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History How to sharpen a straight razor: Part 7

How to sharpen a straight razor: Part 7

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • A gift
  • The razor
  • Best shave
  • The importance of the strop
  • Razor’s edge is fragile
  • The strop
  • Buy quality
  • How this relates

I said at the end of Part 6 back in November of last year that this series had ended. Well, things transpired to change that, as you will learn today. So sit back, because there is more to tell.

A gift

At this year’s SHOT Show I walked into the Pyramyd AIR booth one afternoon and was handed a business card. On the back was a note telling me to come to a certain booth — there was a fine Swedish razor awaiting me. Reader Jim met me in that booth the next morning and presented me with a really nice old Swedish straight razor. He told me he used to shave with one when he was in college (he’s near my age) and he had bought several over the years. He had given most of them away, but stumbled across this one while the series was running, and he thought of giving it to me at this year’s SHOT.

The razor

It’s a fine razor, made in Eskilstuna, Sweden, which is their town for razor-making, like Sheffield in England and Solingen in Germany. The razor even came to me in its original box, which is the first box I have seen that wasn’t destroyed by time. I have other boxes, but none are in the condition of this one.

Swedish razor
This mint Swedish razor that reader Jim gave me is now my best razor! You can’t see the quality, but a shave reveals it.

This razor is deceptively plain, unless you know how nice Swedish razors can be. I felt the edge at the show and found it to be sharp, but not quite shaving sharp, which I’ll say more about today. I had to wait to get home, so I could sharpen it.

Best shave

I sharpened it the day after returning home and shaved with it the next morning. The shave was the best I have ever had! I couldn’t even feel the whiskers being cut — the blade just wiped across my face and seemed to do nothing. But when I felt my face after a pass I found the skin smooth and the whiskers gone. This unassuming Swedish razor has now joined the ranks of my very best blades — fully the equal of my “singing” Henckels blade, if not a little better. And, from this razor I learned something new.

The importance of the strop

I have mentioned the importance of stropping in past reports, but now I have taken stropping to a new level — at least for me. The edge of a sharpened straight razor is many times sharper than any knife you will try — and I do mean ANY knife. Even a so-called “razor-sharp” knife edge cannot compare to the edge of a properly sharpened straight razor. That’s not because people can’t sharpen it just as sharp, because they can. But the blade that’s behind that sharp edge is many times thicker than a straight razor blade. Once the sharp edge breaks off, which it does all too easily, what’s left behind is too thick to do what a straight razor can.

Razor’s edge is fragile

A straight razor edge is thin and can be very long (go back far into the blade) in relation to a knife edge. And, because it is so fine, that sharp edge needs extra care when it is stropped. I said in a past report that people don’t know how to strop. Some You Tube videos you see of stropping will have the leather strop bending as the blade passes down its length. That will break off the sharp edge of the blade and the shave that follows will be bad, with the blade pulling whiskers instead of cutting them.

You have to envision the edge of the blade as being a hundred times sharper than a sharp knife. Think of that edge like an eggshell. Eggshells are extremely hard when pressure is applied in a linear direction. Almost nobody can break an egg in their hand by squeezing it lengthways. But apply pressure by pressing in on the shell at just one spot and it breaks right away. That’s how a straight razor edge is. When you shave with it, it is extremely strong. But press against it sideways with the leather in a strop and that fine edge breaks away all too easily.

So, when you strop you only allow the weight of the blade to press the edge against the leather of the strop. And hold the blade flat, so the edge presses against the leather without separation (i.e., no angle between the edge and the leather).

The strop

When I started this series I didn’t know squat about strops. aI thought they were all pretty much the same. Well, they aren’t! What you want in a leather strop is a very smooth piece of leather that is as flat as it can be. What you want in a cloth strop is a smooth fabric like linen.

The leather in the first strop I bought is textured. It looks like the leather of an American pigskin football. It is completely inappropriate for stropping. The “cloth” of that same strop is firehose cotton that has a deep textured weave. It’s just as inappropriate as the leather.

My best strop has a 2-1/2-inch horsehide leather that is dead smooth, with linen as the second belt. Both are perfect for stropping a blade.

