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The Pull Stroke Explained

I am a serious proponent of adding "Pull Strokes" to a honing progression and especially to the finish stage. I am often asked what that means, and sometimes it is obvious that someone doesn't catch the meaning at all. So let me explain here.

In normal honing or stropping, the razor is stroked along the hone or strop from one end to the other, flipped onto the other side, and stroked back, then flipped again. That is one lap. The stroke can be edge leading, as in standard honing, or it can be spine leading, as in stropping. The razor is more or less perpendicular to the path of travel. The razor's posture might be modified a bit, with the heel leading or the toe leading a bit, but basically the razor goes from end to end.

When doing a pull stroke, the razor does not travel in the end to end direction. Instead, it travels crossways to that. The motion is parallel to the axis of the blade, and the motion isI only carried for a distance of about 3/4". Then the razor is flipped onto its other side, and repositioned on hone or strop, and pull-stroked on that side.

Take a razor and lay it on a hone as if you were going to hone it. Let's say you are right handed. You are holding the hone in your left hand, and the razor in your right. Let the razor point naturally across the hone. Now pull it to the right. You only want a movement of 3/4". If you continued, the razor would slide endwise off the right hand side of the hone.

It is tempting to use excessive pressure to make up for the short stroke distance, but don't. Just don't. The pull strokes are not meant to hone. They are meant to strip the edge clean of little bits of fin edge hanging on to the apex. Due to irregularities in the sorface of the balsa this might also add a bit of convexity to the apex. So, to peak the apex back up, a dozen or so regular laps are applied. Enough to recover full sharpness, but not enough to form a fin edge again. I usually apply a half dozen pull strokes per side at the finish, followed by a dozen regular laps. Sometimes I add a couple of pull strokes after every 10 regular laps.

The pull stroke will help you to up your game on stones, on film, or on balsa. Don't use it on a leather strop. It is also good for right after setting a bevel with the burr method. Bits of burr often remain fixed on the edge, and they must be removed.

If your eyes just glazed over while reading that description, then just remember this. A pull stroke is NOT a spine leading (edge trailing) stroke of the razor along the hone. It is a pull of the razor SIDEWAYS across the hone, and it is only about 3/4" of travel. I will add pics in a future post.

If you seem to be troubled by fin edge, if the razor will treetop but not shave your face after the first few strokes, then revisit the finisher, and add some pull strokes. If you find that the edge feels harsh when you shave, add some pull strokes. If you are trying to hone on some hyper-fine media and the bevel seems to stick to your skin when you shave, maybe cut your skin a bit too eagerly, add some pull strokes and skip the followup regular laps. It only adds about 20 seconds to your hone time per razor, and it will help kick up your edges a notch.
 
I am a serious proponent of adding "Pull Strokes" to a honing progression and especially to the finish stage. I am often asked what that means, and sometimes it is obvious that someone doesn't catch the meaning at all. So let me explain here.

In normal honing or stropping, the razor is stroked along the hone or strop from one end to the other, flipped onto the other side, and stroked back, then flipped again. That is one lap. The stroke can be edge leading, as in standard honing, or it can be spine leading, as in stropping. The razor is more or less perpendicular to the path of travel. The razor's posture might be modified a bit, with the heel leading or the toe leading a bit, but basically the razor goes from end to end.

When doing a pull stroke, the razor does not travel in the end to end direction. Instead, it travels crossways to that. The motion is parallel to the axis of the blade, and the motion isI only carried for a distance of about 3/4". Then the razor is flipped onto its other side, and repositioned on hone or strop, and pull-stroked on that side.

Take a razor and lay it on a hone as if you were going to hone it. Let's say you are right handed. You are holding the hone in your left hand, and the razor in your right. Let the razor point naturally across the hone. Now pull it to the right. You only want a movement of 3/4". If you continued, the razor would slide endwise off the right hand side of the hone.

It is tempting to use excessive pressure to make up for the short stroke distance, but don't. Just don't. The pull strokes are not meant to hone. They are meant to strip the edge clean of little bits of fin edge hanging on to the apex. Due to irregularities in the sorface of the balsa this might also add a bit of convexity to the apex. So, to peak the apex back up, a dozen or so regular laps are applied. Enough to recover full sharpness, but not enough to form a fin edge again. I usually apply a half dozen pull strokes per side at the finish, followed by a dozen regular laps. Sometimes I add a couple of pull strokes after every 10 regular laps.

