Honing School - Honemeisters & Newbies Unite!

Discussion in 'Straight Razors' started by BaylorGator, Jul 14, 2018.


I am a:

  1. Honemeister

  2. Not a honemeister, but I know my way around the stones

  3. Have enough skill to keep a previously honed edge sharp

  4. Total Honing Newb

  5. I don't hone, I'm just following for fun

Results are only viewable after voting.
  1. BaylorGator

    BaylorGator MISTER Fancypants

    I'm hoping to create a thread here that, hopefully becomes a resource for those learning to hone or wanting to learn more about honing. A bit of background:

    Today is my first real day learning to hone. I've got a few inexpensive straights in the cue that I'm going to learn to hone on. They each cost me less than $10 or $15 each (delivered), so I'm going to take a "no fear" approach, experiment with different techniques, and not worry too much about botching the razors up. My hope is that during this process, folks more competent in honing than me (virtually everyone at this point) will chime in along the lines of "Don't do that you idiot, it'll totally botch the razor! Do this instead." or "Try this trick I use." or "I don't want to screw up my razor, but if you are game, give this crazy idea a try." Maybe even "Good idea, I do that and it works." Or even "That reminds me of a trick I want to share that is unrelated to anything you are doing. Point being, I really want people to chime in, interrupt and share their tips, tricks, and helpful hints, so that this is less about my individual journey and more about feedback on how to become an expert honer. I'd also encourage anyone learning like myself to chime in and ask questions. Don't worry about "hijacking" the thread. If you've got a honing question, post it here so that we all can learn. If you've got a great tip unrelated to anything here, post it so we can all learn. When I learn something, I'll try my best to explain it and post pictures when possible. That way it's out there for others to learn from as well.
  2. CastleShave

    CastleShave Well-Known Member

    I love this idea! What kind of stones buy? What progression do you plan on using? Show pics of razors! Make sure they pass tap test before you start! You can find a video reference of the tap test with Dr.Matt, a few others did it as well but I don’t remember who.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
  3. BaylorGator

    BaylorGator MISTER Fancypants

    OK, before we get started, here is the gratuitous, introductory "how I started the journey to honing" post. If this already sounds boring to you, by all means skip forward to the next entry, because it ain't gonna get more interesting from here...

    I started using straights when a TSD enabler (not mentioning names @Drygulch) PIF'd me an inexpensive straight and encouraged me to shave with it. Wanting to watch the train wreck, several other TSD enablers (again, not mentioning names @RyX, @Keithmax, @mrchick, @clint64, @Bama Samurai among MANY others, chimed in with words of encouragement. Of course, this led to me buying a couple more razors to compare against it, before I had any skills whatsoever. (This is how a rabbit hole starts). I quickly learned that razors do not come "shave ready" even when new. In fact, my first purchase was a Dovo that I bought off a BST from a guy who said "I shaved with this three times and decided that straight shaving wasn't for me." After a good stropping session, I tried to shave with it, and it was a WAY rougher shave than the PIF razor I was using. So on the advice of several TSD members I sent it off to @gssixgun to hone. I got it back and learned what a sharp razor is really supposed to feel like. So...

    Lesson #1: Assume any razor you buy is not necessarily "shave ready".

    So my journey into honing started in steps:

    Step 1 - Go "All In" and get the honing Gear"
    So fast forward about 30 or 40 shaves (which included several minor injuries and abrasions and more than several eye rolls and comments from my wife regarding my buffoonery) to when I realized that no matter how much you strop a straight, you still have to "touch up" (i.e. lightly hone) an edge to keep it sharp enough to shave with. Long story short, I wasn't sure if I needed a pasted strop with diamond or chromium oxide spray or a "finishing hone". After much debate I got both. After a successful touch up, I decided to go "all in" and learn honing. After, again, tons of analysis paralysis I ended up with the following honing gear:

    - A modular paddle strop from Straight Razor Designs, including two leather strop inserts and two wool strop inserts (I coated one with diamond spray and the other with chromium oxide spray).
    - A Naniwa 12K superstone for "touch up" honing
    - A Norton 4,000/8,000 wet stone for sharpening
    - A Norton 200/1,000 wet stone for geometry correction and bevel setting.
    - An inexpensive USB microscope from Amazon (found here)
    - A small Naniwa lapping stone
    - A generic stone holder

