How to Sharpen a Razor Blade

When I was a boy, an older neighbor kid by the name of Craig Heavey shared a piece of broken whetstone that his grandfather had passed down, and showed me how to sharpen my jackknife. I spent a ridiculous amount of time making a pest of myself at the country stores, ogling jackknives. Whittling was about as far as it went; some fish guts were involved. Recently, my mother released this artwork from her collection, claiming it belonged to me:

Provenance: plausible. I remember the chipmunks that lived in the Heaveys' oak, and the trauma I experienced when I saw one of the pathetically maladapted creatures smooshed in the road. (At the age of coming to terms with mortality. I had no sympathy for the skinned animals in Craig's clubhouse.) Examining this piece closely, I do vaguely recollect the sewing pins in the eyes.

My edges seem to have withstood a lot of abuse. I was terrible at sharpening, though, which may explain why I cannot be seduced by the straight razor. By the time I was a young adult, I possessed a razor-shaped jackknife, but my cousin, Dan Cookson, pronounced it unusable, and I wisely took his word for it. Dan is the man who taught me the beginner's exercise in paragraph seven of "The Missing DE Instruction Sheet."

The problem with the old-timey, one-stone approach is the ridiculous amount of time it takes to set an edge. If a stone is useful for sharpening, it isn't coarse enough to efficiently grind away that much metal. As a youngster, I would certainly have compensated my lack of patience with pressure, making my angle inconsistent, thus doing the first thing wrong. Same old story... good thing they make pocket folders for disposable utility blades, right?

Maybe. The funny thing is, I finally learned how to sharpen knives, generally, by foolishly attempting to maintain DE blades. The edge only lasts about one shave, if that. On the other hand, it doesn't take any investment, not even of time, because the metal is so soft. So skip the straight razor community, and learn it like every boy should have:

The exposed ceramic on the bottom of a mug is the equivalent of a grinder or cinder block; the meat of your palm under the pinky finger is a leather strop. The bulk of the work is done on a piece of newspaper laid on the countertop and anchored by your free hand on the edge. This is the equivalent of a hone, stone, or brick, but folding it twice over gives it the strop-like quality of never missing the edge. (A pasted strop.)

Ten strokes at a low angle and five strokes at a steep angle, for each face of both edges, take about two minutes. I'm not sure all brands have amenable metal. I've had luck with Yingjili, Lord, Feather, and Polsilver.

No comments:

Post a Comment