Leather strops come in both suede and smooth options. Some even have both on the same strop. This of course this leads many to wonder just which is the better option. While a common practice is to use suede in conjunction with compounds and smooth for plain stropping, this is by no means universal. We have found the decision to be a combination of personal choice and type of edge being sharpened.
Straight razors are traditionally stropped on a smooth leather. The grain side surface is perfect for the delicate, low angle edges found on straight razors.
Many carvers and knife sharpeners use suede strops. The nap of the suede holds onto compound well, allowing the strop to be loaded easily. The softer surface also provides a bit of rounding to the bevel as the suede compresses under the blade, which some find desirable.
Those who don’t use as much or any compound may prefer the smooth grain side leather. Sharpeners of woodworking tools such as chisels where a rounding of the bevel is not wanted, find that the slightly harder surface works to their advantage as well.