Blade Sharpening: How To Hone A Straight Razor
Razor sharpening is the key to straight razor blade maintenance. A traditional straight edge can only last if it is well cared for. If you own one—or planning to, it would be best to learn how to hone a straight razor or sharpen one to learn practical skills and avoid expensive costs.
One of the problems that new straight razor owners could encounter is having a razor that does not have a shave-ready blade. Not all manufacturers provide free honing services, unlike Naked Armor. So, here’s a complete guide on honing straight razor blades:
- What is a Straight Razor Honing Stone?
- Honing a Straight Razor
- Using a Honing Stone for a Straight Razor
- Why You Need to Hone a Straight Razor
- Stropping Vs. Honing
- Where to Get a Honing Stone for a Straight Razor
What is a Straight Razor Honing Stone?
A sharpening stone is one of the most commonly used tools for honing a straight razor.
Honing is the process of reworking the metal on your blade and creating a new edge using a honing stone. A straight razor will get dull over time due to constant use and will require a new edge like a kitchen knife, and that is when the process comes in handy.
A honing stone has abrasive grains that change and shape the texture of the blade. It removes material from the blade’s surface and sharpens your straight razor for a smoother, more cutthroat edge.
For straight razor shaving beginners, knowing the different sharpening grits is better to help you find the right honing stone. The grit determines the abrasiveness of the honing stone’s surface, which will also define how well you can sharpen your straight razor without damaging your blade.1
Here’s a quick guide on different honing grit levels and their purpose:
Medium coarse (400 grit)
Honing stones with a 400 grit level is rigid, and they can easily remove metal fast without any visible scratches on the surface. Because of that, honing stones with this level of abrasiveness is excellent for refining chips of hard-bladed straight razors, like those made with carbon steel.
Fine coarse (1,000 grit)
A 1,000 grit honing stone's texture is perfect for refining minor dullness on your razors. A fine, coarse grit has a moderate sharpening rate and can give your blade a frosted look. This is the grit for you if you want to achieve factory-quality sharpness.
Extremely fine (3,000 to 5,000 grit)
A honing stone with extremely fine grit is also suitable for honing straight razors. It has a slow sharpening rate, giving you more control and fewer chances of damaging your blade. It allows you to attain an extremely sharp edge while lengthening the life of your straight razor.
Near mirror polish (8,000 grit)
An 8,000-grit stone can give your blade a near-perfect edge, and it can easily polish the surface of your straight razor with minimal effort. A near-mirror polish grit is excellent for straight razors that are not too dull and only have minor scratches or chipping.
Mirror polish (10,000 to 12,000)
Razor blades with the finest polish adorn a mirror finish. So, if you want your straight razor to have the sharpest edge possible with absolutely no visible flaws, opt for honing stones with 10,000 to 12,000 grit. However, note that the finer things in life are hard to get. Using this kind of honing stone for a straight razor has the slowest sharpening rate over the grits mentioned above.
Sharpologist explains that the goal of honing a razor is to make the blade flat and thin without compromising its structural integrity2. You would want to straighten the razor’s edge so it’s free from nicks and create or refine a bevel to make it as sharp as possible.
What Grit Sharpening Stone Do I Need for a Straight Razor?
For users in a well-loved shaving forum, the best or golden range of grit sharpening stone is a fine coarse stone with 1,000 grit.3 Its moderate sharpening rate is ideal for learning how to hone a straight razor. Meanwhile, a 3,000-13,000 grit is best recommended for honing shave-ready blades to maintain the straight razor’s quality.
Different grit levels are ideal for some specific steps in the honing process. Nonetheless, the rule of thumb is that honing stones with low grits is best to achieve a rough surface, and the higher the grit, the smoother the surface will be.
Here at Naked Armor, here are the different grit levels we recommend you to follow:
- #800 to #1,000 grit is for preparation and bevel setting
- #4,000 to #8,000 grit is for edge sharpening and touch-ups
- #8,000 to #10,000 grit is for polishing and finishing
But before getting into the specifics, perform a shave test to determine if your straight razor needs some serious honing. If your razor only needs good stropping, then you don't have to hone it.
There are other excellent exciting tips and tricks to test your razor so that you’ll know if it needs further honing. Check the video below.
Honing a Straight Razor
Honing a straight razor can be a tedious task that involves skill and knowledge on straight razor basics.
Terms You Should Know
Below is a list of technical terms that will make this guide on how to hone a straight razor easier to follow:
- Bevel - The edge’s sharpening surface that appears on both sides of the cutting edge.
- Burr - A rough patch of steel that appears throughout the sharpening process at the opposite side of the blade.
- Chromium Oxide - A waxy paste full of incredibly fine grit ranging from #13,000 to #50,000.
