Stropping materials

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Jan 18, 2019
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I’ve heard of people using balsa wood as a stropping base because of its high silica. Has anyone ever tried bamboo? It too is very high in silika and as a cutting board will dull a sharp knife. I haven’t tried it yet but it makes sense that it might work well as a strop.
 
Never tried bamboo. And balsa I use but with compounds. I bought a 3 x 3 x 12 inch block at Hobby lobby. I have 3 sides pasted and one side I glued leather to.
 
Do a search. Balsa is okay but it is not a hard wood so some people round the apex.
Basswood is more recommended in that it's a harder wood. Bamboo, na. I mean you could use it, I wouldn't. You can literally use anything to strop within reason.
 
I can second the basswood ... it was my next step in wood strops after balsa ...

I have used a piece of maple from an old table but put demin on it to hold my compound but still have a good firm base.
 
If your basing your strop on silica it's probably due to the old adage that it helps sharpen or refine the edge. This may work on some softer steels but it's fairly old thing. Use some diamond spray or paste on your stropping surfaces.
 
I think you'll find people use balsa wood because it has a little give and is plentiful/cheap and easy to work with. I don't think the silica content in the wood is relevant.
Thanks for the advice, although I haven’t found balsa to be all that cheap. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong place.
 
Whatever silica there is in balsa, it'll have little or no meaningful effect on stropping. I think balsa's best attribute for stropping is it's affinity for embedding and holding compound, of which it'll embed quite a lot. This means a loaded strop made with it is very aggressive for polishing; you'll see this in how quickly it blackens after some use. For the same reason, it's also a little more 'needy' of regular maintenance (cleaning, resurfacing), as it'll load up very fast with swarf. Another part of the 'neediness' of balsa for resurfacing is due to it's relative softness, which means it's more easily dented, nicked or cut in use. So it takes a little more TLC to keep it in shape. I prefer something firmer than balsa for a wood strop, like basswood. As with balsa, it's readily available at craft/hobby shops, and is often pre-cut in sizes ideal for stropping.

Bamboo is notoriously high in silica content; it's known to damage woodworking tools & bits used to cut & mill it. But silica isn't necessarily a good match for cleanly abrading or polishing modern cutlery steels. I've got a bamboo backscratcher stick that I picked up at a local store a while back. On a whim, I tried stropping one of my knives on it one day (something simple, like 420HC), and didn't like what it did to my edge, leaving it more damaged (burred, rolled) than refined. Had to take it back to a stone to restore it. Point being, the 'abrasive' silica present in the bamboo was enough to have an effect, but it's not really hard enough to cut or polish such a steel very well. Instead, I sort of equate it's effectiveness with that of millions & millions of microscopically-sized ball-peen hammers beating & bludgeoning a fine knife edge to an ugly mess, with most steels used these days. May sound jaded, but I keep coming away with that same impression, each time I've tried something like bamboo or your average rock on the ground, for sharpening or honing modern steel. There are some exceptions, like the silica-based novaculite in Arkansas stones. But the exceptions are in the minority.
 
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