Restoring a straight razor
Most of this may be all too familiar to the more experienced restorers, but some folks new to razor restoration may find some interest. Also, usually by now you would see before pix and immediately following would be beautiful “after shots”, but we won’t be so “cut and dry”. Today… we “stop and smell the roses” or in razor talk, strop and feel the edge (hey, would someone come up with a better catch phrase?... please).
Background[edit | edit source]
Now, if you are only interested in Butcher Chop Duck while the Philharmonic plays the Waltz (or other such popular brands), or expect to see new and exotic scales… you may want to click your browser’s back button now… because today we do something different… recycling!..
Good… Now the boys are gone... lets get on with it.
Razor as advertised[edit | edit source]
First up… eBay pix. These photos are slightly cropped to obscure the other razors… they probably should be a part of this discussion, but I will leave it for another topic/thread at that point the un-cropped photos will be more meaningful.
Allow me turn back the hands of time and theorize. Back in those days a cutler would apprentice at a large cutlery firm, he may one day leave the firm to establish his own cutlery business and simply stamp his “Sir Name” (Milward) to the tang. He may produce excellent quality razors. But for whatever reason the company may be short lived, and now, today, it is almost impossible to find information about the manufacturer… such is life. But probably this razor is the only surviving one of its kind. End of theory, fast forward… present day.
As you can see she looks pretty bad… surly you won’t want to shave with it in that condition… rust on the blade face, edge and much around the pivot area, look at the close up pivot area, rust embedded in the scales, but the scales appear to be solid, pins appear to be intact, hone were seems minimal.
Up next “as received” photos. Will there be more problems? a crack, chips, pitting at the edge?… stay tuned, next post we will see its true condition when we have-it-in-hand.
Razor as received[edit | edit source]
If you buy many razors from online auctions, you will eventually develop and “eye” for what’s worth it and what’s not. You should develop a habit of comparing the item in hand with the photos in the auction. First, let’s quickly confirm our suspicions.
Now we see what was not apparent in the auction photos. Look at the full blade and close up photos, excessive hone were at the tow, and the edge seems to have a slight frown (or an “S” frown), the frown is more apparent in the full rear face photo and close up. You will perceive this better if you look at the contrasting color of the bevel… normally this should be a straight line or a smooth curve.
Stick around, in our next post, we discuss stripping her down to her birthday suit… err… disassemble so we can see what she’s got hidden between her... scales.
Stripped[edit | edit source]
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but for this one we only need a few hundred.
Now there are a few methods to strip a razor, such as “filing the rivet” or brake the scales, however if you want to preserve the lock washers (and sometimes the scales) for reuse, I find drilling the pin head to be the best method.
The inner diameter of the lock washer is about 1/16 inch (same outside diameter as the pin), the mushroomed pin head holds the lock washer in place, so with a 1/16 inch bit we partially drill through the mushroomed pin head to reduce the volume and effectively weakens the joint (generally we stop at the approximate base of the lock washer just in case we are not quite at dead center we don’t want to cut the sides of the washer as this will enlarge the inner diameter, making the washer difficult to reuse); at that point you may simply “pop” the pin out the scales using a punch. It takes a lot of practice keeping the bit centered using a hand drill to prevent it wondering off into the lock washer or the scales. And things become all the more complicated if the pin is bent (at factory?). Also, when drilling, heat is one of your greatest enemies, as it will soften the plastic scales and allow the lock washer to “bury” itself into the scales. An absolutely sharp (new) bit, a drop or two of oil, a slow drill, a steady hand and lots of practice, goes a long way (did I hear someone say "drill press".
Have a look at the stripped photo, if you remember in our previous post we could only guess the true shape of the edge, now if you look carefully you will see the slight frown we mentioned, it’s because this photo was taken at a different angle, its minor here, but believe me when I tell you, it is amazing how different the outline of a razor looks with a slight change in camera orientation (and they say pictures don’t lie).
As with many vintage razors there are no bearings (what some folks call them washers… two the little round brass disks that go between the blade and the scales, one on each side). This is not unusual, almost all old razors with horn scales have none. What they did was to roughen inside the scales around the pivot area to increase the friction between the blade and the scales so the blade would be tight after pinning, and it worked well… but too well, if the blade starts to rust in that area.
