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 6, 2019 at 11:25

I started this blog in September 2016 and as I am convinced that I have made a little progress in the succeeding three years I thought an update is called for.

First of all a disclaimer, I am competent now but not an expert by any means.

There are a bunch of different methods of achieving a shaveable straight razor and some people get very attached to one method so if my way of doing things causes anyone distress then I apologise. Though to be honest anyone who gets upset about such things should really consider what their priorities are after all this is only putting an edge on steel.

Anyway, I am now the proud and poor possessor of a whole bunch of sharpening gear for both knives and razors but I will only show the razor stuff on here. I really didn't need all this but of course, the problem these days is that there is so much information online and it is hard to sort the wheat from the chaff as they say. I guess in the past year or two I have managed to buy a bunch of chaff at times. Which is why I have such a bunch of stones and if anyone reads this with an intention to start sharpening razors then believe me you really don't need all this stuff.

So here is my rapidly filling up sharpening box.


Some of the contents are as follows, coarse sharpening stones mostly for use on eBay purchases,

Medium sharpening stones around 4000/7000,

Then there are the stones that I use last.

The last picture is minus one stone which is around 15000, if you believe the retailer and some people don't. I have only just realised that it is missing so will have to track it down soon.
Comment by John Bamford on October 5, 2019 at 14:22

It is really good Dale I think that it is impossible to work without it if you are buying eBay razors. There is a razor I bought a while ago and although I could get it sharp it was an unpleasant shave. When I checked it out under the scope the corrosion was like blue cheese going through the edge and impossible to see with 66-year-old eyes.

At the moment I am unable to use the microscope as we are having building work done and the house has been a building site for the past two months. We have saved for this work for years to make the house suitable for an old couple. It has been just a matter of choosing whether to remain here or move to a smaller house but inthe end we decided to stay and have the work done though it is a pain.

I think using a microscope for razors, I can't really see the need for knives, is essential if you buy older razors. I would like to be able to take photo's but don't know how to do so with an older microscope. It is hardly essential but would be interesting to show some of the flaws on these old, often Victorian, blades.

Comment by D ale on October 5, 2019 at 14:07


How's the microscope working out for you ?


Comment by John Bamford on March 27, 2019 at 14:02

Thanks, Dale, you are right it is empowering to be able to see and understand what you are doing.

Comment by D ale on March 27, 2019 at 13:42

KUDO's to you, John.

It must provide a feeling of personal triumph. Both for the "view" provided from the microscope & the ultimate understanding of the straight razor's issues.

Again .. Kudo's to you !!!

Comment by John Bamford on March 27, 2019 at 13:23

As I have recently bought a microscope, not an expensive thing but very good quality as proven by my good friend Dale, I thought some feedback would be in order.

I have never used a microscope before if I used one at school then I have forgotten about it but that's not really a surprise as it is 50 years since I finished there. It has taken a few practices to get used to using the microscope, I needed to get used to the way things seem to be back to front when looking through the lens. Just finding the edge of a razor is a challenge at first but with a couple of hours practice, I am managing just fine.

The lens is marked as 10x but is so much better than the two loupes that I have used up until now, the loupes are marked 30x but are fairly cheap items. As I am getting used to using the microscope I thought I would check out a razor that has proven rather troublesome so far. It is a "Hamburg Ring" from the early 20c and has some visible corrosion on the blade. It doesn't look too bad with the loupe, nothing visible on the edge, however, it is a different story with the microscope!

This razor would sharpen okay but was never very smooth to shave with and using the microscope it is easy to see why. The bevel to the edge looks like a crumpet or a really holey cheese, there is a lot of corrosion and pits and chips so much so that it's life as a functioning razor is finished I think. I could grind away at the edge for a while and hope to get to some solid steel but I think there would be very little left before I had finished, better to spend the time on a more promising project I think.

Good job I have bought a bunch of razors I guess. 

