Shapton 16K Straight Razor Edge Chipping Controversy

This microscope progression of a Klas Tornblom 185 Hollow ground razor comes as a result of an ongoing conversation started back in 2009 with Sham (a.k.a. hibudgl on the forums), who is one of the most knowledgeable and skilled straight razor honers I know, and is also one of my mentors.

Basically, Sham claims that when finishing a straight razor on the 16K Shapton Glass, it causes microchips in the edge when more than 20 strokes are used. He has tried several approaches to the 16K, and all have failed him. You can read his complete thoughts about it, here on the Razor and Hone Forum.

I’ve known Sham long enough to know that as much as I don’t like it, he’s usually right. But being a die-hard Shapton fan, I naturally disagreed 🙂 Besides, lots of people like, and some even rave about the edge off the 16K Shapton Glass. I’ve personally had many wonderful shaves off the 16K Glass.

So while Sham and I are arguing, people are somehow still somehow managing to shave.  🙂

I feel that the majority of the problems anyone might have with the 16K Shapton Glass stems from underhoning, where the 16K scratches are revealing the bottom of deepest scratches which were not properly removed during earlier grits. (read my theory on razor overhoning). But this is Sham we’re talking about, and if you’ve ever shaved with a razor honed by him or spoken with him at length, you’ll know that he does know what he’s doing. So underhoning  is less likely the case here. Sham and I are also pretty much in agreement about underhoning, and he is of the mind that the use of diamonds in bevel setting process are the root of many of the problems experienced later.

Which brings the more technical possibility – the way the Shapton Glass series work. The Shapton Glass stones have a softer binder which allows for the more readily release of abrasive. They are designed this way to take on the harder and more abrasion resistant steels out there. In an all-Shapton Glass progression, it could very well be that loose abrasive may be causing little potholes, or microchips. Also, in conversations with Harrelson Stanley he has mentioned that the binder itself is a little harder on the 16K, which when it comes loose, may also get in there with the loose abrasive and swarf to cause microchipping. Keeping the stone clean is the best way to avoid this.

One of the reasons in my theory on overhoning is that the geometry may be too acute. With Shaptons in particular, they peel away the layers of steel at each level, gradually thinning out the edge of the edge on a razor. If that geometry is too acute for the steel’s characteristics, then it will break. A piece of tape or 2 to increase the angle is usually the remedy, and microchippng stops when the geometry is solid enough for the steel to hold that particular thinness at the edge.

So without further boring random facts, here’s what went down with the Tornblom on the microscopic level. All pictures are taken with a Veho-400x, and actual size is 1mm wide by .75mm high.

Before picture:

Klas Tornblom 185 - Before

Klas Tornblom 185 – Before

There’s not much to say here, since the goal was to get this razor to 16K.There is some rounding of the edge of the edge, from stropping most likely, and the bluish streaks from left to right are oil residue.

1. Setting the bevel with a 1200 Atoma Diamond Plate

Klas Tormblom 185 - 1200 Atoma Diamond Plate

Klas Tormblom 185 – 1200 Atoma Diamond Plate

I generally always go straight to diamond plates when honing for others to make darn sure that any failures and successes can be attributed to my honing. Most razors do require the removal of fatigued metal or rounded over edges, and if it’s been sitting in a drawer or antique shop, then it’s safer to remove the top layers that may have been subject to oxidation. You can see that the edge of the edge is somewhat serrated, and eve a little flaky – but the bevel is set, and this does cut arm hair.

2. #320 Shapton Glass

Klas Tornblom 185 - #320 Shapton Glass

Klas Tornblom 185 – #320 Shapton Glass

Here the edge of the edge actually looks worse than the 1200 Atoma, and that is true – the #320 Shapton is coarser. I used this stone to be sure that all the 1200 Atoma scratches were removed, and Shapton scratches were established.

3. #2K Shapton Glass

Klas Tornblom 185 - 2K Shapton Glass

Klas Tornblom 185 – 2K Shapton Glass

I skipped to the 2K because my 1K was out on loan, so this experiment is already somewhat faulted. To make up for it, I spent extra time on the 2K, and this is about where it should be. The edge is only slightly serrated, but beginning to line up nicely. The 2K scratches are all lined up and a pretty even bevel surface is developing.

