How to Care for a Leather Strop

RoyalShave Red Latigo Leather Strop

A straight razor just can’t do its job without a strop. Made from horsehide or cowhide, strops come ready to use, but a bit of maintenance will keep them in perfect shape to align your razor’s edge for that balance of sharpness and comfort on your skin.

An effective strop will realign the blade’s edge for a more precise cut, as well as remove microscopic pieces of metal that could otherwise cut your skin.

Keep reading for our best tips on how to care for your leather strop.

General strop care tips:

  • Always hang your strop to maintain the strop’s shape and to prevent stiffness.
  • If you have a strop composed of one leather strop and a twin mesh or linen strop, use the linen or mesh strop first, then proceed with the leather strop. But whether you use the linen or mesh component is your choice – only the leather component is absolutely necessary.
  • Always strop before you shave and never after. Stropping before a shave aligns the blade and gets it in good form, whereas stropping after a shave means making microscopic breaks in the cutting edge (the cutting edge becomes slightly bent after a shave).

William’s Mug Shaving Soap

To care for a new strop:

To be clear, you don’t need to break in a strop before using it. You can start using a strop right after you get it.

But should you wish to increase the draw, rub a small amount of neatsfoot oil into the strop. Other good options include mink oil, William’s Shaving Soap, and leather conditioner. Start small – only use a little bit to start and let it absorb completely. You may repeat the treatment until you’re satisfied with the outcome. If your strop is particularly dry, you should add more; if it’s too oily, simply wipe off the excess with a cloth.

You can also warm the strop with the palm of your hand, which will coat the leather with natural oils to keep it strong and supple. Do this on its own or follow it up by loading the strop with neatsfoot oil, mink oil, or William’s Shaving Soap.

What to do if your strop feels stiff:

If your strop is stiff, you’ll notice it makes a slight scratching noise when you glide your razor over it. Usually, stiffness is caused by lack of use and age – the longer a strop sits there, the more dust it’ll accumulate.

Resist the urge to roll the strop in an attempt to loosen it up – this will only cause wrinkles and tears in the strop, rendering it useless.

The best thing to do is simply to condition your strop. Rub your hands on both sides, and apply one of the oils mentioned above if the strop still feels stiff. Repeat this process every time before you strop your razor.

Another method is to clean your strop with saddle soap and a soft bristle brush or sponge.  After scrubbing the leather clean, wipe off the excess and let dry.

For more on strops, check out our post on the different types of strops available and the characteristics of each one.

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Straight Razor Stropping 101: Types of Strops

Stropping is the process of maintaining a razor blade, with a threefold objective of cleaning, undoing damage caused by shaving, and realigning the razor’s edge. Every time you shave, the razor blade suffers from microchips and rust. In order to keep the blade sharp and in good working order, you must consistently strop before you set blade to skin.

The material of the strop is just as essential as a solid stropping method. And when it comes to material, preference is the ultimate determinant. As with mattress firmness or the rigidity of a car’s suspension, each person has a different taste for strop material – some like it hard, others like it soft, while there are many who fall somewhere in between.

If you’re stumped about which strop to get, check out our primer on strop materials and their particularities.

Cowhide

Russian:

Cowhide made using Russian tanning methods. It has an agreeable draw that is preferred by many shavers today.

30 Degree Russian Red Leather Strop

30 Degree Russian Red Leather Strop

Latigo:

Cattle hide tanned with alum and gambier. Durable and supple, it has a greater draw than English bridle leather.

30 Degree Thin Latigo Natural Leather Strop

30 Degree Thin Latigo Natural Leather Strop

English Bridle:

Vegetable-tanned leather that is smooth and firm. A large grain pattern gives English bridle strops considerable draw.

Bison English Bridle Razor Strop in Black

Bison English Bridle Razor Strop in Black, available at Bisonmade.com

Horsehide

Natural Horsehide:

Vegetable-tanned leather from the sides of horses that has been used for stropping for over 100 years. Natural horsehide is supple but requires a relatively longer break-in period than cowhide. Horsehide has a smaller grain pattern than latigo leather and provides a medium draw.

30 Degree Horsehide Leather Strop with Handle

30 Degree Horsehide Leather Strop with Handle

Genuine Cordovan Shell:

Leather from the membrane found under the skin of a horse’s rear. Difficult sourcing and an intensive tanning process make genuine cordovan shell very expensive – albeit well worth the investment.

Bison Maroon Shell Cordovan Leather Sharpening Strop

Bison Maroon Shell Cordovan Leather Sharpening Strop, available at Bisonmade.com

Ready to make your pick? Check out RoyalShave’s extensive collection of high-quality leather strops here.

Tips & Facts: Razor Sharpening

slumiGood honing and good stropping are both absolutely necessary for a good straight razor shave. In order to get a clean and sharp razor blade we start off with honing which sharpens your razor. Then we move onto the stropping. The strop doesn’t sharpen the edge of the razor at all, but simply aligns the edge keeping the very thin metal all pointing in the same direction.

Types of hones:

Natural: Natural sharpening stones can be a lot more difficult to come across due to the inconsistency of their origin. Because they are quarried (mined) from the earth, it becomes more difficult to find an ideal shape or texture in the stone. The use of natural stones require using slurry stones to create a slurry (paste-like consistency) to sharpen the razor. A natural sharpening stone is often less aggressive and consequently gives the razor a smoother shave.

Synthetic: Manmade stones offer the consistency that natural stones can not. Often made of a ceramic base for leverage and abrasive powder to form grits, the stone are carefully constructed and often give a sharper, crisper edge. The grits follow a number system which allows for customers to select the level of coarseness they prefer.

 

HR_430-501-12_naniwa-super-stone-sharpening

 

Naniwa 12,000 Grit Super Stone in Stand

 

Types of strops:

The types of sharpening strops depend on how they are set and the method used while stropping.

Hanging – These are the only style strops that need to be attached to an immovable object which holds the strop stable while stropping. They often have a hook or loop which affixes to an object and a loop or handle at the opposite end of the strop to hold it steady while stropping. These are the most common sharpening strops.

 

HR_430-003-00_30-degree-italian-latigo-leather-strop

 

30 Degree Thin Latigo Natural Leather Strop with Handle, 3″

 

Paddle/Loom – Paddle/Loom strops are relatively uncommon, but are convenient for travelers. The leather strop is affixed to a paddle with an extended handle. These types of strops are as equally as effective as hanging strops, but can be harder to use due to their average size and angle at which the strop must be performed.

 

HR-430-036-00-bison-paddle-strop-case002_2Bison Paddle Strop Razor Case

Types of Materials used:

Materials: Most strops are comprised of a leather component and a reverse fabric component. The fabric aspect is used to thoroughly clean the razor before using the leather component to actually realign the blade’s edge. There are very many different leathers and fabrics used for razor stropping, below are among the most common:

  • Latigo – Typically, this refers to a special process used to treat cowhide leather during the tanning process. It is generally treated with aluminum salts/oil and leaves the strop slightly flexible, oily and strong.
  • Russian Leather (Juchten) – Russian leather is also comprised of cowhide leather, but has been treated with birch oil during it’s tanning process. The birch oil gives the leather a distinct texture, smell and reddish color. The Russian Leather strop requires less time to break in and even allows for a gentle bare hand massage to prepare it for stropping
  • Fabric – The most common materials used to clean the strop are cottonlinen and hemp.

Take a look at the diagram below from Gentleman’s Shop to see how you strop and what direction you move the blade.
sharpen

 

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