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Selecting and treating leather for DIY strop

I'm looking for some advice on how to select, and if necessary, treat leather for a DIY strop. I've read plenty of topics on people making them, but not on how to select and potentially treat the leather - for example sanding it to re-surface.

Once upon a time - before knowing anything about it - I bought a women's cowhide leather belt on a flee market and turned it into a paddle strop for my kitchen knives. Of course in hindsight, the patterning on the leather makes it a less than ideal strop.

Now I want to make 2-3 new paddle strops of about 20*7 cm (8*2.5") using a glass backing and wooden handle underneath; as traveller strop, for my kitchen knives and one for a friend.
Every saturday on the local market a guy sells scrap pieces of leather, sometimes fairly large pieces. This got me thinking: can I buy some leather there? What should I look for in the leather? For example in thickness, smoothness, colouring/treatment, ...?
I guess thickness is less important if it's a paddle strop backed by glass.

Of course I can also still use my current "strop" as practice. Can I use this type of leather and sand it smooth as would be done with re-surfacing a strop?

Thanks for any tips and advice!


Strop makers, both pro and DIY, have all sorts of different ways of treating leather. Some do nothing at all, except select reasonably smooth pieces free of brands and range marks. For your first hanging strop, look for leather around 8oz or so. That is about 1/8" thick more or less. I do not make paddles, do not use them, do not like them, do not recommend them, so I can't tell you much specifically related to them. I do hanging strops only. I usually use quite ordinary cowhide. You can buy a side, or a double shoulder, and have lots and lots of leather, enough for all sorts of future projects as well as a couple of strops. You can also buy 3" wide strips of various weight leather on amazon, fleabay, and from McMaster-Carr or Grainger, or from Tandy online. Stick with veg tanned leather for best results.

I soak most leather in water for a few days, then lay it on a flat hard surface and rub with a bottle to compact and smooth the leather, especially the hair side. I repeat often as it dries. When the water is nearly dried out of the leather I begin replacing it with neats foot oil, rubbed in with the bottle. At some point I also paint a bunch of it on the flesh side. As the leather dries, sometimes it will curve as it tries to return to its original curvature. That's okay. I let it happen. For this reason I always cut the strop pieces a little oversize. After a few weeks I trim to final size, then cut and punch the bolster pieces, and assemble the strop with three chicago screws on each end. I use a D ring on each end so the strop is readily reversible in case one edge gets knicked up. My favorite width is about 2-3/4". If I am in a hurry, I just cut and assemble and done. I almost never sand a strop. I hand rub a lot, with a bit of neats foot oil or beeswax or both. Neats foot oil is absolutely the best thing you can put on a strop to preserve it and keep it supple. Don't overdo it! But if you do, just pack the strop in clay type kitty litter or oil absorbent for a few weeks and it will draw it out, then clean with saddle soap and hand rub with neats foot or beeswax.

You don't have to limit yourself to ordinary cowhide. There is latigo, bridle, all sorts of types, finishes, grades, and also leather from other animals such as buffalo or kangaroo. Horse shell is highly regarded but you won't find that at Tandy, no. For stropping machines used with old style wedge blade safety razor sets, deerskin works nicely. I have been thinking about trying pigskin for a travel strop.
Thanks. I needed to convert that to metric and laymen terms. 7-9 oz would be 2.8-3.6 mm thickness. Pretty sure they have that.

For Veggie tanned I'd have to ask. I guess most is chrome tanned. I'll go check it out this Saturday.
What about smoothness? As smooth as possible, not like the one I have now?

What about the leather on the current paddle strop? Is it, or can I make it usable? I also still have a leftover piece that is not glued yet.

@Slash McCoy I know I can easily order from the Bay, but I prefer local if I know what to look for.
I also prefer hanging for straights, but paddle for kitchen knives. A paddle is also a nice traveller, no risk in damaging it from rolling.

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Tony Miller

As mentioned veg tanned is your best bet. If for a paddle you can go two routes. Heavy firm leather for a more exactling edge or heavy softer leather which will give a more convex edge (nice for some knives). I will often use a thin firm leather for a paddle as it has little give to it once glued to the wood and gives a good crisp edge.

Smooth is nice for plain stropping or with abrasive sprays or emulsions. Rough or skived for paste or stick type abrasives.

For plain stropping, latigo or bridle (oily or waxy) works fine as does plain veg tanned tooling leather. Oily or waxy leather does not work well with abrasives as they cannot bond well and will not stay on the strop well.
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Thanks again for the additional information!
To sum it up: veggie tanned, around 3.5 mm thickness, and smooth. I can scout for some peaces with that.

I only use the strops plain, no compounds or sprays. I found out last night that smoothness is definitely a requirement. I tried sanding down the current paddle to remove the leather patterning. It took a lot of effort and it's still not perfect.

Is soaking and compressing the leather really necessary, or is just a nice extra step to do?
I don't know if anybody else even does it. Sometimes I don't. With cowhide it seems to make a nicer strop but certainly not necessary. Anyway you are making a paddle, right?
Yeah, I was thinking about 2-3 paddles. But depending on the leather I find, I might consider making 1 or 2 hanging strops instead. I might use the current paddle for my kitchen knives, though a bit wider would be preferable for that.

Let's see what they have first on Saturday. Maybe they don't have anything usable at all...
No luck unfortunately. He had one very nice thick and smooth piece of leather, almost a full hide for €30. But black-coloured chrome tanned. He only has chrome tanned, veggie tanned is very hard to come by he said.

I was hesitant to give it a try. It is still not fully clear to me why veggie tanned is preferred though. From what I found, chrome tanned leather would be too soft and supple for a proper strop?