Shaving with a straight razor can be quite rewarding. Aside from the cash you’ll save in the long-run, a straight razor can help improve your skin complexion, get you a closer and smoother shave and improve your overall skin health. However you choose to look at it, it’s a win.
But, you'll have to be rigorous with the maintenance and sharpening of the razor. A dull razor could easily result in ingrown hairs and skin irritations. However, like wet shaving, sharpening and maintaining a straight razor requires a little bit of skill. With some guidance and practice, you’ll have it mastered in no time.
So without wasting time, let’s dive into the heart of this piece – how to sharpen your straight razor.
What you should know about Sharpening a straight shaving razor
Before you use a straight razor, every time you will strop your razor. This is an intricate process of polishing your straight razor to rid it of microscopic imperfections before or after shaving. This simple process helps to maintain the blade and to ensure you use a sharp edge for a closer and smoother shave. Since you need to do this every time before you use the razor, it’s imperative that you learn the skill. Essentially, stropping will polish the blade and make it shave ready.
This process involves removing metal from the edge using abrasive materials until the razor is ready for a shaving session. The process will eventually sharpen the blade. But unlike stropping, honing requires a little more attention to detail. You could compare this to sharpening a knife on a sharpening stone or stick.
With those two terms explained, here are the tools you need to make them happen.
Straight Razor Sharpening Tools
You won't have to buy razor blades any longer but you will need a few additional items to keep your straight razor sharp and shave-ready.
Traditional Strop Products
There are different materials and styles of strops that are common. Here are a few different types available.
Regardless of the type of strop you choose, ensure it’s made from high-quality materials for longevity. Going for a cheap quality product might necessitate you needing to replace it more frequently than a quality one and it can even affect your shave. Since you will need to strop as frequently as you shave, go for something that will be more durable.
Films and Stones
There are loads of options here as well. Unfortunately, the options make the choosing process a pain. To help simplify the process, below are some of the stones that yield great results.
- Natural stones – these are gotten from nature. However, they don’t have grit settings, which make them a little difficult for beginners to use.
- Aping films – these are the type used for electrical jobs. They are affordable and do a great job on the straight razor. They come in a wide range of grit options as well. You can use a steel or stone plate underneath the films.
- Synthetic water stones – these are man-made stones that you can depend on to provide consistent results. They are usually double-sided with different grits on each side.
Below are the grit levels necessary: (Remember: The higher the grit, the finer the grind!)
- 1000 grit – used to set the bevel. 75% of honing is done with this stone.
- 4000 grit – it helps to develop the cut. 15% of your time is spent with this grit.
- 8000 grit – develops the razors shaving edge. You’ll spend 10% of your honing time with this grit.
- 10000 grit – this grit is used to complete the edge. It is optional, there are event grits as high as 80000+.
Regardless of the stone of film, you need access to clean water for lubrication. Using an inexpensive plastic spray bottle is a great option for this.
How to Strop a Straight Razor
- Step 1: Set your strop and warm it. The area you choose to set it up should not have obstructions. Also, if you are using a hanging strop, make sure it is taut enough. With your hand, check if the strop has imperfections that might mess with the polishing. This process will also warm up the strop.
- Step 2: Set the razor with its edge facing your direction. Hold the razor between your thumb and index finger, and don’t exert any pressure on it.
- Step 3: Draw the straight razor over the leather strop and away from you gently. Stop before you get to the edge to avoid damaging the blade with the buckle. If the strop’s width is smaller than the width of the blade, use the X-stroke.
- Step 4: Roll the razor over its spine and have the edge facing you. When rolling the blade, avoid lifting it.
- Step 5: Draw the razor over the stop and towards you. Like in the third step, do not apply pressure.
Repeat these steps between 20 and 40 times. Remember, patience is key in this process.
How to Hone a Straight Razor
There are many methods to use, but we suggest starting with the simplest before moving to other variations.
- Step 1: Set up the stone and your working area. You will need a lot of room to work and the stones soaked in clean water. Also, have a spray bottle ready or work close to a sink. Ensure the stone is lapped to prevent damages.
- Step 2: Put your razor on the honing stone with the edge facing away from you. Also, ensure that the razor is lying flat. With your right hand, hold the handle and tang and have your left middle and index fingers rest on your blade.
- Step 3: Push the razor over the stone without applying pressure on it or lifting the razor’s spine. Do this until you get close to the other end of the stone. Spray some water after every stroke for lubrication.
- Step 4: Roll the razor on its spine such that the edge is facing you and then pull it towards you.
Repeat this process as many times as needed.
There you have it a simple breakdown of the process. Now, to test if the blade is ready, do the arm hair test. Use the blade on your arm hair, if it shaves cleanly, it’s great. Ensure the razor passes this test before you use the 1000 gritstone.