What is the Ultimate Edge on a Straight Razor?

So I’ve been offering limited free razor honing for members of Badger and Blade and the Shave Ready Forums. In my quest to produce the ultimate razor edges, I am pretty much using the Shapton Glass stones, with the occasional Chosera stone or two for a little variety. I take the edges up to 30K on the Shapton Glass, though.

I have been test shaving the blades, and I found that while they look perfect at 100x under the microscope, stropping on the fabric side of the strop caused the edge the break down. I figured the canvas side of the Kanayama strops are pretty tough, and maybe I was putting too much pressure, so I skipped the canvas and went straight to the leather side and the same thing happened – edge breakdown (we’re talking on a microscopic level here, nothing like large gashes or chips, just what is best described as fraying). The problem was that I was getting picture perfect shaves, but with this degree of breakdown, it was clear that the edge would only last for a couple of shaves before either needing serious stropping session or a quick run to the stones. How could I send these off to customers, most of who will not necessarily be as sensitive to the razor’s needs?

So I put in a call to two of my favorite Straight Razor Honers, Ray of Straight Razor Sharp, and Sham, aka Chesstiger1. They both said that I was over-honing. In light of the situation, I would have to agree, although I was not raising any burrs, it was clear the edges were too thin to hold up over time. Sham called me a perfectionist – but it was not a compliment. I have to admit though, I do like perfection! 🙂

Well it turns out that because I was using a slurry at the lower 500 and 1K levels, a small, rounded, what could be considered micro-bevel had formed, and I wasn’t fully removing it by the 4K level. This made the edges very fragile at the 30K level. I returned to the 1K stone, but this time without a slurry and made darn sure the bevel was flat instead of rounded. I continued on to the 3K and then the 4K.

Now, Sham suggested, and I agree, that one cannot over-hone on the 4K and below because there is still enough metal removal capabilities in the stone to keep creating a new edge. The 3K definitely fits that description, but the 4K (in this case the gray colored 4K HC series)  pushes the limits. It would be difficult, but with enough strokes (and we’re talking quite a few – something like 50+ strokes coming off a well shaped 2K or 3K edge), the edge could become slightly frayed, but you would need to really try. Coming off the 3K, I’m currently in the neighborhood 15-20 strokes on the 4K.

After the 4K, I am down to 8-10 strokes on the 8K, with 10 strokes pretty much pushing the limits, depending on the razor. Then on the to 30K with only 3 strokes – no matter what the razor. Anything over 5 has been causing breakdown, even on the flat bevels.

Stropping was my next concern. I know people will use the canvas side of their strops, so I knew that the edge must stand up to it. Ray said he only did about 3 canvas strokes on his Kanayama after honing, so after lightening up my stroke, I started doing 5 very light – only the weight of the blade – strokes on the Kanayama canvas side, then checking the edge under the scope at 100x. The edges on even the thinnest Boker full hollow ground razor have held up. This is progress in the right direction. I then proceed to the stropping and do about 50 on the leather, and check again for any breakdown of the edge. All the blades so far have held up, and passed the HHT (Hanging Hair Test).

Now the fun part. I normally shave maybe once a week, not because my beard doesn’t grow, but because I don’t need to shave for anything. But since I’ve been getting these razors from people, I need to test them out, and waiting to check several razors in one shave gives no clear indication of how a full shave will feel. Sham told me that a perfect edge on a razor is not as good as a well honed razor. That’s because a perfect edge may be incredible, but it will not hold up to the test of time. That was really good advice. I know I like the ultimate edges for the once a week shave, but if people are going to use my honing services in the future, the edge on the razors should get you more shaves than your average cartridge razor blade.

So I have shaved more this week than ever – I whopping 6 days in a row so far, and I have at least 3 more blades on the waiting list. Each shave has been a shave test WTG and XTG with a little of ATG for 1 or 2 blades max. If I were to use my previous ultra-sharp 1 shave edge, my face would be torn apart by now. It may be in part due to the use of wonderful shaving creams by Olivia, but I haven’t had any chaffing, redness, irritation, or weepers with the current progression, it seems that I have hit on a good, clean, smooth shave with an edge that still looks good under the scope after a shave.

I know there is still a lot of room for improvement and fine-tuning, but I think I finally have an idea of what the ultimate edge is on a straight razor.

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