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Bart Torfs (Bart)
Associate
From: Belgium
Posts: 5001
A few months ago I got this short e-mail from Ray: «Hi Bart, I'm sending you one of my balsa strops. Could you please check it out?»
About a week later a padded envelope arrived, with the balsa strop carefully packed, a generous spare supply of CrO and a letter with recommendations for use and maintenance of the tool. It all breathes quality and suggests that Ray has thought this concept carefully through.


The Strop


The construction is as simple as precise. A piece of balsa is glued to a maple base. The thickness of the maple is well-chosen: it allows for he strop to be held in the hand securely. The weight is enough to add a pleasant stability. Dimensions of the balsa surface is about 75mm X 195mm. That's wide enough to support the full length of a razor blade, but I strongly recommend doing an X-style stropping stroke anyway. Balsa has some latitude in its surface, but not as much as a leather or a fabric strop. That has advantages, but on the disadvantages side, it doesn't fold to the edge as much. An X-style stropping stroke assures that all of the edge has seen good contact with the strop at some point during the stroke, because it constantly shifts the contact points between the razor and the strop. I personally would have preferred a slightly smaller surface, let 's say: 50x200. That's just to nag about something. I'm sure it wouldn't affect the actual performance of the strop.


The Substrate


Balsa is the trade name for lumber of a tree with botanical name "Ochroma Lagopus (or Pyramidale)". The wood has a coarse open grain and very low density. It's extrememly soft and has some cushion effect. That makes this wood species extremely suitable to be used as a "pasted" stropping substrate, loaded with an abrasive powder or compound. It accepts CrO very well and embeds it into its pores, leaving enough of it exposed to anything that passes over it, but not so much that it wears off. It's one of the fastest substrates for fine abrasives I've come accross.

The Abrasive


Ray obtains his Chromium Oxide in powder form at HandAmerican. HandAmerican has a standing reputation for selling top grade CrO, used worldwide by razor owners and knife enthusiasts. It is praised for being consistent in particle size and pureness. It's rated 0.5 micron. CrO is a cherished abrasive among sharpening experts, for its good ratio between actual abrasion - which shapes the edge to a keener state by removing steel - and polishing actions - that keep the edge smooth and straight, by plastic reduction of scratches and teeth -.

Feedback


Stropping on Balsa delivers little feedback. There's almost no perceptible draw or friction, at the low pressure this tool MUST be used. That make the strop appear as if nothing is happening, and invites to do more laps than necessary. Be warned.

Performance


This strop acts fast. Much faster than any of the other uses of CrO I have tried so far. Within *very* few laps it forces its own properties onto an edge. Allow me to vent an opinion. CrO is the second best shaving edge finisher in the world. Ray's balsa strop makes that very apparent. I prefer a Coticule finish, otherwise I would have registered "CrO.net":rolleyes: , but shaving with a CrO finished edge is certainly a sweet option.

Still, that's not the true brilliance of the StraightRazorSharp Balsa strop. Ray has mentioned on a few occasions how he includes a few sweeps on the balsa strop before finalizing an edge on a finishing hone. I' ve always thought "Yeah, yeah ,yeah" without giving it much true consideration. I thought it was some kind of confidence thing. Like my youngest one, who could ride perfectly with a bike that had guiding wheels floating a few inches above the road, but not with the same bike that had the guiding wheels removed. As I said: a confidence issue. I was wrong. Not about the guiding wheels, but about the Balsa strop before finishing. Most of us know that getting good keenness of a Dilucot procedure on a Coticule, requires ample honing skills to squeeze that last bit of performance out of a Coticule. That takes a while to learn, and in the mean time, you can have a lesser day, or a beefy razor with a wide bevel, or some other reason why the edge doesn't quite take the keenness you'd aspired. Sure, you can turn it into a Unicot after all, or file out some strop with an abrasive compound and finish the razor on that one. After that, there's no way to finish on the Coticule, because the now slightly convexed edge is out of reach of a flat honing surface. Not so with the Balsa strop. After augmenting keenness on it, which is much easier to do than on a Coticule, the edge is still flat enough to accept 30 laps on a Coticule with water. It's a full Dilucot, with a small deviation into progressive honing on the CrO Balsa strop. It works very well. Ray has send me a razor that shaves excellent, and I have copied his method on several other razors, with perfect outcome. I deliberately stopped too early during Dilucot, just to see how far the balsa strop can reach back to pick up neglected keenness. It won't discharge anyone from learning a decent honing stroke, but it can certainly catch the edge at a level of keenness that can be easily reached.
On top of all that, it's an excellent "touch-up" device. Without hardly any experience, an edge can be kept going for a very long time if you keep the balsa strop nearby. It's probably less demanding for action "at the very first signs of edge deterioration" than most Coticules are. And you can always add a few Coticule sweeps, if you prefer its edge finish. Or any other finisher for that matter.

To close, let's say something bad about it.


