Some thoughts about stropping your straight razor.
This is an important topic, particularly for the increasing number of beginner straight razor shavers and, people who are thinking of buying their first straight razor. You would be surprised at the number of people who have explained to me that the prospect of having to strop a razor is a real barrier to their making the leap to proper, real shaving. Whilst, for some, the prospect of stropping can be daunting, it shouldn't be. It's a joy!
Stropping is an essential element of regularly maintaining your razor. Your razor needs it between shaving. If you don't, you'll see its performance really drag; literally.
Stropping polishes the edge and repairs, on a microscopic level, the wear and tear of shaving. As you may know, the edge of a straight razor is tough and fragile, so stropping re-aligns the edge.
People tend to overcomplicate things, and stropping is often portrayed as some mystical art.
Stropping, as the name implies, is done on a strop, usually on a leather material. A wide range of materials can be used to strop your razor, but it's best to master the process on something like leather first. See my blog for some ideas.
Have a look at the video from 1950, showing a barber being trained. Observe the flamboyant way the barber strops the razor. The barber uses a hanging strop.
In the UK, a hanging strop was always popular. My great grandfather had his hanging from the mantelpiece in the kitchen. Elsewhere, paddle strops were popular. In France, for example, felt paddle strops were more common.
Meet the paddle strop!
I like the paddle strop too, they can be a very useful tool, particularly for the beginner, because the issue of holding the strop taut (not tight) is one more thing to think about.
I usually strop on natural linen, followed by a leather such as Cordovan Shell, English Bridle Leather, Swedish Bridle Leather, or Latigo. I have strops to suit any mood! Different stropping materials have different qualities; the most important, and obvious, factor is draw, how slick or sticky the razor feels as it moves along the strop.
About 35 sets of ups and downs on linen is usually adequate. Between 35 - 55 on leather is usually enough too.
I have one or two strops. Here are the ones my wife knows about!
People tend to overcomplicate things, and stropping tends to be portrayed as a mystical art. Stropping is a skill, which needs to be learned but it's not complicated. The key things to consider are:
Not rolling the cutting edge into the strop. This strop-hacking tendency is universal. Don't worry, everyone has done it (repeatedly) until the movement is incorporated in your muscle memory.
Not using too much pressure. A light pressure is enough, just enough to keep the razor in contact with the strop. There's no need to press the razor into the leather.
Not using too little pressure so that the razor skims along the strop, like a pebble thrown at the sea.
Listen to the sound the razor makes on the strop. It should be same up as down.
Breathe - it's important, it keeps you relaxed and avoids the tension that can arise from learning something new.
Don't use all the strop. Modern strops are really long. In this case longer is not better. So, remember that you're not Inspector Gadget, only extend your arm as far as it is comfortable. Don't feel obliged to streeeeetch.
- Speed. Fast, fast, fast? No, no, no. Speed is not as important as a good rhythm, which ensures that you get an even stropping action on both sides of the razor.
All the above points are shown, simply in this video below, it is one of the clearest explanations of stropping. Have a look.
Sometimes, I rely on Welsh leather too. Try this at your own risk.
Speed. Fast, fast, fast? No, no, no. Speed is not as important as a good rhythm, which ensures that you get an even stropping action on both sides of the razor.
Some more tips about stropping include:
- Don't buy an expensive first strop, you are going to nick the strop until you get used to the stropping action. You can always get that lovely Cordovan shell strop later on;
- If you nick your strop, it's not the end of the world. Just get some fine sandpaper (400 -600 grit) and sand the nick smooth. This will mean that you won't stress the edge of your razor attempting to strop it over a lump of leather;
- Store your strop somewhere dry, out of the sun;
- Don't bother with conditioning pastes and creams for your strop. Nature has provided you with a strop conditioner. It's called the palm of your hand; just rub your strop daily with the palm of your hand until it feels warm. Your skin and its oils will maintain your strop.
For more sensible advice about stropping and choosing your own strop, please get in touch.