Hold up there partner—before you get your hone on, make surf your straight razor doesn't just need a good strop.
Stropping, like straight razor shaving, is an art form so please spend a little time learning the basics of sharpening your edge with a strop.
Need some help around a strop?
We dive deep into using a strop (another article) and we hope you check that out first.
Ok, now that we know you are in the right place let's get down to talking about honing.
Honing is reworking the metal on your blade and creating a new edge. Like a knife, a strsight razor will get dull over time and will require you to put on a new edge.
Sharpologist explains that the goal of honing a razor is to make the blade as flat and as thin without compromising its structural integrity.
You would want to straighten the razor’s edge that’s free from nicks and create or refine a bevel making it as sharp as possible.
But before getting into the specifics, do perform a shave test to determine if your straight razor really needs some serious honing.
If your razor only needs a strop then we don't want to hone it.
Check out this video for checking for blunting and a wire edge—some other cool tips and tricks to check your edge like the hanging hair test.
Cool, you determined that you need to hone your staright razor—let's get started with the details.
Let’s discuss the things you’ll need—which we’ll refer to as abrasives—to get you started. Know that professional shavers cannot pinpoint the best material to use in honing.
For them, it will take a lot of experience and experimentation to see what works best for each one. Some of the most common abrasives proven to give worthwhile results are:
The most affordable and convenient method, though not totally recommended for beginners. But for discussion’s sake, you would have to attach/tape the paper onto an extremely flat surface, usually glass, then start honing.
This method has gained attention some time ago as an alternative to the traditional honing process. Like the sandpaper, you’ll also need a flat surface to start honing with it
If you want to try this we put together a three part video series from Slash McCoy to get you lapping and slashing.
This is the most popular form on how to hone a straight razor and the stone itself vary in many ways. If you want to learn to hone straight razors, buy stones.
A good set of stones are not that expensive and they last forever. Those films wear out and then you've got uneven honing.
If you have to do anything more than a regular honing (chip repair/uneven honewear repair) you'll want a stone. One user stated, "For the 10 bucks you spend on these films, just send your razor out to be honed." Not bad advice—but it's your call.
While it is possible to use one honing stone, ASR still recommends to buy multiple honing stones for best results. Some of the common stones used are whetstones, synthetic, and water stones.
Regardless of what abrasive you use, a strategy has to be followed in honing a straight razor progressing from coarse level to a finer one.
When using stone for example, it usually starts by honing the razor in a 1000 grit stone, then 4000, then 8,000 and so on.
During the hones process you'll want to test you blade and make sure that all your hard work is paying off. Here are a few tests you can perform to check your straight razor edge.
Done by simply shaving arm hair. When you’re able to cut hair without the blade directly touching the skin, then the bevel is set. This is the one I use, it's quick and dirty and I got tons of hair on my arms so it gets the job done.
Take a single hair and bring it to the edge of the blade. If it doesn't cut the hair, then you’ll have to continue sharpening it. The video above shows this test—check it out if you skipped it.
Take a tomato and slice it with the blade. If it doesn’t tear the skin, then you’re good to go. Make sure you throw the tomato away after the test—if your sons breaks out cause you dropped those tomoatos in the paste your wife will be pissed.
Check the blade’s sharpness by dragging the blade on a wet thumb. If the blade lightly tickles on the thumb, then you’re on the right track. If you cut your finger off then the blade is ready for sure. Make sure not to drink beer before this test. LOL
Lightly draw the razor’s edge over your fingernail. If it glides cleanly with a slight mark, then you’re progressing well.
Both thumb pad and fingernail tests are not recommended for beginners primarily because of how it’s done. However, if you’re feeling extra adventurous, then might as well go for it.
Here is a outline of the honing process start to finish—but please check out some video for a deeper understanding of the process.
Start by running the razor’s edge on a glass to create an even surface. You’ll then choose the abrasive of your choice to start the bevel setting process.
When using stones, it is recommended to start with approximately 800-1000 grit stone and move through the stones in your collection as you hone away.
This stage takes almost 75% of the whole process and therefore measures the level of your success in honing.
Bevel is the area of metal on both sides of the blade that concaves progressively as you hone. In that case, you would want to achieve an even bevel which can only be done by doing slow even strokes.
It’s also very important to keep your abrasive lubricated, usually with water, to help the razor glide over it. After about 50 laps or so, you would need to check on your progression by performing any of the bevel tests discussed.
This stage uses 4000-8000 grit stone. Similar to bevel setting, you would need to do slow even strokes with light pressure.
Usually, it will take 25-30 laps before you can check your progress.
You’ll have to use the finest abrasive on this stage. If using stones, 8000-10,000 grit stones works well for this stage. The same technique will be used where you need to check the edge every 25-30 laps.
Know that the honing process discussed in this article is the typical way of honing your straight razor may it be a sandpaper, lapping film, or natural stone.
As you embark on your honing endeavors, you’ll definitely find a honing technique that will work best for you. Again, there is no right or wrong method in honing process, everything takes time and patience to learn.
Honing a straight razor is a tedious process. Wet-shaver enthusiasts explain that it’s never a good idea to embark on this activity if you don’t have the time and patience to start with.
However, if you really want to go down the honing road, please invest in a good set of stones and take some time to learn the process.
Greg shows us the Norton 4000/8000 WaterStone in action while sharpening a straight razor. He is sharpening his 100 year old Erik Anton Berg "Eskilstuna" Made in Garanti Sweden. Nice!
When you think a razor strop is not enough to give you that kind of razor sharpness, then better send your razors for professional service. We have an extensive list of honing professionals here.