How To Sharpen A Straight Razor Using Just 4 Steps
You’ve been using your straight razor for some time, and notice that it’s not giving a sharp cut as usual. It’s most probably because it needs sharpening. While sharpening a straight razor is not a major task, you do need some practice to know how to sharpen a straight razor.
If you are new to using a straight razor, the only tools you need to start out with are a strop and a fresh razor. The straight razor doesn’t need any frequent sharpening; it’ll need sharpening only after a few months. But you need to learn the art of stropping a razor to start honing it. Some people are an expert at sharpening straight razors they can do it without a hone but using only a strop.
After a few months of using your straight razor, you will realize that you need to sharpen it. If you use a strop, you will also need a quality honing stone to help you out. Remember, it’s important that your razor is kept sharp as it’s always safe. So make it a point to keep the blade’s edge sharp at all times.
You have to keep three goals in mind to learn how to sharpen a straight razor. They are to:
- Smoothen the bevel or razor’s edge;
- Straighten the blade by removing nicks and irregularities;
- Ensure the bevel is at it’s sharpest.
Test your razor’s acuity
Before you set about sharpening your razor, you need to ensure it does need sharpening. To do this, you have to first check and know how to find out how blunt the blade is and the required grit for restoring its edge. It is practice and understanding how your blade shaves that helps you define and decide if it needs honing. In addition experience, these tests can help determine your razor’s acuity.
1st test- Start with a shave
It goes without saying that a shave will tell you best if your razor needs sharpening. Keep a note of factors like ease, hair-pulling, the closeness of the shave and any signs of irritation. The razor is probably dull if it pulls your hair but if it’s irritating your skin or just passes over your facial hair, then it could mean the razor’s too sharp.
2nd test- Cut a hair strand
For this test, you need to pull one strand of healthy hair from your head. Don’t worry, it’s not painful! Then keep the razor in one hand and use the opposite hand to hold the hair at its root. Now you have to carry it to the razor, and not try to use the razor to cut it. So in other words, the razor stands still and splits the strand if it’s sharp. However, if it just holds or tears the hair, then it’s a sign that it needs honing.
3rd test- Thumbprint
This test involves making your thumb wet and drawing it across the razor blade. Do not run it along the blade edge. Note your fingerprint on the blade. If it gives a slight touch it indicates it’s perfect. However, if it gives a strong touch like a big knife, then it’s a bit blunt.
4th test- Fingernail
You here need to wet your fingernail and draw the blade over it. If it glides like it does over ice, it means it’s a bit dull. However, if the blade passes over and slightly cuts the nail, then it’s sharp enough.
We will concentrate on using hones, and not strops, for sharpening your blade. There are various hones of variable grits available. Assuming you aren’t an ironsmith melting a new razor or trying to recycle old razors, but just want to refresh your razor, you’ll require a polishing stone with a fine grit or a hone that barbers use.
In other words, you require a polishing stone, a leather strap that’s used for sharpening razors to help you maintain the razor’s sharpness between honing and optionally, a towel and tray for water and a container for your stone for easy and safe sharpening.
While there are so many hones available our favorite is the Norton 24336 Japanese-Style Combination Waterstone. It has a combination grit of 4000/8000 which is perfect for practically all straight razors as it helps sharpen razors with different levels of sharpness. This is an all-purpose hone available in a blue plastic box which also works as a stand for the stone. It also moistens the stone when not in use as it also acts as a reservoir.
This 3” stone is unique as most other stones are only 1” wide, and don’t keep connected with the entire razor length at a time. This hone however does, which is why it easily removes the razor’s nicks, chips, and irregularities. In other words, the 3” stone lets you sharpen the entire blade at a go.
Honing straight razors
Place the razor on the stone
You first have to place the razor on the polishing stone. Practically all razors today are hollow-ground with a fine edge because each side is concave shaped. So even if the razor is placed horizontally, it remains angled as its edge is thinner than its spine. As the manufacturer determines the angle, it’s a good sharpening guideline. A consistent bevel is maintained by horizontally placing the razor on the stone, which is important while sharpening straight razors.
The X pattern
Now you have to evenly glide the razor across the polishing stone using the blade’s heel while the razor remains horizontal. Work at making an ‘X’ design by dragging each blade’s pass slightly downwards to prevent the razor from catching the stone edge. You can also bevel the stone edges for added protection and to reduce the chances of blade damage.
Use steady and gentle strokes
It’s better using light strokes as it sharpens even the razor’s edge. There’s the risk of your missing the bevel’s head if you place too much pressure on each stroke. Remember; you shouldn’t try to sharpen your straight razor in a hurry as the emphasis here is quality and not the quantity of sharpening.
Over-sharpening is as inconvenient as insufficient sharpening. Besides, an extremely sharp straight razor can lead to stinging and redness, so no over-sharpening.