Ceramic Straight Razors – Can It Be Done?

I  received a question wondering why no one has made a ceramic straight razor, and as I was responding I realized that a thorough answer was quite involved, and I thought I would make my answer available to everyone.

The question posed to me was as follows:

Tom, I was very impressed with your ceramic knife shaving video. I have been wondering for years, as have many others based on web forum chatter, why nobody makes a ceramic disposable razor. sharper and last longer. with all the advances in this technology it would stand to reason that some enterprising group would love a crack at revolutionizing the shaving industry. I have found blades on the web for industrial applications, they are expensive. If they lasted 10 x longer than steel it would be worth the price. Heck, those atra blades are expensive. Any thought on this subject?

Before answering, it should be known that ceramic knives have been around for quite some time, and while they are easily sharpened enough to cut through food, getting one refined enough to shave facial hair is an entirely different challenge. Serious players from 2 major straight razor forums (SRP and Badger and Blade) were unsuccessful in their attempts to hone a ceramic blade to shave ready. As far as I know, this video published in August 2012 is the first documented head and face shave with a ceramic knife, followed by this second video in November 2012 of the very same knife obliterating a 6+ month old viking beard in one swoop, and that same knife in a third video documenting a head shave just a couple of weeks later. There was also another video with this knife of some crazy Belgian Sharpener shaving while blindfolded!

Now on to the answer. :)

There are a lot of dynamics involved with a ceramic razor for shaving. We all know shaving forum politics can easily make, break, or ban ideas. Politics aside, most of the resistance on the net generally stems from the difficulty of honing a ceramic blade to shave ready and the kind of equipment needed.

If you do a search, all of the forums with threads on ceramic straight razors show a lot of promise, but end in failure – prior to my video (but a big shout out has to go to Seraphim, who continues to blaze trails). Unlike Steel, there’s no burr or other indicators along the way other than to look under magnification as you hone. Being able to interpret what is seen under the scope is one thing, but on a steel razor, you should be able to cut hairs with only slight resistance at the 1K-2K levels (16 – 8 microns), but on the ceramic  there are no real physical indicators until you hit about 6 micron, when there is a sudden change in the way the ceramic blade reacts  (you can read about my ceramic knife sharpening progression here).

The next issue revolves around the costs and types of equipment needed to hone a ceramic razor to shave ready. There is really no question about what equipment is needed to do this. Since the ceramic material is very hard (9+ on the Mohs scale) diamonds are one of the only abrasives that will effectively abrade the ceramic material.  I recommend diamond films over diamond plates for the majority of the work, and diamond pastes or sprays for the finest levels of refinement (1 micron and finer) . (Not all films are created equal, BTW)

It should be noted that diamond films can cut through every steel type, making them universal. But if you’ve followed some of the forum threads on abrasive films, there is an overall resistance to - or fear of – them. On one side, the idea and promotion of diamond films is politically charged because the people who profit most from the commercial side of the forums simply don’t sell them. On the other side, most guys are often already (heavily) invested in sharpening stones – which are ineffective on the ceramic blades –  and the added cost of purchasing a separate, all-diamond progression is often vocalized as a detractor. In reality, the only down side to using diamonds is that the paper thin abrasive medium is not renewable, and will wear and eventually need to be replaced more often than 1inch thick stones. :)

With that all said, looking past the forums, the indicators and the honing equipment, the major question is whether a ceramic edge will hold up longer than a steel edge.

By definition, it will because the ceramic material is exponentially harder than the usual steel used in razors (9+ for ceramics vs. 5~6 for steel on the Mohs) and it will not fold or bend like metal, and therefore will hold its edge longer. In terms of a razor, we’ve seen a very comfortable head and face shave without stropping in between. Before that particular shave, the razor had sliced newspaper several times – which is usually enough to quickly kill a shave ready steel razor edge, and had been dry tested on a few spots on my face. During the shave itself, there were at least 2 newspaper cuts made between the head and face shave to see if the edge was holding up without stropping. After the shave, the edge endured a couple more newspaper cuttings and was minimally stropped on plain canvas and clean horse leather about 10 times each (my normal routine) before  performing 2 more two pass face shaves. At that point, the edge was starting to degrade to a point where I felt it needed touching up.

The second question is whether or not the longer edge holding capabilities of the ceramic blade translates into more shaves between touch-ups than a steel blade.

The idea that a ceramic blade will never degrade or need maintenance in the form of stropping or touching up between shaves is simply out of the question. But given the limited data available so far, I would say that a ceramic blade will yield more shaves than a steel blade of the same dimensions and refinement before needing touching up.

That is because, in general, the more refined an edge, the closer the shave, but the more fragile the edge becomes. This inevitably holds true to ceramic edges – the more refined it becomes (along with the effects of the geometry), the more prone it is to chipping out as it approaches zero width at the edge of the edge. While the rate of degradation is slower on the ceramic blade, the process cannot  be stopped.

One of the biggest issues here, as with all things razor related, is that there is a huge range of subjectivity when defining what is acceptably sharp/comfortable enough for shaving (not to mention the effects of techniques of the honers and shavers!) Since refinement affects longevity, this opens the debate to just how refined an edge “needs” to be, and the expense of the time and equipment of maintaining that level – which we will not get into here!

