Honing Straight Razors with Lapping Film
One of the major expenses of using straight razors is the fine grit hones required for edge maintenance. Standard stones are far too coarse to be used with razors, razors require very fine grits, usually starting at $80 for an artificial waterstone and the sky is the limit with natural stones dug from rare deposits. Using lapping film will allow you to hone a straight razor for a initial investment of about $40 and give you a larger range of grits to work with than a single two sided stone.
I am not going into the nuances and techniques of honing itself in this article. Once you get set up correctly, it’s just like using a stone. Once you’ve got your honing film set up, see one of the many fine tutorial videos available on the web.
Honing with lapping film is a bit controversial. When I looked into it, I found many people hated it and every once in a while somebody had really good results. The cost was low, so I gave it a try and worked through some problems until I picked up the techniques in this article. Honing film works very well when used properly.
Using honing film
Procedure to use lapping film for honing
Now take the piece of film and wipe both sides with a clean cloth to remove dust and hairs. Apply it to the surface of the lapping plate. Position the film so it hangs off the working side of the plate a little bit, a millimeter or two.
Then use the gift card to squeegee the water and bubbles out from under the film. Use light pressure and remove all air bubbles and as much water as possible. Use a cloth to wipe up the excess water at the edges so it is not drawn back under the film. In this state, the film will be completely immobile for normal razor honing.
You can then put a squirt of water on the top of the film and lightly draw your razor across and feel for bumps or roughness. This is dirt or hair on top of or below the film. If you feel anything, clean the top of the film and try again. If you still feel it, remove the film and clean underneath, then reapply.
If the surface is smooth and you don’t see any bubbles under the film, you can proceed to hone. I’ve made the process sound complicated, but it really only takes about 30 seconds to apply a film.
Here is an example progression I would use for a razor that had minor edge issues, but no naked-eye visible chips. The 5 micron would not be needed for a light refresh hone on a clean edge. The following is based on inspecting the edge with a 15x loupe.
Where can I get lapping film?
A small amount of detergent can be used in the water, if you prefer. But I find it wears the abrasives off faster than plain water. I just clean my film with rubbing alcohol if it gets loaded with swarf.
Coarse films are generally not worth it. They perform like 1000-1500 grit wet dry sandpaper, which is widely available. Also 1000-1200 grit waterstones are not that expensive or hard to find and can also be used with your kitchen knives. You only need these coarser grits if you are fixing significant chips or reshaping a blade.
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