    There are many ways to skin the cat; some more expensive, and tons of honing methods, equipment, etc. Some is less expensive, and some is crazy expensive, but I decided if I wanted the best shot at success I'd go a reasonably cost effective route that I could use to self sufficiently sharpen and hone any razor for life. I bought some of it used, so the whole setup probably ran me around $400. I figured if I wasn't successful it wouldn't be because I bought cheap gear and didn't give if a fair shake. I also figured I could probably sell it all on a BST for $300 to $350, so realistically I'd only be risking around $100,tops. You can't get a cheap disposable setup for less than $100, so I decided it was the best play to go "all in" and give myself a chance at success. So far, having successfully touched up the Dovo, and taken the PIF razor from bevel set all the way through stropping, I'm very, very happy with my choices. FWIW, I'd highly recommend the modular strop. It was worth every penny and will never leave my den as long as I use straights. I've tried 4 strops, but if I had to do it over I'd go straight to this one. If I had to do it again, I'd start with this strop and also buy an extra leather insert to learn on and butcher while learning. Then I'd throw that insert away, and use the new leather insert once my technique was decent.

    Step 2: Immerse myself in youtube honing videos.
    I've found the best ones to be by Len Abrams and TSD member @gssixgun. Also the single best common sense introductory video I've watched for encouraging a beginner is from Keith Johnson and found HERE. That video was actually the inspiration for this thread. Bottom line, you can teach yourself to do anything short of brain surgery with youtube videos and a "can do" attitude.

    Step 3: Just do it.
    And so begins the journey. I'm writing a lot of posts all at once to set up this thread, but folks chiming in will be the only way it becomes useful, so again, PLEASE chime in, interrupt, ask questions, post thoughts, etc. If it passes along honing knowledge, don't hesitate to post and don't worry about hijacking this thread. We all benefit the more people contribute.
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2018
  4. CastleShave

    CastleShave Well-Known Member

    Sounds awesome! Did you get a lapping plate or flattening stone! I avoided this in the beginning as well only to learn the hard way that it doesn’t matter how hard your stones are the geometry slightly changes every time you hone a razor.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
  5. BaylorGator

    BaylorGator MISTER Fancypants

    Interesting you asked this. I was literally writing my next entry about this when you posted. Yesterday I learned that flattening stones it is a really big deal. Thankfully I learned this based on someone else's mistake, not my own. Based on yesterday's experience I am convinced that flattening your stones is absolutely essential, non negotiable step you must take before you put any razor on the stone.

    (Note: I went back and edited my gear to include the lapping stone and the stone holder that are essential gear that was left off of the original list.)

    Lesson 2: Assume any stone you buy is not "hone ready".
    Before using my honing stones I debated long and hard of wheter the stones needed flattening. I mean, honestly they look really flat. And I could "unflatten them if I didn't do it right, and then I'd have useless stones that ruined all my razors, right? WRONG!!!!!! First, I watched THIS VIDEO from Lynn Abrams and realized that flattening stones isn't rocket science, and the risk of screwing up a stone isn't really a terribly valid concern for the most part. Just like Lesson #1, I learned Lesson #2 from buying used gear and inheriting someone else's problem.

    The Norton 4,000/8,000 stone I bought used off a BST. I bought it along with a Thiers Issard razor. Looking at the edge of the razor with a microscope revealed that the razor was far from shave ready (the edge was pretty straight under a microscope, but there was not the smooth, uniform, fine scratch pattern on the bevel that I'm now learning to associate with a shave ready razor). The stone was advertised as being used "only 3 times". In retrospect, the Thiers Issard was honed three times on this stone, now it makes sense why its not shave ready. It would also explain why a virtually brand new Thiers Issard razor came with hone wear that obviously came from sharpening that I wouldn't expect to see on a new razor. Confused? Let me explain.

    In determining if a stone is flat, you make pencil marks on the stone and then rub it against the lapping stone. If pencil marks remain on the stone, it reveals that this part of the stone is an uneven "low point, and you have to keep lapping until the pencil marks disapper and the stone is flat. The first two stones I "flattened" were new, and it took about 30-60 seconds of lapping before the pencil marks were gone and the stone was flat. The 8,000 grit side of the used Norton took a bit longer (a couple of minutes), BUT the 4,000 side took FOREVER. The stone took a very, very long time in a couple of areas for the pencil marks to disappear. I didn't stop until they were gone and then redrew the grid pattern in pencil. In less than 30 seconds it disappeared, confirming the stone was flat. Bottom line, the thing looked flat to the naked eye, but wasn't even close. My guess is the guy tried to hone a brand new Thiers Issard on a brand new Norton stone that wasn't even close to flat, and he created hone wear, couldn't get a shave ready edge, and sold both.

