For those contemplating diving into the straight razor life, maintaining the blade might be the most intimidating factor. (Well, besides running a razor-thin metal edge near your jugular. . . ) However, many people find that the hands-on nature of caring for their blade is a rewarding part of this type of shaving. But, you might be wondering, how often do I have to sharpen my straight razor blade?
First, let’s distinguish between stropping and honing.
Stropping is the act of running the straight razor blade along a piece of leather (or sometimes canvas) in order to warm up the metal and align the edge of the blade. It also has the added advantage of polishing the blade to a mirror-like shine. This process does not sharpen the blade (per se) or remove any metal, but it does clean up the edge for a better shave. Stropping should be done before every shave. Because your minute edge is easily damaged (even by something as small as a facial hair), the blade must be realigned to give you the best shave.
Honing is the process of using an abrasive material or machine to improve the actual geometry of the blade. It removes metal to create the desired diameter of the blade. Because it removes metal, honing is done less frequently than stropping. It can also be more intimidating to tackle on your own, so many wet shavers will employ the services of a professional. It you do intended to tackle honing on your own, you will need to invest in a set of whet stones of varying roughness or lapping filming in a variety of grits.
Second, look at the factors that can dull your blade.
As with so many wet shaving questions, YMMV (your mileage may vary). There are many factors at play that can dull your straight razor blade. Some can be avoided and prolong the time between hones, but others are unavoidable.
- One challenge during the early days of perfecting your technique is that you can “roll” your blade while you are stropping. This can dull the edge of your blade and require it to be re-honed. While stropping, run only the flat of the straight razor blade along the strop and don’t flip the blade with the sharp edge on the leather.
- Don’t drop or knock your blade or you will need to get it sharpened again. The edge of a straight razor blade is extremely thin and easily damaged. Take care with your instrument, especially as you will frequently be using it in wet conditions.
- The coarseness of your facial hair and the frequency with which you shave are factors that can dull your straight razor blade, but can’t be avoided.
- Some blades hold an edge better because of their geometry or raw material.
- Personal preference also plays a role. Some men find that they don’t like their blades honed “too sharp”. Extremely sharp edges can lead to irritation and cuts while a slightly milder blade will be smoother. This can mean some wet shavers go much longer between hones.
So, how long can I expect to go between hones?
There is quite a variety of responses to this question; anywhere from once or twice a year to every three to six months. Our resident wet shaving guru, Abraham, suggests that a number like every 60-70 shaves is a better guideline. This more accurately accounts for people who shave less frequently.
If you do find yourself sharpening your straight razor blade more frequently than every 2 months, then you are probably stropping incorrectly. Remember, honing your blade removes metal so you want to do it as infrequently as possible while still maintaining a good cutting edge.
How often do you hone? Let us know in the comments below and share your wisdom!