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How To Use a Pasted Balsa Strop

Having gone into some detail when asked or prompted in many threads, I thought I should comprehensively lay out the method in a separate thread, for reference.

Thing 1. The Balsa Strop.

Buy 3" wide balsa. Best to buy a 36" length. It is cheaper. Hobby Hut, Hobby Lobby, and other brick and mortars carries it. Or purchase online, at 3x the cost. 1/2" thick works well. Cut it into 3 12" pieces. For best results, which I believe are the only results worth pursuing, glue the balsa to a heavy piece of glass, or marble tile cut to size. Not wood. Not plastic. The idea is to bond the balsa to a dimensionally stable substrate, to fight the tendency of the balsa to warp.

The balsa must be lapped, for best results, which as I already pointed out, are the only type of results worth pursuing. Even if it looks flat and smooth. try 220 or 320 grit sandpaper. Or 400. Whatevah. Or a progression. Spray the back side of the sandpaper with Loctite or 3M spray adhesive. Just a faint dusting of the adhesive works great. Carefully stick the sandpaper to a polished granite countertop or a large heavy piece of glass. The flatter, the better. Eyeball flat is not good enough. Make sure the sandpaper goes on smooth and tight with no bubbles or wrinkles. This is extremely important. Now place the balsa face down on the sandpaper and carefully rub rub rub. When you see you have created a whole new surface, obviously the balsa is now as flat as the sandpaper. So, the flatter, the better.

Thing 2. The Diamond Paste.

I have not experimented much yet with finer grits than .1u, so that is the finest I can authoritively comment on. You need .1u, and .25u, and .5u. If you made 3 pieces, that works out well. I get mine from www.tedpella.com but there are a lot of vendors. It is sold in as high as 50% diamond but there is no need to go over 10%. The reason is, less is more. You want the diamond crystals embedded into the balsa, not rolling and scooting around on top of it. You can also get 1u and 3u, both of which are handy for polishing even if you dont use them on balsa much or at all.

Thing 3. Putting it all together.

It only takes a little bit. If you think you got enough, then you probably have about 3x too much. You MUST NOT have a coating on the balsa. You want a very small amount, rubbed in to the balsa. About 1/3 of a pinto bean worth or a bit less. Spread it around and rub it in good. You can thin it down with acetone or something if you like, for better distribution. Now, this is very important. It doesn't matter if you contaminate a coarse grit with a finer one. But you must NEVER let a coarser grit contaminate a finer one. the way it works is each stage makes scratches in the steel, the size of which is determined by the grit size. Each grit must totally eliminate the coarser scratches of the previous grit, replacing it with its own finer scratches. Even a few crystals of a coarser grit basically ruin your results from the finer grit. So, always clean your hands thoroughly when going from grit to grit. Applying diamond to the balsa, start with the finer grit first. Label it by writing the grit size on the ends of the balsa. Do the .1u balsa, then the .25u balsa, then the .5u balsa, etc. Now the proper sign is μ which stands for micron, but we usually use "u" because it is right there on the keyboard.

Thing 4. Using it.

You COULD just use the balsa to touch up an edge that is failing, but I prefer to hit it after every shave, so I never experience a dull or dulling edge. At least, not often. I go 2 or 3 dozen laps on the .25u, then a like number on the .1u. Fairly light pressure. Edge trailing. Use a slight x stroke even though the balsa is wider than the razor's edge. Always wipe the blade VERY WELL after stropping on a pasted balsa or between grits. You MUST NOT contaminate the finer balsa with coarser diamond, or get any diamond on your regular leather hanging strop. You will NOT GET BEST RESULTS if that happens. And best results are the only results worth pursuing. Sometimes I skip the .25u and just go 4 dozen laps on the .1u. I finish by laying the blade on the balsa and drawing it straight across and off the balsa. This helps to remove any fin edge. Occasionally it will seem like my edge is starting to go north on me, and that is when I go with the .5u or 1u. I strop until I am satisfied with the way the razor treetops forearm hair, then I hit my finer grits as usual.

Thing 5. Improving it.

After final stropping on diamond/balsa, I like to give my razor a special treat. I keep a piece of 1/16" thick, 3"wide balsa unpasted. I rest one end on a bench or counter or table, and hold the other end in my left hand. I strop on this very flexible unpasted balsa sheet, letting it sag slightly, about like a hanging strop drawn moderately tight. This seems to remove any vestiges of fin edge much better than linen. I am still experimenting with this technique but it is definitely an improvement.

