A common piece of equipment in any wet shaver's tool kit is a leather strop. They are critical for keeping your razor sharp in between hones as well as keeping it clean. However, a lot of beginners can be confused about their exact purpose, why they are needed, and how to use them.
This is an overview on shaving strops, the various options available, and instruction into their use.
1) What is a strop?
A strop is a tool generally made of leather and can also have a fabric component. They are used to straighten and polish the blade of a cut throat razor - this is done by re-aligning the metal filings on the blade's edge that have been bent out of alignment.
A strop is a key tool in any wet shavers toolbox and can help to keep your razor in good working order for years to come.
2) Why you need a strop?
A strop is a critical tool to maintain your razor and keep it sharp between hones.
The fabric side of the strop is primarily to protect the leather side – it removes any soap scum and metal filings from the blade.
The leather side then realigns the metal filings of the blade. A razor blade is so sharp that the edge of the blade is very thin. This means that it is susceptible to damage when in use. The edge can be flattened and the strop is used to realign the edge back into its sharpest geometry.
The use of a strop can significantly extend the time between hones – which if you are using a professional hone master can be a reduction in cost. It also gives you a sharper razor for longer.
3) Strop options available
There are two common designs for a strop – hanging and paddle.
- Hanging Strop – a hanging strop is your most common design. It consists of either one piece of leather or a leather and fabric side attached to a hook on one end and a handle on the other. They are designed to be attached to a hook attached to your wall or bathroom handles, allowing you to maintain tension by stretching the strop out.
- Paddle Strop – a paddle strop consists of a piece of leather attached to a solid object, such as wood to give it a firm feel and structure to keep the leather under tension.
The preference is really up to you and your bathroom setup. If you don't have a place to hang your strop from then a paddle strop might be a more suitable option. If you travel frequently then a hanging strop takes up less space.
4) How to use a strop?
While it is very easy to use a strop, it can take some time for it to feel comfortable – particularly the rotation of the razor at each end.
The image below gives a good overview of what you to:
That gif shows the x technique, which is useful when the strop is thinner than the width of the blade. If you don't want to use this technique then consider getting an extra-wide strop.
We recommend 20 strokes of the razor across the strop between shaves. This gives a thorough realigning of the metal while not taking all day.
Stropping is an everyday part of shaving with a cut throat razor and is important to maintaining your razor for the long term.
The other point is that there is a large difference in terms of strop performance between a stiff strop and a supple strop based on the quality of the leather. A soft leather will realign the metal, but stiff leather could remove the filings altogether.
5) How to maintain your strop
The first key step to maintain your strop is using it properly:
Make sure you clean any soap scum or metal files off your razor before use. This can be done using the fabric side of a strop to protect the razor side.
After using your strop clean it thoroughly. The leather will absorb moisture which can cause it to stiffen and change shape over time. Keeping it dry and free from foreign material is crucial.
And finally, apply a leather conditioner like a stropping balm after every few uses to keep your strop supple and flexible for years to come.
A strop will not last forever, primarily due to the cuts you accidentally make on it. The more cuts the less effective it will be at realigning your razor's edge - so don't feel disappointed when you have to replace it after a few years.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does a strop last?
A strop can last for 4-5 years if it is maintained properly. The main failure mechanism is the inevitable cuts and nicks that are made when you accidentally run your razor the wrong direction over the leather.
You should maintain your strop properly to increase its life by cleaning any filings and soap scum off the razor before using it, cleaning it after use, and applying a leather conditioner as required.
What does a stropping balm do?
Stropping balm is a leather conditioner. This should be applied to your strop every few uses to make sure the leather stays supple and flexible over time.
Without applying a balm your leather will dry out and stiffen which doesn't provide a constant surface to realign your razor's edge.
How to attach a strop in a hotel?
Most strops come with a hook or attachment on one end and a place to hold it on the other. When using in a hotel without a wall attachment the best bet is to find somewhere else to attach it. A common place to attach your strop is to door handles and cupboard handles.
You can also consider using a paddle strop which doesn't require an attachment point.
If you have any questions about stropping then please leave a comment below. I love to hear from and interact with our customers and readers.
We also have a collection of leather shaving strops available for purchase – all of which are made of the highest quality leather.