Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

How to sharpen a straight razor, according to a master barber

As daily tasks go, you might not think much about shaving. A tedious necessity, maybe, but not something that many people devote much time or interest to. But shaving doesn’t have to be a dull affair of an electric shaver mindlessly passed over your face. There’s something special about a shave with a straight razor, which most people only experience occasionally at the barber shop, if at all.

But it needn’t be that way. You can learn the art of shaving with a straight razor and experience both the pleasant feeling of freshly shaved skin and the satisfaction of learning a new skill.

One of the most important factors in getting a good shave, aside from properly preparing your skin and hair, is having a good quality razor. Even the best razor will wear down over time, though, and it will do a bad job if it’s blunt. Save your face by taking care of your razor properly and mastering the art of razor maintenance. We chatted to The Art of Shaving’s Master Barber, Samuel Segev, to learn about how to sharpen a straight razor and to get all the insider tips and tricks on getting the best shave possible.

Why sharpen a straight razor?

A barber sharpening a straight razor.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

“A dull straight razor will pull and tug at the hair and skin,” Segev points out. “Because of this, many people tend to apply too much pressure while shaving and nick themselves.” It’s important to keep your razor as sharp as possible for every use, allowing the blade to do the job without applying a lot of muscle.

Like having the proper espresso machine or a solid pair of needle-nose pliers, you’re going to need the right tools for the job, including starting with a quality straight razor. That said, we recommend using The Art of Shaving Blade Straight Razor as its hollow ground blade delivers a smooth, clean shave that will help you achieve a freshly groomed look.

Stropping the blade

A man's hand stropping a straight razor.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

“It is recommended to strop your razor with sharpening strop paste prior to each shave. However, this does not replace honing a straight razor. When your razor begins to pull at the hair and not cut easily that’s when you’ll need to hone your razor.”

That was a lot of vocabulary. Let’s define some terms. 

What’s a strop? A strop (the noun) is a wide leather strap: one side is leather; the other is fabric, with a hook of some sort at each end. To strop (the verb) means to use the strop to sharpen a blade, like this: 

  • Attach one hooked end to a secure surface, hold the other in your less dominant hand. 
  • Hold the blade just above the handle between the forefinger and thumb of your dominant hand. Hold between the cutting blade itself and the handle, allowing for an easy rotating movement. 
  • Pull the strop taut and hold the cutting edge of the blade down and flat against the leather side of the strop, near the bottom, and apply a little pressure. 
  • Draw the blade up the strop, then, without raising the strop into the air, rotate it between your finger and thumb so the opposite side of the blade is now resting on the leather pointing up. Then, draw it down the strop. 
  • Do this about twenty or thirty times. 

The movement actually restructures the blade’s cutting edge, making it sharp for its next use. Think of it as a kinder, gentler version of sharpening your kitchen knives on a stone or grinder. Use the fabric side to wipe away any excess metal bits, soap, etc., that remain on the blade. Be sure not to lift the blade into the air and come back down to the strap, as you are much more likely to cut or nick the strop.

To ensure your technique is safe and barber chair-ready, check out this YouTube video for an in-depth guide to stropping. Now, you may want to consider adding The Art of Shaving Hanging Razor Strop to your grooming kit to maintain your razor’s sharpness for your next shaving session.

Using strop paste

A strop and other shaving essentials on a table.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Strop paste includes small bits of grit — in this case, aluminum oxide and diamond particles — suspended in a paste for fine sharpening. 

  • Spread the paste on the leather side of the strop
  • Use the heel of your hand to be sure it’s spread evenly across the surface. 
  • Repeat the stropping process as described above
  • Use the fabric side of the strop to clean the blade
  • Remove the strop paste with a paper towel
  • Strop the blade once more on the clean strop

Honing stone sharpening technique

Shaving supplies on wooden surface.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

When buying a new straight razor, it will most likely arrive factory-honed or sharpened. “At The Art of Shaving, we find clients may prefer a sharper edge,” says Segev. “A #4000 and #8000 grit honing stone will bring a normal razor back up to shave ready. An extremely blunt razor may need a coarser stone to begin with, but generally, we recommend asking a professional to hone the razor. Make sure to strop with a leather strop and sharpening strop paste prior to every shave.”

If you’re looking for a sharper shave, or if you’ve been stropping your razor every day but feel like you need a slight touch-up, try this: 

  • Wet the stone
  • Similarly to the stropping motion, hold the blade against the stone and apply slight, gentle pressure.
  • Push the blade, cutting edge side first up the stone
  • Flip the blade over and return
  • Repeat for about five or ten minutes
  • Test by seeing if a hair dropped across the blade cuts easily.
  • If it doesn’t return to your strop and try this next technique

How often should you sharpen a straight razor?

