The sharpening of a straight razor is similar to that of most edge tools. Like with chisels, hand saws and kitchen knives, the first sharpening is a mental hurdle because we think we might ruin the tool. After some practice, the tool will work as well as it would from any professional sharpening service.
There seems to be a fear or misunderstanding of oil stones on the straight razor forums. Water stones cut an edge faster and have a numerical grit system which keeps things simple. Oil stones offer the advantage of lasting longer with less need for flattening. There is no need to soak or store in water baths and there are no clay/water splatter marks left on the work surface.
I picked up a Genco ‘fluid steel’ razor off eBay. Scales were in good shape, but the blade was chipped and had some fresh rust spots. This is an easy fix and allows me to have a sub-$20 daily shaver (which I now prefer to my $130 ‘Carpe Diem’ Dovo).
Rust and chip removal
Rust was removed using some 400 grit sandpaper followed by some green compound rubbed in using tissue. Black spots still remain but the shave is not affected by them (pitting would be another story). It is possible to sand down to a flawless surface for aesthetics, but that would involve a lot of time and metal removal.
Chips in the edge were removed using a coarse India stone. I used sets of 20 strokes on each side of the blade until I had a perfectly formed edge. Care needed to be taken to ensure the edge and the spine are in contact with the stone at all times. This allows the bevel to be created at the intended angle.
A set of stones are then used to sequentially remove the scratch pattern left from each previous stone:
- Coarse India
- Fine India (just because I have a combination coarse/fine India)
- Soft Arkansas (or hard Arkansas)
- Black Arkansas (or translucent Arkansas)
- Leather with green compound
- Stropping on clean leather.
This sequence is for a chipped or neglected blade. For blade maintenance, start at step 3 every couple of months, step 5 every couple of weeks and step 6 before each shave.
You get the mirror polish from the green compound, and the final stropping aligns the edge ready for shaving. This is the equivalent of using a water stone system up to 8000 grit. You can use higher grits if you like collecting water stones, but it is a case of diminishing returns.
The video below shows the sharpening process, and there is a chart at the end showing the equivalent water stones that can be use for each step.