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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 ,


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 October 13, 2018 at 13:31

I do get to sneak off to the shed now and then, Dale my friend !!

Comment by D ale on October 13, 2018 at 10:20

Nice stones, strops, vernier caliper, etc.


Now if you just had some free time ......


!!! .. ENJOY .. !!!

Comment by John Bamford on August 19, 2018 at 11:38

Although I have made some progress with my pasted strop regime, I do still get the urge to buy more sharpening stones. Hence the 1000 grit Shapton ceramic that I bought from Japan recently, they seem to be much cheaper there than in Europe. I have two stones that are around 1000 grit but they are so old that I am not certain. Also, they soak up a lot of water and take forever to dry out before returning them to the box that they live in. This Shapton is a Splash and go sort of stone which I find a lot more practical. It comes in a nice little plastic box which doubles as a stand, I recommend it for kitchen knives as well as razors.

The latest addition to the sharpening regime is a digital micrometre which is used for calculating the blade angles of razors. This isn't all that necessary, but as razors perform at their best with an angle of between 16/19 degrees it is nice to be able to check that I have the blades working at their best. I reckon you could live happily without this piece of equipment but they were on offer at the supermarket so I thought I would give it a go.

Comment by John Bamford on July 5, 2018 at 13:44

To follow on from the previous post, below, I have been using this diamond pasted strop collection for some time and it works really well.

The first pic is a double sided paddle strop treated with 2.5 micron diamond on both sides. One side has a little metal polish added, just your ordinary stuff around 6/8 micron I would guess. The cover is to stop the strop from picking up any grit. I use this strop for fairly coarse work when the hanging strop isn't enough. This hanging strop is the one I use most often. It has four different grits; 1.5,1.0,.5 and .25 micron diamond. I made this last week to replace one that I gave my brother to try. The fabric is hemp, I don't know if that is better than cotton or linen, I just fancied trying it. Then this is another strop that I made for use before and after shaving. Quite nice leather and once again hemp fabric to be used without any abrasive. Now that I have got the hang of making strops I may very well end up with rather a lot, I have some very very nice oil tanned leather waiting for me in the shed!!

I delivered a similar set to my brother who lives nearby and he was checking his razor with a rather good loupe which is something that I have been neglecting of late. The razors seemed to be shaving very well so I was content to leave it at that.

Well, you know what it's like when I got home I had to get my loupe out and start checking my edges. Could be better around the bevel I thought, so of to the shed with twenty-some razors and two days later, wow!!!

It is easy to forget the basics at times and run ahead when you are sharpening just wanting to get onto the edge polishing. Along with knives razors are sharpened on your coarsest stone and then refined with finer stones. Course if you don't get that edge right on the coarse stone then the later work is never going to bring the best out of that edge. This time I worked extra hard and spent a lot of time getting the bevels just as good as I possibly could before moving from my starting stone, in a lot of cases that would be a 1000 grit water stone. 

The improvement in performance is remarkable, I used 4/5 stones to get the edge as I wanted and then after my finest stone I have polished with the various diamond pastes and stropped on leather. Now, this level of smooth-sharpness is something that I could only dream of before. It goes to show that ignoring the basics is really dumb, but then I guess we are all guilty of that from time to time.

Comment by John Bamford on July 3, 2018 at 11:28

As I have mentioned below I have felt to be making quite a bit of progress going down the "Pasted Strop" route.

When you see all of the old strops that guys used back in the day a lot of them are paddle strops or loom strops that come with an abrasive paste already applied. There have been a bewildering array of devices produced to help us fellows shave and I feel that a lot of these were devised to cope with the stress induced by trying to sharpen a straight razor. There is a fairly steep learning curve to this particular skill and I am happy to say that I have made a little more progress.

This is the reason I feel better about my sharpening. This razor is the only modern razor that I own, by modern I mean bought brand new and made in the last few years. I have owned this for around eighteen months now and never had a good shave off it until today. I have been ready to sell the thing or even give it away to anyone who was foolish enough to want the thing.

Today, however, I have had a very good shave from the Dovo so feel I should mention why. As this may take a while I will have to do the full report over one or two entries.

Comment by John Bamford on April 14, 2018 at 13:06

The old French frameback razor in this picture, 1880/1890?,  Has just given me a glorious shave.

I bought it a while ago and did my best to sharpen it. The edge was good but the bevel was rather uneven, so last night I had a good long sharpening session with it. The bevel is a little better now, not perfect but better than it was. It is wonderfully sharp and smooth however and a  straight razor that you have sharpened yourself is a very satisfying thing to use. 

Comment by John Bamford on March 26, 2018 at 12:58

Next thing on the horizon is making my own strops and to that end, I am researching on Youtube and trying to source materials. 

Good materials though, otherwise I may as well buy them, and indeed I do have quite a few strops.

You can't have too many bits of kit though ??!!

Comment by John Bamford on March 26, 2018 at 12:55

I have been using diamond coated strops for sharpening my razors for a while now. This works fine...but and there is always a but, most people suggest quite a moderate number of laps on diamond strops. They also say that using diamond strops can give a harsh shave and suggest using one of the "old-fashioned " green or red pastes to smooth out the edge.

I have found that both these points are true!

However after reading a blog by one of the very few sharpening guys that I have time for I feel that I have made another advance. This guy a Mr KV Johnson claims that this harsh element can be lost simply by doing a lot more laps on the diamond strop, Instead of 10/20 more like 100/ 200. I am glad to say that he is right and I am getting a considerable improvement in both sharpness and a truly amazing feeling of smoothness.

I keep thinking that there can't be a lot further to go in this sharpening business and then something else comes along to prove that there is more to learn.

It is good to learn though!!!

Comment by John Bamford on October 14, 2017 at 11:02

You are right Dale practice is needed and I don't mind doing that practice as I have a guaranteed method of getting a good edge from the "Science of sharp" blog. That gives me the ability to play around with other stones and methods knowing that I have a fallback method that can fix things for me.

If I can ever get close to the skill level you have then I will be doing okay!

Comment by D ale on October 13, 2017 at 14:14

I just checked their pricing on-line  ..indeed.. they can be a bit on the pricey side.


mind the old adage "practice makes perfect"



John .. I've taken apart more knives than I've ever assembled .. to obtain the skill level I'm @ today.

Not economically viable.

It's just part of that practice thingie.

White River Knives

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