    Also, flattening the stone, completely changed the feel of the stone to the touch. The grit was extremely rough on both sides when I received the stone. It remained so, until the pencil marks were gone and the stone was flat. In the Lynn Abrams video above, he mentioned that sometimes you have to remove as much of 1/8 inch from a stone like a Norton, before you get a smooth, uniform surface (i.e. not rough and grainy). Wow. He wasn't kidding. There was almost no difference in feel/roughness between the 4,000 and 8,000 grit sides before I started. After I finished the difference was dramatic. Note to self - just like new razors to not necessarily come "shave ready", new honing stones do not necessarily come "hone ready" either.
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2018
  6. CastleShave

    CastleShave Well-Known Member

    Your going to have a fairly difficult time with T.Is I have them as well. Haven’t seen one with good geometry but once it’s corrected they make amazing shavers. Double check this and consider rehoning from bevel set. There is so much to explore with a T.I in terms of the edge it can produce... even with all my experience with them... I never want to see another one that needs honing lol

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
  7. SevenEighth

    SevenEighth Well-Known Member

    The USB microscope has been a pain in the neck for me. The one I got came with a mini CD with the software but I don't have a drive that will play it.

    How did you set yours up?

    Wondering if anyone knows of generic microscope software on the Web?
  8. PickledNorthern

    PickledNorthern Fabulous, the unicorn

    Great thread. I will be following along, and participating when I get a little more time to play.
  9. BaylorGator

    BaylorGator MISTER Fancypants

    The one I bought on Amazon came with a website address of the manufacturer where you could download the current software directly. It used standard windows drivers, so it set up quickly and easily. I'd bet yours probably has that option as well. You may want to check.
  10. SevenEighth

    SevenEighth Well-Known Member

    Great thread. I started honing earlier this year. I seemed to have made every mistake I could, but I have a handful of razors that have come up well and some that I'm maintaining with a 12k.

    Time for my newbie question :
    I have a large Naniwa 220 grit flattening stone.

    Stupid question. Can I / should I use it on all my stones or reserve it for the synthetics only and use something else for naturals?

    I have a couple of Welsh slates yet to try and some other naturals.
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2018
  11. SevenEighth

    SevenEighth Well-Known Member

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  12. BaylorGator

    BaylorGator MISTER Fancypants

    I forgot to mention you as one of the key enablers/encouragers/hecklers who prompted the journey and ultimately this thread, Jared. I'm looking forward to more of your participation, insight, and heckling as we go.
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2018
  13. CastleShave

    CastleShave Well-Known Member

    Keep the Naniwa 220 away from your Jnats. The scratches can be too heavy and a pain to get out of your stone. I would suggest DMT for Jnats only and to be totally honest I would suggest dmt or atoma for all stones because they always stay flat. Where as Naniwa and norton or other similar stones will change and need to be flattened themselves.

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  14. TestDepth

    TestDepth Well-Known Member

    Wonderful thread!
    Quick piece - I do use my flattening tool, a worn DMT325, on both synthetic and natural. Flattens and creates slurry if desired. I also got one of those DMT cards - looks like a credit card. I thought this would be good for making slurry on my smaller naturals. I passed that on as it didn’t work well for me.
  15. BaylorGator

    BaylorGator MISTER Fancypants

    Not a stupid question at all. In fact it's one that hadn't even entered my mind, and I appreciate learning the answer to it as well.

    In my first couple hours of honing I've got a couple of questions too. Hopefully they're not too stupid, basic or tedious, but I want to make sure I'm off to a good start.

