Old Horse Butt

horse butt

Detail from: Frederick W. La Croix  The Leather Specimen Book (Milwaukee: Pfister and Vogel Leather Co., 1915) Winterthur: TS965 L14. Courtesy Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library.

This small sample of horse butt is interesting because it is the earliest dateable horse butt I have seen, almost 100 years old.  Also note it is called a “Razor Strop Butt.” The skin itself looks much like the modern horse butt strops that I sell in my tool catalog, though it is almost twice as thick, suggesting an older animal. I haven’t found any material that works as well for stropping leather paring knives, which at 13 degrees approach the acute angle of a straight edge razor blade, which are often around 10 degrees. Horse butt has the right combination of elasticity, durability, firmness and density to make the perfect strop. It always cheers me up a bit to see a natural material—like hog hair bristles for our brushes—that hasn’t been supplanted by an artificial invention; perhaps because they subtly challenge unspoken assumptions of our technophillic culture.

2 thoughts on “Old Horse Butt

  1. David Esterly

    Yes, you are right about the stropping quality of horse butt, at least for woodcarving chisels. I’ve found no need to treat it with a honing compound. For one thing, after some use the plain skin is seasoned with the fine metallic detritus of previous stroppings, and grows a little more aggressive. But it retains its delicate yet robust character.

  2. Jeff Peachey Post author

    Yes, there is an interesting quality to stropping (polishing?) with smaller pieces of the same material, like the metal particles. Turners sometimes do this with wood shavings while the piece is still on the lathe. In bookbinding, using plough shavings from the text you have ploughed to put a final burnish on a colored edge works wonders. I first read about this in Dudin. There must be other examples….

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