How to sharpen a Cut Throat Razor – The Full Guide
Today we are going over how to sharpen a cut throat razor or straight razor. Sharpening is also known as honing. This is different from stropping which is a common method to take care of your blade.
If you are completely new to straight razors/cut throat razors you may want to consider going for a cheaper option to test it out before jumping into a more expensive razor you need to take good care of.
You’ve probably seen even cheaper “straight razors”. Most likely what you’ve seen is not a straight razor and is, in fact, a shavette or even a knock-off straight razor. Straight razors and shavettes look very similar but a shavette uses replaceable blades. And although they look similar they are going to feel quite different. Usually, the quality isn’t up to par compared to a straight that’s been taken care of well. But, hey with a price that low you could try it out if you’d like. If you want to try out a shavette, I’d recommend this one.
Otherwise, I would highly recommend going with a higher quality razor. Dovo is probably the most popular brand for quality razors. We’ll use this guide to learn how to sharpen a cut throat razor.
How often should I be honing?
It really depends on how well you are taking care of your blade. If you’ve been stropping correctly and taking really good care of your razor it could be up to a year or beyond. Some need it honed after a month or so of use. It just depends on the quality of the blade, how well you take care of it, and the condition it was in when you received it.
Basically, you’ll need to hone your blade when stropping alone isn’t good enough to keep your razor sharp and cutting smoothly.
What do I need to hone my blade?
There are two different types of honing you can do. Using a whetstone is the proper way to hone your blade so we’ll be focusing more on how to sharpen a cut throat razor with a whetstone. However, you can also extend the sharpness of your straight razor by honing it with a strop.
Stropping is something you’ll have to do before you shave every time. But stropping with paste is something you can do every once in a while. This will maintain a sharp edge for a little longer so you can get more out of your blade before you have to hone it with a whetstone again.
To start, we’ll talk a little bit about how to sharpen a cut throat razor with a strop.
Before you sharpen it
You’ll likely want to clean up your blade before you start to sharpen it. Here’s a sanitizing guide for your straight razor.
If you’re buying a razor in poor condition, the stones in this guide most likely won’t do the job. They may be too high grit. You’ll want to go for something much lower for some serious sharpening.
How to sharpen a cut throat razor by strop honing – Optional
To protect your fingers from the paste we’re using. Just a small extra precaution. Chromium oxide can cause skin irritation.
Some recommend using a paddle strop rather than a hanging strop for strop honing. This is because a hanging strop will bend a little and it may be hard to judge how tight you need to pull it. It’s up to you what you’d like to go for. You’ll probably want to go for a cheaper option for your first strop. It’s very likely you’ll get a few nicks in it due to being inexperienced. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you can upgrade to a nicer strop you’ll use for a long time.
This is the most popular material used for honing on a strop. Chromium oxide. It’s meant to further polish the edge of your razor.
This is what you’ll use to prepare your leather strop to be used. It’s also used to make your chromium oxide powder into a paste.
Obviously something you’ll need.
Honing with a strop
This is basically extending the period that you don’t need to properly hone your straight razor. I would consider it a refresher for your blade. Or even getting that blade to the sharpest edge possible.
If you are going to use paste for your strop, which is what you’ll need to do if you want to make it last longer without honing with a whetstone, you’ll want to have a strop for everyday use and one for the paste. That’s right. Two strops. Why do we want two strops? You don’t need to use the paste that often to sharpen your blade. When you start feeling a little pull after regular stropping you may want to use the paste. Stropping every day without paste is required to keep your razor in tip-top shape.
To apply the paste to your strop, you’ll want to use only a very small amount of paste. You just want to apply a small amount every few inches. Then spread the paste around the strop. By the end, it should look like there isn’t much paste on the strop. And you’re ready to go.
I won’t go through the actual process of stropping right now but, it’s not too difficult. It can take a while to get the hang of it though. If you’re just starting out, you may want to go for a cheaper strop to start. Since you may make mistakes and hurt the strop a bit. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, that’s when you can buy a nice strop that will last you a lifetime.
