On average, a straight razor needs to ‘return to the stones’ about every 2 or 3 months. But, if added care is invested in preserving a good edge, owners have been able to extend a sharpening well past a year; even two.
Rotate your razors
If you send your razor out for honing you’ll want to own at least two. That way you’ll have another to use while the one’s out for sharpening. Having more than one razor also allows the delicate steel edge of a full hollow razor to rest before it’s stropped and pressed back into service. There was a time when men of means owned a box of 7 razors, each labeled with a day of the week, to be rotated.
Consider investing in a professional vintage barber’s razor
If you’re going to use only one razor, there are vintage barber razors that were specifically designed to do 5 to 10 shaves a day under heavy professional use. Premium barbers’ razors like the J.R. Torrey 156 “The Barber”, Ed. Wüsthof Trident Barber’s King 77 or Hayashi Diamond 120 were designed for continual use. The Hayashi, for example, had a heavy spine, a thicker blade with a mild 1/4 hollow grind, that was cold quench hardened up to HRC 65 IIRC. Peter J. Michels distributed razors under the C-Mon name to professional barbers, nearly a century ago. Some of the very finest, like the No. 7, were ice hardened. Under personal use, one of these old gems can hold an edge a very long time.
Strop every single time
Take the time to strop your razor carefully on quality English Bridle, Russian suede or Latigo leather, 50 – 60 strokes, before every shave. It’s far easier to maintain a good edge, than attempting to restore one that’s been neglected.
Keep your mind on the job at hand
When stropping, it’s easy to ‘roll’ the edge, by turning it over for the return trip on its edge instead of the spine. Make sure you’re focused. Keep the blade away from faucets, ceramic sinks, shaving bowls and the metal clamps they put on some stops. Most of the edges that go are lost prematurely can be attributed to either rolling the edge or chipping it.
One of the best habits you can adopt is folding a hand towel in half and laying it at the front of the counter and using an insulated water bowl, like many Italian barbers do.
If you keep the tap running, not only do you lose valuable audible feedback, but you risk nicking the blade on the sink bowl or faucet as you repeatedly swish it under the stream of water. Instead, wipe the cream off on the towel. If you must lay the razor down, the soft towel also provides a safe non-slip surface.
Consider using a small insulated water bowl, like the Crux, to dip your brush in when re-hydrating your lather, rather than firing up the water each time. If the water’s not running, you won’t be tempted to swish the razor around under the stream.
Touch up with CrOx on suede or linen
Many straight razor shavers will do 3 – 5 round-trip strokes on a pasted linen or suede strop treated with green chromium oxide (CrOx) paste, before moving to the leather, for another 50 – 60 round-trip strokes. 0.5 micron chromium oxide is a fine 30,000 grit abrasive, and gives the edge a light touch-up and polish before a shave. With proper technique, this step can extend the service life of your edge significantly.
Stropping a straight razor is essential in order to re-align the micro serrations of the edge. With practice a straight razor shaver can become quite proficient at keeping the leather taught and straight. Unfortunately, a hanging strop will always have a slight bow and some flex in it. Using X-stokes can help minimize the impact of strop flex.
Professional honemeisters will lap their stones each use, to make certain they are 100% flat. But stropping a straight blade on a twisted strop surface that isn’t quite parallel to the edge can begin to round the edge, a little each time. A raised block, 8 to 10” in length, of the same width as the leather or linen strop, can provide a flat backing to a strop when used on a counter, desk or table. If you suspect you may be rounding the edge with your strop technique, give bench stropping over a block a try.
If you’re new to straight razors, consider starting out with a factory made bench strop.
Protect your investment
Corrosion can kill and edge very quickly. Even ‘stainless’ blades will pitt in wet environments. Remove your razor from the damp bathroom after use. Dry the blade with tissue paper after every use and then give the steel a light oiling with a quality straight razor oil.
Sooner or later, you’re likely to drop a razor. Consider investing in a leather straight razor sheath. It’s very cheap insurance.