Which Side of Leather for Strop? (Explained)

Leather strop and a barber's blade on top of a leather couch. Which Side of Leather for Strop?

One of the most classic scenes in movies is where the barber or the outlaw strops a blade expertly back and forth along a type of leather. But what is it actually, how does it work, and which side of leather for strop? Take a look to learn all about it.

The strop that you use depends mostly on what you’re sharpening. If you’ve got a knife or a large blade, you’ll want to strop with the suede side of the leather; this will round its bevel. However, if you are dealing with a straight razor, you’ll want to strop using the smooth finished side of the leather to polish and fine-tune.

You’ll want to learn what each side does and how to use them effectively for your knives and blades. Find out below.

What is stropping anyway?

If you aren’t entirely sure about what stropping is, no worries neither was I. Stropping is the process of straightening and polishing a blade. It will bend the teeth of the knife (which are invisible to the eye) back into place. If you don’t strop your blade, it will dull over time, no matter how often you sharpen it.

What are the two sides of a strop for?

If you look closely at a leather strop, you’ll notice that it has a smooth finished leather side and a fuzzy suede size. Which do you use? You can use either of them, which is why your strops will have both to choose from!

The smooth side of the leather strop is best for polishing low-angled straight razors. It’s been used throughout history to keep those seemingly eternal straight razors as sharp and polished as possible. This is where most of our imagery comes from!

As I mentioned earlier, the suede side of your strop is for resetting the blade teeth. For those using classic knives and blades, the suede side tends to be the most popular. 

If you’ve got a strop with a canvas side on the underside of your smooth leather, don’t worry! This is used for coarse edge alignment (like the suede side does), so you’ll still be able to rely on your strop for your classic blades.

Can I use a leather belt as a strop?

If you’re camping or otherwise and have forgotten your strop at home (doh!), then you can use your leather belt as a strop! In fact, a leather belt is an excellent strop since it has both sides available, and you tend to always have one on you — literally.

While a leather belt can double as a strop in a pinch, you shouldn’t necessarily rely on it for a strop replacement. A purpose-designed strop is still your best choice for your blades, so you won’t risk harming your expensive and beloved leather belt!

Curious to learn more about leather belts? I wrote about what type of leather is best for belts so you can get familiar with all of the essentials!

Can I use any leather for a strop?

Leather has been used for stropping for generations, as I mentioned. That means that you can use any leather for stropping, right? Sort of. Your choices are vegetable-tanned leather or classic chromium-tanned leather.

Vegetable-tanned leather is your best choice for a natural abrasive when you want to help restore any out-of-alignment teeth and burrs. A classic chemical-tanned piece of leather will be your best choice for stropping without a compound. So, it’s a matter of choosing what’s best for you and your preferences.

Types of leather strops

There are several types of leather strops available for you to choose from when you’re looking at getting the right one for your household and general comfort of use.

Paddle strops

If you could pick just one, this is probably the most popular. The leather is mounted to a piece of thick wood that looks like a cheeseboard. You would have a sturdy gripping surface that keeps your fingers far away from the blade! These come single-sided or double-sided, so you can choose the side of the strop you’re looking for.

Loom strops

Another popular choice is a strip of leather mounted to wood. It’s like a mini version of a paddle, so you can rely on thinner strokes when stropping your blade. This is great for those that are seasoned pros or just really don’t want a large paddle for whatever reason.

Hanging strops

This is the classic style you see in movies that you’re probably used to seeing in professional places. They have rings to hang from a hook on the wall or a tabletop, etc., and they are easy to set up. These are great for compact spaces or those who want to bring their strops with them when going camping or hiking.

If you’re a beginner with leather strops, I’d recommend looking at the paddle strops. They tend to be the easiest to adjust to using, particularly when training yourself to get even, slow strokes without getting close to your fingers. Once you get to the more experienced stages, you can try hanging strops for aesthetic appeal!

How long do leather strops last?

The leather quality and use of the strop will determine its lifespan, of course. Cut Throat Club suggests that you can get 4-5 years out of a quality-made strop if you take proper care of it. This includes proper use and regular cleaning, conditioning, etc., like you would care for leather normally.

How do you break in a leather strop?

You’ll have to break in your brand-new tool if you’re new to strop life. There are two main ways that the experts use to help do this. These include:

  • Neatsfoot oil
  • Gentle, methodical use

Neatsfoot oil helps gently moisturize the leather and provides a slight lubricant for when you use it to sharpen and finish off your blade.

The second option, gentle and methodical use, is a good idea if you are adjusting to needing a strop. I recommend you learning how to use a strop properly and taking your time to effectively sharpen your knives while still not putting your strop at risk in using it.

What grit is leather strop?

The grit of a leather strop will depend on what color it is. Green strops will be gentler and lighter since they have approximately 6 000 grit. These are best when you want to take fine care of your blade.

Black leather strops are faster and a bit rougher since their grit count is lower. These are great for those cheaper blades or older ones that you don’t need to care for as carefully as you normally would. 

Both are good to have on hand, but if you only decide to have one option, I recommend going with a green strop. It’ll be your best choice for effective and safe stropping for all blades.

Strops generally have two sides; one is used for razor blades and other types of straight edges, which need polishing and fine-tuning. The suede side is for regular knife blades with a need to have their microscopic teeth realigned to protect their sharpness and lifespan.

You can find several types of strops, which gives you ample opportunity to learn how to use the different types and strengths! Ensure you understand the benefits of using a leather strop and how one type differs from the next for your knife’s protection!

If you know someone who’s getting into quality knife care, share this with them and see how easily you can help them find the right products!

Andre from leatherninja.com

Andre is a passionate leatherworker who spends his spare time working with leather. He loves the smell and feel of leather, and he takes great care in selecting the right pieces of leather for his projects. Read more here.