The obvious purpose of honing a razor is to take a razor that is dull and bringing it up to shave ready condition. This could range from minor touchups only requiring a couple of laps (defined as round trips) on a finishing hone to restorative honing needing advanced techniques such as layering tape and mixing honing strokes. The purpose of this wiki article is to demonstrate basic theory and technique, but the reader should defer to the Honing forums for information and discussions about when these techniques should be utilized.
Theoryrazors, this is just the beginning stages of requisite keenness. Each razor has an original bevel that in time loses its keenness, becoming dull. With proper honing, metal is removed in such a fashion as to restore the keenness to the edge without causing significant damage to the spine of the razor known as "hone wear." This diagram demonstrates the basic theory effectively.
Types of HonesThere are two basic types of hones available for straight razor maintenance.
- Natural Stones
- Artificial Stones
Additionally, strops can be modified with the application of abrasive pastes in such a manner that renders them useful for in sharpening like a high grit finishing stone. See this page for more information.
Honing TechniquesThere are many techniques that are available for successfully honing a razor. Each technique has strong and weak points which will not be covered in this article. For discussions about when to use each technique, the reader should search threads or post a new thread with questions in the Honing Forum
The regular X stroke is a standard stroke for a blade with a straight edge (i.e., not smiling). The value of this stroke on narrow hones is that it allows for all of the blade to get equal contact with the stone. On a stone that is wide enough, the X stroke could be substituted with a straight stroke or a heel leading stroke.
When utilizing an X stroke or straight stroke on a razor with a smile or a swayed spine, there is a potential to cause more hone wear than its desired while leaving the heel and the toe with a less than keen edge. The regular X stroke is not appropriate for every razor
Swaying X Stroke
The swaying X stroke is helpful when honing razors with smiling edge and swaying spine. These blade designs require a special touch in giving adequate attention to their toe and heel. The swaying X can be used to maintain an even bevel on these types of razors.
Rolling X Stroke
The rolling X can be incorporated for razors with severe smiling edges and swayed spines and on warped razors. It can be combined with the swaying X.
Half StrokeEach of the honing strokes discussed have a "half stoke" derivative which involves reversing the action while maintaining contact with the hone. Essentially, a paintbrush or push and pull stroke. This technique can be useful in speeding up the process of removing metal. When utilizing half strokes, it is important that each side receive the same amount of strokes if the bevel is even. If the bevel is uneven, strokes may need to be adjusted in favor of the short side. Please visit the http://badgerandblade.com/vb/forumdisplay.php?f=80 honing forum prior to attempting these techniques to discuss the appropriateness for your specific razor.
CirclesUtilizing circles in honing is a very effective way to speed up the bevel setting process. Essentially, the way to effectually incorporate circles is to keep the razor on the stone and move it in smooth, even circular motions. While using circles, it is very important to ensure that both sides get the same amount of strokes. In the bevel setting stage, it is typically recommended that 40 circles on each side followed by 10 X strokes be performed. Then, utilizing sharpness tests, determine if the bevel is properly set, repeat if necessary until the bevel is set. Circles can also be used throughout a progression of synthetic stones as well as on natural finishing stones.
Sharpness TestsThere are four standard tests for evaluating the keenness of a straight razor: TNT (Thumb Nail Test), TPT (Thumb Pad Test), HHT (Hanging Hair Test), and Shave test. Some of these tests are controversial, and it is important for each honer to develop an individual feel for analyzing the feedback provided by these tests. Dismissed by some as "parlor tricks", sharpness tests can be useful in helping the honer evaluate where the edge is in the journey to shave readiness.
TNTThe TNT is done by wetting the thumbnail and dragging the edge of the straight razor along without applying any pressure (blade weight only).
InterpretationThe TNT is very useful in determining where you are in the bevel setting process. A razor that has a properly set bevel will begin to cut into the thumbnail smoothly without a gritty sensation. If the blade slides over the thumbnail without cutting into the nail, the razor is not keen and additional work needs to be done on the stones. If the blade does cut into the thumbnail, but with a gritty sensation, the razor could be over-honed and corrective steps may need to be taken. Correcting over-honed razors is a topic beyond the scope of this article and should be discussed in the http://badgerandblade.com/vb/forumdisplay.php?f=80 honing forum.
DrawbacksWhile the TNT can be very helpful for determining if a bevel is set, it can provide false positives and is not really useful for determining the shave readiness of an edge. With a razor that has been maintained on pastes, a convex edge can develop. In order to restore the edge to a proper bevel, all of the convexity should be removed. One way to avoid this false positive is to very gently do a single bread-knife stroke on the bottom of glass rendering the edge unable to shave arm hair.
