Many men who have received a straight razor as a gift, or purchased one, may experience an unsatisfactory first shave, do a little research and learn that the razor should be honed in order to be shave-ready. A properly honed straight razor makes shaving easy and requires no pressure to cut whiskers. This results in a clean and close shave with less irritation and razor burn. The chance of nicks and cuts is also significantly reduced with the sharpest possible edge.
New straight razor owners, especially those who are accustomed to doing things themselves, wonder if they should hone their own razor. Let’s take an in-depth look at the pros and cons of doing so.
Historical Straight Razor Honing Practices
Historically, men of means were shaved regularly by their valets. The valet rotated 7 razors throughout the week, sending them out for honing to the local barber or blacksmith once a year. Men of profession frequently enjoyed barber shaves, and typically had 7 of their own rotating razors, and would take them to a barber for professional honing annually. You can still purchase traditional cases with a weekly razor set.
The common man would shave himself, and honed his own razor. This meant investing in a costly barber’s hone, which the man guarded with his life, simply because he may not be able to afford another. Some just let their beards grow, more out of economy than sense of style.
There is no doubt that having your razor honed professionally has a variety of advantages, but there are some men who enjoy the experience and satisfaction of caring for their own razors. If this is the case, by all means, invest in a set of honing stones and a few cheap Gold Dollar straight razors to practice on.
Honing Your Own Straight Razor
For the individual who takes pride in maintaining his own tools, at-home-honing is definitely an option. Beginners will quickly discover that there is a learning curve involved in honing a straight razor to a professional standard, as well as a variety of tools required to get it done properly. Muscle memory plays an important roll in creating an edge that passes the hanging hair test across the entire blade, and that is only developed by honing many razors.
A progressive set of honing stones is needed, whether synthetic or nagura, perhaps as a stone holder and at least one strop. Pastes and abrasives designed to get the perfect edge are often desired, and the beginner should invest in a few practice razors to work with as they perfect their technique. A jeweler’s loupe or microscope will allow the honer to view the edge of the razors and see the progress they’re making, and a diamond lapping plate is almost essential to keep the stones perfectly flat.
After a little experimenting with various stones, strops and razors, the cost over the first few months can easily exceed $1,000. It’s unlikely that there will be any savings for the first few years of honing your own straight-razor, and the shaves on a home-honed razor may not be outstanding. However, if straight razor ownership develops into a hobby as well as a shaving tool, then honing can become part of the experience. Hobbies cost money, and the investment is justifiable. This appeals to many individuals, so it often comes down to personal preference and desired outcomes.
Some years ago, I took up fly fishing. Soon I had several high end fly rods and reels, of various weights, but I bought my flies at the local sporting goods store. But at some point, it was time to take my hobby to the next level, buy a fly tying vice and other tools, a suitable desk, cabinets with little drawers for tying materials, a library of fly tying books, etc. Did I save money by tying my own flies? Hardly! I’d have to tie a few thousand flies to break even on my investment. I added tying to my fly fishing hobby to enjoy a richer experience.
Having Your Straight Razor Honed Professionally
Many men choose to have their straight razor honed professionally. Often, they don’t have the time to devote to learning the honing process, or simply would prefer to leave the honing in the hands of professionals who have spent years perfecting their techniques. Those who choose this method will want to have two razors, enabling them to use one while sending the other off to be honed. With 2 razors in rotation, it’s common practice to send each razor out twice a year for honing. Honings typically cost $30 apiece. This puts the cost of professional honing services at a little over $100 per year, plus the initial one-time cost of a second razor ($125 – $300).
This, in comparison with disposable cartridge costs (these run about $5 a piece with an annual cost of about $500) is significantly more affordable. The $100 cost for professional straight razor honing each year is about 1/5th the cost of disposable cartridges.
Sending out a razor for honing also provides a benchmark, against which the do-it-yourself honer can measure his own progress. It’s also a way to try various edges. For example, we currently offer the option of a synthetic, Coticule or JNat edge, and sometimes even an Escher option. Trying different finishes allows the do-it-yourself honer to decide which of the many honing paths he’d like to invest in; which stones and accessories he’ll need to obtain the edge he prefers. (We include custom tutorial videos and ongoing honing support with the JNat and Coticule whetstones we sell.)
As with most things, determining whether to send your razor off for a professional honing or learning the process of honing yourself comes down to a personal preference. Over a lifetime, those who hone their own razors can certainly save money, although it typically takes more than a few years before those savings start to kick in.
Others enjoy the convenience, reliability and outstanding edge they get by sending their razors off for a professional honing, secure in the knowledge that their razor will be fully shave-ready when it returns and that it has been cared for by a skilled professional. Sometimes a mix of both is best. It’s not uncommon for men to send off their prized collectable razors (like a vintage dubl duck Goldedge or Wade & Butcher smiling wedge, grandfather’s heirloom razor, or a handmade custom) for professional honing while caring for and honing their daily shaver themselves.
By analyzing the benefits and taking into account your own personal interests, you will quickly see which route is best for you.
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