Sharpness, shaving and methods

I've shaved with just about everything from a pink disposable through various high tech electric razors to straight razors and knives. About the only time I got enthusiastic about shaving was when my electic razor gave out and so I had to get a barber shave on the way to work. I was pretty impressed with the use of a straight razor, and the job it did, and so got myself one and a stone and strop. So I'd use the straight razor or a safety razor, depending on how much time I'd got.

A few years ago when I became very interested in sharpness of knives I read a very neat little statement from Lee Valley Tools where in discussing sharpness of wood carving tools, they mentioned in typical understatement that they could take any razor blade and get it sharper - and of course they had the pictures to prove it. Being of enquiring mind I got their sharpening book out of the library. Sure enough it had the pictures! I did use some green buffing compound on cardboard to see if I could get my straight razor into better shape and it surely did seem to give a noticeable improvement. I wondered why since a properly stropped straight razor is darned sharp to begin with. I was left with three questions and no electron microscope to help me answer them:
1. Could I get a razor blade sharper? The advertising for many suggests that nothing could be sharper.
2. How would poor old microscope-less me actually know?
3. Would I care?

What got me interested in razors again, lately, was this article:
http://mse.iastate.edu/files/verhoeven/KnifeShExps.pdf

The bit that really interested me among all the pictures were the ones of the straight razor, first after being normally stropped for a decade or two, then after some work with buffing compound. That explained why mine worked better, but still didn't really answer the questions. In some discussion, though, I'd mentioned playing with my father's razor as a kid and that it was some sort of safety razor with stone and strop built into the box, all operated by some neat machinery. A few contributed pics later and I found out that it was a Rolls. Well when I checked ebay and found that I could get a mint one for $6, I couldn't resist. At the same time in looking at ancient razors I found out about the Durham Duplex - a straight razor with guard, removable blade and even a stropping attachment. Soon a couple of those were on the way.....
Here the stropping attachment is on the blade, and the guards are above:


The old fossil now being being surrounded by a stack of even older shaving stuff, I got to work.
I wasn't too happy with the results of stropping the "new old stock" Durham blades. I had answered question #2 by figuring that my straight razor would easily slice freely held bathroom tissue, and so should the Durham blades. Everything came together when after a bunch of stropping with green buffing compound I gave the blade a few light swipes of newspaper. Suddenly they'd slice better than the straight razor. Shaving then went very well and actually better than with a new disposable.
Next up was the Rolls. I'd treated the leather with neatsfoot oil and GBC but it still wasn't great. I used a diagonal stropping stroke with the blade in the handle, and followed up with stropping likewise on newspaper. It beat a multiblade disposable too. I found it remarkable that a few years ago some people would pay lots for spare parts - and yet now there are lots of Rolls razors on ebay which have only been used once. The trick is that you have to take a few extra steps over the included stropper.

Basically I'd found that replaceable blades in the Durham could be sharpened to be provable sharper in slicing tissue, simply by stropping on paper. The single lifetime lifetime blade on the Rolls could be sharpened to much the same. You can't do much tissue slicing with the Rolls due to the guard - but since it will beat a modern razor...
In the meantime I'd bought some blades for a Schick injector, but those were 30 or 40 years old and so improving them didn't prove much. Such is ebay and cheapness (!) So I got a Gillette adjustable off ebay and some real new Gillette wonder platinum blades. Those totally failed at slicing tissue and so got stropped too until they did. then that rig worked well, too

My idea of intense shaving prep is shaving after having a shower, and using whatever soap is handy. Naturally in the midst of learning about shaving technique I'd heard that good shaving soap is a must and should only be applied with a real badger brush. Since I had one of those, I went and got a cheap Wilkinson imitation one and even a Wilkinson Sword shaving bowl full of shaving soap that seems to work great but sure smells strange. The bad news is that while person may be able to shave for life with a $6 Rolls or $10 Durham, or even a cheap straight razor - only a badger brush seems to work for applying lather.

Myths like singing razors - they do- can come later if anyone is interested. Just note before rushing off to acquire old safety razors like Rolls or Durhams, that safety had a different meaning back then.
 

RovingArcher

Need to contact Admin...
Jun 27, 2004
1,069
1
Monterey Peninsula, Ca., USA
OldJimbo said:
I've shaved with just about everything from a pink disposable through various high tech electric razors to straight razors and knives. About the only time I got enthusiastic about shaving was when my electic razor gave out and so I had to get a barber shave on the way to work. I was pretty impressed with the use of a straight razor, and the job it did, and so got myself one and a stone and strop. So I'd use the straight razor or a safety razor, depending on how much time I'd got.

