Razors, Shaving and a Study of Sharpness




I was fortunate to be pointed to an online document which discusses sharpness, methods of sharpening and includes many scanning electron microscope pictures of blade edges:

"Experiments on Knife Sharpening"
              John D. Verhoeven
              Emeritus Professor
Department of Materials Science and Engineering
             Iowa State University
                  Ames, IA

It is downloadable in portable document format here:

Knife Sharpening Experiments

Some of the information and techniques are not new. I well remember the Lee Valley Tools statement that they could take any razor blade and make it sharper. Naturally in their book on sharpening they showed the electron microscope pictures to prove their claim.
While being interested enough in blade edges, sharpening and edge retention, to thoroughly read the article by Dr. Verhoeven, naturally I started in with the basic premise that I don't own a scanning electron microscope and I'm not likely to have anyone ever loan me the use of one.  Two parts of the document grabbed my attention, though. The first was the mention of a straight razor in use for decades, which had a rough edge. I have used a straight razor for over thirty years, on an occasional basis, and had noticed an incredible increase in performance after honing with green buffing compound. It was sharp to start with from constant stropping, so the information in the article, allowed me to get a grasp as to why performance might have been enhanced. The second bonus was being shown how a laser pointer could be used to accurately measure edge angles.
It was later after examining, sharpening and using a great many razor blades that I appreciated why 1980's razor blades were used in the scans.

In a discussion of shaving on one of the outdoor forums, I mentioned playing with my father's self stropping safety razor. I found out that it was a Rolls razor, and the question came up as to whether the system actually worked. Naturally I had to get a couple off ebay to see! I found out about the Durham Duplex too, a safety style of straight razor which seemed very applicable to use in the outdoors. I got a couple of those and some of the special blades to try. When I read that very few razors can beat a Gillette adjustable razor, I got one of those too! Leaving no stone unturned I also acquired a few variations of very old razor blade sharpening systems.

The first thought is perhaps I had gone from a casual study of some science to Ebay collector madness. Actually I was setting up to answer some simple questions:
1. Can I sharpen a razor or blade to a sharper state than new?
2. How will I know if I have achieved a sharper edge - with tools available to me?
3. Can I achieve better performance than a modern multi-blade razor? Perhaps a better of putting this question is does it all matter?
4. Do the old razor blade sharpeners work as well as my methods? How about improbable claims for up to 15 years of excellent service from one blade?

And so began my journey into the facts and myths of shaving! It's been a very interesting journey, because at no point did I really know what to expect. The most important points for anyone who wants to try what I have done is to remember to properly sterilize old razors and blades with both alcohol and steam, and of course to remember that with old safety razors, "safety" was a relative term. A person might not be able to do real damage as with a straight razor, but heavy duty blood letting is pretty easy to achieve.
The details and fun of the journey follow, but the final destination was hilarious. For five days a week for the past year, I've soaped my face, then picked up one of two of the same old regular steel razor blades. I fit it into a little clip, and strop for one minute on newspaper fliers, on a flat surface. I then put the blade into a really old Gillette adjustible razor that I was given, lather and shave, re-lather and approach from the opposite direction. This should raise some questions:
- Yep two blades, five days a week so 260/2 =130 perfect shaves per blade. And no sign that things will change. I use two so that I can try to see differences between them. There is a problem though which is going to be very interesting. Blades are used in a semi scraping fashion which produces lateral stress on the edge. At the end of 20-30 shaves, the edge will begin to break down. At this point it is necessary to use a jig to properly rehone before stropping again.
- Only two mins prep while stropping blade, then total of about four minutes per shave. The shave is as perfect as weekend shaves taking far more prep time and straight razors for fun.
- Yep I have quite a collection of strops and hones, but blades were initially set up by stropping on green buffing compound on paper.
- I use old Williams shaving soap blocks which I got off ebay, and one lasts a really long time! I'll stay with that as it works and is a constant. My old badger brush is a vast improvement on cheaper brushes - but I still can't figure why.
- It would take hours of honing to remove the tiny secondary bevel from modern blades. I've had no success with stropping those. That tiny bevel is what allows people to carelessly drag razors over their faces without bloodshed. Acute bevels must be used on skin pulled tight if you want to go fast!
- No blade, not even my highly stropped ones will give more than three perfect shaves without re-stropping. You might get less or more. You simply test by trying to slice some tissue. Modern "super" blades will still only get a few shaves, but they come sharper so that they will actually slice tissue properly when new. That's what you are paying the extra for.
 

