Sharpening, Honing and Stropping

Posted by Kristie French on

Sharpening, Honing and Stropping

What are the differences?

Jargon in the world of knife sharpening can sometimes be confusing.  You may hear the words: “honing”, “stropping” or “sharpening” used almost interchangeably, but what is the difference between honing and sharpening?  What about honing and stropping? To help us understand, let's start by breaking down what these words mean.

By definition: 

“Honing” means to sharpen (a blade.)

 “Stropping” means to sharpen with a strop

“Sharpening” means to make sharp or sharper.

When talking about knife sharpening, there is a bit more complexity in the way we apply these words. Sharpening generally is described as the process of removing material from a blade to create a new sharp edge.  Sharpening grinds away chips, dents and imperfections. However, an important finishing step in the sharpening process is to hone your blade.  Honing pushes the edge back to the center and gives you a smooth finish. Very little metal is removed by this process. As a result of honing, a knife will cut better and seem sharper. Honing can be done much more often than sharpening and will prolong the life of your knife (See previous article.) Confused yet? I like to think of the relationship between honing and sharpening as being very similar to the relationship between squares and rectangles.  Every square is a rectangle, but since a rectangle doesn’t require four matching sides, every rectangle is not a square.  Every time you sharpen a blade you need to hone the blade, but every time you hone a blade you don’t need to sharpen it.  

Stropping is a bit more straightforward. Stropping is honing with the use of a strop. A strop is commonly leather, fabric or soft wood, which are soft enough to smooth and hone without removing much material from the edge. Honing itself is done with either a strop or other honing supplies such as honing steel. 

I hope that makes things a little clearer.  If you have any questions or comments feel free to drop them in the box below. I’d love to hear from you.

Keep up the good sharpening!

Kristie F

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