The grinding process refines the thickness and shape of a straight razor blade to improve its sharpness and cutting ability. Different grinds describe different shapes and thicknesses, and each produce different shaving results and experiences. Read more about hollow, extra hollow and other forms of grinds so you know what to look for when buying a straight razor.
What is A Razor’s Grind?
If you’ve ever seen a variety of different straight razors before, you might have noticed that they seem to have slightly different shapes and thicknesses. Sometimes the surface of the blade looks completely flat, while at other times it appears slightly curved. This is the grind. It describes the shape of a blade, in terms of its cross section. The same term is also used to describe the shape of a knife’s blade.
When a blade is made, steel is forged and then hardened to form a flat plate of metal called a blank. These are used to create the basic straight razor blade shape, but have to be ground into the finished product so they’re appropriate, sharp and effective for your shave.
A blade that hasn’t been ground into a specific shape has what is called a flat or straight grind, more commonly known as a wedge, while blades that have been ground come in a range of different shapes, commonly hollow grinds.
Hollow Grind Razors
While there are sixteen possible different grinds, the most common and popular is the hollow grind. This describes a concave shape to the blade.
More steel is ground off hollow blades, making them thinner than the original wedge shape. It means they’re much lighter and have a little more flexibility; they’re more forgiving on the skin, which can help to reduce the risk of nicks and irritation.
The thinness also impacts feedback. With a thinner, more hollow blade, you can better feel the way the blade behaves and cuts the hairs. If there’s resistance when shaving, you’ll feel it more easily than with a wedge blade so you’ll know when the blade needs stropping or honing.
However, the thinner a blade, the more fragile and at risk of breaking it is. You have to be careful not to over-hone the blade.
The Blade Belly
Some hollow grind razor blades will also have a belly. This is a ridge part-way down the blade that helps to stabilise it so there’s less risk of damaging the blade due to its thinness. It helps the blade to resist over-flexing.
The periodic process of honing often creates a natural belly to the blade, even if there wasn’t one when the product was new. However, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to see this with the naked eye as it’ll be very slight!
Types Of Hollow Grind
There are a range of different hollows that vary in thickness from extra hollow to quarter hollow.
A quarter hollow blade has a quarter of the blade ground into the concave shape, making it the thickest form of hollow straight razor blade.
Because it’s the thickest variety, it is sometimes referred to as ‘partial wedge’, which then moves it into the wedge category, rather than the hollows. Its thickness combined with the concave, hollow shape, means it can be hard to categorise.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, this was the most common grind for straight razors, but today it isn’t found that often. This is because while it is forgiving for a beginner who is learning how to strop and hone, it doesn’t have the same finesse when it comes to shaving.
Most men avoid a quarter hollow — if you’re looking for one, you’ll probably notice that they’re not very common anymore — and instead opt for a more hollow blade that produces a closer shave.
A half hollow blade has a concave shape down the middle, making it the middle ground between wedge and extra hollow. These are one of the most hard to find razor grinds, both in terms of new razors manufactured this century and antiques. It’s still possible to find them — Dovo and Thiers Issard, for example, do produce them, but only with a very limited selection as they’re not that popular.
They’re good if you want the experience of using a heavier blade, while retaining some of the control and maneuverability of a hollow blade.
We’re now moving on to the more popular and widely used hollows. Full hollow and extra hollow have been the most popular straight razor grinds for at least a hundred years.
Full hollow is a much thinner blade than the previous hollows on the list. It has more flex in the blade, which can make it less forgiving when honing, but is much sharper and more flexible. It therefore produces a closer shave.
Extra hollow blades are very similar to full hollow but have a slightly deeper grind, making them one of the thinnest and sharpest blades available. These are the main type of straight razor blade that we stock at The English Shaving Company as they produce the best shaves.
They are sometimes called singing razors, or singing hollow blades, because the shape of the razor produces a unique sound when used.
A properly honed full or extra hollow blade will produce the most comfortable and closest shave.
If you’re looking for a straight razor, we would recommend choosing extra hollow. It’s the grind that produces the closet and most comfortable shaves.
If you’re unsure about honing and stropping your razor blade you could opt for a shavette with a replaceable blade, or read our guide on how to care for your straight razor.