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A shortish blog on sharpening straight razors. It will be short because I know little enough , though I have learned enough to be able to get the job done . Maybe I can return to this in future when I have more information but for the present it will be brief .

1 . If you want to learn to shave using a straight razor the most effective way is to buy a new razor from a dealer who is known for sharpening their razors before sending them out . Buy a strop at the same time , not a terribly expensive one , you can pay an awful lot of money for strops . Don't pay too much because you will likely cut it , if it's not too badly cut sanding it down will make it serviceable again.

Whilst learning to shave save up for two stones one about 7000 grit and one finishing stone 12/15000 grit .  these stones will bring your razor back to shave ready when stropping no longer does the job .

A video on how to do this ,

https://youtu.be/cXVW_S6VaBw

2.      If you really have no idea about sharpening at all then when your razor needs honing send it off to one of the guy's that will do it for a few bucks . Course you won't have a razor whilst it is gone , you could buy two of course use one and send the other .

3 If you can't sharpen a knife to a reasonable level then perhaps that is the place to start because a razor does need to be sharp a half sharp razor is dangerous .

4   Okay now we have got that out of the way I guess most of us can sharpen and already have some equipment .  For a razor you need stones , the various fixed angle sort of things like the Edge Pro etc aren't a great help here . The reason for that is that a razor comes with the angles sorted for you , assuming that we have a good or new razor and not one that has been mangled or botched in some way . So stones needed 1000; 4000, 8000, and a finishing stone 12/15000 .This is a list that could and has been argued about on various forums for ever . If however you have something like this you are good to go. To use these the 1000 only needs to be used once normally when setting the bevel , basically establish a sharp edge with this stone then refine that edge with the other ones .  So far so good then simply take your razor and lightly stroke the thing edge leading on the first stone then through the progression strop it for a while and prepare for a marvellous shave .

Well that is it in the proverbial nutshell, but and there are a lot of buts! .It is best to have a jewelers loupe because it is hard to see what you are doing on the edge without . 

You need to develop a method of keeping the heel and the point in contact with the stone evenly so as to even out the wear on the razor. This comes down to feel and observation , the loupe again . Course you could buy a USB microscope they are fairly cheap and I have been meaning to buy one for a while . The fear of more information than I have the skill to deal with has so far put me off .

If you have the stones and the loupe or microscope all you really need is to haunt youtube for a while as there are enough video's on there . From my experience try to stick to one or two people as too much information coming from different angles can cause brain ache .Then like any other thing it is a matter of practice and observation .

I did not have all these different stones to start with . What I did have was three Japanese waterstones and a reasonably comprehensive selection of stones to go on the Edge Pro . I hoped to use the Edge Pro and was dismayed to find that it was not going to be a big help . So the stones I had were , well I am not certain there is a course medium and fine , I knew what they were when I bought them but had forgotten and the only writing on them was in Japanese . They were bought a long time ago and had not been used a lot due to not having a PC to learn from youtube ! After spending what for me was a lot on the Edge Pro I was reluctant to buy a whole bunch of stones at $100 each so had to look around for alternatives . I bought a Belgian Bllue stone for say $50 and a Finnish waterstone for a similar amount and to finish of an ILR at $30 . These together with my three japanese stones allow me to sharpen to a degree that at present I am satisfied with , though heaven knows they are a strange collection .

So I have as far as I can tell,

Japanese 600 grit

Japanese 1000 grit 

Finnish   3000 grit  *

Japanese 5000 grit 

Belgian Blue 7000 grit  *

Imperia la Rocca 12/15000 grit  *

The ones with stars after are natural stones so the grit rating is arbitrary .

    If you go online and look at youtube you will very quickly find that there are so many variations some people manage with one Belgian Coticule and vary the slurry to make the stone work as if different grit sizes .  Some have a staggering array of stones which must be used in an approved manner ending with a 20000 stone that costs $500 . Then there are others who use a 4000/8000 double sided stone and maybe even one from China . After a while i decided it was best to try to get by on what I had .

