Shaving with a straight razor is one of the simple pleasures of life, and it is also a surprisingly effective way to infuse an extra bit of manliness into your daily routine. The sole job of a straight razor is to cut your facial hair as close to your skin as humanly possible without turning your shaving session into a horror movie.
In order for your straight razor to do its job properly, it must be exceptionally sharp, which requires regular stropping in order to accomplish. For those who may not be familiar with what a “strop” is, it is basically a relatively thick strip of leather that looks similar to a large belt, and is used for sharpening straight razors.
You see, regular shaving causes the edge of your blade to slowly begin aligning with the head, which can dull the blade. Factors such as frequency of use and the toughness of your facial hair will play a part in how quickly the edge of your straight razor will become blunt. Stropping will help to polish the edge of the straight razor blade, and bring it back into the proper alignment and correct angle for a nice, clean shave.
The way you can tell that your blade needs sharpening is when you can feel it start to tug or pull slightly while you’re shaving. If you find that your eyes are watering while you’re shaving, that’s a pretty big clue that it’s time to sharpen your straight razor.
Razors are not as strong as other types of blades, such as kitchen knives or hunting knives, because they are designed for a different type of task. This means that they can be more easily damaged, but the good news is that they can typically be whetted back to a proficient working condition using the strop. This step-by-step guide will show you what you need to do in order to keep the blade of your straight razor nice and sharp, which will ensure an excellent shave every time.
Step-By-Step Guide To Properly Sharpen A Straight Razor With A Strop
Make sure that your straight razor is completely clean and completely dry. Many guys will rinse their razor off after shaving, and then carelessly close it up without thoroughly drying it first. This can cause water to sit inside the scales overnight, which can lead to rusting or a dulling of the blade. Before you even think about stropping, make sure that you’re using a thoroughly dry blade. You can do this by carefully (and I mean carefully) patting or wiping the blade dry with some tissue or a thin dry cloth after you shave. Make sure to clean within the scales and around the pins as well. Some people recommend waiting at least 24 to 48 hours from your last shave before you begin stropping, which isn’t a bad idea; that way you’re letting the blade “rest” a while before attempting to sharpen it.
Lay out the strop in a flat position. Some guys do this on a table or other flat surface, while others use a hanging strop that they hold in a horizontal position. If you’re using a hanging strop, be sure to keep it pulled nice and tight, so that you don’t lose any tension on your working surface. If you allow any slack in the strop, this lack of proper tension can eventually create a rounded or blunt edge on your razor.
Hold the tail (or tang) of the straight razor between your thumb and index finger. You don’t have to hold it very tight at all, because you will actually use those fingers to perform a “rolling” action while stropping, much like you would roll a pencil between your fingers.
Lay the blade flat on the strop, with the back facing away from you, and the edge facing towards you. Now pull the blade away from your body, so that the back of the razor is leading the motion. Make sure not to put any pressure on the blade, but let the weight of the blade itself be the only pressure applied to the strop. Allow the blade to “glide” over the strop as you’re pulling it away from your body. Again, you don’t have to press down at all; just let the blade’s own natural weight do all the work.
Once you have run almost the entire length of the strop, roll the blade over with your thumb and forefinger, and now pull it back towards you. Again, the back should be leading the direction of the movement, and now the sharp edge will be facing away from you. One important point to remember is that the back of the razor should stay in contact with the strop at all times; changing directions should simply mean that you’re rotating the blade on its back until it’s facing in the opposite direction.
Once you have pulled the blade back towards your body, repeat this same series of movements (back and forth) between 10 to 50 times. Make sure to do the first 10 or so of your movements on the canvas side of the strop, then do the rest of your rounds on the leather side.
If you have a relatively thin strop that isn’t quite as wide as the blade is long, you can use a slight X-shaped motion to make sure that every part of the blade comes into contact with the strop. Also remember that you never, ever perform this motion with the sharp edge leading. If you do, you could cut your strop, or leave small nicks in the edge of your razor that will decrease its performance.
Once you have finished all 10 to 50 rounds (and we promise we won’t get upset if you do more), you are good to go. Your razor will maintain its nice, sharp edge, and you will be ready to shave with it.
One extra tip to remember: Never shave right before stropping. If you do, you run the risk of having small metal pieces breaking off and getting embedded into the leather of the strop, which will make the surface of the leather more akin to sandpaper than anything smooth.
Alright, you’ve got your marching orders…now go forth and sharpen!