Hand Tools Archive

Testing stropping at a high angle *PIC*

I know there have been a LOT of posts about this topic recently and I don't want to add noise, but I figured that this was worth sharing. This time I did a test with a chisel stropped at a high angle.

After honing the 30-degree bevel on a Shapton Pro 1000, I stropped it at about 40-45 degrees, using a strop loaded with 1 micron green compound made by JacksonLea (ordered from McMaster-Carr). To remove any burr, I lightly stropped the back of the chisel a couple of times, and then did a couple passes on the bevel and then the back again.

After stropping, the reflection from the tiny microbevel at the edge looks like this:

The process of stropping can vary depending on pressure, amount of compound, etc., so I can't recommened an exact procedure with particular number of strokes or anything like that. If you try this, what you want to do is strop your chisel until it looks like the one here. And maybe keep stropping some more. (More on that later.)

The test is the same one I've been doing: chop off total twenty pieces off the end of a 3/4" thick piece of soft maple, with each piece 1/16" wide. This is what it looks like at the end.

I actually ran two tests with a stropped chisel. With the first test, I didn't get quite the edge durability that I had hoped for, so I honed it and stropped it again, but this time I slathered on more of the green compound, and I stropped more times. Maybe 20 or so? The result: it held up almost as well as when buffed. It's possible that more stropping would have done better, but I don't know for sure. It's still miles ahead of the flat-honed chisel, and close enough to the buffed chisel that I think it's a completely usable alternative to buffing.

One thing I've learned from this experience and others, if the edge isn't as durable as I expect, I just go back and do more stropping/buffing, and it helps durability without increasing cut resistance. Other than perhaps my first couple of tries, I don't think I've ever over-buffed (or stropped) a chisel, to the point where the edge was rounded or dull; I've only under-done it.

In the pictures below, you'll see that the initial condition of the edge isn't quite as good as the buffed chisel, and it develops a bit more damage in the test. It's possible that more stropping could help, but that's just a guess at this point.

This is the initial state of the chisel:

At the end, the chisel could still easily shave hair. To the naked eye, it looked completely undamaged. Under the scope, you can see there was a little edge damage, but still almost nothing compared to the flat-honed chisel. This is what it looked like at the end.

Based on this test, I think it's fair to say that stropping can provide most of the benefits that buffing does. If you have a strop sitting around, I suggest trying this out: strop a chisel at a high angle (I did 40-45 degrees) and see how it works for you. If the edge doesn't hold up dramatically better, try stropping it some more and see if that helps.

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