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Care & stropping of straight razors

Caring for a straight razor mainly entails preserving the razor‘s edge and protecting it from corrosion. The sharpness of the razor mainly comes from regular „stropping“ on linen and untreated leather and, after a while, on leather treated with a grinding paste. This requires a bit of practice but can be learned quickly. While with a pocket or kitchen knife, the difficulty lies in maintaining the correct angle, the geometry of the straight razor helps us a lot in this respect. The precisely balanced ratio of the very thick back of the blade to the whisper-thin edge ensures that you automatically get the right angle on the edge when the blade spine touches the leather strop (see fig. 1).

First, touch the spine to the leather and then carefully move the edge to touch the strop. Now pull the straight razor with slight pressure in the direction of the spine (away from the edge) across the entire length of the strop. While doing so, move the razor slightly diagonally across the leather. This way you can cover the entire length of the edge with the leather. The spine and the edge must be in constant contact with the strop (see fig. 2).

It is very important to flip the razor over its spine when you reach the end of the strop. Under no circumstance should you flip the straight razor over the edge – this would round off the edge again, i.e. blunt it (see fig. 3).

The untreated leather does not remove material from the edge, i.e., it does not sharpen the razor in the usual sense. You can image the burr of the edge microscopically like a comb whose teeth are bent in all directions after shaving. The strop realigns these teeth into an even burr. If available, one should use the linen side in exactly the same manner as the leather strop before stropping.

The fiber of the linen is soft, the mesh of the textile, however, is rough. This allows the linen to grip the burr and align it. The weave of the textile catches dirt and loose steel particles which could damage the sensitive edge when pressed against the strop. The final use of the strop makes the resulting edge finer. You should strop the razor before, and not after shaving. Steel has a certain level of self-healing power, or “memory.” After stress, the burr slowly and partially stands itself up again. If you violently rip the burr up with the strop immediately after shaving, this stresses the material, which shortens the life expectancy of the burr and, in the long run, of the razor. The razor should rest for at least 24 hours after the shave – but 48 hours or more is ideal, so if you shave every day, you should own at least two straight razors. Our grandfathers therefore often had sets for the entire week, containing 7 razors.

If the cutting performance of the razor decreases over time despite regular stropping, the razor should be stropped on a second strop treated with special red grinding paste. This process actually does remove a minimal amount of steel from the blade. It is not that easy to answer the obvious question after how many shaves this should be done, as every beard is different. Many men only shave partially and contour their beards – the stress on the blade is different in each case. The user should strop with paste when the razor begins to pinch when shaving. After stropping with paste, you should clean the blade thoroughly, and strop it once more on untreated leather.

In order to protect it from corrosion, dry the blade carefully and thoroughly after shaving, and then oil it with an acid-free, viscous oil. Camellia oil has proven to be excellent for this purpose.

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