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Shave Number Fifty - My Journey Thus Far

Well, I have made it to shave number Fifty with straight razors! From the forum and my experience, I realise that the major milestones are usually the first shave, the 30th shave and the 100 th shave. It was only last January that I stood nervously in front of the mirror with my face all lathered up and razor in hand wondering how to start and what hand does what. How do I actually hold this thing? I got through it and although it wasn’t the best experience, I kept going. At least there was no blood. Straight shaving, or any shaving for that matter, isn’t like a rugby match – where if there is no blood in the first five minutes, it’s going to be a boring game. Especially, if it’s the Wallabies versus the All-Blacks.

The next 10 shaves or so were difficult and at the time I believed I was having razor/stropping problems. They just didn’t seem sharp enough and were dragging through the whiskers. Looking back now, I realise that it was my technique. The wrong angle being the likely culprit. Those same razors are now shaving quite nicely and I am having no issues with them at all. That was the first lesson.

Over the next 20 shaves up to about number 30, I seemed to be getting the hang of it. The shaves improved from pretty rough to bordering on DFS. Still having trouble with the chin area and bottom lip. It was around number 30 that I tried the Fool’s Pass and got the moustache area sorted. Also did the Fool’s Pass on the bottom lip and things improved a lot.

Shaves 30 to 40 saw more gradual improvement and along with it my confidence. Lathering had never been an issue for me as I had been DE shaving for some time. A couple of really rough shaves however, highlighted the importance of a good lather and a good soap.

Shaves 40 to 50 were getting a lot more consistent and am really happy with my progress.

I still get feelings of trepidation before each shave, although not as bad as at the beginning of the journey and I am no longer afraid of the razors. But you do have to be careful. I have had a few nicks now and then, but none in the last 10 or 15 shaves. I did touch my ear with the blade and it started bleeding a few minutes later. Didn’t even feel it! However, I find that I get a lot more blood from my DE shaves. I still use the DE a lot, mainly on work days, when I go into the office and don’t have the time to devote to a straight. You definitely have to devote an hour for a straight shave, the stropping, lathering, the shave itself and the clean up after. Just lately I have been playing music in the bathroom at the same time to create an ambience.

I think I have got my stropping under control. After a couple of cheap strops, I lashed out and bought a Parker strop on-line from the UK and haven’t look back since. I have found that I need to do 120 passes on the leather to get the edge back into a shaving condition. Lots of other people just seem to do 60 or so – but it works for me so I will keep going. Maybe things will change in the future as I gain more experience.

As for honing… I bought some stones and had a go, but am still finding it akin to voodoo magic. Maybe I haven’t put in the hours, I just don’t know. Despite spending a lot of time reading, both Dr Google and the forums, as well as good old YouTube, I still can’t seem to get a razor honed. Telling when the bevel is set is a complete mystery. I still can’t believe that people chop up tomatoes as a test! How does that tell if the angles on the bevel are set? Any old kitchen knife can do that. I even saw on a Youtube video, someone said that you can even sharpen up a credit card to be able to slice tomatoes. Not sure if honing is my bag or not. At the moment I am just happy to be able to send my razors away for honing by people that know what they are doing, and keep them touched up at home. I seem to be able to manage that with my 12k stone and some paste on one of the cheap strops that I don’t use anymore. I bought a piece of balsa at the hardware store the other day and will make up a pasted balsa strop to keep the edges in good nick.

By this stage I have built up a collection of five razors that shave really well. My Grandad’s old Bengal Imperial, a P. Luent French Frameback plus another French razor, Le Talisman ( a Perout Cognet), a brand new Dovo Special that I bought from The Superior Shave and a Gold Dollar. They all shave really well but the Frameback and the Le Talisman are my favourites. For some reason the shave off them seems to be a lot better. Thanks to Joseph for the hone job on them, plus the Bengal.

Sorry about the long post but I am really enjoying this journey and also, thanks for the help from the B&B forum on some of my other postings.


Hi Andrew
I’ve got about 40 SR shaves under my belt, so a bit behind you. Doubt I can give any good advice on shaving or lathering other than I also appreciate that getting the right lather has a big impact on the shave.

For honing, I think I have a little more experience based on my work with kitchen knives.

