February 14, 2020 6 min read
The world of razor honing can be as narrow and methodical or vast and wonderful as you want it to be. Some folks dip their toes into the waters and hone their razor a couple of times a year. Other dive right in, start collecting, restoring, and repairing blades. Whatever your goal, we’re here to make it easy for you.
This guide goes over every piece of equipment you might want, and why you’d want it. There’s no need to go whole hog, many folks start off easy with a few stones and a truing stone and decide later how far they want to go. Have a read, get your gear sorted, then head over to our How to Hone Your Straight Razor Blog to learn the techniques.
If you’re just starting out honing your own blade, there’s a few pieces of gear you need. A finishing stone, such as a 12,000 grit (extremely smooth) is key, as is a stone-holder and a truing stone. The holder makes honing much, much easier, and the truing stone is not optional. Repeated use of the stone without one will cause it to wear unevenly, which, in time, will mess up your razor. This kit is great for the razor-honer on a budget, but I would consider adding an 8,000 and possibly a 5,000 to make your life easier.
Anycomplete kit should have an 8,000 grit stone as well as a 3,000, 4,000 or 5,000. This allows you to hone any razor that is still in cutting shape. If you wanna take it a step beyond, grab a rougher stone such as 1,000 for pesky repairs and any dull edges you may encounter. A paddle strop and a block of chromium oxide will make your life much easier, and are worth their weight in gold for the time that they’ll save you de-burring razors on a standard strop.
Now we’re getting serious. You’re clearly the kind of person that takes on projects, and needs every piece of gear for every eventuality. In addition to the full set of stones outlined above, you should also snag a 400 for extreme repairs or bevel-setting. A diamond truing plate is also essential, because it keeps your stones flatter than regular truing stones and works about 20x faster. Pair it with a grit-cleaning nagura to keep your stones silky smooth. Finally, you should consider treating yourself to a fancy-pants sink bridge. This allows your kitchen sink to become your honing station, the most convenient setup to sharpen blades that we know of.
400 Grit - This stone is hardcore. It eats up steel so fast that it makes serious repairs & bevel-setting a dream. Most straight razors will never need to see this stone, but it’s ideal for desperate situations such as removing serious chips, especially from ultra-hard razors like those from Portland Razor Co. or Thiers Issard.
1,000 & 2,000 Grit - These grits are great for starting a dull edge, and more minor repairs. The texture is rough enough to cut steel quickly, but smooth enough to give a shaving edge that can easily be polished on finer stones. While not everybody requires one, they are great for collectors and folks that restore vintage blades. Both grits perform well, but softer rough grit stones should be avoided as they’ll require more frequent flattening.
3,000, 4,000 & 5,000 Grit - This is where most honing starts. If your blade pulls but still cuts, this range is about as rough as you need to go. It grinds steel well, but is far less aggressive than the rougher stones mentioned above. As a result, the stone does the job without grinding off excess steel and shortening the life of your blade.
8,000 Grit - This stone is essentially an intermediate step, as jumping straight from 5,000 to 12,000 produces poor results. Similar to how using progressive grits of sandpaper requires less labour to produce a good polish, 8,000 grit buffs out scratches from rougher stones, and makes finishing your blade on finer stones an absolute breeze. If your blade is in good shape, this is a good stone to start with.
10,000 & 12,000 Grit - This is the stone that will give you true shaving nirvana. An edge properly honed to this grit will sing through the hair, leaving only glory in its wake. The stone is incredibly hard and hones quite slowly, so it is best to start on a rougher stone. Some folks will skip straight to this finishing stone, but those folks usually need to tune their edge up more often.
Some folks prefer 10,000, some prefer 12,000. You say potato, I say potato. The argument goes that 10,000 would be slightly more rugged, therefore ideal for thicker beards, while others say that 12,00 will shave more smoothly. I say go with your gut. I like 12,000.
Stone Holder - If you sharpen things, you need this. You can let your stone slip-slide every which way, or you can keep it steadily in place while you sharpen, making the whole experience happy and safe. The screws on the end allow for the stand to adjust, accommodating most sizes of stone.
A sink bridge is a serious upgrade from the usual stone-holder, allowing for an easy water source and an easy clean-up. It adjusts to most sizes of sink, and the grips adjust to hold any size of stone.
Truing stone - When sharpening, having flat stones is important. When honing straight razor, it's an absolute must. Truing stones are hard and coarse, so they flatten your sharpening stones easily and quickly without scuffing the finish of smoother stones. An essential part of any razor-honing kit.
If you want to take your stone maintenance up a notch, get yourself an Atoma diamond plate. Over time, regular truing stones can wear down or warp slightly. This guy will never have those issues. The stainless steel plate will stay perfectly flat forever, and the replaceable diamond surface wears far more slowly than a regular truing stone. The diamond grit rips through wonky stones, making them flat as a pancake. When it wears down, you can simply peel the diamond plate off and stick on a new one with the built-in adhesive. This flattening plate can leave your stones a little rough, so grab a nagura stone to smooth them out afterwards.
Nagura Stone - Normally, sharpening stones should be flattened every time you hone your razor. If you use a harder stone you can get away with truing them less often, but they still build up steel which can clog the grit of the stone and stop it from working properly. Nagura stones are a smoother stone that work like a pencil eraser, removing built up steel and smoothing the stone's surface. They're also great for smoothing your stone after using a rough atoma diamond plate to flatten your stones, but a nagura should never be used in place of a truing stone.
Razor Strop - A classic flexible strop is a piece of gear you should already have if you own a straight razor. It helps you keep your blade sharp for months at a time, so you can avoid frequent honing. After honing it’s important to de-burr your blade by stropping it, but you may also find it necessary to strop between stones, especially after rougher ones like 1,000 grit.
Paddle Strop - A paddle strop is a great alternative to a flexible strop if you’re on a budget. It’s also a great tool for the avid sharpener. The smooth leather side offers a great working surface that can get a little messed up if there’s still grit or water on your stone, but it’s really about the rougher suede side. Rub the suede with chromium oxide paste every few stroppings, and your edges will be smoother than ever! You can use it to de-burr your blade after honing, or between stones. You’ll find it works more effectively during the honing process than many traditional razor strops.
Chromium Oxide - This is how you take your stropping to the next level. It’s a fine polishing compound sometimes called jewellers rouge. It helps release the tiny burr fragments left by honing and shaving, and leaves razor and knife edges with a silky smooth finish. Additionally, it can give your edge a beautiful mirror polish.
Simply 'colour' the suede or canvas side of your strop with this compound and voila, it's ready to go. We use Koyo compound on every strop in our stores.
So there you have it. With the gear listed here, an experienced sharpener could sharpen just about any blade on the planet. If you’re planning to do it yourself, make sure you have a razor you can experiment with, especially if you’re planning to do repairs. My Dovo Classic eventually became my practice razor after I upgraded, and it helped to practice on a good quality razor that was capable of taking a wicked edge. Don’t cheap out on the steel quality, as you’ll endlessly be frustrated with cheap razors.
Read our Razor Honing Technique blog to learn more, and don’t be afraid to contact us or come visit us in-store if you have questions!