• Conversatrion with Randy Tuttle

    Randy
    Randy
    Obie
    Obie
    A straight razor without a properly honed edge makes for an unpleasant shave. Whether a basic blade or a high-end custom, it needs the masterís touch to paint silk over steel. Anyone can stroke a flat piece of rock with his razor and call it honing, but a selected few can claim the throne as the masters of the hone. They not only know the wide range of sharpening stones, but also how to use them. Of those the name Randy Tuttle reigns among the top hone masters.

    Obie: What is the fallacy, the misconception behind proper honing?

    Randy: For new guys the number one misconception is that fine grit finishing stones are magic bullets that will solve all problems. The truth is none of the finishing stones will make up for a straight razor that has: a) frown in the edge, which is more common that we think, b) vintage razor with oxidized soft steel on the edge, and which will not hold an edge, c) poorly developed bevel, and d) where inadequate time was spent on the intermediate grits.

    Obie: To take the question further, what then distinguishes the hone master from the pedestrian?

    Randy: The ability to evaluate a razor before the honing begins to determine what steps will be necessary to achieve a shaving edge. You need to evaluate a razor for frowns in the edge, warping of the edge or the spine, hone wear pattern along the spine and its implications. Also the angle of the bevel and its implications, and the hardness of the steel, and what hones will be suitable ó hard steel/soft stone, soft steel/hard stone. Just to name a few things that must be considered.

    Obie: Youíve been at this for a long time. How long have you shaved with the straight razor?

    Randy: About 7 years now, but I first tried about 1996, when I was given my grandfatherís straight razor and Frictionite 00 hone. At that time the Internet was just starting and I could find nothing to help me learn to hone a razor. I tried but the results were a disaster.

    Obie: I assume you didnít start honing your razor at the same time. Or did you?

    Randy: Ha! Yes I did. I had the same desire as a lot of the new guys. I wanted to do it myself.

    Obie: My humble honing experience comes from Sham (hi_bud_gl) and you. Two masters, indeed. My stroke is Shamís, I know, especially in the distinct way he uses the back hone movement to not only keep the slurry, but also to use it as the instant correction tool. I have incorporated some of your strokes in my method, as well. From you also I have learned the proper method to eliminate frowns. From both of you I have learned how to set the proper bevel. To an extent I also have learned some things from Lynn, although I have not sat with him to hone yet, but I plan to in the coming months. Talk about being lucky to have such distinguished teachers. When you were starting out to hone, who were your teachers, your influences?

    Randy: My teachers were the guys on the Yahoo SRP forum led by Lynn. Not just the guys who succeeded, but also those who reported their failures. I think there were 400 registered members at that time and Lynn was running the show. There was a whole lot of experimentation and a remarkable lack of written resources to reference. Guys would try this hone and that and report their successes and failures. We did not have the Norton 4/8 at first, so we were trying every hone out there, old and new. I don't recall anyone mentioning Jnats, Coticules or Eschers. The three main external things that moved us forward were the Pyramid Method, some old barber texts that had chapters on honing, Razor Central by Arthur Boone, and the Norton 4/8.

    Obie: What were some of the trials you faced, some of the challenges, the bumps in the road?

    Randy: We had to learn to divide and conquer. To break things down into categories, such as new razors versus vintage razors, German full hollow grinds versus thickly ground Sheffields, razors with a smile on the edge versus a straight edge and the implications for honing. The major achievements were developing useful honing strokes such as the rolling X strokes, half strokes, and compensating strokes, and realizing that the vintage razors had soft oxidized steel on the edge that needed to be removed so that a strong, solid edge could be created. When to use pressure and when not to was important. And the most important was to learn that the development of a solid bevel was the foundation for everything that followed.

    Obie: As you were learning, I assume you were also collecting stones. You have an amazing collection now. Was there a particular method to your acquisition?

    Randy: Yup! Estate sales, flea markets, antique stores, eBay and knife collectors were my main sources. They still are. I don't go looking anymore, because I have so many, and I am working on another related project.

    Obie: Give me a short rundown of some of your stones.

