This post is for the new straight razor user looking to purchase their first strop. There is a lot of information out there on the internet. It would take a very long time to read it all. Trust me, I’ve only read half of it at most. A lot of it is non-sense, some of is useless, and most of it is repetitive. Here is the bottom line: a strop is a piece of leather. That’s all it comes down to. No amount of fancy hardware, ornate screws, cordovan handles, or silver clips will make the strop any better than any other strop. Its just a strip of leather and a strip of canvas (good strops come with both) mounted with hardware facilitating easy setup in your shave den.
So, as a new user, the question I get asked most often is: “what should I buy?” The answer depends upon a few factors, so I’ll go over them in this article. The first factor is how committed you are to straight shaving. If your committed and know you aren’t going to quit, that this is the bee’s knees for you, then yes, you need a strop. If you just want to try straight razor shaving, not knowing whether you’ll like it or not and could quit at any moment, the answer is: no, don’t buy a strop.
The truth is, you don’t need a strop at all. In fact, bad stropping hurts your razor. Stropping is a learned skill, just like straight razor shaving. Good stropping prolongs your razor’s edge life, bad stropping drastically reduces it. The difference between stropping your razor and not stropping it comes down to how long the blade can go in between sharpening before it becomes too dull for comfort. Ultimately it depends upon a number of factors including: skill level, hair thickness, density of stubble, and tolerance level. Putting it into numbers, an unstropped razor should last between a week to a month or so. A regularly stropped razor will typically last between 6 months to a year in the hands of a skilled stropper. However, in the beginning, I wasn’t exactly a master of stropping, so expect only three months to six months at first. Remember, bad or inadequate stropping will drop that number even further.
So, now that I’ve established that you don’t actually need a strop, lets talk about those who are sure they do want to stick with straight shaving. If you fall into this category, then yes, you need a strop. Its not essential right away, but you’ll eventually want one so badly it becomes a need. So, its best to purchase one right away. To these people I always suggest the following: “Buy the strop you can afford to lose.” I say this because as a new strop user, you are extremely likely to nick or damage your strop in some manner. In most cases the damage is only cosmetic, but the risk of catastrophic damage is significant. When you become proficient at stropping and know you won’t cut up your new $300 cordovan strop, then you can buy the expensive stuff. But until then, it is wise to invest minimally.
At the most basic level, a strop is a piece of leather with mounting hardware. If your in the DIY mood, go down to a leather supply store, buy a strip of leather, punch a hole in it, string a leather thong through it and voila you have a strop. Mount the string to a hook or doorknob and hold the other end with your non-dominant hand. In fact, having no handles or D-rings was how most good quality strops were sold back in the straight razor’s heyday. I’m not sure why, I much prefer handles, but whatever the reason, it works now, and it worked then. There’s nothing wrong with it. Another, perhaps even cheaper, but definitely simpler, alternative is to just use a belt. Find a belt made with good quality, top-grain leather and strop away. Remember, we’re not going for the best quality strop in the world, just something functional.
Moving up a notch in the strop market, there used to be several good options for inexpensive starter strops. Unfortunately most or all have dried up. Tony Miller was the most widely known. That said, the Illinois Strop Company (now owned by Fromm) is still in business. Which is great news for new strop buyers. Sadly, they’re quality has lapsed over the years. But at the price, you can afford to buy three or four per one really good quality strop. And they come with a canvas strop too. Another option is the RupRazor Filly strop.
And for those who like to splurge, well, you’ll just have to wait for the next stropping article.