How To Sharpen Your Straight Razor
Straight razor shaving, though not a simple routine, can be learned if effort is exerted.
Although they look nothing more than a simple tool, using them requires a skill only professional barbers and a few wet shaving enthusiasts can master. Hence, it is understandable that you may not know how to sharpen your straight razor, especially if you are new to the game.
Due to the quality of materials, effort, and craftsmanship put into creating a straight razor, there is no doubt that it can last a lifetime. But it is inevitable for the blade to wear out because of too much usage. You will one day need to learn and understand how to sharpen a straight razor yourself to keep it from getting dull.
Sharpening your straight razors takes time and practice. It is an acquired skill that you cannot master overnight. But, learning it is easy. Here's what you can find in this article:
- When Should You Sharpen Your Straight Razor?
- How to Sharpen Your Straight Razor?
- How Often Should You Sharpen Your Straight Razor
- Why You Need to Sharpen Your Straight Razor
- The Ultimate Straight Razor Sharpening Tools
When Should You Sharpen Your Razor?
Unlike cartridge razors, where you simply replace the blade after five to ten shaves, you do not need to replace the blade of your straight razor. What you need to do instead is to sharpen it. You need to ensure that its edges are sharp enough so you can use it safely.
Unfortunately, not everyone knows how often and when is the right time to sharpen their straight razors. Luckily, Sharpen-Up provided us some tests on how to figure out whether your blade needs sharpening or not.
You will know that you need to sharpen your blade when it starts to:
- Pull hair once you start shaving
- Slice through a plucked hair once you slide it against the blade
- Create a mark once you slide it on top of one of your nails
Technically, if you notice that it is getting a bit harder to glide your blade smoothly while shaving, it is time to get your sharpening tools. Do not put it out for later as you may forget and only remember it when you hurt yourself through a cut or a nick.
Sharpening is one of the ways to lengthen the life of your straight razor.
How to Sharpen Your Straight Razor
The most fitting word that could be related to stropping is “alignment.” In this process, you are warming up the metal and aligning the cutting edge of your blade by running it along with a piece of leather, maintaining the edge of your blade.
On the other hand, “refinement” would be the fitting word for honing. Here, you do not just align the edges. Instead, you take a blunt razor from being dull to become sharp.
Whether you are stropping or honing, it is better to equip yourself with the right tools. Below are the three basic materials you need to sharpen a straight razor:
- Leather strop
- Chromium oxide
- Honing stone
Using a leather strop
Most straight razors are not ‘shave-ready’ upon purchase. Without a doubt, they are sharp. But are they sharp enough to cut through hair with ease? Not exactly.
For that reason, experts recommend using a leather razor strop before using your straight razor. This process is necessary, especially if the manufacturer did not disclose whether the straight razor is ready for shaving or not.
To begin stropping, you first need a leather strop. It is commonly made out of a soft and flexible strip of leather used to remove crud off the razor blade.
The stropping process is as follows:
A good quality leather strop, such as Naked Armor’s Blue Eel Razor Strop, is necessary before you begin the stropping process. Its leather, thick canvas, and connectivity brass guarantee safe stropping—both for your razor and you.
When you already own a leather strop, the next step is to learn the proper way to handle the strop and your razor. The best way to strop is by drawing the blade away from the cutting edge, preventing it from digging into the leather. Have a consistent grip and bevel as raising and lowering your angle will destroy the blade’s edge.
To begin stropping, use one of the hooks on the strop to hang it on a drawer. Then hold the handle at the bottom using your left hand, pulling tight. Grab your razor by its handle and lay it flat along the farthest end of the strop.
Keep your strokes slow and even. Draw the blade towards you with its edge facing away. To draw it away from you, rotate the razor and have the edge pointing to you. Begin with 15-20 strokes, and continue more if it is not sharp enough to your liking.
You will know that you are doing it right when black marks appear on your leather. These are the metal that came off from the blade onto your strop.
Aside from that, below are some expert reminders from us here at Naked Armor:
- Your leather strop should be at least a foot long to avoid cutting yourself and damaging your blade. A strop that is too long is harder to control. Meanwhile, shorter strops require you to constantly reposition your razor, which can lead to uneven sharpening.
- If you are using Naked Armor’s leather strop, do not strop on the rough leather bottom. Instead, always strop on the leather surface at the very top of the strop. The blue section is for cleaning the edge lightly before you begin stropping.
You can watch the video below to understand how to use a leather strop properly.
Sharpening With Honing Stones
Stropping is excellent to sharpen straight razors that have not yet seen maximum damage. It is perfect for preventing big chips on the edge. However, if you happen to use your razor for a long time without using a strop, chances are it already bears severe damage.
When your straight razor becomes incredibly dull, a leather strop can no longer help you. It is better to hand it over to the professionals to revive it back to its prime condition. But why not save yourself some time and money, and hone it at home?
Honing is the process of reshaping the edge of your blade to reach an ideal sharpness. You will need a honing stone with an abrasive surface that can remove enough material from your blade, giving it a better edge.
If stropping realigns the edges of the blade, honing sharpens it.
