Making Your Own Strops

Hannah and I used up some scrap leather and scrap 3/4″ plywood to make a half a dozen strops. I usually make them in small quantities and toss the ones that get gouged up straightaway because once gouged there’s a tendency for them to worsen quite quickly. These are my favourite size of 3″ by 10″ and whereas people say use only this leather or that or this part of the animal hide over another, my experience is that almost any hide or scrap of leather will work just fine. That said, the stretchier ones tend to keep stretching and then bulb up on the surface. This hide that we used had zero stretch and I can only remember buying in a batch of leathers I picked up for a fiver from a flea-market some time. The plywood is a result of me using cupboards from my old workshop. ~So we had three strops each in under half an hour. That should see us both good for a few years.

Steps are simple:

  1. Cut base plywood pieces to size and plane edges
  2. Apply contact cement to sheet of leather or individual leather pieces cut slightly over size and apply adhesive to plywood pieces.
  3. Apply a second coat to the leather once first coat is dry and leave to dry for 10 minutes.
  4. Apply plywood pieces to the leather and press firmly.
  5. Turn over and cut individual sections from the leather.
  6. Trim neatly to the edges of the plywood with  sharp knife.
  7. Clamp two strops face to face in the vise and squeeze fully on them.

35 Comments

  1. Ed on 23 July 2018 at 3:51 pm

    If someone doesn’t have contact cement, I’ve been successful with regular wood glue, e.g., PVA. Smear it on both faces, put together, and clamp. I didn’t even bother with a sizing coat, but I did use a generous amount of glue.

    I’ve found some of my strops work when stroked in either direction, but others work best with just one direction of use. It’s not really an issue. I just put an arrow on the edge so that I don’t need to rediscover it on each use. I’m not even sure it matters, but I don’t like how it feels going in the direction that I call, “backwards.”



    • Paul Sellers on 23 July 2018 at 4:44 pm

      I am sure it does not work with all leathers though, Ed. I think that it may depend on the coatings that seal dyed and finished leathers as I have done the same and had the leather slough right off, leaving the glue on the wood. No ‘skin off’ though (pun intended) as I just went back to contact cement. PVA~ smells better though.



      • Ed on 23 July 2018 at 5:28 pm

        I’ll go back to contact cement, then! Thank you for letting me know.



        • Mark Lewis on 24 July 2018 at 10:06 am

          I use doublesided carpet tape. It seems to last – never had any problems with it.



  2. Steve Fitzpatrick on 23 July 2018 at 6:51 pm

    I find it quite useful to only glue the top strip of leather to the plywood, then I can lift and bend the lower portion to suit gouges and suchlike carving tools. 🙂



    • Paul Sellers on 23 July 2018 at 9:17 pm

      Why not just make dedicated strops for gouges? I think they work so well, and there is no issue with stretching the leather with the pulls you make.



      • Stephen Fitzpatrick on 24 July 2018 at 9:50 am

        You mean stretching the leather over a curved form? I never considered that! You given me some ideas there Paul, thanks! 🙂



  3. Ray on 23 July 2018 at 9:54 pm

    I’ve been using 4 mm Buffalo hide. PVA on the wooden base leather on top leave in vice over night trim round in the morning. I’ve had no problems with stretch been working fine for me.



  4. Colin Edmondson on 23 July 2018 at 10:02 pm

    When I bought my Eze-Lap plates, one of the three was only available in a leather pouch. It cost another pound I think in that format…but it was either that or wait for the basic version to come back into stock. So I bought it.
    Since I didn’t need the pouch (I’d already made a holder to Paul’s design) I unpicked the stitching and made two strops. An inch shorter and an inch wider than this design but seems to work pretty well and going strong after a year of use.
    Might help someone buying the 8×3 plates and looking for leather to make a strop.



    • Keith on 23 July 2018 at 11:04 pm

      That’s what I did too and it works great!



  5. Alan S on 24 July 2018 at 2:31 am

    I know everyone uses leather, and have, but I can’t detect an advantage over bare wood. I use it with green stropping compound.



    • Paul Sellers on 24 July 2018 at 9:25 am

      I must say leather is different and in my view much better all round. It just is. It cushions, moulds and holds the compound charge for much longer. It is especially ideal for convex bevels as I have always advocated in freehand sharpening.



  6. Bob L. on 24 July 2018 at 2:58 am

    I have to admit that I too, have given up on the leather. I use MDF and the green compound. I could not tell the difference and I don’t have to worry about dubbing an edge.If I am missing something, by all means tell me. But I haven’t been able to come up with one reason to go back to leather.



    • Johan Basson on 24 July 2018 at 7:16 am

      Hi Bob – this is also in reply to Alan’s comment

      I’ve been using a strop for about 2 years – first using the textured side of hardboard and then using leather.

