How sharp is ‘sharp’?

Hi again faithful (and patient!) reader,

Yes, I know it’s been a long time between posts. I’ve been consumed by some new additions to the store that need preparing (coming soon, cool stuff!) and by an email from a friend here in town, Joe.

Prior to Joe’s email, I’d had just a passing, nodding acquaintance with straight razors and the folks who use them. I’d sent a few stones out for the express purpose of sharpening razors, and not given it much more thought than that.

But it turns out that Joe has switched on to the daily ritual of shaving his face with a screamingly sharp blade, unprotected by anything more substantial than fresh air and soapy bubbles.

So, I’ve decided to put a little more attention at these unleashed blades, waved awfully close to very sensitive anatomical areas. I’ve joined a forum where all they talk about are razors and the bibs and bobs related to them.

I got halfway hooked, and have a razor coming so I might give it a try for myself.

However, there is a small problem…

Seems that me being a ‘tool’ person, I automatically by default have no idea of what ‘sharp’ really is. I need to learn what is sharp enough to shave with, and maybe if I am a good student, I’ll work out what ‘sharp’ truly is.


I’m not so sure.

I think I’ve already got a good idea of what sharp is, and since I really wanted to know if I am already getting my blades sharp enough, yet only have a stinking great kanna blade handy, I thought to myself “well, it’s a blade. How hard can it be?”

I think I’ll be just fine…

(Yes, this is a bevel down plane, so we make shavings with the blade, bevel down. Ok?)

Nice to have a face that’s slicker than snot I can tell you. Don’t need an actual razor to work that one out. I think the co-pilot will be pleased.

(She chose the flavour of the soap…)

And hey, I just picked up a new party trick. Sure to impress someone, I think?

Thanks for reading my rantings,


5 comments to How sharp is ‘sharp’?

  • Gary Hodgin

    I’m eager to find out how the razor thing goes. I joined the same forum just a day or so before you. Long story as to what lead me there, but I do have a decent razor (but not shave ready) left by from either my grandfather or uncle. I can’t really test the razor for sharpness the way I test my plane blades and chisels without risking some serious consequences. From what I’ve read facial prep is about as important as a sharp blade. Good luck and keep us informed.

  • Hi Gary,

    I did see your reply there on the forum, thank you!

    I’ve been using what’s known as the hanging hair test (HHT) as a kind of baseline for my own reference, surmising that if I can make a woodworking blade sharp enough to pass that test, then a razor will be easy. And it will be.

    Technique is my worry, but I figure if I can shave with a plane blade (like the one in the picture, yes those are really off my face, taken by that blade) then a lithe little razor won’t be a problem at all. I hope.

    All I can suggest is to read a lot, and try it out. That plane blade there was used on my jaw line, which I think is the easiest place to start since the whiskers are all running in the same direction and it’s a fairly smooth patch of face. Get the razor and preparation of your face right there, and progress to the more difficult areas as you become more proficient. If something isn’t right, it’s likely to show up quickly and with not too much harm done.

    Good luck with it, I’m kinda antsy myself for an actual razor to start with, hence going with stinking great big plane blades. ;)


  • Gary Hodgin

    I’d think that if you can get the plane blade to shave without significant pain/blood you certainly can get something designed to shave in good enough shape.

    I’ve tried the HHT with some success. It usually takes me a couple of swipes to snag and cut. My razor is an inherited Case 5/8″ hollow ground. It was dull and had some pitting, but the business end was clean. I plan to get a shave ready razor soon.

    I haven’t tried a plane blade, but I did try a chisel one time. It didn’t work, but I didn’t have the nerve to press the issue. I have decent honing stones (Nortons, 1000, 4000, 8000 and a Shapton 12000 M15 series). I need to get a strop.

    Be sure to post your ideas on the subject.

  • Steve

    Hi Stu,

    I’m not surprised that you were successful using a kanna, but what about a nice Japanese kitchen knife? Seems to me they are much closer to razors (certainly can take a razor edge) and in any case, easier to manipulate than the weight of a kanna?

    I have a beard, so won’t be able to offer any first-hand experience wielding hocho around my throat, but I encourage others to try (for the sake of science).


  • David Weaver

    Trust me, Stu – coming from the same place, your challenge won’t be getting the razor sharp. Your challenge will be wielding it so that you cut only hair with it (and not skin), especially if you have any issues with razor burn like I do.

    I haven’t used any super-fine japanese razors, just a solingen steel razor of some type (an old one with bone scales) and one from rochester, ny. I think you’ll be able to shave straight off of one of those nice 13k stones. I have been using one of the chinese hones followed by a strop, pretty much out of laziness to try anything else and fear of razorburning if I skip the strop.