Know Your Grit
Before you begin buying the first honing stone you see, know whether it has the correct grit for your sharpening needs. Below is a basic guide:
- 400 grit - Very rigid and can remove metal fast without too much scratches—best for refining damages on hard-bladed straight razors.
- 1,000 grit - Great for achieving factory-quality sharpness. We recommend it for fixing minor dullness and giving your straight razors a frosted look.
- 3,000 to 5,000 grit - It is the ideal grit to use for honing a straight razor. Its slow sharpening rate gives you more control, reducing the area for mistakes and damages while giving you an extremely sharp edge.
- 8,000 grit - This grit provides a near-perfect edge for blades. You can use this if you want to have an almost mirror finish to your straight razor. However, it is most effective for honing razors that are not too dull and only have minor scratches.
- 10,000 to 12,000 grit - It has the slowest sharpening rate but gives your blade a mirror finish. Best used for finishing touches and not to sharpen straight razors that have too much damage.
How to Hone a Straight Razor
Not everyone is familiar with the honing process. Even some straight razor enthusiasts do not find the need to learn about the specifics of honing since they know how to take care of their razors with a strop properly.
Honing, like using a straight razor, requires a different level of expertise. You cannot simply drag your blade on some stone and call it a day. Besides, stones are not the only honing tools available. It is also possible to use wet sandpaper with a grit level of 400 and a lapping film to hone your straight razor. However, even if they are convenient, they are not cost-efficient and not ecological.
The best tool for honing a straight razor, as mentioned before, is a honing stone. Its abrasive surface will give you the best result to bring back life on your straight razor.
Below is how to use a straight razor honing stone:
• Check Your Blade First
Not every straight razor needs honing. Some can still be saved using a strop. But if you are unsure, you can do the tests below to know whether your blade needs honing or not.
- Arm hair test
Simply shave the hair from a small section of your arm using your straight razor. If you can cut the hair without directly touching your skin, you know that the bevel is set.
- Hanging hair test
This is one of the most common ways to test your straight razor. All you need to do is bring a strand of hair to the edge of your blade. If it does not cut the hair, then your razor needs some serious sharpening.
- Cherry tomato test
Slice a tomato using your straight razor. If it does not cut through the skin, then your straight razor is sharp enough. However, when doing this test, remember to use your blade at a 30° angle since a 90° angle will give you a clean cut with less effort.
- Thumb pad test
Wet your thumb and glide your blade over. If it does not tickle you even a bit, your straight razor is dull. Be careful when doing this test, and do not apply too much pressure to avoid cutting yourself.
- Fingernail test
Similar to a thumb pad test, do the same process on your fingernail. If the razor glides cleanly with a slight mark, then the honing process is going well. Otherwise, use your honing stone to sharpen it more.
Experts do not recommend using the thumb pad and fingernail test for beginners. If you are new to using straight razors, you may not have mastered the proper grip, increasing your chances of cutting yourself.
Create an even surface first by running your blade’s edge onto the glass. Get the abrasive you want to use for honing to start the bevel setting process. If you wish to use a honing stone, start with 800 to 1,000 grit, then progress towards higher grits as needed.
• Setting the Bevel
As you hone, the metal on both sides of your straight razor’s blade concaves progressively. This section is what we call a bevel.
Bevel setting is the main step in the honing process. It takes 75% of the whole process, determining how successful you will be in the end. This step requires slow and even strokes to avoid an uneven bevel.
While setting the bevel of your straight razor, it is necessary to keep your abrasive lubricated with water to help the razor glide over smoothly and avoid damage to the blade. Pass it over for about 50 laps, then do one of the tests mentioned above to check your progress.
• Sharpening the Edge
After setting the bevel, the next thing to do is to sharpen the edge of your straight razor. To do so, apply slow, light, and even strokes on a stone with a grit level of 4,000 to 8,000 using the edge of your blade. Do at least 25 to 30 laps and do one of the tests above to check if your razor is sharp enough to use.
• Polishing and Finishing
The last steps in the honing process are polishing and finishing, which give your straight razors a shiny facade. To do this, you will need the abrasive with the highest grit available.
Remember the grit levels mentioned above? You can either use an 8,000 grit stone for a near-mirror finish or a 10,000 to 12,000 grit stone to achieve an extremely reflective finish. Either way, take your time to avoid damaging your blade.
Whether you are trying to fix a major chip on your blade, trying to revive a dull razor, or wanting to have a better finish to your straight razor, the key to having a perfectly honed and sharpened razor is to be patient with the process and exert only even pressure as you stroke.
Using Chromium Oxide (Sharpening Paste)
Aside from stropping and honing, you can also add chromium oxide to your razor-sharpening routine. This step is best done after the honing process and is similar to the polishing and finishing section but using your strop, giving the leather a finer grit.
Chromium Oxide (CrOx) is the most common honing compound people use, mostly on leather strops. It is a green material often in wax or paste form that you apply on your abrasive surface.
Using a sharpening paste can make any honing surface smooth since it has a grit level that can reach down to 0.3 grit. Here is a guide on how to sharpen a straight razor using CrOx:
- Clean the surface of your leather strop with isopropyl alcohol, then rub sandpaper over it.
