When I first started shaving about 5 years ago (or at least shaving with a straight razor), I came from a woodworking background with a fascination for sharp tools. I already had a chinese hone, arks, shaptons through a 15k pro, diamond compounds, japanese natural stones, etc. It took me a couple of go arounds until I came up with an edge I considered comfortable, and I also don’t want to discount how important it is to gain experience as a shaver, because you learn to shave in a way that doesn’t just involve raking only the very sharpest iron oxide edge straight up and down your face to get a close shave.
Anyway, I had gotten the edge of the razor the way I wanted it using chromium oxide on balsa (the graded powder, too, nothing including other abrasives). At the time, I had a couple of inexpensive but nice looking cowhide strops that ultimately didn’t do me any favors after the chromium oxide, so I was shaving and honing once a week or once every two weeks to get a smooth shave.
That irritated me, because I figured that I may only get a few years out of a razor doing that, and I managed to find a dennert razor with spine work that I really liked.
So like a lot of us, I bought all kinds of razors and restored a bunch of them, got specific japanese natural stones, a big escher, coticules and continued to use the razors honing fairly often.
It still irritated me that I was honing that often, because i know in the old days, there were folks who would shave less often and who would get their razors honed by a barber. I had relatives who grew up in that era, and I know most folks from those times would not hurry to pay someone to hone a razor for them.
So, in the search for a better strop to stretch out the time between honing, I got a horse butt strip that had a nice clear run (it’s still my daily strop), and broke it in. That helped. I could probably go 3 weeks instead of 1-2, and I didn’t have the issue of the strop knocking the keenness of the chromium oxide off of the razor.
And then, by chance, I was looking for a horse butt production strop and chanced across an old illinois 326 new in the package with a fresh white unused silk finish linen. The texture of the linen was such that it took me a while to be brave enough to use it (it feels like cobblestone and it’s stiff), but once I did and once I realized it left a layer of wax on a razor edge that could be wiped off, I think I found the missing link between honing a razor and using it for a while on the cheap. I now hone about once every 4 months, and usually because curiosity gets the best of me. One time per week on the silk finish linen (which, importantly, removes very little material such that at the end of 4 months, 5 minutes on a fine frictionite hone, on a japanese natural finisher or on any other finisher is all it takes me to get a razor back to totally fresh – never even anything as aggressive as a shapton finisher).
The longest I’ve gone is 6 months, and even that was terminated because someone wanted me to test a hone for them (unfortunately, their hone dulled my razor from the state that it was in).
I still love the stones, but I don’t really use them much, and on the razor I use as daily shaver for the last year and a half (a dovo bismarck), I only use the finest of the stones.
The other thing that appeals to me is that my bismarck is far from straight. Compared to the dennert, it’s a banana, and at this point, I had switched to it only because I wanted to save the dennert until I had a system down that didn’t have me honing it once every couple of weeks. I’ve restored probably 40 razors, and sold most of them and at the point where I’ve lost interest in restoring any more of them. honing a banana only on the finest stone is a pain in the rear end, and the bismarck is not a razor I would’ve tolerated honing once every two weeks. But even though it’s got some english, it’s straight enough that the stiff linen still touches all of it.
So, from a practical shaver’s perspective, a good vintage style linen that has some very gentle abrasive suspended in it (presumably talc or something in the silk finish, something softer than the steel itself), and I have not yet had a razor that was already sharp that couldn’t be stepped back to sharpness with it, not even after 6 months.
In the sea of honing and rehoning and rehoning, I thought I’d throw that out there. I’ve sort of disappeared from the honing discussions on here because of it. My razor’s somewhere in the 3 months since honing range right now, and the silk finish is still keeping it up, and after 2 years of use every week, the linen still barely has any hint of gray on it – a miniscule amount of metal removal that is confirmed each time by the fact that even my finest finisher will work all the way to the edge in minutes.
I think as I bring all of this up, i’ve reminded myself to get the dennert back out – I have no reason to spare it any longer, it’ll last a lifetime plus some with this regimen.