How to Hone a Straight Razor
Hold up there, dude—before you get your hone on or learn how to use a straight razor honing stone, make sure your straight razor doesn't also need a good strop.
Published by Naked Armor
Stropping is not only to make sure that your razor always performs at its best but also for its maintenance as well.
Stropping, like straight razor shaving, is an art form. So, please spend a little time learning the basics of sharpening your edge with a strop. It is an important step you need to know first before you learn how to hone a straight razor.
Need some help around a strop?
We’ve previously written about using a strop, and we recommend you check that out first to help you decide whether your blade needs stropping, honing, or both!
Nonetheless, here’s what you’ll learn in this article:
- What is a Straight Razor Honing Stone?
- How to Hone a Straight Razor
- Why You Need to Hone a Straight Razor
- Where to Get a Honing Stone for a Straight Razor
A sharpening stone is one of the most commonly used tools for honing a
What is a Straight Razor Honing Stone?
Okay, now that we know you are in the right place, let's get down to talking about honing.
Honing is reworking the metal on your blade and creating a new edge. A straight razor will get dull over time and will require you to put on a new edge like a knife.
The primary tool you will use to hone a straight razor is a honing stone. It has abrasive grains that can change and shape the texture of the blade, hence removing material from its surface and sharpening your straight razor or giving it a smoother surface.
Honing stones are commonly used in sharpening any type of blade.
If you are not familiar with honing, it is understandable that you might end up getting a stone with the wrong grit. After all, you may think that straight razors are all the same. But they are not.
When you are looking for a honing stone for a straight razor, it is crucial to know its grit. This will determine the abrasiveness of the honing stone, which will also define how well you can sharpen your straight razor without damaging your blade.
Here’s a quick guide on different grit levels and their purpose:
Medium Coarse (400 grit)
Honing stones that have a 400 grit level is rigid. They can easily remove metal fast without any visible scratches on the surface. Because of that, honing stones with this level of abrasiveness are great for refining chips of hard-bladed straight razors.
Fine Coarse (1,000 grit)
The texture that a 1000 grit honing stone has is perfect for refining minor dullness on your razors. It has a moderate sharpening rate and can give your blade a frosted look. If you want to achieve a factory-quality sharpness, this is the grit for you.
Extremely Fine (3,000 to 5,000 grit)
A honing stone with extremely fine grit is the most suitable for honing straight razors. It has a slow sharpening rate, giving you more control and imposing fewer chances of damaging your blade. It will allow you to achieve 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. It can easily polish the surface of your straight razor with not much effort. This stone is excellent for straight razors that are not too dull and only have minor scratches or chipping.
Mirror Polish (10,000 to 12,000 grit)
The finest finish blades 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, do take note that the finer things in life are hard to get. That said, 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 integrity.
You would want to straighten the razor’s edge so that it’s free from nicks and create or refine a bevel to make it as sharp as possible.
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.
But before getting into the specifics, do 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.
How to Hone a Straight Razor
Now that you understand the different levels of grit available and what honing can do to your blade, you can begin gathering your tools and actually start the honing process.
Since you are reading this, there is a great chance that you have exactly no idea how to hone a straight razor, or maybe you do but you are unsure if you are doing it properly.
Let’s clear the clouds and free you from doubts. Follow the guide below to know what you need and how to hone a straight razor the right way:
Tools for Honing
Having a straight razor kit 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:
Wet Sandpaper (400 grits)
This is the most affordable and convenient method because all you need to do is to attach or tape the sandpaper onto a flat surface, 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.
Choosing the right sandpaper grit will depend on the type of finish you need.
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 lapping and slashing.
Lapping film is another method for honing you rstraight razor.
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.
In contrast, lapping films wear out, and then, you’ve got uneven honing. Stones last forever.
In fact, if you have to do anything more than a regular honing (like chip repair or uneven honing), you’ll need a stone. As one user once said, "For the ten bucks you spend on these films, just send your razor out to be honed." Not bad advice—but it's your call.
While it is possible to use one honing stone, we still recommends buying multiple honing stones for best results. You can pick from a variety of whetstones, synthetic and water stones to add to your toolkit.
Honing stones are essential components in your tool kit if you use blades often.
Using a Honing Stone for Straight Razor
Do you have your tool ready? Great! Now, we can start 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, you'll want to test your blade now and then to ensure that all your hard work is paying off. Here are some tests you can perform to check your straight razor 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
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, it is recommended to start with approximately 800-1000 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. You need to achieve an even bevel, so you are going to do this by applying slow even strokes.
It’s also essential to keep your abrasive lubricated, usually with water, to help the razor glide over it. After about 50 laps or so, you would need to check on your progression by performing any of the bevel tests previously discussed.
Step 4: Edge Sharpening
This stage uses 4000-8000 grit stones. Similar to bevel setting, you would need to apply slow, even strokes lightly.
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 8000-10000 grit stones. Again, apply even strokes slowly, checking the edge every 25-30 laps.
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. However, it can be rewarding seeing that you are able to hone a blade as sharp as the day it was bought
— D'Rock, Naked Armor Founder
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 obvious reasons: to maintain its sharpness and extend its life.
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.
Honing helps make your dull blade sharp again and make it last for a long time.
Where to Get a Honing Stone for Straight Razor
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.
However, it can be rewarding seeing that you are able to hone a blade as sharp as the day it was bought.
Just always remember to invest in a good set of stones and take some time to learn the process.
Norton Waterstone Starter Kit $149
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 have an extensive list of honing professionals here.
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