Straight Razor Restoration: A Beginners Guide, Part 1

Straight Razor collecting, shaving, and maintenance can be a rewarding hobby — but I constantly receive e-mails from people who find my site and are interested in getting into restoration.  I can’t tell you how many times someone has said “I sat down to watch the first part of your restoration videos, and I ended up watching all 12 in one sitting, and now I’m thirsty for more!”

Here is a recent e-mail from one of you:

 

Brad,
… I will be retiring at the end of the year, and I would really like to try my hand at repairing old razors. Do you think it would be a waste of my time to buy an old razor or two, you can find them everywhere around here,(Mississippi), and start grinding? It could turn into an enjoyable pastime, as I have worked in the manufacturing environment most of my adult life, so know my way around a shop…
B. C.

First off, B.C. from Mississippi, I’d like to say that I am so very very jealous of you retiring.  I can’t wait for the day! 🙂  I think almost everyone can agree..day jobs just get in the way of the stuff we really want to do!  What a tremendous opportunity to start the next chapter in your life.  I am here to tell you:  DO IT DO IT DO IT!!

Throughout the next week or two, I’m going to write a series of articles involving getting started in razor restoration.  Please, check back often.  Lets get started!!!

Getting to know you! Getting to know all about you!
The first thing any prospective restorer needs to do, is become familiar with shaving with a straight razor.  Some guys want to jump into restoration before having shaved with a straight razor at all.  I don’t think its a very good idea — especially if you are anticipating making scales.  Some of the most important first steps to get into this hobby is as follows:

* Purchasing a shave ready razor / sending out a razor to a respected honemeister (someone who sharpens razors for people)
* Having a quality strop.  (quality doesn’t always mean expensive)
* Spending several months learning how to strop, how to shave, and what a shave ready razor feels like

Why is this so important?  If you don’t know how to strop, and don’t understand the feel of the razor as you shave, then, to be perfectly honest, you have no business making scales!  It is very important to produce scales that are comfortable to strop with — and comfortable to shave with.  It is amazing how much of a distraction some “fancy scales” can cause to the enjoyable experience that is straight razor shaving.  I fell victim to this a few times in my early custom scale sets for myself.  I tried to make scales that “looked cool…”    I ended up taking them off several razors, and making better ones after I realized just how unnatural and unpleasant they felt.

Now, you realize that shaving and stropping techniques are important, and you should spend the time to build your skills thoroughly.  That doesn’t mean you can’t start learning restoration in the mean time.  Maybe you are already a straight razor shaver, and just looking into restoring now.  If so, move on! 🙂

One Man’s Junk….  Is a Restorer’s Junk!
As B. C. from Mississippi suggested, I would HIGHLY recommend picking up a few beater straight razors.  Try not to pay more than $5-10/each for them.  Try to find a variety of blade types and conditions.  Small full hollows with only small amounts of rust all the way up to a big wedge or two with lots of rust.  The more types of razors you have, the more you will learn.  Even if it is cracked or chipped, it is great experience.

Some of the things you can do with these beater razors:

* Try some hand-sanding
* Try out some hand-polishing
* Unpin, and re-pin over and over
* Honing practice
* Study the design of the vintage scales from several razors
* Notice how the wedge functions / how the scales bow during opening and closing
* Try cleaning, or sanding down a vintage set of scales

The Newbie Restoration Shopping List (first of several investments…)

In order to do the above things, sure enough, you’re going to need a few hand tools.  Here is the FIRST shopping list — for a beginner restorer just finding out if this hobby is right for them:

