What Is A Straight Razor: Grinds Guide & Importance

What Is A Straight Razor: Grinds Guide & Importance

Straight razors are the main tools in traditional wet shaving. What is a straight razor, really? It is not only a simple cut of metal with a sharp edge. Its real defining factor lies in the different straight razor grinds or the shape of its blade.

If you are new to the art of shaving, you may not yet know the actual value of blade grinds and how it affects one’s shaving experience.

Now, you will learn why razor-sharp grinding is important for a straight-edge razor.

The Grinding Process

Man Grinding MetalThe grinding process establishes how thin a traditional straight razor’s blade will be.

The grinding process comes about by removing some parts of material from a blade.1 It is an initial step during the first sharpening of a blade or when it gains damage, chipping, and incurable corrosion.

The blades’ edges go through an angle grinder with a gritted grinding disc. Angle grinders must use a grinding disc solely for removing excess material, cleaning up cuts or chippings, and prepping metal materials without cutting through the surface.2 Grinding discs are also used for sharpening.

Straight Razor Grind

Each kind of blade has a different level of appropriate grind. This depends on the blade’s intended use. For a straight razor, this is to shave or cut off hair from the skin.

What characterizes a straight razor’s blade grind is its edge angle. The distance between the edge's face and the surface it is lying on determines this angle. It will appear mostly as either having a concave contour or simply a flat inverted triangular shape.

In the early days, straight razors had thick blades that followed a wedge-shaped design down to their edge. While these razors shaved off hair as closely as today’s modern-day razors, these wedge-type old razors had some disadvantages3, such as:

  1. The thickness of the blade added more weight to the razor, which affected its balance.
  2. Because it was wedge-shaped, the blades' side would always invariably rub against the honing surface when the blade was being honed.
  3. Honing the blade over time became tedious because the process caused a rapid thickening of the edge width, making it difficult to sharpen the blade.

Wedge ground was popular during the early years of straight razors because the blades usually bore carbon steel, making them harder to process or thin without breaking edges. When Sheffield steel came to light, many straight razors had stainless steel blades, which had better retention than carbon blades.

And finally, manufacturers can address the issues and disadvantages of straight wedge razors. The revolutionary steel made it easier to clear the blade sides from the honing surface. Grinding away metal between the cutting edge and the back with a grinding wheel result in a biconcave, hollow ground blade.

Types of Straight Razor Grinds

Blade Cross Sections

There are 16 different grinds in the razor market today,4 but regular shavers only use eight of them. These different straight razor grinds are:

  1. Wedge - 8/8” flat edge with a distinct triangular shape
  2. Frameback - flat grind blades press-fitted to the spine; vintage shavettes
  3. Quarter Hollow - only 1/4 of the blade is ground into a concave
  4. Half Hollow - 3/8" and 4/8" blades ideal for eyebrows and delicate beards
  5. Full Hollow - 4/8" and 5/8" blades perfect for everyday use with excellent resistance to tension
  6. Extra Hollow - 6/8" and 7/8" blades with a deeper bevel that produces a unique noise when in use.

Wedge

The sides of a wedge straight razor blade’s cross-section are linear, resembling a standard wedge or an upside-down triangular shape, and it does not produce any noise when in use.

Straight razors with a linear blade cross-section similar to an upside-down triangle mean they have a wedge grind.5 These kinds of blades are quiet without any audible feedback while in use.

Compared to its hollow counterparts, its bevel is at an acute angle, which a thinner spine complements. In return, a straight razor's wedge blade offers better edge retention thanks to its thick width and is, therefore, better for shaving coarse and thicker beard growths.

Framebacks

The artistry and effort in producing a straight razor no longer complemented the demand for the shaving tool. Hence, many manufacturers developed a method to cheat the process.

Framebacks were from that easier process countering the rigorous blade productions. It uses a medley of less grade and high-grade steel for cheaper and faster manufacturing.

Unlike the traditional wedge straight razor, a framebacks frame supported lesser quality steel while its edge came from higher-grade steel.6 This design made the blades easier to hone and maintain a hollow grind but used vintage grinding methods.

