Setting the Bevel with the Burr Method

Discussion in 'Hones/Honing' started by Slash McCoy, Apr 1, 2017.

    The Burr Method of honing is perhaps the method of setting a bevel that is most easily understood perfectly. It is the most sure and positive means of setting a bevel, as the method itself is the proof. There is no guessing and very little subjectivity. It is fairly fast, and easy to learn for a newbie. It is not the only way, but it is a very good way. I have spelled it out in detail in many many posts, and so I felt it was time to set it down once and for all, so I could simply point to the thread.

    The cons are, well, there really aren't any, apart from that raising the burr and then honing it off are a waste of steel. A waste of such small magnitude that it is only an issue if you do it multiple times. Setting the bevel should only ever need to be done ONCE. Losing a few extra steel molecules doesn't particularly dismay or concern me, when it is a one time thing. If it does you, then there is no need for you to read further.

    "Normal" honing involves placing the razor flat on a hone with both spine and edge touching, landing the spine first, then sweeping the razor edge forward up or down the hone. To or from the honer. At the end of the stroke, the edge is flipped up and over, with the spine remaining on the hone. Then the blade is once again stroked along the hone edge first. At the end of the return stroke, flip the edge out and over again, and you have made one round trip up and down the hone, or one lap. These alternating laps are very kind to the blade. They remove steel from both sides evenly. They work well with heavy or light pressure. These alternating laps are what you will use the majority of the time. But not for raising a burr.

    One sided honing has the advantage, in setting the bevel, of being capable of raising a burr. Instead of flipping the blade, the same side remains down on the hone for a considerable number of laps. It can be as little as 50, or up into the thousands, depending on hone grit and blade condition. The lap count is not important, except in that you want the lap counts for the two sides of the blade to be about the same when you are finished setting the bevel. The razor is honed with the same side down until a burr is detected, period. A burr is a bit of edge steel that is deflected upward from the hone by the action of honing only one side and using some considerable pressure to do so. Typically the pressure used is about the weight of your arm, maybe a bit more, but not bearing down with the upper body.

    But back to the burr. If you run your fingertip lightly across the blade from spine to edge and then off the edge, as if driving a car off a cliff, a burr will very faintly catch at your fingertip. This can be very subtle. Feel both sides to be sure. The two sides will feel different and then you will know what the burr feels like.

    The burr will appear in one spot first, and then gradually extend up and down the entire length of the edge. When you have a burr along the entire edge, flip the razor and hone the other side. The burr will then be down on the hone, so it will be honed off straight away. You now are trying to raise a new burr on the opposite side. Remember, the burr is always deflected upward. Anyway, keep going and do the same number of laps on this side as you did on the first side, and test for the burr. If the burr is present along the entire edge, congratulate yourself. Otherwise, hone until you get it, then hit the first side again to balance out the lap count.

    Now I said hone one side until the burr is evident along the entire edge. In practice, often this can waste even more steel than necessary in the case of a very crudely ground razor. If your lap count gets up to a couple or three hundred, go ahead and flip the blade and balance the lap counts. Now you may find that you have a burr or partial burr on the new side. Or maybe not. If not, you know what to do. do another hundred or so, and test. Then another hundred, and test. Don't keep going forever... flip again. Keep the lap count roughly balanced and eventually you will remove enough steel to expose the bevel buried in there. Fewer laps in each go will waste less steel. Too few and you won't feel the burr.

    Once you have raised a burr on each side in turn, and balanced the laps, it is time to hone the burr off. I prefer to go straight to normal alternating laps for this. Others use a diminishing lap scheme that I will get into in a moment. But my way begins with moderate pressure, about the weight of my forearm. and by the 10th lap I am down to the weight of my hand. Eventually I am down to the weight of the razor. The burr is eventually honed away and the bevel is set. It is proven, since the burr was raised on both sides and therefore the two bevel planes met at an apex. With the weight of the razor only, it is almost impossible to increase the amount of fin or foil edge, so don't worry overly much about over honing.

    The diminishing method works thusly. Raise the burr on both sides. Now do a group of 10 laps on one side, then the other side. 8 laps on the first side, then the second. 6 and 6. 4 and 4. 3 and 3, 2 and 2, then 1 and 1 and continue normally. These diminishing sets are done with light pressure. What they do is sort of transfer the burr frrom side to side and hone it away bit by bit. If you love intricate methods, use the diminishing sets method for removing your burr.

