Care of Kanayama Strops

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drmoss_ca
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Care of Kanayama Strops

Post by drmoss_ca »

Straight shavers tend to have strong opinions about strops, and fortunately most of us are right: our strops are excellent. That's because there are lots of good strops available, and provided you avoid the cheapest you will probably have one that is functional and effective. A few of us have taken that a step further, buying into the handmade strops that come from an old gentleman called Mr Naomi. Even the name is quirky—his company is called Kanoyama, but the stamps were made with a misspelling 'Kanayama' and he decided to be economical and still use the stamp rather than having another made.



These strops come in three parts, a coarse linen, a thick suede and a cordovan-tanned finishing strop. There is a good deal of lore on how to (mis)treat the linen before using it, generally involving repeated treatments with soaps, rinsing, sun-drying and some physical abuse with rolling pins. This softens the surface. The untanned strop is perhaps the most remarkable in use, and works best if it is never dressed with anything at all. It's like a fine suede and naturally has a noticeable draw. But the finishing strop is what draws in the buyers, being a shell cordovan leather. This is not made from the hide of the horse, but from a layer of subcutaneous fascia found on the rump of the horse. It's what you see in action when a horse contracts some subcutaneous muscles to 'shiver' the skin to dislodge a biting fly. This fascia is below all the follicles of the skin, so it is smooth and the old Spanish technique (from Cordoba) is to finish it with a mirror gloss surface. If you buy some expensive shoes you may come across it, as the leather soles often are finished that way. It is beautifully smooth and shiny, and must be used taught with only a light touch of the razor skimming over it. It is easily damaged if you are in the least careless about flipping the razor over at the end of a stroke. And that's what I want to talk about here.

When I got my Kanayama I did not realise how easy it would be to damage. I've been stropping razors for a long time and I generally keep strops in good shape. But trying to strop quickly, or with firm pressure, or with the strop slack will let the razor make tiny imperfections in that lovely shiny surface. And these are not the kind of strops where you just go and buy another one - they are too expensive and Mr Naomi is in his eighties. I wanted to keep it in as good a shape as I could, and thought about the fascinating videos I've seen on YouTube about high end shoe repairs. Cobbling is really interesting! Anyway, there's lots of information about leather repair and refinishing. I thought I could transfer what I do with leather boots to the strop and it does seem to work. First you sand any nicks with a series of fine to superfine sandpapers (400-800 grit), being careful to limit the sanding just to the immediate area of the nick. And if you ever raise a 'hangnail' type of cut on the edge of the strop, cut off the hangnail and use something coarse to smooth out the divot (a pumice stone is traditional here). Then you use some hide food containing mink oil to soak into the strop. Apply a thin coat to the whole surface, leave ten minutes and then rub in. Repeat once. Rub well with a dry clean cloth. The untouched areas will look as good as new, and the once-damaged areas should now feel smooth, but will look darker where they have soaked up the hide food. Now we need a beeswax high gloss polish, of the sort used for spit-shining. A little should be rubbed in with a cloth, left a few minutes and then polished off. Don't use very much at all - we aren't going on parade and we don't need or want a thick coat of wax. This is just to leave the thinnest trace of beeswax over the leather to allow it to polish up shiny and smooth. You can use a clean cloth or a clean shoe brush (not one contaminated with coloured shoe polish!) for this. I have used Safir Renovateur for the hide food, and Safir High Gloss beeswax polish, both in Neutral (colourless) form.

It seems you can keep the look and qualities of the cordovan strop even if you happen to damage it slightly by using this technique. The important thing is that this keeps the strop's character unchanged; unlike neat's foot oil or other treatments, this doesn't alter the draw and it will feel just the same under the razor.
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EL Alamein
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Re: Care of Kanayama Strops

Post by EL Alamein »

Still very intrigued by these.

Santa did not bring me one of these last year so I'm hoping he will this year. But I see they are sold out everywhere so perhaps not.

Chris
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Re: Care of Kanayama Strops

Post by drmoss_ca »

With one very old man making them there aren't a lot being turned out, and one day he will stop. The linen is much the same as anyone else's, save for the extensive regime for treating it before use, which is up to the purchaser, and not done in the workshop. The smooth suede strop and the cordovan strop could probably be obtained from a shoe repair shop - one that does custom work on high end shoes, with the proviso that the Kanayama versions are thicker than the leather used on shoes. The cordovan finish is very thin and delicate, and the trick is to use it very taut and with really light strokes. Most of the work is done on the two other strops, and the cordovan is just a fine polisher. I'm probably not able to be completely objective, having invested the price in it, but I do think it gives me finer shaves than other strops.