Buy quality

Here is the deal. Cheap strops sell for less than $10 and are useless. No, they are worse that useless because they can destroy a honing you paid $35 for in a few passes. Good strops start at around $90 and go well up over a hundred. They are worth every penny, but like airguns you can’t know that until you try them. And also like airguns, you first have to know what you are doing before you will be able to tell the difference between a good strop and a bad one. Just as a new shooter can’t appreciate a TX 200 Mark III, someone who is new to stropping will not be able to discern between a good stop and one that’s mediocre.

I switch off razors every day, so I have only shaved with this Swedish razor about 8 times since I started with it. But shave number 8 last Saturday was just as smooth as the first one, and I attribute that to the effectiveness of my stropping.

I was getting 12 shaves from my Henckels razor between honings. Now, I expect to get many more than 12 shaves, because my stropping is returning the edge to perfection every time. I expect to get the same number of shaves or more from this new razor.

How this relates

As a straight razor user I am like a spring gun guy who finally learned the artillery hold. And now I have learned to sort pellets by head size with the Pelletgage. No doubt there are still other things for me to learn, but I am making progress.

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

71 thoughts on “How to sharpen a straight razor: Part 7”

    • Nice write up BB…I just joined based on your style of writing, very technical yet informative for the average Joe…I’ll be doing a lot of reading on this site, so thank you for taking the time with creating these blogs. I also just bought a new TX 200 MK 3 in .22 cal with a beech stock and a Hawke Airmax 3-9-40 scope….it’s fast becoming my fav air rifle, insanely accurate and a pleasure to shoot, perfect outta the box trigger….still going through the selection process of finding the optimum pellet…seems to like JSB Diabolo Exact…I’ll know better after I check out a few different weights…hardly done any shooting since I got it due to insane cold weather outside ( I’m in Ontario Canada, and it’s been a cold winter)….but spring is right around the corner so looking forward to hrs of shooting fun!

  1. B.B.,

    Thanks for the update. It just goes to show, that we are never done learning. Like you said too, you have to actually do it, to know it the same way a new air gunner can read everything and get all of the great advice but will never actually know until they start hands on shooting.

    On the second to last sentence,.. “skirt size” should perhaps be “head size”?

    Good Day to you and to all,….. Chris

  2. On sharpening a carry knife,.. I have had good luck with the diamond embedded, hand held sticks and paddles. I find it much easier to “feel” the edge. The one, which is retractable needle shaped, is pretty wore out and is the one I use to do the stropping phase by very light back pulling instead of a push stroke. Maybe crude, but very effective and I find much easier.

    Maybe also of interest,.. my Mom and Dad have a drawer full of various kitchen knives, all duller than dull. I brought my arsenal of tools and spent a couple of hours attempting to put an edge back to them. Some took an nice edge rather quick and others never seemed to get a whole lot better. While none of them would be considered high quality steel, it was still obvious that various steel grades made all the difference.

    I highly recommend the ceramic kitchen knives. The prices ( 5-25) have come down a lot and they come in all shapes and sizes. They stay cutting sharp a very long time. At least a year. I have never tried to sharpen one though.

    • I got a one inch by 20 inch vertical belt sander from harbor freight. for me it is the best knife sharpener I ever used and I tried almost all of them. I just pass the blade from back to front 2-3 times turn it around and do the other side. they sell honing belts but you can reverse the belt so the backer shows not the abrasive side and hone a blade

        • I use 80 grit to start then go to 40. but what I have seen is when an 80-60-40 wears down like if I do a lot of knives and some hand axes is they smooth out enough to polish. so I stopped getting the finer grit. just use the worn belts. I took all the guards and table off where it is just the wide open belt. I hold the knife near the top of the belt where it is stiffer on an angle and pull it towards me. the belt is going downward. I would not try it from the bottom with the belt going up. I am no good at honing a knife like some do with the sander on u tube

          • Mildot52,

            I knew what you meant. I’m trying to negotiate rent on a cot in back at my local HF to save on gas because I’m in there so much. 😉 Almost have their inventory memorized.

            You are suggesting holding the edge up, against the direction of the belt’s travel, and stroking down?