I'm the kind of person that suffers from technical obduracy. I constantly break bolts, because I can't resist the lure of that one final turn. The one that exceeds the stresses the bolt is willing to take. I sand through veneer. I consistently apply too much glue. An extra nail is always better... You get the picture. The Balsa strop is like a devil for people like me. It's hard to stop on time. Before Ray sent me this Balsa strop, I never really understood the concept of overhoning. I am still convinced that in 90% of cases the "overhoning" holler is an incorrect explanation for a number of honing mishaps of completely different nature. But the Balsa strop indeed displays behavior that accords with "over"honing. It's as if the very edge disintegrates when you hit the limit of the abrasives and the way they are exposed to the steel of the razor. The fact that it dulls further after a good stropping on linen after that, seems to support that postulation: the linen cleans up the part that was falling apart, exposing a more rigid yet rounder structure underneath. My CrO loom strop - leather with only a translucent green haze of abrasives on it - does not show this behavior. Both use the same HandAmerical pure Chromium oxide in powder form. I estimate that 5 laps on the deep green balsa surface equals at least 30 laps on the loom strop.

In conclusion. The Straightrazorsharp CrO Balsa Strop is a quality tool. It's well built with noble materials. It's a versatile tool. It provides a great edge finish in its own right. Its surface is flat enough to boost keenness before finishing the edge on a hone. It can be used for the same "touchup" tasks as a good barber hone.



Bart.
[Last edited by Bart, 2010-01-23 02:10]
Then the light shone, trumpets sounded and I got to the other side, where men shave with smiles on their faces, razors pop hairs, and a continuous choir singing «~~Keen and Smooth~~» is heard everywhere. (Matt)
2010-01-22 23:20
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Dr Ralfson Bwhahaha (tat2Ralfy)
Associate
Posts: 3610
Superb write up sir Bart
the only problem I can see is, now I want one!! hahaha

And thank You for the umpteenth time my Friend, I now wish to try a few strokes on one of my high quality barber hones if a dilocut edge fails to deliver, before returning to coti/water of course.
[Last edited by tat2Ralfy, 2010-01-23 00:24]
We Are All Pioneers In Our Own Right.
The Infamous Coticule Crew
Pip Pip Old Bean
2010-01-23 00:20
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Bart Torfs (Bart)
Associate
From: Belgium
Posts: 5001
icongaryhaywood:
So basicly, after finishing on say water i could do 5 laps on balsa followed by 30 laps on coti

That's correct. It a "progressive honing" approach. With your skills on a Coticule, you mustn't expect something extra, but for less experienced Coticuliers, who often struggle with getting enough keenness, it offers an easy way to boost keenness before finishing on the Coticule with water.

Kind regards,
Bart.
Then the light shone, trumpets sounded and I got to the other side, where men shave with smiles on their faces, razors pop hairs, and a continuous choir singing «~~Keen and Smooth~~» is heard everywhere. (Matt)
2010-01-23 12:33
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James Towle (towliff)
From: United Kingdom
Posts: 133
This is a great review. Quick question, I have made a balsa hone aswell and applied CrO, but i applied it with some oil and gave it a very sparing coating, which i then rubbed down with kitchen roll until almost no green rubs off.

Rays product looks like there is a lot of CrO on there, so does it rub off on kitchen roll?

Do you think I should apply more CrO to the hone to make it a nice deep green colour throughout?

Cheers,

James
2010-01-23 21:23
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rayman
Advisor
From: United States
Posts: 499
icontowliff:
This is a great review. Quick question, I have made a balsa hone aswell and applied CrO, but i applied it with some oil and gave it a very sparing coating, which i then rubbed down with kitchen roll until almost no green rubs off.

Rays product looks like there is a lot of CrO on there, so does it rub off on kitchen roll?

Do you think I should apply more CrO to the hone to make it a nice deep green colour throughout?

Cheers,

James


James,
I have to agree with you, this is a great review.

I would not recommend applying any more crox to your balsa strop, provided it is working as expected. If you find you are not getting the performance then just add some crox to the current mixture. It doesn't take much to do this. Since you used oil as your base, I would wet your finger with that oil and touch it in the crox. Then make two 'X's on your balsa. Do not add any oil to this, but rub it into the surface. Then try using it again. This should bring it back to life.

The quality of the crox makes a huge difference in how well it works. The crox I use is advertised as 99.9% pure. Most others are around 79% pure, and the sticks or bars are only around 15%. So depending on the product you have, user mileage may very.

What you have is just fine. Remember though, putting more on doesn't necessarily make it work better.

Ray
2010-01-23 21:41
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gary haywood (garyhaywood)
Advisor
From: United Kingdom
Posts: 1678
James, the stuff i gave you is the same as what ray uses on is balsa hones. You can just add it dry in the future no problem. I use a ball of cotton wool and dab a bit on and rub in, then i get a fresh piece and rub over again with that.
[Last edited by garyhaywood, 2010-01-24 11:37]
gary haywood
2010-01-23 21:52
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Dr Ralfson Bwhahaha (tat2Ralfy)
Associate
Posts: 3610
Truly inspired by this thread, coupled with the fact my last few dilocut honings have been very hard work hitting the hht on water, I have taken 2 steps
Step one, I lapped my beloved #10!! now after scribbling all over it with a pencil I set to with the diamond 325 and the surface soon showed itself to be like a calm sea..lol I got it a lot flatter and smoother but couldnt bring myself to lapp as far as it needed to totally remove the slight dish.
Step two, I made myself this:

I am honing again tonight os I will give it a go, cant wait! thank you Ray for such a wonderful creation to copy err no be inspired by! lol, and thank you Sir Bart for such a wonderful review
We Are All Pioneers In Our Own Right.
The Infamous Coticule Crew
Pip Pip Old Bean
2010-01-27 18:19
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Dr Ralfson Bwhahaha (tat2Ralfy)
Associate
Posts: 3610
Ok so heres what happened, I used my Gust Haker 5/8, dulled as usual on glass, and performed a standard dilocut hone, after the 1st 50 laps on water only I used the HHT and got a loud violin, so I did 10 light laps on the balsa and another 50 on coti/water, the HHT was then a very good 3, 60/60 on the dovo strop and the edge is a HHT 4/5 on fine hair :thumbup: total hone time 40 mins with a smoke, I will test shave after dinner but cant see any reason the edge would disappoint
Wonderful:thumbup:
We Are All Pioneers In Our Own Right.
The Infamous Coticule Crew
Pip Pip Old Bean
2010-01-27 19:23
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Torben Pedersen (torbenbp)
Advisor
From: Denmark
Posts: 1024
Hi

Ordered the balsa strop at Ray`s the other day...he shipped it the same day so I`m really looking forward to giving it a try when it lands in Denmark ;-)

Regards
Torben
Torben Pedersen
Moellevaenget 15 2th
7900 Nykoebing Mors
Denmark
"If it works dont break it..?"
2010-01-27 20:28
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Bart Torfs (Bart)
Associate
From: Belgium
Posts: 5001
Dr. Ralfson,

Excellent strop you build. Wise man only copy good things.:)

Concerning the drainage of Coticule garnets: next time you feel inclined to lap, try the Unicot method first. If it still works, don't lap. If also Unicot fails to deliver the excellent results you've gotten used too, it's time to lap.


Kind regards,
Bart.
Then the light shone, trumpets sounded and I got to the other side, where men shave with smiles on their faces, razors pop hairs, and a continuous choir singing «~~Keen and Smooth~~» is heard everywhere. (Matt)
2010-01-27 22:21
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Dr Ralfson Bwhahaha (tat2Ralfy)
Associate
Posts: 3610
Why thank you Torfs My Good Man, lol
I did try unicot before I lapped, and the results were below par, however I just test shaved after lapping and I have to say that good ol #10 and I are best of friends again :thumbup:
We Are All Pioneers In Our Own Right.
The Infamous Coticule Crew
Pip Pip Old Bean
2010-01-27 22:30
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tim stevenson (pedalpowersailing)
From: United Kingdom
Posts: 81
Ralfster

nice one on the balsa, exactly the same one I made for you but we never got together to present you with it
tim stevenson
2010-01-27 23:00
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Dr Ralfson Bwhahaha (tat2Ralfy)
Associate
Posts: 3610
Bless you mate, we should still do it when Gary gets back, :thumbup:
We Are All Pioneers In Our Own Right.
The Infamous Coticule Crew
Pip Pip Old Bean
2010-01-27 23:03
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excel_1111
From: Canada
Posts: 17
icontat2Ralfy:
Ok so heres what happened, I used my Gust Haker 5/8, dulled as usual on glass, and performed a standard dilocut hone, after the 1st 50 laps on water only I used the HHT and got a loud violin, so I did 10 light laps on the balsa and another 50 on coti/water, the HHT was then a very good 3, 60/60 on the dovo strop and the edge is a HHT 4/5 on fine hair :thumbup: total hone time 40 mins with a smoke, I will test shave after dinner but cant see any reason the edge would disappoint
Wonderful:thumbup:


When you did your final 50 on coti/water, did you do it using one layer of tape?

Thanks
"A bad worker quarrels with his tools" or a bad shaver blames his blade!
2010-01-28 05:53
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Dr Ralfson Bwhahaha (tat2Ralfy)
Associate
Posts: 3610
No, well yes but the whole hone was done with 1 layer of tape (Dilocut), the razor has a little hone wear, I did not add any tape for the final laps, and tbh I wouldn't see the benefit if I did, coti/water is too slow to use like that.
We Are All Pioneers In Our Own Right.
The Infamous Coticule Crew
Pip Pip Old Bean
2010-01-28 09:35