Horning a razor
If you have on hand a good quality straight razor that is not rusted or damaged and you want to learn to hone it by yourself, you will find some technique and theory below. Before you begin you will need to assemble this short list of items.
1)A 1000 grit or 1k synthetic sharpening stone
2)The best quality Japanese natural sharpening stone you can afford
3)A smaller high quality Japanese slurry stone ie. tomonagura
4)A 21cm x 7.5cm Atoma brand #1200 diamond lapping plate
5)A small bucket of water
6)A couple of cotton rags
7)Two small pans to for rinsing your stones. Bread pans will work
8)A quality Barber strop of leather
9)1 quality achromatic loupe of 15x (x=magnification) or 20x
Once you have these products at hand and an hour or so of time to spare, set yourself up with all your gear at a water resistant table, preferably waist high or slightly lower and near a window.
Assuming that your bevel setting stone is flat and hydrated, place it into a stone holder or hold the stone in your hand and begin to, with the razor laying spine & edge flat at the farthest end of the stone to where you are standing, at a 45 degree angle aspect to the length of the stone begin the honing process by pulling the razor towards yourself with a consistent, comfortable and naturally light downward pressure, begin to rub with a single continuous one directional edge leading stroke on the stone from the opposite to the nearest end of the stone, stop and lift the razor off the stone. The movement you have just completed with the razor drawn on the stone represents one full single directional diagonal edge leading stroke, and you have now begun to create a diagonal scratch pattern on one side of the razor. If you continue with more strokes when you stop you will have created a diagonal scratch pattern on the bevel with a set or given number of strokes. If you follow and reproduce the same sequence of 10 or however number of strokes on the opposite side of the razor you will have maintained Balance. Furthermore if you follow this group of 10 strokes per side and alternate to the other side of the razor with an equal number of strokes and repeat back and forth side to side with a group of 5 on each side, then 3 and 2 and finally 1 strokes per side thus equaling 21 total strokes per side with the same amount of pressure you will have created a Method that can be repeated or added to that will always treat both sides of the razor equally if you keep the stroke count equal. Next use your loupe and examine to the best of your ability if the diagonally patterned scratches left by the 1k stone fill the full length of the bevel from heel to toe and bevel base to bevel edge on each side of the razor, front and back. It is important that you examine the bevels carefully and that you are confident that the scratches actually extend to the very edge of the edge of the razor. This is imperative. If you find one area or portion of the razor on either side that the scratches fall short of the edge then before you can move on you must remedy this shortcoming by revisiting the 1k stone. I myself always balance each side of the razor to the other so even for these make-up or repair duties I will follow my method but usually with an abbreviated stroke count, a mini session.When you are satisfied that your bevel has been fully “set” as proven by all of the bevel setting scratches reaching the edge of the edge of your razor on both sides, you can then move onto the next stone which could be a medium grit stone, another synthetic or a natural stone or even to your finest Japanese natural stone. The very nature of your bevel setting stone is that of the workhorse. The workhorse does the majority of the heavy work and this bevel setter during a regular session might well do in the performance of the setting job remove 90% of the total steel abraded during the beginning to final end honing experience. This set work will leave the deepest scratch pattern and it is the job of the following abrasives to remove the bevel set scratches and replace them with a fresh, shallower set of scratches. This next stone will face a challenge because being finer gritted it will cut less steel per stroke then you 1k stone did. It just might be a fast cutting highly gritted per weight stone but you will need to monitor the cutting process just like you did with the previous stone.
With the next stone in your abrasive progression I suggest to you that you follow the same method that you used with the previous stone. The reason and idea here is that by consistently following your method you more easily remove the variables from the equation. If you do not vary from your method, then or if you fail, you can more easily backtrack or start over with a clear picture of how and maybe why you failed in developing the first edge. And if you succeed you will know how you did that too, and you can evaluate as to how you might be able to fine tune your method.
With the second stone or any following stone you might begin with a 8,4,3,2,1 diminishing stroke count progression or a 20,10,5,3,2,1 count or whatever but from me to you for your first razor I suggest that you
use the same stroke count that you did with the bevel set stage, but not including any of the additional make-up or so called repair strokes.
The very nature of your bevel setting stone is that of the workhorse. The workhorse does the majority of the heavy work and this bevel setter during a regular session might well do in the performance of the setting job remove 90% of the total steel abraded from the beginning to the final end of the honing experience. This setting work will leave the deepest scratch pattern and it is the job of the following
abrasives to remove those bevel set scratches especially at the edge of the razor and to replace those with a fresh, shallower set of scratches.
I would not hesitate to recommend that you use a synthetic stone for this next abrasive slot. If you began with a 1k bevel setter then either a 4k or a 5k stone would be a natural progression. Whichever you choose, I would recommend that you with this different stone, create an alternate direction scratch pattern that will contrast with the previous stones diagonal scratch pattern. The great advantage of doing this is so that you can visually follow the scratch removal process. Let us say you are going to use a 4k stone with edge leading straight on strokes where the blade is held perpendicular, right angle to the longer length of the stones profile. As you draw the blade down the stones surface the diagonal 1k scratches will become shallower with each succeeding stroke leaving more and more perpendicular scratches. There will be a point in the process where the 1k scratches will have disappeared altogether. This is the goal. At this stage the medium grit stone’s scratches will have dominated over the now erased 1k scratches, and the face of the bevel with its alternate directional layer of perpendicular to the stone (straight on to the razor’s edge) scratches are easily discernable and mainly is all that is left to see with your loupe.
Now it should be noted again, and I will go into more detail in a later chapter that in truth the only part that comes into contact with a human hair specifically with the purpose to cleave and cut the hair is the edge of the edge of the razor. The face of the bevel does not shave, so, in this whole honing process the detail of the refinement of the edge is paramount. The face of the bevel, that width of the bevel that we see with our naked eye is only an indicator of the progress being made to the edge.
If the razor is now refined to a 4000 grit sharpness and you can verify this with your loupe there is the possibility that it could now shave some persons beard. It might not be all that comfortable and there could be tugging but if you chose to strop it on clean leather would most likely depend on the craft skills used to
strop on leather this edge. Leather does by its very nature have some silica elements ingrained and originating naturally from the living beast. In fact all living objects do contain some small or even some
great portion of silica in their being. Either absorbed externally or ingested silica is common. Because of this a leather strop will have an abrading action on steel and the skill of the user the leather can have
either an improving or destructive affect upon a fragile ultra thin piece of steel. This is to say that the 4k refined blade might be a state of shave ready at this point, it might actually be able to catch and cut the hair on your arm and I encourage you to try and test it this way, what many call the tree topping of arm
hair test. If you are able to catch arm hair and tree top it the full length of the razors edge from heel to toe than you have gained a great advantage over the steel, and if you were to look and I encourage you to do so, to look at the scratch pattern on both sides of the razor and if you can see where the 1000 grit scratches have been completely removed at the edge.