    Randy: Norton 1/4/8, Shapton Pro, Naniwa SS, Chosera 1K, Shapton GS 1K, many Coticules and Escher type stones, Silk Stones, Tam O'Shanter & Water of Ayr, Charnley Forest, Turkey oil stone, various Arkansas stones, Carborumdums, King, Jnats, some mystery hones, and many Barber hones.

    Obie: Thatís an astonishing collection. Whatís the best method to maintain these stones? We maintain our razors through the standard methods of preventing rust, and so on. What is the proper way to maintain stones?

    Randy: For water stones, we do not let them freeze or soak in water for any length of time. Keep them free of swarf by either scrubbing with a nylon pad under running water or lightly lapping ó refreshing ó between honing sessions. The Coticule, Tam O Shanter and other non-porous hones simply need to be kept dust and dirt free and lapped when you need to restore the cutting power. The barber hones build up a glaze that needs to be removed with either sandpaper, a rubbing stone, or by lapping. The reason they develop that glaze, which is built up swarf, is because of the high percentage of abrasives in them. There is very little space between the abrasive grains, so they trap the swarf between the abrasive grains, especially when used dry. That's also why they cut so fast. They have a very high percentage of abrasives.

    Obie: Some of the great stones are gone. The Swaty, the Escher, and others. What happened? How did they disappear?

    Randy: From what I have read the quarrying of Thuringan-Escher type hones stopped when, for some reason, the Communists dynamited the quarry and closed it. What happened to the Swaty I do not know. Most likely the competition from American manufacturers such as Carborundum and the American Hone Company, and others, drove them out.

    Obie: What is, then, the status of hones currently being manufactured?

    Randy: Waterstones and ceramic hones are the primary ones now and they keep on getting better and better, but I am sure others will be coming along. The old begets the new and the new begets the old.

    Obie: Are there mines still to be discovered?

    Randy: Most likely. I remember SRP's JimR visited Bali and came back with some volcanic Tuffa hones that none of us have heard of, and just recently there was another guy on SRP with some interesting natural hones. There is a lot of unexplored territory.

    Obie: Buying stones from various online sources can be chancy. How do you evaluate a stone offered for sale, say, on eBay? What do you look for in that stone?

    Randy: I look for color, size and markings to fit within a range of those parameters. For a Thuringan-Escher type stone I look for a size of less than 2 inches wide to 3/4 of an inch thick, 5 inches plus in length, and a color range from dark blue to green-yellow or blue gray-green. The other telltale sign is scratch marks. Those will scratch very easily, so a bunch of scratch marks tell me itís soft. If it has cleaves, that indicates a quartz-noviculite-chert type hone. Texture is also important

    Obie: What is your prized stone?

    Randy: A 2" x 8" combo Tam O'Shanter/Water of Ayr. I have only seen this one. The other is a 10Ē Escher Y/G. I prize them because of their unusual size and their effectiveness on a straight razor.

    Obie: No matter how prized the stone, would you not say that one must also know how to use it for optimal honing? In other words, do you find it essential for one who hones to know the characteristics of the stones he uses?

    Randy: Oh yes. A person has to know what stage of honing that hone fits into, what it is good at, and what it is not good for. The Tam O'Shanter is an example. When I first received mine, I tried using it with just water as a finishing stone. Frankly I spent a lot of time with it and got nowhere. Then I worked up a slurry on it and found that it was very good at removing microchips and functioning as a 6000 grit. That is its strong suit ó its best use for straight razors.

    Obie: What is your method of honing?

    Randy: I use a basic rolling X stroke for almost all my honing. I decided to stick with that for two reasons. First, it is an easy stroke to learn. Itís the stroke I teach new guys. Second, it always works. It is slower than performing circles, but it is very controllable. I deviate from that stroke only when removing a frown from an edge or reshaping an edge.

    Obie: Letís take a for instance: You come across a blade to restore. How do you determine if the can be restored?

    Randy: There are four deal killers:

    First, rust on both sides of the edge. In that case the rust has gone all the way through the steel ó and a lot of steel will need to be removed. The exception is if the blade is a 7/8 or larger. Then there is enough meat to end up with a razor of reasonable width and size.

