Difference between revisions of "What hone(s), paste(s), or spray(s) do I need?"

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The choice of which hones to use, and even the use of them in general as it pertains to refreshing a blade, is considered one of the most personal issues in straight razor shaving. There is a saying: "There are 5,000 ways to cook a chicken. You know 5." The same idea may well be true when it comes to honing a razor. Therefore, we have compiled a number of thoughts on the subject to help you begin thinking about what will be best for you. The below list is neither authoritative, nor is it complete. It is intended to indicate what choices are available. The method or methods that will work for you is ultimately down to your own personal experience, skill, and the combination of razors and hones used.

Questions to ask yourself before you begin

Aspiring honers are often not clear about what they are trying to accomplish when it comes to honing razors. In particular, they are often unsure of what they are doing and how often they should be doing it. Some questions you might want to answer for yourself before you start buying hones:

  • Are you an "end-user"; someone who only hones a previously shave-ready blade back to shave-ready?
  • Are you a hobbyist who is chasing the absolute finest edge that may be obtained where money is no object?
  • Are you a frugal shaver who is after the cheapest way to complete your morning shave?
  • Are you a collector who needs to take E-bay spcials from butt-ugly to shave-ready?
  • Are you going to offer all of these services to others for a fee?
  • Are you a razor restorer who needs to take damaged blades and bring them back to life and shave-readiness?

Each of these types of honer profiles have different requirements for the stones they will own. Theoretically, you can survive using the "one stone" approach, but each razor does have an optimum stone set - and more importantly, a technique for using the required hones. So generally, when somebody asks what stone or how to use what stone, the question to ask them is: "What are you trying to accomplish with the stone?"[1] Above all, however, stropping is the most important new skill you have to learn, not honing.

Refreshing vs starting from scratch

The types of hones required depends first and foremost on the type of honing you want to do.

Hones needed for refreshing a dull blade

If the only task you want to perform is refreshing edges that have previously been established by a Honemeister (the process is often referred to as "touching up" on SRP), you need only get a fine grit finishing stone or a barber's hone for this. Either of these hones can be used to keep your razor(s) shave-ready for years.

Hones needed for restoring razors

If you want to set a bevel, or have many different types of razors, you will need a full set of hones. When compiling the list below we tried not to mention brand names mainly because there are simply too many different hones. (and a corresponding number of opinions about each)

A full honing setup

A full set of hones will include, but not necessarily be limited to, the following hones: [2] :

A bevel setting stone approximately 1k 
DMT's 325 600 1200; Shapton 1K and 2K; Coticules with slurry; Norton 1k; Naniwa 1k
A sharpening stone approximately 4k 
Norton 4K; Shapton 4K; Naniwa 3k or 5k; Belgian Blue Whetstone with slurry
A polishing stone approximately 8k 
Norton 8k; Shapton 8k; Naniwa 8k; Coticules
A finishing stone 10k and above (this is often subject to debate, however)
Shapton GS 16k-30k; Shapton 15k; Naniwa SS 10k-12k or Chosera 12k; Thuringians (including Eschers); various natural Japanese finishers; Charnley Forest; extra fine Coticules; some Arkansas hones [3]

You have several choices of how to accomplish this setup whether you use natural, man-made stone, or a Diamond-style stone, but you are going to have to be able to cover those 4 grit ranges. There really is no true shortcut here if you expect to take razors acquired in need of restoration from butter knife dull (or damaged) to shaving sharp: You are going to end up needing these types of stones.

Finishing pastes and similar abrasives

This section was originally posted by Tony Miller[4], and addresses the question of which pastes to use for a pasted strop. It has since been extended using amongst others material posted by Glen Mercurio[5].

We get asked this question almost daily...."what pastes should we choose on a 4 side or 2 side paddle?" We hope our suggestions will hold up in practice for others or if you guys have certain tried and true suggestions that stand out above the others.

Basic advice on grit size alone (not which material)

3.0 micron
A substitute for the 8K side of a Norton. Useful in place of the stone for those who have not been able to master the Norton or choosing not to buy one. Also great if really refreshing single razor and not wanting to soak the Norton, make the mess etc. Yes, a stone sets a bevel more exactly but we are talking substitute here, not equal. An optional size if using pastes.
1.0 micron
Used quite often, again by non-stone users in the normal refreshing process. Great for guys who have a high tolerance for dulling edges and who tend to let an edge slip a bit before refreshing and when the 0.5 just won't bring it back quickly. A must have size if using pastes.
0.5 micron
The "go to" grit. A finishing paste for most. A few swipes every week, a few more if used ever two to three weeks will deliver the final, pre-hanging strop edge. Another must have size if using pastes.
0.25 micron
The "love it or hate it" paste for all who have tried it. For many it provides that needed extra to the edge or else the edge is not sharp enough (they love it). Or, it leaves a harsh face irritating edge for many or a nice shave but it needs refreshing far more often. We suspect people overhone with this leaving a slight wire edge that both irritates delicate skin and breaks down quickly requiring frequent trips back to the paddle. An optional size for one using pastes.
As for the old time pastes, well we have not used any enough to comment. Makers include, but are not limited to, Dovo, Jemico, etc. All have traditional pastes that worked for our fathers and grand fathers for years. Red, Black, green, etc. slow, maybe a bit coarse but they did the job. More details can be found below.

Pastes by manufacturer or type

Cerium oxide paste/powder (approx .25 micron)

Cerium oxide paste/powder (approx .25 micron) is an extremely fine, soft, and smooth, polishing media.

Chromium oxide paste/powder

Probably the most universal of the pastes, get the most pure you can find (please be advised that the bars you can buy from Woodcrafters are not pure). Chromium is generally considered a relatively slow cutter (compared to diamond). Its cutting ability may not be not quite as long lived as that of other pastes, but with its rounded crystal shape, it leaves a very face friendly edge for most users. Typically not available in any but 0.5 micron and as messy as fireplace soot but really a nice paste for finishing.

Diamond pastes

These pastes are available in grit sizes ranging from 3 micron down to actually .10 micron if you really wanted to. These pastes cut fast, and many people use them incorrectly and manage to get too harsh an edge. When used correctly and on the right razor steel, these will most likely produce the sharpest edge you will ever feel.

Diamond sprays

Diamond sprays are mostly found in 1.0 .50 and .25 micron. Diamond - in any grit size - is a fast cutting medium with sharp edged crystals. It will cut any razor steel quickly but for some leaves a slightly harsh edge even at the 0.5 micron level. Mind the Carat content: higher is better.

Dovo pastes

The following pastes made by Dovo are often referred to in the forum. Only the green, red, and black pastes have noticeable abrasive quantities. Dovo micron sizes do not relate directly to Diamond micron sizes. Dovo pastes are a milder abrasive

5-8 micron, very aggressive
3-5 micron, aggressive
1-3 micron, medium
Not a finishing paste, but a strop conditioner for linen only; abrasive quantity unknown
Not a finishing paste, but a strop conditioner for leather conditioner only; abrasive quantity unknown[6].

Other pastes and powders

Iron and aluminum oxide
Both of these can also be used as polishing media. Please be very careful when buying either, as the purity and the micron sizes are very important.
Carbon blacking/lamp black
This might be the oldest of all the sharpening "pastes". When used on a leather strop it increases draw.
Wood ash
Another old fashioned sharpening "paste" which is very light abrasive when used on linen strops and leather strops.
White chalk
White chalk can be rubbed on a linen strop to increase its abrasive qualities.
The ink itself is a very fine abrasive and so is the paper.

Pastes vs hones

Now many will say hones give the ultimate edge and we do agree. For those who can use them well. Not everyone masters hones, not everyone wants to. For many choose to use pastes 90% of the time and either hone occasionally or send the razor out to have it professionally honed. Many use both approaches. The initial bevel is set with stones and pastes are used to keep that edge going for 6 months or a year before a hone is used again.

Why choice is important

Some people get different results with the same hone. A Norton 4k/8k vs. a DMT D8EE will get you to the same relative place; but most people will have a distinct preference in the use of one or the other. The point to keep in mind is that one of these hones will likely fit a person's individual honing style in a way that simply gives them better results.

Barber hones, such as Swatys, are often times used to do quick touch-ups of an already sharp razor. Some of the barber hones are of a finer grit than other stones which is why different people have preferences for different brands.

Coticules are a natural stone cut from sedimentary rock. They were the mainstay of barbers for many years, and are still favored by some. These stones are versatile in that you can create slurry by rubbing them with another stone causing them to cut faster, or you can use them with water only and they can be used as more of a finisher stone. Some old barbers would even use the lather from their hot lather machines in combination with these hones to achieve their own particular honing "perfection."[7]

The water stone category is a large category of hones which include the previously mentioned stones as well as other naturals such as the Escher and Thuringan family and the many synthetic hones. The Norton 4/8 used to be the recommended hone for beginning straight razor users until the Shapton Glass Stones and the Naniwa Super Stones came along. The Norton 4/8 Combo is still a good tool for a new person to learn to hone with, but the Naniwa Super Stones really seem made for straight razors and a set of 1K, 5K, 8K and 12K should provide a lifetime of great results. The Shapton Glass stones are certainly a good alternative to the Naniwa Super Stones as well.[8]

There are variations in the characteristics of natural stones since they are composed of whatever sedimentary material that time and weather dictated at the time of the forming of these stones. They will generally be similar, but some will cut faster than others which may be more suited to finishing. The synthetics are more uniform in composition, and are therefore more predictable. Doing the homework to learn which grits to use will get a razor sharp once the honing skills are developed using naturals or synthetics.[9]

In addition, the beginner's no-lapping kit (which is often recommended on SRP) is a DMT D8EE and 0.5 chrome oxide on a paddle. This will work for many people, but some folks simply do not like the feedback that they get from a diamond hone. Others, with coarser beards, do not like pastes because the edge they get will not last as long as a honed edge.

Buying hones

Before buying a hone of any type, we recommend that you go through the hones category of this Wiki, in which you will find various articles that should help you decide what your use of a particular hone will be. This should help you determine the right stone(s) for you. Everyone does not need a set of Shapton hones, or a Japanese natural hone. We also want to encourage you to read the threads in the hones and honing sections of the forum that ask "What hone should I buy?", keeping in mind that the vast majority of the members answering these questions are only recommending what they use themselves without being able to compare to alternatives.

There is also a number of things you should remember before buying from online auction stores:

  • There really are very, very, very, few true steals on hones on eBay...[10]
  • There are very, very, very, few good hones on eBay period.[11]
  • If there is a good hone on eBay, trust me here, most of the Hone Hounds know it is there, and the bidding doesn't even count till the last 10 seconds.[12]

See also