A few years ago when I became very interested in sharpness of knives I read a very neat little statement from Lee Valley Tools where in discussing sharpness of wood carving tools, they mentioned in typical understatement that they could take any razor blade and get it sharper - and of course they had the pictures to prove it. Being of enquiring mind I got their sharpening book out of the library. Sure enough it had the pictures! I did use some green buffing compound on cardboard to see if I could get my straight razor into better shape and it surely did seem to give a noticeable improvement. I wondered why since a properly stropped straight razor is darned sharp to begin with. I was left with three questions and no electron microscope to help me answer them:
1. Could I get a razor blade sharper? The advertising for many suggests that nothing could be sharper.
2. How would poor old microscope-less me actually know?
3. Would I care?

What got me interested in razors again, lately, was this article:
http://mse.iastate.edu/files/verhoeven/KnifeShExps.pdf

The bit that really interested me among all the pictures were the ones of the straight razor, first after being normally stropped for a decade or two, then after some work with buffing compound. That explained why mine worked better, but still didn't really answer the questions. In some discussion, though, I'd mentioned playing with my father's razor as a kid and that it was some sort of safety razor with stone and strop built into the box, all operated by some neat machinery. A few contributed pics later and I found out that it was a Rolls. Well when I checked ebay and found that I could get a mint one for $6, I couldn't resist. At the same time in looking at ancient razors I found out about the Durham Duplex - a straight razor with guard, removable blade and even a stropping attachment. Soon a couple of those were on the way.....
Here the stropping attachment is on the blade, and the guards are above:


The old fossil now being being surrounded by a stack of even older shaving stuff, I got to work.
I wasn't too happy with the results of stropping the "new old stock" Durham blades. I had answered question #2 by figuring that my straight razor would easily slice freely held bathroom tissue, and so should the Durham blades. Everything came together when after a bunch of stropping with green buffing compound I gave the blade a few light swipes of newspaper. Suddenly they'd slice better than the straight razor. Shaving then went very well and actually better than with a new disposable.
Next up was the Rolls. I'd treated the leather with neatsfoot oil and GBC but it still wasn't great. I used a diagonal stropping stroke with the blade in the handle, and followed up with stropping likewise on newspaper. It beat a multiblade disposable too. I found it remarkable that a few years ago some people would pay lots for spare parts - and yet now there are lots of Rolls razors on ebay which have only been used once. The trick is that you have to take a few extra steps over the included stropper.

Basically I'd found that replaceable blades in the Durham could be sharpened to be provable sharper in slicing tissue, simply by stropping on paper. The single lifetime lifetime blade on the Rolls could be sharpened to much the same. You can't do much tissue slicing with the Rolls due to the guard - but since it will beat a modern razor...
In the meantime I'd bought some blades for a Schick injector, but those were 30 or 40 years old and so improving them didn't prove much. Such is ebay and cheapness (!) So I got a Gillette adjustable off ebay and some real new Gillette wonder platinum blades. Those totally failed at slicing tissue and so got stropped too until they did. then that rig worked well, too

My idea of intense shaving prep is shaving after having a shower, and using whatever soap is handy. Naturally in the midst of learning about shaving technique I'd heard that good shaving soap is a must and should only be applied with a real badger brush. Since I had one of those, I went and got a cheap Wilkinson imitation one and even a Wilkinson Sword shaving bowl full of shaving soap that seems to work great but sure smells strange. The bad news is that while person may be able to shave for life with a $6 Rolls or $10 Durham, or even a cheap straight razor - only a badger brush seems to work for applying lather.

Myths like singing razors - they do- can come later if anyone is interested. Just note before rushing off to acquire old safety razors like Rolls or Durhams, that safety had a different meaning back then.

Good one. I acquired two of the Durhams a few months ago and the first thing I did was get cut. :lmao: Gonna follow your lead and bring them up to snuff.
 
I may have gotten casual after a few decades with a straight razor, but lack of good shaving soap is pretty foolish with blades that can really do the job on a person - and even the old safety blades can cut deep. Lack of prep added to a blade that won't easily slice tissue, is a certainty of a cut.
 

Alchemist

Forager
Aug 1, 2005
186
1
41
Hampshire
That answers a lot of questions I have had recently about shaving blades. Thank you very much for saving me time and money.
I dont think I will be buying a straight razor though. With my coordination I reckon I will cut myself an average of 365 days a year. I might treat myself to a barbour's shave though.
 

RovingArcher

Need to contact Admin...
Jun 27, 2004
1,069
1
Monterey Peninsula, Ca., USA
I have my Fathers mug and brush, along with his chromium safety razor. With my beard, I don't shave much, but the wife has been pestering me to see my face, so one of these days.............maybe. :D
 

mark a.

Settler
Jul 25, 2005
540
4
Surrey
Good thread, Jim. I've got a Thiers Issard straight razor that I normally use instead of a Gillette. It's a much nicer shave, is more fun, and is a lot more satisfying. Having said that, I'm missing my straight razor at the moment - we've just moved house and don't yet have a mirror in the bathroom, so shaving blind with the Gillette is a heck of a lot safer than the TI!