Also observe the “shadow” of tarnish in the shape of the scales at the tang area, and the barley visible tarnish line on the blade face where it rested on the scales for decades, indeed she may have been wet when last closed.
Still bored? Stick around, things will pick up a bit in later posts, but up next… the After Breadknife Photos.
After breadknife[edit | edit source]
First, a few words about the dreaded BreadKnife maneuver: Some of the top honemeisters do not recommend BreadKnifing an edge, but instead to hone on a course stone until the defect is gone, this is indeed good advice, in most cases, honing on a course hone is all you need to correct edge defects. However in some cases, the defect is severe enough (or the edge uneven enough) to warrant a drastic edge re-profile. There are other factors to consider before you decide to BK or hone; unfortunately the line is often blurred when determining the severity of the damage. Also, the call of the wild… err, the call of the BreadKinfe is often irresistible, and some folks will answer, for those too week to resist, the best I can do is advice based on my experience and try to leave the decision to you.
In the first photo the blade has now been breadknifed, as you can see the edge is now straight and has a slight smile, not much loss of material and is still about 5/8th wide. In this case material was removed from the edge at the heel and just forward of the middle to balance (straighten) the curve at tow, if you look carefully at the second photo of the rear blade face close-up, you may see the bevel still exist near the tip of the toe and not much at the heel.
At this point I need to raise three points…
- Depending on the condition of the edge you may not have to remove the entire bevel, but remove just enough material to reshape the edge (in other words… remove the high spots to get the edge straight).
- When BreadKnifing, be mindful of the “optical illusion” caused by uneven hone were at the spine, or you may unnecessarily remove material from the heel in an attempt to get the blade even. So you need to concentrate on the outline of the blade and ignore the uneven hone were witch makes the toe appear narrower than it really is, (you may want use a black marker or electrical tape to mask the hone were before you BK).
- Most hollow ground blades have a thicker ridge (or bump) just behind the edge, it is also parallel to the edge. This ridge gives the thin and flexible edge some necessary stiffness. During restoration you should try to preserve this ridge. However depending on the condition of the edge such as a small crack or large chip, when you BK, sometimes you must cut into this ridge (hopefully you don’t remove it all), however all is not lost, simply make the new edge parallel with what’s left of the ridge, and the shape of the edge will be close to originally manufactured. Chances are good, after honing, the bevels will be even and the shave just as good as when new.
Smiling blades, (near) wedge blades and arched-back blades closely follow the above points, but with a few differences, that discussion we reserve for another thread.
Last photo, a shot of the blade upside down, sighting along the edge from the heel to toe so you see the slight smile (I only wish I had taken a similar photo before BK, so we could compare, but I promise in future threads, I wont make that mistake again).
Up next, the “After Cleaning Photos” we will discuss the “almost” clean blade so stay tuned.
After Blade Cleanup[edit | edit source]
So here we are, the hard part is all done, blade is rust free, most of the patina is gone, now we have bright steel and for the first time in decades the manufacturer’s mark (tang stamp) is clearly visible (what a relief). …What’s that you ask?.. “…is this what I waited so long to see?... how come it’s not shiny… and it still has pits on the face and tang…” Well we can’t satisfy everybody, not even ourselves sometimes. Humor aside, the truth is a practical one.
The only way to remove the rust, patina and pits, is to remove steel. Rust and patina were once bright steel, but when rust flakes away and patina removed, what remains are the space where the steel one was (like potholes in the roadway)… pits. Pits extend below the surface of the steel, and another reality we would simply fill the pits like we fill potholes and be happy, however in “this” reality filling pits in hardened steel is next to impossible.
Unfortunately, hollow ground blades are thin to begin with, and with every brush of abrasive, the blade gets thinner… remember that thicker ridge we discussed in our last post?… though the blade is thin, it is stiff and strong enough to withstand the rigors of cutting whiskers because the steel has “volume”, but still needs the ridge for added strength and stiffness.If we remove too much steel, the blade will become “foiled” (you know… like aluminum foil). In that condition the edge may be difficult to hone because it would flex under its own weight, and if you are good enough to hone it, the resulting shave may not be comfortable, the edge will tend to flex and buckle just before cutting each whisker.
