Many new straight razors users become overly obsessed with learning how to hone their blades. This happens for many of the same reasons that they are attracted to straight razor shaving in the first place: to be self sufficient, to never have to pay for blades (or the sharpening of blades) again, to appear more manly, etc. I am no exception to this rule. Not long after I had made the decision to learn how to shave with a straight razor I made the further decision to learn how to hone a straight razor. I knew that having to send my razors off to be professionally honed two to three times per year would quickly outmatch the savings that would come from not having to purchase DE razor blades. I also knew that if I never learned how to hone that I would feel as if my straight razor experience was not a complete one. I read up on honing, watched YouTube videos, and generally became acquainted with the techniques and theories of straight razor honing. I decided to buy some lapping film so that I would have a simple and inexpensive way to try honing and to determine if it was even worth the effort (after all, if the forums were to be believed, there was a good possibility that I might not even be able to learn to successfully hone any time soon). If everything went well I still planned on buying a full set of stones, but I didn’t want to spend nearly $200 on equipment just yet. Lapping film is a high grit particulate on a plastic sheet and is used mostly for polishing fiber optics and jewelry. You use it more or less the same way as you would a normal hone, but unlike honing stones, it does not need to be lapped or soaked, costs a tiny fraction of what a set of stones cost, and can be cut to size. You just wet it and smooth it out and it grips onto whatever you use as a mount. Just make sure that your mount is perfectly smooth or you will end up with a mess rather than a well honed razor.
I bought a polished marble piece of tile at Home Depot to use as a mount for the film and cleaned out a spray bottle to fill with filtered water. I then went online and found a set of 3M 12, 5, and 3 micron lapping film for less than $10 (including shipping). I ordered some 1 micron film from a different site, but as it turns out they had an 800 piece minimum order…so I am still on the lookout for a well priced piece of 1 micron film.
My lapping films came a few days ago and I immediately went to work with them. I tried to hone three different razors with three slightly different techniques. The first razor, a Robeson ShurEdge 4/8 (I am unsure of the grind, but it seems pretty wedge like), did not go well. To hone this razor I spent a while working with the 12 micron film (about 150 laps) before moving on to the next grits. I finished up on my balsa strop using chromium oxide and iron oxide and then took it to the linen and leather strop. When I had finished the razor could shave arm hair and kind of pass the hanging hair test, but failed to shave well. Next I worked on a P.H. Hahn full hollow. With this one I began by doing circles on the 12 micron film before moving on to the laps, everything else was basically the same…including the poor results. I was getting very discouraged, but I decided to give it one more go. I pulled out my Sterling 5/8 extra hollow and began by doing 100 rapid half laps on the 12 micron film on either side of the blade until a small burr formed across the entire edge. I then went on to do the normal laps on the 12 micron followed by laps on each of the other grits and then finishing up on the balsa strop and linen/leather strop. This time the razor was able to shave hair after the 12 micron laps and passed the hanging hair test after the stropping. I oiled up the blade and put it aside for the next day.
Today I pulled out the Sterling razor and gave it a try. I performed a two pass shave (with the grain/against the grain) using RazoRock Napoleon’s Violet and my #6 Turkish Horsehair brush. I finished up with a cold water rinse and an evaluation. The shave went well and was actually my first successful shave using a round point razor. It wasn’t as clean a shave as I get with my Union Cutlery, but thanks to the round point it was also less bitey. I ended up with zero nicks, very little irritation, and a serviceable shave. My jaw line could have used a clean up and my neck wasn’t as smooth as it could have been, but I was presentable. My honing technique needs improvement as does my shaving technique and I probably really need a sheet of 1 micron film, but I feel like I am making real progress and can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. I will continue to work with the film as I save up to buy a set of stones. I will continue to work on my shaving technique and strive for that elusive straight razor only baby butt smooth shave. And one day, in the not too distant future, I will be the one doling out advice to new and uncertain straight razor shavers and smiling as they stumble along and reach for straight razor perfection.
YouTube Videos Featuring Straight Razor Honing Using Lapping Film:
Lapping Film (make sure that you purchase lapping film and NOT lapping paper):
RazoRock Napoleon’s Violet:
#6 Turkish Horsehair Brush: