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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 D ale on December 2, 2016 at 17:01

John

The one on the far right .. any clue what the purpose of the small semi-circle @ the end of the blade is ???

.

It appears to me that would be the most comfortable one to hold or grasp while shaving

given

the curve n the "shank" of the blade.

I believe that's where your thumb would rest during the process of shaving.

.

That same razor has more of a curved cutting / shaving edge.

Does that offer an advantage during the shaving process ??

.

Ivory

I have some old knives & some other old sharp items with real ivory.

There is something special about that material.

It's pretty amazing schtuff.

And in today's world .. quite unique !!!

.

Enjoy

D ale

Comment by John Bamford on December 2, 2016 at 11:31

These three razors are now my definite favourites and the two on the outside of this picture sharpened up easily and shave very very well . The centre one however was a little more difficult it seemed sharp but didn't shave as well as the rest so I had a more leisurely sharpening session today and all is well ! The sharpness is proven by a couple of small nicks . The one on my left ear ,of all things ,I never felt until Sue asked me what on earth I had been doing . The other nick was just clumsy ,  it is a very heavy old razor and feels really large even though it doesn't look bigger than the others . Well it's either that or I just had a bad day , loved that cut on the ear though as I really never felt it at all .

Comment by Jan Carter on November 27, 2016 at 18:42

Those are still amazing to me.  First that Malcolm found them and then that they have proven to blow the whiskers off the rest you have purchased

Comment by John Bamford on November 27, 2016 at 12:11

Well I bought these three old Sheffield razors recently and they have sharpened up really well . That is an understatement they are sensational razors to use , so smooth it makes you wonder if they are taking any whiskers off . I really bought them for the fact that they are very old and still in as new condition . The fact is that whether they are old or whether they are new is not relevant these things give the best shave it is possible to imagine . All three are just the same they glide over the skin in a way that is hard to describe to people who haven't tried one . These old guys certainly knew what they were doing . 

When I bought them Mr Carpenter said they just needed stropping to make them shave , well you have to be joking I thought they were made in the mid 1800's and anyway I have spent a lot of money on stones so i am sure going to use them !!

They were sharp out of the box , the sort of sharp you would hope for in a production knife.... but would be unlikely to find . Well the famous razor guys on the forums and Youtube say you should go to a 1000 grit stone and work the progression from there . I guess I have to be awkward but these things were pretty sharp so I thought I would have a try with just the higher grits first , if that didn't do the job then I could go coarser and start again . 

So the progression was 20 strokes on an 8000 , 30 reps on a strop , 15 strokes on a 12000 stone , 30 reps on the strop , 20 very very light strokes on the ILR stone , 30 reps on the strop , 30 very very light strokes on the ILR under running water , then strop again .  

That has done the trick for these razors and these days I have around 20 other ones but I am having a hard time picking one up I just want to use these old Sheffield fellows .

Comment by Jan Carter on October 24, 2016 at 19:04

wow, John, I am glad the new one is working better for you and I am surprised that D2 is working well with the BB.  I read this to Donnie and now he is thinking about a BB.  D2 is something I have never been able to get an edge on, Donnie can but as you know it is a fair amount of work.  Thanks for the info!

Comment by John Bamford on October 24, 2016 at 13:37

Last week I got my newest stone , a Naniwa 8000 , so my sharpening routine I think has been settled for the time being . The Belgian Blue has been ejected ,  for the time being but more on that later , and today I had a play with the Clauss razor that I got from Dale . I started with the Naniwa 5000 then Naniwa 8000 and 12000 finishing with the ILR under running water and a very brief strop . Fantastic shave after , I couldn't ask for a better edge ... at least at the moment . After Christmas it could be time to try diamond loaded strops ?    

The Belgian Blue stone that has been taken off razor duty has proven to be a really good stone for knives . Particularly that rather tough D2 that I like so much for whittling with . The first time I put a Queen D2 blade on a Naniwa artificial stone the stone came of second best . The BB though due to the very hard garnets and using a slurry has no trouble at all getting an edge . 

The Belgian Whetstone consists of 30 to 42% garnet crystals bonded together with mica. These garnets are what give the Coticule its exceptional sharpening characteristics. The geometrical shape of these garnets is a dodecahedron. There are twelve surfaces with obtuse angles. The garnets have a diameter of 5 to 15 microns and penetrate 1 to 3 microns into the metal to be sharpened. This ideal geometric shape (obtuse angles polish the metal) and the large numbers of these garnets ensure that the blade is sharpened both very quickly and extremely finely. In just a few minutes, this results in a razor-sharp cut, for any object that is to be sharpened.