These rules apply to the tang as well, if pitting is deep around the manufacturer’s mark, you may have to make the same decisions. If the mark is deeper than the pits then you may be in luck because there is plenty of steel at the tang, however if the mark is shallow you may want to keep the few minor pits along with the mark rather than have clean tang and a razor without provenance. However, if there are no marks on the rear of the tang or fancy work on the spine then you can go “medieval” and polish them to mirror… indeed, those parts are the easiest to clean… don’t forget the tail.
Up next, we discuss scale cleanup, and “pin tail” on this baby using the original lock washers…. Why did you think we went through all the trouble to preserve the lock washers?
Pinning[edit | edit source]
Here we are almost done.
In the first photo you see the polished scales and wedge piece. As said previously, the scales were in excellent condition, they were un-warped and only needed light wet sanding, starting with 2K grit w/d paper to remove light scratches and then a final polish to bring out the shine… about 10 minutes work…. Bakelite scales are very easy to sand and polish by hand so power tools are often not necessary. Incidentally, if you decide to use power, be cautious when using the Dremel, the supplied wheels are small and the tool spins at high RPM, if you “linger” on one spot, heat will quickly burn the bakelite and you will have to re-sand the area, a low RPM buffer with a large wheel to spread the load works better.
In this second photo a crowded collection of pivot parts, the blade and scales at the pivot end, and in the center of the photo, a pair of new brass bearings, the salvaged pair of lock washers and a new nickel silver pin. You can see the close-up photos, the pin is flared (mushroomed) just enough to keep the lock-washer from falling off.
A quick point: Normally, before cutting the length for pin from the supply rod, we would place the rod in a vice, flair the end with the ball peen hammer, then assemble the razor’s pivot end (or butt end) complete with blade, bearings and lock washers, then we cut the rod for the pin from the supply rod, that way we only cut the length we need for the pin and there would be very little waste. In this case I’ve already assembled, measured and cut the length just a tiny bit longer than I needed… it’s OK to cut a little too long than too short… we can file it shorter… but we cannot file it longer.
Incidentally if you are interested in making your own washers you may follow these links for some great ideas.
Coming up in our next post we see photos of the razor fully assembled and “hone ready”. Then “post honing” photos so you’ll see the hone were (or new were) we put on the blade so don’t go away.
Assembled[edit | edit source]
Here we are, she is all assembled and ready for the hones. She is not perfect, but if you wrinkle at her freckles, you may want to go back to the earlier pix, refresh you memory, look at her now… Face Worthy?
Pinning is one of those tasks that will make-or-break a razor (most likely the scales), and more so if the scales are vintage bakelite. Bakelite is very brittle, and you will be saddened should you go through all that effort to clean and polish, only to have them brake at this final step.
Very light taps around the edge of the pin head, the lighter you go, the less likely you will break the scales if you accidentally hit them. You only want to deform the pin head so it mushrooms and holds the lock washer in place against the scales. Remember you don’t want to hit the pin like you do the head of a nail because unlike a nail, the pin has no where to go, hit the pin too hard and the excess energy will start to bend the shaft of the pin. Some folks anneal the pin to make it softer before pinning so they can get away with lighter taps.
In fact, if only tightening the pivot of an already working razor, also use light taps around the head, this will make the head flare and curl some more to press harder against the lock washer and in turn against the scales which makes the joint tighter.
It is also important that the length of the pin be just right, too long, and by the time the joint is tight the mushroom gets too big and “spill over” the sides of the lock washer, too short and there won’t be enough material to hold the lock washer.
Finally, the restore is done… but not quite, now we will hone and test shave to see if this no-name razor can “cut it”… and then in our final post will see how much hone were it cost to get her shave ready… see you then.
After Shave[edit | edit source]
So here we are at the end of a successful restore.
And if you are still curious… the shave was excellent, and frankly she embarrassed a few of my branded razors (I won’t mention names)… As you collect, restore and hone razors, every now and then, after the shave as you run your hands over your new face, you will ask yourself “How did they do it, such a smooth and keen edge?”… And then you answer “whatever, glad I found this one”.
That’s it folks, Thank you for your patience in reading this long post. Indeed I hope you’ve all found something interesting in this presentation, be it my cheesy humor, my less than prefect advice or 3rd rate razor porn captured by my ageing Nikon.
Have a good one my friends.