For many people, the thought of purchasing a sharpening stone along with their straight razor is second nature. For some, this is exactly what they want. For many others, it is a terrible decision. This article will explore why you should, and why you shouldn’t, buy a sharpening stone for your straight razor and start sharpening your own straight razors.
First things first. You don’t need a sharpening stone. With the rise of globalization, you can send your razor out to be professionally sharpened. This honemeister (master of hones) will do an incredible job and ensure your razor is beyond shave ready. Secondly, hones are expensive and require a massive amount of time to learn proper sharpening technique. As such, the only real reason you should even purchase a stone is to become self sufficient.
Do You Really Need One?
Unless you live in 19th century America on a ranch far from civilization, you do not need a hone. Even in the 1800’s men who could afford their own razor would take their razor(s) to the local barber for sharpening.
“There are hidden costs associated with sharpening stone ownership. In addition to the stone, you need to purchase a $110 lapping plate. If you want to do more than touch up your razor, you need more stones. A lot more stones.”
With the decline of the straight razor and the rise of the DE razor and now the modern multi-blade cartridge razor came the decline of the local barber and the art of straight razor sharpening. No longer can you simply walk down the street and have your barber sharpen your straight razor.
In today’s world, the mail in honemeister has taken over for the extinct local barber. Today it is now easier than ever to have your razor sharpened. Not to mention consistently better quality and lower cost.
The Best Reason You Should Buy One
Let’s face it, sharpening a straight razor is not a walk in the park. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it easy. I’d call it simple, but so is drilling out a cavity. As this article will discuss, the perceived benefits of purchasing your own hone simply does not pan out. The only real reason anyone should be purchasing a sharpening stone is if they want to be completely self reliant (or if you start restoring a ton of old razors).
The benefits of self sufficiency are self explanatory. If you don’t care about self-sufficiency, clearly honing your own razors is not for you. And while being self sufficient is vastly inefficient, it is its own reward. It is good per se for the man who wants to fend for himself. It is the only way to live for this man. There is simply no other option. The cost does not matter. To this man, I say, go forth and buy hones! Just try not to contract Hone Addiction Disorder and purchase an entire closet full of stones you may or may not use. Trust me, the person your living with won’t appreciate it too much.
“Sharpening a straight razor takes time and money, but it is not impossible. You can become self reliant.”
Self sufficiency is exactly why you should buy a hone. It is the only reason that adds up in terms of dollars and cents. You can learn to sharpen your own razor and you can purchase the necessary equipment for less than a high end computer. It’s not prohibitively expensive. So, if self sufficiency is your only goal in life, then read no more. Buy those hones and start learning!
|Norton 4000/8000 Grit Waterstone
Is Buying a Sharpening Stone Cheaper?
Many people think that purchasing a hone is cheaper. This assumption ignores even cheaper alternatives (read on to find out what they are) that provide the same or better results. It also ignores the time value of money, the value of your time, and the time required to recoup your investment. In the extremely long term, say 30-50 years, buying a stone and sharpening your own razors would be cheaper, but is a lifetime investment. Who knows what we’ll be shaving with 20 years from now; lasers? The truth is that buying a hone and learning to hone are extremely costly, both in terms of time and money.
“Not taking into account the ~10-20 hours of your time, at $16 per re-honing and accounting for the cost of lapping tools, the investment recovery time is 5-9 years.”
Let’s examine the most famous sharpening stone, the Norton 4k/8k. This stone will set you back $80. A better alternative is the Naniwa 12,000, which will set you back the same amount. A straight razor needs to be sharpened between 6 months to 12 months, depending on how well and often you strop the razor. If you strop like a fiend (200+ laps per day) you can push it to 1.5 to 2 years.
You can get your razor sharpened for $20. Shipping two ways is $6-$10. At $30/sharpening you will recoup your costs within 1.5-3 years. However, if you’re paying $20 to re-hone your razor, you are paying too much. You can get your razor re-honed for $10 if your razor was previously sharpened by the same vendor. And let’s face it, you shouldn’t be initially sharpening your own razor without a lot of experience behind you. At $16 per sharpening, the investment recovery time is 3-5 years. At $20 for priority mail, 2-4 years.
The Hidden Costs
In addition to a hone, you need either: a lapping plate or a lapping surface + wet/dry sandpaper. A good lapping plate is between $120-$320. A lapping surface can be anything with a .0001″ flatness. You can purchase granite plates advertised as such for around $30-$70 depending on size.
“Adding up the costs for honemeister quality stones, the time to recoup your initial investment is going to take an entire lifetime.”
While a 12k Naniwa will put a fine edge on your razor, true honemeisters don’t stop there. The best use expensive and rare natural stones or similarly expensive synthetic stones. A Shapton 30k (the finest synthetic stone money can currently buy) costs $310. An Escher will run you anywhere from $120-$300. A Japanese stone can cost thousands of dollars for just one stone. Not all hope is lost, some people are perfectly fine with the edge off a 12k Naniwa.
Additional Stones are Needed for Additional Tasks
For any task other than touching up an already sharp edge, a 12k is not going to cut it, and you don’t want to shave off an 8k if you can help it. Thus, you’re going to need more stones. And they all need lapping too.
Doesn’t Owning Multiple Razors Cut Down the Cost?
Owning multiple razors does not make the hone pay itself back any faster. Your razor does not dull perceptibly if you don’t use it. If you own two razors, each razor only needs to be honed half as often. Three razors, a third as often; and so on. Owning multiple razors costs the same total amount, even though maintaining each individual razor costs less.
What is Your Time Worth to You?
Time is our most precious resource. Learning to properly sharpen a straight razor is a matter of dozens or hundreds of hours. It is possible you already possess some of the requisite skills, but in most cases, dozens of hours is typical to achieve a workable edge. To even come close to the skill level of a honemeister will take you hundreds of hours and razors.
“Not only does the honing take a lot of time, but so does the lapping.”
What you can’t learn without thousands of razors and countless hours under your belt is how to handle problem razors. Honing is simple if your razor has a perfectly straight edge. All you really need to do is to hold the razor steady and push. Yet, for smiling razors, razors that need edge repair, or anything other than a perfectly flat edge, they require a special set of skills mastered only after putting in the necessary time and effort.
Whatever you value your time at, you have to spend time learning to properly hone a razor. If you don’t, bad things can happen. Check out these honing mistakes.
The Practically Free Alternative
As I promised you at the beginning of the article, I’m now going to share the cheaper alternative with you. The not so secret “secret” is chromium oxide pastes and diamond sprays. While it doesn’t quite replace a hone, it will extend the time between sharpenings for extremely long periods, measured in years. Not only that, but you already possess the necessary skill: stropping.
If you are a responsible straight razor owner, you already own a strop. And you already know how to use it. All you have to do is purchase some chromium oxide paste/powder or diamond spray and, if you don’t already have one, a cotton/linen/felt strop (leather works too but is sub-par). If you already own a cotton or linen strop, you can use the back side and flip it over for regular stropping. To learn more check out our guide on pastes & sprays.
In conclusion, the only good reason for buying your own hones and sharpening your own razors is if you want to be self sufficient. Another reason is if you want to start restoring more than a few straight razors per year. The perceived benefits just do not pan out. Especially when you have such a cheap and ready alternative in pastes and sprays.