When you keep or collect knives, knowing how to sharpen them properly is essential to keeping them in good working order. Two commonly-used methods are stropping and honing, which use different techniques to maintain the edge of your blade.
In this blog, The team at Red Label Abrasives will compare stropping and honing, discuss the difference between the two, and discuss which method is generally preferable. We will also explain how to keep your knives well-sharpened and share additional techniques that improve their cut.
The purpose of stropping and honing is to further sharpen and correct an already sharp edge. Neither of these processes is used to sharpen a knife after it has become dull. To better understand the difference between stropping, honing, and sharpening, here are a few quick definitions:
Before stropping or honing your knives, you must first understand what maintenance they require at the moment. Knives that are not properly maintained may need to be resharpened before being honed or stropped.
When knives are first purchased, they have been professionally sharpened by the manufacturer. Over time, this sharpness wears away and the knife's edge gradually becomes scratched, nicked, and less even.
Fortunately, honing is a simple and straightforward process. When honing a knife, you are not so much resharpening it as you are simply straightening the edge. Rather than sharpening the blade, honing realigns it, making it feel sharper.
Knives can be honed either with knife pull-through or, more commonly, a honing steel. Honing steels are long, narrow, and rod-like metal tools that help to keep the edge of the knife straight.
When using a honing steel, hold the knife with its sharp edge facing away from you and the tip angled slightly upwards, so that the edge’s back end touches the steel. Make sure that the side of the knife is at an angle of approximately 15 degrees against it. It should then be slid down the steel in a sweeping motion while maintaining pressure, so that the entire edge of the knife contacts the steel at the end of the motion.
Knives are often stropped after sharpening or honing to remove any remaining imperfections or irregularities.
As we stated earlier, when a knife is sharpened, it creates a wire edge known as a burr. By honing the knife, this burr is eliminated. Still, microscopic inconsistencies can remain - this is where stropping comes into play.
Strops are the actual tools used in stropping. They are typically made from either suede or smooth leather, although other materials sometimes are used. Choosing between suede or smooth strops comes down to two things: your personal preference and whether a compound is being used, as suede strops are typically used in conjunction with a compound.
In general, stropping compounds come in block form and can be spread over the leather before stropping begins. Using a compound is not necessary, but it helps refine the blade even further while providing a mirror-like finish.
When using the strop, the process is similar to using a honing steel. When holding the knife, the spine should face outwards in the direction the knife will be moved, with the edge touching the leather at an angle of no more than 45 degrees. As with honing, the knife should then be swept across the strop in a sweeping motion.
Experts generally agree that knives should be honed after every use, since the edge will become dull and less straight with each use. In comparison, stropping isn’t necessary on a regular basis, but should be carried out for aesthetic reasons if the steel finish on the blade looks worn.
There are several ways to test knives for dullness. One of the most common is to take a sheet of regular printer paper, hold it up in the air, and slice it down the middle with a knife.
We've already discussed why knives need regular maintenance: failure to hone and strop them as needed will make them go dull much more quickly. Allowing a knife to become dull can have consequences as well. For example:
Honing and stropping are two methods of ensuring that your knives stay sharp. Although regular stropping is not usually necessary and is geared more towards aesthetics, honing is recommended after every use. Combined, these two processes allow knives to remain at their ideal sharpness and blade quality for much longer.