Stropping Vs. Honing. Differences, Tutorials, and Pro Tips

Here, our mission is simple; we’ll explain to you the differences between stropping and honing. These age-long tool sharpening procedures have long been mistaken for the other, and we feel it’s time you got it right. This time, once and for all. Now to answer the mind bugging question, what is the difference between stropping and honing?

Honing refers to the step that comes after you’ve used a coarse sharpening stone to remove metal bits from a blade cutting edge. It is done to smoothen the wired edges created during the sharpening stage and realign the edges when the blade gets dull. On the other hand, Stropping refers to the further cleaning of leftover burr, scratches, and other irregularities from the sharpening or honing stage using a leather strop and other abrasive compounds.

In this article, in addition to the differences and similarities between stropping and honing, we’ll also show hobbyists, DIYers, amateurs, and pros everything they’ll need to know about the stropping and honing process.

What is Honing?

Honing is the process of realigning the edges of a dull blade. This process is oftentimes mistaken as sharpening because it involves the use of sharpening stones. However, the honing stones are finer and their one duty is to smoothen the wired edges created during the sharpening stage.

In addition to this, if your blade isn’t completely dull, you might only need to realign the edges of the blade without sharpening, which is exactly what honing is all about; realigning the cutting edge back to the center so that the tool regains its sharpness.

Honing stones need to be lubricated, here are some of the more popular lubricants used for honing

  • Mineral Oil
  • Clove Oil
  • Xylene
  • Liquid Paraffin
  • Soapy water

What is Stropping?

Moving on, stropping differs from honing. Here, the tools used are completely different. You’ll need access to stropping tools called strops to remove microscopic imperfections on the cutting edge of a tool. The aim here is to polish and eliminate leftover irregularities from the sharpening and honing stage. 

Furthermore, stropping also realigns the cutting edge back to the center, but on a microscopic level, to deliver an even sharper edge and give you complete control over the cuts made by the blade.

Types of Stropping Compounds

Stropping compounds are available in three different colors; black, green, and white. The color you choose is an indication of how much stropping your blade requires. If your blade is dull, you should consider starting with the black strop because of its rough grit.

The green colored stropping compound will be a perfect choice if you want to touch up or make an already sharp blade sharper. The grits on this stropping compound are fine. If you want your blade to be extremely sharp, you can use the white stropping compound.

What Is the Difference Between Stropping and Honing?

To understand the differences between stropping and honing, you must first understand that honing and stropping are processes that every dull tool must pass through if you must maintain a sharp edge. They are also stages that follow the creation of a new sharp edge on a blade and are done to remove imperfections created during the sharpening stage.

Stropping Vs. Honing

Placing these two blade sharpening processes side by side, we can see that they are crucial maintenance procedures every blade needs to undergo to ensure that its cutting edge stays sharp for long.

However, often you’ll need to hone your blade instead of stropping it; this is because honing needs to be done before and after using the blade to keep the blade sharper for longer periods while stropping; on the other hand, is usually an occasional affair.

This doesn’t mean stropping isn’t important. Stropping is will deliver a more polished look to the cutting surface. In addition to this, many people choose to use a strop instead of honing steel to hone their blades. But this takes longer, and you’ll need a polishing compound to achieve the finished look.

When Should You Strop or Hone a Knife?

Knowing when to Strop and when to hone is crucial to maintaining a sharp, cutting edge for your knife. A good way to test if your knife needs honing or stropping is to conduct the paper test.

All you’ll need is a piece of copy paper (printer paper), a knife, and your two hands; one hand holds the edge of the paper and the other to cut the paper with the knife.

Once you have these, proceed and hold the paper in the air with one hand. Starting from the top, drawdown through the center of the paper using the knife. If you notice that the knife glides through the paper easily with very minimal effort, it means the knife’s edge is razor-sharp and does not need sharpening, honing, or stropping.

However, if the knife first experiences difficulty at the top of the paper before it effortlessly glides through the paper, you should consider stropping or honing and then stropping. Additionally, you should hone the knife if you experience difficulty cutting through from top to bottom. Finally, if you still experience snagging of the knife on paper after honing, it’s time to get out your knife sharpener.

Once you finish the resharpening process, reconduct the paper test to ensure it is sharp and ready to work.

How to strop the Correct way?

Now that you know all what stropping means, the differences between stropping and honing, and the different types of stropping and honing tools, let’s now move on and show you the correct way to use a strop to keep your blade’s edge sharp.

Required Tools and Accessories

Step One: Set Up Your Strop

First things first, get your knife and strop, clean the knife with warm water and ensure that your strop is secured to the wall; this way, it wouldn’t come off when you begin sharpening the blade. Once you see that the strop is secure, go ahead and pull on the strop tightly. Ensure you do not allow any taut on the strop.

