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Leather Tool Maintenance – Great Shape for Great Results

To keep tools in top shape, leather tool maintenance is an easy and helpful way to ensure your finished projects can keep coming out great.

Leather tool maintenance is the periodic practice of cleaning, sharpening, oiling, and checking tools to ensure they operate optimally for the intended jobs at hand. Frequency of maintenance will often depend on the type of tool, how often it is used, and what it is used for.

So what’s most helpful when maintaining your tools? Let’s explore.


What is Leather Tool Maintenance?

Leather tool maintenance is the practice of cleaning and servicing tools to ensure they perform optimally, and accurately, for as long a time as is reasonably possible. It is key to ensuring quality leather working product. Often it includes cleaning, oiling, polishing, and sharpening tools and work surfaces. When cutting blades are kept sharp, work surfaces clean, and machines well-maintained, they all perform to their best potential.

Leather Tool Maintenance - Set of Leather Tools - Liberty Leather Goods

Set of Leather Tools – Leather Tool Maintenance

While it might seem like an afterthought compared to doing fun project (which, yes, are more fun than maintenance :)), in the end great tools will help make great work. Let’s explore some of the more common tools used for leather tool maintenance.


Leather Strop

A leather strop is a tool used in sharpening blades. It helps even out any tiny burrs on the blade edge, making it smooth and sharp. When blades get dull, it is generally due to tiny degradations in quality from the sharpened blade. These can include small nicks and burrs in the cutting edge.

When blades are sharpened, they are usually done so by going over the edge with increasingly-fine-grained stones or sharpeners. Coarser sharpening stones are used first to even out larger burrs. Then finer stones to reduce smaller burrs. Once the leather strop is used, it’s usually the last and finest-grained tool in the sharpening lineup.

They help produce a smooth edge to the blade while polishing it some as well. When sharpening knives, a leather strop can be a help addition to the process. If desired, jeweler’s rouge can be added to a strop to help refine the sharpened edges even more finely. Here’s a leather strop used to sharpen leather tools:



Can you over strop a knife?

In extreme cases, yes, a knife can be over stropped. Generally, when sharpening and stropping a knife, the amount of metal removed from the blade in the sharpening process will depend on the material used for sharpening it, and how fine the material is. More will be removed with a harder surface, such as a metal blade sharpener.

When using leather to strop, which is a relatively soft material with a fine surface, it will help refine an already-sharpened blade edge. Though, after the point at which it has provided as much refined sharpening as is technically possibly by it’s material characteristics, it will not sharpener even more. At this point, continuing to strop will simply, and very slowly, remove more of the metal edge.

It would take a lot of physical effort to do much wear to a blade with over stropping, so it mores becomes less effective after a certain point, than it does in over-wearing out the blade.


Can you sharpen a knife with leather?

Leather can be used to fine-sharpen a knife. Essentially, a knife needs sharpening then the very, very fine edge of the blade becomes rougher from cutting through substances. The Looking under a microscope, the smooth edge might have little burrs and rough spots in it.

Depending how rough it it, it might require use of a metal knife sharpener. This will help smooth our those burrs and return the blade to a more smooth, sharp edge. After using a typical knife sharpener, the blade can be smoothed-out, and “sharpened” even more using finer sharpening methods.

Leather can be used for this, where the knife blade is drawn across the leather to further smooth out and sharpen the blade When a sharpening compound is added to the leather, it can enhance the sharpening results even further. The fine, but rough elements in the compound help make the edge of the blade very fine, smooth, and sharp. Here’s how to sharpen a knife with a leather strop and compound:



Aluminum Oxide

Aluminum oxide is a chemical compound of aluminum and oxide that is applied to leather stops to aid in the knife sharpening process. When this compound is rubbed into the leather strop, it help draw a smoother, finer, sharper edge then when stropping with just leather alone. Here’s a sharpening stone that utilizes aluminum oxide directly within its composition:



Jeweler’s Rouge

Jeweler’s rouge is a compound that can be rubbed onto the flesh side of a piece of leather to turn it into an effective polishing strop. The strop can be used when sharpening and polishing knives and edged tools. It helps ensure they are well-maintained for maximum effectiveness when used. The rouge mainly helps make a much finer edge to the blade, that helps with cutting. Here’s a demsontration of making a strop using jeweler’s rouge:



Sharpening Stone

Sharpening stones are solid blocks of material used to sharpen the edges of knives and tools. They come in a wide variety of synthetic, chemical, and natural compositions. Sizes and shapes can vary as well. The different compounds, and sharpening stone materials, often help provide varying levels of sharpening.

The sharpening stones are run in a linear fashion over the edge of the blade being sharpened. This helps to smooth out the blade and reduce any burrs that might have been caused from use. These stones are a common tool used in the sharpening process and handy to keep around for larger blades. Here’s how to sharpen a knife starting with a sharpening stone then moving to a leather strop:



Sharpening Compound

Sharpening compounds are finely abrasive mixture of natural and or chemical materials used to refine the sharpened edge of knives and blades. The components in sharpening compounds are abrasives intended to polish the blades, and be the last step in the sharpening process.

If one is looking to bring an almost-new edge to a knife or bladed tool, adding sharpening compound onto a strop and running the blade over it while stropping can be quite helpful. They come in various compounds depending on the level of sharpening preferred.

Having an organized leather tool holder, workbench, or tool box also helps with tool maintenance. When they’re organized, have their own place, and are protected from bumping into or scraping each other, this definitely helps keep the tools is as new condition as possible. Here’s how to apply stropping compound to a leather strop:




In general, when putting tools away, ensure they’re debris-free. Wipe them down with a damp cloth, if appropriate, and apply the proper sharpening processes when needed. Also, ensure that tool are stored in a relatively cool, dry place. This will help ensure that they are well cared for and yield years of reliable use. If you’d like to see my overall leather tools list, click here.



Related Questions

Why does leather sharpen knives?

Leather helps sharpen knives by smoothing out burrs, nicks, and micro-abrasions on the blade. This smoothing out leads to a much cleaner edge, which helps it become sharper and more effective when cutting through materials.


How do you strop a knife without leather?

A knife can be stropped with a few methods without using leather. Those sometimes include balsa wood, cardboard, or paper wrapped onto a solid surface to provide strength behind it. Then strop as usual to help sharpen the blade.

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