If you’re a guy who likes to sport a clean-shaven look, you’ve no doubt asked yourself what shaving technique to use. Some men are more inclined towards electric shavers, while others prefer wet shaving.
If you’re in the latter group, you know that cartridge razors with multiple blades significantly increase the likelihood of ingrown hairs. Single-blade safety razors don’t cause this problem, but still, require that you change the blade at least once a week.
This is why the real pros among you have long gone the way of a good old-fashioned straight razor. It’s a time-honored tradition that gives you a nice clean shave.
The best part about straight razors – they’re an excellent long-term investment. You can get one and have it for the rest of your life.
No need for buying new blades – you just need to keep the one you already have sharp. How do I do that, you ask? You’ll find in the following paragraphs a useful guide on how to easily sharpen your straight razor.
When Is It Time to Sharpen?
If you’ve just purchased your straight razor, you should have a good couple of months to go before you need to sharpen it. You will need to strop it regularly, though, but we’ll get to that in just a bit.
When the time comes, there are several signs that show your blade needs maintenance.
Which Tools Do You Need?
To maintain the sharpness of your blade, you need only two tools: a hone and a strop.
A hone is a whetstone along which you run the razor edge. If you just want to maintain the sharpness of your razor, then you should get a fine-grit stone that is best for polishing.
You should also look into wider stones that can sharpen the whole blade at once. This is mostly for your convenience because you won’t have to maneuver the blade as much.
A strop is a strip of material (typically leather) that is used to straighten and polish your blade. Typically, you will use a strop to keep your razor sharp in between honing.
Abrasive compounds can also be applied to strops for them to yield results similar to honing. Most people will need to get both a hone and a strop to keep their razor in top shape.
You should strop your blade after each shave for best results. Once you see that stropping isn’t keeping your razor sharp enough, you’ll know it’s time to hone it. This usually happens every 2 months or so.
How Do You Sharpen a Blade?
OK, so once you’ve got the necessary tools, sharpening is only a matter of technique. It’s easy enough that with a little practice it will become part of your muscle memory.
You should always be careful while handling your blade, however. It can get very sharp and therefore dangerous.
Honing a Straight Razor
Make sure you put the hone on a flat surface. There are also sharpening stone holders you can buy (or sometimes get with your stone) to ensure that the hone is sitting tightly. For safety, it’s important that the stone doesn’t move.
You should also make sure your stone is lubricated. Water does the job well here. A wet hone controls the temperature of your blade and provides a smoother surface for sharpening.
Before honing, you should clean the blade on each side using a cotton ball and alcohol. You can also put some electrical tape on the spine of the blade, just to protect it from scraping.
Set the blade flat on the stone so that the whole surface of one side is touching it. Then guide it evenly along the stone, leading with the edge. Flip the blade over on its spine when you get to the end of the stone, and repeat the motion in the other direction.
Make sure you don’t press too hard, just enough to ensure the whole side of the blade is touching the stone. It’s crucial that both sides are sharpened with equal pressure.
If your blade is longer than the width of the stone, try to move the blade slightly downward with each stroke. This kind of diagonal movement ensures that you sharpen the whole edge.
It’s up to you how much you want to hone your razor. One thing to note is that a blade that’s too sharp can be uncomfortable on your face and give you razor burn.
Stropping a Straight Razor
As you’ll be stropping your razor almost daily, it’s useful to hang your strop somewhere accessible in your bathroom. This also requires cleaning your blade with rubbing alcohol.
You should hold the razor with one hand while tightening the strop with the other. Run the blade along the length of the strop, roll it on its spine, and then do the same in the opposite direction.
Here you need to lead with the spine rather than the sharp end of the razor. The pressure from the weight of the blade is enough, you don’t need to apply any more. About 10 strokes for each side should suffice.
And that’s it! It takes less than a minute to strop your razor to prepare it for a good shave. Honing it will take slightly longer, but you won’t need to do that very often, so it shouldn’t pose a problem.
If you still think this is too much of a hassle, consider switching over to electric shavers. They often don’t require too much maintenance. A great pick that’s as good as a straight razor is the Panasonic Arc 5, which also provides an option for wet shaving.
But if you stick to honing and stropping, it’ll become second nature. You will always have a razor that is sharp and ready to go without spending any additional money on it.