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Buffing wheel, dremel, or hand sanding?

What do most people do to clean tarnish and rust from a straight razor? I've seen people use large bench style buffers, dremel tools, and simply hand sanding. What are the pros and cons to each?

I have a Caswell 1100 RPM buffer and a variable speed dremel and while both have had some effect, it's not really enough. I have the Caswell black, green, and white compounds using spiral sewn cotton wheels for the black and loose cotton wheels for both the green and white. While it certainly does have some effect there is still a lot of tarnish that is not coming out. Should I start out hand sanding with a lower grit paper then move to the buffer only when I'm ready to put a nice polished finish on the blade? If so, what grits should I be using? Also, what specific brands of paper would be recommended?

First, restoration begins at purchase. Buy razors in the best condition you can afford.

Yes, you can often restore a rusted, pitted eBay beater, but you are going to have to put in some time grinding away all the pitting. Note, you do not remove pitting, you remove all the other steel down past the level of the deepest pit.

For most razors you will dramatically improve a finish, by hand sanding a razor with 600 grit quality paper. The brand of paper does not matter that much as long as it is quality paper, I like Rhynowet and Matador.

The trick with hand sanding is to switch to a new piece of wet and dry when it stops cutting. Wet and dry is cheap, cut into 3-inch pieces and use a wine cork as a backer. Roll the paper to a fresh part when it stops cutting, then switch to another side, with a 3-inch piece and 1.5-inch cork backer you have 4 fresh pieces of paper, and you can use all the grit on the paper.

From 600 grit you can develop a nice polish with Green Stainless compound with a sewn 4-inch wheel. From 600 grit you will quickly see if you need a more aggressive sanding from a 600-grit finish. If needed drop down in grit, then run back up the grits in progression and finish on the buffer.

You can develop a polish using a progression of greaseless and aggressive greased compounds, but it is very easy to wipe out all detail, etching, stamps and crisp corners with aggressive buffing.

Also, if you want a higher finish, you can sand with grits up to 2k and lapping film and buff on red rouge on felt wheels, a lot of work.

You can use, and I have seen some very nice restorations with Dremel’s. But at high speeds and the small contact area it is easy to do more damage, at high speed they can be dangerous. Almost every one that has used a Dremel on a razor has ruined one or scared the crape out of themselves, when it ripped it from their hands.

I only use Dremel’s with small radial wheels for cleaning tangs between the scales and jimps, which it does very well.

For buffers I have a low-speed Baldor and high-speed Harbor Freight. I use 4-inch wheels with green Stainless Steel compound and 6-inch loose wheel with Zam, white or blue greased compound. Finish on a clean, lose 6-inch wheel. Buy quality wheel, they do make a difference, Castwells.

In short there is a place for all 3, hand sanding, Dremel and bench buffers and cotton wheels, it all depends on the quality of finish you are after, how much time you want to put in and your skill and amount of safety you are willing to accept. You can easily cut yourself hand sanding, put a straight razor on a spinning high-speed wheel is asking for it to be ripped from your hand.

Out of high school I spent a summer working with a professional house painter. That man could lay down a perfect finish with a China bristle paint brush. I quickly learned that 95% of finish, is in the preparation, not the finish.


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I hand sand, but I'm not too fussed with getting rid of every bit of patina off vintage blades.

I've seen too many razors ruined with Dremels (done it myself). Happens in a blink of an eye with the slightest laps in concentration, and if you are LUCKY you will only break the blade and not yourself.
Restoration starts when you start to restore.

Buy what you want. Me, personally, i buy basket cases because they are cheaper usually and I don't care what cork sniffing elitists have to say about the final product. These shanks are just razors; I use them to take hair off my face. That's it.
So if it shaves and isn't covered in rust and oozing with gunk, I'm usually good to go.

Most fine compounds are not going to remove much material.
Chromox, for example, usually falls into the category of .5 µm abrasives. You are not going to remove much oxidation with that. It's just a polishing compound.
Most of use trying to use a wheel to do that sort of work resort to greaseless compounds. 80x grit for example. To get mirror polish you'll need a progression of grits. Then follow with green, white, etc.
A wheel on a dremel is the same - just smaller.

I don't like the effect of greaseless, so I do hand sanding till I am satisfied and then maybe polish with rouge.
The W&B I am honing now was nearly destroyed by someone trying to use a dremel to do god-knows-what. I suspect they thought they were 'polishing' it. Not sure tbh. Was stupidly nearly ruined. Dremels work, I used one to clean the jimps, but they can ruin things in a blink of an eye.

I cleaned up the blade with a short progression of 220x, 320x, 600x. I lay the blade on a wood block, tape the edge if necessary, and use an old school eraser as a sanding block. No pomp, circumstance, muss or fuss, just easy peasy lemon squeezy.
I considered going further with it and then buffing with rouge on a wheel but didn't go for it.
The rust is gone and the uneven waves, scratches, dremel marks, and massive ugliness in the steel have been quelled.
Dremel is a valuable tool for the right part of the job, if you have a steady hand, AND the sense to know what to do with it and what not to do with it.
They can fling a blade clean across the room, overheat the edge and ruin the blade in seconds, and generally destroy a blade very quickly if used wrong.
That said, for some jobs they are amazing, and I use one with a flex shift attachment quite a bit.

Power buffer will have a wheel that is larger than the curve of the blade grind unless you're restoring a near wedge.
The power buffer can also fling a big blade like a Bowie knife clean across the room before you can blink, let alone something small like a razor. Beware, they are one of the most dangerous tools in the workshop but also incredible at what they do.
Great for taking a well prepared surface to a puddle of mercury shine, but they won't fix pitting or uneven grind.

If you have uneven grinding, funky hone wear to even out, or deep pitting, you need to remove all the metal surrounding the damage until you have a straight, even surface...only then can you begin to polish.
Hand sanding will do this extremely well, with very little chance of damaging the blade...but very slowly.
A variable speed belt grinder with the appropriate sized contact wheel and a practiced hand can do in minutes what will take many hours by hand...but can destroy faster too.
You will still need to hand sand after a regrind before you begin polishing.

Either way, there will be hand sanding for a good finish...a dremel or a belt grinder can speed this up, but not eliminate it...and carries risk.

If you want a mirror finish, then a dremel or a buffer will be needed at the final stage...you can get very close by hand though.
I've taken the wavy grind on a Gold Dollar to a nice even finish with coarse sandpaper, then worked through the grits to 3000, then hand polished with metal polish and achieved a near mirror finish. Not quite liquid mercury, but very nice.
It took me weeks and weeks of evenings.
But, it can be done.
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