- Deburr - Smoothens the edge by removing the burr to achieve a nice cut on the steel.
- Grit - A sharpening stone’s abrasive level, measured in the grit number, such as #1,000, for its size and edge result.
- Heel - the end of the blade’s edge and is nearest to the tang, acting as a safeguard for your thumb.
- Pass - The act of moving the blade across the stone in a single constant direction and returning to the opposite side.
- Strop - A leather for deburring and polishing the blade’s edge, usually for the final polishing step.
- Toe - The endpoint of the blade’s cutting edge
If you are unfamiliar with the parts of a straight razor, you can read our guide here.
Tools for Honing
Having a straight razor kit with a leather strop is not enough if you truly want to get the best out of your razor. In the long run, your straight razor will get dull. So, you need to invest in the following items in case you need to hone your straight razor in the future.
Here are the tools you will need for straight razor blade honing:
Wet sandpaper (400 grits)
This is the most affordable and convenient method because all you need to do is to attach the sandpaper onto a flat surface using electrical tape, like a glass sheet, and then you can start honing.
However, while it is more affordable to start honing it this way, it’s a more expensive way to continue. The sandpaper pretty much wears out quickly, so you’ll need to buy a lot of sandpaper if you want to do regular honing.
This method gained attention some time ago as an alternative to the traditional honing process. Like the sandpaper, you’ll also need a flat surface to start honing with it.
If you want to try this, we put together a three-part video series from Slash McCoy to get you started with honing techniques like lapping and slashing.
This is the traditional and most popular way to hone a straight razor. If you want to learn how to hone straight razors expertly, buy stones. They’re not as expensive as lapping films, but they do the job just as good or even better.
You'll need a stone if you have to do anything more than a regular honing (like chip repair or uneven honing). As one user once said, "For the ten bucks you spend on these films, just send your razor out to be honed."4 Not bad advice—but it's your call.
While it is possible to use one honing stone, it would be best to buy multiple honing stones for best results. You can pick from various whetstones, synthetic and water stones to add to your toolkit.
Using a Honing Stone for a Straight Razor
Once you have your tools ready, you can begin with the process of honing your straight razor’s edge. Here are the basic techniques of blade honing:
Step 1: Refining your honing strategy
Regardless of what abrasive you use, you need to have a strategy to hone a straight razor from a coarse level to a finer one.
When using stone, for example, you start by honing the razor on a 1000 grit stone, then 4000, then 8000, and so on.
During the honing process and throughout the learning curve, you'll want to test your blade now and then to ensure that all your hard work is paying off. Here are some blade sharpening tests you can perform to check your straight razor’s shaving edge:
Arm hair test
Just simply shave your arm hair. When you can cut hair without the blade directly touching the skin, then the bevel is set.5 This is usually what Naked Armor’s founder uses to test his blades; it’s quick and dirty, plus he has tons of hair on his arms, so he got lots to spare.
Hanging hair test
Take a single hair and bring it to the edge of the blade. If it doesn't cut the hair, then you’ll have to continue sharpening it.6 The video above shows this test—check it out if you skipped it.
Cherry tomato test
Take a tomato and slice it with the blade. If it doesn’t tear the skin, then you’re good to go.7 Just don’t reuse the tomato for the pasta sauce, or else your wife will be pissed.
Thumb pad test
Check the blade’s sharpness by dragging the blade on a wet thumb. If the blade lightly tickles on the thumb, then you’re on the right track.8 Just be careful with the thumb pressure, as you don’t want to cut off your thumb, although that would be the ultimate indicator to see whether your blade can cut it.
Lightly draw the razor’s edge over your fingernail. If it glides cleanly with a slight mark, then you’re progressing well.
Naturally, both thumb pad and fingernail tests are not recommended for beginners primarily because of how it’s done. However, if you’re feeling extra adventurous, you could just go for it.
We recommend, however, that you check out some videos on YouTube for a more in-depth understanding of the process.
Step 2: Preparation
Start by running the razor’s edge on the glass to create an even surface. Choose the abrasive you want to hone your razor to start the bevel setting process.
When using stones, start with approximately 800-1,000 grit stones and then move through the stones in your collection as you hone away.
Step 3: Bevel setting
This stage takes almost 75% of the whole process and, therefore, will determine your success in honing.
Bevel is the area of metal on both sides of the blade that concaves progressively as you hone.
The goal is to have an even bevel, which you can do by applying slow and even strokes.
It’s also essential to keep your abrasive lubricated, usually with water, to help the razor glide over it. After at least 50 laps, you would need to check on your progression by performing any of the bevel tests previously discussed.
Step 4: Edge sharpening
This stage uses 4,000-8,000 grit stones. Similar to the bevel setting, you would need to apply slow, even strokes with light pressure.
