Straight razors are the classic cars of wet shaving. They are fun to use but also require extra maintenance and care. To keep your straight razor in top performance, you need to strop it regularly and give it the occasional hone. If you've been using a straight razor for a while you already know that after seven or eight shaves, the sharp blade starts tugging on your hair. This is how you know it is time to strop it.
Stropping a straight razor requires you to get a strop. If you don't know how to go about picking a strop, check out How to Pick the Best Leather Strop for Straight Razor.
Part of the fun in using a straight razor is stropping it. Lynn Abrams, a co-founder of Straight Razor Designs and Imperial Shaving, has published a great video that shows in simple steps how to strop a straight razor.
Lynn is the founder of The Straight Razor Place - one of the oldest and largest forums about wet shaving - and is considered to be one of the leading experts on wet shaving and straight razors. Put simply, when Lynn speaks about wet shaving, people listen.
I've broken down Lynn's explanation in 5 steps that are easy to follow and refer to.
Step 1: Hang Your Leather Strop
This is a no brainer but, as Lynn explains, there are some tricks to it. You may have noticed that Lynn has the strop hooked to his sink cabinet at a level just below his waist. This way, when he picks up the loose end, the strop is elevated at about 30 degrees from the ground. This angle allows Lynn to have a better control of the strop and the razor itself.
The angle at which you hold the strop is a matter of personal preference. There are many guys out there who hold the strop in a horizontal position when stropping. Try both ways and see which one works for you.
Step 2: Give Your Strop a Hand Job
Before your mind goes into the gutter, I'm talking about rubbing your palm against the leather part of your strop. Lynn explains that the rubbing the leather with your hand makes the leather supple, breaks in the strop and, ultimately, preps it to give you the best draw. It is the warmth and the natural oils of your skin that play a key part in prepping your strop.
There is no specific technique how or for how long to rub your leather strop. When you start feeling the leather getting warm, it is probably good enough.
Step 3: Hold the Straight Razor by the Shank
Lynn doesn't explain in detail how to hold your straight razor when stropping, however, you can see his grip during his demonstration.
When stropping your straight razor you want to hold it by the shank. This is the narrow piece of metal that connects the blade with the handle of the razor. Holding the razor in this manner gives you the most control over the blade.
You hold the razor by the shank with your thumb and index finger. Your thumb is holding the shank on the side of the blade and the shank lies on the fold of your index finger.
This particular grip allows you to easily flip the razor on its spine when you glide it along the strop. The motion you do with your fingers is just like rolling a pencil in between them. The key thing is you always want to roll the blade on its spine. This spine roll will always allow you to lead the motion with the spine instead of the blade.
To practice the grip and motion, get a pencil and roll it back and forth between your thumb and index finder. You can also get a straight razor and perform the same motion until it feels comfortable.
Step 4: Start with the Canvas Side
Many hanging strops today come with two sides - leather and canvas. You could get just a canvas or just a leather strop but your best choice would be to go with one that has both types of surfaces.
Generally, you start stropping your straight razor on the canvas side first. This helps get rid of any dirt or large dents that may damage the leather side of your strop. Think of stropping your blade like polishing a surface: first you use the rougher file to get rid of the bigger edges and then you use the finer file to give it some polish.
The key lesson here is to always lead with the spine of your razor. As Lynn shows, without putting pressure, just glide the blade across the canvas. When you reach the end, flip the blade on its spine and go in the opposite direction leading with the spine again.
If there is only one thing you want to take away from here, make it this: ALWAYS lead with your spine. Leading with your blade will dull it and will cut up your strop.
If you observe Lynn's technique, you will notice that he glides the blade at a slow, comfortable pace. Lynn explains that in some movie you may see characters stropping their straight razors by quickly swishing it back and forth. Making quick motions, even if you are a pro, makes it easier to lose control and damage your strop and your blade.
Follow Lynn's advice on this one - shaving is supposed to be a pleasant and relaxing experience. Take your time to strop your razor.
Lynn recommends doing 10 to 20 passes on the canvas before moving on to the leather side.
Step 5: Strop the Razor on the Leather Side
Lynn explains that most people do 40 to 50 strokes on the leather side of the strop. You don't have to keep a close count but having a ballpark number in mind is a good idea, especially as a beginner. As you gain more experience stropping, you'll get a sense of how much time and energy it takes to make 40 to 50 strokes.
The motion of stropping your razor on the leather side is the same as on the canvas side. Glide the blade across leading with the spine and without putting any pressure. The key to a good stropping technique is to keep the blade flat on the strop as you glide it along.
Lynn says that if you put too much pressure with your blade on your strop, you are more likely to lift the blade off the strop at the end. The result is a dull, rounded off blade.
To ensure you keep the blade flat on the strop, some guys recommend slapping the blade hard on the strop before each stroke. I am not sure would improve your technique this way but it doesn't hurt to give it a try.
After stropping your razor for a while, you'll develop a certain technique that works for you and that you find most comfortable. One way to improve your comfort and your stropping results is to turn your strop a little sideways instead of keeping it horizontal. This slight turn of the strop will allow for a more natural positioning of your wrist as it moves the razor across the strop.
This is how to strop a straight razor in 5 simple steps. It's a good practice to follow these steps in the order shown here, especially if you are starting out. As you get better at stropping you might skip rubbing your strop or using the canvas side. You are free to do this but remember - skipping steps and cutting corners always shows in the results and the experience you get.
In addition to the 5 steps, here are four tips to give your razor the most out of stropping it:
4 Tips for Stropping Your Straight Razor
1. Always lead with the spine.
This will ensure you don't dull your blade or cut up your strop.
2. Always flip the blade on its spine.
This will ensure you lead with the spine.
3. Keep the blade flat on the strop.
Gliding the blade along at a weird angle will likely force you to put more pressure than you should and may result in more damage to the razor.
4. Don't put pressure on the strop with the razor.
If you press too hard, you'll end up curving up your finishing motion, which will dull your razor.
Do you have any tips how to strop a straight razor? Share your experience in the comments below.