Welcome to the complete guide on how to sharpen a straight razor for beginners. This complete beginners’ guide will not just provide you with an overview of straight razors, but show you exactly how to prepare yourself as a beginner.
As a beginner, using a straight razor can be a brave yet terrifying experience. Especially if you are used to the conventional shaving razor, then using a flat sharp piece of blade against your face is nothing short of an act of dare.
But fear not! This guide will prepare you so that the worst is avoided.
We will go through all the essentials such as the equipment that is needed, how to sharpen or maintain them for proper use, techniques and the tips & tricks to using a straight like a pro.
Let’s get started!
The Equipment That You Need
As beginners, not only using the straight razor, but the equipment such as strops, brushes, razors, honing stones, soaps, etc. are all quite overwhelming.
As amateurs you will be hoping to spend the least amount of money to get all the necessary gear. But that can be harmful. If you get a cheap straight razor, then it will not be sharp for long and before you know it you will be left with a blunt razor which is the worst threat to your straight razor shaving.
Deciding which equipment is needed, the quality of the products, the durability of each tool and the proper use of those equipment will save you the trouble of a potential disaster.
The equipment you need have been categorized into 2 types – one which is your absolute essential and two, which is your long-term need. Having prepared with owning or even just knowing about these two types will ensure a much smoother shaving experience.
Number ONE – Essential Equipments
- A Straight Razor
Obviously, you will need a good quality straight razor. Be sure not to spend too much or too little even, as you need something which is standard for a satisfying experience.
- A Leather Strop
A leather strop is needed because you will need to strop your razor before using it each and every time, so you cannot do without a leather strop.
- Shaving Soap, Cream or Gel
A straight razor is not terrifying without reason, it is very sharp and extremely dangerous to use without proper knowledge or experience. Using a shaving soap, cream, or gel is highly recommended for not just novice, but even the most experienced straight razor users.
- A Brush
A brush may not be essential for traditional shaving, but it is crucial when using a straight razor. A good quality shaving soap or cream will need to brushed to product a thick lather for a smooth shave. Not only does the thick layer create a protective layer between the blade and your skin, it also ensures a close & clean shave.
Number TWO – Long Term Requirements
It will be interesting to hear from straight razor users which equipment is a must-have and which they can do without. But regardless, after you have your most essential equipment, you must consider equipment which you need for the long term.
A Honing Stone
For straight razors, the honing stone is a permanent or long-term need. Once you buy a straight razor, a good quality razor will be able to give you good shaves with just stropping. But overtime, the blade will lose its sharpness and that’s when you need a honing stone.
A honing stone is used to sharpen dull blades after a long period of usage. Depending on how often you shave, the period may not be too long. Also, depending the quality of your razor, you may need a honing stone to sharpen the blade as they may dull sooner than you expect.
Not only is the honing stone a permanent, long-term requirement, it adds to the overall adventure of shaving using a straight razor.
Stropping Your Razor
The leather strop will be your most used accessory with a straight razor. It is necessary to strop your razor before each use to make sure the blade edges are aligned. Each time the blade touches your skin you will know if the edge is not aligned. It will extremely rough and may easily give you dangerous cuts. But with a properly stropped or aligned blade edge, you will enjoy a smooth, close and clean shave.
A strop consists of two things – the fabric side and the leather side. The fabric is there to remove any type of debris from the blade such as metal bits, shaving soap or cream remnants, etc. It is thick and coarse to remove all sorts of debris or buildup. The leather side is much smoother and its main function is to keep the surface of the blade aligned.
You will be stropping your straight razor every time you use it, so it is important to master stropping while concentrating on the art of straight razor shaving as well. The following are very important rule of thumbs to remember:
- Always make sure your stop is clean and smooth. If it is damaged or becomes rough then you must immediately replace it.
- Always keep your strop in a closed box or cupboard to keep it clean and protected from easily getting damaged.
Step by Step Stropping Guide
Now that you know what a leather strop is and how to make sure it is in a condition to be used, let’s look at how you will strop your straight razor. The following is a step by step guide to stropping your straight razor:
- Hook one side of the strop and secure it
- Hold the other side firmly with your hand to create a constant tension
- Hold your straight razor on your other hand using your forefinger and your thumb. You must remember to be slow and steady and you can speed up as you become a master at stropping.
- Make sure the razor blade’s edge is facing away from you as you stroke the razor
- Your hand should be able to get relaxed, steady movements so that you do not feel strained and easily glide the strop over the blade
- Rotate the blade when you reach the end of the strop to avoid blunting it
- Normally, you would need to repeatedly stroke the blade with strop 15 to 20 times on each side. You will use the fabric side first and follow it with the leather side.
