Honing Or Using Whetstones To Sharpen Straight Razors
Let’s make one thing clear. Honing a straight razor is not like sharpening a knife. The stones used for razors are much, much finer in grade – from 1,000 to 12,000 ‘grit’ (the bigger the number, the smaller the particles and the smoother the stone).
Straight razors are forged, ground, sharpened and honed at the factory when made. Of these processes, only honing is practical for the owner. Botch a honing job and the razor will need specialist resharpening – and that could be costly!
A straight razor, unlike a kitchen knife or hunting knife, doesn’t need to have a strong blade – just a phenomenally sharp one. The cutting angle is typically 15 – 20 degrees (as opposed to a more ‘normal’ 30 degrees) and is easily damaged. Fortunately, a razor has one task to perform – to cut hair as close to the skin as possible. It therefore doesn’t get blunt as quickly as an ordinary knife used for heavier work and can usually be returned to working keenness on the strop. Eventually, though it will have to be honed. The frequency depends on factors such as how tough your beard growth is and how often you shave, but honing is needed only when the blade cannot be restored to shave-readiness on the strop.
Many of our customers are happy to perform maintenance or re-touching work on their razors, for which I would recommend a Naniwa 10k or 12k. Performing full restoration of an edge is more of an undertaking and can be costly to purchase a ‘full set’ of stones. It is therefore worth considering sending your razor away for honing in such cases – websites such as Badger & Blade and Straight Razor Palace are good sources for the USA and of course our very own Razor Sharpening Service for customers in the UK and Europe.
To use the stones, lay it flat on a surface on which it won’t slide around on. Old newspaper is good, but a purpose-built rubber-footed holder is better. Also some form of tray or tank to stand the stone in is a good idea – less messy than paper. Have some water to hand to add to the stone’s surface during honing. I use a spray. Hold the razor, fully opened, in the right hand (mirror these instructions if you’re left-handed) with the blade at right-angles to the length of the stone. Put the blade on the stone’s nearest end with the edge facing away from you. The idea is, as in stropping, to have the back and edge of the blade touching the surface at the same time, giving the ideal angle for honing or stropping.
Now slide the blade up the stone, ensuring that the edge is leading and the back and edge keep in contact – it’s easy to lift the back a little and so spoil the angle. At the end of the stroke, roll the blade over so the edge now faces towards you – no need to lift it off the stone, just roll it around the axis of the back of the blade. Now draw the blade back down the stone, keeping the contact constant as described earlier. When you get near the end of the stone, roll the blade over again and commence the next up-stroke. You’ll notice a slurry starting to build up – don’t worry, that’s normal – indeed with Belgian Blue and Coticule stones it is the slurry that does the work. Make about ten strokes each way and then rinse the blade, strop it and test it – if touched very gently with the ball of the thumb it should feel almost ‘sticky’ if it’s sharp enough – this is in fact the edge biting into the skin, so take care! If not, repeat the process. Better still, try a shave – you’ll soon know if it’s been honed enough!
The spine can be protected from hone wear by using tape (such as electrical tape) though this needs to be replaced during the process as it wears. This can add to the time required considerably for more extensive honing.
Keep the stone clean during use. A nagura stone is ideal for this when using a Naniwa hone.
We should stress that honing is quite an art and that beginners should take their time. Concentrate on two things – firstly keeping the blade back and edge in constant contact with the stone and secondly maintaining a light, even pressure during the stroke. Honing is not learnt in five minutes but, once mastered, will enable you to keep your straight razor in tip-top condition indefinitely.
We can’t explain all aspects of honing here, but hopefully this is a useful introduction. For advice on choosing a hone, please click here.
“Just a quick note to say many thanks for the terrific job you did with that wedge. It went through my stubble like a knife through butter. Superb shave!”
“Thank you so much for your help; the last couple of shaves I have had this week have been nearing perfect. This has been so gratifying, as I feel I can now use the razor to its fullest, and it may become the treasured possession I hope it to be.” “Your service has been absolutely perfect; I couldn’t ask any more of you, thank you once again.”
“I just wanted to say that the Puma shaves perfectly, great job on getting a new edge on it! I am extremely happy with the results and that this 60 year old razor is now back in action, after who knows how long. Top job!”
“Thank you Adam. Sincerely appreciate your excellent customer service.”
“I just want to say that I’ve received the razor and used it and, without exaggerating, it’s now unbelievable. Can’t thank you enough, and to think I’d be scraping away and wondering why it wasn’t efficient straight from the retailers.”
“Hi Adam the T.I.Spartacus has arrived and I have to say that it is immaculate, that includes the scales as well. It sure is a eye catcher and I couldn’t be more pleased with it. Thanks very much.” [6/8 festonne spine, desert ironwood scales]"
“Absolutely excellent service from start to finish. Always answered queries clearly and concisely and gave sound advice. I was steered away from potentially spending more than I had to, given my relative beginner status. Will definitely shop here again! Cheers, Adam”
“Received my blades back today. Just completed a shave. Was the best shave I’ve had since I started using a straight razor, approx 4 years ago. A great service, thank you!”