    Second, a cracked blade. Guys have to learn and apply a modified thumbnail test to check for cracks hidden by patina. That would be a good subject for a video.

    Third, wide hone wear on the side of the spine indicates that the angle of the bevel is now probably to shallow. That will result in an edge that is thin and weak and most likely will microchip. It also results in a wide bevel, which takes a lot longer to hone.

    Fourth, Uneven hone wear on the side of the spine. This can indicate one of three things. The most frequent is improper honing, and most likely the edge has a frown shape to it. Then you need to check the depth of the frown and decide if the end result will be worth the work involved. Next, the uneven hone wear can indicate a poor grind of the blade, which we usually see in the old English Sheffields. Either the spine thickness is inconsistent or the concave portion of the blade right along the edge is fat ó too thick. Finally, it may indicate a warped blade, either the spine, the edge or both.

    Obie: Letís assume you see potential in the blade, but it has a frown, it is stained, with some rust, and as a bonus some chips. How do you, Randy Tuttle, give life to that blade?

    Randy: First remove the rust by either the use of sandpaper or grease-less buffing compound. Usually both.

    Second, remove the frown by raising the spine, approx 1/4Ē to 1/2Ē, off the hone-sandpaper-Dmt diamond hone, approx 500/1000 grit, and focus your pressure on the high points on each side of the frown. Just use back and forth strokes on the same side, alternating every 10 to 15 strokes until the frown is gone. Then start working on the visible chips in the same manner. Finish with strokes that move from heal to toe to even up and shape the edge.

    The result will be an edge that has some deep scratches. So then it is time to work on the 1000 grit hone ó using the normal X stroke, but with one layer of tape ó to smooth out the scratches. Make sure the bevel extends all the way to the edge. Then remove the tape and go to the 4000 grit and get the bevel to the proper level. Once again, make sure the bevel goes all the way to the edge. From there it is just the normal 4000/8000 finishing sequence.

    Obie: Do you strop following the stones? Any specific pattern?

    Randy: I do not. I want the edge to rest. I just make sure the blade is dry and oiled.

    Obie: Do you put much thought in the Hanging Hair Test? Put another way, do you give a hang about the Hanging Hair Test?

    Randy: Yes, I do ó because I can. My hair is suited to that test and it tells me if the razor is ready for a shave test.

    Obie: What, then, determines, to you, if that razor is shave ready?

    Randy: Only the shave will tell you that.

    Obie: The question of how often one should hone his razor comes up. Iíve never found a formula for that. I hone when I feel the razor needs it. Your view?

    Randy: I agree with you. When it no longer shaves the way I want, then it gets a refreshing of the edge.

    Obie: What is the basic stone requirement for a shaver who hopes to maintain his blades? For instance, I have a small set up of Chosera 1,000 with slurry stone, a Norton 4000/8000, a Naniwa 12,000, a Thuringian, and a mysterious Japanese stone. I donít plan to go into the honing business. Both you and Sham have said thatís all I need. What is your suggestion to other shavers like me who just want to maintain their razors?

    Randy: A 6000 and an 8000 grit stone are the basics needed. You can get a very good shave from an 8000 grit stone. At the other end is either an abrasive pasted paddle strop, or a finishing grade stone, or a good, known barber hone. I prefer to first go to an abrasive pasted paddle strop, 0.5 micron chrome oxide, and if that is not enough, then down the grit ladder to a finishing grade stone or a barber hone. The 6K & 8K are my last resorts.

    Obie: The world of straight razor shaving calls for several separate elements that must be mastered. Honing is one, an entity onto itself. What advice do you have for one who considers maintaining his or her straight razors? What is the honing starter kit, if such a kit exists?

    Randy: A good plain leather hanging strop. An abrasive pasted paddle strop using a size of 0.5 micron, either a finishing grade stone or a barber hone. That should keep you going for a long time

    Obie: What emotional and psychological value, and pleasure, do you derive from honing a razor?

    Randy: The strongest is a sense of continuity with the past, specifically with my grandfather. We now have something in common ó I am the same as him. A link with the past. The other is a strong sense of satisfaction that I have learned a manual skill that I can apply, and get rewarded for, every day ó and for the rest of my life.
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