Hollow Grinds

Many modern straight razors have blades with a hollow grind. This is a common type of razor blade grind with a thinner or lighter edge featuring a concave profile resulting from the removal of significant amounts of metal from the face of the blade.

Hollow ground straight razors are easier on the skin because they have delicate blades. Shavers need more precision and care when honing and stropping a hollow ground straight razor to avoid going overboard and breaking the blade.

Straight razors with a hollow grind often come with stabilizers. It is the part of the blade that many enthusiasts call a belly or ridge, which provides support that reduces the risk of the blade from breaking.

There are different kinds of hollow-ground straight razors7, and these are:

  1. Quarter Hollow - closest to a partial wedge or the thickest among the hollow grinds. Only a quarter of its edge is ground into a concave; it is also famous for 19th to 20th-century vintage razors.
  2. Half Hollow - the ground in between a wedge and extra hollow with the middle of the blade ground into a concave, a popular grind for Dovo, Boker, and Thiers Issard.
  3. Full Hollow - the most popular straight razor grind with the thinnest edge, the most flexibility, and sharpness.
  4. Extra Hollow - or the singing hollow blades. It is an upgraded version of the full hollow with next-level thinness, flexibility, and sharpness due to the deeper grind, best for experts.

Hollow vs. Half Hollow Grinds

Shaving blogs and forums are the go-to platforms for the best grind for a straight razor. Two types are often mentioned—the hollow grind and the half-hollow grind.

The full hollow is best for most shavers if they want a comfortable shave, and this is because it’s easier to hone and sharpen due to its thin blade. In this aspect, we buck against the opinion of traditionalists like the publishers of the Art of Shaving.

The thinner the cutting edge, the easier it is to hone and sharpen. It’s also flexible enough to shave off facial hair cleanly.

The downside to a full hollow straight razor is that since it has a very fine and flexible edge, it can easily cut the face when used by unskilled hands. That’s why only use a hollow grind if you’ve been shaving for a long time and have the necessary skills to wield it.

Otherwise, you can use a half hollow.

A half hollow grind isn’t as flexible as a full hollow ground blade, so if you’re a new shaver, you’re less likely to cut yourself since the blade won’t be easily turned at the slightest movement of your hand. Best for beginners, a half hollow grind will allow your razor to be steady in your hand while you’re still beginning to learn how to use it. It’s also best for coarse and thicker hair.

The “Singing” Razor

To get a close shave, shaving enthusiasts often look for the perfect grind for their straight razors. When ground to perfection, a straight razor like this can “sing”.

One can detect a full hollow with the “nail test”: when pressed on the thumbnail, the cutting edge will yield to light pressure and spring back fully. This means that the blade is highly elastic at the front and can thus easily follow the contour of one’s face.

Hollow Grinds Make for Thinner Blades

The more hollow the grind, the thinner the blade. A thin blade meant that the razor was lighter and flexible enough to shave along the facial contours.

Nowadays, most straight razors are full-hollow, allowing for the sharpest edge. In the hands of a skilled shaver, a full hollow straight razor would give him the closest and best shave ever.

Interestingly, old-time shavers are not sold out on the efficiency of full hollow grind straight razors. The venerable publishers of the classic The Art of Shaving Manual disagree that a full hollow—or in their words, full concave—is the best. As they write in the manual8:

“Our impression is that this is a mistake: that the full concave blade is not so good for shaving most beards as the three-quarters concave. In a very deeply hollow ground razor, the blade is ground extremely thin, back to a line some distance from the edge. When such an edge—almost as thin as paper—comes in contact with a stiff beard, unless the the blade is held very flat upon the face, it is quite likely to bend and spring, and a cut will be the result.”

Be that as they may, the choice of the grind is basically a matter of preference. Most shaving blogs, however, recommend full hollow grind straight razors for the serious wet shaver, but for newbies, a half hollow grind is best to use while still on a learning curve.

But whether you use a hollow or wedge ground straight razor, do not forget to invest in your sharpening and maintenance tools. We recommend having 1,000 to 8,000 grit stones9 or leather strops to hone and strop your blades and can give your blade a near-perfect edge.