“Without my knowledge my wife purchased a Thiers Issard desert ironwood scales for me, and I must say what a fantastic blade it is. I have had the opportunity to use it a few times it beats my old straight razor hands down which I recently had honed by you which was a very good shave on return but I must say on receiving my new straight razor I am blown away by the result. God bless my wife and thank you for the supply of such a fine piece of engineering. I would not deal with anyone other than the Invisible Edge.”
“I just returned to the office after a week-long holiday and opened my package. I can’t even begin to describe how much the razor has exceeded my expectations! Thanks for all your help!”
“Hi Adam …. I got the razors back in Saturday. They shave great! Thanks for the prompt and friendly service.”
“Just to let you know that the razor arrived safely this morning. But I also want to thank you so much for the excellent service you have given me. The razors come back wonderfully restored – a pleasure to use. Your admin is so efficient and clear about where things are up to. However, your efficiency and courtesy in providing your service has made it a real pleasure. Makes me wish I had another razor to send!”
“Hey Adam. Got the Dovo. Simply a beaut. Many many thanks for sending it out to me today” [Dovo Stainless Steel Buffalo Horn IE010041]
“I got the razor back safe and sound last week and used it for the first time at the weekend – Perfect! Thanks for your help”
“Many thanks for honing and re-pinning my Puma razor. I’m delighted with how smooth and sharp it is, it’s probably the best shave I’ve ever had. I have sensitive skin and not a single nick or bit of irritation.”
“I ordered a dovo razor, razor oil and a strop. Fast and well packaged delivery. Really well sharpened and oiled razor. Rated 10 and praise. I will buy other items from them. Recommended. You are very good, keep it up guys.”
“Just shaved with the newly-honed razor. Amazingly smooth- absolutely delightful experience. Thanks very much.”
“Just wanted to say thank you for the advice you have been able to provide on straight razors, honing and stropping. I recevied your honing stones this morning and following your advice I’ve been able to restore the edge of my Boker King Cutter and once again enjoy a pleasant shave with no pulling/tugging. I did purchase a Dovo Astrale from you 5-6 months ago, this is still wonderfully sharp, no need to re-hone this baby yet. I so use the two straights alternately so it is a true credit to your professionalism and workmanship. Just wanted to let you know my appreciation for your advice and work, and once again thank you for inspiring the confidence in myself to give it a go.”
“Just got around to trying this razor after getting it from you last week – holy cow, the edge on this thing is nuts. I thought I was getting good at putting my own edges on razors but this was was in another league compared to anything I’ve had from anyone else or my own honing.”
“It’s Arran here again wanting to firstly say a huge thank you for my recent purchase it’s been a revelation and am glad to say my technique is improving each shave and very much enjoying the straight razor experience! Even so much so that I’m already wanting to add to my razor collection”
“Just to let you know the razor arrived safe and sound and looks absolutely fantastic. Many thanks – and hopefully will be shopping with you in January!”
“Just got it. Absolutely sensational!”
“… the Spartacus razor was here awaiting our return and it is absolutely STUNNING!!! The rams horn is really something else and the blade itself is a complete work of art. He is over the moon. And the brown leather holder is perfect for it”
“Received package thanks. Never used a straight razor before. Just had a go and perfect. No cuts and I used both hands as the experienced boys do. Maybe beginers luck mind, however I did take my time as i was really nervous. I think im converted now.”
“I have just shaved with my beautiful Dovo Natural Razor and what a lovely experience, ready to go, super sharp and the shave I have been looking for for so long. Delivery was exactly as stated. Your advice was spot on. So nice to deal with a great company like yours.”
“I really appreciate the care you’ve shown in this. It’s probably fair to say that this is the best customer service I’ve ever received when buying something online before. I really appreciate it.”
“Hi I would just like to say I’m extremely happy with my new razors especially the boker what a beautiful piece. The quality is outstanding and the service I’ve had from you has been exceptional I’ve only had a handful of open shaves so far but thoroughly enjoying every part of the new shaving even the little nicks I’m getting but a little more practice and I’ll get there. All your products that I’ve tried so far have also been very good so I will use no other company for shaving products other than the invisible edge.”
“I would like to say a big thank you for the help and advice with my first straight razor purchase. You saved me money in addition to providing the highest standard of service. I will now recommend anyone new or skilled to you, and will continue my trading with only you. My razor arrived in no time and sharper than I thought possible.”
“Would just like to say thank you for this new razor [IE030205] it’s absolutely beautiful and after a short test it’s pinging hair away like its nothing. I’m actually pleased the previous razor was out of stock, and have just ordered a pouch to go with. Thank you again.”
“Just to let you know that the razor arrived today and I couldn’t be happier with my purchase. First shave done and I’m very happy with the size/weight/finish of the razor. Many thanks for your advice/information the other day and I look forward to doing business with you in the future.”
