Straight Razor Maintenance
Are you thinking about purchasing a straight razor but have no idea how to maintain them? I was in the same shoes a couple years ago, when I began my journey into the world of straight razors. Prior to that, I was happily chucking out a disposable razor once or twice a week without a second thought. But then I had to do some budgeting.
I was trying out some small saving strategies, you know the ones where you skip a cup of coffee and put aside the expense. While looking through my weekly grocery receipts, I found my recurring razor cost to be about $5 a week. I figured I could save $250 a year if I stopped using disposable razors – and avoid the environmental impact of regularly throwing plastic into the landfill!
I began researching alternatives to the disposable razor and discovered the straight razor - sharp, sleek, beautiful handles, a collector’s item. But then I had to learn the art of straight razor maintenance. Here is everything you need to know about keeping your straight razor sharp for life.
Sharpening your straight razor
Sharpening is a key aspect of straight razor maintenance. Some straight razors come shave-ready but that limits your purchase options. A true straight razor enthusiast will begin his journey slowly, sharpening the straight razor himself.
Initially, a straight razor needs to be “honed”- sharpened on a special stone called a hone. Hones come in different types but I would recommend a 4000/8000 one. This Norton Japanese Hone is probably the best one available in the market right now.
I think this video is one of the best guides on how to use a hone. The key to good honing is patiently practicing how to apply the correct pressure while sharpening the blade. It is best to get your straight razor honed professionally before the first use, so that you have a reference point for when you hone it yourself later on.
Honing needs to be done only once every 3-6 months. “Stropping” on the other hand needs to be done before every shave. Cheap strops don’t last anywhere as near as a good quality leather strop (I recommend this one) so make this a one off expense.
Here is a great video guide by the Superior Shave on how to strop your straight razor perfectly. I prefer 15-20 strokes and I always wipe the blade dry before stropping. I wipe dry in the same direction as the strop and this helps to keep the blade really sharp and spruced up. It is also recommended that you let your blade rest 24-48 hours between strops, to get optimum results.
You know your razor is sharpened when you can slice a paper with it. Straight razor manufacturers like Dovo recommend that you gradually build up your razor’s sharpness as you develop your shaving and stropping skills.
Oiling your straight razor
Oiling is the second most important aspect of straight razor maintenance. Oiling needs to be done after shaving – once you have rinsed the blade and wiped it dry. You can use any thin oil like tool oil or mineral oil. But avoid using thick oils like motor oil or cooking oils like olive oil as they leave a gummy build up on the blade.
You can drip one or two drops of good quality oil on the blade and gently spread it using your fingers, a cloth or an oil applicator. Make sure you have covered the whole blade, but only with a thin oil layer. Excessive oil can clog the razor pins and damage any handles made of natural materials. Here is a quick video on how to properly oil your straight razor blade.
Using your straight razor
Regular, proper usage of your straight razor is an important aspect of good straight razor maintenance. Are you using your razor for anything other than shaving? Are you carelessly knocking it on taps or sinks? These are common ways of damaging razor blades, which may then require professional honing before they can be used.
I would also suggest never dunking your razor completely in water while shaving. Water can get into the pins or between the scales and could lead to rusting or swelling of scales. That is why it is also a good idea to completely dry out the razor with a moisture absorbing towel after each shave.
Proper storage is also crucial to straight razor maintenance. If you simply leave the razor lying out on the vanity, humidity from your shower will quickly reduce its life. Make sure you keep it in a well-ventilated, dark place at room temperature – for example in your clothes drawer.
Cleaning your straight razor
For regular cleaning, you can simply wipe down your straight razor with some distilled water. To cut grease, 1-2 drops of ammonia can be added to the water. But make sure you dry the razor quickly after cleaning it. Wooden handles can be cleaned using a soft, vinyl eraser and should never be washed in water.
If you have a broken razor, it is best not to fix it yourself -- certain adhesives may cause damage to the material as well as reduce the value of your blade if it is a collectible.
Straight razor maintenance may sound complicated at first, but is an easy process that can quickly become a part of your daily shaving routine. To summarize:
- Make sure you have purchased a strop, a hone, good quality mineral oil and applicator with your straight razor.
- Stock up on distilled water and a small quantity ammonia for regular cleaning.
- Get your blade professionally honed before using it for the first time.
- Strop your blade regularly before each shave. Build up your stropping skills gradually with your shaving skills, else you might end up giving yourself a nasty cut.
- Learn how to hone your blade and hone it regularly every 3-6 months.
- Use your straight razor carefully to avoid unnecessary wear and tear.
- Avoid contact with excessive water. Never wash the razor – especially if the handles are made with wood.
- Wipe down the blades with distilled water, dry completely and oil your blade carefully after every shave.
- Store your razor in a well-ventilated, cool and dry place.
That’s it! Following the steps above will make straight razor maintenance a breeze for any straight razor novice. Are you ready to purchase your straight razor now? Let us know in the comments below!