Wonderful to be able to get such a detailed view of the edge though and also to be able to see in such detail exactly what I am achieving with each stone. Maybe not as useful for sharpening knives but then again as good quality older microscopes are available at a very reasonable cost on the bay it may be a useful addition.

Comment by D ale on March 15, 2019 at 17:11

If I uncover any more data I'll certainly let you know, John. I have found that Beck London made many different slight varying units that were manufacture specific, i.e. specific to the manufacturer's needs / requirements. Further, those data sheets which were not disseminated to the general public.
It does appear that the Model # 3195 is specific to Beck London. The 33747 was the manufacturers serial number .. whoever that specific manufacturer may have been that contracted Beck London for their specific in-house requirements.

D ale

Comment by John Bamford on March 15, 2019 at 16:28

Thanks for that Dale, I am sure I will get used to the back to front business though it made my brain ache tonight.

When it is focussed it certainly is clear but keeping it there is a problem. I am sure I will be able to make something to hold the razors. 

Thanks for the help, my friend.

Comment by D ale on March 15, 2019 at 16:05

What I've uncovered, John .. is that Beck London made many versions that were purpose specific i.e. many microscopes were made by them for other firms, e.g. Rolls Royce. As a result, the technical data sheets were not made available to the public. I've tried.

I think yours was manufactured post 1950 ..but.. cannot be positive about that due to lack of documentation. What I have uncovered is that Beck, London microscopes are of the highest quality !!!

Many microscopes will have an apparatus (table of sorts) specifically designed for holding slides firmly in place ..as opposed to.. freely moving about. A suggestion of a magnet ..firmly positioned.. is a good idea. Fixing the subject to view (said straight razor) is a necessity.

And no .. you did not put it together incorrectly. You wouldn't see chit if you had. Microscopes from my HS science classes & my USB microscope does the same i.e. the view moves in the opposite direction that the object physically moves. It's optics .. you'll get used to it :) 

Also, John the top lens portion is threaded. I would equate it to adjusting the Interpupillary Distance of a set of binoculars (you may need to look that one up). Your microscope may or may not have a built in reticle* that provides a means of "scaling" of the object being viewed. This is more often referred to graticule in reference to microscopes. To the point .. they will not even be visible if you haven't properly adjusted the top lens of the microscope. To obtain the proper adjustment .. screw the threaded portion of the top lens until you can view the built in graticules. You will get used to viewing from a "normal" distance between your eye to the top of the lens .. whatever normal is for you. i.e. my retina will be positioned at a different distance behind the lens of my eye than is yours. That distance varies from person to person. SO0oo .. just check it out.

Fixing the object to view (your straight razors) will greatly simplify the process.

Again .. you've a "world class" microscope .. regardless it's age.

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reticle

Comment by John Bamford on March 15, 2019 at 14:48

Well, I have been playing with the microscope tonight.

First thing I found was it is not as easy to use as I hoped I think I will need to rig up some way of holding the razor in a steady position. Either a magnet or some other way to hold it steady will make a deal of difference just holding it in place means it is always going out of focus. It's hard on the old eyes but I guess you get used to it, as it is the first time I have ever looked through a microscope it may get easier, most things do.

One thing that surprised me a great deal, maybe Dale knows the answer, is that moving the razor around to see different areas seems to be like looking in a mirror and everything appears to be moving in the opposite direction to the one intended !!  Very strange I can't see how I could have put the lenses in wrong.

It is a very clear view of the bevel and edge though and on the razor being examined the bevel did look very clean. Particularly as I haven't sharpened this one for some time now and since buying some more stones I am making good progress.

The reason that I wanted to get a clearer view of what I was doing wasn't so much a matter of getting better edges but more a case of understanding the effects of the different stones. Also, I am guessing when it is time to move on to a finer stone and hopefully with this clearer view I will be able to know for sure how long it takes to smooth out the effects of a particular stone and be ready for the next one.

I think you are right about it being a good quality scope though Dale when it is dialled in the edge, is really clear.

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