Stropping questions from a straight razor newbie

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Bill_K
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Stropping questions from a straight razor newbie

Post by Bill_K » Thu Oct 11, 2018 11:54 am

Hello Gentlemen (and Ladies, if there are any here);

I've just begun to shave with a straight razor, but only on weekends and holidays as I still have to get to work on time. (My daily razor is a Merkur 38C.)

I'm using a professionally-honed Genco razor and a new Thiers Issard extra-wide double-sided strop. The strop has a black surface ("Cote Pate" or paste side) and a tan surface; neither one is smooth because the inside of the leather material is facing the world. I have some questions that I could not resolve by looking through the SMF archives:

1) I understand that there are three types of paste; from coarse to fine they are green, red, and white/grey. For touch-ups, what paste would you recommend?

2) I realise that I should strop between shaves, but how often should I use the paste? Is this a subjective decision?

3) Do I need to condition the strop in any way? I've seen guys run their hands over the strop in order to utilise natural skin oils, but could I also use neatsfoot oil?

4) Are there advantages/disadvantages to using a paste vs. a stick or block?

Thanks in advance for your help.

Bill

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Re: Stropping questions from a straight razor newbie

Post by Pointer » Thu Oct 11, 2018 12:25 pm

I find with TI paddle strops their own white paste is best on the black side. How often to use it is personal preference. I use mine once a month maybe with the razor I use daily. I use the buck side unpasted as a daily strop.

The suede side does not need a lot of care. Mild brushing. That is the benefit over traditional smooth tanned hide. Some like it some don't. YMMV

I have seen some people reverse and use the buck side for pastes and black for final stropping depending on draw preference

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drmoss_ca
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Re: Stropping questions from a straight razor newbie

Post by drmoss_ca » Fri Oct 12, 2018 4:35 am

If that is your only strop, Bill, I wouldn't put paste on it at all. A razor should not meet a pasted strop every day, and to have a strop that will discolour whatever it touches when you pack it for travel isn't fun.

Ideally, you want a second strop for a touch up paste, and you use it only when you have to - when a razor begins to tug a little, or doesn't shave as close despite the same technique. I am not one of those who feel that stones and hones are the only respectable tools, and I feel there are good reasons why our predecessors who had to use straights, there being no choice at the time, found pasted strops of value. You will want to get a couple of hones to keep your razor sharp if you decide to stick with it, but that can be delayed until pastes no longer work.

I think I've dedicated a strop of some sort to every paste I could find at some time or other over the years, and my choices go as follows:

1. Flexcut Gold. You won't see this mentioned much as its made for sharpening chisels in a woodworking shop. It is NOT a touch-up paste: it eats metal. Now and then I find a razor that doesn't respond to my hones - maybe due to the steel, the hones, my lack of skill or often bad geometry in the blade (I have several warped NOS Friodurs that were considered factory rejects when made but have been put up for sale since.) Flexcut Gold will often bring such a razor into the fold, but leaves a rough and ragged edge.

2. Dovo/Herold Red Paste (or TI Chromox Red). Not a fast cutter, but definitely useful. You can shave with a razor finished with this, but it will be harsh until it has been stropped a couple of hundred times.

3. Green chromium dioxide paste, look for one that is 0.5micron size. I have a supply of HandAmerican Liquid Chrome, which is far superior to, and finer than, Dovo/Herold green paste, though I'm not sure if it is still sold since Keith DeGrau has gone quiet. If you can't find that look for some TI Chromox Green. I also have a lot of homemade stuff made from bulk CrO2 (rock polishing sites sell it) and Vaseline. Green paste is your best bet for a single touch-up paste, and I think that's not a controversial statement. Don't overdo it; a freshly honed razor will thank you for just 5-10 passes, and a touch-up might take 20-40, but always stop and test and don't do more than needed.

4. Herold black paste (only available in a combo pack with red paste and both are in lipstick form). This has only a subtle effect on a hard steel, but on older razors made from softer carbon steels than are used today it can refine an edge. Your Genco, or an old Sheffield razor, will certainly feel the difference, but it is small and doesn't last long.

I have used TI white paste, which is a mild abrasive, and Dovo white paste, which is not: it just conditions linen. Also HandAmerican silicon Carbide ('Black Diamond' they called it) which never quite found a place in my heart. Which brings me to the elephant in the room:

5. Diamond pastes and sprays. Many, many people will tell you these are the way to go. Available in pretty much any micron size you like from 0.25 upwards, but of very variable quality and all rather expensive. My experience with them goes back some years when they were rather lumpy pastes sold for woodworkers, so I shouldn't condemn the modern products sold for razors. My own experience, which I hear echoed with the modern versions, is that they give sharp but harsh edges.