How to sharpen a cut throat razor with a Whetstone – Necessary
This is what we really need to do to hone our cut-throat razors. While stropping can re-align our razors blade, polish it, and do touch ups, Whetstone honing is where we will actually sharpen the blade. Here’s what you’ll need:
Whetstone, sharpening stone, honing stone, it’s all the same. For most of them, you want to use some type of fluid. There are oil stones and water stones. We’ll focus on the water stone today. The stone I suggest is a combination 4000 and 8000 grit stone. The lower the grit the more metal it will take off. So if your blade has no edge at all you want to use a lower grit stone and if it’s getting pretty sharp you need to use a higher grit stone. As long as we take care of our blade we should be fine with the 4k/8k for now. If your blade doesn’t come already sharpened you’ll probably need a lower grit stone to set the bevel which is extremely important.
In the future, if you want, you can get an even higher grit stone to get our blades extra sharp or a lower grit stone to bring back an extra dull edge. After your blade is extra sharp, then you could polish it off with our chromium oxide paste and a strop.
One thing to note is that the sharper the blade, the more careful we have to be because the metal is getting thinner thus sharper. It becomes easier to break.
Lots of water is necessary. Gotta make sure the top of our stone stays wet. Some think wet with a whetstone, it makes sense but, it actually doesn’t have anything to do with water. To whet is to sharpen. Some stones use different fluids than water too. But, for our purposes, water is important.
To mark our stone.
People are sometimes divided on using tape for razors. If you don’t tape the spine of the razor, it too will wear away in addition to the edge of the blade. The reason people sometimes suggest against this is that the angle we are sharpening the blade at will change since the spine is staying the same size. Many agree that the angle difference is negligible though. So we’re going to tape the spine while we hone.
We need good towels because we’ll be getting wet. And to use them for wiping our blades of any contaminants.
Recommended Products to sharpen a cut throat razor
The DMT plate is extremely useful and what you’ll need to lap your whetstone. You can use sandpaper as a cheaper alternative but, it may take you much longer to get the results you’re looking for. The DMT plate stands for Diamond Machining Technology which is the company that makes them. They are their own type of sharpening stones that happen to be pretty aggressive.
Can I use the Diamond stone to sharpen my razor?
You can, but, I don’t recommend it for straight razors. These types of stones take off a lot of material. Some use it to set the bevel on their razors but most use a lower grit (1k), Whetstone. The one I specifically recommended (D8C) is a coarse stone and it can cause chips in your blade. I recommend the Waterstone I suggested but if you’re dead set on using a DMT stone you can try the extra extra fine stone (D8EE).
I’d recommend against it for straight razors, especially if you’re new to them.
Lapping your Whetstone
So before we get to honing you’ll need to lap your whetstone. Lapping our whetstone will prepare it to hone our razor blade.
Set your stone on top of a flat surface inside of a pan. The pan is to collect the water we will be reapplying to our stone. We need the surface to be flat so our stone is evenly sanded.
Soak the stone – Norton 4k/8k
It’s a good idea to soak our stone ahead of time in some water. Water is going to be very important for lapping and honing. We need to make sure our stone is wet and ready to go. So soak it for about 10 – 15 minutes beforehand. This is just to make sure we don’t have to keep adding water over and over because the stone can absorb a lot of water.
Some stones don’t need to soak. You can just spray some water on and as long as it’s pooling at the top, it’ll be good to go. In fact, you can do that with the stone I suggested too. Just be prepared to keep spraying with water until it starts pooling at the top.
When you aren’t using the stone, to prevent damage, make sure you keep it dry.
After we’ve soaked our stone in some water we want to mark our stone with a pencil. Some X’s or crosshatching or grid marks over it will be fine. You don’t need to go crazy with the pencil, just a few marks every so often down the stone. We just want to be able to see if we’ve taken the very top layer off of our stone. We can tell when we have by seeing no more pencil marks.
Wet down the stone
After we marked our stone with a pencil we need a lot of water on it. Water is a common theme when we are lapping and honing. Water on it before, water on it during, and water on it after. That’s one of the reasons we soaked our stone. We don’t want it to absorb all of the water we put on it.
Ready to lap
Now we’re ready to lap the stone. Take your DMT plate and rub it back and forth on the stone. We want to make sure there is equal pressure throughout the whole stone while we lap it. It’s gotta be a flat stone for honing after all. Back and forth is the easiest way to rub the plate to the stone. Just make sure there’s plenty of water on there and you’re golden.
We want to keep going until our pencil marks are gone. After they’re gone we can wash off the stone and the plate with water. Rubbing your hand back and forth underwater should be good enough to wash it. Make sure you are rinsing your hands, stones, and plates off well. If any particles of the stones/plates are left on it can cause scratches on your blade.
