How to Sharpen and Strop a Knife – The Complete Newbie Guide


Going into the great outdoors, you need to pack several items. While there are some tools you can do without, a knife is irreplaceable in your outdoor journey.  Sharpening and stropping a knife is essential for its maintenance. After all, a dull knife is more dangerous to use than a sharpened one.  Learning how to strop a knife doesn’t come as easy as you might think. The process may be dangerous and arduous at times, but with the right techniques and some practice, we’re sure you’ll be able to get the hang of it.

A knife is by far the most important survivalist tool. Here’s how to keep your knife in great condition by sharpening and stropping it properly.



How to Sharpen a Knife


Knife sharpening has been around for a while. The skill goes back to around 75,000 years ago, during prehistoric times. Unsurprisingly, there are numerous ways you can sharpen your tool.

knife beside vegetables


Here’s how to sharpen a knife using a whetstone:


How to Strop a Knife Using a Whetstone

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A whetstone is one of the more common tools used to sharpen knives. Contrary to what you might think, whetstones aren’t called that because they’re wet; ‘whet’ means ‘to sharpen.’

The stone’s exterior is covered in a coarse sandpaper-like side to help you achieve a smooth finish and mill your blade’s steel. It also has a fine side that’s used to sharpen and hone your knife.

Let’s dive into the steps on how you can use your whetstone to sharpen your knife.


Step 1: Prepare Your Whetstone

Before using a whetstone, you need to engulf it in water for about five to ten minutes or until there aren’t any visible bubbles emerging.

After it’s soaked and ready to go, make sure you place it on a non-slippery flat surface. You can place a rubber mat or towel under it to maintain some grip.

Some whetstone models might require oiling, so be sure to check your manual since each product differs.


Step 2: Choose Your Angling Position

To pick your angle, you might want to first check your manufacturer or ask for help from a knife shop. If you want a sharper edge that’ll last long, steeper angles are usually best.

Generally, you can keep your angle to a range from 15 to 20 degrees. This angle works adequately with most knives manufactured in the West.


Step 3: Hold Your Angle

This is where the hard part comes in; maintaining your angle while sharpening the knife.

There are a few tools you can use to help you out with this step. For instance, you can use two pennies, a quarter-inch binder clip, or a matchbook.

These sharpening guides will keep your angle secured. Without them, you would have to do it manually, which will make things more difficult.


Step 4: Drag Your Knife

It’s action time. You’ll want to start with the coarse side of your whetstone first.

Hold your knife’s handle securely and place your thumb (same hand) on the knife’s spine. Your other hand should be applying pressure on the knife’s cutting edge.

The blade should be facing your side. Push the blade away from you. Create ten slashes on each side of your knife.

Alternatively, you can drag the blade with one hand in the opposite direction of where you would be slicing the stone. You should be pulling the knife towards you in this case.


sharpening a knife using a whetstone

Step 5: Use the Fine Side

After you’re done grinding the stone on the rough surface, it’s time to flip it to the fine side for a silkier finish. This will hone your knife and remove any excess burrs from the other side.

You’ll simply repeat the previous process using the same method. Otherwise, you can keep flipping your knife after each stroke rather than completing 10 strokes on each side, separately.

If your whetstone gets dry in the process, you can wet your hands and rub the stone.


How to Strop a Knife


Before knowing how to strop a knife, let’s understand what stropping is and why it’s useful in your knife sharpening skill development.

Stropping is the last step to sharpening a knife. It involves lining up your knife’s cutting edge. Stropping is also used to polish and get rid of any additional metal from previous steps.

The main tool used is a strop, which is basically a leather strip. The strip can be composed of other materials like cotton, linen, and denim. Each textile has a different effect on your knife.

You’ll likely be using a bench strop since hanging strops are traditionally used for a barber’s razor. The strop is flat and laid out on a wood or acrylic base.

Now let’s get down to business. How do you strop a knife?


Step 1: Prepare Your Tools

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Get your leather strop prepped. This involves getting a paper towel or cloth with rubbing alcohol to get rid of any residual metal from previous stropping. First, dap the strop then use a scrub to remove the gunk out.

If you haven’t used your strop yet, you can just skip this step. Additionally, you can give your knife a quick rinse.


Step 2: Apply Your Stropping Compound

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This compound is used to polish out your leather strop. You can add a leather balm or petroleum jelly to your strop before using the compound. It usually comes in a bar form.

While it’s crucial to get an even coat, try not to add too much, or else it’ll become a dangerous, slippery mess.


Step 3: Get Your Angle Right

Since you’ve sharpened your knife before stropping, the angle you used before is the same one you want to use in stropping. If you sharpened at a 17-degree angle, strop at the same angle.

Make sure to keep your knife perpendicular to your strop.


Step 4: Start Stropping

Once you’ve got your angle down, it’s time to strop!

Hold your handle and drag the blade from heel to tip, while keeping your angle stable. You should draw the blade towards you. Afterward, you flip to the other side and repeat the process.

Complete a stroke on each side consecutively until each side gets seven passes. Next, you just need to clean up your leather strop. Don’t forget to wash your blade with warm water and it’ll be good to go.


Useful Knife Sharpening Tools

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Sharpening your knife doesn’t require a huge investment. Some people even use coffee mugs to sharpen their knives! Regardless, it’s always good to aim for practicality.

Here are some useful tools for your sharpening sessions:

  • Whetstone
  • Pennies
  • Sharpening Guide
  • Leather Strop
  • Cloth
  • Rubbing Alcohol
  • Electric Knife Sharpener
  • Honing Steel
  • Stropping Compound
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To Conclude – How to Strop a Knife


Whether you’re using your knife to cut food or whittle, a sufficient sharpening routine will keep your tool around for a longer time.

Finding the right sharpening tools is what matters most in the process. You can either use a whetstone or a commercial knife sharpener.

With time and practice, you’ll be on your way to mastering knife sharpening and stropping in no time.