Now you could treat a linen strop as recommended* for the Kanayama (make sure it is real linen, and not the plastic seatbelt material used by some). You could then either sand smooth the back of a good quality strop and simulate the suede strop (it's like a brand new, untreated, Dovo Red Russian (RIP), but 3" wide rather than 2" and considerably coarser/rougher. Just like the smoothness of a new pair of good suede shoes - think of Hush Puppies back in the sixties when they only made suede shoes and not leather/nubuck nonsense. It must never be treated with anything. Finally, you could get a good quality, 3" strop, and mirror polish it with a high beeswax polish like that above, and make it so smooth and shiny (we are talking military boot toecap shine that would make the RSM smile) it would be like cordovan. The trick would be to use enough to make it shine, bit not so much it becomes at all sticky with polish. Don't spit shine as we don't want moisture sealed under the surface, and who knows what salivary amylase would do to it in the long term. You want it absolutely smooth, but with as little friction/draw as possible. That would make a poor man's Kanayama, and if I didn't have a real one that's what I would do. Then again, if I hadn't had a real one, I wouldn't know what the hell I was looking for! I might just try out the pseudo-cordovan trick on an old strop just for fun.

*Read down this page for a suggested regime. It's in Japlish but perfectly understandable. Tim Zowada told me he did a simpler regimen: "I simply washed it in my washing machine, allowed it to dry, then on a hard surface, rubbed it forcibly with the bottom of a quart jar. Repeated two times. You will have to glue the leather tab back on when you are finished. someday, I will try the recommended method." I did it the first way, which took a few days, mostly for the air drying with the strop on a flat surface. Hanging it with a weight would keep it flat and let both sides dry at once, just like a freshly developed film strip. Odd I didn't think of that!
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Re: Care of Kanayama Strops

Post by drmoss_ca »

Being daft and having nothing better to do this morning, I have started the process. The back of a 3" SRD strop has been sanded (you can sand it even smoother if you like). A Miller strop has been cleaned with lighter fluid, re-dyed as colour came out with the solvent, fed some hide food and is about to be polished with beeswax when dry. The linen is so far washed, scrubbed rinsed and hammered, and undergoing first drying. It will take a couple of days to go through the whole process. I hope I have enough hardware to put tops and tails on them, but will likely have to combine two surfaces into one top. (I use my Kanayama that way - linen on its own hanger, and suede and cordovan on a second.) If it all works out, would you care to try it out, Chris?

PS May have run into a problem. Happy with the suede, and the linen should come out much softer than au naturel. But I'm finding it hard to get the shine I want on the finishing strop. Because it isn't cordovan, the polish just sinks in, and when rubbed or brushed just leaves a dull layer on the surface. I'll try a few layers over a few days, and if that doesn't work I'll strip it again and think about sealing it before polishing.
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Re: Care of Kanayama Strops

Post by drmoss_ca »

I've tried polishing several old strops, and I'm doing the best with the SRD strop that I have sanded the back side of to make the suede strop. I sealed it with silicon furniture polish and now the Safir beeswax shoe polish is making it shine. Seems to work best if I leave it several hours for the finish to harden before I put on the next layer. The Miller strop is not getting anything like so shiny, and it may be I ought to have let the lighter fluid evaporate away for a few days before waxing it - perhaps traces of solvent are softening the polish. Anyway, will probably end up with separate linen and leather strops, with the leather being used on both sides, one suede and one shiny. The other strop I played with was an extra long Old Dog (a gift from Keith D'Grau of the defunct HandAmerican shop, but I don't want to give it away as he was kind enough to put my initials on it). It came with a smooth shiny surface and the polish is working as expected. I'd recommend anyone trying to make a homemade Kanayama-style strop try to obtain a cordovan strop, or a strip of cordovan leather from a shoe repair business for the finishing strop. The sealed surface, and maybe the fact it is made from subcutaneous fascia rather than epidermis must be making all the difference.
I think I'll need a couple more layers of beeswax to get the shiny finishing strop where it needs to be:

Image

The suede back of the same strop:

Image

And the linen strop:

Image

By the way, a helpful mod at straightrazorplace (NOT stolenrazorpalace) came up with a site that has the real thing:
https://mtckitchen.com/kanayama-hanging ... trop-3000/
https://mtckitchen.com/kanayama-hanging ... rop-10000/
https://mtckitchen.com/kanayama-hanging ... rop-80000/

The first two do not include a suede strop, so the 80000 would be the one to get. I suppose you could make your own suede strop, and then get the cheaper one just to have the proper cordovan, but the leather will be much thinner in this grade. If Santa loves you, she might spring for the 80000!
"Je n'ai pas besoin de cette hypothèse."
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Re: Care of Kanayama Strops

Post by EL Alamein »

Many thanks for the links, Dr. Moss. Santa is busy now. :)

Chris
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