Repeat the process for each of your stones or in our case on the front and back of our 4k/8k stone.
How to sharpen a cut throat razor – Start with tape
It’s honing time. First, we want to make sure the spine of our straight razor is taped. Like I mentioned above the tape will protect the spine from being worn down while we’re honing. It’s especially important if you have detail work on the spine of your razor.
Also, if you have many razors, it can become difficult to remember which razors you tape vs which you don’t tape so it’s easier just to tape them all.
We want to make sure we’re changing the tape each time we move our razor to a new grit of stone. We don’t want our honing surfaces contaminated with different grit particles as these can scratch up the metal while we’re honing.
Wet down the stone, before you hone
Hey, it rhymes. Once again we want to make sure we wet down the stone before you start honing. Most agree that wet cuts better. And the water will help to keep our stones unclogged by carrying away the excess material as we hone.
Just make sure that there is water pooling at the top and you’ll be good.
Technique is very important when it comes to handling the straight razor.
Set your stone long ways so when you are moving the blade across the stone you are pushing and pulling rather than moving it side to side. We have to make sure that the whole blade is completely flat against the stone. We need a nice even sharp blade. If you have it at an angle or apply more pressure on one side of the blade, the part of the razor that’s in full contact with the stone is the only part that will be sharpened. That can mess up your razor. Let’s go over how to sharpen a cut throat razor with the proper technique.
If your blade fits the stone
You can just move forward and back. Make sure when you put the blade down, the full blade is resting flat on the stone. So the spine and the edge of the razor are both flat. Here’s a simple diagram:
The spine is facing you and the blade is facing away. You’ll move forward with the blade. Once you reach close to the end of the stone, flip the blade over and come back. VERY IMPORTANT: Keep the spine touching the stone at all times, even while you flip the blade over. If you decide to flip it and you don’t keep the spine on the stone, you can easily damage your blade when you bring it down to the stone.
Keeping the spine on the stone will force us to lay our razor down without the blade hitting the stone at any angle. So when you flip it, the blade should come up and away from the stone and it should at no point be facing down towards the stone.
If your full blade does not fit the stone – How to sharpen a cut throat razor with an X stroke
We’ll have to use a different technique. It’s called an X stroke. This is the same technique but since the whole blade doesn’t fit on the stone we have to start with a portion of it off the stone (2. the toe). as we push and pull the blade we’ll move it diagonally so that by the end (1. the heel) is coming off of the stone.
It’s the same coming back so that you’re making an X. Again make sure the spine is against the stone at all times, even when you flip it.
You should be applying the same pressure throughout and pushing and pulling the blade the same amount of distance for each stroke. I recommend using almost no pressure when you hone, most of the time just the weight of the blade on the stone. This is so both sides of the blade are equally sharpened.
That’s all there is to it. Once you’re happy with what you’ve done on the 4k grit stone you can wipe off the blade, switch the electrical tape, and switch over to the 8k grit stone.
How many laps/stokes do I need to do?
This comes down to experience, technique, and how worn the razor is. All I can say is experiment and practice. The more time you spend honing the better you’ll get. Over honing can be an issue but, under honing is more common for beginners. You’ll probably make some mistakes when you start and that’s okay.
If you want, you can do a thumb pad test to see how sharp your razor is. Knowing what to look for in the feel of it will come with time.
How to do a thumb pad test
What you want to do is very lightly press your thumb, after its wet, along a very very short section of the razor. Obviously be careful. But without hurting yourself you should feel the blade very slightly dig into your thumb. It’ll have what can be described as a sticky feeling.
You want to do this all along the whole edge of the blade one small section at a time. If you go across the whole blade all at once it will cut you. So just small sections to make sure each part of the blade is sharp.
It just takes some experience to really tell what you want to feel for.
Some people recommend you run your thumb ACROSS the blade from the side but, I feel it’s more difficult to tell if it’s sharp this way. If it works for you, awesome.
This should get you through
This little guide on how to sharpen a cut throat razor should get you through maintaining a straight razor. After that get yourself a good set of shaving soap/cream and a brush. You’ll be off to the races.
There may come a time when you want to completely hone a razor that is very dull and in that case, you’ll want to do some things differently. You’ll most likely want to buy a lower grit stone, like a 1k. Setting the bevel is going to be the most important part of honing a razor. And that means making sure that both sides of the straight razor line up perfectly to form a sharp edge.