The biggest error with pastes is to overdo it. Too much paste on the strop, or too many passes. Just enough is just right. Don't forget to wipe the residue off the blade before using your plain strop or it will contaminate that strop. People will tell you that you are 'rounding the edge' but I say 'So what, as long as it shaves well?' Any rounding will go after the next honing. By the way, if you are looking for a cheap paddle to use for pastes, you can buy a suitable block of balsa from a model shop and glue it to a hardwood back. I started out making them for myself and whilst they aren't elegant they do work. It won't be the same beautiful draw as the black side of a TI extra wide paddle, but it will give you a good idea of how the paste works. So maybe do that and definitely go for the green!
"Je n'ai pas besoin de cette hypothèse."
Pierre-Simon de Laplace

EL Alamein
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Re: Stropping questions from a straight razor newbie

Post by EL Alamein » Fri Oct 12, 2018 6:29 pm

+1 on what Dr. Moss posted.

Chris

Bill_K
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Re: Stropping questions from a straight razor newbie

Post by Bill_K » Mon Oct 15, 2018 11:31 am

Thanks to you all for your feedback - it's greatly appreciated.

This is my only strop so I think I'll go the balsa wood route until I become fully addicted and spring for a new straight and an accompanying strop. <Ah, balsa wood... I just had a flashback of my model rocket days when I was a young teenaged boy.> Once that occurs I'll assign the paddle to paste duty.

Edit: Oops, I was too fast on the trigger; I meant to Preview and not Submit. I wanted to add that I'm having fun with the straight so far, and I have an idea for what Santa will bring me next Christmas.

Bill_K
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Re: Stropping questions from a straight razor newbie

Post by Bill_K » Mon Oct 15, 2018 11:50 am

Now that I think of it, are the following instructions valid for a balsa strop? (from https://www.fendrihan.ca/collections/st ... ers-issard) I think they're assuming the user will be using a leather strop, not balsa.
Important: the chromium oxide paste must fill the pores in your strop; you don't want it to coat the surface. Before first use, with your fingers, rub in a generous amount of paste to completely cover the surface and fill all voids. Then, with a paper towel, wipe all the excess paste off the surface. When you are getting only a trace of lapping paste on your towel, your strop is ready for use. Before applying the chromium oxide paste, you should always stir it well, to avoid settling of the chromium oxide particles in the mixture. We recommend that you stir with a small piece of wood and then wipe this piece on the strop to be covered, so as to avoid wastage.

EL Alamein
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Re: Stropping questions from a straight razor newbie

Post by EL Alamein » Mon Oct 15, 2018 6:05 pm

I can't say about that stuff as I've never used it.

I use a crayon crox that was used by Mastro Livi. No one seems to carry it anymore which is astonishing to me as it is excellent (and, yeah, I'd use that crayon on balsa as well as leather). One crayon will last you a lifetime.

Hopefully Dr. Moss will chime in here as I am pretty sure he is familiar with every paste on earth.

Chris

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drmoss_ca
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Re: Stropping questions from a straight razor newbie

Post by drmoss_ca » Tue Oct 16, 2018 4:12 am

Bill_K wrote:
Mon Oct 15, 2018 11:50 am
Now that I think of it, are the following instructions valid for a balsa strop? (from https://www.fendrihan.ca/collections/st ... ers-issard) I think they're assuming the user will be using a leather strop, not balsa.
Important: the chromium oxide paste must fill the pores in your strop; you don't want it to coat the surface. Before first use, with your fingers, rub in a generous amount of paste to completely cover the surface and fill all voids. Then, with a paper towel, wipe all the excess paste off the surface. When you are getting only a trace of lapping paste on your towel, your strop is ready for use. Before applying the chromium oxide paste, you should always stir it well, to avoid settling of the chromium oxide particles in the mixture. We recommend that you stir with a small piece of wood and then wipe this piece on the strop to be covered, so as to avoid wastage.
Pretty much. I score the balsa lengthwise to make grooves that will hold some paste, apply a few dabs and rub it in with an old rag. If you apply too much it will end up on the first few razors and is wasted, so a thin coating is all that's needed.
"Je n'ai pas besoin de cette hypothèse."
Pierre-Simon de Laplace

Bill_K
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Location: Red Deer, Alberta, Canada

Re: Stropping questions from a straight razor newbie

Post by Bill_K » Tue Oct 16, 2018 11:24 am

Super - thank you for the advice! I'll be ordering the paste right away (it's lunch time as I type this). I'll pick up the balsa wood at a local hobby shop later this week.

I think I'll also hit the specialty lumber store so that I can make a decent-looking base for it. Since space is at a premium in my bathroom I think I'll make one with non-slip feet (to be used on the kitchen table) as opposed to carving a handle similar to my TI paddle.

Bill

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