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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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