    This is how you set the bevel on a hollowground razor with a straight edge. For a smiling razor of course it is a bit more complex. You have to roll heel and toe up to get contact with all of the curved edge. I suggest you stick with a straight edged razor for the first couple of attempts. A wedge requires tape, or else freehand honing. I won't go into that here.

    The most common way to thoroughly hose up the proceedings is to let the razor's shoulder ride up on the hone. This presses the toe into the hone, causing the edge to curve spineward over time. It also prevents the heel end of the edge from contacting the hone.

    Another common mistake is laying the hone flat on a solid object, and using both hands to "control" the razor. It is much better to hone in hand. Hold the hone in your off hand loosely, so it is sort of floating out there in the space in front of you. Now the razor and hone will find their own alignment and pressure is easily moderated and balanced.

    A poorly lapped stone will also hinder your efforts. Best way to lap a stone is to draw a grid on the surface, and rub it on a whole sheet of sandpaper glued carefully to heavy glass or granite or whatever. Polished marble tile works. There are "flattening stones" but to be MOST effective, they must be significantly larger than the stone being lapped. Over running the edges or ends compromises finished flatness.

    A bevel setter most commonly is a 1k grit synthetic stone or a natural stone that behaves in similar fashion. It can also be lapping film at 15u, 12u, or 9u grit. Sandpaper is sometimes used. But sometimes a lot of steel obviously needs to be removed, and rather than put a thousand laps on your nice new Chosera, you might want to start out with a hundred set or two on a 600 grit stone or even coarser. As a rule, always go coarser if there is a visible chip or ding in the edge. 300 grit. 240. 150. 100. Whatever it takes. Just leave enough meat on the blade for the progression of finer grits to remove the deep scratches without honing down into steel that needs to stay on the razor. If in doubt, go finer. If impatient, either learn patience or start coarser. 10 guesses what I do.

    After successfully and correctly using the method, the bevel will pass all the standard bevel tests such as thumbnail, cherry tomato, forearm shaving, etc.

    I hope that this post has been informative, and that subsequent replies will clarify anything that I did not explain properly. Good Luck, and Happy Honing!
  1. As a honer still very much on the learning curve, I can attest to the success of Slash's bevel setting method! I have two or three straight edges I've honed that I really nailed - and each began with the burr method.
  2. Not my method. Been used for centuries for knives and stuff. I merely pontificated upon it from my soapbox with no particular regard for the feelings of certain purists who consider the method to be razor heresy.
  3. Bur method works. Better than telling a new.guy to use his thumbpad and feel.for.something he has no idea of. Lol. Good share.
  4. I have no trouble with raising a burr. If I'm fixing bad blade geometry its hard not to get a burr. Win, win.
  5. Nice write up. I will keep this in mind when the GD 66's arrive. Among all of the other issues attributed with a learning curve of modding a razor.
  6. Just started hearing about this method a couple of years ago after several decades of knife and razor sharpening experience.

    I've never done it with either a razor or a knife but it makes perfect sense and is easily explained.
  7. Although I wouldn't do this for myself, I am more of a slow and steady wins the race mentality. I do think many new honers have a problem recognizing when a bevel is actually done. I can see this method would take some of the mystery out of it for them and also for the professional that has to burn through a whole bunch of razors in a day. For me I enjoy the process so I'm in no rush to get there and generally don't like to do things to a razor I deem a tad aggressive. It is certainly worth a go if your keen. (No pun intended)
  8. I honestly find this more complicated then just making X strokes until you set a bevel. While I appreciate different methods and whatever works for you, I am unsure why I would try this if plan x strokes on a 1k works. Maybe a video would help me understand the steps better.

    Do you feel this bevel is stronger and more resistant to wear?
  9. No. A good bevel is a good bevel. However you get it, you got it. This method simply removes all the subjectivity. It can be difficult especially for a beginner to determine when the bevel is fully set along the entire edge. Since most honing fails are direct results of an incomplete bevel, absolutely positively getting it right in one go removes a very big wild card from the deck.

    I did once make a youtube video on honing with lapping film, in three parts. The first part shows setting the bevel by this method. Works on rocks, too. A search should find it.

    Here. Did it for ya.
  10. Thank you. I will try it.