If you do not properly pull the strop, the strop can end up doing the reverse of what you want, making the blade end up duller than when you started the stropping operation.

This setup process is quite similar for those who prefer to use the paddle, loom, and bench strops. All you’ll need to do is ensure the strop is flat on the leveled surface, then hold the strop tightly.

Lastly, don’t forget to add the stropping compound before you begin the stropping process.

Step Two: Position the Blade

Starting at the base of the stropping surface, make the blade’s cutting edge face your direction and lay it at a 180-degree angle to the strop. The proper way to hold the blade will be to ensure it lies between your thumb, which rests on the back of the shank, and your index finger, which curls to the underside.

N.B: You should know that if the strop is wider than the blade, it’s advisable to allow it to lie in the center of the strop. Additionally, if the stropping surface is too narrow for the strop, then the shoulder of the blade should be flat on the strop. Lastly, also endeavor to keep the shoulder of the blade from resting on the strop as this can cause permanent damage to the strop.

Step Three: Run the Blade Across the Strop

Once you’ve gotten the proper blade placement, it’s now time to begin stropping the blade. Using very little or no pressure at all, draw the blade away from you until you get to the other end of the strop. Stop about one inch from the other end so that you do not damage the blade with the strop buckle.

One thing to remember in this stage is that if the width of the strop is wider than the entire length of the blade, move the blade back and forth on the strop in a straight line; however, if the strop seems too narrow for the blade, then it would be wise to move the blade back and forth in an X-pattern.

Step Four: Roll the Blade

Remember, we started the stropping process by drawing the blade away from you while the cutting edge was facing you. Now, reverse the direction such that the blade is now coming towards you once you get to the end of the strop. To confirm if you are doing this right ensure that the cutting edge is facing the other direction. 

The best way to roll the blade on the strop will be to ensure that the blade’s spine never leaves the surface of the strop to prevent damage to the strop itself. Picturing yourself starting and stopping a car with the ignition key is a good way to represent the rolling process.

Step Five: Draw the Blade Towards you and Back to the Starting Position

Follow the steps discussed in step three and slowly draw the blade back towards the starting position; only this time, the blade will be facing the other direction and away from you. Stop once you get one inch away from the starting position.

Step Six: Repeat Steps Three to Five

The number of full passes you would do would depend on the stropping surface. For leather surfaces with paste, the adequate number of passes is 15.

For strops with canvas surfaces, 30 passes will do the trick; you can also choose to begin stropping with the canvas surface before moving on to a leather surface. This helps with cleaning debris and dust from the blade. For leather surface strops, 50 passes are enough to get the job done.

How to Hone for a Razor-Sharp Edge

Honing for a razor-sharp edge is a fairly complicated process. However, not to worry, we’ll make it easy like we always do. You must, however, know that to hone your tool for a razor-sharp edge, there is a wide variety of tools you can use. Here are two of the most popular honing tools and their working principles

By using Synthetic Water Stones

Water stones are very popular among beginners, DIYers, and tool sharpening experts out there, and why wouldn’t they be? They speed up the honing process and are quite stress-free to use.

These stones are made from aluminum oxide particles bonded together with a compound that keeps the particles compact and together. They use water as a lubricant instead of oil, and before honing your steel, you’ll need to soak the water stone in water for 5-10 minutes.

These synthetic water stones are able to hone the edge of a blade since they are made from soft abrasive particles that break off during the honing process. As these particles break off, new sharp edges on the blade are revealed. The broken crystals mix with the water, creating a slurry that acts as a polishing compound.

By using Honing Steel

The honing steel is a rod-like tool made from only steel or steel coated with diamond coating. This honing tool realigns all the blade edges to make the sharpened bit face the right direction.

The difference between these two types of honing steel is that regular honing steel only straightens the blade’s edges while diamond-coated honing steel goes further to remove thin layers of metal from the blade.

We do not recommend you use diamond honing steel without first sharpening the blade.

How to use Synthetic Water Stone to Hone for Razor Sharp Edge

Here’s how to hone your tools using a synthetic water stone.

Step One: Soak the Stones and Set Up the Work Area

The honing process begins once you soak your stone in water. Doing this softens the surface of the stone and makes honing the blade less stressful as it forms a slurry. All you need to do is soak the stone in water for about 15 minutes before proceeding to the next step.

Still, on the setup process, ensure the work area is well lit and ventilated. Also, keep the stone on a non-slip surface that won’t slide while in use. Many of these stones come with a rubber mat for placing the stones.

Step Two: Position the Blade Properly

For proper blade positioning, ensure that the blade is flat on the stone. The shoulder of the blade should touch but not rub against the stone. Remember to apply only slight pressure as your fingers cross the spine of the blade.

