Creating a Stropping Wheel
by Curtis Turner
Round Rock, TX
Note: Click on any picture to see a larger version.
This is an extremely easy project! A stropping wheel will be useful for touching up knives as well as turning tools. You will need a
, a small piece of MDF, and a small strip of leather (an old belt will work). It is well worth the time and materials to create a stropping wheel.
The diameter of the wheel needs to be large enough to allow access to the wheel from the headstock side. If you can imagine for a moment, stropping both sides of a knife blade. You will rotate the handle of the knife from the right side to the left side of the wheel. The headstock will interfere with the travel of the knife handle if you don’t allow enough clearance. You will have plenty of room to the right of the wheel.
I used a scrap piece of MDF to mark out an 11" diameter circle (above). Side note: I never thought I would "like" a compass. I purchased
from Highland Woodworking several years ago and I really enjoy using it. There’s not much to say other than it is well made and it just works
Next, I marked out the holes for the faceplate screws. I then counter bored the holes to remove some excess MDF from the screw hole.
MDF will buckle up when screws are driven into it, thus preventing the faceplate from drawing snug against the surface. I then cut out the disk on my bandsaw. I opted to dedicate an old faceplate to this project and save my
better faceplates from Easy Wood Tools
, for more challenging holding requirements. I will leave this faceplate attached to the wheel. The disk will never run true if the faceplate is frequently removed and replaced. In addition, the screw holes in the MDF will quickly lose their grip after several re-threadings.
Next, I trued the disk using a
large spindle gouge
. It is important to remember that turning MDF is a very dusty operation. I always wear a
while working with MDF. I also turn on my vacuum to help minimize the airborne particles.
Attaching the Leather
Next, I cut an old leather belt to fit the wheel. I applied packing tape to the outer side of the leather to reduce the risk of the glue sticking to the strap clamp. I used a
thick CA glue
to attach the belt to the MDF disk. I spread a thin layer of glue on the wheel. Then I cinched a strap clamp around the disk (see photo below). I then sprayed on a small amount of accelerator to instantly cure the glue.
I removed the clamp once the glue dried. Finally, I used a
very sharp marking knife
to slice way the excess leather.
After properly mounting the disk, I applied a
green stropping compound
by rotating the spindle by hand.
I used the green bar to color on the compound like a giant crayon. I attempted to get an even coverage of compound on the leather. I also turned the lathe on to a low speed (sub 300 RPM) and applied more compound.
It is VERY important that the leather wheel rotates in the proper direction while stropping any tool. If you run the lathe in the forward position (wheel rotating towards you), the tool edge should be in the down or trailing position. If you choose to rotate the wheel in reverse (wheel rotating away from you), the tool edge should be face up or in the trailing position. If you do not follow these guidelines, the tool edge will bite into the leather causing the tool to dislodge from your hands. This will lead to an injury or a damaged tool.
Also, if the wheel is rotating in reverse, use the tailstock and lock the faceplate hex nut to prevent the faceplate from unthreading and dismounting from the lathe.
Time to Shine
This is the fun part! I ran the wheel at about 150-200 RPM and carefully applied the knife edge to the rotating wheel. You can see the knife edge is pointing down towards the floor while the wheel is in forward rotation.
I gently applied pressure and moved the knife sideways across the wheel attempting to spend an equal amount of time stropping each section of the blade. I then rotated the knife handle to the left and followed the same procedure. I worked both sides of the edge several times. The goal is to polish or refine the edge at a consistent angle. You will need to be careful to avoid rolling the edge which creates a rounded (dull) edge. This will take practice on your part.
I checked my progress by cutting newspaper. I wanted a clean cut without sawing my way through the paper. In the photo above you can see the mirror reflection on the micro bevel of the knife. Is this the best way or only way to strop a tool edge? No, there are many commercially available methods. However, this project is quick, inexpensive and uses a tool you already have in your shop.
Curtis was a former President of
Central Texas Woodturners
, is a member of the
American Association of Woodturners
, and a member of
Fine Woodworkers of Austin
. Curtis teaches and demonstrates nationally for Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. He also teaches for TechShop. He owns a studio where he teaches and works. Curtis lives in Central Texas with his wife and four young children. Take a look at his website at