Razor Sharpening – Saving Yourself a Ton of Money

Oh my goodness!! The world of straight razor shaving is literally out of it’s collective mind!! If you listened to half of the people on Badger and Blade or Straight Razor Place Forums, they would have you convinced that you MUST have a $100 strop, a $100 shaving mug, a $390 shaving brush, and the absolute most expensive soap you can afford, $50 from Straight Razor Designs!!! Are you kidding me?!?

When it comes to the subject of sharpening your razor, they are no different. Offering up advice to purchase a $500 Shapton 30,000 grit water stone, or a $80 Norton 4,000/8,000 water stone, or even the full range of Shapton ceramic glass stones, from 220 grit all the way up to 30,000 grit, for a whopping $680!!! If you regularly sharpened razors from a completely dull edge (think letter opener) all the way to a perfected shaving edge then I could understand purchasing all of those stones. However, seeing as you’re probably a lot like me and only sharpen your razor once every 4-6 months, you are not going to need all of these things.

For many people, they cannot justify purchasing anything other than a strop to maintain the edge, as they would much rather pay $20 + shipping & handling to have their razors sharpened twice a year, with a 5 week turnaround! If that is you, please, send me your razors! I’ll happily take your money & get them back to you in two weeks! Seriously though, I can almost understand these people. They likely only have one razor and probably have never sharpened a pocket knife. That is perfectly okay, and there is nothing wrong with that. But, if you’re like me and have multiple razors (I have 3), it would cost me $120 per year to have them professionally sharpened, and I can’t justify that. Plus, there is just a simple satisfaction of a job well done that you can never get from paying someone to do it for you.

Since most of you will start off with only one razor, and will likely want to do it as simple, quick, and inexpensive as you can get away with, I will start there and build into using an antique razor hone (purchased from e-bay), multiple hones, and so on.

Meet Your Own Razor Hone

Didn’t I tell you we were going to start inexpensive? How about $15 for all the leather you’ll need to make 4 leather stropping “hones”! Go to Woodcraft (link available on my blog or Google search for “leather” “hone”) and there you can purchase a 6″ X 12″ piece of compressed leather suitable for cutting into 4 strips of 3″ X 6″ pieces to make your leather hone. As a side note, do not use your razor to cut the leather! I know it goes without saying that you should use an actual leather knife or a sturdy pair of kitchen shears, but some people would actually try this, I’m sure, so it needed to be said. Now, go to your local lumber yard and pick up some kind of wood to glue the leather to, all you need is a 3″ by 6″ piece, but you need 4 of them, so whether you buy a 3X2X24 or whatever, makes no difference. If they’ll cut them individually, that’s great. Also, some over-run isn’t bad so if they don’t have exactly a 3X6 piece, don’t spend money to get them to cut it to size, if they’ll do it for free, why not; but don’t spend money.

Once you have the wood back home, you’re going to need to put some real quality adhesive on the back of it that is suitable for gluing wood to leather. From everything I’ve read, simple Elmer’s wood glue should do the trick, also rubber cement seems to work well. As a precautionary measure, before you go gluing the leather to the wood, sand the wood lightly and make sure that no dust or other particulate is present on the wood. This will ensure a proper seal with the leather. Do not coat the entire piece at once! Apply a thin to medium thick coat of glue to the back (coarse) side of the leather, at this point you want about half of it coated with glue. Now, apply it smoothly to the board starting with the top and working your way to halfway between the top and the end of the glue. At this point, go ahead and glue up the rest (all but what you need to hold it) and then apply to the board. Make sure that you press out any air bubbles that may have formed and that the leather is flat on the surface, with no creases, and no glue on the top. If glue is present on the top, wait until it dries and use your fingernail to pick it off; no worries. Repeat this process for the remaining 3 pieces of leather, and now you have four high quality “hones” that you got for $15 and a little elbow grease!

Now, when it comes to actually using your “hone” so that it will sharpen your blade, there are a few things that you need to purchase. The first one is a diamond paste or spray. We all know that diamond is the hardest mineral on the face of the earth and that nothing except another diamond can scratch it; so whether you have an Art of Shaving Thiers-Issard New Forging razor (my personal choice), a DOVO, Bokker, or any number of Damascus steel blades with Rockwell hardness factors in the mid 60s, a diamond paste will be able to do the job.

The brand that I use is Amplex Super Abrasives and is available from the Classic Shaving store (although when I last checked they were all out of stock. {links on my blog}) although Straight Razor Designs makes a spray that is also diamond and comes in the same sizes. Now, this is very important, when you apply these pastes/sprays to your “hone”, apply only one paste to each block and (if spraying) make sure none of the particulate from the spray gets onto the other “hones”. Accomplish this by washing your hands in between applications and covering the other hones with a towel or a paper towel. You will need 3 micron sizes; 1 micron (approximately 15,500 grit), 0.5 micron (approximately 30,000 grit), and 0.25 micron (approximately 60,000 grit {which doesn’t even exist in stone}). These pastes/sprays are available from the retailer’s listed for around $15-$22 each. So, for the total cost of $81 and some elbow grease, I have provided you with the equivalent of a $76 stone, a $95 dollar stone, and a stone that doesn’t even exist; I’d say that’s pretty good!

Sharpening Your Razor–The Big Payoff

Sharpening a straight razor is so incredibly simple that I struggle to see why so many struggle with it! That is true of using a stone to sharpen it (pushing the blade forward) and of strop sharpening it (the way I’m about to show you). Let’s review what we’ve got to work with, pieces of leather attached to a board. Obviously if we attempted to sharpen the blade like we would a knife on a stone, we would cut into the leather and damage the blade; accomplishing nothing, right? We must therefore learn how to sharpen a razor on a leather hone.

First, lay the razor on the leather with the blade facing up. Slowly rotate the razor until the blade is flat on the hone. Now, pull the razor towards the 3″ end of the hone that the blade is not facing, I repeat, is not facing. You pull the razor, with the back (or spine/head) or the razor leading towards the end of the hone. You do not push the razor blade first as you would on a traditional stone hone. When you reach the edge, rotate the razor blade up, push it forward so that the end of the blade (the part nearest where you hold it) is about half-way up the hone, rotate the razor so that the blade is lying flat, then pull the razor spine first towards the other side. There, one “lap” around the hone completed!! Repeat this as many times as is necessary on your largest grit, then thoroughly wash the razor (we don’t want 1 micron particulate spoiling our 0.5 micron hone now, do we?), and repeat as many times as necessary on your next smallest grit hone to polish the edge, then move down to your final polishing “hone” before you repeat the process again on your hone with no diamond paste/spray on it. Then you are ready to shave!

Sharpening a razor is really a simple and easy task and, when you do it right, it can be inexpensive (compared to the alternative) also. I hope this article has illuminated how low cost the world of straight razor shaving can be and has encouraged you to become a part of our world!

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