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Persistent Low Areas During Vintage Shell Strop Restore

You've all seen the black, usage marks on old strops. Most likely steel, blood and lather. I've done a few restores on vintage shell and have found the black staining to be heavier at the top and the bottom. Most puzzling of all is, that when I start sanding the strop, these spots show up as lower than the surrounding shell. Has steel, blood and lather shrunken the leather in these areas? Was this staining at one time a high point in the strop caused by cupping or the way the strop has held? Why is it heavier at the top and the bottom?

I've found these low spots and stains to be almost impossible to get out of the shell. Straight forward thinking got me nowhere. The spots laugh at 400 grit W/D, trying to sand them out is not economically feasible or prudent. Using a furniture type scraper, I gave it my best shot. Pealed away material like crazy but would not reduce the 2 persistent stains. I decided to go ahead and finish the strop thinking they seem to be permanent.

Well... that was disappointing. A wonderful draw spoiled by a totally different draw over the black areas. Not pleasant at all, not what I'm looking for. These spots were so sticky on the draw, I thought I had somehow over hydrated it. I rubbed the strop with a cloth with rubbing alk on it...a few times...and electrical contact cleaner a few times (think dry cleaning fluid). No dice, no difference. Sticky black stains. This is not the first shell strop I've fought this on, I usually just admit defeat and use the strop anyway. I've had enough of so-so restores... I want it right and just the way I like it. Time to rethink my strategy.

I had wiped the strop down with a damp cloth before starting and got the usual amount of crud off of it. I thought I'd give it a go again but wetter this time. I surmised this may show me if I had over oiled and I wanted to bear down and rub on the black parts to see what I could get off of it. Lo and behold the next day when I got back to it, the black, sticky crud now presented itself as dry, raised nap. Thank you Lord. A quick run through a sanding progression and the sticky, black, crud is gone. I'm tickled pink!

So after months of frustration, I found a solution to a problem I don't really understand to begin with.

Why do these areas show as low when refinishing? Has the leather actually shrunk here?
How on earth can these spots be so resistant to abrasives?
Why are they so pronounced where you'd be doing a flip?

Any ideas?


Girls call me Makaluod
I haven't experienced what you have reported, dark stains near the end of the stropping surface. My thinking is that it could be due to the blade being flipped there and the edge coming down with excessive force. We are talking over a long period. Just a thought.
I haven't experienced what you have reported, dark stains near the end of the stropping surface.

I suppose most normal folks would have walked away from the strops I try to restore. I'm drawn to them for some reason, shell is very responsive to restoration because you can't sand through the skin. I even managed to remove a fold crease from one but I find this dark, sticky area to be very, very resistant to refinishing. I seem to be able to knock it down quite a bit but the darker areas are very persistent. I'll be happy to get it to the point where the draw spot on but the stain can remain. I will never, be able to make it look new. The lack of flatness I find concerning. I sand with a flat block on a flat surface. I'll try to get some pictures up. I think it will be hard to see.


Staff member
It's microscopic particles of steel, that build up over time on the areas of the strop with the most friction (be that because of cupping, the weight of the razor, the hand of the stropper, etc.) Basically the same stuff that shows as dark swarf when you hone, though much less, since a unpasted strop is only a little abrasive.

This is one of the main arguments for a linen component. My linen shows the dark marks, but not the leather side, since the linen removed any loose, oxidised particles first.
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Yea, post some photos for better advice.

Did you re-hydrate the strop, before sanding?

Sounds like the strop is dehydrated. Sanding Shell is a last resort as you are removing the Shell finish.
I made it a point to sand before hydration. Dry shell is easier to work with as it doesn't load the sandpaper as fast . I hate the way the sanding dust rolls into little balls at low grit on hydrated material. I could hit you on the shins while holding it sideways and most likely leave a mark. I'll do that later. I also will skive, (bevel) , the edges and burnish them. I'm always amazed at how "rubber like" shell feels after a re hydration and /or restore.
Maybe these crummy phone picks can show something. Notice, the top of the strop has a dark, almost, burnished area, on it. 600 grit W/D doesn't seem to impress it much.


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