If you spent over $100 on your straight razor, chances are it’s made out of good, hard steel. Razor manufacturers use hard steel for its superior edge retention, and they grind it as thin as they possibly can without sacrificing the integrity of the edge. Thinner edges pass through hair with less pressure, making them smoother and more comfortable to shave with, but thin edges can be fussy.
As you slice each hair, the edge is distorted and warped on a microscopic level. A single shave’s worth of distortion is not enough to dull the blade, but over time this effect accumulates and your razor will become uncomfortable to shave with. At this point you could simply sharpen your blade and continue shaving, but that removes steel from the razor and shortens its life-span. The more you do this, the sooner your blade runs out. Enter the leather strop. Leather is miraculous at polishing steel. The tiny pores of the leather grab at the rough burrs of steel on the edge of the razor, and force them back into alignment. By stropping the edge of the razor along leather repeatedly, you can re-align the edge to the nearly perfect state it should have been in before the shave. By using your strop to align your blade every time you shave, you keep your edge sharp for far longer, and therefore only have to sharpen it every few months rather than every few weeks.
To use your strop, mount it onto a hook mounted solidly into a stud or some other surface from which it can handle a good yank without disasterous results. Pull the strop tight, and gently lay the razor flat across the leather. The spine of the razor will naturally set your angle. Draw the razor across the length of the strop with minimal pressure, leading with the spine of the razor. When you reach the end of the strop stop your motion, roll the razor gently over the spine, and start the motion again in the opposite direction. Repeat this motion 30-40 times, slowly and gently.
Avoid what you see in the movies: allowing the strop to go slack, using excessive pressure, stropping at an angle greater than that set by the spine, and rolling the razor over the edge. While you aren’t to blame for thinking that the Hollywood way is correct, stropping like this will dull your edge very quickly.
Most good strops come with two sides, one smooth and one rough. Like sandpaper, start on the rough side and finish with the smooth side. The rougher side might be suede, linen or some other material, while the smooth side should be a high-quality leather, free of rough texture or blemishes. Bridle leather, horse hideand cordovan leatherare all suitable. Some folks feel the need to apply abrasive compounds to their strops. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, but keep in mind that leather does a perfectly good job on its own. It really doesn’t need much help. I like to use Chromium Oxide every few shaves to keep my edge extra smooth, as it is one of the finest compounds available. Rather than use it on my fancy cordovan strop, and therefore soiling the beautiful leather, I have a paddle-mounted strop that I use my chromium oxide on. It works very well for the occasional touch-up and I can also use it to tune up my pocket knives, hunting knives and kitchen knives.
Finally, take good care of your leather strop. Leather can be sensitive to excessive moisture or dryness. I recommend keeping your strop somewhere other than your washroom. If you live in a dry climate, hydrate your strop once in a while with some Chamberlain’s No. 1 Leather Milk. If you live in a very humid climate or are determined to store your strop in your washroom, use Chamberlains No. 3 Water Protectant to keep excess moisture out.