STROPPING YOUR KNIFE
by Del Stubbs, Pinewood Forge
During this post we continue that never ending discussion on stropping. Today, however, we learn some significant information from Del Stubbs on how to choose a strop and compound, and the correct way to strop your knife. In this section, Del also briefly introduces us to hones and honing your knife.
Stropping is the most important form of sharpening. However, careless stropping can easily round and ruin a tool’s edge. The secret is careful stropping with good materials. A standard woodcarvers leather strop with good compound and good technique is all that is needed to keep most tools working well most of the time. We don’t recommend jewelers rouge (red compound) – it’s made for polishing soft metals. We have chosen to sell a stropping compound called White Gold because it works quickly and has a good consistency for applying to a strop, but there are many good carvers stropping compounds available, learning how to use well what you have is the main idea.
How to strop:
When stropping, lay the tool flat on the leather, polishing the whole surface with solid pressure. The tool’s edge will compress slightly into the softness of the leather – this will form the necessary microscopic bevel at the edge. Press firmly – using a few strokes in both directions should be enough to bring a slightly dull tool back to razor sharpness. For some people it helps to push firmly down on the tool with a finger as it is being stropped. Many knives are slightly flexible – this means that you must raise the handle slightly toward the end of the stroke to apply pressure to the tip. If this isn’t done to straight edge knives – they tend to get narrower in the middle – forming a convex shape.
Is your brand of stropping compound working well?
Try this: After applying a fresh coat of compound, the very first stroke of the tool should leave black streaks on the strop, and mirror polish on the tool. If it leaves only a dull grey color on the strop, the compound is too soft (not removing enough metal). If the tool is dull or scratchy looking, it is too course a compound.
If stropping isn’t working well for you, here are possible reasons:
A). The tool needs honing see next section).
- Your compound is too slow cutting.
- You are not able to press hard enough. In this case, raise the back edge of the tool very slightly off of the strop
– this will put all of the pressure on the edge.
- If careful stropping rounds over the edge, then likely the strop is of too rough or too soft a material, or you’re raising the back too much – go to a harder or finer leather, hard cardboard (like a cereal box), or to smooth basswood as a strop. You should be able to press quite hard while stropping, without rounding the edge. It’s better to take a few strong and careful strokes than a lot of light careless ones.
There are various power strops on the market – just be sure they go slow, otherwise you are likely to bum the edge – power stropping produces a surprising amount of heat right at the edge.
The tools I produce are such that they rarely need honing! But when to hone?Hone when stropping no longer easily brings the tool back to razor sharpness, or when there is a nick to remove. If your hone cuts too slowly, you may raise the tool only slightly off the back if necessary (not more than half the thickness of the tool). This will help keep the edge thin. Stop honing either side when a very tiny burr is raised on the entire edge. Feel this burr by stropping the tool lightly backwards against a finger. Remove this burr, with a super fine hone, or with your strop, but use the strop for the finished edge.
Fine diamond, ceramic, fine India, Arkansas, can all work well. Do not use a coarse carborundum bench stone, unless the edge is damaged badly. Don’t use a high speed grinder. They are too aggressive and hot. If your tool is badly damaged and needs lots of metal removal, a coarse diamond hone or water cooled slow speed flat grinder is all I would recommend. We have chosen to offer our customers a selection of fine diamond hones. These are not the horrible and overpriced coarse hones with holes – we found a set of superfine professional grade hones specifically for fine sharpening these kinds of tools. Especially the 1200 grit – it cuts fast yet so fine you may go direct to the strop afterwards. Many carvers have trouble with honing because they use too coarse or too slow cutting types of hones .
Consider the “Sharpening Simplified” video we offer, its camera work is not Hollywood, but the author really knows sharpening and presents it well.
