How to Sharpen a Straight Razor

It’s always comfortable shaving with an electric razor, but nothing compares to the close and clean shave that a straight razor gives. 

Shaving using a straight razor is usually so rewarding, which is why seasoned barbers use it and your only job is to sit in that high-quality barber chair and let him work his magic on your beard. 

Owning a straight razor is not only cost-effective, but shaving with one can end up improving your complexion and your overall skin health. 

A straight razor comes with one honed blade that allows you to customize the cutting angle to reduce irritations. 

For a straight razor to serve you for long, you must keep it sharp. By using a dull straight razor, you run the risk of developing irritations and ingrown hairs. 

Sharpening a straight razor not only takes skills but the right technique and tools.

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Why Should You Sharpen Your Straight Razor

Most straight razors come out of the box shave-ready. However, after some time, your straight razor will get dull and not be as effective as shaving.

When that happens, you need to sharpen it and you can either do that by honing or stropping it. 

The good thing about owning a straight razor is that if you invest in a high-quality one, you only need to sharpen it once every two months, but this will depend on how often you use it. 

Benefits of Sharpening a Straight Razor

Straight razor shaving is coming back and it is no longer considered a lost art. For wet shave enthusiasts owning a straight razor is way better than owning a premium cartridge razor

A straight razor comes with one sharp edge that needs to be sharpened from time to time. But what are the benefits of sharpening your straight razor before using it? 

Prevent Irritations

The worst thing you can do to your skin is to use a dull straight razor. The dull edge will end up causing irritations.

This is because the dull blade will force you to go over an area more than once to get all the hair which will wreak havoc on your skin.

Close and Smooth Shave

The best thing about using a straight razor is that it gives you a closer and smoother shave than even a premium cartridge razor. 

You can only achieve that, however, if the blade is sharp enough. A sharp straight razor means that the blade will slide smoothly on the face helping you achieve that close shave. 

How Does Straight Razor Sharpening Work

How Does Straight Razor Sharpening Work

When it comes to sharpening a straight razor, you can either strop or hone it. Stropping involves polishing the blade to remove any imperfections and can be done before or after shaving. 

Stropping helps maintain the blade and should be done every time you intend to use the razor. 

As such, if you have a straight razor, it would be in your best interest if you learned the skill. Stropping, at the end of the day, is meant to get the blade ready to cut again. 

While proper stopping will help maintain the blade over time, the blade will become blunt at some point, and that’s where honing comes in. 

Honing involves using abrasives to remove the metal on the razor to become shave-ready, which involves sharpening the blade. 

While honing is more like stropping, the skill requires more attention and takes more time. 

At the end of the day, stropping and honing requires the right tools. Low-quality tools can make sharpening the blade difficult. 

Pros and Cons of Straight Razor Sharpening

A straight razor is a great tool for shaping a beard, but just like with every beard grooming tool, sharpening a straight razor comes with its pros and cons. 

Pros

  • One of the main reasons you need to sharpen a straight razor is to make the blade shave-ready and that’s what sharpening does. 
  • Sharpening a razor also helps maintain the blade over time.
  • It also helps get rid of any microscopic imperfections that may be on the blade and that could affect the quality of the blade over time. 

Cons

  • Stropping and honing take skills that require time to master and might not be a cup of tea for those using a straight razor for the first time.

Methods of Straight Razor Sharpening

Stropping

Stropping is the process of polishing a blade to get rid of any microscopic imperfections. Stropping is done before or after shaving and helps maintain the blade in the long run. 

If you own a straight razor, stropping is something that you need to do every time you are using the razor. 

Stropping is all about polishing the blade to ensure that it’s ready to cut, but it also works to maintain that blade over time. 

After some time, even after stropping, the blade will lose its ability to cut well and when that happens, you need to hone it. 

Methods of Straight Razor Sharpening

Honing

Honing involves removing metal using abrasives so that the razor becomes shave-ready. 

Honing, unlike stropping, takes more time and requires more skill. To properly hone a blade, you need the right tools.

Faulty or low-quality honing and stropping tools can make it difficult to sharpen the blade. 

Tools Needed for Straight Razor Sharpening

If you own a pair of professional beard scissors and a straight razor and are looking to be shaving your beard at home, one thing that you need to learn is how to sharpen your razor. 

As mentioned earlier, there are two ways of doing it; stropping and honing. To do that, though, you need the right tools.

Strop

When you buy a straight razor, the next thing that you need to purchase is a strop. Leather works better when it comes to strops, although other materials like vinyl and newspaper work well too. 

There are different types of strops that you need to familiarize yourself with, from hanging strops, paddle strops to loom strops. 

