Stropping/De-Burring with Leather
Using a leather hone/strop can be easy if you follow a couple of simple rules.
1. Approach the hone in the correct manner.
When you go to lay the knife down on the hone you should lay the knife down flat on it's side (edge away from you). Never approach the hone edge first as you will likely cut into the leather.
2. Find the angle.
Find the correct angle by simultaneously raising the spine and pushing the knife forward until the edge bites (not cuts) the leather. This is the exact angle of the bevel.
Over time try experimenting with the angle that you hone with. Try using the exact angle, then a slightly more acute (spine lower to the hone), and then a slightly more obtuse angle (spine farther away from the hone). I personally find that I often get a better edge by slightly raising the spine by about 1 deg from exact.
3. Use appropriate pressure.
For years I told people to use light pressure when stropping on leather. This was good advice since most leather is soft (often a lot softer than it appears) and easy to conform and wrap around a knife's edge serving to dub or roll the edge. If you can obtain leather that is very thin and stiff it will offer little to no give even under heavy downward pressure. This is advantageous to burr removal on high hardness blades like Japanese knives as you can now also use pressure to add to the draw that the leather provides to pull the loose burrs off of the edge.
4. Do not whip the blade at the end of the stroke!
This has to be the #1 mistake of the new stropper - whipping the knife off of the hone at the end of the stroke and rounding the edge over.
The correct technique would be to pull back and STOP at the end of the stroke - then lower the spine down to the hone (thus raising the edge off of the hone) - and then lift the knife off of the hone and continue back to the opposite end for the next stroke.
6. Take your time.
This is the #2 big mistake made when starting out - rushing.
You should take your time and ensure control. If this means doing the edge in little sections (versus a real impressive sweeping motion) then do so. It's almost a dead certainty that what you do at this stage of the game will either enhance or detract from what you did while on the stones. Taking your time will help achieve good results.