You must remember to wipe the razor clean after stropping and do not worry if you are slow in doing it as you will pick up the pace slowly. You should consider to use a paste for the leather strop to keep it smooth, clean and usable for longer.
Prepare Your Face For Shaving
Now that you know exactly how to strop your straight razor, you are ready to shave using a straight razor. But before that, you must consider some recommended ways to prepare your face for shaving.
- Take a Shower
The first and one of the easiest ways to prepare yourself is a hot shower. You don’t have to shower with boiling hot water, but comfortably hot water and wet your face, beard, mustache and neck areas well. You are free to use soap or shampoo to get rid of dirt and natural oils from your skin and hair. Btu remember not to dry your face as you will be shaving.
- Washing Your Face
If you are not up for a hot shower, then you can consider splashing hot water on your face or washing your face with hot water. You will be targeting to get your skin and hair wet to prepare it for the shave without drying them.
- Hot Towel
If you are not too keen on being wet during your shave, then you can consider using a hot water-soaked towel on your face to prepare your skin for the shave.
- Apply Lather
The least you can do to prepare your face is soaking your brush in hot water and then using it to create a nice, creamy thick lather. You should lather the complete areas of your face which you want to shave. Keep the lather on for a while before you start shaving giving it time to soften your skin and hair.
Shave Using Multiple Strokes
As a beginner, you will be careful and take a nice, steady stroke. But as you grow more confident, multiple strokes are necessary for a completely clean, close shave. As a simple technique you must first shave with the grain, then across and at last, against the grain. If you are going for a second shave, be sure to wash your face and apply fresh lather.
Do Not Worry About Technique
The facial skin and hair on everyone’s face is different. So do not dwell too much on a particular technique. Rather do what works for your face and hair grains. Do not put too much pressure and glide over your skin.
You can work your straight razor on your face depending on how close a shave you want and how much your skin can handle. As with any task, practice makes perfect… so be patient as perfection will come with several attempts and not the first one.
After Shave Care
After you have completed shaving you will need to rinse your face with cold water. This will relieve your skin of any tension and close the skin pores. Then you must consider applying after shave care products such as gel, cream, etc.
That’s it… now you know what to buy and how to shave using a straight razor.
But remember you will need a lot of practice to master the art. But as you continue shaving, your straight razor will get so dull that the leather stropping will not be effective. This is when you will need your long-term equipment – a honing stone!
Honing Your Straight Razor
After a period of time, your straight razor will not hold its sharpness by simply stopping it. For sharpening the dull blade of your razor, you must hone it using a honing stone.
The leather strop keeps the blade aligned but it does not make the blade any sharper. A honing stone will come in various grades such as #500 grit to #12,000 grit. The #500 grit will be extremely coarse while the higher grades such as the #12,000 grit will be very fine.
If a straight razor blade is complete blunt or dull then you will need a lower grit honing stone and for those blades that are only slightly dull, a finer grit honing stone will do the job. It is good to stick to the middle range of #4000 to #8000 grit honing stones for most normal blades which dull a little after a period of use.
Step by Step Honing Guide
The following is a step by step guide on how to sharpen a straight razor blade using a honing stone:
- You must first make the honing stone wet and clean the surface of the stone. If the surface is not clean, the blade will not sharpen properly
- The razor should be placed on the stone
- Start pulling the razor on a slight angle across the stone. Do not put extra pressure, just glide with the normal weight of the razor against the grit of the stone
- At the end of each stroke turn the razor to avoid pulling the edge directly against the stone as this will make the edge blunt
- Instead of doing a straight right and left action, try to do a cross or X pattern while going back & forth with the razor
- Repeat strokes until your desired sharpness is achieved
The art of sharpening a straight razor by honing does not come easy and you will see that you may ruin quite a few blades. But with patience and a lot of practice, you will master the art.
Alternatively, you can send your straight razor to professionals for sharping. Undoubtedly, you will get superior sharpness. But you will not get the satisfaction of maintaining your own tool. The joy of mastering the art of honing is actually far greater that the straight razor shaving, at least for me!
So, even if it does take some time, I would highly recommend it!
Are you feeling tense? That is the end of it. Now you know all about using and maintaining a straight razor. The ultimate shaving tool for men!
All you have to do now is master this art.
If you are interested in learning more about straight razor shaving or buying the best straight razor to begin your journey, then read this review on best straight razor for beginners.
So, what do you think? Did we cover everything? Is there something that you experienced while using a straight razor or sharpening it that you would like to share with us? Share your thoughts in the comments section for others who may benefit from it.
That’s it for today!