Hanging Strop

The hanging strop is the most widely used. The strop will usually hang on a doorknob or a hook and is pulled tight when being used. 

A hanging strop is the easiest to store since you need to hang it in a specific location easily accessible when you want to shave.

The only downside? Learning to use a hanging strop for most people is usually not easy, but with patience, you will get there.   

Paddle Strop

A paddle strop is usually a bench strop that has a handle. How do you use it? You only need to hold the strop in one hand and you are good to go. 

The paddle strop is not as widely used, but that’s not mean that it will not do its job just as well.

Loom Strop

A loom strop is made of leather that will be stretched around an adjustable mechanism and held by a handle. 

Loom strops are usually expensive and few manufacturers still produce them. 

Stones and Films

Stones and films have been used for years as sharpening tools for straight razors and are probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think about sharpening any razor. 

There are different types of stones and films available on the market, with most of them working great. 

The fact that there is a wide array of stones to choose from means that you will have difficulty figuring out the best. 

Natural stones, just as the name suggests, come from nature. They have no grit ratings, which means that they are difficult to use and recommended for advanced honing skills. Lapping films are used for electrical work and work better with honing razors. They have different grit ratings and tend to be the most affordable.

The other kinds of stones that are used are synthetic water stones. These are man-made and are widely used. 

They also provide consistent results and are perfect for professionals as well as beginners. 

How to Strop a Straight Razor 

How to Strop a Straight Razor

Step 1 – Set up your strop

If you are using a hanging strop, ensure that it is attached well to a sturdy surface. When you are setting up the strop, the leather needs to be flat against the blade. 

If it is not tight, the strop can end up rolling the edge and dulling the blade. If you use a paddle strop, hold it tightly to ensure that it does not droop when you apply pressure. 

Step 2 – Place the blade correctly

Open your straight razor at a 180-degree angle and then place it at the base of the strop, making sure that the blade faces towards you.

Hold the blade by pinching it with the thumb while your forefinger is on the underside. If you have a wide strop that can hold the entire blade, place it at the center. 

At this point, the spine and the blade should be lying flat on the leather. The spine should not rise as this can roll the razor’s bevel.  

Step 3 – Run the blade down your strop

You should do this using very light pressure, ensuring that the blade remains flat. At this stage, ensure that you take your time and avoid zipping up and down. 

Step 4 – Roll the razor

When you get to the far end of the strop, turn the razor so that the cutting edge faces away from you. This is what it means to roll or turn a straight razor. 

To roll the razor, turn it with your thumb and the forefinger so that the cutting edge rises to the top. 

Step 5 – Drawback the razor

With the blade facing away from you, draw it back and go back to the starting position. 

After that, roll the blade so that it faces away from you again and then re-position it for another pass. 

How to Hone a Straight Razor 

Step 1 – Soak the stone

The first thing you need to do is to soak the stone for about 15 minutes. This helps to soften the surface to make honing easier and to create a slurry. 

Step 2 – Place the stone on a flat surface

Most stones will come with a rubber mat so that the stone doesn’t slide. If you don’t have a rubber mat, find a rough surface to place the stone on. 

Step 3 – Position the blade

Place the razor flat on the stone, making sure that the shoulder touches the stone but not so much that it rubs against it. 

Place your fingers across the blade’s spine and apply light pressure when pressing the blade on the stone. 

However, the amount of pressure you apply will depend on how sharp you want the blade to be. 

Step 4 – Run the blade down the stone

Run the blade down the stone, making sure that you apply equal pressure across the entire spine. Take your time by working slowly. 

Step 5 – Roll the blade

Just like when you are stropping, roll the blade carefully and then turn it, ensuring that the spine remains in contact with the stone. While at it, make sure that the cutting edge doesn’t touch the stone. 

Step 6 – Bring the blade back and repeat the process

While applying the same amount of pressure, bring the blade back slowly and return to the starting position when you are done with the lap. 

Go over the stone as many times as you want but ensure that you always test the blade against the thumb until you get the right kind of sharpness. 

When you are honing, one thing you need to remember is that over-honing the razor can be dreadful since it means removing a lot of metal so that you can repair the damage. 

How to Maintain Your Straight Razor 

Unlike an unbreakable shaving bowl, a straight razor needs care and maintenance to serve you for a long time. 

Straight razors are generally expensive and so, the last thing you want is to have to replace yours just because you didn’t maintain it well.    

Step 1 – Dry after use

A straight razor will usually rust or discolor if you don’t dry it after use. Drying it well after use will help prevent this and it also ensures that the cutting edge doesn’t dull prematurely.

A sharp, cutting edge means little honing, which ends up prolonging the life of your razor.  

After using the world’s best shaving cream and having experienced the healing abilities of an aftershave, clean the razor and then use a microfiber towel to wipe it.