Another drawback of the TNT is that it can damage the edge of a shave ready razor. For this reason, it is generally not considered good to perform this test after the initial bevel setting process has been successfully completed.
TPTThe Thumb Pad Test (TPT) is another sharpness test that utilizes the thumb pad to determine the keenness of the razor's edge. There are two schools of thought on how this is done. Whichever method is used, in order to increase the sensitivity of the honer's hand, it is helpful to hold the razor in your dominate hand with the edge facing up. Then, the non-dominate hand is used for testing with the fingers under the spine to enhance the sensitivity of the thumb. The TPT is conducted with a moist thumb pad.
Plucking the EdgeSome people people do the TPT by drawing their thumb across the edge (not along it) while feeling for indicators. The properly honed edge will give a slight tickling sensation when the thumb is gingerly dragged across. If there is a biting or catching sensation, there is a possibility that the razor has been over honed. When performing this test, the ideal edge will perform much differently than a sharp knife with a good cutting edge. If the sensation is similar to that of a sharp knife, the razor is not ready for a shave test.
Barber Manual VersionThe TPT test as taught by Barbers Manuals differs in that the thumb pad is dragged along the edge of the razor (not across it). The properly honed edge will produce a slight sticking sensation. That is the razor cutting into the thumb of the tester. It is important not to use too much pressure because that will result in cutting into the thumb and drawing blood.
The TPT should be performed all along the edge until all of the edge performs equally.
HHTThe Hanging Hair Test (HHT) is possibly the most controversial of all the sharpness tests. This is due to many factors, but because of this controversy, it has been dismissed by many as a "parlor trick". Many shavers have razors that can not pass the HHT that shave great, while others have razors that pass the HHT that do not shave well. Some honers believe that a truly keen edge will pass the HHT by silently causing the hair to fall upon coming in contact with the razor's edge. Others believe that the closer to perfection the edge gets, the more difficult the HHT is to pass. For determining the merits of these arguments, visit the honing forum.
For the HHT to be meaningful, it should be standardized as much as possible. http://coticule.be/hanging-hair-test.html This article on the hanging hair test may prove useful for informing and evaluating your honing tests by offering a standardized test and a means to interpret the results of that test.
The shave test is the ultimate and only truly accurate sharpness test for evaluating a honed edge. While every shaver has their own definitions of "shave ready", it is a commonly held standard that a shave ready razor will perform the Coup de Maître and ATG passes without pulling, skipping, or causing discomfort. Straight razor shavers claim that a truly shave ready razor will provide the best shaves of all the available shaving implements available when used by someone with the requisite skill to use it properly.
The most common problem that honers run into is that they have not done enough work at the bevel setting stage. Many times, new honers do not have a good understanding of how a properly set bevel should perform. If a bevel is not set properly, the end result will not end well. The most important parts of a successful honing session is the first and last five percent (bevel setting and finishing).
It is very difficult to over hone a razor, according to honemeisters who have tried to do it. Essentially to over hone a razor, it requires a lot of strokes with a lot of pressure on a synthetic stone. There have not been any instances of over honing a razor on a natural stone that have been documented. It has been speculated that it can be done, though. This section is placed in the "Common Problems" section because it is suspected when honers are running into difficulties, but it is actually an uncommon problem that takes significant effort and bad technique to accomplish.
It can be difficult for new honers to maintain an even stroke that effectively sharpens the entire edge. An uneven stroke can cause some areas of the edge to be keen while leaving another part dull. In order to determine how your stroke is performing, a honer can do a couple of things. The first is to watch the water on the stones along the front of the razor. If a line of water is moving all along the edge of the stroke, then the stroke is effecting the entire edge. Spots where water is not being moved in front of the razor shows where the razor is not remaining in contact with the stone. Another effective method is using a black Sharpie to mark along the edge of the razor. After doing a honing stroke, the honer can examine the edge and see how the black marks are reacting. Once all of the black marker is being removed by a single stroke, the honer can be confident that they are utilizing a good stroke.
AcknowledgementsA special thank you to Bart Torfs at http://www.coticule.be. After 2 years of exhaustive research and effort, he has created one of the best websites on all things coticule including honing technique, information on stones, history and more. He graciously granted permission for Badger & Blade to use his images and content, and it is very much appreciated.