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Honing Woes

Hi all!

I'm still new to the straight razor world, but I knew enough when I bought a razor off Ebay that it would likely need to be sharpened. Of course, I was right -- I'd have been better off using a clamshell :eek: ! Anyway, my shiny new Norton 4000/8000 waterstone just arrived in the mail, but, much to my chagrin, I've been absolutely unable to put an edge on this razor. I'm quite sure that the razor is stainless steel (although it doesn't say so), which I've heard can make honing more difficult. What's more, while honing, I've noticed that the edge closest to the point doesn't touch the stone! I'd say that about a third of the razor is about a millimetre above the stone's surface while the other two-thirds is touching -- there appears to be a slight curve along the length of the blade. Short of banging the damn thing with a hammer or chucking it out the window, do any of you have any suggestions?
On a similar note, I've also inherited an old straight that my grandfather used, and I'm in the process of derusting it and honing out a small crack in the blade (about 1/16"). Unfortunately, the joint where the razor and the scales meet is quite loose, and I'm not all that excited about repinning it. Is there a way to tighten this up? I've also noticed that the blade tapers up at the end, such that the point end is shorter than the heel end. Is this normal, or is it a result of a previous repair-job?

Thanks for your help!

Justin L
 
Oh, and if it helps, my grandfather's razor is stamped "Bigelow & Dowse, Germany", while the other is just stamped "Pakistan" (perhaps I should have known better than to buy it...)
 
(sigh!) These two razors do not hold much immediate promise for your whiskers and although my first inclination would be to send you off in search for something of better quality for your shave, I will offer the following words.

Pakistani razors do not have a reputation for either strength of steel or quality of manufacture. :cursing: However, since you already have the beast I'm sure it can be coaxed into providing some sort of shave. I do hope that the blade is not forged from stainless steel as you suspect, for if it is merely some sort of garden variety stainless that has been beaten into razor form you will probably find the edge holding qualities of the steel to be be most disappointing.

According to your description, the blade has a strong amount of curvature. This might be corrected by grinding, but from the severity of the curvature this might be a long, long operation and leave you with rather less of the razor remaining than you would like. Whatever you do, don't ever be tempted to whack this razor (or any other) with a hammer! A razor forged from any sort of hardened steel at all can shatter like glass when subjected to sharp, sudden impact forces like that. This would not only very likely destroy the blade, but the flying bits of hardened steel that might fly off are very dangerous to the eyes. All is not lost, however. Instead of the impossible task of flattening the blade, you can fall back on the trick of sharpening the razor along the corners of the sharpening stone rather than on the flat. The razor is then encountering a limited 'line' of stone (instead of a flat plane) which will always make contact with the back and cutting edge, no matter how bad the geometry of the blade.

Another thing to be aware of is that the razor might have been sharpened in the factory by someone who held the back of the blade slightly above the honing stone. In this case the bevel on cutting edge of the blade will have the incorrect angle and you will have to sharpen quite a bit longer using the 4000 grit side of the stone to bring this right. Have some sort of a magnifier handy in order to keep tabs on the sharpening process.

Your grandfather's old razor was doubtless forged from better stuff, but that crack is bad news. Again have that magnifier at hand and hone, hone, hone until every last trace (no matter how fine) of that crack is gone. This means losing a lot of blade width, but there is nothing else to be done about it, as shaving with a cracked blade is very uncomfortable (pulls and catches on the whiskers, etc.).

The loose scales can probably be tightened by very careful peening of the hinge-end rivet pin with a small, light hammer. Back up the opposite side of the pin on an anvil or pad of iron or steel. You will want to use very delicate, light hammer blows simply to cause the pin end to mushroom over a bit more, which should tighten up the joint enough to make it usable again. Be careful. To much strength in the hammer blows might cause the pin to bend; something you don't want at all. Test the joint as you do this, since too tight a hinge joint is just as great a sin as too loose. If this doesn't produce the desired results, then the pin would have to be replaced.

That taper of the blade towards the point end which you describe is the result of faulty sharpening technique in the past. It is fairly common (I see lots of them like that) and there isn't anything to do about it. Nevertheless, the razor (when sharpened) should be able to shave satisfactorily even in this condition.
 
