Learning to hone a straight razor can take many years of practice and understanding depending on the desired or required results. The task of honing a straight razor is specific to the individual because there are many methods and styles to honing and different people have different understandings and opinions. It also depends on your ability to teach yourself. Test, experiment and try to understand the results through trial and error. Trying to copy a method from video clips is not always beneficial, however, understanding what the demonstrator is trying to achieve can be beneficial. There are no shortcuts to becoming proficient in the field of straight razor honing. It will always be a learning process.
Setting The Bevel
Usually performed on a 1000 grit synthetic hone.
Firstly, a bevel must be “set”.
Setting the bevel is the most critical stage of honing a straight razor. This requires both plains of the bevel meeting at the apex of the bevel. There are numerous tests to ensure the bevel is “set”.
Arm Hair Test: The most common approach to testing for a bevel “set”. On the inside of the forearm check if the razor will cut arm hair at skin level. Checking the full length of the edge.
Thumbnail test: Gently drag the straight razor edge across your thumbnail. You may feel the edge cutting into the top of the thumbnail and resisting. This signifies a set bevel. If the edge slides across the thumbnail without gripping then this signifies that the bevel is not yet properly set. It may show both effects signifying that only part or parts of the bevel is set.
Tomato Test: A set bevel should slice with ease into a tomato, again checking the length of the edge one part at a time.
Wet Thumb Test: This test takes a delicate touch and is for the more advanced user. With a clean thumb, wet the pad using saliva. Then gently place the thumb pad on top of the edge. The razor would be edge facing upwards. Slowly and gently slide the thumb pad forward and or backwards. If the thumb pad grips then that part of the edge is set. If the thumb pad slides without gripping then this indicated that the bevel is not yet properly set at that point.
Once a bevel is set it is good practice to then inspect the edge under magnification with either a jeweller’s loop or a microscope looking for microchips and to ensure you have reached the very edge of the whole of the bevel with scratch marks from the bevel setting hone. Another method is to reflect overhead light off the edge. If there is a light reflection from the apex in whole or part then you have not honed to the edge of the bevel.
Once the bevel is set the edge is taken through a progression of grits all the way through to a finishing hone. As the hones become finer the pressure of razor on hone gets lighter and the strokes become fewer. Trying to remove the deeper striations and replacing them with more shallow striations as you go.
There are many different synthetic progressions to choose from in grit sizes and manufacture brands. For example, after the bevel is set on a 1000 grit hone, 2/3/4 or 5000 grit could be the next step depending on your method.
Japanese Natural Stones
Japanese natural stones (Awasedo) are renown for delivering edges that can be very sharp and very smooth at the same time. The end results can be second to none.
These beautiful natural stones can also be versatile which is a major benefit.
Used alone or in conjunction with other stones (Nagura) to create slurries. Slurries of different particle size and consistency will have different effects on different steels.
Understanding your Japanese natural stone, its speed and finesse are key to unlocking its potential.
One method would be to take your Japanese Natural Stone, wet the surface and then create a slurry with a Botan Nagura stone. Then using this slurry to hone and remove steel. Moving on through a number of Nagura stones of different particle sizes until finished.
These desirable natural German hones can deliver a very smooth and comfortable edge.
Usually starting with a base stone generated slurry and working towards a pure water finish with very little pressure.
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