    Have you checked the edge under any magnification after removing the burr? What were the results? Was the bevel straight?
  11. No, I have not examined any freshly set bevel under magnification. I have only looked at finished edges, to be honest. My bevel always gives good results to arm hair shave or cherry tomato test, when I bother to test. Frankly it is just so certain that I no longer bother to test a bevel I have set by this method. It is just set. The finished edge always treetops nicely and shaves well. If it shaves good, obviously the bevel was good.

    What do you mean by was the bevel straight, exactly? You mean a straight edge? Because with no rolling, this method will only give a straight edge. A very very slightly smiling razor will end up having a straight edge. A razor with a little more smile will end up with an edge that is straight for most of its length, and no proper bevel at toe or perhaps heel, unless you deliberately roll up to hit the toe or down for the heel. When only a very small part of the toe does not get any love, I don't worry about it. The rest of the edge will eventually catch up to it. A large smile definitely demands a rolling x stroke. You can still raise a burr by honing one side at a time, but you do need to modify the stroke to hit the entire edge properly.
  12. When I set a bevel, I check the edge with a 40X loupe to see if there is any micro chipping or deformations on the edge. I want it to be a straight line on the edge. If it is chipped or has any kind of lighted specs on the edge, I continue with the bevel setting.

    I was just wondering if you checked it with this method what the edge looked like before progressing.
  13. ouch

    ouch Moderator Emeritus

    Vintage Slash. :thumbup1:
  14. No. If the finished edge is nice, then the quality of the bevel is self evident.
  15. Hey Slash et al,

    I've used this method as per your advice in a separate thread. Question - if after raising a burr on either side then x-stroking it away, is there any need to go further? I've done this a few times now on different blades but I'm still not getting a sharp enough edge to take arm or leg hair off, often even at skin level let alone tree topping.

    Should I repeat the process until it passes these tests?


  16. No. If you raised a good burr on both sides in turn, then honed it off, you are done. I suspect your problem is in the burr removal. Try the diminishing sets technique for burr removal, then use DECREASING pressure on the alternating laps to refine the bevel. If in doubt, use still less pressure and still more laps. Light pressure deforms the edge less and gives you a true, flat bevel. Of course it works more slowly with less pressure, so more honing is needed with less pressure. That's how you get the bevel as smooth and perfect as possible before you begin your progression. Keep going until you can easily shave arm hair.

    Are you certain you got a burr? Did you feel it?

    What are you using for a bevel setter? Is this your first attempt at honing?

    Even a pocketknife honed on 1k by raising a burr and honing it off, should easily shave arm hair.

    Don't expect treetopping from a raw bevel, no matter how perfectly set it is. That will come later, after refining the edge and finishing. You are looking for arm shaving, cherry tomato slicing performance at this stage.
  17. I've heard of the burr, and remember a bunch of debate years ago, when I first came around, of whether there properly is, or should be, a burr on a razor or not.
    I'm going to try your method on an old Wosty pipe razor. I used to do X strokes to set bevels on a 1k chosera. Then I began using the circles technique and pretty much have stuck with it. I'm intrigued with this burr method though. Thanks very much for posting it.
  18. Hi Slash,

    I am using a 1k synth for bevel set.

    I feel a very slight catching along the length of the edge yep. Maybe it should be more distinct/catch more...

    I have been honing for a couple months when I have time. So far I have gotten a couple to a shaveable state but nothing that can compare to a fully honed and shave-ready Wade I picked up.

    My current progression is a 1k/3k combo stone, a 4k/10k combo, and recently picked up a little piece of oozuko as a finisher. That got the shave comfortable but not particularly close/keen.



    edit: I am thinking pressure may be my issue. I will try just the weight of the razor and see where I get.
  19. Okay yeah sounds like you got your burr. So the problem is geting it honed off. Best way to regulate your pressure is to always hone in hand. If you rest your stone on a fixed surface you will likely have problems with that, especially if you try to hold the razor with both hands, a common newbie mistake.

    Is your stone flat? Really flat? If you have never lapped it, then it is not, and you definitely need to lap it.

    So, if your stone is lapped, and you have a handle on the pressure thing, and you are not riding the stone with the shoulder of the razor or "bending" the blade over the edge of the stone when x stroking, you should be able to get that bevel tuned up nicely. This is not a 10 or 12 lap endeavor. It's not done until it is done.

    I suggest that you hit the bevel (edge and spine) with a sharpie, and hone 2 or 3 laps and see if you are making good contact with the entire edge, and spine. The sharpie test might reveal something that isn't right or isnt getting done right.

    Hang in there. You're GONNA get this.

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