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New to straight razors

Hello there folks

I've been a blade nerd for decades. If I had to choose the time that I decided I was a blade nerd, it was when my late uncle John took a look at a Russel belt knife that I had sharpened and said to my father "I can't put a better edge on that than he already has." That's spilled over into my EDC pocket knives (my favorite is a Zero Tolerance 0561 with a semi-tanto tip that I put on it after the original tip chipped) and my kitchen knives (pre-WWII Sabatier or hand-forged Japanese). I've also ended up with a reasonable range of sharpening paraphenalia - the ones that see the most use are handheld ceramic hones for my kitchen knives and an Edge Pro fixed-angle sharpener with Naniwa Chosera water stones up to 10K. Yes, I'm actually that weirdo that actually wore out his 400 water stone by fixing other people's knives and had to replace it. (Don't worry, I bought two this time).

I've also been wet shaving for a half-dozen years. Using a safety razor gets me a closer shave with less irritation than I ever experienced with a cartridge razor. My all-time favorites are Shark blades and the Blades Grim Smolder soap.

I did experiment with a shavette using those same Shark blades, but found that it was a substantially less comfortable shave than the safety razor, and was more likely to end up in nicks. No surprise.

After coveting a good straight razor for the entire time that I've been wet shaving, I finally bit the bullet last week and bought a Dovo Bismark from a reputable vendor here in Canada. They promise that everything they ship will arrive shave-ready. I have no straight razor point of comparison - but a quick hair test on my arm demonstrated that right out of the box, the edge was hair-popping sharp and then some.

Prior to my first shave, I took care of one other detail - I made a strop. It's 3" wide, no handle. The front side is 4 ounce "glass jack" - a vegetable tanned harness leather. It's the smoothest leather that I've been able to source. The back side is a 4 ounce oil tanned, and is the softest leather that I've ever gotten my hands on. Because the flesh side of that leather is so smooth and has so little additional material, I went flesh side out. My hope is that it will approximate canvas or coarse denim/dungaree material.

After availing myself of the great resources here on stropping - and how to hold a razor when stropping - I did 20 laps on each side, and set to shaving. I had a few days growth on my cheeks and neck (I have a beard, and working from home does offer some perks!). I focused on being slow and consistent and did not worry about getting the closest shave possible. Using a combo of shave oil and soap that I know works well for me, I was able to achieve a comfortable shave with no nicks and minimal irritation after the fact.

A big thank you to this forum for the knowledge that I've gleaned in my years of lurking...the wet shaving techniques that I've been using for a long time are 100% from the wiki posted here, and I can guarantee that without the knowledge I've found here I would not have ended up with such a positive first experience with a straight razor.
 

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I hope your Dovo Bismark does come shave ready. Dovo claims to ship their razors shave ready from the factory, but when I received mine, I had to rehone it to make it suitable for my beard and my face. It was neither sharp enough nor smooth enough. However, I have an unusually coarse beard and unusually sensitive skin. Hopefully, you won't have to contend with those issues.

Depending upon your beard coarseness and skin sensitivity, the Chosera 10K stone might be fine enough to produce a shave ready edge. If not, your stones will be fine for the sequence needed to set a bevel and refine it. However, you might need an even finer hone or a set of bench strops with ultra fine abrasives (0.5 micron and finer).

One thing that might have contributed to the poor shave with the shavette is shave angle. Typically, you want to use a fairly shallow angle when using straight razors. On the first pass with the grain, it is customary to use an angle less than 30 degrees. For across the grain, reduce that to about 20 degrees. Then for against the grain, the spine of the straight razor should almost touch your face. That is much more shallow than typically used with DE razors.
 
I hope your Dovo Bismark does come shave ready. Dovo claims to ship their razors shave ready from the factory, but when I received mine, I had to rehone it to make it suitable for my beard and my face. It was neither sharp enough nor smooth enough. However, I have an unusually coarse beard and unusually sensitive skin. Hopefully, you won't have to contend with those issues.

Depending upon your beard coarseness and skin sensitivity, the Chosera 10K stone might be fine enough to produce a shave ready edge. If not, your stones will be fine for the sequence needed to set a bevel and refine it. However, you might need an even finer hone or a set of bench strops with ultra fine abrasives (0.5 micron and finer).

One thing that might have contributed to the poor shave with the shavette is shave angle. Typically, you want to use a fairly shallow angle when using straight razors. On the first pass with the grain, it is customary to use an angle less than 30 degrees. For across the grain, reduce that to about 20 degrees. Then for against the grain, the spine of the straight razor should almost touch your face. That is much more shallow than typically used with DE razors.
Thank you for the guidance - much appreciated.

The retailer here actually does in-house sharpening for their customers, and their team ensures that every blade that they ship is shave ready, according to them. Based on the two shaves I've had so far I would concur.

My skin is not all that sensitive, but I do have coarse beard hair. I would not go straight from the 10K to shaving....I would use the same intermediate step that I use when I'm putting a mirror polish on a flat ground or saber ground knife with very hard steel, which is a wood-backed leather strop, loaded with 0.5 micron aluminum oxide honing compound. I've also given some thought to a balsa strop that I can load with some finer compound....or maybe honing film. We'll burn that bridge while we're crossing it though.
 

