The Beginning of the Edge
A barber who knows the right way to hone and strop razors has mastered an important professional skill. To acquire the right technique in honing and stropping requires constant practice and long experience under the guidance of a qualified instructor. It should he emphasized that regardless of the technical knowledge possessed by the practitioner, a good shave cannot be given with a dull razor.
Honing is the process of sharpening a razor blade on a hone. The main object in honing is to obtain a perfect cutting edge on the razor. For the beginner a slow-cutting hone is preferable to a fast-cutting hone.
Honing results will be more satisfactory if the razor and hone are kept at room temperature. Depending on which hone is used, it may be moistened with water or lather, or kept dry. Oilstones generally are not recommended for straight razor use. When in use, the hone should be kept perfectly flat. Sufficient space should be provided to permit free arm movements in honing.
The razor blade is sharpened by honing the razor with smooth, even strokes of equal number and pressure on both sides of the blade. The exact angle at which the blade is stroked is less important than that each stroke, for each side of the blade, be precisely the same. This is often accomplished by laying the blade flat on the hone while stroking, thereby maintaining a constant and matched angle. Of course in doing so you are also honing the razor blade’s back as well as the edge. This will result in excessive wear that could, in time, affect the razor’s balance and also change the angle of the edge. This may also want to be avoided when honing a very decorative blade. One method to avoid this excess wear is to cover the blade’s back with a single strip of PVC electrical tape from the blade’s tip to the shank. The tape should be positioned along the length of the back and folded over each shoulder equally providing a cushioned surface for the back to ride on.
An old, useless razor may he used for practicing the various movements. Only actual hands-on practice will allow you to master the technique.
How to hold the razor
Grasp the razor handle comfortably in the right hand as follows:
1. Rest index finger on top of the side part of the shank.
2. Rest ball of thumb at the joint.
3. Place second finger back of the razor near the edge of the shank.
4. Fold remaining fingers around the handle to permit easy turning of the razor.
How to hold the hone
Lay the hone flat in your left hand. Hold the hone firmly with the index finger and the little finger.
CAUTION: Make sure that the fingertips do not project above the hone. If they do you will cut them!
Turning the razor
Place the razor on hone with razor edge facing left. Turn razor from one side to the other. The rolling movement across back of razor is produced with the fingers, rather than the wrist. Practice the turning action until it is mastered.
First stroke in honing:
The razor blade must be stroked diagonally across the hone, drawing the blade towards the cutting edge and heel of the razor.
Second stroke in honing:
After the completion of the first stroke, the razor is turned on its back with the fingers in the same manner you would roll a pencil, without turning the wrist. As the razor is rolled over on its back, slide it upwards from bottom left corner of the hone to the top left corner of hone.
Completing the second stroke:
Draw razor from left-top corner of hone to right-bottom corner of hone so that the edge faces to the right and the heel leads. Keep equal pressure on the razor at all times. As the razor is rolled over on its hack, slide it upwards from bottom right to top right.
In going from one step to the other, try to maintain four different movements, rather than a sweeping movement. The number of strokes required in honing depends on the condition of the razor’s edge. Test for sharpness frequently during process to avoid over-honing.
Testing razor on moistened thumbnail:
Depending on the hardness of the hone and the number of strokes taken, the razor edge may be blunt, keen, coarse or rough. Different sensations are felt when the razor is passed lightly across the thumbnail, moistened with water or lather.
To test the razor edge, place it on the nail of the thumb and slowly draw it from the heel to the point of the razor.
1. A perfect or keen edge has fine teeth and tends to dig into the nail with a smooth steady grip.
2. A blunt or dull razor edge passes over the nail smoothly, without any cutting power.
3. A coarse razor edge digs into the nail with a jerky feeling.
4. A rough or over-honed edge has large teeth that stick to the nail and produce a harsh, grating sound.
5. A nick in the razor will produce a feeling of a slight gap or unevenness in the draw.
Correcting an over-honed razor
To eliminate an over-honed edge, draw the razor backward in a diagonal line across the hone, using the same movement and pressure as in regular honing. One or two strokes each way will usually remove the rough edge and eliminating any progress made toward sharpening. This is called back honing. The razor is then honed again, starting from the beginning of the process, being careful to prevent over-honing a second time.
