, there are a couple of ways to test the sharpness of your knife. One of them is slicing the edge of a piece of paper.
A properly stropped bushcraft knife will easily slice a piece of paper.
If it is to your satisfaction, rinse your blade with warm water and if possible clean your strop as well to prevent having to go back to step 2 in your next strop.
How To Stop Your Bushcraft Knife
Stropping is almost as important as sharpening in my opinion.
In some extreme cases, I have gotten away with just stropping to keep my bushcraft knife especially when I’m in the woods for long periods.
Here is a recap of the 5 easy steps for effective stropping:
- Prepare effectively and ensure you have your tools.
- Clean your leather strop.
- Applying your Stropping compound.
- Understand and take note of your stropping angles.
- Strop away.
Don’t forget to have fun!!