            • . how I do it is to hold the blade edge pointing down at the top of the belt just a little below the wheel and holding it on an angle starting at the back pull the knife toward you to the front of the blade following the contour not moving the blade up or down. the belt will be going away from the knife edge. do not attempt to have the belt go into the blade you will get hurt. it is opposite of most sharpening styles where you pull the blade towards you like on a stone. it is very easy to do and you can go on you tube putting in the HF sander to sharpen knifes

      • Mildot,

        I have seen that, but not recall where. What I remember seeing is a fellow working out of a box truck and would go around and sharpen peoples knives. The tool was a belt sander, but perhaps a bit more specialized.

        80 and going to 40, really? That is absurd. I would think that nothing less than 400 would be used to (re-shape a blade), with 800, and on,.. for sharpening. 80 and 40 is like gravel. Up to 1000-3000 I would think for a finer edge. From what BB has taught on stropping, a stroke or two on some leather (w/compound) might be a good adder.

        • that is what I use and the belt loses the grit pretty fast. I use the 80 for hand axes and after one axe it starts getting smooth. the belts lose the cutting power quick and become almost smooth after 2 knives. I grind new edges on broken knives with the 80 grit using 3 belts cause they do not cut for long. so I got a bunch of 80-60-40 belts that are almost smooth. if I were to use a fine belt it would be like using a one inch strip of a tee shirt

          • Mildot52
            Your sharpening tool sounds a lot like a ‘Work Sharp’ brand sharpener. I have had one for a little over a year and can say it makes quick work of putting an edge on a blade.

            • the work sharp has a tiny belt and is a lot more money. have to send away for the belt. the HF sander has a 30 inch belt so they last longer and have all different grits at HF. I have made knives for my friends out of flat bars being I have beaten them with hammers pried boards apart , popped up 100’s of roof shingles to get at the nails etc and never had one break or chip. they are like $12 . try that with a $500 knife. I beat them flat cut it to length shape it with the belt sander polish the sides and they wont rust then I use JB weld to glue the laminated handles

  3. B.B.
    I have a book by Joseph Moxon(digital) Mechanick exercises printed in 1703. It covers carpentry, various types of layout, sundial construction, and blacksmithing among other. In the blacksmithing section I found it interesting that he listed the quality of iron ore found in various locations in Europe. And the ore found in Switzerland was considered the finest followed by Germany then England.

      • Chris
        Yes it was on the front porch when I got home from work. Words really can’t describe how happy I am. I had never even seen a TX 200 let alone held one until today I’m blown away. The packaging was excellent and the copious notes were a welcome added bonus. Thank you Chris for sharping this with me.

        • Carl,

          Hey, I think that it is the first on-line picture of it! 🙂 I am glad that you are happy! I am also glad that the packaging held up well. Did it look like it suffered any abuse? (the packaging?,.. for future reference)

          The notes were everything I had since I got it. They may be a bit confusing to you, but I think that you will get the drift of them. When I got it, winter, 41′ was my limit and I was VERY new to shooting. So, the earlier targets will look a bit alarming. I try to keep a general history of each gun. Heck, I look back at some of my notes, and they can even confuse me a bit! If you have any questions, I will be full forward on answering anything that you ask.

          At least they will make some interesting “pondering”,.. and hey,… you even get to look into how Ol’ Chris USA’s brain works. Second thought?,….. 😉

          Keep us posted as things get put together and you become familiar with your new friend. I am anxious to see how that 4-16 x 56 looks on it. Consider my suggestions on mounts. I tried a few.


          • Chris
            Yes the stickers the gun has me so excited well I forgot to mention them. They’re a pretty optimistic size for me, but hey aim small miss small. Your very thoughtful!

            • Carl,

              Maybe this (weekend) you could post a pic of the stickers? That way others can see them and get inspired to use them. They are available every day at Walmart. They are super easy to use and very convenient for makin a quick target.

              Also note the duct tape on the back of (most) of the targets and see how that permits a cleaner cut in the paper. Something you may want to try.

              And,.. as you noted a while back,… Chris USA “crashes early”,… and such is the case. So,… out’a here for now.

  4. B.B.,

    I wonder what other refinement will be noted next? Congratulations on that wonderful straight razor you received from a reader.