Thanks very much for the advice! I do think that I'll be buying a new razor in short order, and likely throwing my Pakistani one out the window. I'll just have to wait until September when I'll once again have access to my lovely student line of credit (should I feel guilty? Nah...). I think I'm going to try my best to get my grandfather's razor back into working order, however, if only for the sentimental value it bears. I can still recall him yelling at me for startling him while he was using it! (Though now I can fully appreciate why he would have been angry!)

Cheers,

Justin
 
Even if the quality of the razor(s) you now have is disappointing, I wouldn't simply toss them out.

Looking on the bright side of things, you can practice your honing skills on these blades with absolutely no worries whatsoever, and the experience thus gained will be something you can apply to all other razors you chose to acquire. :wink2:
 
...All is not lost, however. Instead of the impossible task of flattening the blade, you can fall back on the trick of sharpening the razor along the corners of the sharpening stone rather than on the flat. The razor is then encountering a limited 'line' of stone (instead of a flat plane) which will always make contact with the back and cutting edge, no matter how bad the geometry of the blade...
To elaborate on this for yourself and others:
Tricky blade geometry can be overcome by using a narrower stone. For those who own only a norton 4k/8k (Many, Many people on this and other forums) you may want to round one of the long edges on both the 4k and 8k sides. This rounding will either come with repeated "edging" technique, or with a few well placed strokes with the backside of a flattening stone. looking at the stone's front/back, it would look like this...

...........................
|............8K............\
|_________________|
|............4K............|
\...........................|

(I'm too lazy to make a nice picture)

"Why bother?" you may ask. It has never happened to me, but a perfect 90 deg edge increases the risk of the blade diging into the stone, thus damaging it. A slight rounding will decrease this risk and not detract significantly from the flattened area on either side of the stone.

This technique is essential for warped or otherwise imperfect blades. IMHO this is a viable and convenient alternative to regrinding.
 
i agree with Ignatz here. Honing a razor correctly takes practice, so why waste time on a warped blade? You may be able to use the old razor to learn the proper strokes, but you want to be able to shave with what you're honing eventually so you can see how you are progressing in your honing skill. Shaving with a warped blade is not my idea of fun.

Meanwhile, buy the Lynn Abrams DVD available on ClassicShaving.com and some other sites. The section on honing and stroping is excellent, and shows you exactly how to do it. Also, you'll need a good strop and either a finishing stone or a pasted paddle strop to put the fine edge on after you are finished with the Norton.

There are good brand-new razors out thee for less than $100. Once you learn how to hone, you will be able to shave with pleasure. You may also consider having your new razor honed by an expert (there are a number of them on B&B) so you know how it shoud feel.

Have fun!!

Daedalus
 
I'll just tell you straight out not to waste time with the pakistani razor. Its junk. What I would do is use it to practice honing and stropping with so when you get a good razor you don't ruin it. But whatever you do don't shave with it. As far as the other razor goes, any crack in a razor is bad news. 1/16 of an inch is large in razor terms. You can't hone out a crack. Maybe with a 1K hone you can just remove 1/16 of an inch of metal off the edge and reestablish the bevel and all that but thats some pretty advanced honing for someone starting out. Its also assumes the crack doesn't spread when you start honing. Do yourself a favor and go over to SRP, there are guys that will sell you a whole kit with a shave ready razor for a very reasonable price. If your grandfather's razor holds sentimental value by all means clean it up and keep it but it may be beyond saving. Later on when you become more experienced you will be able to better access its shaving condition.
 
Lapping is a process of rubbing one thing against another surface (quite often with the addition of special cutting or polishing pastes or compounds) for the purposes of flattening, forming, polishing and so forth. The lapping which Dead Ed is referring to in this case is a technique to assure that the sharpening stone you have is truly flat for the purposes of honing.