While honing, the abrasive material of the hone makes small cuts in the sides of the razor blade’s edge. The small cuts resemble the teeth of a saw and point in the same direction as the stroke used for honing. A finer grit hone will produce finer teeth. The object is to leave the finest possible teeth behind after honing. To accomplish this it if sometimes advisable to use a series of increasingly finer grit hones. The final step in sharpening, stropping, will polish away these very fine teeth leaving behind a smooth edge.
CARE OF THE HONE
The barber should know how to use and take care of the particular type of hone he has selected. The manufacturer’s instructions offer a reliable guide for keeping the hone in good, serviceable condition.
After using any kind of hone, always wipe the surface clean and cover it. Make sure that all adhering steel particles resulting from the honing are completely removed. Whenever a dry hone has been used, rub its surface with water and pumice stone, wipe clean and keep covered.
A new hone may require a preliminary treatment to put it into good working shape. If a new hone is very rough, rub its surface with water and pumice stone. No preliminary treatment is required for the water hone, as it is ready for immediate use.
Before using, make sure that the surface of the hone is smooth and clean, as this will greatly diminish normal time required to put an edge on the razor. Use the hone either moist or dry, as directed by the manufacturer.
Stropping a razor is a fine art developed by repeated practice. The aim in stropping is to smooth and shape the razor’s edge into a keen cutting implement. After being honed, the razor seldom needs any stropping on the canvas. Instead, the honed razor is stropped directly over the surface of the leather strop. The time to use the canvas strop is when the razor develops a worn edge from continued use. The effect of the canvas strop is similar to mild honing.
THE TECHNIQUE OF STROPPING
Hold the end of the strop firmly in the left hand so it cannot sag. Hold it close to the side, and as high as it is comfortable. Take razor in right hand, well up in the hand. Hold the razor so that the first finger is on the shank, the second finger is on the handle and the thumb rests slightly on both parts. At the same time, the first finger of the right hand rests at the edge of the strop. Turning the razor. Place the razor on the strop, turning it with fingers and thumb. Practice the turning action until it is mastered.
In stropping the razor, use a long diagonal stroke with even pressure from the heel to the point.
Note: The direction of the razor in stropping is the reverse of that used in honing.
Start the stroke at the top edge of the strop closest to the swivel
Draw the razor perfectly flat, with back leading, straight over the surface of strop. Bear just heavy enough on the strop to feel the razor draw. Do not worry about speed. This will come with continued practice.
When the first stroke is completed, turn the razor on the back of the blade by rolling it in the fingers without turning the hand. Now draw the razor away from you, towards the swivel, thus completing the second stroke in stropping.
Final testing of razor on moistened tip of thumb prior to shaving
Touch the razor edge lightly and note the reaction. A dull edge produces no drawing feeling. A razor that has the proper cutting edge tends to stick to the thumb and will not slide along it.
If the razor edge produces a rough, disagreeable sound upon testing, it indicates that the cutting edge is still coarse. To correct this condition, additional finishing on the leather strop is necessary. Should the razor edge yield a smooth feeling upon testing, finish it again on the canvas strop, followed by a few more strokes on the leather strop.
CARE OF STROPS
A leather strop becomes better or worse according to the care it is given. Do not fold a strop, but keep it suspended, attached to a swivel, or laid flat. When a leather strop appears rough, it needs a hand finish to make it smooth. Various types of strop dressings are available for the purpose of cleaning and conditioning the leather side of the strop. A canvas strop needs a daily hand finish to keep it in good condition. Accumulated grit is removed from a canvas strop by rubbing it with lather. To remove imbedded dirt from a leather strop, the leather strop is softened with lather and then rubbed with a pumice stone. After drying the strop is again rubbed with a dry pumice stone until smooth. After cleaning and drying a fresh application of strop dressing is applied to maintain the supple nature of the leather.
The above information has been taken from the Standard Textbook of Professional Barber-Styling. Copyright 1938, 54, 59, 77, 83, Milady Publishing Company, Tarrytown, NY. To protect the publisher’s copyright the information above is a paraphrased version of the actual text.