The Shave Ready Razor
For the new guys out there, there seems to be a lot of confusion on what shave ready means to dealers, and what a truly shave ready razor means to an experienced shaver. Shave ready according to a dealer (generally concerning new razors) are razors that have been mechanically sharpened (generally on a waterstone type wheel) and then hand honed on a stone of some sort, Thiers-Issard for instance uses Belgian waterstones.
If it is brand new and says "shave ready" why isn’t it really shave ready?
The reason for this is most probably the cost of the man hours required to make a razor truly shave ready for our purposes, my guess is the cost of workmanship would drive the razor prices up and prevent a company from being as competitive in the marketplace with another company that does not spend this time and energy on finishing, and yet can still call their razors shave ready. These razors are sharp of course, and you could shave with them, so don’t think that you are getting ripped off or lied too.
The difference between a factory shave ready razor and a razor that has been honed by an expert such as Lynn Abrams, is the experience level, time, techniques as well as equipment. The fact that all of their honing is done by hand with no machine grinding makes a VERY large difference in the final edge, and of course the closer detail to the edge that can be observed while hand honing. The shave from such razor will be in general a much more comfortable, close, and smooth than from a factory sharpened one. This means little or no pulling of your facial hair, and less razor burn. Also, a proper honing provides a benchmark for the time when you yourself start honing.
Where to get a truly shave ready Razor?
If you buy a razor from a reputable vendor such as Straight Razor Designs or Vintage Blades they offer honing services by highly experienced and reputable honemeisters. This makes it convenient to get a brand new shave ready razor that will make your learning curve easier. We also highly recommend the option of buying a used and/or refurbished razor that has also been hand honed and is truly shave ready. This will allow the new shaver to get a quality straight razor that is really ready to shave with. This option generally costs significantly less than a factory new razor which is not really shave ready according to our high standards. You can find such razors in the Classifieds section on SRP.
Word of Caution
Since well honed razors are clearly more desirable than ones that are not, many sellers especially on ebay have started to add 'Shave Ready' to their item descriptions. Often you will find even well rusted razors with clearly visible chips along the edge advertised as such. The reality is that a 'shave ready' claim is only as good as the person who makes it, therefore it is in your best interest to do your homework and find out what is their honing experience and reputation. If you are not able to find such references from reputable sources, there probably is a good reason.
Why do certain razors require more or less honing than others?
Last but not least, the material that your razor is made from will also determine how much hand honing is required and how long your edge will remain sharp. Stainless steel for instance takes more work to achieve the same sharpness as carbon steel, but will also stay sharper longer. Also it has been mentioned that if a razor has more of a wedge shape (less hollowing) it will generally require more honing to achieve the same sharpness as a razor that has been partially or fully hollowed, this is due to the amount of metal that must be removed to achieve that perfect edge.
There are a number of other reasons this why some razors require more honing than others:
- The material that your razor is made from will determine how much hand honing is required and how long your edge will remain sharp. Stainless steel usually takes a little more work to achieve the same sharpness as carbon steel, but will also stay sharper a little longer.
- The thermal treatment that the razor undergoes during manufacturing.
- Also if a razor has more of a wedge shape (less hollowing) it will generally require more honing to achieve the same sharpness as a razor that has been partially or fully hollowed. This is due to the amount of metal that must be removed to achieve that perfect edge.
- If a razor has a dull edge then it will take a LOT of work just to set a bevel and get the razor to a level of knife sharpness. Razors with chips in the edge and/or corroded steel could take a lot of work before you even reach the good steel that will take a quality edge
The ability of a razor to take and keep good edge is the result of the type of metal used to make the blade and the process used in manufacture. Simple steels with few alloying elements rely solely on the formation of iron carbides for their hardness. Steels with more alloying elements require a more complicated hardening process at different heats for different amounts of time.
The temperatures at which the blade is tempered range from 430 - 600 degrees Fahrenheit. Tempering is a softening process which also makes the metal tougher. Hardened steel that is not tempered is very brittle and not tough at all. Tempering can be done in a toaster oven, a low temperature kiln, or in a forge - be it gas or coal. Tempering can also be done in a lead bath as the temperature of molten lead is 600 degrees Fahrenheit. The end result of all this is a blade that can take an edge and stay sharp due to a variety of factors.
So, in the end it is down to the quality and care taken with the manufacture of the blade.
So what’s the big deal?
The bottom line is, at least for your first razor whether new or used, make sure it is truly shave ready by having it hand honed by an expert, this can make or break your shaving experience and will show you what sharp truly means. We have seen many new users give up on straight razor shaving because they tried to start with a razor that was not really shave ready resulting in painful and inadequate shaves.