You will need some flattening kit some time in the future, since a sharpening stone inevitably wears and this almost never occurs evenly across the entire surface of the stone. However, you might spare yourself some immediate expensive by checking the stone first. This can be done with a known straight edge. I like to use a high quality stainless steel draftsman's ruler. I place this edge down on the stone and hold the two up with a strong light behind them. If you can see light creeping under the ruler edge then you know you a bit of problem. I run this test on the same surface in various spots on the stone and at different angles. The amount and location of the light leak will give you a pretty good idea of if (and where) your stone is dished.

Flattening a stone is best done against an already flat surface. Some sharpening stone vendors offer special stones which are intended expressly to flatten other sharpening stones. The stones serve as both flat reference surface and abrasive, so that rubbing them against your sharpening stone produces the desired result. These are available at very reasonable cost, but many users choose, instead, for a thick piece of glass to serve as a flat reference surface. Find or have cut a piece which is at least 1/4" = 6mm thick, as if too thin then the glass, itself, will flex under the weight of the stone and will not provide a true surface. Don't rely on just the glass, but place it upon another reasonably hard, flat surface.

Now you will want a sheet of Wet or Dry Silicon Carbide Sandpaper. You will have to select the grit of this sandpaper depending on how coarse your sharpening stone is and also on how fast you wish to cut it away. A good sandpaper grit to begin with is 120, but you may choose for coarser or finer depending upon the situation. This sandpaper would be placed paper side down on the glass and generously wetted. Get some water on the back side of the paper where it contacts the glass as well as this will help in some measure to hold it in place while you work.

Now take the sharpening stone and with a soft pencil make some light hatching marks across the entire surface to be checked. Turn it over onto the sandpaper and (while holding the sandpaper with one hand so that it doesn't slide across the glass) gently start to rub the sharpening stone against it.

Make only a few strokes to begin with and then pick up the stone and turn it over and examine the pencil hatchings. If this very short session removed the hatchings evenly everywhere across the surface of the stone, then congratulations, your stone is flat and you are in business. If you see that there are some areas where the pencil marks remain (the 'low' areas of an otherwise flat surface) then just continue the wet sanding process of stone against sandpaper until they are gone. Reapply the pencil hatchings if necessary as you work.

Once all pencil marks are gone, carefully wash any remaining bits of sandpaper grit off of the sharpening stone and you are done. What you will now have is a sharpening stone with a good, flat surface upon which to sharpen your razors. :biggrin:
 
I see! That makes sense. So what grit of sandpaper would I use for a 4000/8000 Norton? And is it the kind of thing I can pick up at Wal-mart?
 
Thumbs up on the Wal-Mart (most probably) :cool: .

Any of the following grits will work very well: 120, 180, 240, 320

Just remember that the finer the grit, the slower it will work since you will be rubbing away less of the stone with each stroke.
 
Norton makes a special lapping stone for use on all their waterstones, including the 4/8K. It is very reasonably priced. As far as the technique, Mr. Ignatz is exactly correct. One thing to add. Use very light pressure, and check the stone frequently. If you over-flatten, you are just wearing away the stone for no good reason. You should not have to flatten very often, unless you have many, many razors and do a lot of honing. If you sharpen knives and chisels as well, they wear the stone much faster. I keep a set of stones for use only on razors.

Daedalus
 
I'll just tell you straight out not to waste time with the pakistani razor. Its junk. What I would do is use it to practice honing and stropping with so when you get a good razor you don't ruin it. But whatever you do don't shave with it. As far as the other razor goes, any crack in a razor is bad news. 1/16 of an inch is large in razor terms. You can't hone out a crack. Maybe with a 1K hone you can just remove 1/16 of an inch of metal off the edge and reestablish the bevel and all that but thats some pretty advanced honing for someone starting out. Its also assumes the crack doesn't spread when you start honing. Do yourself a favor and go over to SRP, there are guys that will sell you a whole kit with a shave ready razor for a very reasonable price. If your grandfather's razor holds sentimental value by all means clean it up and keep it but it may be beyond saving. Later on when you become more experienced you will be able to better access its shaving condition.

+1 BigSpendur is right on. The folks at SRP will take care of you. You can also find someone here that might be able to help you find a good starter razor that is shave ready.

Raf
 
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