    Specifically, I'm working on correcting the horrible geometry of a Gold Dollar. I'm learning/trying several things that I'd like opinions of whether or not these are good ideas or boneheaded moves. (@CastleShave, per your previous comments, I don't even want to touch the TI until I know what I'm doing and have eliminated the boneheaded moves from my bag of tricks. When I do, there is no question, I'll start from verifying geometry and setting the bevel and then take it all the way through the progression.) Before I ask my questions, I want to make sure my understanding of "correcting geometry" is correct. Basically, my understanding is the first step required prior to bevel setting and honing is to make sure that the front and back side of the razor is completely flat (or in woodworking terms - square) on each side. In other words, per the drawing and terms below, when you set the face of the razor down on a flat surface on each side, 100% of the spine and 100% of the edge are in contact with the flat surface, with no high or low points whatsoever.

    So on to my questions #1:
    Is the above a correct assumption on what's involved ensuring proper "blade geometry" or is there a lot more to it than what I currently understand?
  16. TestDepth

    TestDepth Well-Known Member

    I like the ease of that definition- if you have this, then the blade should ride the hone and remove metal evenly... at least theoretically.

    And obviously the fun starts when this is not the case and we have to correct or account for it :).
  17. CastleShave

    CastleShave Well-Known Member

    Your absolutely correct! the key is to ensure that when the razor lays flat on the stone, the corner diagonally across from the section on the spine you are holding Does not tap the stone. If it does you know that you have to tape the edge and work down the spine until it no longer does this. This should be done on both sides of the razor. This will correct the geometry and provide a much better shave. It is easy to over hone the spine so be careful and check often. I would say every 20 laps pull the tape off and check the tap test again. You don’t want an uneven bevel. It’s not too big of an issue but it is ugly.

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  18. BaylorGator

    BaylorGator MISTER Fancypants

    Thanks guys! OK, assuming that I've got the theory of geometry correct, I want to recap my progress on the Gold Dollar this morning with some techniques I tried to ensure proper blade geometry. Some were based on stuff I saw on videos; some were based on just sheer logic and common sense. Already, from @CastleShave's post, I realized that maybe I should have taped the bevel edge before working on the geometry, but I think what I've done so far has been relatively correct so far. A few questions to see if I've made any boneheaded moves so far, should have done things differently, or used techniques that others have found to be superior to what I am doing:

    1. To get to "flat" geometry on the blade (as described above) it appears that removing metal until you get a flat surface is what is required (same concept as flattening a stone), only with the razor itself. I've tried several methods, but I'm finding that "circle stokes" (i.e. making a continuous "o" motion with the razor on the stone - in fact not really a stroke at all, but a continuous circular motion) allows me to take off metal quickly and effectively. OK so far?

    2. In order to do the above, I use a regular honing grip with my right hand, making sure to keep my elbow parallel to the stone. I then use my left hand to put my finger on the face of the razor and put downward pressure on the face. I use enough pressure to ensure as much of the edge as possible is making contact with the stone, while trying to direct the majority of downward pressure on the spine and/or shoulder as needed in order to to grind down where any inconsistencies exist. By keeping enough pressure on the edge to keep as much of it in contact with the hone, I'm using the edge as my "reference point" for the most part, and putting the pressure primarily on the spine flattens out the razor more on the spine as opposed to at the edge, which could then change the shape of the edge. So is this theory correct, and is the technique of using the index finger of my left hand for pressure OK or am I asking for problems? Noting the tip to tape the bevel first makes me think I've already made a mistake here, but so far, no harm no foul, as the edge was not perfectly straight either, so I've been applying pressure selectively between the blade and spine and it looks like the blade is straighter than before. (More questions to follow, but I'll pause here to take a pic of the technique and hone wear and get some feedback of my steps so far.)
  19. SevenEighth

    SevenEighth Well-Known Member

    Thanks - options I see in the UK are for the DMT 120 or 95 - both more than is like to spend right now... Or Atoma 120, 400, or 1200 grit flattening stones. Which would you guys suggest?
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  20. CastleShave

    CastleShave Well-Known Member

    #1 seems correct
    #2 sounds like your using too much pressure, the reason I say this is because it doesn’t sound like your relaxed. The only pressure you should be using is none to be totally honest. All you want to do is control the razor and ensure it’s laying flat on the stone(considering there is no smile on the razor) and gliding it back and forth. This ensures only what needs to make contact will. The stone does all the work, it may take longer than normal but learning this strategy will get you the best edges your stones can provide. I would save the circle strokes for after you get the “pressure” down packed and your more comfortable with how the razor lays on the stone. I’ve seen many barely even hold the razor but that is far beyond my expertise at the moment.

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