4. 3K Shapton Glass

Klas Tornblom 185 - 3K Shapton Glass

Klas Tornblom 185 – 3K Shapton Glass

I love this stone! You can see just how much better the edge of the edge is lining up and how consistent the scratches on the bevel are.

5.  4K Shapton Glass

Klas Tornblom 185 - 4K Shapton Glass

Klas Tornblom 185 – 4K Shapton Glass

Off the 4K Glass, the edge has lined up quite nicely, and there is a slight hint of a burr. I’m not worried about any slight burr at this point because my “critical leap”, which is the leap from abrading to polishing is going to happen between the 4K and 6K on the Shapton Glass stones.

6. 6K Shapton Glass – Gray

Klas Tornblom 185 - 6K Shapton Glass - Gray

Klas Tornblom 185 – 6K Shapton Glass – Gray

You can see the transition from the duller bevel to the shinier, cleaner bevel of the 6K (my 6K white glass stone was also on loan with the 1K). If you look closely, you can already see some chipping/fraying at the edge of the edge. This will play a role later.

7.  8K Shapton Glass

Klas Tornblom 185 - 8K Shapton Glass

Klas Tornblom 185 – 8K Shapton Glass

The 8K Glass starts to even out the bevel, and the edge of the edge is juuust holding up…

8a. 16K Shapton Glass – 10 Strokes

Klas Tornblom 185 - 16K Shapton Glass, 10 Strokes

Klas Tornblom 185 – 16K Shapton Glass, 10 Strokes

With 10 strokes on the 16K Glass, the edge of the edge looks OK, and there is a minimal amount of fraying. With some stropping, this would be acceptable for shaving, IMO.

8b. 16K Shapton Glass – 25 Strokes

Klas Tornblom 185 - 16K Shapton Glass - 25 Strokes

Klas Tornblom 185 – 16K Shapton Glass – 25 Strokes

Now is where Sham’s claims come to life – (remember – I said he was usually right) micro chipping and fraying appeared.Just to be sure it wasn’t an effect of hidden underhoning, I did 25 more strokes.

8c. 16K Shapton Glass – 50 Strokes

Klas Tornblom 185 - 16K Shapton Glass - 50 Strokes

Klas Tornblom 185 – 16K Shapton Glass – 50 Strokes

25 more strokes did improve the overall edge, but you can see the edge of the edge has become too thin. I could also flex the entire bevel on my thumbnail, telling me that this geometry was too low. I actually stropped and shaved with this edge, and while it did shave smoothly, there was the “home alone” moment when I applied my Bay Rum. That completely confirmed that the edge didn’t hold up and I was dealing with a geometry issue. So I went back with some tape.

9. 16K Glass Stone – 1 layer of tape, 25 Strokes

Klas Tornblom 185 - 16K Glass 1 Layer of Tape, 25 Strokes

Klas Tornblom 185 – 16K Glass 1 Layer of Tape, 25 Strokes

With 1 layer of electrical tape, I went back to the 8K Glass first, then onto the 16K for 25 strokes. A clear microbevel has formed, but the edge of the edge is still too weak. I tried 2 layers, but it looked the same as above, and I took a deep breath and added a 3rd layer and went back to the 4K Shapton Glass.

10. 4K Shapton Glass – 3 Layers of Tape

Klas Tornblom 185 - 4K Glass, 3 Layers of Tape

Klas Tornblom 185 – 4K Glass, 3 Layers of Tape

11. 8K Shapton Glass – 3 Layers of Tape

Klas Tornblom 185 - 8K Glass, 3 Layers of Tape

Klas Tornblom 185 – 8K Glass, 3 Layers of Tape

I know this looks worse than the original 8K picture, but you must allow me some wiggle room.  🙂

12. 16K Shapton Glass – 3 Layers of Tape

Klas Tornblom 185 - 16K Glass, 3 Layers of Tape

Klas Tornblom 185 – 16K Glass, 3 Layers of Tape, 15 Strokes

Ok, so this does look worse, right? Well, yes and no. On my honing journey, I’ve been finding Swedish steel to be a little  funny (there are 8 more Swedes in the pile where this one came from). The steel is rather hard,thus on the brittle side, and will go to a point where nothing is happening, and then you suddenly have a microchip. If you look closely, there is actually no fraying of the edge at this point as seen in picture 8c above, yes there is some waviness in the edge of the edge, but it is clean.

