Straight Razors

In the last few months I’ve been getting into straight razors big time. I’ve used them before, but that was more sporadic instead of daily. Since I’ve gotten a few new razors and I have a few on the way. There are tons of articles on the web about honing and stropping razors, but this is what I’ve learned in the past months. I’m by no means an expert when it comes to honing a razor, but I can get BBS (baby butt smooth) with my razors just fine. Most of what I learned is thanks to Tom Blodgett from Jende Industries .

My first razor:

Stones

Oh here you can go nuts. If you already have good stones for your knives, then that’s probably all you need. I prefer the Shapton Pros for honing because I don’t have to soak them. Their grit range also offers the possibility to stay in 1 range of stones. The Chosera stones only go up to 10k for instance. This will offer a harsher shave and nowhere near the 15k Shapton.

The odd thing about razors is that you can use stones I would generally not use for my knives at all. The Naniwa Superstones spring to mind. I absolutely hate them for knives as they are slow and dish fast. The 10 and 12k are good for razors though. With knives you run the risk of cutting into the stone resulting in a lapping session to get the nick out. With razors, the built in jig (the spine) makes sure you don’t cut into the stone. Also, the stone is soft and polishes more than its Chosera brother offering a smoother shave. The 12k Superstone can offer a shave as smooth as a 15k Pro or 16k Glass stone.

If you already have EP or WEPS Shapton or Chosera stones, you can also use these. In fact, I would encourage you to do so! The stones are narrow and work a lot better with warped spines. The narrow stone accommodates to the spine better. You do need to be precise when using them, but you have to be precise anyway. It also saves money because you don’t have to buy a new set of stones. If you don’t have any stones yet, the EP or WEPS stones are cheaper too. We all know how expensive stones can be. Getting a 1×6 inch stone is a lot cheaper and last forever when it comes to razors.

Naturals like Coticule, Thuringian, Esher and various Japanese stones are a whole other story. All stones but the Coticule require some skill. The Coticule is easier to learn in my opinion and offers a stone that can handle everything from 2k up till 15k just fine.

This picture shows the range of smaller stones that are available (courtesy of Jende Industries)

Technique

Well this is where you experiment. Some people like x-strokes, some don’t. Some people like doing circles on the stone, some don’t. Try and see what fits you best.

As I use EP stones, I’m using X-strokes. This will let me hone every part of the blade just fine and lets me hone problem zones better.

A general consensus is that you use the least pressure you can without damaging your precision. Over  the past few months I’ve thought to myself more than once: “Oh so this is no pressure”. I really encourage you to try the least you can without compromising precision. The reason is that pressure will bend the edge of the razor and it will also leave deep scratches at the coarse stages that are impossible to get out later on without starting over. So do it right from the first time.

Everything else about honing can be found on Badger and Blade.

Strops and paddles

There are 2 types of strops commonly used, hanging strops and paddle strops. The one associated most with straight razors is the hanging strop. Remember the old barber shops where they had a leather belt and they stropped on that? That’s what you need! Just don’t get the most expensive one first. You WILL nick it. A cheap Dovo or Whipped Dog strop will get you by just fine while getting your technique perfected. After that you can spend some more on high quality strops like the Tony Miller, the wonderful Hand American Chicago strop or the heavenly Kanayama.

Paddle strops are what are used in knife sharpening too. It’s basically a wooden or synthetic base with balsa, or leather on the top. It offers the advantage that rounding the edge is a lot hard to do, but it’s not impossible so watch the pressure! For my paddle strops I use Hand American leather. Both the horse as bovine leather is fantastic and works well with and without compounds. Paddle strops are more used with pastes than hanging strops, with the exception of sub micron sprays and powders.

Compounds

You can use what you use on your knives here as well. I wouldn’t advice anything above 1µ and even that is kind of on the scary side. A good stone will give you a better edge in this range, but they are expensive as we all know. Compounds are relatively cheap compared to stone and very cheap is you compare them to high end Shapton stones. The 30k Shaptons stone is in a league of its own and not very likely to become mainstream at $600.

This is where compounds come in. A 0.5µ spray or paste is cheaper and while not offering the same cutting speed, is a good alternative to these stones. There are a lot of compounds out there. The most commonly used one is Chromium Oxide. I really love the CrOx from Keith at Hand American for this application. This compounds offers a smooth, but slick edge with almost no bite whatsoever. The CBN or diamond alternatives last longer and give an edge that bites a bit more. Some prefer this, some don’t. Trial and error here I’m afraid.

Sprays and compounds below 0.5µ are also available and can also be sprayed on hanging strops. Hand American offers a fantastic 0.25µ mono crystalline diamond spray. Ken Schwartz from Precise Sharpening offers a LOT of sprays up to 0.050µ. Yes that’s 50 NANO meters. Pretty nuts, but the edges are said to be amazing. I never tried them, and stop at 0.125µ at the moment, although I will try finer soon. All of these are available at Chef Knives To Go.

Conclusion

The straight razor world offers a new rabbit hole you can fall into. It’s marvelous and great if you do it right. Errors will quickly be punished forcing you to do a better job. It will teach you new techniques and lets you explore a number of different products. If you love knives, it’s only logical to shave with a straight razor in my opinion.

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5 thoughts on “Straight Razors

  1. This is a great article. I believe that if you are a purist, or claim to be one, you should invest in a straight razor. I know I will very soon. :o)

  2. Great post. I still haven’t honed my own straight razor, I just send it out to someone who knows what they’re doing. I really need to send it out to get honed, I’ve been shaving with my shavette and I am starting to miss my straight.

    How many passes do you do to get a BBS? I’ve got shaving WTG down, still working on shaving ATG. I pretty much never shave XTG. Do you think shaving XTG is a waste of time?

  3. I normally do 3 passes. The XTG is essential in my opinion. It makes the ATG a lot more comfortable and it results in a closer shave for me.

    I don’t own or have ever used a shavette or a feather or any other system like that.

    Honing takes a while to master. But when you do, it will be very rewarding and you won’t have to miss you razor all the time.

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