    While scanning the internet I saw an article on the British Shooting Show http://theairgunblog.co.uk/british-shooting-show-2018/ The last rifle featured was interesting in that it is made/marketed by Sterling. Can’t seem to find any hard leads regarding that company though. My limited Google-fu search only leads to references to the Benjamin Sterling HR-81 and the Sterling Armaments Company went bankrupt in 1988 according to Wikipedia. It appears to be an updated version of the Whiscombe rifle using a pair of gas rams instead of springs. Very similar to what Duskwight was making in his Mk2 version. If you have any contacts or readers in England who could possibly enlighten us regarding this new rifle, any information would be welcome.


    PS. Section: The strop Second sentence: aI (I) thought they were all pretty much the same.

    • B.B. / Siraniko,
      B.B., Siraniko brought of Benjamin Sterling. I remember when Benjamin took them over. I always thought they looked so good. I never got to see reviews on them, like we have today. Today we are spoiled by sites like this and writers/authors like you. B.B., did they shoot good (accuracy, smoothness and so on) like they looked?


  5. B.B.
    What a good report it doesn’t hurt to learn new things. My wife says it get to into hobbies then suffer from burning myself out and it can happen. It’s good to step back then come back to it for me. My oldest son was in 4 h and we showed chickens boy did we learn a lot there we met a lot of friends. We would buy birds only to find out the color isn’t right a lot like airguns we were like where were you guys when we bought these yet we never gave up.
    Keep up the good work folks have a great day.


  6. BB
    My lesson from today’s strop comments: when I rebuild my AG and get good results, there are (many) factors beyond my ken at work. Or, you don’t know what you don’t know. So I muddle along, slowly picking up these scintillating details. Maybe that’s the fun part of searching for little springs on the floor.

    • Jumpin,

      As best as I can tell, those small parts that disappear off of the workbench are actually still there right in front of you – its just that they have slipped into another dimension (or so it seems) 🙂


      • Vana2,
        That may explain the extra parts I cant find on my floor too. Like the little bb that goes with the spring safty detent on my crosman pistol.I had a blast lookin for that one. Guess i dont really need a safety on that anyway. I bet theres a lot of stuff in that dimension! At some point there is a genetic component to being mentally competant enough to drag a raw open razor across yer face and neck, never mind the quality of the hide that is also required for a good edge. I not sure i am curious enough to find out what a really good shave is like, but B.B. does make a wonder!

        • Rob,

          The real problem is when I find a part that has returned from that dimension but it isn’t for this dis-assembly (doesn’t fit anywhere) but for something else and I don’t have any idea what it was from.

          Yeah, me to – I will stick to electric razors 🙂


  7. Bought a Gamo Swarm in .22 Cal. a couple weeks back. Like it so far. Wanted a rifle with a gas spring for the cold winter months. Upgraded the scope with a UTG 3x to 9X AO. So far, the most accurate pellet I have tried is the RWS Super H point. It’s shooting five pellets into about 1/4 inch at 12 yards. Next best is H&N Field Target Trophy with 5.55 heads and JBS Exact. I haven’t got the Crony out yet so don’t know about velocity.


    • I set up the Crony. Velocity with the RWS Super H Points is running in the 720’s FPS in the Gamo Swarm. Since I had the Crony out, I shot the same pellet in my Diana 52. It was running in the 690’s FPS. I wonder if the spring is going, I expected more.


      • The shots were rested but not on a bench, just a table hand held on a bag. The shot cycle is smooth, no buzz and very little noise. Pellet feeding has been perfect. Some reviews say they have wear problems as they age but this one is OK so far. About 200 shots so far.


  8. It takes some type of real courage to put a sharp bladed straight razor up against your neck every morning just to knock down a few whiskers. Be safe and God love you. Not everyone, myself included, would do what you do. I’ll stick with my electric razor. And if the power grd fails, I’ll learn to love my beard.
    William Schooley

    PS. What’s next? Shaving soaps? Shaving mugs? 🙂 🙂

  9. Vana2

    Best comment I’ve heard in some time about those little parts slipping into another dimension.
    That will stick with me 🙂
    I’m just not sure yet how it will affect the time I spend looking.