Overall, I would say that I do think a ceramic straight razor and/or a DE blade are certainly possible to make. With the recent advancements in abrasive technology and with the availability of ceramic tools, it’s been proven that it is quite possible despite the standard apprehensions of costs and power resistance. Moreover, I feel that questions like this one will help ceramic blades become more common, even if they still find their place amongst the more specialized part of the already specialized shaving sport.

And if anyone is interested in finding out for themselves, just contact me and I’d be happy to hone a ceramic knife to shave ready  – it can be done!

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6 Responses to “Ceramic Straight Razors – Can It Be Done?”

  1. Leo Barr Says:

    I was under the impression that for instance I have a ceramic pairing knife which I sharpen on an Edge Pro with a fine diamond stone & 3000 grit diamond tape which seems to work well when I check that i have got through to the edge with a loupe: but I thought that the edge was too delicate to sharpen less than 23˚ each side even sharpening if I am not careful I get micro chips although it is a Bodum knife and perhaps it is an inferior quality .
    I was under the impression that the angle of the bevel is directly proportional to the cutting ability and that razor blades are usually 12˚.
    I suppose that if the unsupported part of the blade is not much wider than the bevel then these small angles are achievable.
    This may well mean that if a ceramic chefs knife was laminated with some other material then the disadvantages of ceramic blades could be reduced making it a more practical knife certainly for Japanese style food preparation and allow similar low bevel angles.

    I write this since I am trying to learn more about ceramic blades and provided that I only slice or push cut with my knife can I reduce the bevel angles to increase blade performance.

    • Jende Industries Says:

      Hi Leo – Thanks for reading! You’ve got some very good questions here :D
      There isn’t enough data yet to know the sharpening results on higher or lower priced ceramic knives, but I’m inclined to think the results would be slightly different between them, much like the difference between different steels.
      Razor blades are usually 18-25 degrees per side, but have a much thinner blade, which is why they seem to slice better. Kitchen knives will have spine thicknesses of 2mm ~ 5mm while DE razor blades are generally about 0.1mm ~ 0.5mm thick. With that said, you should be able to sharpen ceramics less than 20 degrees per side and at least thin behind the edge to 12 degrees, although adding a 15 or 18 degree microbevel may be helpful – just like on steel. My ceramic knife for the head shave was done freehand at about 15 degrees per side but most likely ended up at around 18-20.
      To achieve the best results and performance, using the right diamond mediums is very important here. I have found diamond plates can be quite aggressive on the ceramics, which is not ideal for the finest stages of razor refinement – the deepest scratches left by the plates are cause for the micro chipping later (see my post on overhoning), but is not so bad on everyday food cutting edges.
      If you want to slice with greater ease, the Edge Pro’s precision is certainly a great tool, but I thinking a few more steps in your sharpening progression to clean up the diamond plate scratches would be the key getting the knife to push cut over going to more shallow angles.
      I hope this helps!

      • Leo Barr Says:

        I decided it was high time to move out of the comfort zone especially for good quality Japanese knives so I have purchased a pack including two bamboo stones one one Ume and have been doing old knives 1/2 a day for the last 3 weeks and today I moved further out of the zone when I realised it would be easier for me to change hands for each side of the knife since I am ambidextrous so that is a slight step back but I have patience. . I will continue to use the EP & WE but for my own knives and for high quality knives with compound bevels I have done my Deba with a micro micro bevel about a hairs breadth and around 45˚ to increase durability and then I have done a V bevel near the Ago for push cutting through vertebrates or between joints not something that is so easy on a controlled angle sharpener . I also have a knive that is conves ground with 12˚ angle at the Kisssaki and then about 15˚ on the straight .
        What I am interested to know is which diamond stones etc do you use on your ceramics ?

      • Jende Industries Says:

        Hi Leo – It sounds like you have a pretty good idea of what you want your edges to be! I personally use the 3×8 diamond films by Ken Schwartz on my ceramics – the heavy duty formulations are longer lasting and a little tougher than the regular grits (which work just fine). I recommend using the films up to about 1 micron, then switching over to diamond sprays on Nanocloth or kangaroo leather, also from Ken Schwartz.

      • Leo Barr Says:

        That sounds good advice I was thinking of getting a DMT Extra Extra Fine plate too start things off I already have a Fine DMT plate and if I used these two together that would get it further than the Edge Pro Super Fine Diamond stone and the 3000 grit diamond tape on glass . This I am thinking will do as a start and then consider the Polycrystalline once I have proven that I can freehand sharpen well enough on the DMTs since as the ceramic is slow to sharpen I imagine that it can take a while for a subtle change in bevel angle to show so I will prove my accuracy on the DMTs first.
        Once that I am happy with that then I will go to the stropping.
        Thanks for the advice.

  2. A question for custom-razor makers - Page 2 Says:

    […] Jende industries did a write up on the issues with ceramic razors, he mentions the knife in Jamie's video(video made by Jens Skandevall who can shave with anything) and a few videos it was featured the videos by Jens being two of them. It seems like the main issue is honing them, both that it's harder and that the regular ceramic hones are too soft so you'd have to invest in buying diamond film. Ceramic Straight Razors – Can It Be Done? | Jende Industries Blog […]

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