“Received my newly sharpened razor today. Looks great cannot believe how sharp and clean and shiny it looks. All trace of rust has gone. Thanks for an excellent job.”
“I just want to thank you for your support in every step of my purchase. I liked my strop and whetstone but the straight razor, I can’t describe it with any word. I am using a different brand and this is my first Thiers and it is like the Nirvana of the straight razors. From now on I have a 7/8 war axe :)”
“FYI, I received the TI and used it for the first time this evening. The razor shaves like a dream and I am really impressed with the quality of the workmanship – great razor!”
“I have just received the parcel, this razor is like a piece of art… Thank you so much !”
“Hi Adam received the Ralf Aust and just wanted say what a razor and what a shave” [Ralf Aust 6/8 Horn, French Point IE280002]
“I have made several purchases from Invisible Edge now. They are always friendly, able to offer expert advice on all aspects of cut throat razor shaving and their products are fantastic.”
“I am writing this to express my 100% satisfaction with your products,and information from your website. So happy to be one of your customers. Thank you.”
“Brush arrived OK. Very pleased with the quality for the price. Super soft yet firm enough. Beats the competition by some margin. Many thanks.”
“Just thought I’d let you know my Ralf Aust razor arrived. It’s a beautiful piece of craftsmanship and a pleasure to use. Thank you for the swift posting and I will definately use your company again.”
“Many thanks for the service over the past few months. I have ordered numerous items from the website and I am delighted with them; the craftsmanship is exquisite. Thank you for providing an excellent source of goods that are usually so difficult to come by. I used to find shaving tedious but now it is an absolute joy and a relaxing experience”
“Received [Aust 5/8] last Friday and used this weekend and last. It’s an absolute joy to use — far exceeds other straight razors I’ve used. Extremely pleased all round — many thanks for your help and advice.”
“Package received and I’m very happy and delighted with my Iwasaki razor and strop. I will be buying from you again. Cannot believe how sharp this razor is…..plus protective packaging was very good”
“Hi, received my razor and strop today, just opened it and it’s an amazing looking blade. Think I made a good choice, thanks so much.”
“All was received and very pleased with the products and service – I definitely look forward to using your services again in the future.”
“A great big thank you to you and your team the stone is beautiful wonderful colour, the stone was packed to perfection. Very happy with both my stones from you and your team.”
“I ordered the Dovo Bismark (and other bits) from you on Friday afternoon. Just a quick message to say a big thanks for your advice (and patience). Everything turned up this morning and just tried my new Bismark this evening. Just amazing. It felt so much easier to use than the shavette I’ve been using and has to be the closest shave I’ve ever had. It must be beginers luck as I have got away without nicking myself too. I’m definitely a convert now.”
“Hi Adam,That was quick, they arrived yesterday morning! You’ve done a brilliant job, thank you. They look great and I can’t wait to try them out”
“I would like to thank you for all your help and advice about picking a straight razor. I have taken my first shave and I am extremely pleased with the results. Super sharp. Fantastic service.”
“Thanks for your good services. I will come back to you soon for my next razor and shaving accessories”
“Goods received. All good. Very fast! Very impressed with the strop bed. I’ll be back.”
We have always used the term "straight razor" but in truth most people know this type of razor as a "cut-throat razor" or, less frequently, as an "open razor". It really doesn't matter, all these terms relate to the same implement.
We have a variety of razor starter kits which include everything necessary to start your venture into straight razor shaving. They also make an ideal shaving gift. This section also includes some entry level razors which are good choices for a beginner. Alternatively you can put together your own choices and perhaps upgrade the razor or strop. Please just ask if you need help.
We ship Worldwide, and shipping is free to all countries for orders over £125, but there is a charge for orders of a lower value. Full details may be found in our Delivery and Returns Policy. Prices are determined in GBP. For your convenience you are able to see indicative prices in U.S. Dollars and Euros but payment will be taken in GBP and there will inevitably be some variation to the U.S. Dollar and Euro prices shown. We accept payment by all major credit and debit cards as well as through Paypal.
If you are just starting out with a straight razor then we have a wealth of information on the website for beginners. Please visit our Information section which includes advice about choosing a cut-throat razor, how to strop a razor and much more. We are also always happy to offer advice and assistance where we can. Please just ask.
Our aim is to help our customers keep their razors in use. Now and again every razor will benefit from being honed. As not all our customers wish to learn how to hone we offer a straight razor honing and stropping service where we will sharpen your cut-throat razor on our premises and return it to you. This service is available for all razors we sell, vintage razors and some other brands of new razor but there are brands of new razor that we will not accept. Please see our Sharpening Service section for more details. We also offer a service to fit scales (razor handles) purchased from us.
This term relates to the fact that once unfolded from the scales (i.e. the handle) the razor's edge is open or unprotected, as opposed to a safety razor where the edge is shielded to some extent.