The strangest part of the whole adventure is that the question I would have thought most difficult to answer was the easiest. In trying out some vintage and new blades against my straight razor, I decided to try tissue slicing. A really sharp razor that will do a great job of shaving should slice any tissue (kitchen, bathroom, kleenex - any tissue whether tight or open weave, soft or hard - anything). The further I have gone with testing razors and blades, the more I have relied on this method, and the more sound I have found it to be. Perhaps the most surprising thing I have found is how older (50 years old) but unused blades greatly surpass newly manufactured blades, in both slicing potential and eveness of edge. About 50% of newly manufactured blades fail in cutting tissue until they have been stropped lightly on newspaper. This would imply a wire edge being removed. It's essential to strop extremely lightly so certainly no sharpening would be taking place.
One huge point to bring out is that many newly manufactured blades have the cutting bevel that you can easily see - and use of a 16X lens will reveal yet another tiny steeper bevel. It's this bevel that causes problems in stropping newly manufactured blades because it means in many cases that the real edge bevel isn't touched by heavy stropping with abrasive. There were a great variety of mechanical razor blade stroppers sold in the old days, but none will work properly with most currently produced blades. These old stroppers most certainly will work with vintage blades! The end result can be startling degrees of sharpness compared to currently produced blades!
It's certainly true that if a vintage blade isn't able to slice tissue paper well along its whole length of edge and I simply strop it - then I'm just removing any fragments of wire edge and aligning the edge. If my rehoned and stropped blade works to the limit of my testing, though, then I'd figure that I can sharpen a blade better than new.


I was fortunate enough to get a Rolls razor for a very low price on ebay and it was in new condition. A Rolls was a razor where a person gets one heavy blade almost like a section cut out of a straight razor. It's fitted into a heavy metal box with removable lids on top and bottom. One lid has a hone attached and the opposite one has a piece of leather strop glued on. The central part of the box contains a handle which attaches to guides and so the blade is clipped into a fitting and the handle rachetted back and forth. It's made so that the blade moves edge first into the hone at a precise angle. At the end of each stroke, the blade is flipped so as to be automatically ready for honing the other side. When a person is done honing, then they clip the stropping lid back on and remove the honing lid. The handle now angles back the other way and it's rachetted back and forth to achieve stropping. The stropping reverses and the back of the blade leads. The blade is flipped over at the end of every stroke there, too.
The Rolls Razor is well described here:
Rolls Razor Page

I was very curious about this razor since they originally sold for a lot of money. New parts are still sold, so they obviously had some real fans out there. But then why are there so many "as new" specimens which are 50 years old and more?
So I let some neatsfoot oil soak into the leather and rubbed in some green buffing compound and went to honing and stropping. Lots and lots of stropping, which wasn't quite as much fun as when I was a child! Then I carefully prepped up by soaping face for two minutes then using a badger hair brush and proper shaving soap. To say that it was a less than sensational shave would be an understatement! I can see why people gave up on their hugely expensive new lifetime shaving device and consigned it to being an heirloom! Not to rush to conclusions, though, since I did see problems with the short stropping stroke as it is perpendicular to the edge. So I stropped the blade by hand on paper loaded with green buffing compound. I used a stroke at 30 degrees to edge. I then repeated lightly on plain newspaper. The simple bottom line is that I ended up with an incredible edge that rivals any razor.  It's possible with proper preparation (soaking, badger hair brush and decent shaving soap) to shave hair against the grain with quick even strokes. It's just as easy to put yourself into the emergency department at the local hospital if you skip the prep or don't have skills with a straight razor. You are using a very sharp edge at low angle and the guard leaves lots of open space for deep cuts!

