I have a special set of chisels that I
only use for paring. To do a good
job, they have to be wicked sharp—
and stay that way. My secret weapon
isn’t a fabulously expensive honing
stone. It’s a cheap, homemade
I use these chisels a lot when
I’m cutting dovetails (Photo 1).
Whenever a chisel feels the least bit
dull, I renew its edge on the strop.
This only takes a moment, but the
results are dramatic. When I pare
end grain, for example, I routinely
get tissue-thin shavings, not dust. I
use the strop quite often, so I store
it right next to my chisels (Photo
A strop is a very simple device.
It’s just a thick piece of fi rm leather,
about 2-3" wide, glued to a block
(see Sources, below). The
leather is charged with a thin layer
of 0.5 micron honing compound
(see Sources). A strop will serve you
for many years: The leather won’t
wear out, and one stick of compound
is probably all you’ll ever
need to buy.
Here’s how to make one. Cut
the leather about 10-12" long, then
cut a board slightly wider and longer
than the leather. Spread a thin
layer of yellow glue onto the board
and place the leather on the board
(Photo 3). Clamp a second board
on top of the leather to keep it fl at.
After the glue dries, use your tablesaw
to trim the block fl ush with the
leather. Next, apply a thin coat of
mineral oil to the leather (Photo
4) and rub on some honing compound
(Photo 5). Your strop is
ready to go.
Before I explain how to use the
strop and describe what it does to
an edge, let’s return to my set of
paring chisels. They’re made of
high-quality steel, so they can hold
a thin edge. (A chisel with a low angled
bevel requires less effort to
push when paring than one with a
steep-angled bevel.) I grind these
chisels at 20°, then hone on 500,
2000 and 8000 grit Shapton waterstones.
I don’t use a guide. Instead,
I rock the chisel on the stone until
I feel both the bevel’s heel and toe
contact the surface. Then I start
honing, maintaining that angle,
until I feel a wire edge on the back
of the chisel. I remove the wire
edge on the 8000 stone.
Next, I go to the strop. Again,
I rock the chisel to find the bevel,
press hard, then pull the chisel
backwards down the strop. I repeat
this process three or four times,
making sure I maintain the bevel’s
original angle. I also strop the chisel’s
back (Photo 6).
What does the strop do? It polishes
the edge—making it sharper;
and slightly rounds over the edge—
making it stronger. I’m convinced
that a stropped edge lasts longer
than an edge that’s only been
honed. It’s amazing!
Click any image to view a larger version.
1. Paring end
grain requires an
edge. When my
chisel feels a bit
dull, I go right
to the strop to
restore its edge.
2. My strop lives
on the wall next
to my bench,
always ready to go.
Stropping a chisel
takes less than a
3. To make a strop,
glue a thick, stiff
piece of leather
to a block. MDF
makes an ideal
flat and stable.
4. Prepare the
applying a light
coat of mineral
oil. Work it into
only have to do
5. Rub honing
the strop. The
a long time—I
the strop every 3
months or so.
6. Strop the back
of your chisel, as
well as the bevel.
Hold the chisel
flat on the strop,
so you don’t
round the edge,
and pull it back.