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Trying to hone a vintage Wade&Butcher, no success!

Thanks to the advice of B&B members, I was finally able to get this blade nice and sharp! See my later post for details.

Hi everyone,

I recently picked up an antique W&B razor from an antique shop, and after much cleaning and general restoration I decided to have a go at getting it shave-ready. So far, though, I haven't had much success.

I only have a Norton 4k/8k, which may not be enough to get the blade sharp (and if that's the case, which tools do I need to get it going?) Here's what I've done:

  • Tried an 'aggressive' pyramid honing starting at 15/5
  • After that I tried the 'Lynn's circle method' I've seen many places online, with 40 pressed circles on the hone, and then 40 medium ones. This left the blade fairly sharp, but not enough to pass a thumb or hair test, and it can't take any of the soft hair off my arm.
  • I also tried a bit of 'back-honing' after reading one discussion thread, but that had little to no effect.

At this point I'm not really sure what to do. I'm new to honing, and have read so many conflicting things online that I'm a bit confused. Here are some photos of the razor:


Obviously there is a fair amount of wear and tear, and what I'd really like to know is A) is it at all salvageable?, and B) what do I need to do to get it shave-ready if it is.

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^ This. Get a more aggressive stone, as suggested, a 1K stone. One trick you can use is to use a magic marker on the bevel, make a few strokes and see how the ink is getting worn off. This may help you visually understand how the honing process is working on your razor.
I personally don't like the circular method, you can see the uneven wear on the middle part of the blade. This could also be from an uneven or warped spine. But in the circular method, the middle of the blade spends the most time on the hone, not the toe or heel. You cab see many older razors on Ebay that have a "frown" (like a recurved blade).
A more aggressive hone is in order for correcting that bevel. After you get the bevel correct, it will take probably less strokes than you think on the higher grits to get it shaving sharp.

I recommend using the heel to toe (X pattern) of honing, keep at it until the bevel is true. Switching methods like this can confuse the heck out of someone who is trying to get a razor shave ready. The blade has a slight curve to it, so keeping the whole razor on the hone during the honing stroke will not get the toe and heel properly honed. A straight with a true flat edge can be honed this way, but not one with a curved edge/blade.

Hope this helps.
you can see the uneven wear on the middle part of the blade.

The middle of the blade was already far more worn down then the rest of it when I bought it, so I definitely don't want to contribute to that further! In the future I'll stick to the X-pattern to keep things more consistent. I'm not overly fond of the circle method, I was just a little desperate in this case!

The general consensus so far seems to be that a 4k is just not taking off enough metal to set the bevel correctly, so I'll look into getting a 1k stone. I suppose it will come in handy if I try to do restore some more older razors in the future! Thanks very much for the advice.
The 4k CAN take off enough metal, it just takes much longer, and heaps of consistency and gobs of persistence in your honing.
And using a Norton waterstone, you very well may have to lap it a few times while honing to keep it flat.
I use DMT diamond stones 600 and 1200 (fine and extra fine) when I rehab badly worn razors. You never have to lap these stones. Some might say that these grits are way to aggressive for straight razors, but I have had great success with them.
IMHO, I feel that the Norton 4k/8k is over-rated, it is not a "magical" stone that will make any razor sharp enough to carve electrons off an atom simply by waving a razor near it.
It is a good stone, but not the end-all be-all of honing.
Yeah, I think it's a perfectly serviceable tool, but in this case (and in other cases I've seen around the internet) it's being pushed a little bit past its limit. And that's a very good point about consistency, too - I'm trying not to be one of those people who says "But I followed the instructions!" without stopping to think whether or not I can follow them properly.

I'll try it with a lower grit stone and post some updates at some point!
Can't really tell much from those pix.
I would not suspect that you need a lower grit hone immediately.
The blade doesn't look terribly difficult to hone - but obviously it needs more attention.

Have you honed a razor to 'shave ready' before?

Most of your sharpness is going to be established at the lower end of the grit scale.
In your case - that's one single hone. To get the bevel set properly - you will need to do a significant amont of 4k work on that edge.
A 1k can speed things up, and I would never suppose or recommend that blade be put on a stone more coarse than that.
Unless - the steel at the edge is rotten or something. Even then - if you're not experienced with honing on a very coarse stone, remember that you can get in trouble fairly quickly on one. Better to go slower on a 1k I think. Just my .02.

The scratch pattern that I can see is not consistent across the bevel. So that's something else to contend with.
I can't tell of there are 4k scratches showing or what - maybe there are existing scratches from an earlier honing coming up from polishing on the 8k. Hard to say and foolish to guess.