I haven't mentioned J'nats yet and have no intention of doing so cos it makes my brain ache to even read about such things .

It all get's to sounding complicated at times but if you remember that you are just putting an edge on a piece of steel it brings you back to earth . 

One last point when you have ground your razor against the stones you have the big question comes up "how do I know if it is sharp enough". You can see a bunch of different tests on video's but the one I like , bearing in mind that shaving is the only real test , is run the razor along a hairy part of you with the edge a 1/16 or so away from the skin . See how the hair reacts if it seems to almost leap off and sticks to the razor , my razors are all carbon steel so always have a degree of oil on , If that occurs you have reached the promised land and can lather up . Anything else and it is back to plan two .

I have read this back and can only apologise for making it sound complicated I have loved learning to sharpen my own razors. I am sure there is still a lot to learn and that is okay by me cos I am enjoying the learning . It really is satisfying to buy a razor cheaply from the Bay and sharpen it up for what is likely the first time in 50 , 60 years or more .

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Comment by John Bamford on February 27, 2017 at 14:56

You won't likely be able to do a lot of polishing there Dale , but here's a video to give you inspiration .

https://youtu.be/H9Ve2nglZBE

Those nicks should hone out okay I would think .
It is a shame to not put that thing back together .

Comment by D ale on February 27, 2017 at 14:31

You know .. I may do a rebuild yet, John.

I've two Wade & Butchers w/o handles.

The poorer of the two is the one I'll use for practice.

There's a couple small nicks .. below the "t" & "h" in Butchers.

My major problem is .. how to clean the etched side w/o further damaging the etch.

???????

Comment by John Bamford on February 26, 2017 at 8:28

As with most of these questions Dale what seems simple at first becomes rapidly more complex .
This is a loom strop that I am planning on getting sometime soon as the leather straps can be changed easily , which isn't the case with the one I have at the moment.
https://youtu.be/Q99BjyOPAHU

One advantage of this is that there are online sources of leather that can be cut to size very economically in a great variety of types ,ie English Bridle , buffalo etc .

The point about changing the leather is that you can have a variety of different straps coated with different abrasive pastes. There are a bewildering variety of abrasives but they can be roughly put into two groups .
Firstly there is the traditional pastes green (chrome oxide),red (ferric oxide), black , don't know what that is , and white which is non abrasive but put on a fabric element in hanging strops .
There is also a bunch of more modern abrasive stuff such as diamond and cubic boron nitride . This stuff does get expensive , very expensive when you start to get several strops and maybe four different grades of diamond going from around 6 micron down to .25. Then a lot of people say that that gets a razor too sharp and harsh so that you need to use chrome oxide and then a good leather strop to smooth it out !!!!
So at the moment I am experimenting with strops , I have had some cheap hanging strops and some paddle strops that I made myself. Now I have the , fairly cheap , loom strop but am planning the one above. I also have ordered a better quality hanging strop and am unsure of which I like best . The cheaper hanging strops I am going to cut up and make some more paddle strops to maybe try diamond pastes .
It all costs an awful lot of money though and keeps me from the more important work of collecting knives and razors .

Finally you will be glad to hear a video of a guy who makes razors demonstrating the use of his own loom strop ,
https://youtu.be/Z9MJ_IMUGHk

Comment by D ale on February 25, 2017 at 16:33

Please, John .. correct me where I err … … …

Re: loom strop.

I am of the impression there exists a user definable tension adjustment of the innate resiliency of a loom strop. It would seem ..with a lil practice.. a very workable level of resiliency that conformed admirably to the geometry of the razor in hand would greatly enhance the sharpening / honing / stropping process.

I am also “guessing” there is a polishing compound involved. Perhaps .. applied to the workable (stropping) areas of the leather surface. And .. are there two .. per loom ???