Usually, it will take 25-30 laps before you start checking your blade for results.
Step 5: Polishing and finishing
You’ll have to use the finest abrasive in this stage. If you’re using stones, work with the 8000-10,000 grit stones. Again, apply even strokes slowly, checking the edge every 25-30 laps.
Why You Need to Hone a Straight Razor
Honing is the sharpening process essential to keep a blade from getting dull. It is for straight razors and other tools like knives and even automotive engines and parts of an airplane. Cool, right?
But for straight razors, honing is important for two reasons: maintaining its sharpness and extending its life.9
A honing stone for a straight razor, when properly used, will fix and smoothen any chips on your blade surface. And it will also remove any material aside from steel off your razors, giving it a more refined and smoother look. Also, if you happen to come across a vintage straight razor, using a honing stone will definitely revive it back to its prime.
Stropping Vs. Honing
Another key note to remember is not to forego stropping the straight razor blade after honing. Do not think that honing is an alternative to get away with not stropping before shaving. Honing only smooths out the surface of your edge while stropping with a leather strop removes microscopic nicks and cracks on the blade from your previous shave.
Between honing vs. stropping, none is superior or more important than the other. Stropping is a must before starting your wet shaving routine—making sure the blade is shave-ready—to prevent tugging, while you can hone blades every six months10 for blade maintenance which are both must-learn skills for every straight razor user.
Where to Get a Honing Stone for a Straight Razor
Honing stones are essential components in your tool kit if you use blades often.
Honing a straight razor is a tedious process. Wet-shaver enthusiasts explain that it’s never a good idea to embark on this activity if you don’t have the time and patience to start with. Instead, opt for shaving tools with replaceable blades like cartridges, shavettes, and safety razors.
However, it can be rewarding seeing that you can hone a blade as sharp as the day it was bought.
Always remember to invest in a good set of stones and take time to learn the process. Many straight razor users vouch for Naniwa stones,11 but you can get any stone from Amazon with the recommended grit for your needs.
Greg shows us the Norton 4000/8000 Waterstone in action while sharpening a straight razor. He is sharpening his 100-year-old Erik Anton Berg "Eskilstuna," Made in Garanti, Sweden. Nice!
When you think a razor strop is not enough to give you that kind of razor sharpness, then better send your razors for professional service. We offer a professional honing service here.
Meanwhile, you can begin your blade maintenance with our Blue Eel Strop, which has a canvas and leather side and with our Chromium Oxide. Both are available in our Straight Razor Kits alongside high-quality straight razors with Japanese, Carbon, Damascus, and Stainless Steel Blades. Add to cart below!
- Our Sharpening Stone Grit Chart. SharpeningSupplies. https://www.sharpeningsupplies.com/Sharpening-Stone-Grit-Chart-W21.aspx
- Joe. The Guide To Straight Razor Honing (Part 2). Sharpologist. http://sharpologist.com/2016/06/guide-straight-razor-honing-part-2.html. June 8, 2016
- Help in choosing stones. Badger & Blade. https://www.badgerandblade.com/forum/threads/help-in-choosing-stones.590321/
- Honing for a Newbie. Badger & Blade. https://www.badgerandblade.com/forum/threads/honing-for-a-newbie.548793/
- The Arm Shave Test. Badger & Blade. https://www.badgerandblade.com/forum/threads/the-arm-hair-shave-test.287781/
- SHARPNESS AND THE FAMOUS “HANGING HAIR TEST”. DOVO. https://www.dovo.com/en/ratgeber/sharpness-and-the-famous-hanging-hair-test/
- Cherry Tomato Test. Badger & Blade. https://www.badgerandblade.com/forum/threads/cherry-tomato-test.479607/
- Sharpness tests explained-TPT. Shave Library. https://shavelibrary.com/w/Sharpness_tests_explained#TPT_-_Thumb_Pad_Test
- How to Sharpen a Straight Razor. Cremo Company. https://cremocompany.com/blogs/blog/how-to-sharpen-a-straight-razor
- J. Bartlett. How Often Should You Strop, Hone, and Sharpen a Straight Razor? I Mustache You To Shave. https://imustacheyoutoshave.com/how-often-should-you-strop-hone-sharpen-a-straight-razor/. September 30, 2021
- Honing Stones Recommendations Please. TheShavingRoom. https://www.theshavingroom.co.uk/community/threads/honing-stones-recommendations-please.53871/
I will try this again. I have not been able to get my straight razor sharp enough to shave with.
Hi Joe. So sorry about that. We’ve fixed the stropping link so that should be good to go. Thank you for letting us know about it, too.
The link to stropping (http://www.nakedarmorazors.com/blogs/news/how-to-straight-razor-strop) is broken.
Leave a comment