Question about pastes

Discussion in 'General Straight Razor Talk' started by gull, Sep 18, 2010.

  1. I've been reading around and from what I've seen, even if you use pasted strops or balsa wood, you'll eventually have to take your razor to a hone. So my question is, if you have to go the hone eventually, why bother with the pastes? If the razor gets dull, just hone and then strop.
  2. (1) Pastes are cheaper than hones.

    (2) Pastes are easier to use than hones.

    (3) Pastes are available in much finer grit sizes than hones. You can get 0.1 micron diamond from just about anywhere for $10-$20, and 0.05 micron aluminum oxide "linde" powder is available if that isn't good enough for you. The finest you can get in a hone is the 0.5 micron Shapton or a good nakayama and they aren't cheap (see point 1) and are 5x-10x coarser. If $20 is more than you want to pay for the 0.1 micron experience then you can strop on black-and-white newspaper and get a similar effect.

    (4) There are guys that used pastes for many years and never used a hone. There's no requirement that you use a hone. I haven't tried doing a multi-year test of this myself as I have both a nakayama asagi and a 30k shapton, but I did take a razor and do thousands of laps on a pasted strop with no ill affects. I don't believe that there is anything inherent to the paste concept that prevents it from maintaining a razor's edge for a very very long time (decade or so).

    I think there are a couple of reasons why this myth persists. One is that if you're using a hanging strop or a flexible paddle strop (like a loom strop or slotted paddle, or even a solid strop with a thick leather or felt or suede layer) it's possible to round the edge by using too much pressure on the blade. Stropping on a pasted paddle is more akin to honing on a stone than it is to stropping on an unpasted strop; too much pressure will damage the edge. So you get careless one day and strop on your pasted strop the same way you strop on you daily strop, damage the edge then blame it on the strop instead of your technique; for some reason when this happens with a hone it's never the hone to blame.

    Another reason for the persistence of this myth is that pastes are frequently much finer than hones. The most popular pastes are probably the 0.5 micron chrome oxide and 0.25 micron diamond. This is all fine and good, and they will put an excellent edge on the razor, but these are really too fine to sharpen an edge unless you do a lot of laps. I suspect that a lot of guys "touch up" their edge with these fine pastes but after a few touch-ups it stops working, which is hardly surprising since they weren't doing enough to the blade to really fix the edge. When the blade wears it doesn't wear evenly, there are microscopic sections where the edge breaks away deeply, some areas where it breaks away lightly, some where it just folds over and won't unfold, some areas with corrosion pits, etc. A quick touch-up on a fine hone or paste will sharpen the areas that are in pretty good shape but won't do much on the deeper flaws. For the first touch-up this is probably fine - maybe 90+% of the blade is sufficiently rehoned by that first chromeox touchup and only 10% or so left unhoned, so the blade feels "pretty good", certainly much better than it was. By the second touch-up maybe another 10% of the edge is deeply damaged, so it only gets 80% as sharp as when new, third rehone only 70% as sharp, and now the user gets annoyed because his pasted paddle isn't doing the job, so he goes back to the hone convinced that the guys were right and this pasted paddle thing just isn't up to snuff. But the error is in using too-fine of a paste to hone the edge, or not doing enough laps with that fine paste; is isn't something inherent in the use of pastes. He will get into the same situation by trying to use a Shapton 30k hone for touch-ups; it's just too fine to get the job done reasonably unless he invests a fair number of laps at it. But nobody is gonna use their expensive 30k Shapton like that, they'll grab their cheap 8k shapton for their touch-up for a couple of laps, then the 16k for a few more, then finish up with 4-8 laps on that expensive 30k stone, and feel happy that their stones did a great job. There's a reason the old barber hones were pretty coarse, only 8k grit or so, because that's what you really need for a touch-up that will actually get those deeper flaws out of the edge. And even then many of them had a 4k-6k side. (As an aside, the Nakayama can be used for touch-ups because it starts coarse and becomes finer with use, so it's kind of a 1-stone 8k/16k/30k solution).
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2010
  3. Another tour de force by mparker. Bravo! The bottom line is that there are many ways to maintain a razor, all equally valid if you know what you're doing. Personally, I find hones easier to understand and control by which I mean I can predict what my hone progression is going to do to my razor and never was able to do that reliably with pastes. Differences of opinion is what makes horse races and I'm all for experimentation but everyone's got a limit to their patience and curiosity. At a certain point I had put together a progression of hones that I was perfectly satisfied with and stopped experimenting. Now the pasted strops are in the closet and I haven't touched them for a while.
  4. Very clear and informative post, thank you. I'm dipping my toe into the straight waters, and being the methodical type, I've been reading up a lot on all aspects of the process. I have enough things in my life that are open ended time sinks (two children for example) and I've been a bit worried about how I go about maintaining a straight in my remote location. The sheer complexity and variety of hones, strops, pastes and so forth seems chaotic and unsystematic when a newbie first wades in. It seems upon first reading that the only way to do this right is to invest in a lot of expensive gizmos and put many hours of time into it until you develop a technique that works for you.

    That may be the case, but it gives a beginner pause and makes me wonder if this is worth trying at all when my DE and SE razors work so well and with so little drama. It seemed to me that many decades ago people shaved with these things quite successfully without a huge inventory of sharpening devices of all shapes and sizes on hand and there must be a simpler, less technologically dependent, way to maintain a blade. The whole hone versus strop issue was a first step confusion for me.

    This post was so clear and knowledge rich that it made this complex topic much more understandable for me.

    I'm starting slow with one of Larry's razors and leather and balsa strops. That should do for starters and if I like this, who knows? The desire for simplicity is often overridden by my love of gadgets and I already own so many sharpening devices for plane blades and chisels that a few more won't hurt I guess..................
  5. As I've said many times, I shaved for 28 years with just a barbers hone. That (or ... or... ) is really all you need. It's the search for the perfect edge that leads people to collect multiple hones and pastes.
  6. I took this advice to heart and Chimensch is right on the money...only had a barbers hone for awhile now...all I need.

    But I seem to be eyeing cotis for some dumb, wallet-cleaning reason :lol:
  7. So I guess I'll get a Barber's Hone and skip the pastes. Thanks!
  8. Wid


    I've been using a barbers hone along with a CrOx pasted strop with good results. I do start out with a professionally honed razor. I've been str8 shaving for around two months so far and have had no need to send any of my razors out for re-honing.
  9. I've only been using straights for a few months now, but IMHO pastes are overrated. I give my str8 25-50 (very light) laps on my Chinese 12k and then 100 laps on newsprint. Newspaper, to me, works much better in place of pastes/sprays. It's easily available and cheap! Smooths out my razor so its edge is smooth as butter. YMMV, but it has worked wonderfully for me.
  10. Hmmmm is newsprint acceptable for a strop? Or does leather do a better job? Maybe I shouldn't have gotten a strop at all! :mad3:
  11. Woops, my bad. I apologize - I strop too! The newsprint has a mildly abrasive nature to it that will act in the same nature as pastes. It takes a little time, but if you don't mind the extra 5 minutes one every week or two, it works great. It is especially good because you pretty much cannot over-hone with it - a real hazard, I have been told, with sprays and some pastes. Again, I do like 100-150 laps, but since it is easy, convenient and free, I see the slight amount as extra work as a good trade.

    You still need the leather, but the newspaper works so well for me that I returned the pasted strop I borrowed, and will stick with my 12k and the funnies section for my needs!

    Happy Shaving!

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