Is Stropping Still Necessary in a 30K (or .5 Micron) World?

It’s kind of funny that I always seem to be thinking about straight razors.

I am eagerly awaiting a razor exchange with a member of the SRP. I sent him my Thiers-Issard sharpened to 30K on the Shapton Glass Stones. We discussed the terms for evaluating each others blades, and we agreed that we were to send the razors shave ready in order to “keep it real”.

For me, this simply meant touching up my razor with a couple of strokes on the 30K glass. As for my exchange partner, he uses natural stones, and finishes with stropping. I am very excited to use a razor that has been finished on natural stones.

With the advance of synthetic sharpening stones, sharpening anything to 8K and finer is as easy as doing a Google search and using a credit card. To me, if you can sharpen up to 30K, or .5 microns, stropping is a little redundant (and maybe even counterproductive??) With the internet, you can now secure natural Nakayama stones that, as my exchange partner said, rival the 30K. In fact, it is this very statement that made me wonder about why he is going to strop his razor after using this stone.

This got me thinking – with the commercial availability of stones that go to 30k, or .5 microns, is stropping really necessary anymore? Back in the day, when sharpening stone  and barber hone technology weren’t nearly as technologically advanced as they are today (I’m not saying  that they were bad, though), I can see using stropping to clean up an edge, and to even  mask some imperfections, as stropping rounds over (or convexes) an edge over time (actually improving it before it becomes too convex).  But gone are the days of only having Arkansas or India stones, which at best their best, are not good enough on their own.

Of course one can strop as a form of sharpening on several different strops loaded with CrO2 or diamond pastes that go as high as .25 microns, or 60K. If this were the only method a person used, I can see that being effective. The argument that the edge will eventually need to be reset on a flat stone comes into play, though.

I guess the  tradition of using strops is so well ingrained in our straight razor history that it will never go away. Besides, this technology has only been available in the last few decades. Just a thought…….

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5 Responses to “Is Stropping Still Necessary in a 30K (or .5 Micron) World?”

  1. Mike C Says:

    Hi Tom,
    My observations under 100x magnification supports your idea on stropping would only insult the edge. Even adding pasted strops make no sense. Also, if done properly the 30000 grit is giving you a very clean geometry as you are forming a very true, clean edge. BTW, nice blog. These 30000 edges seem to hold up better too.
    Mike

    • Jende Industries Says:

      Thanks Mike! I think the randomness of the pastes and layout of the abrasives on the strop vs. the relative uniformity of synthetic hones is what makes that difference. Something more to think about!! 🙂

  2. Mike C Says:

    Tom,
    Certainly “more to think about”. Especialy if you consider that the surface of strops, linen etc are by nature ful of small undulations in contrast with a well prepard hone. Even films with microabrasives on PSA might give more than the surface of a hone. The down side for average Joe, of course, is the harder the stone the more skill required. (This is why I believe we got “stuck” on razors.)
    On your thoughts on “why the razor” As life has brought you to the razor world from other areas of sharpening like myself from the world of Luthierie. Razors are one of the few tools man has come up with that has a built in honing guide,i.e. the spine. It is a tool that lends itself well to what the honing medium is doing verses the plethura of sharpening techniques and jigs required for other edges. You can isolate much better the variables and relate it better to the outcome. Many razor users will come around eventually to this idea IMHO because so many of them are suffering from HAD. If they admit it or not, they know that a better edge is just around the corner and no other tool is suited to this as much as a razor.
    Mike

  3. Jende Industries Says:

    Mike,

    I might just turn this comment into a post! I’ve been thinking about the consistency of the leather vs. that of a .5 micron Shapton 30K. It is skin, and if you look at our own skin, the shape and depth of the grooves will influence the power of a strop – I think strop makers have had plenty of history to notice that, thus the best leather, ironically, is from the posterior end. I haven’t seen my own close enough to comment on its ridge structure, though!
    With more thinking, the ridges seem to lend themselves to actually helping retain the oils and natural abrasives in them, therefore making the patterns not much unlike the somewhat chance arrangement of abrasive particles in the stones…..

  4. MikeC Says:

    Speaking of “Posterior”
    I have often thought about my life’s journey in tool sharpening. Carb stones, arkansas, india then some synthetic Japanese stones. That was a turning point for me. Shapton’s latest line is of Glass stones with grits up to 30K was a game changer.
    In the past, the strop would only come out to just a get what could not be done with a stone. Now to have complete control of the final shape of the bevel all the way to .5 microns breaks the paradigm. Strops will always have a place in sharpening, but there is another choice, the Shapton 30K. In and of itself, I believe it is the greatest achievement in sharpening technologie of recent time. Fast, clean controlled edges that push the honer and the honee(tool) to it’s practical physical limits.

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