Trade Tools & Honing Philosophy


Is Thickness of the Steel Just Behind the Edge as Important, if Not More Important, than the Edge Itself?


NOTE:  “Ø” = diameter

I prefer to hone a razor in a way that emulates something that’s been lost to time, namely which is to have an extra fine, small diameter, foot-powered (for low RPM) and water-cooled honing wheel.   This crazy fellow’s bringing back the concept all by his lonesome!   Sadly, the tool of choice from the prime era for the straight razor is long, long gone; namely, the ~7-12″Ø all natural hard Arkansas stone, made by Pike/Norton and available in 1″ or 2″ thicknesses, with a hole for a spindle.

Back then, a professional honer experienced with straight razors could take your walk-in used razor and create a concave bevel on the razor, no matter its incumbent geometry, simply by using their hard Arkansas wheel.  They’d first hold its spine close to the wheel, and the whole span of its bevel within the grinding zone of the wheel, and this would create the “rear” side of the bevel, the part where the bevel can be its most concave without causing the edge to fail during repeated shaving.  Next they’d move a bit more toward the tip of the razor and raise the spine off the wheel more, which would cause the wheel to grind on the bevel zone closer to the edge, and with less concavity, than when they first started with the razor nearly flush to the wheel at its spine.  Finally they’d finish with the razor pointing directly toward that wheel like a tangent line, just the tip of the razor edge touching in to the zone of the wheel for this incredible last step, and then they’d go strop it, sometimes with a sharpening paste, sometimes just plain leather.  None of us alive reading now have likely ever had an edge that could be like this!

As those fine slow water cooled wheels of small diameters are gone, the best we can do today to emulate wheels is to carve wheel shapes in to bench stones and use those in various steps.   Most people won’t have the skill to hone a razor on a wheel all freehand (= the spine off in space the whole time), either, so I wanted something that could be used with the razor’s spine flush to the stone.  That meant a much larger Ø (diameter) than the past, so I devised a hone-shaping tool and used that to shape the stones you see in this photo…actually, I have a few other such shaper things in different shapes, one for the funny stone at top left and a cylinder shaped lapping plate for the large coticule fourth from the right in the image, but for the vast majority of work, one well chosen shaping tool will suffice.

I use the ~pink soaking type waterstone, shaped to a ~6.5’Ø primary axis, to establish some new steel on a razor’s bevel.  Six and a half feet is a good choice for a 5/8″ or 6/8″ razor such that it will hit toward the back of the typical incumbent bevel, not “ahead” of the edge and not in the hollow grind zone.  If the razor was smaller than 5/8″, or larger than 6/8″, you would need a smaller or larger Ø for your first step.  But most razors work for this.  I don’t stay on this step until the edge is wholly overtaken, I only stay on this step until about half of the bevel zone you can see looks to have been affected; this will create plenty of concavity for the “rear”, or part next to the spine, of the bevel when you’re done – think of a fishing rod getting skinnier and skinnier as you move from your hand to the end.

After the waterstone, I’ll typically use the big ~2.5×10″ yellow coticule next, and stay on that stone until it starts overtaking the edge.  On a 7/8″ razor, this stone would do almost all of the work; if you stay too long on the first stone you’ll leave a lot of stray striations in the hollow grind zone, and customers don’t like that.  It would be nice to have an infinite amount of Øs and grits at one’s disposal, but this is not 1890.

For my last step, I’ll typically use the black Hard Arkansas stone at the far right, unless the customer’s specifically asked for a coticule edge (which is a bit more gentle on the skin if also less sharp).  This stone took me over four months to shape on that lapping plate thing!  It has a shape of 25’Ø down the 10″ length, and a narrow 6.5’Ø across the 3″ width, making it a stone that touches just ever so slightly behind the apex of your razor, in a way that gently bends the very last bit of the cutting edge where the razor’s metal is thinner than 0.1mm.

This work results in an edge that is supremely thin, and some of the time has a brilliant apex character, and some of the time has a less than brilliant apex character.  You can always finish off the razor’s edge with a flat hard fine finishing stone of your choice, or a pasted strop if you prefer, but as my own very best shaves have come from trying to use a curved surface and succeeding (and have two curved planes of the bevel intersect), that is how I send most razors.

For beginner razor models, such as half-hollow ground or the common Dovo “Best Quality”, I will finish with a flat hard fine stone (not pictured), just because keeping up a fully concave bevel is a lot to ask for a newbie; do NOT make the mistake to believe they aren’t fit to the task of repeatedly shaving a harsh beard, because they’re certainly capable of that and at the highest levels of closeness and comfort, but a bevel with a flat tip at the last ~10% of its span will certainly be less likely to be harmed in a newbie’s hands…for that matter, a wholly flat/flush bevel form would be least likely to be harmed in a newbie’s hands, but that is not in the spirit or desires of the master grinders who produce these rare objects.   You can take that logic as far as you wish; a slightly convex bevel would be the most durable of all, but you might not wish to shave with it versus a concave bevel if you’re awake during the process.

Thanks for reading this far, and thanks for considering to buy from The Superior Shave!  Remember, you vote with your dollars to keep razor production a thing when you buy a new razor.

Additional information

Weight 4 oz
Dimensions 6 × 3 × 2 in