We had a gentleman stop by our shop the other day with questions about pasted strops. His razor was losing its edge quite quickly and he wasn’t very keen on having it honed several times a year… If this sounds at all familiar, then this article is for you.
At Portland Razor Co. and at home, we use Chromium Oxide on a polyweb strop to polish and restore the razor’s edge. Chromium Oxide, aka “CrOx,” is a fine abrasive similar to jeweler's rouge. Used in conjunction with the small amount of heat and friction from stropping, it smooths the bevel very nicely, reduces hone lines from sharpening on a stone, and results in a smoother, sharper edge. It’s a nice in-between step, being more aggressive than stropping alone while not removing material the way honing does. It’s a great tool in your toolbox and will prolong the life of your blade between honings, ultimately saving time and money by stretching how long you can go before investing in a hone yourself or sending your razor to be sharpened. It is not a substitute for honing.
Before even thinking about pasting your strop, take a serious look at your stropping technique. Imagine that your razor’s edge is made up of tiny metal hairs… er, microscopic metal fibers. The goal of stropping is to clean any debris from the edge and to align these microscopic metal hairs, making them ‘keen’.
For a good stropping stroke:
- Hold the strop firm and flat, but not too tight.
- Lay the spine and edge flat on the strop (the spine will be in the direction of travel across the strop).
- Push away from you with the spine and edge flat on the strop material, with little to no pressure.
- Before you reach the far end of the strop, flip the razor over, keeping the spine in contact with the strop.
- Pull towards you, flip over on the spine.
Some common mistakes we see with stropping that will affect the blade include:
- Rolling up on the edge in the middle of a stroke.
- Pulling the edge towards you or away from you (instead of leading with the spine).
- Applying too much or uneven pressure.
- Not enough tension in the strop (there is slack).
- Too much tension in the strop (the blade skips off the material or can’t make full contact).
- Hitting the hardware on either end of the strop with your blade.
Also take a look at the strop itself. Make sure that it is clean and smooth, with no debris or nicks that might affect your blade. Any oily quality to the leather is indicative of a well-conditioned strop, whereas built up scum can catch harmful debris. A few small nicks on the edge close to either end is pretty common when you’re learning and is caused by flipping the razor over while it is still moving towards the end of the strop. Smaller nicks won’t be an issue and can be smoothed out just by conditioning the strop with your palm. However, if you are missing chunks of material then it’s time to shop for a new strop.
A General Warning: Any errors in your stropping stroke or flaws in the material will be exaggerated and made worse by stropping on CrOx. With that in mind, we can only recommend pasting your strop to competent shavers who are confident that their strop game is on point. If you’ve evaluated your technique, the state of your strop material, and you’ve decided you’re ready for the next level, then it’s time to get pasty!
How To Paste Your Strop
Where to Buy Chromium Oxide:
CrOx is widely available in a variety of forms. Knife-making, honing, and straight razor sites are a sure bet, and have the most options. If you're looking to save a buck (let's face it: who isn't?), you can find generic versions at most hardware stores, though some will dispute the purity of these options. We purchased our three-pound brick of "Knifemaker's Green Rouge" from knifemaking.com for $12.95 and it does the job. You will never use three pounds of CrOx, unless you start painting your face with it every day (which I invite you to try; don't forget to take pictures and tag us on instagram)!
When to Paste:
Knowing whether your razor can benefit from a pasted strop is tricky. Maybe you've noticed a tugging or roughness while shaving, or maybe your razor isn't popping hairs the way it used to. Whatever your test, when there is a noticeable change in performance that isn't corrected by casual stropping, then it's time to paste.
We use our Chromium Oxide pasted strop every day just on the razors we manufacture. It gets a lot more use than the casual shaver ever will, and we still only need to reapply paste every couple of months, using the strop a dozen times every week. You will likely only need to paste your strop once.
Where to Paste:
Stropping on a pasted surface shouldn’t be part of your daily shave routine. The idea is to create a more abrasive surface than your normal strop, so we recommend pasting on the prep side and not the leather side; it generally holds the CrOx better, distributes it evenly over time, and has worked well for us for years. Apply CrOx right in the middle of your strop where it gets the most traffic, but consider the following:
- If you have multiple strops, you can simply decide which strop will be your pasted strop and use it only when your blade needs a few restorative passes.
- If you have just one strop, the ideal placement is on the reverse of your prep side.
- If your strop is a one-piece hanging strop like Dovo’s small cowhide/linen strop, this may not be possible without seriously modifying the strop.
- On the other hand, two-piece hanging strops like ours give easy access to multiple stropping surfaces (ours also have interchangeable components with screws instead of rivets). With these, you can just flip your prep side over, secure the leather side out of the way, and paste away. Depending on how you’ve anchored your strop, this can be a little harder to do in practice but is much cheaper than buying a second strop.
How Much Paste:
A quarter-sized portion of CrOx will do the trick. Rub the chalky stuff directly into the center of your strop and spread it with gradually increasing circles. Normal stropping will spread it more evenly over time. If you like it less chalky and prefer a more pasty consistency, add a few drops of mineral or neatsfoot oil and mix them beforehand. Apply the oily slurry evenly to your strop and let dry, wiping off excess oil with a clean cloth. There are also some nice CrOx sprays out there. Just shake, spray, let dry overnight, and strop!
Stropping With Paste:
10-20 passes on a pasted strop is more than enough for a quick touch-up. You can visually check the bevel for even distribution by looking for a characteristic fogginess where the paste is working. Go to your normal prep side for a standard 30-40 passes to smooth it out and remove excess paste, and then your leather for 40-60 passes for the extra 10%!
Pasting your strop helps keeps the honemeister away. Your stropping technique should be somewhere between ‘competent shaver’ and ‘razor-wielding ninja’ before you worry too much about going out and buying Chromium Oxide. It makes good stropping better when used in moderation and bad stropping much, much worse. If your razor isn't cutting hairs at all, no amount of pasted stropping will save you and it's time for honing.
Help us keep new shavers on the cutting edge! What are YOUR best tips for pasted stropping?