The pull stroke will help you to up your game on stones, on film, or on balsa. Don't use it on a leather strop. It is also good for right after setting a bevel with the burr method. Bits of burr often remain fixed on the edge, and they must be removed.

If your eyes just glazed over while reading that description, then just remember this. A pull stroke is NOT a spine leading (edge trailing) stroke of the razor along the hone. It is a pull of the razor SIDEWAYS across the hone, and it is only about 3/4" of travel. I will add pics in a future post.

If you seem to be troubled by fin edge, if the razor will treetop but not shave your face after the first few strokes, then revisit the finisher, and add some pull strokes. If you find that the edge feels harsh when you shave, add some pull strokes. If you are trying to hone on some hyper-fine media and the bevel seems to stick to your skin when you shave, maybe cut your skin a bit too eagerly, add some pull strokes and skip the followup regular laps. It only adds about 20 seconds to your hone time per razor, and it will help kick up your edges a notch.
Can you please clarify one thing please?
You only want a movement of 3/4".
Does movement of 3/4” mean sideways travel north to south up the balsa strop whilst pulling west to east the entire blade from heel to toe ( assuming you’re right handed)?
If you could manage it I would like to see photos. Thanks
 

kelbro

Alfred Spatchcock
I think that I have this pictured right. If I was holding the stone in front of me like a windshield and a regular stroke would be left to right in a wiping motion, the pull stroke would be made straight down at 12:00 for about 3/4"? Assuming the stone was wide enough for the entire blade to be in contact at 12:00?
 
Can you please clarify one thing please?
You only want a movement of 3/4".
Does movement of 3/4” mean sideways travel north to south up the balsa strop whilst pulling west to east the entire blade from heel to toe ( assuming you’re right handed)?
If you could manage it I would like to see photos. Thanks
No. A pull stroke is done with almost no movement north/south.

When going the pull stroke, the blade is laid flat on the hone/film/balsa and moved across east-west from heal towards the toe (or toe towards the heal if you prefer) about 20mm (3/4"). When doing this on flim or balsa, I include a slight movement (about 3mm or 1/8" or less) north/south with spine leading so as to be sure that I will not cut into the film/balsa.

Always use light or lighter pressure than you normally honed with on that grit when doing your pull strokes. NEVER more pressure.
 
Here is the pull stroke explained in pictures. I am using my 0.25u balsa strop and Titan ACRM-2 SR in this example.

You start with the blade laying flat on your honing medium.

IMG_20200221_104645.jpg
With the blade staying on the honing medium, you pull the blade to the right about 20mm (3/4") and slightly up (spine leading) about 3mm (1/8") or less in one motion to this position. (I know this pic i9ncorrectly looks like I moved the blade spine trailing but it is not easy taking pics with your cell phone held in your mouth.)

IMG_20200221_104608.jpg
You then flip your blade (spine remaining on honing medium) to this position.

IMG_20200221_104756.jpg
With the blade staying on the honing medium, you again pull the blade to the right about 20mm (3/4") and this time slightly down (spine leading) about 3mm (1/8") or less in one motion to this position.

IMG_20200221_104722.jpg
You have now completed one full pull stroke.

The reason why I include a slight spine-leading motion in my pull strokes is to ensure that I do not cut into my honing medium. This is more particularly so when using lapping film and/or balsa as your honing medium.

If you are pedantic about cutting into your balsa strops like I am, you can instead perform your pull strokes on a spare piece of pasted balsa (one for each grade of paste that you use). Mine are about 20mm (3/4") x 65mm (2.5").

IMG_20200221_111931.jpg
When using these pieces of scrap balsa, you pull the whole blade across the piece so that the whole edge gets about 20mm (3/4") of pull stroke.
 
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Can you please clarify one thing please?
You only want a movement of 3/4".
Does movement of 3/4” mean sideways travel north to south up the balsa strop whilst pulling west to east the entire blade from heel to toe ( assuming you’re right handed)?
If you could manage it I would like to see photos. Thanks
No travel up and down. Only travel across the stone or film or balsa. The razor simply slides to the side. The motion is parallel to the spine. If the stone is aligned N-S, then the razor's spine is aligned W-E and the movement is also W-E. Not sure how I could explain it better. It would seem obvious, in light of the objective, which is to strip the edge clean of any artifacts. There is NO motion N-S or S-N in the pull stroke.
 
