How to Sharpen and Maintain Your Straight Razor?
Something that is really important to do in between your straight razor shaves is stropping. When you strop, you are resetting the edge on the straight razor by polishing it on a leather surface. However, if your blade becomes too dull after many uses, you will need to hone your razor every couple of months. Honing involves grinding your razor against a rough surface to sharpen its edge.
- 1 Is your straight razor ready to use?
- 2 Steps to hone or refresh your straight razor
- 3 How to strop a straight razor?
- 4 How to know if the bevel is properly set?
Is your straight razor ready to use?
Most new straight razors are shave-ready right out of the factory. You can take out the straight razor right out of the package and begin shaving without honing or stropping. If you are shaving every day or every other day, then you should get a month to two months out of that razor with just stropping. After that you can go on an 8000 to 12000 grit stone and give it a touch up and then back to the strop and you will be ready to shave again.
Steps to hone or refresh your straight razor
The first thing you’re going to need to start off with is a whetstone or a water stone. You may start with an 8000 grit stone. You’re going to want to wet it with water and make sure that the top surface is very clean. Then, taking your straight razor, open it up and start sliding it along the whetstone, blade first. You don’t want to apply very much pressure to the blade. You can use two hands if you want but don’t press down using your hands. It’s a very gentle action using practically just the weight of the blade.
Continue to slide it as you’re going to have to do many laps. It could take you five to ten minutes and you can move as quickly or as slowly as you want. Just be careful during the entire sharpening process. If you have a smaller whetstone you can attempt to do an X pattern so that you can cover the entire face of your blade. If your whetstone is large enough, you don’t need to do that.
After you think you’ve done enough, you can try and see if it passes the hanging hair test. That is, you suspend the hair and bring it down on the razor. Likely you won’t be able to slice the hair. To get the razor sharp enough to pass the hanging hair test, what you need to do is apply a wax paste that has grit inside of it, directly to your strop. This is much finer than the 8,000 grit stone and so will give you a much sharper edge in the end.
First, just apply it to your strop and then even it out using your hand. Now we can go ahead start sharpening our straight razor again. This time you’re going to want to make sure that you go spine first, otherwise you’re going to shred your strop. Once again, use very little force. The weight of the blade should be enough on its own. Slide it back and forth, spine first, always rolling across the back of the spine.
Again you’re going to want to do many passes. When you’re rolling it back and forth, imagine it’s like you’re holding a pencil. You just roll it and make sure that you never dig the blade into the strop. When you try the hanging hair test again, you’ll see immediately, it cuts right through. Now that we know our blade is sharp, it’s time to clean up the strop. Using a paper towel, you can just wipe off the wax that you applied earlier. Finally, you will need to strop the razor before use.
How to strop a straight razor?
You need to strop your straight razor before you shave and you need to do this after you hone your straight razor. You’re going to need a strop and your straight razor. Bring the razor to the strop and push it up and down the length of the strop, spine first. You have to do this spine first otherwise you’re going to ruin your strop.
You’re going to want to do this 25 to 50 times. That is, 50 laps up and down the strop, depending on the size of your strop. When you reach the end of a stroke, you want to roll the blade over the spine of the razor. Never roll it over the blade edge. Also, when you are stropping your razor, you never want to push the blade down into the strop. Be careful that you don’t apply any pressure downwards when you are stropping your razor.
If you are stropping your razor after honing it, you might want to do more than 50 laps. It’s up to you. If you’re doing this every time before you shave, you can get away with 25 and still have a comfortable shave. Don’t worry about taking your time when stropping your razor. What you don’t want to do is, roll over the edge and ruin the blade.
When you’re done stropping, the edge will be very clean and should be like a mirror. You should be able to see reflections off of it. Now you can enjoy your shave ready straight razor.
How to know if the bevel is properly set?
Let’s read about the essential things that you should know before setting that that bevel on the razor or attempting to set.
What is the bevel?
Well, some people think that the bevel is extreme sharpest edge of the razor or the end that you shave with. That’s not the bevel and that’s only part of the bevel. The entire bevel goes from the sharpened edge all the way to the spine. It’s the entire plane or the entire flat surface of the razor.
What does setting the bevel mean?
What is it that we’re trying to accomplish by setting the bevel? We’re trying to get both the plane surfaces on either side of the razor, join together to form a three-dimensional triangular shape. The planes on either side of the blade converge at a point which we refer to as the shaving edge. Setting the bevel is a one-shot deal. It only has to be done once on a razor. If you have an older razor or a vintage razor which has been lying around for a while, chances are that the bevel already been set on it. However, it may need some touch-up or honing if it doesn’t shave well.
How do you know if the bevel needs to be set?
If you want to check and see if the razor is flat, what you need to do is put it on a on a flat granite surface and touch the corners of the razor to see if it’s flat. You tap at the opposite corners of the razor to see if it wobbles. You also want to slide the stabilizer off the granite surface to see if it still wobbles. With a perfect flat razor, there’s absolutely no movement, even if you slide the stabilizer off the test surface. It’s a very simple test but there are a lot of people that don’t do it. They find that some of their razors just won’t shave well despite honing and stropping them several times. The problem lies in the fact that the razor could be warped.
How do you set the bevel?
You just need to take that straight razor and rub it on your 1K whetstone, until the high spots that are causing the wobble are gone and the razor sets flat on the surface. You may look at your razor closely to see where those high spots are. Sometimes if you see how it wobbles, you can mark them with a sharpie marker and work that area on the stone. If the wobble is bad, you can do the bevel setting on a diamond plate (E.g. Atoma 1200x ). It’s more efficient but more importantly the diamond plate doesn’t wear out.
The next important thing when you set the bevel is that do not use tape. Remember we said that the bevel is from the edge to the spine. Now if you’re to take a tape and cover this spine then you’ve effectively eliminated the correction of the spine from the formula. There will be no correction on that spine and when there is a warp, the high spots are usually on the spine.
Tests to know that the bevel is set
The number one thing that you do to check if the bevel is set is the tap and wobble test. This structural test ensures that the planes are even on both sides. The razor should touch the flat test surface evenly without wobbling.
The second test is the visual test. When you’re honing your razor, check to make sure that the hone is hitting all the way across the edge and also, all the way across the spine. Remember with that whole plane is the bevel, so you want to make sure that your entire spine is hitting this stone as well.
Another popular test is the thumb pad test where you take the thumb when you’re setting the bevel and you wiggle it back and forth to get a certain feel on your thumb. It’s purely subjective test and it’s up to the interpretation of the person doing the test as far as what the result is.