I've always resisted buying buffing compound. Part of the reason why I got into straight razors is that it should be more economical in the long run. Buying one razor, one strop, one (combination) waterstone should be enough (in my wishful thinking - and indeed could be the case). Some people have loads of strops with differing grades of compound on them - I just find that a bit excessive.

However, a small squeeze of white compound on some cardboard or newspaper should be a little bit cheaper! Perhaps I ought to try some. My blade is very sharp, but I think could be sharper still.

The sharpness of the blade is only part of the story, though. Almost as important is the beard preparation. A good brush, good shaving soap (not the Gillette shaving creams or whatnot, which actually aren't very good in comparison) and softened hair (after a shower, or after a hot towel) are essential. Practice certainly helps too!

I've only ever cut myself once with the straight razor, and it wasn't a problem. The wonder of a cut with a super-sharp blade is that most of the time the cut is clean enough to close and heal with just a bit of cold water.
 
There's lots of good information on:
Classic Shaving
Basically if a person will get hold of a badger brush and adjustable safety razor which may mean ebay, unless willing to spend lots of cash - then you are on the right road.
Shave after shower, lathering up with badger brush and even the cheap shaving soap like Wilkinson. Never let lather get dry.
Use the adjustable with blade that's been stropped on newspaper until it will slice tissue - and go lightly. Adjust settings gradually until you find the best for you and leave it.
Very little is ever going to beat that. Certainly not a multi-blade, and only a straight razor used with lots of experience, setup - and time to properly stretch skin. But think of the whole process as a chain that's only as good as its weakest link. Leave out any of the prep and it doesn't matter that you have a thousand dollar razor... The Durham and Rolls - like straight razors are adjustable razors where the user adjusts the angle - so experience is vital to avoid slices.
If shaving seems hard, think of the poor guys in WW1 who had to shave with straight razors during shelling, so that their gas masks would seal properly....
 

torjusg

New Member
Aug 10, 2005
1,246
21
38
Telemark, Norway
livingprimitively.com
I don't like anyone (including myself) to hold knives too close to my throat. How about burning it with glowing coal on the end of a stick? I know some native americans cut their hair that way.

It will not give a very close shave (if you don't want to serious burns), but I guess it would work to keep it down to 1 or 2 centimetres.

And, maybe stop drinking beer so it won't grow as fast? :eek:

Torjus Gaaren
 

addyb

Native
Jul 2, 2005
1,264
4
35
Vancouver Island, Canada.
Well, like I said before, I don't trust myself with a straight razor. But here's my story:

I started to shave with those idiotic cartridge razors (oh, they have a 5 bladed version out now) but I couldn't figure out why my face would end up looking like raw meat with stubble on it. So I did some research, and acquired some knowledge on better shaving techniques. The main point I consistently found from the articles I read was that a proper shave, something that orginally would've been passed down from father to son stopped some time ago. Today, it seems, men regard shaving as a chore, and not something enjoyable. Truthfully, my Dad's version of shaving is grabbing a can of the cheapest cream possible, and digging around in the drawer for the dullest, most crud-encrusted razor around and slicing himself to oblivion.

So a few years ago I went to an antique store, and lo! I found a gold plated gillette double edge safety razor, dated somewhere in the mid 50's. On my way home from the store that day, I picked up a cake of shave soap and when I got home, I dug out my Grandfather's old badger hair brush. And I'm happy to say that I get consistently great shaves time and time again. And my razor's 50+ years now, but still going strong. (I guess people made things to last back in the day)

So, Jimbo's completely right: If you observe the proper steps when you shave, you'll be rewarded with a clean, soft, comfortable face. Screw around and you end up looking like Frankenstein.

Cheers,

Adam
 

mark a.

Settler
Jul 25, 2005
540
4
Surrey
Ah, but what type of tissue? Double or triple ply? Normal or quilted? ;-)

Straight razors really aren't as scary as people make them out to be. It's worth given them a go if you fancy. Or find a barber that does them and you'll be amazed.
 

mark a.

Settler
Jul 25, 2005
540
4
Surrey
I've never tried ebay, but apparently you can get good razors on ebay, but it's also easy to end up with a duffer. Some blades / scales are beyond easy repair (unless you like a challenge), but also a lot are made from cheap steel which will never get properly sharp.

Keep an eye out in antique shops, ask granddads if they have one lying around, or check on somewhere like www.straightrazorplace.com for good reconditioned ones. Or www.classicshaving.com if you want new (not cheap, though).
 

running bare

Banned
Sep 28, 2005
382
1
60
jarrow,tyne & wear uk
torjusg said:
I don't like anyone (including myself) to hold knives too close to my throat. How about burning it with glowing coal on the end of a stick? I know some native americans cut their hair that way.

It will not give a very close shave (if you don't want to serious burns), but I guess it would work to keep it down to 1 or 2 centimetres.

And, maybe stop drinking beer so it won't grow as fast? :eek:

Torjus Gaaren

ahhh, but if you rub finest malt whiskey over your face last thing at night , the hair will come up in the morning half cut :lmao: