How To Sharpen A Straight Razor For The First Time?

sharpening a cut throat razorIf you are reading this article, then by now you will be the proud owner of a straight razor. It is also great to see that you are prepared to look after it and keep it sharp. So we will look at how to sharpen a straight razor, if this is your first time.

The good news is that this is not that difficult, but it takes just a little know how, and a little bit of practise. You will hear different shaving terms like using a hone, a strop and bevels.

Never let this type of terminology throw you off. At the Shaving Emporium, we have several straight razor users, and they have been sharpening these for years, so we will now pass this information on to you.

Please note this sharpening method is for straight razors with a fixed blade, and not for straight razors, where you attach a razor blade. For straight razors where you attach an ordinary razor blade, then you simply replace the old blade with a new blade. I know that sounds obvious but I also know people who have tried this.

Sharpening Straight Razors for Beginners

There are three recommended methods for sharpening a good quality straight razor with a fixed blade which are

  1. Using a Strop
  2. Using a sharpening hone
  3. Using a combination of stropping and honing

For someone who is new to sharpening a straight razor we would strongly recommend using a strop to begin with. When you first received your straight razor, it would have been sharpened in the factory. That is usually good enough for between 2-3 months.

After that period of regular daily use it will need to be sharpened. So from that you can deduce that you will have to do this as a minimum 4-6 times a year. At the end of the year we would then recommend using a combination of a strop and a hone, but for the first year, a razor strop is ideal.

Now we would recommend using your strop every day to keep your blade in the best condition possible. When you get used to this task it only takes a minute, and I do that just before I shave, so it just becomes part of my shaving routine. By doing this it will also make the task quicker and you will always have a nice sharp blade to shave with.

sharpening a straight razor for the first time

Leather Strop with Handle

These leather strops vary in price and the price is determined by the quality of the leather in the strop, and the overall quality of the way that it has been made. A decent one will cost you around £15 in the UK market. At the cheaper end you can get these for around £10, and at the more expensive end, we have seen them selling at almost £50. The one in the picture above costs just under £15 and is perfect for a beginner who wants to sharpen his razor.

How Do You Use A Strop To Sharpen A Straight Razor?

We have a video below that shows you exactly how to use a strop to sharpen the blade of your straight razor. The one thing that we have all noticed at the Shaving Emporium is that we actually enjoy doing this particular task. To be honest there is something completely satisfying about sitting down and turning you straight razor back to factory condition sharpness.

Types of Available Strops

Just before you look at the video, it is important to understand the types of strops available:

  • Hanging strops
  • Paddle strops
  • Loom strop

The traditional strop is the hanging strop and that is what we would recommend. In this type, the front side of the strop is used for sharpening the blade, and the rear side is for smoothing the blade. In the UK we tend to stay with hanging strops which are usually made from cow hide leather. Paddle strops are used more in countries like France, Germany and the USA and are also very expensive costing around the £70 price.

As you can see the main purpose of stropping is to remove any little nicks on the blade, help keep it straight, smooth out the edge of the razor, known as the bevel, and make it sharp. We here at the Emporium usually just hang this on the back of the door (bedroom or bathroom) and we just strop it from there.

 

We also use a nice steady rhythm as shown in the video and this works great. We do about 60 strokes and it takes about one minute to 90 seconds to complete.

When sharpening for the first time we would recommend using something like a knife with your strop before using your razor. This is simply to get a little practise and get used to how this works, and develop your stroke. Once you are confident with that, then you can sharpen your straight razor as you will be a lot more confident.

How To Test A Razor For Sharpness?

In most cases you will just know that the blade requires sharpening. When you shave regularly with a good quality straight razor, you will start to get a feel for its comfort, closeness of shave, if it is starting to pull hairs or leave hairs behind. A razor that needs to be sharpened is not safe to use as it makes you tend to dig into the skin a little more, and it is that motion that causes nicks and cuts.

You may see some men wetting their thumb and drawing it across the flat edge of the blade. Many of the older barbers do this. They then look to see how the blade catches the finger print. if it feels like a gentle tickle it is spot on. if on the other hand it produces a stronger tickle or feels like an ordinary knife, then it needs to be sharpened.

Should You Use A Strop or Hone?

Honing is simply the name for sharpening any blade and is used for items such as the knives of a chef, hunting knives and most types of blades. There are also electric versions of these which are great for knife sharpening, but not for razor sharpening. Hones are basically stones that are used to sharpen the edge of a blade. They come in different measurements of grit and are often referred to as “whetstones.”

They are also called wet stones, simply because the stone has a firm, but porous structure, and when used with water will create a nice sharp blade which is perfect for shaving. These cost between £10-75 but a good quality one will cost on average around £20.

We would highly recommend the Master Class Sharpening Stone which is just perfect for our job. The use of these stones can get very involved. As well as these standard sharpening stones, you can also get finishing stones. These are used by craftsmen to get ultra sharp edges on blades. We don’t actually want that at all, so a standard one like this is perfect for shaving purposes.

The video above shows you how to use a sharpening stone to hone a razor. In this he talks about using a Norton, but that is not that important. It is the actual method that is important. As a beginner to all of this we would recommend using a strop to begin with. That will generally keep the blade of your straight razor in good condition. However after a year or so you will need a deeper sharpening and that is when you will need to hone.

The one we recommend above uses a 400/1000 grit and we have found that to be pretty ideal for sharpening. Once again this takes a little practise, but we have always found this to be an enjoyable thing to do, and to perfect. Hopefully you have found this article helpful and are a little better informed.

If you have any thoughts or comments, then we would love to hear them, so please feel free to leave your comments below. May we also wish you the best of luck with sharpening your razor for the very first time.

Enda
 

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