- Apply a small amount of paste on the strop
- Spread the paste using your fingers for an even application
- Warm the back of the strop just enough to melt the paste
- Blend in the paste by rubbing a paper towel back and forth
- Glide your fingertip over the pasted area. If it glides smoothly without a sticky feeling, then you applied the paste properly.
Applying a sharpening paste on your strop is the final step in the sharpening process. This is great to use when you truly want to achieve a mirror finish and have an extremely refined edge for your straight razor.
How Often Should You Sharpen Your Straight Razor?
Again, sharpening a straight razor involves two processes, which are stropping and honing. The best way to prevent your straight razor from accumulating nicks and chips is by stropping it every time before you shave. Meanwhile, you can hone it every three to six months if there are no actual major damages.
However, if your straight razor is already and obviously dull and faulty, it is best to hone it as soon as you can. Further stropping and using it on your face to cut your beard will only lead to more damage and, of course, injure you inevitably.
There are two common ways on how to sharpen a straight razor. Like sharpening knives, these methods need time and practice to learn.
— D'Rock, Naked Armor Founder
Why Do You Need To Sharpen A Straight Razor?
“No one, no matter how brave, would take a dull sword into battle,” as per Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. The same goes for razors.
Straight razors with unsharpened edges defeat their purpose. Instead, using them can lead to painful shaving and skin cuts. Of course, we do not want that, do we?
That said, why exactly do you need to sharpen your straight razor?
For a Cleaner and Safer Shave
The damage on the surface of your blade is the reason why your straight razor pulls while cutting the hair. It is also why you experience a painful shave because the nicks can actually pierce through your skin, leaving you with bumps and hair in-growns.
The minor cuts on your skin can get irritated and infected. This will then result in bigger skin problems that you do not want or ever wish to have. Not only will it be painful, but it will also ruin the health of your skin, giving you lower self-confidence.
The best solution to prevent an uncomfortable shaving experience is to sharpen your straight razors. Doing so removes the nicks and other damaged areas on the blade, producing a smoother and finer edge. Also, having a well-taken-care-of razor will let you achieve the primary goal of giving yourself a clean shave without bumps and cuts.
Straight razors can last for a lifetime and through multiple generations. But that is only true if you put effort into keeping its quality. Using the proper sharpening techniques will guarantee that your straight razor will withhold its prime condition even after multiple usages.
How does sharpening aid in the upkeep of a straight razor? Simply by straightening, reshaping, and refining the edge of the blade.
Steel may be 50 times harder than hair. However, cutting hair at different angles for a prolonged period results in micro-abrasions on the blade’s surface. Of course, you cannot just shave your hair by positioning your straight razor perpendicular to your skin. After all, hair grows in different angles.
Not to mention, blades have hard and soft parts. Although steel is a solid material, there are areas where it gets brittle. And shaving imposes additional pressure leading for these areas to crack, therefore chipping off the edge of your blade.
Simply put, chips and nicks are inevitable. Sharpening a straight razor helps maintain its quality by ensuring that the small abrasions do not lead to major damages, completely destroying your blade.
The Ultimate Straight Razor Sharpening Tools
Quality is an essential factor to consider when getting your own straight razor and the tools that go with it. Unfortunately, people often consider buying straight razors as a one-time investment by getting only the best product out there.
The most common mistake most neophyte owners of straight razors is buying only the straight razor. They are often opting out of purchasing sharpening tools, overlooking the future of their blades. But as you have read, sharpening is the key to maintaining the quality of your razor. So, if you are yet to get a straight razor, do not forget to add your sharpening tools to your cart as well.
Naked Armor has everything you need to make it easier for you—from straight razors to every tool you need in sharpening. Check them out below:
Straight Sazor Kit
Naked Armor’s Damascus Straight Razor Kit already contains all the items you need to get on with your shaving. With this kit, you also get to make sure that the tools you use in pampering your razor are compatible and are the best fit. With proper maintenance and care, a straight razor will surely last for life.
Inside you will find:
- Straight razor with a Damascus steel blade and walnut wood handle, crafted to give you the best face-to-shave ratio.
- Blue Eel Strop Brown Leather with elegant leather and fashionable blue canvass put together with a high-quality connectivity brass.
- Quality-constructed shaving brush with sandalwood handle and badger-friendly bristles.
- An organic shaving soap suitable for all skin types.
- Chromium oxide sharpening paste
Naked Armor's Damascus Straight Razor Kit (or any straight razor) has everything you need to keep your razor sharp and get a close shave.
Basically, everything you need is already curated and enclosed in a handcrafted wooden box. Not to mention, this kit also comes with a leather traveling case for your razor.
Knowing how to sharpen your straight razor is what you need if you wish to make the best out of your shaving tool. After all, getting a straight razor is an investment, and you would not want to waste your money by wasting away its quality simply because you do not know how to take care of it.
Hence, we recommend that you avail of our straight razor kit for an easier transition to wet shaving. Save more money and be a better friend to the environment by ditching your plastic razors. And do not forget to apply these sharpening techniques to guarantee that you will not end up replacing your straight razor as soon as it gets dull.
More Naked Armor Reads: