Honing and Care
New – Out of the box
Your razor will arrive with a heavy coat of oil on the blade surface. Wipe off all the oil you can using a paper towel or facial tissue. Be very careful around the edge. The razor is supplied “shave ready” and will cut you if you are not careful. Try not to cut the paper while you are doing this. The cellulose and lignin in the paper are very tough on the edge.
For the first few uses, you may notice a black residue coming off the blade. This is iron oxide left from the etching of the Damascus pattern. The black layers are slightly pitted during the etching. These microscopic pits hold the iron oxide. After several uses the black residue should be completely cleaned out.
Treat your Damascus razor as you would any other carbon steel razor. After shaving, rinse the blade with hot water and gently dry with a towel. Be sure all the water is off the blade. I apply a very thin layer of Ballistol, or mineral oil, to the blade. This assures there will be no oxidation, of the edge, before the next use.
The scales require little, or no care. They are treated with a gun stock oil finish. If you like, you can give them a light coat of a good wax, or oil. I prefer Renaissance Wax or Ballistol.
Stropping the blade before each use improves the edge. Usually 30 – 50 strokes on a leather hanging strop will keep the edge in good shape for weeks. Some prefer to start with a clean linen or hard wool felt strop, and follow with the leather. Once the strop will no longer keep the edge smoothly shaving, it is time for re-honing.
Zowada razors are designed to be simple to maintain. A minimum of tools are required to maintain your razor for a lifetime. These would include:
Norton 4000/8000 grit water stone - Learn how to lap it.
Finishing stone – This could be a: Belgian Coticule, Escher, 12,000 grit Chinese water stone, or similar ultra fine hone.
Balsa Wood Bench Hone(s) – This is optional, but a good idea. Charged with Chromium Oxide paste, it starts the final polishing of the edge. Charge the surface with the paste. Wipe off the excess with a paper towel.
Hanging leather strop - I prefer Horsehide or Latigo.
A. Simple touch-up - If the edge only needs a minor touch-up, you can start with the finish hone. See section B. 4. below. Be sure the hone is lapped flat and in good condition. Keep the hone surface wet with water.
The way to think of the finish stone is that it is for polishing only. If you have any metal removal to do, you will need to use the 4000 or 8000 grit Norton to begin. Which one will depend on how much metal there is to remove. See “B” below.
The back of the blade should be protected with electrical tape for all the bench hones. This does two things, it protects the blade back from being scratched by the hone, and it sets the correct angle for the edge while on the hone.
Lay the tape on the blade's back
Fold the tape over the side of the blade.
B. Honing Steps
For a complete re-working of the edge. There is a lot more to do. If the edge has a minor chip, you would start with step 1 and the 4000 grit Norton. To do general polishing, that you can't do with the finish stone, start with step 2. For a very minor touch-up, start with step 3 or 4.
For honing, lay the blade flat on the hone and gently slide it across. when reaching the other end, roll the blade over it's back and go back the other way. This constitutes one stroke. It is extremely important to only use the weight of the razor on the hone. Pushing down on the razor, to speed things up, or rocking the blade up on it's edge will ruin the edge geometery.
This is how I'm doing things in my shop , on my razors, as of winter 2009. There are many other techniques that may work as well, or better. This is just how I like to do it.
1. Norton 4000 - 10 strokes, or whatever it takes to remove all visible chipping.
2. Norton 8000 - 20 strokes
3. Chinese 12,000, or Escher - 20 strokes
3.a. Optional - Here I like to add two additional layers of tape, for a total of three. This increases the angle by about two degrees, making it easier to get a smooth edge with the final honing. Use 20 additional strokes with the Escher/Chinese 12,000. This is not considered the traditional way of doing things, but I like it. Otherwise skip to step 4 and stay with one layer of tape.
4. Balsa wood bench hone with Chromium Oxide Paste (for extra smoothness) - 25 strokes. Remember to pull away from the edge. If you opted for step 3a, leave three layers of tape.
5. Hanging strop, treated with Chromium Oxide paste, for this step. Don't use any tape. 20 strokes.
6. Hanging strop - 50 strokes on clean horsehide, English bridle or latigo. No tape here either.
The condition of the final edge is a very personal thing. Those that prefer a very agressive edge will prefer to skip steps 4 and 5. This will leave the edge very similar that of a Feather disposable blade. It is very sharp, yet unforgiving. Nicks and razor burn are a potential hazard for the beginner. The Chromium Oxide, smooths and polishes the edge, resulting in a more comfortable shave.
This is where things get interesting. If you don't have an Escher hone, you can skip step 3 and go on to step 4. If you don't have an Escher or Balsa bench hone, you can skip steps 3 and 4. You can also substitute a Spyderco Ultra-Fine, Coticule, or Shapton hone for the Escher. The variations are endless. It is really fun to experiment with this and see what you prefer.
The edge on a straight razor is actually quite fragile. It is best to try and keep anything from touching the edge of your razor, other than: your properly prepared face and whiskers, strop and hones. A lot of the "edge testing" that is done can actually damage the edge of a fine razor. The "thumbnail test", hanging hair test", and "thumb pad test" are commonly used. These tests are useful during the initial honing of a razor, but should not be tried on the finished edge. The best test for a razor, is to shave with it, on properly prepared whiskers.
Long term storage
For long term storage, coat the blade and scales with a good gun oil or grease. I prefer RIG gun grease, or Ballistol, as it doesn't evaporate, and is safe for the wood. Wrap the razor in a cotton cloth or paper towel. Store in a cool dry place.
Returning the Razor for Service
I am happy to offer honing service for my razors. Normal honing is available for the cost of return postage and insurance. Please understand, this is for normal honing and does not cover chip repair, rust removal, or other repairs.
I am willing to repair razors I've made. If you have damaged your razor, please call or write for a repair estimate.
Thank you again for purchasing one of my razors. I trust it will provide you with a lifetime of shaving enjoyment. If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to contact me.
The start of the stroke on the hanging strop. Pull the strop tight, don't let is sag.
Pull the blade towards you. Flip the blade over it's back. Push it back to the top.
Little to no down pressure should be used. Do not rock the blade up on it's edge.
The back of the blade should be in contact with the strop at all times.
The start of the balsa wood bench hone stroke. Gently slide the blade to the left.
Flip the blade over it's back and go back to the right. Work away from the edge.
If you go towards the edge, you will cut the hone, and ruin your edge.
(This photo is of a leather hone treated with diamond paste. The stroke is the same on Balsa)
The start of the honing stroke. Gently slide the blade to the right.
Flip the blade over it's back and go back to the left