After that, place the razor in an area with low humidity with the blade open to allow it to dry even further. 

Step 2 – Apply mineral oil to the blade

Your straight razor can still rust even after drying it after use due to the humidity in the air. 

To prevent this, make sure that you wipe the blade with mineral oil, although baby oil can still work. 

This is vital, especially if you are not planning on using the razor in a while. Mineral oil prevents oxidation from keeping the blade rust-free. 

As you apply mineral oil to the blade, make sure that you also apply a few drops to the razor’s folding mechanism since this is an area that is also prone to rust. 

Step 3 – Keep the razor clean

In as much as you want to prevent rusting, never store your straight razor while it’s dirty.  

Clean it well after use and then conduct a deep clean, dry it, and apply mineral oil once in a while. Keeping the razor clean will go a long way in prolonging its life. 

How to Test Your Straight Razor Sharpness 

Most straight razors come out of the box shave-ready, but there is no harm honing yours a little before the first shave. 

Depending on the condition your blade is in, over time, you may have to sharpen the blade more often. 

Shaving with a dull blade can lead to all manner of issues, including irritation and a not-so-close shave. 

Honing takes time, but it depends on the kind of stone you have. There are steps that you can take to test the sharpness of your razor. 

Step 1 – Arm hair test

One of the best ways to know if your straight razor is shave-ready is to test it on the hair on your arm. If the blade gives you a clean shave, then the razor is sharp enough. 

Step 2 – Hanging hair test

Another way to test the sharpness of the blade is using a strand of hanging hair. 

If the blade can cut cleanly using just the weight of the hair placed on the edge, then it means that you can go ahead and shave your beard.  

Step 3 – Shave test

Finally, if your razor shaves comfortably without applying too much pressure, then it’s shave-ready. You can test this after finishing stones of 8000 grit or higher. 

Never shave with a razor that doesn’t pass the sharpness test because this only means irritations thereafter. 

When it comes to actual shaving, a shaving brush can stimulate and exfoliate the skin underneath for a closer shave.

While at it, a fogless mirror can ensure effective trimming, especially when maintaining a specific goatee style or any other beard style of your choice. 

Do’s and Don’ts When Sharpening a Straight Razor

Do’s

  • Do ensure that you don’t apply too much pressure when you are honing a straight razor. Instead, let the weight of the blade guide you.  
  • Do make sure that honing doesn’t replace stropping. The two processes are equally important in maintaining a sharp razor. 
  • Do always ensure that the stone is soaked in water before honing the razor. The last thing you want is to hone a straight razor on a dry stone. 
  • Keep the whole edge of the razor on the stone so that it doesn’t tip off. To do this, place a fingertip or two at the end of the razor to maintain balance.

Don’ts

  • Don’t ever sharpen your blade like you would a knife at a pronounced angle because this could end up damaging your blade. 
  • Don’t flip your blade over just when you are on edge, as this can end up dulling it. 

FAQ About Straight Razor Sharpening

Do you have to sharpen straight razors?

Yes, straight razors need to be sharpened to get them shave-ready. However, with a good-quality razor, you only need to sharpen it depending on how often you use it. 

What’s the best way to sharpen a straight razor?

The best way to sharpen a straight razor is by using a wet stone. You want to soak the stone for about 15 minutes and make sure that it is clean before sharpening the blade. 

How often do you need to sharpen a straight razor?

If you are stropping your razor correctly, then sharpening it every two months will do. However, at the end of the day, it all comes down to the quality of the razor and how often you use it. 

Can you sharpen a straight razor with a knife sharpener?

A knife sharpener is never recommended when it comes to sharpening a straight razor.

How can I sharpen my razor at home?

If you have perfected the skill and have the right tools, then, by all means, go ahead and sharpen your razor at home. This will help you save on not only money but time at the end of the day. 

How do I know if my straight razor is sharp enough?

Never shave with a razor whose sharpness hasn’t been tested. To know if your razor is sharp enough, you can test it on the hair of your arm or a single strand of hanging hair. If the razor cuts comfortably, then it is shave-ready. 

Conclusion

A straight razor is one of the best tools to own if you are thinking about doing your own grooming. Shaving with a straight razor is rewarding, to say the least. However, it is something that takes getting used to. If you don’t know what you are doing, you might end up injuring yourself in the process; at the center of all that is making sure that your razor is always sharp enough before you shave.

Stropping and honing are the best ways to sharpen a straight razor, but you need to learn how to do it so that you don’t end up damaging the blade in the long run. 

Photos from: [email protected] / depositphotos.com, Couperfield / depositphotos.com, haveseen / depositphotos.com and ungorf / depositphotos.com.

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