Not even 3mm (1/8") or less spine leading due to my paranoia?
If you feel you must, then maybe it would be okay. But when the pull stroke is done very close to the end of the balsa, if it does happen to slice into it a bit, you are not destroying the balsa where it really matters. and the pull stroke will be much more effective when it is precisely parallel with the spine. So let's just say it is a judgement call.
 
I think that I have this pictured right. If I was holding the stone in front of me like a windshield and a regular stroke would be left to right in a wiping motion, the pull stroke would be made straight down at 12:00 for about 3/4"? Assuming the stone was wide enough for the entire blade to be in contact at 12:00?
I think you got it.

Even if the stone is too narrow for the entire blade to rest on it, you can still do an effective pull stroke. Angle the razor heel or toe leading, and pull it in that direction. What really matters is that the razor travels parallel to the spine. Also if the toe only hangs off over the left hand edge of the hone by a small amount, you can still pull stroke it. Just be sure that all parts of the blade got some love for the stone, or film or balsa.
 
It is a very important technique. If the razor is a softer steel it can be easy to raise a fin. This is particularly true with Chinese razors which seem to have quite a variability of temper.

Whilst the description here is for use with balsa, I would also recommend using it in other progressions.
 
It is a very important technique. If the razor is a softer steel it can be easy to raise a fin. This is particularly true with Chinese razors which seem to have quite a variability of temper.

Whilst the description here is for use with balsa, I would also recommend using it in other progressions.
I absolutely recommend pull strokes on film or stone. Even after setting the bevel with the burr method. Anywhere that a fin or wire edge can possibly be generated, or any combination of factors that can cause stiction between bevel and skin. It's the two aspirin and call me in the morning, of honing. Can't really hurt, and usually helps.
 
Interesting stroke

Watch at 3:44 where Iwasaki-san finishes a kamisori on a Jnat with multiple pull strokes.
In his compendium Iwasaki describes a slightly different method for finishing at the very end of honing. With this technique he seems to suggest north/south movement of the kamisori/razor, almost slight north/south vibration.

If I understund correctly this movement seems different than what you describe as Pull-Stroke and what is seen in the video.
 
I’ve never tried it, not that I’ve really pushed my envelope on this skill - it does make sense
thanks for the info.
 
Interesting stroke


In his compendium Iwasaki describes a slightly different method for finishing at the very end of honing. With this technique he seems to suggest north/south movement of the kamisori/razor, almost slight north/south vibration.

If I understund correctly this movement seems different than what you describe as Pull-Stroke and what is seen in the video.
You may be right. And if so, his version might make for a better finish for all I know. The pull stroke as I practice it has a very specific function and I think maybe Iwasaki-san's finishing technique is meant to help make a nice cloudy scratch pattern on the bevel, which wil help prevent the bevel sticking to skin and give the kamisori a better glide on the skin. I don't normally hone on a Jnat or I would give it a try.
 
It would appear that the fellow honing that razor in the video (Iwasaki is doing voice-over but someone else appears to be doing the work on the blade) is using some form of diamond compound as the last step with those short strokes. That does not look like a stone, the surface appears to flex a little judging by the reflections moving on the surface when he presses the razor to it. Also a small syringe containing something is visible in the one shot where he's testing HHT - diamond lapping compound is commonly available in syringes just like that.

I use very short strokes at the end of my honing process also to minimize burr/wire edge. I have done a lot of playing around and it doesn't seem to matter what direction the razor is moved in, whether parallel to the spine or rather edge trailing or leading, so long as the strokes are extremely short. Obviously one would not want to use edge leading strokes on a flexible surface...
 

Steve56

Ask me about shaving naked!
Same here, short strokes at the end of the finishing session.

You can do a few (3-6-ish) dry strokes or a few circles on something like a smooth tomae or tenjou suita and it will boost the HHT a little. But more than can be explained by such a small amount of light honing.
 
Around 3 years ago in France, someone counseled me to do a similar stroke for 3 laps in beginning a routine stropping session (before or after the shave). I've done it ever since and it's seemed to help. I think it has to do with reducing any mild edge irregularities prior to stropping lengthwise (up-and-down or X-pass). And doing it has never caused a problem with my strops (edit: it is not exactly parallel as there is a spine-leading advance of around an inch or so during the latterly-biassed pass).
 
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