Avoid applying so much pressure as this can lead to removing more metal from the cutting edge than you intend to remove. Also, ensure that the shoulder of the blade doesn’t mount the stone so that honing process will be even.

Step Three: Run the Blade over the Stone

Without lifting the spine of the blade, push the blade across the full length of the stone. Move the blade in an X pattern as you would a narrow strop. Stop at ½ an inch before the end of the stone and remember to wet the stone.

Step Four: Roll the Blade

Similar to the way you’ll do when stropping, without lifting the spine from the stone, turn the blade so that the sharp edge now faces you. Then, bring the blade back to the starting position.

Step Five: Repeat steps three and four and continue with as many passes as is needed until you get the edge you desire. After every pass, test the sharpness of the blade using your thumb. This way, you will be able to prevent the disaster of over honing your blade.

How to use Honing Steel to Hone for a Razor-Sharp Edge

Another way to hone your tools to a razor-sharp edge is to use a honing steel. Here are step-by-step procedures on how you can use honing steel to hone your tools.

Step One: Stand the Honing Steel

Stand the tip of the hone vertically on a kitchen counter with a dish towel or cutting board just between the them. This will help reduce the effect of the force from the hone. Then, hold the honing steel at the tip of the handle with your less dominant hand.

Step Two: Get the Right Honing Angle

Once the hone is straight on the kitchen counter, move on to get the correct honing angle, this is achieved when the knife is at 22.5 degrees to the hone.

To achieve the 22.5-degree angle, use your dominant hand to hold the knife, then set the knife to 90 degrees. Next, visualize and cut those 90 degrees into half to get 45 degrees. After doing this, you can move on to halve those 45 degrees to get the 22.5-degree angle. Now you have the perfect honing angle.

Step Three: Slide the Knife Down

Starting from the top of the honing steel, applying little or no pressure at all, gently slide the blade’s heel down to the tip of the steel. Ensure you move the steel in a left to right motion and ensure the entire length of the blade touches the steel.

Switch to the other side of the blade and repeat the process. About 3 to 5 passes on both sides of the blade should give you the results you desire.

Tip: If you find that after about 6-7 passes, the blade isn’t sharp yet, then you might want to check your honing angle again. If you confirm that you are honing at the correct angle, your blade might need to be sharpened. Also, remember to hone your blade before and after every use.

Do You Need to Strop and Hone After Sharpening?

Stropping and honing are key steps in the sharpening process and must be done after sharpening is complete. This is because after sharpening burr is formed, blades with burr are more or less useless. Honing is done to remove this burr and align the blade’s edges while stropping ensures that microscopic irregularities on the blade’s edge are taken care of.

While stropping is essential to the longevity of your tool, it is not necessary to strop after sharpening; after sharpening, you can move on to hone the blade and proceed to use it for whatever purpose you want to use it for. A well-honed knife will still capable of doing a perfect job.

Three Pro Tips About Stropping and Honing

Whether you are a beginner, DIYer, or pro, here are some tips we feel will help you in your honing and stropping journey

Tip #1: Ensure your Honing and Stropping Station is Properly set up

Just before you begin the honing and stropping operation, you need to ensure that your work area is set to the appropriate height. 30”-36” is a good workbench height for stropping and honing.

You’ll also need to set up the honing stone and strop on a stable surface so that you can get the best possible results. Additionally, it will be best if you have a honing tray to hold the honing stones when in use. It’s best if they can be securely dogged to the top of the honing bench platform.

Lastly, have a spray bottle close to the honing station so that you can always lubricate the honing stone when lubrication is required.

Tip #2: Label Your Honing Stones and Strops

You’ll often need to work with honing stones and grits of varying grit sizes; it’s important that you label these stones and strops so that you can move from rough to finer stones. When labeling honing stones, ensure that you label the ends of the stone and not the sides.

Tip #3: Ensure the Honing Stone Remains Flat

Keeping the honing stone flat is key to maintaining a sharp edge. There are commercially available stones designed for flattening honing stones.

Does Stropping or Honing Replace Sharpening?

The simple answer is no; stropping and honing cannot replace sharpening. When your blade needs to be sharpened, even after you hone and strop the blade, the edge will not be able to slice through a piece of paper or a tomato. Another good indicator that it’s time to sharpen your blade will be to check if the blade’s edge is rounded and if the microscopic teeth are worn out or lost.

Final Thoughts

We are happy you made it to this point; while both honing and stropping your tool is essential in maintaining a sharp edge, it’s crucial that you know that they cannot replace sharpening.  However, with regular stropping and honing, you can prolong the life span of the cutting edge of your blade.

So, follow the honing and stropping tutorials and tips above, and your blade will remain as good as new for a very long time.

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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