Guide: How to Sharpen and Hone a Straight Razor
There are two types of straight razors that you can purchase. The first type, which are probably best for beginners who don’t want to shell out a lot of money, are low quality carbon disposable blades. These break down quickly but do the job just fine. Then there are high quality blades which will last forever, but require a great deal of maintenance.
This includes stropping, which basically smooths out the edges of your blade for proper shaving, but before that you have to sharpen or hone your blade. If you’ve never had to do that before, don’t sweat it, its a simple process that you will be able to pick up quickly and master in no time, just follow the steps.
And if you’re totally new to shaving with a straight razor, the check out our article on how to shave with a straight razor for some great tips.
The Sharpening Process
Step 1: Clean off the stone, you need to make sure its free of debris, even a little dirt will diminish the quality
Step 2: There are two types of stones you can use for this process. A ceramic stone, and a whetstone. If your using a ceramic stone, you can skip this part, but if you are using a whetstone, you’ll need to apply a lubricant to the surface of the stone. It doesn’t have to be much, but lather the stone up with gel or oil or even just plain old water. This does two things. The first, is that it will remove any loose metal or particles which come off of the blade in the shaping process. The second, is that it will act as a type of conductor for the heat coming off of the blade. Spreading out the heat evenly prevents the steel from warping.
Step 3: Now, you will want to set the stone on an even surface with the coarser aiming upward.
Step 4: Now, place the razor flat on the stone. You want the spine and the edge to both touch the stone, or else if only the edge touches, the bevel will shorten and the edge will dull.
Step 5: After the straight is in place, hold it by the shank and begin sharpening. The straight razor should be longer than the width of the stone, because of this you will have to sweep the razor sideways as you sharpen, in order to get the entire edge. Now, draw the razor from the heel to the point forward against the edge with moderate pressure, this honing process requires that the edge actually leads the stroke. In other words, the edge should point towards the direction that you want to stroke, not trail.
Step 6: Now, without lifting up, turn the edge upwards so that it rests on the back.
Step 7: Pull the blade backwards again from the heel to the point and towards you, this time apply a moderate amount of pressure.
Step 8: Continue this process until the blade is sharp. You can test how sharp it is by passing it over a thumbnail, if it digs evenly, that means its sharp enough. The process of sharpening your straight razor is actually something that you rarely have to do, maybe about once every two months. What you should really be focusing on is the process of stropping the blade, if you do this properly and keep your utensils dry, this should be sufficient to keep your razor sharp, especially if you’re using a quality Merkur razor.