It’s important to care for your straight razor, both for its longevity and so you can enjoy a better shave, but sharpening requires some skill to learn and it can take quite some time. How often you need to do this will depend on factors like your particular hair and skin types, not to mention how often you’re shaving. And obviously if you’re shaving other people as well as yourself then you’ll need to sharpen much more often.

As a rough guide, though, for an average person shaving their face daily then you should be sharpening your razor every few months. Some advise as often as once a month, especially if you have particularly coarse hair, and other say you can get away with sharpening every six months or even every year. But the best way to tell when your razor needs sharpening is to pay attention to how it feels on your skin. If it feels like it’s tugging or yanking at the hair, then it’s time to do some maintenance on your tools.

If you find that the maintenance is getting to be tiresome, or if you don’t want to be caught with a dull razor when you really need a good close shave for a special event like a job interview, then it can be helpful to keep two identical razors which you can switch between. Sharpening both at the same time is less of a hassle than having just one blade you need to sharpen more regularly.

And of course there’s always the option to take your razor to a professional, who can hone it for you. That’s advisable if you’re worried about damaging the blade or if you just don’t have the time to learn the skill of honing for yourself.

Storing the straight razor blade between shaves

Assorted grooming essentials in a tray.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Like any good tool, the best way to care for a straight razor is to store it properly between uses. Segev suggests storing your razor in a straight razor display box. Simply searching online will yield numerous beautifully handcrafted boxes that come with protective pads for safeguarding your precious razor from damage, keeping it in pristine condition for future use. Overall, a storage box will go a long way to ensuring it continues to work effectively. But before storing the blade, make sure to carefully wipe it down with a microfiber cloth.

How to shave with a straight razor

A looking into the mirror to shave his beard with a straight razor.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

As a quick refresher, remember that shaving is never as simple as it seems. Segev reminds us that if you shave incorrectly, you could leave your face with irritation. His tips for the perfect shave include: 

  • Hold the razor properly: Place your ring finger on the tang of the straight razor. Your index and middle finger should sit on the spine with your thumb placed under the shank. 
  • Hold the blade at approximately 30 degrees. Many men will increase or decrease the angle slightly. 
  • Pull the skin taught and use short choppy strokes to remove the hair.

Ship-shape shaving tips

Perfecting the technique of shaving with a straight razor will take some time. Segev recommends consulting The Art of Shaving’s blog for some additional handy tips and tricks to make the shave go easier and safer. 

Editors' Recommendations

John Jones
John Jones is a Jersey City, New Jersey-based writer who enjoys covering design in all its forms, from fashion to…
Having beard struggles? Here’s how to fix a patchy beard, according to an expert
Fix your patchy beard with these easy tips
A man looking at himself in bathroom mirror.

There are a few worries some men experience when they attempt to grow their beards. None is more prevalent than the dreaded patchy beard. You invest all of your time and patience into not taking your beard clippers to your face, only to have certain areas come in with full growth (like the mustache and goatee areas) only to have other areas look like a pubescent teenager attempting their first facial hair growth.

It can feel not only frustrating but demoralizing to a man's ego when that's all he has to show for his facial growth. This stressful situation is one that happens to many men, so just know that you are not the only one. Surprisingly, this problem can be solved with a little product, a little patience, and a little help from our friends.

Read more
Oui the People, Dr. Tusk, and more: The 8 best shaving creams that won’t irritate your skin
Leave your face feeling smooth and hydrated with these creams and gels
Man shaving

Shaving has come a long way from the days of scraping a knife across your face and hoping you wouldn't take half your skin with it. Once upon a time, the best shave you could get involved a visit to your local barber. Even now, people who struggle with razor bumps and ingrown hair may choose to put their faces in the hands of an expert. Fortunately, technological advancements and modern formulations have enabled us to invest in the best razors pre-shave oils and after-shave treatments to create our own ultimate at-home shaving experience.

Shaving cream itself has also come a long way from your grandpa's old aerosol can of foam. The modern man can now choose from creams, gels, butters, oils, and even sticks to get the best shave for his skin type or shaving situation. Many of today's products are also infused with natural ingredients to ensure that your newly shaved face feels luscious and buttery, regardless of your skin type. Lucky for you, we already did the research of the best shaving creams for men in 2022 so you don't have to. Check them out below.

Read more
Follow these 10 tips to get rid of razor burn ASAP
How to get rid of razor burn: Razor burn treatment, prevention, and more
Man shaving with razor burn.

Getting razor burn can be uncomfortable, and it can make it seemingly impossible to continue shaving without further aggravating your irritated skin. It’s also extremely common and can occur wherever you shave, including your more intimate manscaping areas. If you have it, you'll want to know how to get rid of razor burn — stat.

Fortunately, there are ways to prevent as well as ways to ease razor burn should your skin already have the dreaded painful, warm, itchy redness that is characteristic of razor burn. Keep reading for the best tips to prevent and treat razor burns for men.

Read more