Why you shouldn’t have your straight razor restored

Hows this for a business model:  Don’t send me your straight razors for restoration.  Confused yet?  Good.  Lets explain.

The Common Scenario

Lets say…you’re new to wet shaving, and you just picked up your first rusty, stained straight razor from an antique shop or E-bay.  Eager and excited, you post a picture in a popular shaving forum, with a title like “Antique shop find” or “My ebay score!”     The forum members reply with things like “Nice score!” and “That should clean up great!”   You feel all happy and in love with your new found treasure, and quickly move to the Restoration and Workshop forums out there, and find that this is a bit more involved than you’re willing.  Your next step:  Find a Restoration guy, right?  Maybe thats why you’re reading this right now…  You found my page….

The perfect candidate razor….  For NOT having professionally restored

Disclaimer:  There are exceptions to my recommendations throughout this article — please understand that if a razor has sentimental value, is a family heirloom, or holds special meaning to you that its not always subject to the same analysis as the average e-bay find.  I totally understand this, sometimes a razor is worth restoring no matter what the cost or condition, if it’s something you feel is worth it to you.  On with the article….

 

There are a few guidelines I like to follow, when recommending to my clients whether or not a razor is worth restoring or rescaling.  They are as follows:

* The blade should be 6/8 or larger
* The blade should not have major chips or cracks
* If the blade is a full hollow razor:  The blade should not have significant hone wear, uneven hone wear, or a combination of the two.
* If the blade is a full hollow razor:  The blade should not have significant rust on the hollow portion of the blade
* The resulting restored razor should have a value higher than the price I charge for my services ***

They may seem like odd requirements..  What does blade width have to do with anything?  Well, mostly, it is because of the last item there —  It is quite simple really, a 4/8 or 5/8 razor will rarely be worth more than $100, EVER — so why invest $100 for a new set of scales?  It is not a wise decision.  Especially, when you can find prime examples of 4/8 and 5/8 razors out there, practically new in the boxes, for less than a new set of scales will cost you.

Examples

Here is an example of a razor that should not be sent out for restore.  At the time of this writing, this razor is on E-bay, and is currently selling for $15.00.

Why it doesn’t qualify:

–  The razor has uneven hone wear, and heavy rust
–  In order to restore, the razor would have to be unpinned, jeopardizing the pivot end bolsters.
–  The razor’s rust around the stabilizer area would force you to use heavy sanding or extensive greaseless compound buffing, causing the lines to soften on the stabilizer and shoulder, lessening overall visual appeal.  The tail of the razor would have to have a decent amount of metal removed as well, and from past experience the top of the spine near the point end likely has VERY deep pitting, requiring a large amount of metal to be removed.  In order to remove the rust and pitting, the etch on the face of the blade would have to be removed.
–  I would likely charge around $85.00 for a full restoration and honing — The resulting razor would have a value of around $55-70.00, mostly due to its size and what will almost certainly be soft lines and obvious alterations to its original geometry.

Would I buy it for $15.00?  Nope.  Should you?  Only if you’re willing to work on the blade yourself.

Example #2

Here is another razor, currently on E-bay.  You might say “Well what the heck is wrong with that one?”  My answer:  not a lot.  However, tell me this — is it worth it to invest $50-80.00 for professional restoration on a run-of the mill 5/8, black plastic scale razor?  Is it?  The etch might be lost too — basically removing the only thing that makes this razor stand out.  Why bother?  You can purchase a brand new, professionally honed Dovo razor for less than it would cost to bring this one back.

Example #3

This is another razor currently on e-bay.  This is very similar to something that I would get a request to restore.  Here are my concerns:

– The razor’s scales are basically junk.  They are warped and ugly (apparent from another picture).  In order to bring this blade up to something worth looking at, it will need a new set.   $$$$$
– The blade doesn’t look so bad at first glance…  But..  looking closer there is some serious rust on the tang and stabilizer.  This razor is never going to have that brand-new look to it, no matter how careful the restorer is — and the etch, yet again, is not something that will be guaranteed to survive.
– It doesnt matter how you slice it – this is a 5/8 razor, that even with new custom scales will be lucky to fetch $100.00, in shave ready and perfectly restored condition.  What makes it so important to you that you’d be willing to invest $130+ to make that happen?  Have you seen some of the razors out there available for $130.00, that will have none of the aesthetic issues this one will end up having when its completed?

Is it a neat razor? Sure.  Should you buy it?  Maybe!  Should you have it professionally restored?  Nope.

The ideal candidates for Restoration & Re-scaling

– Large full hollow blades over 6/8 that need new scales, but minimal blade work.
– Any wedge over 6/8 in size, regardless of amount of rust
– Unique or valuable razors
– Razors that have excellent quality steel, but lousy scales – example:  Filarmonica, Henckels Friodur, etc.
– Any razor with sentimental value or family heirlooms

Conclusion

Not every razor is worth being professionally restored.  I really wish people would stop recommending it to every newbie that posts a picture of their latest acquisition.  Razors like the 3 examples above are all too common in the antique shops, flea markets, and E-bay.  People buy them up at $15-30 each — and in my opinion they just aren’t worth it.  Regardless of whether you hire someone to fix one of them up, or invest 3, 5, 10, or 15 hours of your own time sanding and polishing, in the end, you are in the red on that razor.  Everyone should assign a monetary value to their time — the challenge is not to forget yours, and to realize just how much it REALLY costs you for a run-of the mill 5/8 razor.

