A leather strop and some compound are all most people need to keep their knives and tools sharp. But is there a correct way to clean a leather strop? We've investigated this question to bring you the cutting-edge answers you need:
Leather strops don't need to be cleaned often, but when they do, there are several ways to do so.
To completely remove the compound and refinish your strop, follow these steps:
- Apply a small amount of olive oil to the strop and wipe with a paper towel.
- Repeat step 1 until most of the compound has been removed.
- If your strop doesn't have any damage, skip to step 6.
- If your strop has surface damage, use low grit sandpaper (around 350) to remove the remaining compound and smooth out any scratches or gouges.
- Once the damage is removed, switch to higher grit sandpaper to refinish the leather. It's best to gradually increase the grit, but you can use what you have available.
- Use high grit sandpaper (2000 or more) to give the leather a smooth finish.
- Apply a new coat of your preferred compound.
In this article, we'll look at this process in more detail so you can get your strop as good as new. We'll also see different ways to clean your strop when it just needs a quick touch-up as well as how to clean a straight razor strop. Read on to find all the information you need!
How to Clean and Refinish a Strop
If your strop has sat a long time or taken some surface damage, you may be tempted to toss it and get a new one. However, you can also give it a deep clean and completely refinish it to make it as good as new! Here, we'll see how.
Clean the compound from the strop
There are many ways to clean the compound off of your strop.
While you can clean off the compound with sandpaper, you'll likely find that you go through a lot of sandpaper as the compound gets stuck in the grit.
To save on sandpaper, you can apply a little bit of olive oil to the strop and wipe it off with paper towels. Spray-on oil works well for this, but you can use any olive oil safely.
Continue to apply and wipe up the oil until you have cleaned up most of the compound. There may still be some compound around the edges or in scratches, but that will get cleaned up in the next step.
Sand the remaining compound and any surface damage from the strop
With most of the compound cleaned up, you can now switch to sandpaper. The sandpaper will clean off the remaining compound and also smooth out the surface of the leather.
If your strop has very little and shallow surface damage, you can start with high-grit sandpaper. You can get a smooth surface on your leather with a grit of 2000 or more.
If your strop has deeper cuts or gouges, you will want to start with low-grit sandpaper and work your way up. Ideally, you will start with a grit of around 350 to remove the deep damage. Pay attention to the edges of the strop as you sand it. If the edges are curling up, you may want to sand them at an angle, almost beveling the leather.
Afterward, move to higher grits gradually and smooth the surface of the leather. Ideally, you should increase the grit by 500 each time until you reach 2000 or higher. However, you can use the levels of grit you already have around.
You can see the process up to this point demonstrated in the video below:
Apply a new coat of your preferred compound
Once you've finished sanding your strop, it will be ready to load with compound.
There are different types of stropping compound, some of which need to be loaded in different ways. The most common type is the green compound made of chromium oxide, like the one shown below.
To apply this kind of compound, it's useful to first warm up the leather. Warming the leather opens the pores so the strop can absorb the compound better. The heat will also help the compound form a paste as it's rubbed into the strop.
The most common way to warm up the leather is to hold it over (not touching) a warm burner on the stove. You can also use a blow dryer to warm up the leather. Just be sure to get the leather slightly warm, not hot, or it may warp.
With the leather warm, apply the compound smoothly and gently. You will need to heat up the strop again periodically as you apply more compound. Once you have enough compound to cover the strop evenly, warm it up once more and smooth it out with your finger or a high-quality paper towel that won't leave strands.
Alternatively, you can use a liquid compound, like the DMT diamond compound below. These compounds are easier to apply. Simply put a little on the leather and smooth it out with your fingers or a high-quality paper towel. However, these products are more expensive than compound blocks.
How to clean a strop without removing all the compound
Now you know how to completely clean and refinish a strop. However, in most cases, you won't need to do that kind of deep cleaning.
In fact, if you are using your strop correctly and often, it should need very little cleaning at all. However, there will be times when lumps form in the compound or metal dust sticks to the surface of your strop.
If this happens to you, you don't need to completely refinish your strop. A little cleaning with the right technique will suffice.
Let's look at how to handle each situation
How to clean metal dust from a strop
When you strop your knives, little bits of metal burr flake off of the blade. Sometimes these can stick to the compound, leaving you with dark flecks on your strop.
Fortunately, these are relatively easy to clean. Most of the time, you can just brush it off with a soft brush.
If the metal residue is particularly stuck in the compound, you can also remove it with a rubber eraser or high grit sandpaper, as in the video below.
How to remove lumps from a strop
Sometimes you might notice that the surface of your strop appears and feels lumpy. This can get in the way of getting an even strop on your blades.
Lumps can be scraped from the strop, but be careful not to use anything that will cut or gouge the leather. You can use something with a soft edge, like a kitchen spoon, to remove lumps. You can also use something with a sharp edge, like a razor, but be sure to angle the blade in the opposite direction as you move it, like in the video below:
How to clean a straight razor strop
So far we've looked at leather strops that are mounted on wooden blocks. However, straight razor strops are a different beast.
These strops usually hang loose, often with a piece of cloth on the opposite side. You don't use compound on a straight razor strop, keeping it conditioned with oil instead.
A regularly used straight razor strop shouldn't require any cleaning other than an occasional brushing off and conditioning with more oil. However, if your strop has dried out or been gouged, you may need to restore it.
To restore your straight razor strop, follow these steps:
- Remove the leather from the cloth part of the strop.
- Sand off the surface layer of the strop. You can leave any aesthetic features near the ends of the strop, such as gold stamping, in place.
- Condition the strop with oil and wax. Animal oils, such as mink and otter, are the most common. It may take some experimenting to find an oil that matches the original color if you are keeping stamps on the ends.
- Finish the strop with a buffing wheel.
- Give the strop a final polish with denim.
You can learn more about restoring a leather straight razor strop, including antiques, in the video below:
What kind of oil should you use for a straight razor strop?
Above we saw how to clean and restore a straight razor strop, but, with proper care, you won't need to do this for yours.
The key is to keep your strop well oiled. But what kind of oil should you use?
If you are using your strop often, you can simply use the oils from your hands to keep the strop conditioned. Rub your hands together to warm them up, then rub them across the strop.
If you prefer heavier conditioning or if your strop has started to dry, you can apply other oils too. Mink oil, like the one below, is a popular and traditional choice. Neatsfoot oil is also widely used.
Avoid using vegetable oils to condition your strop. While the unsaturated fats in vegetable oils are generally healthy for consumption, they are also more prone to going rancid than animal-based oils.
Despite the rage over wet stones, those in the know understand that a good strop is all most people need to keep their knives sharp. Strops are affordable and low-maintenance, but they may require occasional cleaning or even refinishing in some cases.
Fortunately, you now know how to clean up your strop, whether you just need to clear out some compound lumps or completely refinish it. Following this advice, your strop will last a lifetime or even generations.
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