Strops…they ain’t just for barbers

When I was a kid, my parents used to take me to the local barber shop for my haircuts. It was owned by a gentlemen named Larry Roberts who we affectionately referred to as “Larry Da Barber”. Larry was kind and always very sincere. If you could capture class in a bottle, you’d put guys like him on the label. He loved kids, which was evident by the comic books on the rack and drawers full of bubble gum. You got a handful of the latter with every haircut.

I loved that shop – from the antique apolstered barber chairs to the old fashioned scissors and clippers he’d been using since he opened the place. It was one of the few places you could go to get a straight-razor shave and I used to love watching him give one while I waited. Men would walk in, he’d lather them up with a brush, unfold the razor, strop it on a hunk of leather on the wall, and proceed to give the closest shave you’ve ever seen. It freaked me out!

Larry passed recently and I’ll never forget him. The site of him stropping those razors and the smell of oiled leather is forever burned into my memory. Men like him don’t exist anymore. Shops like that don’t exist anymore.

I find beauty in simple things, which is probably why I’m drawn to traditional bowhunting the way that I am. I find it funny I’m conveying this to you via digital means, but that is just the way our world is turning. Fortunately, for those of us who treasure the old ways and seek a balance, it doesn’t have to turn so quickly.

That is what Simply Traditional is all about.

For the “Simple” minded there are few things in life as exciting as a razor sharp broadhead and its results, save for maybe the finely tuned arrow attached or the longbow that cast it. There’s nothing like a passthrough or the short recovery accompanying, but it takes more than shot placement to get that result.

In my very first hunting season I was fortunate enough to take a doe with a longbow, but unfortunate enough to hit and lose another in the same sit. The first was a double-lung passthrough, while the second struck the shoulder and flopped harmlessly out of the deer who lived to tell her friends about it.

I was heartbroken and tore the second tag up right then and there. Sure, I got the first, but wounding the second was really hard to swallow and it is something I think about to this day. This all happened five years ago, so I’ve mulled the scenario over in my mind hundreds of times:

  • The first deer was taken at over 20 yards
  • The second deer was hit at 10 (the force bowled her over)
  • My arrows were 2117 XX75 aluminum
  • My broadheads were the standard 145g Ace
  • My longbow scaled in at 55# @ 30

I’d worked very hard at learning how to sharpen those Ace’s and thought I had done a decent job. They spun true, popped hair, and killed the first deer after all. So what was the deal? My arrows could have been heavier I suppose and the shoulder is not an ideal place to hit a deer, but there was more to it than that at the time.

I’d find out a year or two later after showing some heads I’d sharpened to a close friend of mine. He was a butcher who’s heads made mine feel like a butter knife in comparison. “There’s no reason to hit the woods with anything but the sharpest heads possible.” He said, as he gently ran each of my heads down a large sharpening stone. “Sharpening is an art,” he continued, handing me one of the heads. I was already amazed by the difference, but he wasn’t done. He took the head, pulled and old block of wood with a piece of leather glued to it, and repeated the process he’d used on the stone. The result was an edge you could shave your face with and then check your work with the reflection. I became a believer in strops from that day forward.

I made a crude one of my own and used it for several years. It wasn’t pretty but it did the job. I planned on making another with a few modifications, but never got around to it. As luck would have it, Steve had already built a prototype and asked me to try it out. It was simple, didn’t slide across the bench when I used it, was made of quality leather, and was small enough to fit in my possibles bag for touch ups. My Simply Traditional block has been on my bench ever since and I use it constantly.

My favorite part is the non-skid pad that Steve glues to the bottom, which makes all the difference in the world. There’s nothing worse than a sloppy strop sliding all over the table. It dulls your heads and puts stitches in your fingers.

There isn’t much you can buy in the $20 range these days. At $25 these are the perfect addition to any gear bag and make a fantastic gift, especially when paired with a KME sharpener. Sure, you could build one, but Steve already has you covered. And if you do buy one, Steve made a pretty cool “How To” regarding how to use it. Check it out!


Nick Viau is a good friend and valuable member of the Simply Traditional field staff. Read more about Nick’s sharpening progressions on his Life and Longbows blog, which includes a few tips he’s picked up over time.

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