Now this is some interesting situation. We have an incredibly elegant and well engineered and manufactured lifetime razor with foolproof honing and stropping devices. And I don't see how it could ever quite work as the directions specify. Given some hand-stropping by laying the blade flat and pushing across paper loaded with GBC, flip over and flip the guard and strop the other side. Back and forth for half an hour, then use plain newsprint. And then I consider it pretty tough to beat by anything. So I went and bought another....
The next one was almost in new condition, but had been played with so the blade had some tiny chips on the edge. The built in honing device worked perfectly to restore the edge and then I really put effort into stropping, clicking that handle back and forth for longer than most would care to do. That didn't work well either. Ten minutes hand stropping on loaded paper then plain paper and I was back to super edge territory.
Now I can get two good and three more decent shaves out of a newly manufactured razor blade. I can also get just two good or five decent shaves out of a Rolls. But then the blade can be brought back to top performance using the built in stropper followed by a little hand stropping on a piece of paper. A two minute job.  It's going to take a while to see if perpendicular stropping eventually leads to edge roughness that will take hand stropping on loaded paper at 30 degrees to fix.
The honing stones in the old Rolls razors are excellent, and it might be worth getting a Rolls just for the stone.

I'd also bought a couple of Durham Duplex razors, which are basically a straight razor with interchangeable blades, a guard, and a stropping device. These were supposed to be vastly safer than a straight razor, offer the choice of a new blade or stropping, and like straight razors give the advantage of being able to be used with a diagonal stroke which gives more slicing potential on hair - and skin if you aren't careful and experienced.  With this razor, one puts a carefully stropped blade onto the metal safety comb and gently pushes it forward under the clips. The main razor is then pushed onto those clips and engages into a little depression with a nice little "click".  The trouble is that these things were hand fitted and you might not have the matching parts - or might confuse parts if you have two! If the main body doesn't want to push easily onto the metal safety comb and sandwiched blade, then you might get a good slice on the fingers while fitting. If the fit is loose then the safety is going to come loose at a very unfortunate time for your face! Assuming all fits tightly, that the blade is stropped, and proper preparation, then the razor works extremely well. It's used at a very low angle, almost flat to the face, and so the guard exposes very little of the blade edge. If you haven't done all those steps then it simply won't shave at all.
Durham with stropper attachment
I found all of the old Durham Duplex advertisements fascinating - but they sure didn't tell the whole story. For sure you use what looks like a hair trimming attachment for shaving (and not the stropping attachment!), lay the blade part almost flat and use a diagonal stroke. What I didn't see was the bit about pressing down fairly hard. That's right - no light touch, press hard to flatten the skin. That's why the blade edge doesn't protrude much. If the guard does come loose, then it'll take the blade with it, so no huge danger of fileting your face. But you might get a shallow cut. If a person uses a straight razor then it'll take some conditioning to taking a straight razor like device, using it at low angle and pressing hard. A week of practise, though, and it becomes clear that it's hard to beat one of these with anything. You don't have to press down hard if you hold the skin as you'd do with a straight razor to make it flat, but you have to do one or the other because otherwise the longer blade doesn't work so well. 
If a person has a short beard, then the Durham can be used for trimming and works very well. You simply hold the blade/guard almost vertical to keep the correct length of hair. It takes a well soaked and lathered beard, and some practise but then it works fine. I used it for some time that way until I had to sacrifice the beard to get more shaving territory! I thought that the Durham wouldn't do well removing a beard, but it did as well as all the other tools. 
My Durhams came in neat little red leather cases with pockets for blades and stropping attachment: an elegant little rig. Basically this would make a neat razor for outdoor people due to compactness, lightness, and the fact that if you drop it you can just fit another blade. But you won't need to because the guard will protect the blade. Dropping a straight razor means at best a re-honing and at worst making it useless since even small edge nicks will lead to cuts.
I am quite impressed with the Durham Duplex (also called Domino). It's an elegant design when a person figures through just how they would go about making such a razor. The blades might be friction fitted into place, but it's a great system that won't become loose in many years. The essential points about buying a Durham is getting one that comes with some blades since they're not made any more (as far as I know) and a stropping attachment. Be aware that the many razor blade stropping tools out there won't work with a longer and thicker Durham blade.

An essential warning about the Durham is that while it looks like a straight razor and used in much the same way with a diagonal stroke - properly set up it's very safe. And it's used at a very low almost flat angle. Try to use a straight razor in a careless way that you could use a Durham Duplex - and you'll lose lots of blood!
In the tradition of Jimbo cheapness, the thought is going to arise to use the blade with the stropping attachment. That looks just like a straight razor - no guards involved - what better way of seeing whether an expensive straight razor lies in one's future? No! And know why no means no! The Durham blades come from the packet either rough or laser sharp. From the same packet... Use of the stropping attachment will quickly make them laser sharp. If you use a rough edged one, then you will get cut because without a guard it will dig in. The sharp ones can get vastly sharper than even I've been able to achieve with a straight razor. But they're heavily hollow ground right at the edge, and will also dig in with any mistake. You have to be really good with a straight razor FIRST to get away with using a Durham like this, and even then it's foolish.

Since it came with blades with a good price for unused - I also bought a Durham Dorset safety razor. This one worked well and is certainly different looking. It's well made and with the much longer blades sure cuts down on shaving strokes! I got it because I knew for sure that I could strop concave grind Durham blades to a very high degree of sharpness, and I wanted to compare to a lightly stropped Gillette blade in an adjustable Gillette razor. I also wanted to see if the regular carbon steel Durham blade degraded faster than a modern stainless - or even lasted longer. According to the advertising that came with the razor - this is the one for heavy beards. I'd disagree since as with the Duplex (properly set up) blade edge protrusion is minimal. You can press down with one of these just like a modern cartridge razor. So it's slow going with a long beard. For daily shaving it works as well as anything else, if you keep the blade sharp and prep properly.

Last but certainly not least, I got a Gillette adjustable in as new condition - and cheaply because there was no case with it. I wanted to check out this article:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6886845/
Now lots of us started with such razors and don't have startling memories of success. the article does go a long way to explaining why. Use of regular soap or shaving cream out of an aerosol can had a lot to do with things! Just to see how things would work out I went to the local drugstore and got a nice new Wilkinson shaving brush for a few dollars, some Wilkinson shaving soap and some Gillette blades.
The first hint that problems might arise was in testing the blades on slicing tissue. Most of them wouldn't! I didn't get far with hand-stropping them on paper at first, either, until I looked with a 16X lens and saw that they had a tiny steep secondary bevel. Stropping at a higher angle did put them into tissue slicing shape.
The elegant badger-looking brush had a dark band painted on the bristles to look like badger. Spreading the bristles soon showed that. Compared to a real badger brush, it simply was a waste of time. All you can do is smear the lather on. A good badger brush seems to whisk up lather with ease and massage it in.
The shaving soap did actually work. It appears to be a simple glycerine based soap. I also bought some cheap Williams' shaving soap off ebay and that was incredible in comparison.
So the bottom line is that with regular blades and a poor brush, a person isn't going to be very impressed.
With decent preparation as in the article, and a stropped blade, I was impressed. I have to admit that I got a shave about as good as one can get with a straight razor - or at least without a lot of skin stretching and time.
That's the good news... 
The less than good news is the rate of degradation of the blades. I can get five days of shaving with the blades but things go downhill after day two. You're sure not in freshly stropped straight razor territory after day two. Just to be fair to Gillette blades I picked up a lot (hundreds) of Wilkinson Sword blades from an ebay sale and those were pretty much an identical story with many of blades not slicing tissue as they came from the wrapper, slicing after stropping, and degrading fast.  These are a later production than those used in the SEM project.
 
And so this is where things got really interesting.
- Does a person attempt to hone away that tiny secondary bevel so that any of the old stroppers work?
- Does a person try to work with it? Pretty tough since it's so small and requires precision stropping.
- Does a person give up and collect old razor blades that just have a main bevel on each side?
- Do old blades have the edge holding potential of modern blades, despite lack of special coatings, and the fact that they have a more acute edge?

I bought an old Ingersol "Dollar Stropper", a "Never Fail" and a Warner Jones jig style hone/strop (1920's). The Warner jones is the ultimate in precise razor blade honing and stropping. All of these work, but the bottom line is that it isn't worth the bother of re-bevelling currently produced blades even with the Warner Jones. Total rebevelling takes hours for a blade and you end up with something that's precisely as good as a vintage blade that was properly bevelled in the first place. Honing the microbevel works and seems like a good solution until a person compares tissue slicing then shaving with a vintage hollow ground blade.
Warner Jones hone/stropper jig
I couldn't resist showing off the Warner Jones stropper, if only to show that sharpening/stropping jigs go back 80 years. With hollow ground blades though, such a jig/holder can be made from an Alligator paper clip and two pieces of broken ruler to sandwich the blade and get the correct angle. Stropping on newspaper will suffice for light stroppings and a little green buffing compound on paper will serve for more heavy duty honing.
Stroppers are fascinating enough and I'll cover them on a separate page. It's enough here to say that they work, but that so do simple home made stropping jigs.

It's time to stop and summarize:

1. Can I sharpen a razor or blade to a sharper state than new?
Absolutely! Mostly though, to be worthwhile, one simply takes a properly honed (when new) blade and strops it on something as simple as paper to achieve a better edge. Proper light diagonal stropping will remove any wire edge and straighten and polish the edge.
2. How will I know if I have achieved a sharper edge - with tools available to me?
Use of paper tissue will quickly show both sharpness and eveness of edge. Any bent over wire edge will be obvious. Really soft open weave tisue will quickly point out differences in the sharpest of blades.
3. Can I achieve better performance than a modern multi-blade razor? Perhaps a better of putting this question is does it all matter?
There's the article I referenced on shaving and a whole bunch of articles at Classic Shaving. If a person:
- wets face for two minutes minimum.
- uses a badger brush (even an ebay one) and decent shaving soap.
- uses a decent adjustable safety razor, or even a Durham or Rolls.
- uses the sharpest blade they can find - even the cheap vintage ones.
then the answer is a resounding yes as far as I'm concerned! But just using the face wetting, brush and soap will show improvement even with cartridge razors. Put your money into preparation first and go step by step. It's really worth searching out and sterilizing an old badger brush, but then you might get the urge to get an expensive new one..
The steeper bevels put on razor blades in the last few decades have meant that new razors can be dragged over the face without proper prep and stretching the skin - and still won't likely lead to real cuts. That's simply not the case with older more acute blades.
4. Do the old razor blade sharpeners work as well as my methods?
To be honest I was amazed they worked at all! The pitfall is stropping perpendicular to the blade edge and causing a wavy edge. The Warner Jones overcomes this and I couldn't beat it except that an alligator clamp is vastly cheaper than one of these rare 80 year old beasts! I've got some blades with wavy edges that were obviously stropped for years - but obviously they worked until the former owner died. I don't know why they'd have been kept with old razors unless that occurred. Stroppers are fascinating contraptions and I'll collect them anyway!  The real bottom line on stroppers is that they do work to some extent, and require less skill and care in use.

It's also time to do a little accounting and describe my straight razor and setup.
As I've described, I was able to get two Rolls razor sets for about $12 each delivered (from seperate sellers) and they were in great condition. With some hand stropping after using the built in sharpening system, either would serve a person for life. That's pretty cheap! A Durham Duplex razor, or other Durham safety razor would also work, but the problem is in getting blades since they aren't made any more.  Well maybe they are:
http://www.durham-duplex.co.uk/razorbl2.html
The blades shown are the correct size and thickness, but I know nothing about steel or grind. I emailed them to find out what they know, steel and cost. This was the answer:

"Many thanks for your recent enquiry.  Unfortunately we can no longer supply the hair shaper blades however they are available through a company called Ever Ready Healthcare.  Ever Ready’s details are as follows:

 Ever Ready Healthcare Products
 13 Sentinal Square
 Hendon
 London 
 NW4 2EL 
 Tel: 0208 2023171
 Fax: 0208 2039083

 Ever Ready will either be able to help you direct or put you in touch with your local supplier.
 I do hope this information is of help to you.
 Regards

 Internal Sales
 Durham Duplex
 312-314 Petre Street
 Sheffield
 S4 8LT
 Tel: +44 (0114) 243 2313 (Switchboard)
       +44 (0114) 251 8465 (Direct Dial)
 Fax +44 (0114) 244 4329"

The stropping device on the Durham Duplex strops at a higher angle than would be expected from the grind on the blade. At first I was curious about this, since a large paper clip (big black kind) - or even two popsicle sticks and a couple of elastic bands can be used as a holder to strop at lower angle. With the way that any of the Durham razors are set up, you can't wear the edge back too much or they simply won't work. And that edge is hollow ground.  Stropping with the Durham stropper on newspaper or very smooth cardboard very lightly loaded with green buffing compound followed by very light stropping on paper gives an incredible edge. Lower angle stropping gives an unbelievable edge. A month later and I'm still working on two original blades, one stropped at higher angle and one at lower. I strop every two days to check wear faster, and so far I have no idea how long they will last. There's only so much shaving a person can do, so patience is required. There was a famous advertisement for one of the patent razor blade stroppers where a guy had shaved with the same restropped blade for 15 years. I'd figure that a person should get 30 perfect shaves out of a Durham - and perhaps lots more. With careful light stropping - a LOT more. Well after writing that I went on to see with old regular blades, just how much service I could get. This stuff takes years to research!

Since regular current production double edged blades retail for about $1.50 CAN each after taxes, give two or at most three perfect shaves and then can't easily be resharpened, they seem like less of a great deal. I've done very well on ebay buying recent non collectible double edge blades for a fraction of that, though. I'd guess that most people will try to get five shaves out of a blade, and with retail blades that comes out to thirty cents CAN a day. That's almost $110 per year. Cartridge razors will double that! I'd used a Schick injector razor for years until I couldn't get blades any more - but the last ones I got were in the same price range as regular double edged blades. Naturally I got a bunch of those off ebay too, at a great price. Since they're single edged, they have even less life than double edged...
Vintage re-stroppable blades sure seem to make financial sense - given the sharpness to which they can be restropped so that nothing is given up.

Now, let's have a look at the alternative of a straight razor.

More than thirty years ago I was preparing for work when the electric razor that I was using at the time, simply died. Showing up for work unshaven wasn't considered too great back then, so I stopped off for a barber shave on the way to work. Surprisingly they were pretty stunned at the request for a shave even then, but they found someone who knew how to use a razor. That wasn't a very reassuring start to the shave, but he did rather well. In fact the shave worked so well that I later went hunting for a straight razor. Not knowing quite where to start, I got one at the main cutlery shop in Vancouver. I stropped it on a belt looped around a door handle until a friend found a proper strop which sure made a lot of difference. That razor seemed expensive enough, but it served for me to shave with on weekends when I had more time. It's a Monopol which just a big brand name for lots of smaller cutlers and mine is a run of the mill Solingen blade from   F. Baurmann. Things came ahead a long way when I really got into knife sharpening with cheap tools and decided to see just what that sort of treatment would do for the razor. It was sharp before but it sure improved!
The trouble with a straight razor as a replacement for other methods is that you not only have to consider the razor, but a hone and strop - and how to use all of those things properly. It's easy when seeing the neat etched blades to get in pretty deep money-wise before knowing whether the method suits. There's a heck of a lot of difference between getting shaved by a barber and doing it yourself - and not much room for error! Since I got hooked into an interest in shaving and edges, I ordered a few straight razors off ebay to see how I could make out with getting them into shape and whether cheaper razors from different countries are the same in terms of performance. The main thing to remember when I say "cheaper" is that I mean less expensive. I just got a Rodgers' razor in decent shape for $18, and an Engstrom for $28. When those sold new for $3.50-$4.00 - that was serious money.  People were careful with money back then - and knew what they expected from a razor. I also picked up a modern new "Rockwell" Solingen made stainless steel straight razor for $20.
Let's take straight razor shopping step by step, so that no money is wasted:
1. Preparation is the key to getting a straight razor to work properly and safely. You bet people can get away with using regular soap, but using a real badger brush and real shaving soap that's been designed to work with a razor works far better. For sure you can get a decent badger brush off ebay and sterilize it. Even back in the old days, brushes were made with cheaper bristles, so except for fancy really expensive models, brushes came with the advertising right on them. In short they usually had "badger" as a label on the handle.  Other than for amusement in reading all the ways that "badger" can be implied, or protestations of "I've handled badger brushes all my life and I know this is badger!" simply don't get taken in. For sure you could immediately order a brand new badger brush - but I'm also sure that you'll gasp a little at the price. Shaving soap isn't expensive compared to postage so get a bunch of the better stuff from:
Classic Shaving     
 
And for sure try some from your local store if they carry such stuff these days - or get the glycerine soap for delicate faces. Even a mixture of hair conditioner and regular soap will work.

Now for the purposes of experimentation shave after showering or at least hold a scrap of towel soaked in hot water, to your face for two minutes (a vital step). Lather and shave with your regular razor. That's right your regular razor, cartridge or otherwise.
If you get more life from your blades/cartridges, a better shave and less irritation, then you are on the right track. It's almost inconceivable that you won't see a huge difference - but what's more important is that you will see which shaving soap works best for you. Maybe you have rhino hide skin and anything works - but maybe you don't and you've learned something important.
If all this seems like a lot of fuss and takes too long, then you sure don't want to get into straight razors. But you have hopefully got a better shave and saved enough money on blades/cartridges to offset the cost of the experiment with brush and proper soap.
There was a neat but long discussion of blades on an engineering forum where someone wondered whether blades degrade due to corrosion in damp bathrooms or whether degradation is simply due to use. The answer is simple as I found by comparing  two honed carbon steel blades, one in use and the other just sitting. I tested by tissue slicing. It takes weeks for even a carbon steel blade to degrade by corrosion to a noticeable extent, compared to days for a blade in use (checked by tissue slicing). What did come up along the way in discussion was how many people found that proper preparation got them lots more useful shaves per blade.

Step two is getting hold of an old razor for double edge blades and seeing if you can get a light enough touch to get a close shave without irritation. Any old razor will do but a Gillette adjustable is the best deal for the money if you can find a usable one on ebay for a good price. I'd say to go with the adjustable because they are great and you need to:
a. Determine what a good shave is, and whether you can develop a light touch. The adjustable can be set so that you don't chop your face at first and gradually adjusted to more agressive settings. You're not going to have much fun with a straight razor until you KNOW that you have a light touch.
b. Just as important have something to shave the bits that you are scared to get to with the straight razor, at first.
c. My contention from experimenting with a lot of current production razor blades is that many aren't that great. What you have will either slice tissue easily or evenly or it won't. Just remember to hold it under a hot tap for a few moments to get any wax coating off, first. Better blades that are held in high regard are the Merkur and Feather which aren't very expensive and which can be bought from Classic Shaving. You'll either see that they are sharper and more even or you won't, just by slicing bathroom tissue. You'll also see how many decent shaves you get compared to regular blades. Or you might try vintage blades and stropping. Daily testing on tissue will show how fast the blades degrade on your face and so how expensive decent shaves work out with them.

At this point, besides having a pretty good grip on the fact that sharpness is everything, hopefully you've also taken time to consider the effects of phones ringing, other sudden shocks, etc. Those won't be so great when holding a few inches of tissue slicing sharp unguarded edge close to your face. Also consider kids and curiousity and what might happen with a youngster playing with a straight razor! I've managed to bring a straight razor through decades of use without hitting the edge on a tap or dropping it on my foot, but the first will likely wreck the razor and the second will really sting! All considerations!

