Hone Your Own Straight Razor
The simplest and most economical option for honing straight razors at home can be a two stone solution consisting of a bevel setting stone and a single natural finishing stone. (Some YouTube video honers have referred to this as a one stone approach; they don’t count the bevel setter, and are thinking in terms of maintaining a razor.) Contrary to what you may have read in some of the forums, honing with a single finisher isn’t a radical new approach, that somehow defies “tradition.”
As wet shavers we often hear the expression, “shave like your grandpa”. Our grandfathers honed their straight razors with a 6000 grit pocket barbers’ hone. These stones were typically cast into molds, particles embedded into resin… the first synthetics. If the razor was really dull, they’d fetch a courser sharpening stone from the tool shed to fix the bevel. According to historians, the folding straight razor appears to have originated in the 15th century, and these razors were all honed on a single natural stone. A progression of synthetic stones, in increments of 1000 – 4000 grit ratings, is a very recent option for straight razor users. The approach described below is actually “old school.”
Bevel Setting: The King 1000 will do an excellent job, at a very affordable price. Other 1K options include the Naniwa 1000 Chosera/Professional, Shapton Professional Series 1500, Shaption Glass 1000, or Suehiro SKG-22. (Some honers prefer to start at 3K, so the initial scratch pattern is softer. Popular 3000 grit bevel setters are the Naniwa S-430 Super Stone, Suehiro SKG-2, Shapton Glass 3000, or the KAI WS-3000.)
Edge Refinement / Finishing: By using a slurry, you have a ‘variable particle size’ system. As the courser slurry gradually breaks down, you eventually end up with roughly the same particle size as the surface of your natural stone. There is therefore a gradual transition from medium through ultra fine. (A single stone can effectively replace a 3 – 5 stone progression, like the Naniwas, Suehiros or Shaptons.) To create the slurry on your JNat base stone, you need a Nagura stone (and water). We select and include one with most of the JNats we sell.
Alternately, some people like to use an Atoma 1200 or DMT Dia-Sharp Extra Fine diamond plate to create their slurry, sometimes referred to as a “diamond nagura” (DN). We’ve discovered that to prevent scratching of your JNat, if you are going to use a diamond nagura, a well worn plate, that’s been used for lapping synthetic stones for a while, is better.
Lapping: Whetstones need to be grid lapped before their first use. A grid is drawn on the stone with a pencil, and then the stone is flattened, so wear occurs evenly across the grid. A diamond lapping plate will make short work of making the stone completely flat. A ‘dished’ stone can produce very inconsistent results. You also need to flatten the stones often, as they quickly develop a “saddle” in the centre, or a taper towards the edges. We can custom order diamond lapping plates, and we also offer a lapping service. If you purchase a new whetstone from us, we include one free lapping and chamfering of the edges.
Training and Support Included: We deliver a lot more than “a rock.” If you purchase a JNat finishing stone from us, with one of the following: nagura slurry stone(s, bevel setter, or diamond plate, Cole will be happy to prepare a custom video in which he hones a razor from scratch, with the very stones you’ll be receiving in your order. If you want to send in your razor, or purchase one from our store, he can even video the entire honing process with the razor you’ll use. Back home, since the stones (and possibly the razor) will be the same, you should be able to duplicate Cole’s JNat edge exactly by following the steps in the video.
With any JNat or Coticule whetstone purchase, you’ll also be welcome to call Cole on his direct line for honing support. That’s something you won’t get from the discount stone brokers.
Example tutorial videos:
Accessories: A Naniwa or SteeleX whetstone holder can be invaluable. While not necessary, a holder will raise the stone a bit, providing more clearance for your hand, and increase stability on your table or bench. An inexpensive 30 – 60 power illuminated jewelers loupe is useful for inspecting the edge under magnification. Cheap micro fibre cloths are perfect for wiping water and slurry from the blade as you hone. Add a pistol grip sprayer, filled with water, to keep the slurry and stone wet, and you’re good to go.
Developing Your Skills: Honing your own razor can be risky. Owning the stones alone will not make you competent at honing a straight razor. We’ve seen more tapered spines and blades (honed out toes), and ‘frowns’, resulting from do-it-yourself honing jobs, than we care to talk about. It’s heartbreaking to see a quality razor destroyed in that way. We recommend that you pick up a couple of Gold Dollar razors on eBay, at ten bucks apiece, and practice on those. It takes time to develop both an understanding of the honing process, and the muscle memory required, before moving up to your cherished straight. If you trash grandpa’s priceless heirloom razor, it could be devastating; whereas, if you burn through a few ten buck “letter openers”, it’s simply the cost of education.
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