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Knife Sharpening Experts: Stropping It

Aug 14, 2008
You're sharpening your knife and have tested it to confirm for sharpness. You know that you've achieved it because you've found a burr on the knife's edge. This burr is how we know that the edge has reached the point of absolute sharpness. It confirms it. Should you stop there? Oh, but you must. There's only so much sharpening that can be done to an edge. To continue after that only results in unnecessary loss of metal on your blade edge. To continue gains nothing. Are you done then?

You've got a burr on your blade edge and it should be removed. Once you've done that, the edge will usually have tiny bits of metal still clinging to it. These bits feel like sand on the edge. But you'd like to get it as fine as it can be, even slippery sharp at that.

Maybe you've got knives that are going on display. Maybe they're going to be included in a ceremony of some sort. Or maybe you'd just like to show off your fine knives to your friends and family. I'm sure you'd want your edges to shine, to make them silky smooth. Well, then. It's time to strop it.

Stropping is a technique used to clean off a blade's edge after sharpening. It is meant to bend and twist those clinging metal pieces until they fall off. It's also done to realign the microscopic teeth created on the edge while sharpening. Stropping is done by swiping both sides of your blade's edge over a leather strap. When you can no longer feel clinging bits, you have successfully stropped your blade edge. It should be shining nice and bright at this point. This is how stropping was always done in the past, but times are changing.

Did you ever think that you might one day be able to electrically strop an edge? I sure didn't. The world of electric knife sharpening has come a very long way. Some electric knife sharpeners are quite amazing. Many of the high priced sharpeners are equipped with their own stropping abrasives. How about that? It's true. Spend anywhere form over $50 to a few hundred on an exceptional electric knife sharpener and it'll both sharpen and strop your blades for you. Just like that. Yes, I know. It seems like an awful lot of money for just an electric knife sharpener. But if you've got the means and don't care to diddle with it, electric knife stropping is surely possible now. It is entirely up to you.

Let's make one point very clear. Stropping is not sharpening. It isn't, really. But stropping with a polishing compound or an abrasive compound sure is. When you do this, when you add such a compound to the strap, the stropping has now become its own form of sharpening. Because it can now remove metal from the edge, it is a sharpener. All by itself, however, the strap can do no more than strop an edge. Therein lies the difference.

For fine knife sharpening, stropping is always the last step. It is done after absolute sharpness has been achieved. It makes each knife edge as fine as it can be. They will shine and shine. Isn't that special?
About the Author
Len Q. is a master blade sharpener. If you would like to learn more about Knife Sharpening: How to Sharpen Knives, Maintain and Store Them Sharpening Other Edges (i.e. Chain Saws, Lawn Mower Blades, Gardening Tools, Axes) Find it at http://www.MakeKnivesSharp.com
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