A straight razor is sharpened on a special fine flat razor hone with almost no pressure because it's so hollow ground. That can take an hour on a new razor. Then you strop on a leather strop loaded with stropping paste which is usually diamond paste these days. I do believe that careful stropping on cardboard loaded with green buffing compound works just as well and saves some money. I also believe that at first a person could do the final strop on newspaper, without going too far wrong. That's stopgap, though, and eventually a proper strop is required. Getting an old hone and strop off ebay can save lots - but unfortunately only if you know how to make sure they're Ok and put the strop into shape.

So the first point of interest is how I made out with my ebay purchases. Far better than I'd have imagined!
I was careful to buy from sellers who guaranteed satisfaction, had knowledge of what they were selling and showed some clear pictures - but I sure wasn't buying high end expensive mint condition! I was also intending to put them into shape with nasty and inexpensive means, using 1200 grit emery paper that was well worn instead of a hone and green buffing compound and paper instead of one of the strops.
The Weekly Telegraph razor made by Joseph Rogers is clearly old, and just as clearly made for advertising purposes which is a nice way of saying "originally pretty cheap". As with some English made razors this one has a slightly curved edge, which means some precision is needed with the razor back in order to have any hope of proper honing. The handle is pressed horn which means slightly warped as we'll all be if used around water since we're made of natural materials as well. Well you might well be when you are my age... I have to admit that I was rather shocked at how well the edge came up, since the potential for waviness with improper stropping is high with that design. Proper honing, even on supported emery paper is going to straighten that out - but not quickly by any means.. Anyway a little stropping on green buffing compound followed by light stropping on newspaper and it was shave ready for a careful person. Naturally a lot more stropping with buffing compound was required to really put it into top shape.
Next up was the Rockwell. I was really curious as to how this one would work out since it's new - but obviously from some re-seller lot. It says Solingen on the handle and on the blade etch but has no manufacturer stamp which didn't bode well. I was rather stunned when I found that it would slice tissue pretty evenly even with the factory grinding. I wasn't so stunned that I left out stropping on green buffing compound, though. A little work and it was good enough to shave with - and just as important to show under magnification the edge was well ground. It took some work to put this one into top condition, since stainless steel is wear resistant. The fact is that I can't find anything to criticise - of course a person has to be prepared to put hand work into a new razor unless paying lots of money for someone else to put hand work into it!
For a heavy beard like mine a wider and heavier razor is recommended. I couldn't resist an Engstrom Gazelle razor, though, and while it's well named as being thin and light, I love it.
I even found the lightest and handiest straight razor that I've  come across,so far. It's a Wilkinson Sword cartridge straight razor which comes with pocket clip for travellers. I guess that shows how things have changed over the past few years! It allowed me to see how a multi bevelled edge blade would do with a diagonal stroke as used with straight razors. It doesn't come up to regular straight razor efficiency, but it's neat to use and since blade protrusion from plastic holder is small, is a great safety razor idea.
If you have a lot of honing to do on a straight razor, then using large fine 3M super fine abrasive sheets will speed things up. You hone with no pressure though, so forget razors with nicks. It's usually too time consuming to bother fixing them.
Razor hones are still a good idea for razor maintenance and strops have their own interest.

I rather enjoyed collecting, fixing and all the shaving that was required to actually learn something. It'd be great to have a series of microscopic pictures to see how razor blade edges break down over time. In practical terms, of course, its sufficient to know that they do and that a little rehoning fixes things. I thought that I'd learned quite a bit about sharpening over the years, but all of this had many surprises for me. I have lots still to learn, and much will be cheap fun. An example would be stropping on newsprint and coated paper. It's not quite as satisfying as taking out a set of expensive embossed leather strops and special honing pastes... It does work extremely well though, for the simple reason that paper and coatings are fine abrasives. Not surprisingly a person can spend hundreds of hours just learning about paper stropping.
On the outdoor forums, where sharp tools are commonly discussed, the question often comes up as to whether a person really can shave with a knife or axe. I can, but I certainly discourage the notion of trying it.  Razor Edge Systems have some pictures of shaving with an axe. Axes and knives have curved edges and those take some know-how and experience, even if they've been set up correctly.