Sharpening a Straight Razor
After using your straight razor for quite some time, you might at some point experience an unpleasant dull scrape across your skin. This feeling is called “tugging” – it means that your razor has lost its sharpness and is unable to cut your hair. You should now look at various methods by which you can sharpen your razor. There are two kinds of techniques for this job – honing and stropping. These are two different processes which provide the same result, but they need to be carried out at different times. The basic difference between the two techniques is that stropping is used to realign the edge of the razor while honing is used to create a bevel or a cutting edge.
There are different kinds of strop that you can use – the most common is the hanging strop, which is a length of leather with a strip of canvas attached to the end with a hook. The other strops include paddle strop, loom strop, and other leather and alternative material varieties.
- Set up the strop and pull on it to make it tight. The leather must be flat across the edge of the blade. It should be taut enough otherwise it might make the edge of the blade roll and make it dull.
- Properly place the blade on the strop. The blade should be open at 180 degrees and placed at the closest base of the strop. The base should be facing you. Hold the razor by placing your thumb on the shank at the back while your forefinger should be placed on the underside.
- Run the blade to the other end of the strop by applying light pressure. The blade should always remain flat against the stropping surface. If your strop is larger than the blade’s width, run along with it in a straight line. Use an X-pattern if it is too narrow.
- After you have reached the other end of the strop, turn the razor so that the cutting edge is now facing away from you. Turn it gently with your thumb so that it first faces upwards and then away from you. Do not turn the blade towards the leather.
- Position the blade in the same way as before once it is turned away from you. Run it back to the base using a controlled movement. Roll it around again and reposition it to make another pass.
- There might be multiple surfaces on the strop on which you can run the blade. The leather strop, for example, has a canvas side. This canvas can clean any debris or dust before the blade is exposed to the leather. On average, you need to make around 50 passes on a leather strop.
Honing is a sharpening procedure used throughout the history of straight razors that takes place on a stone or mineral block. There are different varieties and combinations of stone available, but as a beginner, a synthetic Waterstone is recommended. It is made from minerals joined together by aluminum oxide.
- Submerge the stone in water for around 15 minutes. The surface of the stone will soften so that it becomes easier to hone and also create a slurry.
- The stone should be placed on a flat surface. Most stones come with a rubber mat that prevents the stone from sliding around. If there is no rubber mat present, you should place it on a rough surface so that the stone stays in place.
- Place the razor perfectly flat on the honing stone. The shoulder should touch the stone but not rub against it. Apply light pressure across the spine.
- Follow an X-pattern as you run the blade across the stone. You should apply equal pressure across the spine and then reduce it as you go.
- Roll the blade just like you did for stropping. Turn it with the spine all the while keeping it in contact with the stone.
- Bring back the blade slowly applying an equal amount of pressure like the first time and return to the original starting position. Be careful not to overhone the razor. On an average 10 laps around the stone should suffice.
Using the honing and stropping technique you can ensure that the edge of your blade stays sharp so that you can have an easy and clean shaving experience.