      Indeed, since it’s the compound that has has the abrasive quality, any suitably charged stropping substrate should work. However, a harder substrate, like cast iron or MDF would require much precision in presenting the blade at the correct bevel angle, lest you polish only the heel of the bevel. With a softer substrate like leather, one can present the blade at an angle more acute that the bevel and still end up polishing the cutting edge.

      Just my two cents.



    • Paul Sellers on 24 July 2018 at 9:20 am

      I must say leather is better all round. It just is. It cushions, moulds and holds the compound charge for much longer.



  7. Ken on 24 July 2018 at 1:28 pm

    A year or two ago, She Who Must Be Obeyed (SWMBO) handed me a large plastic bin liner with instructions to take it to a charity shop. I made a small ‘detour’ via the garage where I checked the contents and found, among the items intended to help the poor and underprivileged, there was a handbag made from thick leather. The handbag never made it out of the garage but was swiftly upcycled into a couple of knife sheaths and a very nice strop and I still have spare scraps which will come in useful one day. If and when SWMBO discovers the handbag’s fate, I can expect to endure a severe ear-bashing for as long as it takes me to switch off my hearing aids.

    Leather makes an excellent strop; cheap leather is better; free leather is best!



    • Tom Angle on 24 July 2018 at 7:27 pm

      “If and when SWMBO discovers the handbag’s fate, I can expect to endure a severe ear-bashing for as long as it takes me to switch off my hearing aids.”

      Now that is just funny.



  8. Sarrienne on 24 July 2018 at 2:36 pm

    I made mine with an offcut bit of 4×2 from my workbench build, and a 3mm thick piece of heavy suede.
    I find the block easier to hold when putting in the vice, less likely to skew and make me fumble.



  9. Borys Medicky on 25 July 2018 at 1:44 pm

    Leather usually has a smooth and a rough finish on opposite sides. Which of these is best used for the stropping surface?



    • Paul Sellers on 25 July 2018 at 3:01 pm

      The coarser suede side.



  10. john on 26 July 2018 at 6:19 pm

    In a pinch I have used paper drywall tape charged with stropping compound. It is more cushiony than wood but less than leather. It is cheap ($4 for 500 ft) but is only 2 inches wide.



  11. Frank McInroy on 27 July 2018 at 1:39 pm

    Over sixty years ago at my first year at secondary school, we were taught at wood working class , how to sharpen plane blades and chisels using oilstones and then for that final polish using the palm of our hand.
    In today’s health & safety culture this would be a no no , but I don’t remember anyone actually cutting themselves. I still use this method today , but will try and get the hang of the strop.
    Our teacher used to tell you will feel when it is right, a blind person does it all by feel.

    Keep up the good work Paul

    Regards Frank



    • Paul Sellers on 28 July 2018 at 6:37 am

      When you do you will understand sharpness, Frank. Hand stropping was only to break the burr off by folding back and forth really although we were all led to believe it polished too. A strop charge with buffing compound takes the polish to 10,000 and gives a mirror finish for effortless cuts and a reflection in the wood that matches the cutting edge.



  12. Floyd on 5 August 2018 at 6:25 pm

    Paul,
    When I first made my leather strip on a wood block it took two seconds to gouge it. After scratching my head for a bit l superglued the cut out in piece in place. Works fine.



  13. Keith on 1 November 2018 at 4:15 am

    Can a strop with cuts in the leather and therefore bumps and clumps of compound cause round over of the plane edge or does it all compress under pressure? Should you change the leather out once there’s damage?



    • Paul Sellers on 1 November 2018 at 6:56 am

      I do, once it starts to do as you say.



      • Keith M Walton on 1 November 2018 at 12:44 pm

        Thanks paul, after a long stint of successful free hand sharpening with no issues my planes recently have lost their edge and one of the few variables ive noticed is damage and buildup on my strop. I will start there.



  14. Keith M Walton on 2 November 2018 at 2:52 pm

    How often do you charge the strop?



    • Paul Sellers on 2 November 2018 at 8:18 pm

      Not too often. Once a week??? I sharpen several times a day but not always the same tools. Depends on the work.



  15. lee on 29 November 2018 at 5:35 pm

    hi, are you still using the cheap silverline compound or the exspensive one?, what grit do you think the silverline is, and have you tried the white compound, thanks



    • Paul Sellers on 29 November 2018 at 7:28 pm

      I have tried all of them and still rely on Silverline’s in my daily use.



  16. Les Bourne on 23 January 2019 at 2:07 am

    Do you recommend putting mineral oil on a newly made strop? I read that one needs to do that so that the leather can absord the compound charge efficiently.



    • Paul Sellers on 23 January 2019 at 8:09 am

      Some buffing compounds are powdery rather than waxy and the mineral oil or in fact light machine oil of any kind helps retain the abrasive. I use Silverline buffing compound which is waxy and therefor ready to go. Veritas honing compound is also ready to go too if you are stateside.