13. Stropped and ready for the shave!

Klas Tornblom 185 - Stropped for the Shave

Klas Tornblom 185 – Stropped for the Shave

After 5 passes on my Kanayama 50,000 linen, and about 20 on the leather, this baby was ready for a test shave. The edge is thin, no doubt, and there are some teeth, but no real microchipping. The resulting shave was muuuuuch smoother than the initial test, and there was only a cooling feeling on my skin as the Bay Rum evaporated. With 2 full passes and some touching up, there was no burn at all. I even doused on a second helping of Rum 🙂


Microscope pictures are a helpful guide, but we can’t forget that anything that close looks ugly, and while I am a perfectionist, the trick is to know when to let certain imperfections go. That’s the hard part in this wonderful journey.

In the case of the Klas Tornblom 185 progression above, geometry was the key to preventing microchipping, but there was also the steel characteristics and the thin grind which, truth be told, I would’ve liked to put 1 more layer of tape on this razor. I was surprised at just how this the grind was on this razor, and how much effort it took to get her to shave well.

In regards to the 16K Shapton Glass chipping out, Sham is not entirely wrong – the edge will chip out if you do it “right”. Geometry plays a large role when using synthetic hones for razors, and the game is different than when using naturals.

Where Sham is spot on is the number of strokes on the 16K Glass (and 30K Glass for that matter) should be kept to a minimum – assuming underhoning isn’t an issue. When using an all-Shapton Glass progression, even I recommend people only do 10-15 strokes on the final stones. Keeping the stone’s surface clean is also essential.

The bottom line is that the 16K Shapton Glass IS suitable for getting a perfectly fine shave. And while the 16K Shapton Glass may be a little on the finicky side, the hone/stone is only one of many factors that combine together to influence the resulting shave.

Shave on!


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10 Responses to “Shapton 16K Straight Razor Edge Chipping Controversy”

  1. Rihcard Penney Says:

    Hello Tom,
    I enjoyed this discussion on “Razor and Stone” and your pictures here do tell a tale that written language alone can, and does, not!

  2. Snej Llavednaks Says:

    Awesome pics & write-up, as always!

    Surely brings some light to the long ongoing discussion about the use for the 16K glass as a finisher.

    By the way, I’ve heard rumours about this particular 185 having very beautiful scales ;=))

    • Jende Industries Says:

      Thank you for following, Snej Llavednaks! You are correct about the scales – wonderful orangewood scales with triple ringed pins with alternating brass and silver washers – a real work of beauty. I believe they were fashioned by a mutual friend in Sweden. 😉 😉

  3. The use of tape in straight razors | belgiansharpening Says:

    […] Some stones (like the 16k Glass stone) also may need taped razors because they are so fast and aggressive that they might cut through the bevel. For this I’m borrowing Tom Blodgett’s pictures of a Klas Tornblom razor. You can see his article on these stones HERE […]

  4. Re: Murray Carter’s Razor Sharpening Video (and the surrounding debate) « Jende Industries Blog Says:

    […] I jumped to the 16K Glass stone next for 2 reasons. First because I routinely jump from 5K to 15K on the Shapton Pros with my knife sharpening without any problems. Secondly, because of the less-than-desirable reviews the 16K Shapton Glass stones receives from the straight razor community, saying it causes chips (which was addressed here). […]

  5. Diamond Sharpening Films by Ken Schwartz – in 1×6, 2×6 and 3×8 « Jende Industries Blog Says:

    […] able to shave,  we begin to run into some razor-related issues. This picture is reminiscent of the 16K Shapton Glass post I did a while back, where the Swedish steel was quite brittle, and began to chip out as the steel […]

  6. cris Says:

    Solved the whole shapton overhoning thing. Its just a mathematical issue that no one but razor honers would care about. Even then.. it can be avoided. Still my favorite stones. Bored physicist with nothing going on…nice pics

  7. Shayken Says:

    Hi, very nice pics!

    How are your strokes (x or half) and edge trailing or leading during the progression?

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