If you have a wedge, this can help you easily polish the blade with minimal effort to achieve a thinner ground without compromising its structural integrity.10

Benefits of Using A Hollow Ground Vs. Wedge Ground

Regarding straight razor shaving, one’s choice of blade is to each his own. But there are certain differences between a hollow ground and a wedge ground blade that all need to consider first to find what is best for their shaving needs.

Hollow Ground Vs Wedge Straight Razors

Here are the differences between a wedge ground vs. a hollow ground blade:

  1. Wedge straight razors have thicker edge profiles than hollow grounds.
  2. Hollow ground straight razors offer visual and audible feedback while shaving.
  3. Beards with thick and coarse hair strands are easier to shave using wedge straight razors.
  4. Hollow ground straight razors have sharper and thinner edges.
  5. Wedge straight razors have better edge retention but are harder to strop and hone.
  6. If made with high-quality steel, hollow ground blades offer excellent edge retention with easy blade maintenance.
  7. Thinner hollow grounds vibrate while shaving and therefore need more steady techniques.
  8. Thicker blades tend to hold more shaving cream or lather from shaving soap.

Read Straight Razor Hollow Ground: Is It Better Than A Wedge? for a more in-depth comparison.

What is the Best Grind for a Straight Razor?

Naked Armor King Arthur Gold Straight RazorNaked Armor straight razors are between a full and half-hollow grind.

The best grind for a straight razor to get the closest shave is a combination of the best hollow grinds: the hollow and half-hollow. This balance makes the blade more versatile than a straight razor with a single definite type of blade grind.

Naked Armor straight razors have a blade grind between a half-hollow and a hollow. It means the blades can easily cater to different types and textures of hair, whether a beginner or experienced shaver uses them.

Old-timers recommend that one should have at least two straight razors, but with a Naked Armor straight razor, you will not need another one.

Our straight razors have Japanese or Damascus steel cut-throat blades with a Dutch or round point and high-quality wooden handles. These shave-ready blades elevate your shaving into a luxurious experience, guaranteeing a very sharp and lightweight edge, making handling it a breeze.


More Essential Reads

Buying Straight Razors: How To Choose Your Razor
Straight Razor Hollow Ground: Is It Better Than A Wedge?
Straight Razor Basics: How the Modern Straight Razor is Produced

References:

  1. Straight Razor Grind. Badger & Blade. https://www.badgerandblade.com/forum/wiki/Straight_Razor_Grind
  2. E. Nazarov. The Beginner’s Guide to Different Types of Angle Grinder Wheels. Ronix. https://ronixtools.com/en/blog/different-types-of-angle-grinder-wheels/. November 21, 2020.
  3. Razor Sharpening And Using Tips. Knife Center. https://www.knifecenter.com/info/razor-sharpening-tips
  4. J. Borrelli. Straight Razor Grinds Defined. https://shavestraightandsafe.com/2016/02/23/straight-razor-grinds-defined/. February 23, 2016.
  5. Wedge Blades, and How They are Different. Growley Monsted. http://www.growleymonster.com/wedge.html
  6. Frameback vs. non-frameback. Sharp Razor Palace. https://sharprazorpalace.com/razors/132242-frameback-vs-non-frameback.html
  7. Fendrihan. Straight Razor Series – Comparing Grinds. Fendrihan. https://blog.fendrihan.com/2019/05/straight-razor-series-comparing-grinds/
  8. The 20th Century Correspondence School. The Art of Shaving: Shaving Made Easy - What the man who shaves ought to know. https://ia600206.us.archive.org/22/items/shavingmadeeasyw0020th/shavingmadeeasyw0020th.pdf
  9. Straight Razor Honing & Sharpening Guide. Kent Of Inglewood. https://www.kentofinglewood.com/blogs/news/straight-razor-honing-sharpening-gear-guide. February 14, 2020
  10. Joe. The Guide To Straight Razor Honing (Part 2). Sharpologist. http://sharpologist.com/2016/06/guide-straight-razor-honing-part-2.html

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