Taken from the main supplier's website ,

http://www.ardennes-coticule.be/en/producten

Comment by Jan Carter on October 2, 2016 at 18:42

John,

I like the observation that although you prefer the newer steels (and I know you love your 154's) in knives but prefer the older steels in a razor.  That could indeed be because they were a tad bit softer and also because they are softer, raising a burr  and removing it while sharpening is easier.  I love my 154's also but I have yet to learn to sharpen that or a D2 correctly

Comment by John Bamford on October 2, 2016 at 14:09

Well I have now tried sharpening a razor on the Edge Pro . I tried it on the latest one , an old Sheffield hand forged razor I think from around 1850 . I bought it to try sharpening on the Edge Pro as it would seem that the edge on a wedge type of blade was close to a knife so it should work okay ?

Well it did , but I am not convinced that the Edge Pro adds anything to razor sharpening and I don't think that I will carry on long enough to get good at it . The traditional way of razor sharpening seems to work well enough and the Edge Pro doesn't seem to my mind to add anything much . I think it is a good system for knives but it isn't giving me any advantage with razors . Ah well I have had a go at it !

 The razor that I have been trying this on isn't the one I have bought recently from Malcolm Carpenter , that one is far to nice to risk . This one is a $13 job from the bay that I will put new scales on soon .

Comment by John Bamford on September 30, 2016 at 12:33

I can't say that I have a lot to add to this blog yet as I feel to be just learning the art of razor sharpening . However I did read someone saying that you need to learn your stones and that this is particularly true with natural stones . I start my razor sharpening with either a 600 Japanese stone or a 1000 Japanese . I would like to say that I have good reason for choosing one or the other but it is guess work at this stage really . These are man made stones as is the next one and I am unsure of what grit it is 3/5000 I think , anyway all straight forward so far, lay the razor on the stone and make sure that you are hitting the apex and all is good .

The next stone that I use is the one I was wanting to mention . I am not going to say this is fabulous go get one partly cos it would be difficult in the States ,these are quarried in one place in Finland . I got mine from Lamnia a knife and outdoor store in Finland , I recommend them if you wanted any Scandinavian knives . This stone was chosen without a great deal of thought or research and at first I was not altogether happy with it . It is sold as being suitable for plane blades and razors it also works fine on knives . I tried this stone for some time before I got to like it now though it is a step in sharpening a razor that I wouldn't want to be without . I think they are claimed to be around 4000 grit but as it is a natural stone the grit rating doesn't mean much , I am beginning to believe that the feel of the steel on the stone gives a more accurate idea of what is going on . This is what has made me so happy with this stone it feels great , I am not able to describe the feel just able to say that it conveys an impression of the way it is polishing the steel .

The next two stones are naturals as well , first a Belgian Blue , that is okay... but I am not altogether sure that it will stay in the list when I think of something better .

Lastly is a Imperia la Roccia , impressive name for a piece of slate , and this I am impressed with . Some people seem to have a different opinion but at present it does a very good job and the price of these things is very good . If you want a fine stone , around 12000 they say , then this is a good choice . used under running water as Dr Matt suggests it gets a razor very sharp indeed . When the razor starts to stick to to the stone then you are good to go , it really does seem to be that simple . Maybe in the future I will know more but at the moment these stones are getting me an edge that I would not have thought possible a little while ago .

The only problem I have at present is my Dovo razor , it seems sharp , it is sharp but I can't love the thing at the moment . The older carbon steel of my other razors I seem to get on with so much better .

I like the newer steels in knives, stainless and the more modern the steel and the happier I am , so I am not one to think that steel was always better in the past . With my razors it seems that the older , maybe softer ? , steel is the way to go . 

Comment by John Bamford on September 17, 2016 at 12:52

Congratulations on the new phone Dale I love mine I am on my third smartphone now . This is an Android by Motorola I had Windows phones before , the phone is much cleverer than I am which is a worry . The phone spooks Sue , we had a late lunch and I said the phone wants me to revue this restaurant and she couldn't understand how the thing knew where we were !!

The four sided strop with different grades of abrasive would finish your knife of really well .

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