Now that we understand the basics of edge geometry, let’s see how we go about achieving that geometry with honing.
There is a lot of excitement about the latest addition to the Williams line of razors; the Purist.
This razor is designed for performance, simplicity and maneuverability. It’s all business in an elegant package. This is a design where form truly follows function. The blade length is 2 inches, which is large enough for full face shaving without any extra work or strokes but is small enough to easily go where razors 30% longer aren’t so easily maneuvered. The modified French point makes shaving the upper lip and trimming mustache, beard and sideburns a breeze. It’s got no-slip GatorGrip jimping and fits your hand like it’s a natural extension. There are no scales to break or collect gunk. There’s no place for moisture to hide. Cleaning and maintenance is a snap.
And the blade geometry and quality of the shave. You’d have to shave with it to fully understand just how good it is.
As you can tell, I’m rebuilding this site from the ground up to provide more information, articles, functionality and interaction. Of course, feel free to share your thoughts about navigation or things you’d like to see on the site.
Those of you who decide to register as members can post comments and if there is interest, we could put a small forum up for you. There are already some very good forums for the straight razor community, but if you feel you’d like another place to post thoughts and ideas, I’ll be happy to help provide a platform for that.
One of the shortcomings of my previous content management system was that it made posting articles unwieldy and practically impossible. Now it will be easier to add new content and add new features, so onward and upward!
In this article, I will try to explain the characteristics of a razor’s edge geometry. For cutting tools of all kinds, edge geometry is hugely important. The wrong geometry will always result in very poor performance of any and all cutting tools.
The four elements of a cutting edge that must all work together for optimum performance at any given (coldwork) task are:
- Abrasion resistance
- Edge Geometry
Razors are “push cutting” tools. Other types of cutting edge tools may use other methods of cutting such as slicing, scoring and gouging. All these methods applied to different materials are best suited to different edge geometries. Scissors, razors and serrated bread knives all are very, very different in geometry because of the mechanical properties they need to be ideal for the task they’re designed to perform. And, of course, those properties make them rather unsuitable for other applications. Scissors and bread knives would perform poorly for push cutting beard stubble and hair from skin with minimal damage to skin and close, clean reliable cutting on the hair.
So, we’ll focus on razor geometry here.
And that has to start with an understanding of the task at hand. We want to cut hair from the face at or below the level of the skin on the follicle. The goal is to clear the skin of all hair doing it very close, very comfortable and with little or no damage of any sort to the skin, itself, in the process but mechanically cutting/shearing it.
Additionally, what we want out of the tool is very good edge retention so we spend much more time shaving than honing, stropping and maintaining it. This is an important consideration.
So what is a great geometry for this?
First and foremost, we need an edge with as close to zero radius as possible; no rounding or flat spots at all. This enables it to start cutting with very little pressure. The smaller the radius of the tip of the edge, the greater the shear force exerted in the smallest possible area. This enables the edge to penetrate and begin shearing very quickly and very easily. The edge must, however, widen at an angle sufficient to provide support for that cutting edge so that it doesn’t fail and deform during the cutting. The angle of the bevel on a razor blade provides this geometry. If it is too obtuse, it will not cut as easily. If it is too acute, it will fail while cutting or at the very least will not maintain it’s proper geometry for long. Generally, a bevel of around 14 to 18 degrees will be very good for this.
So, how do we know what the bevel angle really is? There’s an easy way to tell. Proper edge geometry for a razor is set by the maker and consists of a blade width that is 4 times the size of the spine width where the spine contacts the blade and the edge contacts a hone. An 8/8 razor should have approximately a 1/4″ width spine. Slightly thicker or slightly thinner would be OK but it shouldn’t vary considerably from the 4:1 ratio if the blade has good geometry; say somewhere between 4.2:1 and 3.7 to 1.
So that’s the edge geometry of a razor. Understanding this helps us understand how to hone to maintain this geometry, particularly at the very fine edge.
This applies to all straight razors and not just Williams Custom razors.
Caring for your razor(s) falls into two categories
- * post shave maintenance: cleaning and corrosion resistance
- * pre-shave maintenance: honing/stropping.
But let’s cover some basics very quickly. Straight razors have very, very fine edges and all it takes to ruin your edge and possibly even require a full regrinding is to drop it on a hard surface like the sink or the floor, bang it up against the sink or a faucett or otherwise expose the edge of the razor to stresses it is not physically designed to withstand. Don’t use your razor for any purpose except shaving. Use other tools for other cutting jobs.
1. Pre-Shave maintenance:
Your Williams razor will come shave ready and shouldn’t even require stropping. If you don’t have experience stropping, I don’t recommend you strop it before shaving just so you know what the edge should cut like. Stropping incorrectly can damage the edge, but not the razor, itself. IMPORTANT: Any time you hone or strop a razor, the spine of the razor MUST be lying against either hone or strop every time the edge touches the hone or strop. If the spine isn’t touching while you are stropping or honing, you are ruining the bevel angle and could damage your fine edge. So always hone and strop razors with the razor laying flat on it’s side, spine touching hone or strop.
If properly cared for, merely stropping before shaving will keep your razor ultra-keen for a very long time. Months and possibly years. My own daily shaving razor has been giving me superb shaves for over 9 months without any pre-shave care but stropping linen first and then leather for finishing.
If, eventually you do need to touch it up, a very fine razor hone is a good choice for that and/or a pasted strop. If you are new to honing, I’d recommend the pasted strop as your choice for ongoing edge refreshing. Chromium Oxide, toothpaste and very fine .25 micron diamond paste are all common micro abrasives used by straight razor shavers for really taking a razor’s edge to the finest degree of sharpness before stropping on plain leather.
2. Post Shave care:
Carbon steel will stain and rust. It’s the nature of the steel. It is, however, a very worthwhile tradeoff in order to shave with the finest blade steel in the world. Nothing surpasses high quality high carbon steel that has been heat treated and tempered just right. More corrosion resistant “stainless” steels will still rust and stain, but are more resistant to this. And the tradeoff is that alloys are included in the steel that are very good for retarding rust and staining, but don’t help and actually hinder the blade steel structure from being ideal for super sharp zero-radius bevels that are necessary for effortless push-cutting (how razors are designed to cut).
So, razors must be cleaned and dried after shaving. Rinsing with hot running water and wiping clean with bathroom tissue (toilet paper) is the best way to accomplish this. Nothing else will dry and polish a razor as well and as easily as simple bathroom tissue. Merely wiping it after each shave with tissue to remove moisture and then dry tissue to give it a bit of a polish up before putting it away will keep your razor shiny, polished and ready for use next time you use it. In fact, it will only polish more brightly with each iteration of use this way.
If you want more protection, I recommend Renaissance Wax as a coating protectant. Other products commonly used are light coats of camllia oil, olive oil or mineral oil. Renaissance wax or Camellia oil would be my recommendations.
You do not have to strop a razor after shaving with it.