Del Stubbs is the owner of Pinewood Forge, a maker of fine Scandinavian woodcarving knives & woodcarving supplies from Leonard, MN. Del makes some of the best woodcarving and spoon carving tools on the market, which are in very high demand. His Fine Leather and Ash Bench Strop ($19.00) is the best cow hide strop I have found anywhere…I own 3 of them! Check out Pinewood Forge at: http://www.pinewoodforge.com
QUESTIONS & COMMENTS
Our first question (actually two questions) come from Cory Rower who writes:
“Hi! I just had a few questions if you don’t mind answering them. First question is where do you go to find cheap wood? I have looked all over online and eBay seems to be the cheapest route but was looking for some cottonwood bark or something different to carve.
The second question isn’t exactly carving related but thought you might know the answer or know someone that does. My family the last couple years we make home made gifts as part of our Christmas presents. I was wanting to make a cutting board but do not own and clamps. I was wondering if you knew what would be the best/cheapest clamps that would do the job.
If you don’t know that’s ok I have been doing alot of reading on it and everyone says something different about what type of clamps to use.
Thanks for any information you are able to give. And thank you for doing this blog I enjoy reading them.
Thank you for writing in, Cory! I always appreciate receiving questions and comments from my readers. Your questions and comments are what help make Wood Chip Chatter informative and interesting.
To answer your first question, let me start by saying that “cheap” wood is a relative term. What might seem cheap (or let’s say inexpensive) to me my not be to you. I assume you’re talking about basswood so let me state, first of all that there are two types of basswood…northern basswood, and southern basswood. If you want good quality, easy to carve basswood, you only want to buy northern basswood. Northern basswood is cleaner, softer and easier to carve than southern basswood, which is generally cheaper in price. In my opinion, though it is worth the extra money to pay for northern basswood.
Craft stores and ebay are definitely NOT the places to look for quality basswood because 90% of the time you will get cheap, poor quality southern basswood. I buy all of my basswood from Heinecke Wood Products in northern Wisconsin. Heinecke is a lumber mill that handles northern Wisconsin basswood exclusively, and for my money it’s the best basswood you can buy anywhere. It’s the ONLY place where I will buy my basswood. I also know of 2 or 3 other woodcarving suppliers that carry quality basswood. Any of these suppliers will ship right to your door. Anyone who is interested in the phone number or web address for any of these suppliers is welcome to contact me at any time. Do any of our readers have any sources they like to use?
Now to get to your second question, Cory. Unfortunately, clamps are something I’m not familiar with at all. Since I only make small carvings I’ve never had any need for owning any clamps. Perhaps some of our readers can help out with this one. Anybody?
Our next questions come from Dean Stewart who is interested in stropping gouges. Dean writes:
“Well, Bob, Let’s keep the strop conversation going. I’d be interested in knowing what tips and techniques folks have for stropping gouges and other non-knife blades. Also any good thoughts on the idea of power stropping versus manual.”
Those are excellent questions, Dean, and ones I would certainly like to see some comments on. Personally, I am fine with sharpening and stropping (by hand) knives, but when it comes to gouges, I’m a total novice. In all the years I’ve been carving I could just never get the hang of sharpening and stropping gouges. And it seems to me that the carvers who use power for stropping always get a razor sharp edge, although since I don’t own any power equipment I can’t really speak to that.
So let’s hear from some of our sharpening experts out there! Can you offer us any tips and techniques?
Our next comment today comes from my friend Jakobo Santiago from the Canary Islands in response to my remarks about using old belts to make your own strops.
“Hi! I’m really surprised! It never entered my mind
“”I have been using old belts that have shrunken over the years!””
“”Old belts are great sources of leather for making your own strops. Generally the nap on the back side of belts is smooth and stiff.””
I have an old cow belt in a drawer. I’m going to try and send a photo
Thank you so much. you are fantastic”
Thank you for writing in once again, Jakob! I’m certain your old cow belt will make some excellent strops.
Let the chips fly! Tell your wood carving friends and spread the word about Wood Chip Chatter, and don’t forget to click the ‘Comment’ button at the bottom of the page to send in your questions and comments so we can keep Wood Chip Chatter active and keep the conversations going!
And remember, we need your photos! I’m sure you all have some terrific carvings to share, and photos of your carvings will help to liven up the blog’s appearance and make it more interesting. Perhaps we can start a carvers photo section! Email your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org
Keep a sharp edge and keep on carvin’!