    When I visit relatives, especially when I know boredom may be an issue, I’ll bring my Chef’s Choice electric sharpener and sharpen everything in sight. Not a purists edge but I’ve not yet found a knife it would not put a decent edge onto. The only problem is its too fast so boredom returns.

  10. Hello everyone

    I’ve been out of commission since a week ago Friday. I had sinus surgery on 2/9. It was a lengthy surgery lasting 2.5 hours. I came home but later that evening was not able to pass urine. The next day, Sat, I ended up at the ER in a lot of pain. They put a catheter in me and drained two liters of fluid from my badder. This was a huge relief but I had to come home with the catheter and a leg bag. Then I had to keep the catheter in for ten days and will get it out tomorrow at the urologist. It’s been a very miserable week and a half but I’m on the mend now. Gee…these Golden years are getting better all the time…NOT!

    I have managed to read the blog and all the comments everyday, after the first few days. I have an announcement
    to make, but today’s blog is about straight razors so I will wait until tomorrow to make it. Reading this blog and comments has kept me occupied and entertained for a lot of hours during my recovery.

      • Thanks Chris. Looking forward to getting this catheter out tomorrow. I know I’ll feel a lot better after that thing comes out. Hoping it won’t be as painful coming out as it was going in.

        Wow! Coduece is one lucky guy! That TX200 looks like brand new, probably even better being that you have wrung it out and broken it in. I’m sure he appreciates all those copious notes as well.

    • Ah, Geo,
      Sorry to learn of your ill health. That you’re on the mend is good news. Praying that the path forward is smooth. I’ve experience with the leg bag, needed but despised. Senior status is not for cowards.


      • B.B.

        Ouch! At least I didn’t have to go through the process of having to insert it myself. It is painful and I would think it very difficult to insert it yourself. I know that some folks have to do this on a regular basis. I empathize with those folks too. Was your need for the catheter a result of the anesthesia from the surgeries? I had a couple of hernia surgeries about ten years ago and didn’t have this issue then. Don’t want it again either! I go to the urologist tomorrow to remove the catheter after having it in for ten days. And yes, I still think shaving with a straight razor is BAD! Stay well my friend.

    • Geo
      I had a catheter after a surgery once. Not no fun is all I can say. You will feel better after it’s out.

      And a announcement. Can’t wait. Sounds like someone got a new air gun? I hope anyway.

      • GF1

        Yeah, I think I will feel much better after getting it out.

        Well, I didn’t get a new gun…but I did pull the trigger and ordered one. The deal was too good to pass up.
        I will give you all the details tomorrow. You haven’t said much about the new Gauntlet yet either. Maybe waiting for the weather to get better?

        • Geo
          I gave some details the other day on it. So far it’s great. Very accurate and quiet.

          And I been busy on the other one I just got but ran out of pellets. I ordered some more and got some of them today and the others are coming tomorrow. So I’ll be back on it tomorrow if the wind cooperates. The rain don’t bother me. Just don’t like the wind when I’m trying out a new gun and getting use to it. Got a .25 caliber Condor SS Saturday. Had some old 31.02 Barracuda’s and JSB 33.95’s I did some shooting with those and got more of the JSB’s and Barracuda’s. But the new Barracuda’s are 30.86 if I remember right. So got to see how they do tomorrow.

  11. Alas, the temptation is too great and I must divulge a (sort of) secret Author. Perhaps this fellow is better known than I think because he does quite well and is most prolific but somehow I’ve missed him over the years and my ignorance was all of our loss.
    A while back, a young lady friend of mine slipped a book to me…I should have known something was up as she was giggling at the time. This particular item was populated with some interesting characters to include a two-legged ocelot that was giving the local South Florida parrot population a very rough problem. It would seem what was confusing the parrots upon the approach of the bipedal cat was that his missing legs were fore-and-aft not side-to-side.
    Think about it.
    Anyway, the relevance to this razor business refers to a newer book appropriately titled “Razor Girl” by Carl Haissen. Certainly available online, a bit naughty, but very, very funny.
    (I particularly like the high-fashion model character that attempted to light her vap cigarette with a Bic. Took a week to get the bandages off the tip of her nose.)

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