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14 Responses to “Why you shouldn’t have your straight razor restored”

  1. Al December 6, 2018 at 12:16 am #

    I work with restoring things from hunting knives to old tools. So many things ring true. But as someone who is a straight razor user, I have very stringent rules. Straight razors are made from either carbon steel or stainless steel. Even though the carbon steel looks okay in a picture, someone can stabalize the rust and it can hide deep pitting. Stainless Steel when it begins to rust is basically garbage. Years back I worked on older firearms. Many were not taken care of and only good for display. But thses were classcs worth a great amount even for display. But a crap razor, that will never shave decent is a waste. If you want a excellent vntage razor, go to a reputable dealer who will sell you onlr quality.

  2. Aaron December 30, 2017 at 3:20 am #

    Excellent post but… Those three examples are wort restorating but there are some things to consider:
    1: The blade itself,
    2. The geometry of the blade,
    3. The rust in everything but the very blade?. Come on!.

    I see that you try to thy to make the ends meet in restoration, but… How it comes for you sell yourself blades with changed geometry at outrageous prices?. In that respect, is your hobby or your way of life; your merit if we are speaking about making ends meet. But call it as it is: Your work is worth and there is no shame in rejecting work that is likely to go wrong because it is simply unsalvage.

    As an example: I have a very lovely straight razor covered with gold but rotten at the edge about 1 mm. That won’t make it better even lessening that and more and gold does not make a pleasant shave when is still a hole.

    I wanted to write this to you just because there are people that think they have a gem… but a real gem in a straight razor is any piece of steel that shaves leaving smiles and not pain.

  3. 33Joanna May 15, 2017 at 8:51 pm #

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  4. Jim March 19, 2017 at 5:20 pm #

    As always, you are honest and straight to the point. The voice of reason in all things.

  5. Brad January 12, 2017 at 9:24 am #

    Joe: If the rust is black, that means that it’s stable and no longer active. The problem is, sometimes active rust can be hiding beneath black rust – so if you have a blade that has this you’re always risking more damage to it by not cleaning it up. As for impregnating the strop — if the rust is on the spine or near the edge, it’s possible. The spine and edge needs to be clear of rust — sometimes just honing the razor can do this, other times you need to take more action.

    Brian: you got it man!

  6. Brian Fortin January 11, 2017 at 4:23 pm #

    I think I understand.

    Translation: Restoring a razor is like restoring a car, there’s two big considerations. First, is the junker too far gone to justify the cost? Second, is the junker so unique that cost is really secondary? For example: A very good condition Chevy Vega isn’t worth the cost of restoration. A pretty good convertible mustang might be worth the cost of restoration. A far gone early Porsche race car might justify the outrageous costs of restoration. What has the razor going for it that justifies the costs?

  7. Joe November 29, 2016 at 5:14 pm #

    I enjoyed your article. I would like to buy some old razors on to practice honing. I have one now that has black rust. Someone told me that the rust would impregnate the strop and ruin it. What is your comment on this? Is there a way to remove the rust without having to sand it down?

    Thanks,

    Joe

  8. Darrell November 1, 2015 at 2:11 pm #

    Wow there’s so much to learn if you are new to using a straight razor.I’ve been practising for 6 months with small disposable straight razors and I’m happy with the techniques involved but it’s all the aftercare of the razor,using a strop and a honing stone etc that is causing me the headaches I wish I started using a straight razor 20 years ago when I first gave it some serious thought.Thanks for the info I have four razors two are ready to go and the other two are vintage/antique with beautiful carved bakelite handles from the art noveau period of the early 1900’s which I am keen to restore so you article is a great help.Darrell

  9. Ron May 15, 2015 at 11:01 pm #

    Wow! Thank you.

  10. Dave Glynn April 20, 2015 at 4:37 pm #

    I do agree that many razors are not worth restoring in monetary terms but many guys will go to the trouble and expense because the razor has sentimental value.

    Kind regards
    Dave

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  12. James Nicholas April 29, 2014 at 11:01 am #

    There is a difference between restoring a useable vintage razor and a “collectable”. I think that’s your point? Many vintage razors are not practically restorable. However, a newbie paying $80 to restore a $15-30 vintage straight razor to “shave ready” condition is not as stupid as you make it sound. There is nothing wrong with restoring a vintage razor and getting good use of it less for than $100 total investment . It can be smart on many levels 1 .reusable long lasting quality steel 2. aesthetic design 3. nostaligic enjoyment 4. a backup razor ( to your $10 Gillette Fusion blade) 5. attractive display or conversation piece-this is in addition to your exceptions of “sentimental value” or “hierloom” keepsake. Yes, you can purchase a new Dovo straight razor for $160 but why? If you can get an attractive usable keepsake for less.The biggest mistake IMO is paying too much or thinking there is a huge profit in a restored razor and Yes! many a restoration has ruined the blade, scale, etch, bolster and value etc. My pet pieve is replacing the original authentic scale to a get gleaming ugly black plastic scale! There seems to be an endless supply of vintage blades attached to ugly scales. Search patiently for a reasonably priced restorable blade with an attractive original scale in good condition. Or better yet buy a properly restored “shave ready” vintage offering you can be proud of owing. If you can restore and use a blade with original scale for a hundred bucks or less, I think you did a good thing. Lets face it (pun intended), you are “in the red” for any razor you own unless they are true collectables.

  13. Kieran February 11, 2014 at 9:38 am #

    A very honest take. I think they can still be worth buying (even in bad condition) if you enjoy restoring them as a hobby though.

  14. pikadon August 27, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

    Excellent post. And refreshingly honest too.

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