If - and this is a big if - the existing bevel was 'ok', you'll be able to handle that razor easily enough.
Each step away from 'ok' is going to mandate an exponentially greater level of effort though.

Me - personally - I don't find the 8k to be a really great finisher. So I would never find a Norton 8k edge to be 'shave ready'.
But - other people think that stone is very capable. Luckily, I don't have to shave with their razors.
I use a newly-purchased Thiers-Issard razor for my everyday shaving, and after the first 6-7 months of use it was in need of a bit of maintenance honing. I was able to get it nice and sharp with the Norton combo stone (sharp enough to pass a hanging hair test, and very comfortable to shave with afterwards) and a couple hundred passes along the strop.

I think the problem is down to my technique - I can be very consistent when there's only a max of 20-30 strokes at a time, but trying to do hundreds and hundreds of them without slipping up once can be a little tedious. That's why I think it may be better in my case to get the lower grit stone, so that the results are more visible with less passes across the stone. Plus they aren't super expensive either.

I will eventually look into a finishing stone, though, provided I get more serious about honing and collecting.

PS - there were tonnes of scratches on the blade when I got it from the antique shop, and unfortunately I made a few more scrubbing off the bits of patina and dirt. I tried to be extra careful around the edge itself, though. I also kind of like the idea of allowing the age of the blade to show through a bit, as opposed to working towards a mirror shine.
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A couple hundred passes on a strop seems like way too much.

Not the best solution, Why not try honing right now with a piece of tape to give you a secondary bevel and maybe gets you closer and faster to good bevel with the 4k. Less steel to remove..then in future you can get a 1k and hone withput tape when you need to rehone.
An update for those who are interested:

I went out to Lee Valley today to pick up a 1000x Bester stone, and gave it a shot just now. After watching a few videos I decided to stick with the Lynn Abrams techniques, and used his bevel-setting tutorial (Link):

It works by repeating this 'set' until the blade is nice and sharp, and you test by dragging it on the pad of your thumb. I used my new razor as a baseline for comparison. He says to do between 1 and 3 sets, but I found about 5 were needed in my case:

  • 40 very tight circles on each side.
  • 15 X-strokes

It was nice and sharp at that point, so I switched over to a pyramid hone, again for a little while longer than normal. I'm quite satisfied with how it turned out, but I can't really know for sure if it's good to go until I shave with it tomorrow.

Thanks for all of the advice everyone! I'll post an update after a shave test tomorrow.
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Just my thinking on this one....

1. you need a lower grit stone starting with 4k will keep you hours working on this without getting results

2. i would use one or two layers of tape...there is a lot of honewear as this on was used (as normal in the past) without tape...

This will also result that the bevel will have different sizes in the width...thats because of the honwear...as you can see there is a equal picture of the areas on the shoulder and the opposite side on the bevel.
The ugly side of honing-- Waiting to shave with the darned razor! haha Why, oh why do whiskers grow so slowly???????
Did the test shave: it's almost, almost there! I was able to shave without the tugging and pain of a dull razor, but it just wasn't sharp enough to shave close enough to the skin, and left stubble behind.

It's behaving very much like my T-I does when it's time for a maintenance honing, so maybe a regular pyramid hone on the 4k/8k will do the trick?
so maybe a regular pyramid hone on the 4k/8k will do the trick?

I think you need to go to the lowest grit stone you have (in your case the 4K) and stay on that stone until you have a great bevel, not a pretty good, not almost good but hands down great.

IMO pyramids make absolutely no sense, if you need to go up and down in grit it just means you did not do enough work on the lower grits. Think about it, when sanding wood, do you even go back to 80 grit after the 150 if you did a good job on the 80 the first time.
No one has commented on your use of the pyramid so I will. I don't think its necessary, at all.
Just go back to the 4k and stay there until you see a change in the way the water ripples in front of the blade. You should be able to easily cut off arm hair by passing the blade over your arm (maybe 1/4 - 1/2 inch over your arm). Don't count the laps, its useless (and it will be definitely more than 100 if you're setting the bevel on a wedge on a 4ks tone).
Then, go for the 8k, and make sure you remove all the scratches from the 4k.

Finally, you can shave off the 8k but I would recommend getting some 1um lapping film to get better sharpness, or some chromium oxide on balsa (to strop 10-15 laps before stropping on leather).

Also, have a look at the edge after the 4k. With a naked eye, if you see a reflection on the edge, its probably a sign that the bevel was not correctly set yet.

Goodluck and keep us updated :)
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