Sharpening the straight razor

In the old days, one steel straight razor served a person all his life and could pass from father to son.. It means, that the razor required some care, including, timely dressing and sharpening.

Straight razor

Most straight razor blades are made from carbon steel and will rust, if not taken care of. Even the best razors will darken over time and need sharpening.. Although sharpening razors is not very difficult on its own, however, there are fewer and fewer razor sharpeners over the years.

Straightening the straight razor was a chore, everyday business and it was done on a leather strap for straightening the razor. Old people can still remember, and see the young in the cinema, how in a hairdressing salon the master tweaks the razor with several strokes on the hanging belt, while the client's mustache softens under a hot, damp towel.

Regular, good trimming of the razor was usually sufficient for several months. Then, when, after straightening, the razor did not shave so smoothly, as it should, it was time to sharpen it on whetstones.

Straight razor

How to sharpen a razor

Sharpening a steel razor blade is different from sharpening a steel knife blade. The razor should be extremely smooth, polished cutting edge of its blade. With the exception of some special types of knives, most of them cut better., if there are tiny microscopic teeth on the edge of the blade.

The reason for this difference in the condition of the razor and knife blades is, how each of them cuts something, what cuts. Most knives are cut into thin slices or with a sawing motion.. If the material, who cut, is fibrous, as, eg, sausage, then these teeth make cutting much easier. Razors remove hair by cutting. The hair is held in place by the skin and is so small, that there is no place, so that you can saw something. therefore, and also because, that the razor blade is in direct contact with the skin, The razor needs the smoothest possible cutting edge.

Unlike knives, the razor blade angle is set by the razor manufacturer.. When sharpening, place the razor blade flat on the sharpening stone or dressing belt., therefore it is easy to keep the blade sharpening angle constant. The back of the shaver acts as a guide when sharpening.

Razor sharpening tools and supplies

Tools and materials, which are used when sharpening serviceable razors are shown in the figure 1. To restore worn and damaged razors, additional materials and tools will be required. Electrical tape is used to protect the back of the razor when working on sharpening stones.

Razor sharpening tools and supplies

Picture 1 – Razor sharpening tools and supplies.
Top left to right - 7x magnifier, electrical tape and water.
Center from left to right - plate for leveling sharpening stones, grindstone 4000, grindstone 8000, finishing grindstone 12000 and a bar of balsa wood. Bottom - hanging leather strap for straightening.

Stages of sharpening a straight razor

The sequence of stages of sharpening and its result at the cutting edge are shown in the figure. 2.

Changing the razor blade when sharpening – begining
Changing the razor blade when sharpening – ending

Picture 2 - Changing the quality of the cutting edge of the razor blade during its sharpening:
1) Processing on a stone with a grain size 4000.
2) Processing on a stone with a grain size 8000.
3) and 4) Finishing stone with grit 12000.
5) Processing on a balsa bar using a chromium oxide paste with particle size 0,5 μm.
6) Editing on a leather belt.

Razor Sharpening Criteria

The best test of a straight razor's sharpness is trimming your own mustache.. 🙂 Also a good control method is to look at the razor's cutting edge with a magnifying glass. It should look like that, what's the sixth, last picture picture 2.

Source: Tim Zovada, Knives 2014: The World’s Greatest Knife Book, 2013