Thing 5. Maintaining it.

After a few weeks, you may find that the balsa needs a refresh of diamond. You could just add a bit more, about half of what you used when you first pasted the balsa, but for BEST POSSIBLE results, which are the only kind of results worth pursuing, go ahead and re-lap the balsa. Sure, you got it flat, but it isn't flat anymore. Flatter is better.

Thing 6.. Other abrasives.

I have been asked again and again if CrOx (Chromium Oxide) won't work. Yes, it does work. I just don't believe it works as well as diamond. First of all there is basically only one grade of CrOx. Call it .5u, or call it .3u. The particle variation is so wide that it is practically the same whichever way you call it. If you use CrOx and you want to go finer, get some FeOx, or Iron Oxide, which runs around .1u grit size. Yes, they are cheaper than diamond. But you use so little, the cost is irrelevant. I strongly recommend going with diamond. Best possible results, right? You might also take a look at CBN, Cubic Nitride Boron or something like that. The new thing.

IN CLOSING, I just want to say that this works. I basically never have to re-hone a razor that I have maintained with this method. YMMV, I am sure, but there is no reason not to try it my way. Hardly any steel is lost even in daily use. 1u is approximately equivelant to a 12k Naniwa Superstone. .1u of course is 10x finer. Some naysayers will state that this will surely cause a harsh edge. I use this method and the only kind of edges I get are sh-sh-sh-sh-SHARRRRRRRPPPPPPPP ones. Give it a go, and if you do it right you will love it.
 
Yah, great directions! Substantially the same as the info Slash posted when I asked in some thread a couple weeks ago. Slash, ever get tired of typing the same thing over and over?

Sticky worthy?
 
@SlashMcCoy. Thanks for this fine tutorial. Having gotten my hands on an excellent quality razor with EXCELENT edge, I thought it wise to start with your method of maintenance ASAP to keep that excellence as long as possible. (I just today got my 0.1micron balsa going...sure leaves a polished edge)

I have a quick line of questioning for clarification. Using the pasted balsa, then hanging un-pasted, do you/would you follow with a leather strop? Would stropping on any sort of material be productive/counter productive (I have followed the "stropping is part of honing" thread a bit, so I know there can be variations based on many factors. To keep his thread focused keep it to general categories if possible)

I know a few fellow newbies who started the NEW YEAR as straight shavers, so bumping this thread isn't going to hurt either.
 
YMMV on the fabric components. I dont see much point but others love them. I just follow with THIN flexible unsupported UNPASTED balsa sheet, then hanging leather. Do it like you feel it, cause it's your razor, but I myself skip the whole linen/canvas/seatbelt/denim/hypercloth part. I have in the past seen cloth components to even slightly degrade an edge, and rather than snipe hunt for the perfect holy grail of linen or linen substitute, I simply eliminated it from my routine. So, perhaps there is room for you to experiment.

BTW I have shaved right off the unpasted balsa strop, with good results, skipping the leather. Not bad. Jury is still out, but at present the hanging leather is my final edge prep step.
 
Thanks slash. I only have experience with stones. Night have to give it a whirl. Best place to get diamond paste?
 
I have heard that the cheap stuff has very inconsistent grit size. I have also observed clumping. However, clumping is not much of an issue if it is properly applied. A proper application does not leave a coating. In fact after a good hand rub, I wipe the surface with a tshirt. But I currently have some I got from Ted Pella about 3 years ago, and some recently bought Chinese stuff. Both seem to work fine. I think the Ted Pella is a good one to start with, as it is more of a known quality. Fewer uncertainties.

www.tedpella.com as I recall. Also the major sharpening/woodcrafting/toolsharpening suppliers will generally have a decent product. If given a choice in percentage of diamond, there is no need for a concentration of over 10% so don't think you need 50% concentration especially if it costs more. Of course you can always thin it out with mineral spirits or whatever.
 
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There are 2 different kind here. One is diamond paste polishing compound, One is polycrystalline diamond paste? Which is which?
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YMMV on the fabric components. I dont see much point but others love them. I just follow with THIN flexible unsupported UNPASTED balsa sheet, then hanging leather. Do it like you feel it, cause it's your razor, but I myself skip the whole linen/canvas/seatbelt/denim/hypercloth part. I have in the past seen cloth components to even slightly degrade an edge, and rather than snipe hunt for the perfect holy grail of linen or linen substitute, I simply eliminated it from my routine. So, perhaps there is room for you to experiment.

BTW I have shaved right off the unpasted balsa strop, with good results, skipping the leather. Not bad. Jury is still out, but at present the hanging leather is my final edge prep step.
Thank you, this is exactly the information I needed. I just got my hands on some 0.01u diamond paste and made a pasted balsa strop with it (now I have 0.50 - 0.25 & 0.01). I bought a strip of 4" 1/16 balsa, cut it to 3" and used the extra to make a lip at each end so it would not slip off my counter (and to keep it from warping or splitting), I put a dot of Velcro on the back so it can hang conveniently flat against the cabinet.

I had shaved right off the 0.25u balsa with very uncomfortable results, but a good poly fabric and leather stropping made it better. Just this morning I had my first shave having done your routine (0.25u for a dozen laps and 0.01 for 2 dozen followed by about 30 back and forth strokes on the un-pasted/un-supported balsa strop) ...simply the best shave ever. I'll be making a glowing post in my journal for sure and maybe even a separate one in the newbie forum.

I'll follow your lead and end with a nice leather stropping. With just 27 days of experience I need to keep it simple.

I did read the "stropping is part of honing" thread (still and ongoing discussion) and decided that cloths SOUNDED wonderful but with so much variation and YMMV going on I would stick to the films and pasted balsa. Both the films and paste seem to have less potential variation than stones and cloth (even leather gets complicated). Another benefit to the films and paste is that the "make it yourself" feature allows for the surface to be equal to the size of the razor...no need to add complicated strokes to the early stages of the learning process. (of course make it yourself can lead to problems when you assume you've made it correctly but have not).

For what its worth, I bought the 0.25u and 0.5u diamond paste from Kent (because my Bingle buddy asked for it by name, I figured he might have asked around or known something is didn't) and the 0.01u (50%) from TechDiamondTools (actually a seller selling their product on both eBay and Amazon). The Kent 0.5u was more oily and loose than the others but everything seems fine...certainly don't need a lot. 5 grams seems like so little but it will last a long time.

Definitely a "sticky" or WIKI worthy thread
 
There are 2 different kind here. One is diamond paste polishing compound, One is polycrystalline diamond paste? Which is which?
View attachment 632981
I dunno. I have always used paste and never made a distinction between mono and poly. At .1u I don't think it matters that much. Maybe you could get both, and experiment, and thereby add to our knowledge base.
 
Thank you, this is exactly the information I needed. I just got my hands on some 0.01u diamond paste and made a pasted balsa strop with it (now I have 0.50 - 0.25 & 0.01). I bought a strip of 4" 1/16 balsa, cut it to 3" and used the extra to make a lip at each end so it would not slip off my counter (and to keep it from warping or splitting), I put a dot of Velcro on the back so it can hang conveniently flat against the cabinet.

I had shaved right off the 0.25u balsa with very uncomfortable results, but a good poly fabric and leather stropping made it better. Just this morning I had my first shave having done your routine (0.25u for a dozen laps and 0.01 for 2 dozen followed by about 30 back and forth strokes on the un-pasted/un-supported balsa strop) ...simply the best shave ever. I'll be making a glowing post in my journal for sure and maybe even a separate one in the newbie forum.

I'll follow your lead and end with a nice leather stropping. With just 27 days of experience I need to keep it simple.

I did read the "stropping is part of honing" thread (still and ongoing discussion) and decided that cloths SOUNDED wonderful but with so much variation and YMMV going on I would stick to the films and pasted balsa. Both the films and paste seem to have less potential variation than stones and cloth (even leather gets complicated). Another benefit to the films and paste is that the "make it yourself" feature allows for the surface to be equal to the size of the razor...no need to add complicated strokes to the early stages of the learning process. (of course make it yourself can lead to problems when you assume you've made it correctly but have not).

For what its worth, I bought the 0.25u and 0.5u diamond paste from Kent (because my Bingle buddy asked for it by name, I figured he might have asked around or known something is didn't) and the 0.01u (50%) from TechDiamondTools (actually a seller selling their product on both eBay and Amazon). The Kent 0.5u was more oily and loose than the others but everything seems fine...certainly don't need a lot. 5 grams seems like so little but it will last a long time.

Definitely a "sticky" or WIKI worthy thread
I hope you meant .1u and not .01u.

Personally I find it is much better to both hone and strop in hand, and not resting on a fixed object that won't yield under pressure. This allows blade and hone or balsa to find their own alignment, helps you to moderate pressure, and helps to avoid many common mistakes. Learn to do this in hand and your results will improve. But do glue your balsa to glass or tile, before lapping. The 1/16" is good for unpasted stropping because it sags just right.

Like you, I find .25u to be harsh. It is a sour spot in my progression. After .1u it smooths out for me, and the unpasted makes it just right.
 
I DID mean 0.1u. Sadly I may have also typed 0.01 elsewhere (like my journal). Good luck to those looking for THAT paste.

I don't do it in hand exactly but I rest one edge on a surface and hold the other in my hand, almost like holding in my hand but with a little support. I understand the concept though.
 
Just found this great thread!
Thanks for such a detailed write up Slash!
And thanks for the boldness and inspiration of a method which means no more rehoning ever... unless you want to.
 
Thank you for the write-up Slash - have been doing this lately thanks to Chris (CBLindsay) sending me some 0.25 & 0.1u diamond paste. Just went and picked up a 3/32 piece of 3" x 36" balsa for unpasted flexible stropping. Edges look very good under the loupe.
 
I think the most valuable part of this method is that it has allowed me to maintain the EXCELLENT edge that someone else put on my razor in the same (possibly better...I don't know) condition while I learn to shave with it. The construction and use of lapped balsa strops is pretty basic and makes the use of straight razors more approachable for a novice.
 
Hey I am glad it was useful. The method has worked great for me ever since I started lapping my balsa, stopped putting too much on, and got completely away from green stuff and red stuff and black stuff, and stopped being scared of using too many laps. You really would have to work at it to use too much action on the .1u because it removes such a miniscule amount of steel. And if you think maybe you did overdo it, it is a simple thing to give it a half dozen pull strokes to clear any bits of fin edge forming.

Indeed Chris, I believe that diligent use of the .1u post-shave for a couple of weeks will noticeably improve a so-so edge on a new-to-you razor. I haven't tried... I pretty much automatically hone new-to-me razors before ever shaving.

You are right, the method would work well for a newbie. It can, if done correctly, bypass the whole rocks/film thing, assuming a shave-ready razor to begin with.

Labrax, you might think about getting some .5u and maybe even some 1u. The .5u is a good drop-back grit for when you misjudged and haven't been using enough laps on the .1u diamond. It is so much faster than .25u. The .25u works but if you have gotten behind on an edge and need to drop down a grit to catch it back up, the .25u can confuse. It can take some work, and if you think SURELY you must have enough laps in by now but you dont get the crazysharpness, you could think maybe something else is wrong. .5u cuts fast enough that you quickly see the change.

And 1u is useful for finish, after honing through 8k or coticule or even barber hone. I could see jumping from 3-line Swaty to 1u on balsa. That would be a cheap setup. Sandpaper bevel setter, $15 ebay Swaty, balsa. Would work well enough for someone willing to put in some time honing a single razor. But the main thing I like about the 1u to .1u diamond paste progression is its polishing ability. After sanding a razor to 2k or 3k, if you have the brass ones to use a dremel with 1u (big jump from 2k to 1u... about 6x, so it is an awful lot of work to do that jump by hand) you can progress through the grits to .1u, hand rubbing, and achieve a stunning mirror finish.

Anyway glad this has been well received. I have grown to love this method and I love to see others learn to love the diamond on balsa, too.
 
Hey Slash, since you bring up lapping the balsa again. I'm about due to consider re-lapping my balsa. I was thinking it would be advisable to use a fresh sheet of paper, should I start by lapping the 0.10 micron then 0.25 and so on (so avoid cross contamination)? Is a simple t-shirt wipe down enough to remove saw-dust or should I use tack cloth/tape?
 
tshirt should work. It's what I use. And you are correct to start with the finest and end with the coarsest. A bit of fine grit wont hurt the coarse diamond. You just dont want any coarse particles contaminating a finer grit. Tack cloth would be great but I have never used it.
 
Great info, especially for a guy just starting in this "new" world.
Thanks to this info and the paste that Chris sent me, I will have less chance of failing miserably.
Thanks [MENTION=30791]Slash McCoy[/MENTION] and [MENTION=103898]CBLindsay[/MENTION]!
 
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