A strop is basically a piece of leather. After a knife is sharpened, it can be taken to a strop, which aligns the edge, and helps the knife cut. If the strop is loaded, with a compound, then it can polish the blade, and hone the edge to a higher level. For example, after I sharpen off a Fine Spyderco ceramic, I can usually shaving sharp. However, if I strop, I can get it to hair popping sharp.
I'll add a how to strop in the last step, just in case.
Anyways, this instructable is mainly on how to load a strop, or to apply the compound. There are many different types of compound, such as diamond paste from DMT. I just use a green, chromium oxide compound from sears. Costed around $3. It's basically a block of craftsman polishing compound.
What you need:
Strop (piece of leather works best, although I have heard of jeans. And some people prefer balsa wood.)
Stove (really hope you have one... or just a campfire in the middle of the woods)
Compound (I got the one from sears. "Craftsman Green buffing compound")
Knives (If you don't, erm.. move on to another instructable. Or check out my other instructables to make a knife first!)
Paper Towel/Toilet Paper (Go to a fast food restaurant and borrow some if you have to)
Step 1: Clean the Strop
If you have a clean piece of leather, skip this step.
To clean the strop, I use ispropyl alcohol, and just rub down the strop and try to remove most of the things. Then, I use a 320 grit piece of sandpaper to both clean the strop, and also give the compound something to adhere to.
Step 2: Apply the Compound
Your compound looks, and smells like a big crayon, no? Just use light, fast strokes to color in the strop. For those who did not have a great childhood, you want to take the compound, and rub back and forth. You want to build up a bit of friction, and heat the strop and have things moving. If everything smears into the strop, then congrats! And you can skip the next step. However, if your compound doesn't spread evenly into the strop, you'll have to rub it in.
For those with some kind of paste, like the DMT diamond ones, just put on a drop or so, and rub it in with your fingers.
Step 3: Rub It In
Give the strop a couple of good taps to dislodge any loose things, and move into the kitchen.
Heat up the stove top, and then heat up the piece of leather. Eventually, the compound will melt, much like a crayon, but at much lower temperatures. When it has melted, or looks kind of liquidy, or just softer, take the paper towel, and rub back and forth and rub the compound in. If the compound flakes and falls off, you probably did not heat enough. Repeat until you're satisfied with the amount of compound. I usually just have a thin coating.
Try not to get too close to the fire, but the leather might warp a little anyways. It's okay, a heavy book will press it back down. And regular use will flatten the strop again.
If you did it correctly, the surface of the leather should feel waxy and slippery. Like there's compound on it (duh!). Your finger shouldn't stick to it like normal leather, but glide over a surface. If it's a thin layer, you might not be able to see anything. If it's really thick, your leather might look like algae had some fun on it.
Step 4: Enjoy!
Using a strop is much like sharpening a knife, but in reverse. Take your knife as though you were going to sharpen it, but move it backwards, so that the edge will not cut into the leather. So the knife should be traveling the opposite way of the cutting edge. Gentle stroke work best. When you do strop, you should feel a slight resistance from the leather, but do not press into the leather, otherwise you will dull your edge. Press just enough to feel a little drag.
It's a pretty simple instructable, but I just put this out here because I love strops! They really help, especially when you're bad at sharpening. It won't make a dull knife sharp (well technically, given enough time, even water can sharpen a knife), but it can take that okay edge to a great one. This works because the leather has a bit of give, and will mold itself a bit to the knife's angle, as opposed to the unyielding stone.
Any questions, comments, concerns, please ask! Unless it's about animal cruelty. If you're that bothered, use a piece of balsa wood. Or jeans. Or even a piece of paper. I like leather for the give though.