Honing Strop and Rouge
Move onto the strop. A good strop has two sides to it, one of rough leather and one of smooth hide. On the rough leather side rub in a good layer of rouge. I use red oxide, but there are many different rouging compounds that can be tried. Lay the blade all the way down onto the surface of the rouge, pull away from the cutting edge in nice long strokes! This is the stage where you will finally lose all the tin edge. You can never strop too much. For a new tool, about 15 strokes per side. Flip the strop over and work the tool across the smooth leather. This side gives that wonderful polished look.
Now at this point you can check if the tin edge is gone by looking directly down at the blade edge. If that edge is has a fine shiny line along it you still have the tin edge. If the blade edge has no shine, you did it!
My last step is an old – old sharpening technique from way back. Get a couple of sheets of newspaper that have either lots of tight writing on them or a big black picture. You are looking for an area of the newspaper that is heavy with printer ink. Just as you did with the strop pull the knife along the newspaper, one direction, flip, the other direction. I usually work the paper until the ink where I am working has turned shiny.
I am not sure that many use the newspaper any more. Originally it was the lead in the printers ink that acted as a rouging compound. I still do it because the ink does work as a polisher even though it no longer contains lead and the fine tooth of the paper gives that last little “lick” to the blade.
My father, who taught me how to carve, always checked the sharpness of the tool by holding up an edge of the newspaper with one hand. One corner of the paper hung free into the air. On that corner he would lay his knife and make a cut. If the paper “folded” under the knife edge it wasn’t sharp enough for him, because a razor edge will slice the paper without bending it.
As a beginning carver, this use to “discuss – discourage – depress” me. It seemed that as hard as I tried my paper always folded. But after just a few sessions of practicing sharpening I too could “slice the paper clean”.
With a new blade it might take several turns of sharpening to get that razor sharp edge you want. It seems to me that sharpening then using the knife for a little whittling, then sharpening again is what finally develops that perfect tool.