1) Something I got from Dr. Matt videos and use a lot is “killing the edge” at the beginning of the session. This is what makes the tomato test valuable. All you need to do is lightly drag the edge along the edge of the stone once (I use either a 2k or 5k stone but I see some people just do it on a glass or ceramic mug.
2) Tomato test. There are a LOT of tomato tests, both for razors and kitchen knives. For razors I use a Dr. Matt test again. Usually using a cherry tomato, but can use anything. Specifically the idea is to hold the razor at a standard shaving angle (close to tangential to the surface) against the surface of the tomato, and then press very lightly. Its a push cut, I try not to pull the razor at all. If you have killed the edge then the edge won’t bit into the tomato. If you have a good edge, then the razor will cut through the skin. You need to repeat the test every 1/2” or so down the length of the razor to verify the edge.

Put 1 and 2 together and you have a test for verifying that you have set the bevel.

I use this for verification purposes. My primary test for validating that the edge is set is the burr test. So when I start the bevel set I don’t use X-strokes, I use 1/2 strokes, typically 20 per side before switching sides. When you finish a set of 20 on one side, run your thumb across the blade, starting near the spine and ending at the edge. If the honing has reached the edge it will start to form a burr that you can feel with your thumb. Note that if you are flipping sides after every stroke the burr will never form - you need to have a multiple of passes on one side for it to form to the point that it can be felt. After 20, whether there is a burr or not, switch sides and repeat. As with the tomato test, you need to verify the burr has formed the entire length of the edge - usually it will start at one point and it takes a little more work to get it along the entire length. Once I have the burr on one side, I will do one more set of 1/2 strokes on the other side to verify that I have a burr along that whole length as well. If you have a straight edge and a perfectly flat stone, the whole edge will come in pretty quickly once you start to get a burr. If not, you may need a little extra work in one place to finish setting the bevel. If you are bevel setting with a 1k or 2k stone, the bevel will be big and easy to feel. On a 5k you can still feel the burr, but it is smaller and more difficult to find. When I was only honing knives I would form a burr with each stone, but with razors I really only worry about raising a burr with the bevel setter. After that I just do X-strokes.

BTW - I was never really particular about keeping my stones flat when I was honing knives. Didn’t seem that big a deal. With a 10” knife on a 3” wide stone the edge is always moving across the stone. But with a 3” razor on a 3” wide stone its quite efficient to simply run the razor up and down the stone. Which is fine, as long as the stone is perfectly flat. So with razors I always flatten my non-finishers before use. My finishers don’t seem to need flattening.

If you have a loupe (highly recommended) you can often use it to check if the bevel is set as well. The scratch pattern from the stone should be uniform all the way to the very edge - if the edge area seems a different color, you may not have reached the edge yet.

Hope this helps!

If you are happy enough to have your razors honed, and you are pleased with the result, you can maintain your edges indefinitely with a .1 micron diamond pasted strop.

There is a very detailed thread on the subject:

In short:

1) You need a shave ready razor for a start that was not honed with a taped spine.
2) Follow the instructions exactly, don't deviate.
3) You need three balsa strops - .5 micron, .25 micron and .1 micron
4) You use all three the first time and after that, strop after each shave on the .1 micron for 50 laps and then your normal leather stropping.
5) If you are not happy with the shave, go back to point number 2 and try again, you are not following the instructions. :c4:

If you follow the instructions to the T, you are guaranteed to have a laser sharp edge and theoretically will never have to go back to a stone.

I am more than 1000 shaves in and still learning!

Enjoy the journey.
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Congratulations on your progress so far. The hardest yards are now behind you. This year, I’d encourage you to drop the DE and use the SR exclusively. Your technique will progress much faster once you start SR shaving daily.
Great posts, Andrew and Marty! I recently passed the 50 shave mark, having now shaved every other day with traditional straight since September 19. Like Andrew, my experience could be described as one of gradual improvement. The first few shaves were pretty memorable - not unlike the first few with a DE. It took a while, but I am now able to complete my shaves with only my straight, and even go over and around the larger moles on my face with the straight. I now have five new razors and a handful of used.

There have definitely been lightbulb moments, but the reality is that lots of different things (some smaller and some larger) contributed to me getting to this point. Not needing to spend hours a day commuting was huge, but so were lots of smaller things when added up.

Gaining proficiency at finishing (or touching up) a razor has been another big one - as without a properly honed razor, you're pretty much sunk. As much as I love my two JNATs, I have really benefited from learning how to get a smooth, shave-ready edge from my Naniwa 12k. When I start the honing process, I try to lay the blade on the stone flat and start the process with light pressure and smooth motions just trying to feel the stone through the blade (thinking of the blade as an extension of my arm, hands and fingers). And only when I am able to really relax and figuratively "let go", do I apply any additional pressure and torque (if necessary).

Without doubt, shaving with a straight is a journey, and I am sure that there will be many more lessons to be learned along the way!
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