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How to Hone a Straight Razor

How I Sharpen My Straight Razor

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My straight razor.

Since 2014 I’ve been using a Kamisori straight razor with a Western-style symmetrical full hollow grind. As is traditional with sharpening advice, if you ask half a dozen people how they sharpen their razors, you’ll get half a dozen different answers. This article represents what I’ve learned after almost a decade of using and maintaining this straight razor.

Most of the time, using a strop is enough to make your razor shaving sharp. Eventually, you’ll start to notice that stropping will fail to get your razor as sharp as you like. When this happens, it’s time to hone your razor.

Honing a straight razor is an essential skill that every straight razor user should have. A dull straight razor can cause skin irritation, slow down the shaving process, and may result in nicks and cuts. The feel of the shave will inform you when it’s time to hone. If you’re shaving regularly you can expect to hone 3 or 4 times a year.

Honing your razor for the first time can be intimidating. A good quality straight razor isn’t cheap and the delicate blade is easily damaged. Fortunately, the honing process for straight razors is pretty simple. In my opinion, honing a straight razor is easier than sharpening your kitchen knives (you are sharpening your kitchen knives, right?). Here is a simple guide on how to sharpen a straight razor.

This guide is for honing a dull razor that is otherwise in good condition. It doesn’t cover repairing damage or restoring vintage razors. A quick note on sharpening vs honing. I use sharpening to refer to the whole process of making a blunt tool sharp. Honing refers to the last few steps of that process when you’re using very fine grits (anything above 3,000 grit).


Honing Stones

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My personal sharpening stones. A 3000 grit Shapton GlassStone and a 8000 grit Shapton Kuromaku.

I recommend at least two grits, preferably three for regular razor maintenance. Your two main stones should be around 3,000 grit and 8,000 grit. You could finish on the 8,000 grit and polish on a strop, but I like to have a third stone in the 10,000+ grit range for polishing.

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It's nice to have a water stone this fine for a comfortable shave.

I have a 16,000 grit Shapton GlassStone that I use before stropping. Not a necessary item, but certainly nice to have.

High-quality water stones like those from Naniwa and Shapton are great. Their grits are very consistent and give good feedback. You can save money with a combination stone with two grits fused together. The Sharpening Supplies 3000/8000 or the Norton 4000/8000 are other good options.
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I like to use this Universal Stone Holder to give my stones a little extra height and stop them from moving.

Some stones come with a box that doubles as a stone holder. You might need to get a separate holder. These stop the stones from sliding around and give the stone a little extra height, making it easier to hold your razor while sharpening.

Flattening Stone or Lapping Plate

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My Shapton Diamond Lapping Plate. Fantastic for leaving a nice surface on my stones.

Water stones wear down as you use them. Eventually, the surface becomes uneven, dipping in the stone’s middle. It’s essential to make sure the surface of your sharpening stones are flat before using them. We’ve got a full article on Selecting a Lapping Plate for Water Stones to help you find the right one for your needs.

A Strop

I use a hanging strop. What’s most important about a strop is that the surface of the strop is compressible enough to conform around the edge of the razor. This creates a micro secondary bevel. It makes the edge a little more durable, but most importantly it’s the final step in the sharpening process and how you keep your razor sharp between shaves.

If you’ve chosen to just use a 3000 and 8000 grit stone, you may benefit from using a strop with some compound applied to it. Apply the compound to the linen side if your hanging strop has one. That’ll give you a plain leather surface to leave compound-free for regular stropping.


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10x magnification and an LED light for when you want to see what .

While not essential, it can be nice to get a better look at what’s happening at the razor’s edge. A loupe, or any other form of magnification, will help you see any chips or blunt spots along the edge you might not be able to see with the naked eye. Being able to see where you might need to spend a little more time can help the overall sharpening process go quicker. And give you a smoother shave at the end of it.

The Sharpening Process

Step 1: Clean the blade

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Cleaning my razor before sharpening.

Before you start sharpening, it's important to clean the blade of any debris or residue that may interfere with the honing process. Use a soft cloth or towel to gently clean the blade. Make sure to also fully clean the blade when you change grits so you don’t contaminate the finer stone with particles of coarser grit from the stone you just finished using.

Step 2: Prep your stones

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The surface of your stones must be completely flat, so it’s time to use your flattening stone or lapping plate.

Use a pencil to draw a crosshatch pattern on your water stone. While using plenty of water, move the lapping plate over the surface of your water stone. Periodically check your process. You’ll know the stone is completely flat when all the pencil marks are gone.

It also helps to bevel the edges of the water stone. Hold the stone at a roughly 45-degree angle and make 4-6 passes to knock the edges off the stone. This will make the stone less likely to chip and will make sharpening your razor a little easier.

For a step-by-step guide, check out our article How to Flatten a Water Stone.

Step 3: Set the bevel

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I start with the 3000 grit Shapton GlassStone.

Place the 3000-grit stone in the stone holder and on a flat surface. You’re going to start with 20 edge-trailing passes. Lay the razor flat on the stone at the end closest to you, with the edge facing toward you. Apply enough downward pressure to keep the razor in contact with the stone. There’s no need to press down hard.

When you reach the end of the stone flip the razor over so the edge faces away from you. Flip the razor while keeping the spine in contact with the stone. This prevents you from accidentally scraping the edge of the stone. Keeping the razor flat against the stone, pull it towards you. Once you’ve returned to your starting position, you’ve made one pass.

Don’t worry about moving the razor quickly over the stone. Speed has no impact on how the stone sharpens the razor. The key to fast sharpening is accuracy. “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” If you try to move too quickly and make a mistake, you now need to spend time fixing that mistake.

You're finished with this stage once you've performed 20 edge-trailing passes. The exact number of passes you need could be different. You'll get a better sense of what works for you over time. It depends on a lot of different variables: the stone you’re using, the pressure you’re exerting, the steel composition of your razor, and how blunt it was, to begin with. Twenty edge trailing passes is a good place to start.

This is where having a loupe comes in handy. Working with such fine grits can make it difficult to feel for a burr. Use the loupe to check that you have a consistent scratch pattern from the stone going all the way to the edge of the razor.

Step 4: Polish the bevel

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Picking a stone that is wider than the length of the razor blade makes sharpening quicker and easier.

With the 8,000-grit stone perform 20 edge-trailing passes. I like to do my final polishing on a 10,000+ grit stone (I use my 16,000 grit Shapton GlassStone). I perform 30 edge-trailing passes on this stone.

Step 5: Strop the blade

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I've found that I get the best results from a relatively slack strop. Most folks like a more taut surface, but this works for me.

When using a hanging strop, make sure it’s attached to something secure. While stropping you always make edge trailing passes. If you try and make an edge leading pass the razor will cut into the strop. This could ruin the strop. I’ve put nicks in strops (a result of shaving while uncaffeinated). Small nicks won’t ruin a strop, but you’ll want to avoid going over them while stropping. 30-50 passes are usually enough.

Step 6: Test the razor

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The hanging hair test.

After stropping the blade, it's important to test it to ensure that it is sharp enough for use. A properly honed and stropped razor should be able to cut a free-hanging hair. If you don’t want to pluck your hair out for testing purposes, the real test of a razor is to shave with it.

Hopefully, this shows you that sharpening a straight razor is a simple process requiring only a few materials and a bit of patience. Learning how to properly care for and maintain your razor is a rewarding experience. By honing and stropping the blade regularly, you can ensure that your straight razor always remains sharp and ready for use.