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Is My Razor Sharp? The Treetopping Test

What is your favorite sharpness test?

  • Treetopping

    Votes: 22 47.8%
  • HHT

    Votes: 18 39.1%
  • Other

    Votes: 6 13.0%

  • Total voters
    46
Newbies often struggle with the question of whether the razor they are trying to shave with is sharp enough, or not. Well, it shaves arm hair! Who cares? Razors are not for shaving arms. They are for shaving faces. Arm hair and whiskers are whole different critters.

Many shavers use what is called HHT, or Hanging Hair Test. I won't go into it since I don't use it and find the results to be VERY variable and subjective. So I will let someone else post on that, or link to relevant threads. What I will present in this post is my favorite sharpness test, the Treetopping Test.

This test is still somewhat subjective, and varies somewhat with hair texture and sweep technique. However IMHO (YMMV) it is the more authoritative and relevant way to quantify a razor's sharpness, plus bald guys with no cooperative hair donor can do it, too. Anybody with hair on their forearms, actually.

To perform this test, simply sweep the razor above the skin of the forearm, about 1/4" above the skin. Observe the tiny tink or ping sound. Observe the way that the razor disturbs the hair root. Look at how many hair tips fall onto the razor. These things tell the story.

At 1/4", if a razor mows down every hair tip it encounters, and does so silently with zero felt disturbance to the hair base, it is crazy insane sharp. Sharpest of sharp. Doesn't get any better than that. This is a rare edge. It is not common to encounter such an edge. If you manage to make a razor so sharp, congratulate yourself and celebrate.

If you can hear a tink sound and feel the hair base shift around, but still get a couple of hair tips to fall onto the razor, it is pretty darn sharp, absolutely shave ready in anyone's book. A good edge, one to be proud of and one that you should enjoy shaving with. This quality of edge is a very realistic goal for any honer. Unfortunately, many professional honers do not create this level of edge. However, nothing is stopping the individual from taking his own razors to this level.

If it does not treetop at all at 1/4", try it at 1/8" above the skin. If it treetops at 1/8", the razor should shave. Not as well as it could, but it is usable. A good standard for a newbie trying his first razor. Beware. This is still plenty sharp enough to cut skin! I consider this the minimum standard for shave readiness.

If it does not treetop at 1/8", then IMHO it should not be considered a shave ready edge. Have it honed. Or try to hone it yourself.

So there is the treetop test, the three basic levels of shave readiness determined by that test, and what constitutes NOT shave ready. It works rather well, until you have a 1/4" crew cut on your forearms!

So what if it doesn't treetop at all, but shaves arm hair? Well, this is no test for shave readiness. However, a well set bevel should shave arm hair effortlessly. So should your pocketknife, but that is beside the point. If there is a question of whether the bevel is set or not, try shaving a bit of arm hair, with no force or pressure, shaving, not scraping. The difference between shaving and scraping is mostly the angle between blade and skin. A normal shave angle is where the gap between the razor's spine and the face equals the thickness of the spine. At two spine thicknesses, you are scraping. Do that on your face, and your aftershave will let you know. So is the bevel set? If it shaves arm hair effortlessly without scraping, along the entire length of the blade, it can be said with reasonable certainty that the bevel is set. More importantly, if the razor does this, then it might be possible to make it shave ready again with just a session on a finishing stone or film. A retouching of the edge. Otherwise you are looking at resetting the bevel and running the whole progression.

So there it is. Don't know if the razor is sharp enough? You can figure it out yourself with this method, or with the HHT. The actual shave test is the best test, but if you are still just learning to shave in the manly way, there might be some doubt with the shave test. What if it is simply a lack of skill or experience causing a bad shave, and no fault of the edge? Now you can make that determination with a fair degree of certainty. Shave ready razor? Work on your technique. Not shave ready? Get it honed, or hone it yourself, and verify by testing as above.
 
All excellent points as usual.
I like both tests, but now that my right arm is naked, find I rely on the HHT more - I've 'standardised' it somewhat by buying small bundle hair extensions.
 
I might be sweeping too slowly? At 1/2”, I get a few. Maybe I need to be more generous with my hair.


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ouch

Stjynnkii membörd dummpsjterd
Moderator Emeritus
I've given Slash some grief (okay, a lot) over the years, going so far as to call him the Tapemeister General. But make no mistake about it- his advice is always sound, particularly so in this case.
:ouch1:
 
I've given Slash some grief (okay, a lot) over the years, going so far as to call him the Tapemeister General. But make no mistake about it- his advice is always sound, particularly so in this case.
:ouch1:
"Tapemeister General"? That's a low blow, Ouch. Booooooooo!
 
