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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 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.

Comment by John Bamford on March 14, 2019 at 15:12

Glad it is a good one Dale, I will test it tomorrow.

I know less than nothing about microscopes I got this one, apart from it being cheap, cos it looked simple compared to other ones I saw.

£20 plus postage.

Comment by D ale on March 14, 2019 at 15:00

WOWZA ... you did good !!!


!!! .. World class .. !!!


The Model is 3195. I suspect the longer # is the serial number.



Comment by John Bamford on March 14, 2019 at 14:46

On another area, it says model 3195

Comment by John Bamford on March 14, 2019 at 14:39

Beck/London model 33747

Comment by D ale on March 14, 2019 at 13:41

John .. what's the nameplate data of the microscope ?


It sure cleaned up nice !

Comment by John Bamford on March 14, 2019 at 13:15

I am very happy being retired Jan," no more work", what a wonderful phrase!!

There is little really wrong in combining natural and synthetic stones it is really a matter of finding where one of them would fit into the system. With synthetics you can be pretty sure that they are what is said on the box but natural stones can vary by quite a lot. Once you figure each one out that is no longer a problem and a lot of people enjoy the challenge. For the moment I prefer an easier life.

Comment by John Bamford on March 14, 2019 at 13:08

A lot of guys use the Arkansas stones on their razors Dale, particularly for finishing. Along with most natural stones, the concept of grit doesn't really apply. The main reason I am using synthetics at the moment is because the grit is definite and a simple old fellow knows where he is. All naturals have a degree of individuality, of course, I have two Coticules, naturals from Belgium and they are very different from each other.

My "new" Rolls Royce microscope below, it was so dirty I couldn't see anything much through it. I think it was made in the first half of the 20th century.

Comment by D ale on March 14, 2019 at 10:06

As you know .. I'm rather fond of D2 blade steel. Out of necessity ... I use diamond stones.

.... however ....

I do use a "condensed" version of your sharpening i.e. I always finish the process with my old Hard Arkansas* stone. It seems to smooth the edge by reducing the "toothiness" left from the diamond stones.


. Very nice work, John !

* I've no idea what grit the hard arkansas might be .. I just know it works.

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