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My straight razor won't shave


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I recently forged a straight razor and while it takes the hair off my arm like nobody's business and slices cleanly through paper, it barely cuts off any whiskers, and is more likely to take of the skin.  I tried for several hours to get a flat grind on the blade (I don't have power tools to do this), but my first thought is perhaps the blade is a little thick.  Looking at examples on YouTube, they all appear to have very hollow grinds (mine is slightly convex near the edge).  I had heard that when you sharpen them, you lay the whole blade flat on the stone.  I had gotten impatient and raised it up to, say, 20 degrees (I freehanded it).  Is the edge likely not acute enough?




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Rather than typing it up again I'll share my comment from a previous thread...

Basically, there is a big difference between a thin knife that cuts paper/arm hair and a straight razor. Getting one to shave is a bit of an art and I don't think it's something you can be impatient with.

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I started shaving with a straight razor in the Corps, except while in the field when I used cheap disposables. DOD don’t pay enough for them fancy multi bladed contraptions. 
Frazer is correct, you can NOT get impatient with a straight razor. I don’t own a new one, I got all of mine used and restored them. Making one from scratch is probably much harder. I commend you on making the attempt.
You do want a hollow grind, but there is a Japanese version of a straight razor you may be interested in if you don’t have the equipment to do a good hollow grind. But even those have hollow grinds, just not as pronounced. 

It takes hours of very fine technique, practice, and good tools to get a razor sharp and keep it sharp. But, you gotta learn somewhere, just as I did. I don’t know enough about edge geometry to go into full detail about the importance of a hollow grind on a straight razor, but I do know you’ll never get great or consistent results with a convex grind. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up scraping the whiskers off rather than cutting them. It’ll be painful, you’ll get razor burn and ingrown hairs, but your face will be clean of hair. 

You’ll need to start with good steel. High carbon properly heat treated. I’m not a knife maker so I wouldn’t know where to start with that. 
You‘ll need a very fine water stone, I’d recommend not less than 10K grit. Mine is twenty. A good leather strop. Mine is a saddle girth strap I coated in Flitz metal polish. I clamped a broomstick into a vise and went “shoe shining” crazy on it before I ever touched a blade to it. That gives a good polish to the leather and firmly imbeds the microscopic grit into the leather. At least that’s what I think is happening, and it’s cheaper than buying an actual razor strop. 

I’d recommend setting yours to the side for now, find an old used one and practice on it. Once you get it good, you’ll better understand exactly what you’ll need to do to make a good one. 
I’d say steer clear of stainless, they don’t tend to hold an edge well in my experience. If you find one that looks decorative, chances are that’s all it’s meant for- decoration. You would need to strop before and after each shave, and it’s best to get two or three and not to shave with the same one consecutively. You also want to be patient while shaving. I did one pass with the growth direction, and one across the growth direction. Hot towel to soften the skin and whiskers. Using a straight razor is a very rewarding experience for some reason. 

Once I got out of the Corps and eventually divorced, I no longer had anyone breathing down my neck to stay clean shaven. So I quit. I don’t even know where my razors are anymore. But it shaved ten to fifteen minutes off the time it takes me to get ready for the day.  

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I've shaved exclusively with a straight for the last several years. It is more of a process and you do have to do more maintenance, but I find it to be much more enjoyable. Plus with proper care my razors will probably outlive me. I've tried making them in the past, but I just don't have the tools/skills to get the grind down as thin as I would want to go.

For my main razor I touch up the edge every year or so with stones up to 12k grit. Before every shave I use a leather strop treated with chromium oxide followed by plain leather. I know it's shave ready when I can pop thin arm hairs off without touching the razor to my skin. Some people have qualms about the so-called hanging hair test, but it seems to be a decent starting point.

My back up razor is a custom piece from a blacksmith. Unfortunately, when I received it the the bevel was (to put it nicely) totally messed up. It looked perfect to the eye, but it was almost impossible to sharpen properly. I was able to reprofile it, but it took many hours with wet stones to get it there. That's how I learned what a huge difference edge geometry makes when you go to shave. 

I like the suggestion to refurbish/practice on an old (or perhaps a cheap) one.

1 hour ago, SHC said:

If you find one that looks decorative, chances are that’s all it’s meant for- decoration.

I'll add the caveat that if the price is relatively low and it looks decorative then chances are it's meant for decoration. Straight razors can be like bathroom jewelry for some people so there are many decorative models out there that are also high quality. However, it's always reflected in the price.

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Well that is very true about the bathroom jewelry part, and yeah the price will reflect quality in razors. 

If I were to suddenly decide to start shaving again, I think I would like to try a razor from Boker. My wife has the Gent 2 pocketknife and I’ve been highly impressed. I’m the one who keeps the knives sharp and the guns clean, and after having and using that knife for three years I’ve only had to strop it once. And my wife uses it daily, mostly opening envelopes and boxes, but cellulose is actually kinda tough on a fine edge. 

My prettiest razor is/was a Gold Bug. Pic for reference, not my razor. 



I did find a small treasure trove once. Went into a “junktique” store and asked if they had any razors. “Nope, but I’ve got pieces!”

 The owner handed me a paper sack that was literally full of pieces. And rust. Lots and lots of rust. I was about to offer to throw it in the trash for him because I for sure wasn’t about to give even a stick of gum for it when he said to just take it. 

I shrugged, thanked the feller, and just dropped the whole bag into a bucket of waste motor oil and automatic trans fluid in the back of my truck. Then I forgot about it for a few months. 

I don’t even remember what I found when I rediscovered it. I started buying scales and pins online for about 50 blades and fixing them up and some of them sold for a pretty penny on eBay. I made enough to keep my old junk Ford running. 

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