– Wet/Dry sandpaper. It must be wet/dry.  It holds up much longer, and wet sanding is usually preferred anyway.  Find it at Automotive stores, sometimes at Wal-Mart, Sometimes Do-It-Best stores.  Yes, they have it at Harbor Freight too, and although cheap, I find it doesn’t last very long.  I’m not saying don’t get it there — I’ve used HF sandpaper before, plenty of times.  The most challenging thing will be finding it in several grits.  I recommend:   80/120, 220, 400, 800, 1500.  Purchase around 10 sheets of the lowest grit, and 5 sheets of each of the higher ones.  I always cut all of my sandpaper sheets into quarters.  I find that a Quarter-sheet is very nice to work with.
– Two Hammers. a “normal” one, and a Ball-peen hammer, preferably 4oz.  You will be able to use the side of the head of the regular hammer as an anvil.  most of you probably already have a normal hammer laying around.  You might need to buy the 4oz ball peen online, or find a specialty store.
– Metal Polish. I use a polish called “Mother’s”, but, you an also use Flitz or Maas.
– Rags. Simple enough.
– 1/16″ Brass Rod.  You can find 1/16″ brass rod at most hobby stores.  Hobby Lobby (a USA chain) stocks it for $2.79 / 3 pieces.  If you are forced to order it online, it will be rather expensive to ship – but places like Jantz knife supply, and Texas Knife Supply both carry it.
– 1/16″ inner diameter washers.  The washers you’ll be looking for are #0, and #0wide.   I sell small sets of these on my site —  but those are really only meant for someone needing one or two sets.  They are not well priced if you wanted a hundred of them!  For larger quantities check out MicroFasteners.  For around $15.00 shipped, you can pick up enough washers to pin 25 razors.  You’ll use the #0wide for between the tang and scales (inner washers).
– Flush Cutters (preferred) or Wire Cutters.   You probably have some wirecutters laying around.  You’ll need them to cut the brass rod.
– A flat file. useful for filing down the ends of the brass rods you are cutting

To be honest — thats all that I can think of!!!!  With this small list of items, you are ready to start practicing!  Not to mention, all of those items above will be good investments, because I still use them every time I make a set of scales!

What? NO POWER TOOLS?
Soon, young grasshopper.  Believe it or not, with just your hands and some time, you can turn your first rusty razor into something decent with only the items listed above!

What can hand sanding really do?

Hand sanding is the process of removing metal from your razor with just sand paper.  the main reason to remove metal is to “sand out the pits” — which is kind of the opposite of what you are really doing, which is to sand the entire blade down to the deepest pit.  This can sometimes be a quick and easy endeavor — and other times can take hours and hours.  It just depends on how deep the pits are!

Here is an example of what can be done.  This razor was a $12.00 find in a local antique shop.  The only thing used to restore it was the tools listed above.

This is the razor “Before”
Before Picture
This next picture depicts the same razor, unpinned and hand-sanded for approximately 2 hours using 220 grit paper:
Hand Sanding 220 Grit

320 grit:
Hand Sanding 320 Grit

400 grit:
Hand Sanding 400 Grit

600 grit:
Hand Sanding 600 Grit

1500 grit:
Hand Sanding 1500 Grit

And finally, polished thoroughly for approx 40 minutes using Mother’s Polish and a rag:
Metal Polish

The scales of course, were also thoroughly cleaned, and polished as well — using just 1500 grit paper and a rag!!  So, as you can see — A LOT can be done with some time, and some motivation.  Learning how to hand sand a razor is an important first step for someone looking to get into restoration.  You will use hand sanding time and time again — I still use it ALL THE TIME!

That is all for now —  in a few days, I will talk a little bit about purchasing your first power tool!!!

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2 Responses to “Straight Razor Restoration: A Beginners Guide, Part 1”

  1. Kieran January 10, 2014 at 12:17 pm #

    Very useful, thanks. I’m just starting out with restoring straight razors but it’s quite daunting knowing where to start.

  2. Barry Smith September 17, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

    Brad,
    I am so thrilled to have found your website..and congrats on your new store. I am a wet shaver for about a yr now (why so long?) I have gained an interest and curiosity in my Grandfathers trade…barber. He has been gone quite some time now, I am searching for his tools left behind !!
    I enjoy making things new and enjoy tedious tasks more than the next guy. (and it is to honor my Gran) I will be venturing into this art form with a big thanks to you. I willl be burning your site up.
    Thanks. (Is there a post since your November 2011 beginners guide part one?)
    Birmingham,AL

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