Draw is a technical term used by the straight razor community to describe a quality stropping leather has. While a strop is ultimately a piece of leather, different leathers act differently on the razor. Leathers can have very unique experiences while stropping and can give vastly different feedback to the user. Which brings us back to the definition of draw. Draw is the resistance or drag one feels when stropping. Ultimately, the amount of draw a leather has is dependent upon the leather used and the tanning process. Adding neatsfoot oil to your strop temporarily increases the amount of draw. Sanding the leather permanently increases the draw. Ultimately, draw does not affect the final edge terribly much. It is more a personal preference option.
Different leathers with draw have different accompanying attributes. For example, latigo has a lot of draw, but has a waxy feel to it. Suede has a lot of draw, with a clean feeling. Buffalo has a similarly clean draw to it, although it does have less draw than latigo. We haven’t tried Tony Miller’s new “bull-hide” yet, but its supposed to have a lot of draw with a clean feeling, possibly similar to buffalo. Regular leather has a medium amount of draw, while horse hide has almost no draw. Shell Cordovan is the slickest, with as close to no draw as possible. It is also why archers love cordovan finger-tabs. Shell cordovan has incredibly low levels of friction.
Which brings us to why certain leathers have more draw than others. Its all about friction and surface area. To increase the draw of any leather, all you have to do is lightly sand the leather. Lightly sanding the leather raises the nap and “suedes” the leather. We take no position on whether you should or shouldn’t do this, but if you do, we recommend starting using a high grit (800-1,000) and working your way down. Raising the nap increases the surface area contacting the razor and edge, thereby increasing the resistance felt, aka draw. Another factor is how the leather was tanned. Different tanning methods will influence the final product and affect the draw of the leather.
What Does Draw Do
Now, what exactly does an increased amount of draw actually do? The answer is simply change the amount of feedback. Some people have put forward that leathers with more draw are more effective at sharpening the razor due to the increased resistance and surface contact. But other than personal opinion and conjecture, there has been no evidence presented which supports this hypothesis. In addition, if this was true, we’d all be sanding our strops to increase the draw and suede would be the leather of choice. In our opinion, draw only affects the feedback you receive. Other than increased tactile feedback, there is no advantage to draw.
So, to sum everything up, draw is a personal preference. Some people really like it and take sandpaper to their horse-hide strops. Some strop makers buff slicker leather to increase draw. Others offer very exotic leathers with more draw than traditional cowhide. In the end, it all comes down to personal preference. The amount of draw, by itself, is a personal choice.