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
Department of Materials Science and Engineering
Iowa State University
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
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
- 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
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
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!
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
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
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
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.
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:
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
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
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
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..
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:
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
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.
312-314 Petre Street
Tel: +44 (0114) 243 2313 (Switchboard)
+44 (0114) 251 8465 (Direct Dial)
Fax +44 (0114) 244 4329"
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
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:
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.