Whisky

ATF. I use all three.
Staff member
Welcome to B&B. When you get a chance head over to the Hall of Fame and tell us a little more about yourself.
 
Thank you for the guidance - much appreciated.

The retailer here actually does in-house sharpening for their customers, and their team ensures that every blade that they ship is shave ready, according to them. Based on the two shaves I've had so far I would concur.

My skin is not all that sensitive, but I do have coarse beard hair. I would not go straight from the 10K to shaving....I would use the same intermediate step that I use when I'm putting a mirror polish on a flat ground or saber ground knife with very hard steel, which is a wood-backed leather strop, loaded with 0.5 micron aluminum oxide honing compound. I've also given some thought to a balsa strop that I can load with some finer compound....or maybe honing film. We'll burn that bridge while we're crossing it though.

Going from a 10K Chosera (which is somewhere around 1 micron) to a 0.5 micron bench strop should make a big improvement in the edge. If the Dovo is shave ready from your supplier, you might even be able to keep it shave ready by going back to the bench strop every few shaves. If the strop does not make it good enough, drop back to the 10K and do a few strokes before going back to the bench strop.

If you ever find that the 0.5 micron pasted strop is not sufficient, there are even finer stropping compounds available. My practice is to go form 0.5 micron to 0.25 micron to 0.10 micron. I found that the even finer abrasives improved the edge for me, but you might not find that to be the case. While aluminum oxide is available in 0.5 micron grit, I am not sure if it goes finer than that. The two most common ultra fine abrasives used for razors are chromium oxide, polycrystaline diamond, and cubic boron nitride. I use CBN, but it is difficult to find as one of the suppliers was from Ukraine.
 

Slash McCoy

I freehand dog rockets
A Dovo Bismarck for your first true razor? Well you do jump in with both feet, huh? Yes, the Dovo factory "shave ready" edge is woefully inadequate, and without vendor honing you would have to send it out, in spite of having apparently significant experience honing knives.

From a 10k Chosera you can easily jump to a 12k SuperStone, or better yet, 1µ lapping film as per the lapping film thread started by Blix many years ago now. The advantage of film is that there is no stone to lap. Your plate is never in contact with the razor and so never wears, only the film wears. I use cast acrylic from TAP Plastics for my film honing plate, 1-1/2" thick to keep my fingers out of the razor's path when honing in hand, and 3" wide by 12" long. It is very flat, doesn't warp or flex, and is pretty much unbreakable so I don't mind the cost. It is a forever tool. I use either NanoLapTech or 3M AlOx plain back film. If you get the wrong stuff you will be disappointed.

You can up your game by running the three stage lapped/pasted balsa progression and then maintaining with the .1µ diamond pasted balsa after every shave and never need to hit the stones again, with that razor.

Newbie Honing Compendium | Badger & Blade

I really like the Bismarck, myself, and all the other Solingen blades made on the same blank. The form factor just knocks it out of the park. Very ergonomic, hand and face friendly, easy to hone, strop, and use. Keep an eye out for vintage Bismarcks of the same style, from before Dovo bought Bismark. They are great, as well.

Well done on making your own strop. Sounds like a good one. Usually we don't use oil tanned leather though there are some happy latigo users out there. Chrome tanned is a non-starter. We usually prefer veg tanned, especially if it is made from cowhide. Making your first strop really ought to be more of a thing. If you destroy it while learning to strop, no biggie, just make another. When you are ready to upgrade, just make a nicer one. No need to pay $100 to $300 for a strop. Don't get me wrong, I love my Kanayama and the magical feel of stropping on it, but my favorite is one I made for myself using compressed veg tanned cowhide. One of these days I will probably make a batch of noob strops to sell, and make a youtube at the same time so all the cheap charlies out there can roll their own first strop with minimal effort and expense.

If your shavette holds the blade solidly and you install it properly, you are halfway there, with a shavette. The main thing is keep the shave angle VERY low, so that the "spine" of the shavette is nearly dragging on the face. That, and tightly stretching the skin and light pressure, are the keys to a bloodless shavette shave. Also counterintuitively I find the sharpest blades give the smoothest shave. I use Feather Hi Stainless DE blades snapped in half. For extra smoothness you can cork the blade, one pass through the cork only. My favorite shavette is a half DE blade knockoff of the Feather AC folding type, from AliExpress though I have seen it on Amazon and Ebay lately, too. Shavettes are nice for traveling, cause no strop needed, and they are expendable, especially the cheapies.
 
Welcome. I like to read threads from DIY folks like yourself. I've gotten lazy in my old age and just recently purchased a Feather AC SS shavette. Did the whole SR thing in the '80's and 90's, but no more. Shavettes have a longer learning curve than SR's IMO. After 3 weeks, I think I have the hang of it: lightness of touch and very shallow angle (AND go nice and slow).
 
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