I should safely assume.. theres more than just a frame, couple springs, & a hunk of leather involved.

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What are the desired nuances ??

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Thanks

D ale

Comment by John Bamford on February 25, 2017 at 13:14

Thank you Dale , it means a lot coming from you .

I didn't really need the "English Bridle Leather Strop" that I have just ordered . The fact that it was for sale at a very competitive price should have made no difference . It did make a difference however and it is on it's way to me now !!!

Comment by D ale on February 24, 2017 at 5:09

I'll paraphrase an old adage ...

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Nothing worthwhile is simple, quick, or easy.

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The sense of accomplishment must be quite rewarding.

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!!! .. Kudos to you, John .. !!!

Comment by John Bamford on February 4, 2017 at 7:57

I got the loom strop on Wednesday and have had a chance to shave with the edges finished on it . Very impressive , the strop seems to have given me that last bit of sharpness that I have been looking for .

In fact it has allowed me to reach a goal that I have been aiming for , which is a quick and comfortable single pass shave before work . Time is always short on a workday morning and it is not really helped by trying to shave with a straight razor . This can be made worse if you aren't sure that the edge is up to the job , a constant worry when trying to learn shaving and sharpening at the same time .  I feel I am there or thereabouts now and Friday morning was a good efficient one pass clean enough for going to work shave , only taken a year !!  Worth while though .

Comment by John Bamford on January 28, 2017 at 14:39

Well I have gone for the loom strop but have changed my mind about buying one by Mastro Livi .

It is hard to make up your mind when there is less money than products to spend it on !

A cheaper but hopefully a useful loom strop it is , I am helped in this decision by the fact that Malcolm has another three John and William Ragg razors . These razors should really belong to me !!


I guess this will not be the end of my sharpening gear as I hear diamond treated strops calling . Oh dear I never will have any money .
Comment by John Bamford on January 21, 2017 at 16:18

I will be interested in knowing how you get on with the jig Dale .

I felt that buying an Edge Pro gave me a real insight into sharpening and I still use it on my pocket knives .

I don't feel the need to use the jig with kitchen knives but for setting up a new pocket knife a good looking even bevel looks just the job . I found the 120 and 240 in the Edge Pro to be hard work as they need cleaning off all the time and for the more modern steel they do a couple of different diamond stones which do make life a lot easier .

Have you looked at chef knives to go they do a whole load of different stones and strops to fit the Edge Pro which look like they would fit your new jig if you want to try different types . An angle cube is also a good thing to have for those fixed angle jigs you can get them fairly cheap on Amazon .

I think I have a 120, 240, 400 ,600, 100 ,4000 and two diamond stones for my EP it works well but if I could have afforded it I would have liked the sharpener made by my friend Thomas in Sweden which is similar to the EP but better , at least in my opinion .

Anyway I am too preoccupied looking for the "perfect" razor edge at the moment and the EP isn't a lot of help with that .

I hope you get on with your new machine and I will hope to hear how it goes .

Comment by D ale on January 21, 2017 at 15:14

Ouch .. that is one gaudy looking razor ..&.. for 2 grand .. I think not.

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Indeed, John .. your sharpening skills have increased from .. say .. a mere year ago.

I can understand any preoccupation you may have with the tools required to sharpen ..as.. I share it.

I have a box of old razor stones ..&.. a full drawer of diamond whetstones ..&.. a collection of other .. tools.

As if that wasn't enough .. I finally acquired a fixed angle jig for sharpening.

It removes much of the guesswork, i.e. it fixes & holds a given angle.

The sharpening jig / fixture came with 4 whetstones .. 120, 320, 600, & 1500 grit.

I've ordered 2 more stones .. a 2K & a 3K. I seriously doubt the 120 & 320 will see much use. Whereas .. the 1500 grit leaves a polished edge. It will be interesting to see what the 2K & 3K stones do :)

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Enjoy

D ale

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