How to Sharpen a Straight Razor with Ease?

If you have avoided straight razors because of the effort required to sharpen them, you may want to think twice.

Straight razors give the cleanest shaves compared to other razor types, and though I knew this, I avoided them because I thought they were so hard to sharpen. In a bid to get cleaner shaves, I had to turn to them and have since discovered that they are not so hard to sharpen.

While many have given up on straight razors because they don't know how to go about the sharpening, I hope to show you how to sharpen a straight razor easily and prove to you, in essence, that it is not a complicated process.

Tools You Need to Sharpen a Straight Razor

To properly sharpen a straight razor, you will need some tools. Some are essential tools you cannot do without, while others are optional. Nevertheless, for an effortless sharpening experience, make sure you have all these tools ready.

  • Honing Stone: A honing stone is one of the essential tools you must have to sharpen a razor. Also referred to as a whetstone or sharpening stone, it is a fine-grit stone against which you sharpen razor blades. The larger the honing stone, the better. If you can afford it, get a complete honing stone set. Choose a stone with a grit between 4000 and 8000, depending on how blunt your razor is.
  • Strop: A strop can be made from any of several soft materials, but the most common material is leather. The aim is to get rid of any form of dirt and keep the edge polished after the honing process. A razor that is not too blunt can be stropped without honing, but if you want to get the best result, don't skip any step.
  • Honing Stone Holder: Using a honing stone holder is optional, but it does make a little difference in keeping the stone firm and steady as you sharpen. Most stones come with rubber mats that can also keep them in place.
  • Towel: You will need a towel to clean the water while you sharpen your razor. Nevertheless, you need to be wary of cleaning your razor with towels as you can cause damage to the blade if there are particles present on the blade.

Step by Step on How to Sharpen a Straight Razor

I have broken down the sharpening process into simple steps for you. Follow these instructions to revive your straight razor to the best possible condition.

Honing the Razor

After selecting a stone with a suitable grit, the next step is to hone carefully and with patience. I want you to avoid the mistakes I made by using a honing stone with unsuitable grit and rushing the honing process.

Step 1. Soak the stone

You want to make sure the stone surface is soft enough for smooth honing - soaking in water for around 15 minutes will ensure this.

Step 2. Place stone on a holder

You don't have to do this compulsorily, but it can enhance your sharpening experience as it will ensure the stone doesn't slide around while you use it.

Step 3. Place the razor in position

You need to be very careful when you do this, as it will ultimately determine the success of the honing process. Interestingly, most straight razor sides are concave in shape, and this makes it quite easy to get the right position. Place the razor flatly against the stone, with the shoulder touching but not rubbing against the stone as you sharpen.

Step 4. Run the razor up and down the stone

While maintaining the right razor position, run the blade down the stone using slow and light strokes. One of the mistakes I made when sharpening for the first time was pressing the blade too hard against the stone and rushing the strokes. Furthermore, you should follow an X-pattern, turning it after each stroke with the spine always keeping contact with the sharpening stone.

Stropping

Straight razors that are not too blunt can be sharpened just by stropping. While you must strop after honing, you should also strop before each shave to align the edge of the blade. A typical leather strop will come with a leather side and a canvas side. The canvas side serves to clean the blade before and after the stropping process.

Step 1. Hang the strop and hold tightly

The most prevalent type of strop is the hanging leather strop. To make stropping easier, hang one side to a stable element like a wall or a piece of furniture. Pull down towards yourself at an angle of about 45°. However, if you are a beginner, you may want to pull the strop parallel to the ground, as it is much harder to cut the strop this way.

Step 2. Position the razor correctly

Hold the razor at the shank in between your thumb and forefinger, with the other fingers supporting the handle so you can pivot and turn the razor easily. Next, you want the blade and spine flatly against the leather, with the blade facing towards you before you start running the razor along.

Step 3. Slide along the strop 

Making sure that the blade remains flat against the leather, slide it with light pressure to the far end, roll the razor and run it back towards yourself. Speed is not the most important thing; maintaining the right technique is. When using a strop that is narrow than the length of the razor blade, use the X-pattern in running the razor against the leather. You will need to go about 25 laps before your razor is sharp and smooth enough for use.

Step 4. Turn the razor 

Another thing you need to ensure is consistency in running the blade back and forth. What you have to do is make sure that the once you get to the far end of the strop, you turn the razor such that the cutting edge faces away from you. You should, however, make sure that the blade stays in contact with the leather as you turn it. Taking the same precaution, roll the razor so that the edge faces you before sliding away. Do this continuously until the razor is sharp and smooth enough for use.

Don't forget to clean the blade with the canvas side before and after stropping. Additionally, you can clean a straight razor with the canvas before putting it away after use. Many people do ask about the number of passes you need to make on stop to get your blade smooth. There is no standard for the number of laps required, but I recommend 25 laps (round trip) on the leather part and 20 laps on the canvas.

Conclusion

I sincerely hope you enjoyed this article. If you have avoided straight razors because you don't want to go through the stress of sharpening, these simple steps discussed above should allay your misgivings. If I had access to these details when I first tried to sharpen my straight razor, I wouldn't have made some of the mistakes I did. As long as you have your sharpening tools ready and follow these easy steps, sharpening your straight razor should be a piece of cake. Kindly share your thoughts in the comments below. You should also share this article if you found it helpful.

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