Why Does Leather Sharpen Knives? (Plus 19 Helpful Tips)

why does leather sharpen knife

The ability of a piece of leather to sharpen metal is crazy when you think about it. In this article, I did research on why leather is able to sharpen knives and I’m ready to share with you the findings that are absolutely going to help make sense out of how it works.

So why does leather sharpen knives? As a matter of fact, leather on its own will generally not sharpen knives but instead, hon, re-hon, realign, refine, or polish the knives. In order for leather to be able to sharpen knives, its surface must be covered with polishing or buffing compounds.

If you came for a quick short and sweet answer, then there you have it but there’s obviously more to this subject. Keep reading to find out more!

Details On Why Leather Sharpens Knives

From the above-bolded answer, I have stated clearly that leather alone cannot sharpen knives.

This is because there are couple of things that sharpening knives involves.

Since sharpening involves the process of grinding steel, sharpening will require the use of a tool or material substance that’s somewhat harder than the knife material.

This is where the polishing, buffing or honing compounds come in. A regular leather strop will have to be used with a buffing compound.

Just like paper and cloth, leather can also be used with buffing or polishing compounds to sharpen knives or razors.

Buffing compounds also known as honing compound are tiny and hard particles of an abrasive solvent that is used on leather, wood, or cloth strop to help sharpen or hon knives.

It also enables leather to refine the edge and also gives a mirror finish to knives.

Buffing or stropping compounds will usually come in the form of a wax bar, a paste, or a spray.

The most common compound for general purposes is the .5 μm chromium oxide wax bar.

The best compound that will help your leather to give your knives or razors specialized stropping is the diamond paste compounds.

Basically, the way you go about this is by simply “loading” the compound onto the surface of the leather and rubbing it in.

Then you place your knife on the part of the leather “loaded” with the compound and begin to strop, sharpen, or hon.

It’s simply amazing how leather is still able to do this. But the fact that paper can also to a large extent, be used with buffing compounds to sharpen knives makes it absolutely logical for leather sharpening knives.

This is because if you know a little bit about leather, the leather had tensile strength that a thousand times more durable than paper.

So if paper can bring a knife to any amount of sharpness, then leather will be able to do a far better job.

I must add that compounds are not an absolute necessity. You will still be able to safely bring the edge of your knives to a fine ultra sharpness without polishing or honing compounds.

Leather On Its Own Will Be Able To …..

There are a few other things leather on its own will be able to do for your knives without any compounds.

Leather Can Hone Knives

What leather alone will be able to do for your knives or razors is to hone it.

If you’ve been reading this article to this point, you will understand by now that there’s a difference between sharpening and honing a knife.

Related Article: What Leather Is Best For A Strop?

With a good piece of leather, what you will be able to do in the form of honing is to straighten out the teeth of your knife uniformly so it points back to its original position or direction.

Pro Tip: You will be able to hon and re-hon knives made from good quality blade materials with high edge retention significantly more times than knives made from generic knife steel.

Leather Can Remove Burrs From Knives

Another thing leather will be able to do to the knife is to remove any little burrs that might have been left from grinding or sharpening the blade.

With a leather strop, you will have the finest grit that you can’t get even on the finest sharpening and polishing stones.

Using leather is one of the best ways to maintain a very sharp edge on straight blades that do not need to be re-ground.

You will be able to use leather to sharpen and hone knife blade materials like carbon exceptionally well and some other types of steel.

19 Tips On Sharpening Knives With Leather

  • To effectively use leather to sharpen your knives you would want to first understand the role leather plays in the entire sharpening process (as discussed earlier in this article) and the physical structure of a knife blade.
  • Knives have microscopic teeth on their cutting edge that curls bends or misaligns with use. You will be able to see the zigzag teeth when you view them under a magnifying glass.
  • The more sharpness you would want on the blade, the smoother the leather has to be.
  • Leather will sharpen your knife on a microscopic or minute level.
  • You would be able to use leather to hon, realign, and refine knives more than you can sharpen. Sharpening will only be possible when you apply polishing compounds on the surface of the leather.
  • Leather is a great every day sharping tool for your knives.
  • You can use an old piece of leather belt to sharpen or hon your knives.
  • You can wet the leather you intend to use to sharpen your knife with ordinary water before you start sharpening. Helps to keep the knife steady over the leather.
  • Always hold your leather straps nice and tout in order for it to be firm enough for good sharpening.
  • You would want to maintain a 25 – 45 degrees angle when sharpening your knife with leather to avoid cutting through the leather.
  • If it’s your first time sharpening your knife with leather, you really want to go really slow to avoid cutting yourself or cutting through the leather.
  • Always maintain the angle of the knife when you’re sharpening it.
  • Ensure you’re always moving the cutting edge (of the knife) over the leather away from you.
  • When dragging the knife over the leather make sure to cover the entire surface of the blade.
  • If there’s a curve on the knife, you would want to rotate the knife itself along the curve of the knife.
  • Don’t take very long strides when you’re sharpening your knife with leather.
  • Also, you would want to ensure you’re still moving the cutting edge of the knife away from you even when you flip the knife around to sharpen another side.
  • Keep the blade facing down while you draw it towards you when sharpening.
  • Ensure you use nice even strokes instead of applying a serious amount of pressure.


I wrote this article to help you understand why leather is able to sharpen knives.

Although this phenomenon is possible, it requires some special substances A.K.A polishing compound in order for the leather to sharpen knives properly.

There are some great details I have shared in this article on why leather sharpens knives.

I also concluded by sharing 19 tips on using leather to sharpen knives.

I hope this article was useful and that I have brought a little bit of clarity to your understanding of this topic. Thanks for sticking around!


Hi! I’m Kwabena, the owner and founder of Favored Leather. I’m a huge Leathercraft enthusiast and I’ve been that for almost 13 years now. I'm excited to share my experiences and all the new stuff I learn each day about leather craft, leather cleaning & care, and everything in-between!

Recent Posts