Edge Maintenance with a Coticule
Last updated on: 2012-02-12 23:17
We often receive questions from inexperienced straight razor users about maintaining keenness on their razor(s).
It is wise to first tackle the learning curve that comes with wielding a straight razor, and only later should one venture into the challenge of sharpening these tools. But during that period, the apprehension of the razor becoming dull rests like a burden on the aspirant's shoulders. He has heard all these rumours that it should be possible to maintain the edge's keenness, so that it would not require any real honing for a very long time. That is often all the information provided, for many a seasoned straight shaver remains silent when asked how this exactly needs to be accomplished. You see quite a few of them rotate through an impressive collection of razors, using each razor only once a month, or even less. Many love fooling around with various sharpening strategies so much that they can hardly wait for a razor to become dull enough to re-hone it. In comparison with the wealth of available sharpening resources, only scarce information can be found about edge maintenance, or edge "touch-up" as it's often called. As with all things concerning straight razor use, there are many ways to skin the proverbial cat, which makes finding valid information even harder, because not all methods mix up well.
In this article, a simple and effective method is presented that will keep an edge going for a very long time - depending on your beard coarseness - months to even years, even if the razor sees daily (or almost daily) use.
- The edge must be sharpened on solid, reasonably flat whetstones. The plan here presented does not work on edges that were sharpened with flexible or compressible media, such as pasted loom strops, pasted leather or felt paddles strops, mouse-pads covered with lapping film, or similar. Balsa strops and lapping film on a solid surface are allowed. Obviously, the safest bet is to just rely on your trusted Coticule.
- The edge must be stropped prior to each use, preferably first on a linen and next on leather. I recommend 20 laps on the linen and 40 on the leather.
- Never use abrasive compounds to strop the edge. These are part of an entirely different way to maintain the edge on a razor and are incompatible with edge maintenance on a Coticule. The Dovo white linen conditioner can be used on the canvas component of your strop.
- Thoroughly dry the razor after each use and keep it dry. In a humid climate, oil the blade. Microscopic corrosion can decay the keenness of your razor's edge, long before it shows up at the naked eye.
Basic touch up: Every 5 to 7 shaves (with daily use of a razor this is weekly) make 30 edge-leading passes over the Coticule, moistened with a coat of clear water. The weight of the blade suffices for pressure. After touching a hone, always double your efforts on the linen followed by your regular routine on the leather strop.
This is basically all there is to it. Following this routing can keep your razor keen for possibly 100's of shaves. Yet not all razors are equal, and the same can be said for beards. Depending on brittleness of steel and coarseness of a man's whiskers small fragments can occasionally be ripped off the razor's edge.
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No maintenance plan can handle the slow accumulation of such structural edge damage. Sooner or later, a real honing job will be required to restore the edge to original condition. At the same time, this illustrates once more the importance of good beard preparation. Your razor will reward you for softening the whiskers well, with longer edge retention.
Some additional remarks
- 30 laps is normally enough, but one of the charming advantages of a Coticule is that it has no adverse effects to do more. There's no risk for the dreaded burring effect often witnessed when the edge is "overdone" on one of those vintage synthetic barber hones or on balsa strop loaded with Chromium Oxide. Furthermore is the rate of steel removal on a Coticule with water is so slow that the extra "wear" will be fairly insignificant. Should haplessly 30 laps prove to be not enough, I recommend to double the effort before the next shave, hence 60 laps. With some experience, you'll learn to know your particular Coticule in this respect, and you'll also learn that razors with a wider bevel demand more laps/pressure than razors with the very narrow bevel.
- Unicot edges require that you re-attach the tape for making the 30 maintenance laps. Note that Unicot edges carry an extremely narrow bevel and need to be treated accordingly, hence pressure must be light.
- Edge maintenance should always be performed at the earliest signs of keenness decline, or as recommended as a no-brainer every 7th shave. But it may happen that human nature interferes with that: you've forgotten to do it, or you neglected to dry razor as meticulously as required and now its shaving performance seems to have decayed beyond the grasp of the recommended maintenance procedure. In such cases, a "power touch-up" can bring solace:
Moisten the Coticule and rub it once, back and forth with the slurry stone. Apply the kind of pressure you would put on an eraser to remove a pencil line on paper. There will only be a hint of slurry present, but you will be able to feel the different action. On a single bevel edge (non-Unicot) perform 2 sets of 15 half-strokes. Rinse the Coticule and the razor well, and perform another set of 15 half-strokes on water only. Rinse again, and finish with 30 normal X-strokes on water. For a Unicot edge, keep it at 30 regular X-strokes, rinse everything well and finish with 50 X-strokes on water only.
With an occasional power touch-up, combined with a strict regimen of regular edge maintenance and apt stropping habits, a high quality razor likely never demands a full honing job again.