Making a Honing Strop

Kinda, Sorta

Confession - It's really only in the past few years that I started taking tool-sharpening even semi-seriously.  While I cognitively knew the necessity and benefits of keeping tools sharp, I never took the time to put it into practice.  But a couple years ago I saw a couple Paul Sellers videos about tool sharpening, and they really caught my attention - he made it look achievable.  

When I finally got started

Back in September, 2018, after watching some of those Paul Sellers videos I was inspired to make a simple honing board.  A couple pieces of scrap wood, a piece of tile and an inexpensive whetstone I picked up off Amazon, and I had the makings of a sharpening station.  I didn't get super serious about it, you know - spending hundreds of dollars on diamond plates, etc., but I think for what I need this works just fine!

So why a strop now?

If I made the honing board in 2018, why make a strop now you may ask.  Well, the truth is when I was refurbishing my Stanley No. 4 bench plane, when it came time to put a mirrored shine on the brass screws for the tote and nob, I had to use the bottom of my leather shop apron as a strop.  

Obviously, in the case of shining a piece of metal leather is leather - I think!  And as you can see here, it worked fine with the brass.  But, if I'm really going to try to do better with sharpening my tools, I reasoned I should invest in a strop.  Invest - sounds, but in fact, the grand total for the strop leather was about $8 on Amazon.

What is a strop?
John Carmona - Sharpening Supplies
A strop is a surface that is used after the finest stone for the final stage of sharpening. The function of a strop is to polish the edge and work off any burr left behind by sharpening stones. Although other materials are used, strops are most often made of leather. Both suede and smooth leathers, technically known as flesh side and grain side, are used. They can be mounted to a rigid base, like a leather on wood paddle strop, or can be flexible, like a leather and linen razor strop.

The board

Once the leather arrived, I had a few decisions to make.  Leave the leather loose or affix it to a board?  Smooth side up or the suede side up?  I decided on a board.  Because I would be stropping chisels, plane irons and the like, I thought hardwood would be much better than somethings like pine.  I haven't done much work with hardwood, but I had some around, and that's a story in itself!

We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us. - Marshall McLuhan

People are always tossing old furniture on trash night in my neighborhood.  Sometime last summer someone was tossing a beautiful art deco waterfall dresser.  Unfortunately, it was in too rough of a condition to rehab, but I took the drawers.  Below you can see what used to be a beautiful veneer, and the base wood beneath it.  I kept all those, and certainly kept the drawer pulls...

The best part of all though, three sides of the drawers were oak!  You better believe I saved every bit of it!  And here it is stored between the joists:

Sizing the board

Sometimes, especially for just a small cut or two I don't want to get sawdust all over the place so I reach for my trusty handsaw.  And quite frankly, after watching some more  Paul Sellers videos on sawing (FYI - Sellers is a master furniture maker) I have endeavored to use my hand saw more often.  It turns out I had a small piece of the oak leftover from some project I started that just didn't work out.

Here's my saw.  I'm actually kind of embarrassed to show you my saw because it's well over 20 years old and it looks brand new.  Just a testament to how dependent on power tools I've become.  And while I'm going to try harder to do more by hand, my money says in 20 years my saw looks brand new!  Good reason to stay tuned for the next two decades!

Barbers, Candy, Strops and Scents

The two incredibly short cuts made, it was time to affix leather to oak.  Handling this shiny piece of cowhide brought back memories of the barber in my hometown.  Since I was a little kid until my late teens I went to Vic's Barber Shop.  His shop was in the little building pictured below, although back then it was all white with the twirling barber's sign out front.  

Vic seemed like the nicest guy, to the point that he had a medicine cabinet filled with candies like Chuckles and Caramel Creams, and if you were a good boy, stayed still and didn't cry, Vic would give you a candy!  I imagine he'd give it to the less-than-good boys too but of course I'd never know that!  Why would a little strip of leather make me think of Vic?  Well, I have very strong memories of the barber shop including its smells of sandalwood, bay rum and Pinaud, to the point that to this day everytime I go to the barber I'm immediately transported to childhood again - although the barber doesn't give me candy.  Maybe I should rethink tipping.  

Anyway, Vic, like all barbers I suppose, had a leather strop he used for his razors.  Not only do I remember watching Vic deftly hone his razor before giving dad a shave, I also specifically remember asking dad why Vic did that with the leather - which I thought was a belt.  That was the first time I heard the word strop.  And that is why picking up this little piece of leather lead to you spending the last minute or so reading about my barber!  Moving on - I used wood glue to affix the leather to the oak.

After clamping with a small dumbbell weight and my jar of bits n stuff on a scrap board, the leather was well affixed to the board!

Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains. - Diane Ackerman

As you can see, I left some board exposed on the left of the strop.  This is so I can clamp it to the bench that way I can just focus on the honing!

Some fun articles from The Art of Manliness
Absolutely no affiliation with House 173

How to smell like a barbershop by Brett
The ultimate collection of manly smells by AoM Team
101 style tips for men by Antonio
Why every man should be strong by Brett
You might also enjoy the Acme Packing Company

The final product

All pieces assembled, okay - leather glued to wood, I had a strop.  I immediately applied some green polishing compound, a bit too much actually...

I took all my chisels and honed them on the strop, which really did seem to put a finer edge on them.  If nothing else at least they'll be plenty shiny!

And that's the honing strop.  I used the leather side rather than the suede side, but I think there's a use for both, especially when I think of the shining my leather apron gave to the brass screws on the plane.  Hmmm, thinking there might be another strop coming along!

Stay safe out there!
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