Shaving Made Easy/Chapter 5
The edge of a razor, when viewed under a powerful microscope, presents an appearance very different from that seen by the unaided eye. Unmagnified, the edge appears to be a continuous unbroken line. Such actually is not the case, for the microscope reveals the fact that, instead of being straight and unbroken, the edge is in reality composed of a great number of minute points much resembling the teeth of a saw.These points or teeth follow each other throughout the entire length of the blade, and by their extreme minuteness
EDGE OF THE RAZOR AS IT APPEARS UNDER THE MICROSCOPE.
and unbroken regularity give the edge its exceeding keenness. Now if the razor becomes dull, these teeth will be less even and regular and their edges will be rounded and worn away. To sharpen the razor, therefore, it is necessary—by making the edge as thin as possible—to restore these little teeth to their original condition. This cannot be done by stropping, but is accomplished only by the process known as honing.
It has been asserted by some, that when once the razor has been ground and set, the strop alone without further honing or grinding is sufficient to keep it in order. This opinion has eminated from certain makers of razor-strops, who wish to induce the public to purchase their goods. They represent their strops as having been "metalized," or otherwise treated with some kind of preparation that makes honing unnecessary. As a rule, we would advise the reader to beware of these "wonder-working-strops." Such preparations may, and sometimes do, improve the strop, just as lather when applied to a strop will improve it, but that they will do more than this, we deny. When the special offices of the hone and of the strop are fully understood, it will at once become apparent that no strop can possibly take the place of a hone.
The object of honing a razor is to make its edge as thin and flat as a proper attention to the degree of firmness required will permit. This is accomplished by the hard fine grit of the hone cutting and wearing away the steel. The strop cannot do this. On the contrary, stropping a razor, instead of giving it a thin and flat edge, always has a tendency to produce a rounded one. This results from the very nature of the strop, which always gives or sags more or less during the process of stropping, and the more the strop is permitted to sag, the sooner will such an edge be produced, and in proportion as the edge assumes this rounded form, it losses its keenness. The flattest and thinnest edge is always the sharpest, and the only way to impart such an edge to a razor is by means of the hone.
Before explaining the process of honing, it may be well to say a word about the different kinds of hones, so that should the reader wish to purchase one, he may do it intelligently.
There are two distinct classes of hones in general use,—one known as the rock hone, on account of its being cut from the natural rock, and the other manufactured. A great number of hones are produced in different parts of the United States, but few that are really suitable for sharpening razors. A razor hone must
be of the very finest quality. The natural stones are usually composed principally of silica, which is one of the sharpest cutting minerals known. It easily cuts the hardest steel and the fine grit imparts a very smooth edge to a razor. The "Arkansas," found near the famous Hot Springs, is one of this variety, but owing to the difficulty of obtaining this stone, and the great waste in cutting it, the supply is limited and the price high.
Most of the razor hones used in the United States are imported. The most noted are the German water hones, the oil hones from Belgium, and the Swaty hones from Austria. The last named are very reasonable in price and quite a favorite among barbers. They are a manufactured hone, and in some respects the manufactured hones are superior to the natural stones, in that they are free from scams and uneven spots and perfectly uniform in texture.
Most men have the idea that honing is a difficult operation and should be undertaken only by expert cutlers or barbers. Very few seem to think that they can hone there own razors. How this impression became current, it is difficult to say. We venture to assert, however, that honing a razor is at least as easy as stropping it. In this case as in many others, the difficulty arises from supposing there is a difficulty.