You guys treetopping at 1/2" on your arm must be part gorilla. If I hover a blade 1/2" over my skin on my arm I hit nothing but air. Same for 1/4". I might could get those levels on a leg. I have used both tests, but to me, treetopping is basically no different than HHT, root in. Both are useful tests in my book. (Where's the "Both" option in the poll?).
 
You guys treetopping at 1/2" on your arm must be part gorilla. If I hover a blade 1/2" over my skin on my arm I hit nothing but air. Same for 1/4". I might could get those levels on a leg. I have used both tests, but to me, treetopping is basically no different than HHT, root in. Both are useful tests in my book.
I actually have a light beard and sparse fine hair on my arm. It might be long due to my age.

That’s in part why I haven’t topped at 1/4”. It might look funny. Since my hair is so fine, I’m not sure it would top like others’.


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I let my face tell me how the edge is..... if it shaves poorly its back to or time for the stone.....if it shaves wonderfully then its in perfect edge tune for my face...see, custom edges.....new trend :001_302:
 

ouch

Stjynnkii membörd dummpsjterd
Moderator Emeritus
"Tapemeister General"? That's a low blow, Ouch. Booooooooo!
Superman has kryptonite. Dracula has garlic. Indiana Jones and Peewee Herman have snakes.

Slash McCoy has electrical tape. It's the bane of his existence.
 
When your hearing and eyesight are fading you get mixed results. Just saying I like the tree top method but I have to do it a few times to be sure.
 
You guys treetopping at 1/2" on your arm must be part gorilla. If I hover a blade 1/2" over my skin on my arm I hit nothing but air. Same for 1/4". I might could get those levels on a leg. I have used both tests, but to me, treetopping is basically no different than HHT, root in. Both are useful tests in my book. (Where's the "Both" option in the poll?).
Other :)
 

Legion

Moderator Emeritus
I do this, but with leg hair, as it is a bit longer than my arm hair.

The good thing about the HHT is that the hair can be brought down on any part of the edge with precision, so you can use it to check the whole edge is honed correctly
 
I find that with sharp edges, I can rely on HHT or treetopping tests.

But working on smooth edges, not so much, even super sharp.

Shaved this morning with a Grelot that has seen a lot of stone lately. One of y best shaves, mega mega smooth but still super sharp. It was soo good, I'm still smiling from ear to ear.
This edge does not grab, so it doesn't do well in HHT or treetopping. Once it grabs a hair, it falls with out a noise. But since it doesn't grab, it does very very well with the skin, very forguiving, little peeling of skin.

So I do use the treetoping test while sharpening. But it mainly helps to check if things are rigth. By the time the hairs start sliding over the edge with a sticky feeling, I know I'm starting to work in the range I'm looking for.
 
Great points Slash, Folks must realize tho that this isnt a “follow the recipe” type of event. Everyone must learn to take that basic idea and work with it. Create a system tuned for their face, hair, razor whatever. My system is basically that as you well layed out, the further up and quieter/more cleanly it lops copious large quantities of hair, the better the edge. I also use a HHT, my arms get mangey if Im honing a lot so the HHT is nice for that. For me, my system is 2 tier, level 1 root out, thick hair held close cuts easiest, thin hair held far takes a sharper edge. Level 2, I hold the root side, same process but takes an even sharper edge to accomplish. Of course this can be further broke down into how it cut. I always only use my hair, freshly plucked. Consistancy is the key in all of this. For all the purists out there that scoff at us and say “The only REAL test is the shave.”, Ok, thats great for you, but I can only shave so much. Really, all of this stuff is subjective and it boils down to what works for you. But I will say this, I have never not once had a poor shave from a razor that rocked an arm hair or hht. Nor, have I ever once had a great shave from an edge that performed poorly on these tests. I dislike using a pass/fail terminology, its more of a gauge. They are helpful tools, especially helpful in learning to hone. Its a non scientific approach to see if we are moving our edge forward or backward.
 
I can't tell if that's sarcasm or not...
Ha! No! Not sarcasm at all. I am always frustrated when I try for a hair for HHT. I’ll get a regular hair, then a thin one, then a grey one, and then maybe I have more product in my hair today then yesterday. All variables that dramatically affect te HHT. You found a way to standardize!!
 
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