Stropping is the easiest way to bring your knives to their ultimate sharpness. After shaping the edge through sharpening, stropping provides the finishing touch – honing that invisible apex to a hair-whittling, scary-sharp point. Stropping is also invaluable for restoring your edges after use. In fact, if your knives are properly sharpened, regular stropping will keep them sharp longer. And the less you need to sharpen your blades, the longer they will serve you.
The main difference between stropping and sharpening is equipment. While sharpening is done with fast moving belts or hard stones, stropping is done with softer materials like leather or balsa wood coated with ultra-fine abrasives. Both require a similar technique – matching and maintaining an edge angle is just as important in stropping as it for sharpening – but stropping always uses edge trailing strokes to keep the blade from cutting into the soft strop.
The apex of a sharp edge is minuscule – as small as 2.5 microns across, roughly three times smaller than the diameter of a single red blood cell. Stropping abrasives can be even finer at just fractions of a micron. Down at this scale, the microscopically thin steel at the edge is relatively delicate, able to invisibly bend, roll, and chip from ordinary cutting. The soft material and ultra-fine abrasive of a strop gently massages the edge apex back into shape, easing out the rolls and sharpening out the chips.
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