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Picking a Custom Straight Razor

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I am going to attempt to give you a heads-up on what to look for if you are considering a purchase of a custom razor or already have one and want to decide for yourself if you got your money’s worth. Understand this very important point. I am not drawing attention to any other specific maker’s capability, especially with any attempt to embarrass them or attack their character. No maker comes to mind when I address workmanship in this thread. I assume no responsibility for anyone else’s ability as an artist, which brings me to this personal belief… If you remain a hobbyist, you can get away with a lot of imperfections and still deserve some commensurate praise and a fair price for your work. Once you hang out a shingle and start charging more than a hundred dollars for anything you do… it needs to be good. Not almost good, but really good. If you make something for sale on a semi-regular basis, the razor should not have those so-called “artistic” flaws, and it should be completely void of the amateur ones. I will get into what is good in a minute.

A lot of the boys on several forums have taken up restoration and have dabbled in making some creations of their own as well. I actually welcome all the new enthusiasts. I look at no one as a competitor because I have a very long waiting list and I sell everything I make… and… I don’t need the money. I make nothing I don’t want to and I will not make someone else’s design. I do have to say that I take some pride in knowing some of you got a start by using the information on my CD to get your feet wet. Some of your projects are really impressing the dickens out of me. I truly enjoy seeing good work and more and more of it is showing up on all the forums.

I have also seen some pretty squint-eyed nose-wrinkling stuff on the forums. I am sometimes baffled that a razor may still get good comments from an overly supportive community that seems to base a razor’s quality more on a maker’s personality than on the actual razor he puts out. I’m not saying someone’s ego should get bruised with a comment like, “Man, that looks like crap.” I am saying that if it doesn’t really look good to you in a picture… it probably isn’t going to look very good when it is in your hands either. Encouragement is good when one of our boys puts up a pic of his new creation and says, “this is something I just whipped up? Laying on a thick blanket of patronize-the-artisan is not good, and the BS certainly won’t help them improve if they think everything is hunky-dory when it is not. I have encouraged folks on some threads, and often made suggestions for improvement in a PM. That seems to work pretty well. I would never intentionally try to embarrass anyone’s efforts in a public setting.

I think the points I am about to make are something I need to emphasize because this growing excitement over acquiring custom straight razors takes a tiny bit of study before you jump in with both feet. Unless, of course, you have the money to learn that the $300 razor you just bought shaves nice but has a host of quality control issues. A $300 razor should not have any issues, in my opinion.

When a potential customer reads nothing but thick, sometimes undeserved, praise on every single new razor creation on every single forum, amateur or artisan, he has been left without a clue. And… those without a clue don’t know it. Still, somehow they acquire the ability to pass on being clueless to the next person when they wind up buying some of the inferior work themselves. All because they don’t know what to look for.

I am going to show you what to look for when you consider a knife or razor purchase. I would ask politely that none of you use any maker’s names at all in this thread so that it doesn’t become locked or enemies are made because their boy got reamed. That would include compliments as well. Your compliments, though well intentioned, may very well be part of you being clueless and also fodder for criticism by the person who bought the vowel and does have the clue. This thread is intended to be strictly about the work and how to recognize the good selling points and not about any of the men who created the razors. Pretty much everybody on these forums who is producing work for sale is a good guy… but that doesn’t mean their work is worth the big bucks they seem to go for sometimes.

Feel free, however, to criticize anything you have of mine. If anything less than good ever left my shop it was because I did not spot anything wrong. Not likely, but it’s sure possible. My mistakes go in the trash can. I have been asked in the past and the answer is, No… I will not sell my mistakes to anyone at a lesser price, and I don’t give them away either. They go in the trash where they belong. Besides, you may have to wait longer for something from my trash can than if you were on my waiting list. I have one razor that is with a customer right now where the blade was not heat treated properly. It bugs the heck out of me. There was no way to know that the steel was too hard until it got used. Initially, I offered to change blades but the customer wanted to try the harder steel to see if it would work for them. Unfortunately, it did not, but the replacement blade I had set aside for it subsequently went on another razor because the customer seemed confident things would be ok. I stand by all my work, so that razor will be replaced as soon as I can get to it this fall.

Here is what you need to look for in a custom razor ~ Actually, any expensive razor

Keep in mind that even my $250 razors meet all of the standards below

Very seldom do my razors go above $600 ~ Most are less than $400

· Make sure the master grind (hollow grind) mirrors the opposite side of the blade at the heel. The point of entry of the sanding belt at the heel should be the same on both sides of the blade as you look straight down at the cutting edge.
· Make sure the grind goes to the same place up into the spine on both sides of the blade
· Make sure there are no twists in the blade when viewed from the tip to the heel
· Make sure there are no glaring defects… anywhere
· Make sure the blade does not lean away from the perpendicular plane of the tang and spine as viewed from the tip of the blade towards the tang. You should be able to see the imaginary T shape I am referring to. It should not look like this… T . This is a common defect on many vintage razors.
· Make sure the blade does not touch either side of the scales when it is closed. A blade touching the scales is caused by one or more of the following: Bent spine, twist in the blade, blade leaning off of a 90 degree angle from the T shape, or warped scales.
· Make sure the spine and tang is in a straight line when viewed from the top all the way from the tip of the blade to the back of the tang.
· Make sure a mirror finish is a mirror finish. You will not be able to see a single scratch mark in a good mirror finish. Otherwise, just call it a shiny finish.
· Make sure the scales are the same thickness. Some allowances can be made for natural horn materials, including antler. Up to a 16th thicker, maybe
· Make sure that both scales have the same footprint and look like bookends when viewed from the top or bottom of the razor.
· Make sure the wedge spacer is actually a wedge. There is an important function to the taper and using something with parallel sides puts too much strain on your scales, especially if there is a third pin incorporated into them. All the razor manufacturers made them for a couple hundred years with a taper for a reason.
· If natural materials like bark ivory is used for scales, find out if it has been stabilized. Putting a coat of CA on them doesn’t make them stabilized, although it can definitely help. All ivory does not need stabilization, but the stuff that has started to check and crack is better with it rather than without it. A maker’s comment that “… it doesn’t need it”, without giving a reason why, I would find suspect. Deteriorating ivory needs to be impregnated with phenolins/resins under heat and a vacuum to be effective. Sometimes it may even need to be lined to give stability. Burl woods need the same treatment. A coat of tung oil on woods that are not very strong and dense just won’t cut it… for the years you expect to get use out of it, anyway.
· If jimps are used, they need to be equally spaced and cut at the same depth throughout the pattern. It’s not hard to do and attention to detail should be expected for the high-end priced razors.
· Make sure the bevel along the cutting edge is pretty close to parallel for the entire length and that the blade is not thicker than .012 at the apex of the cutting edge bevel. I try to keep mine below .010. The exception is wedge-shaped blades.
· Make sure there are no gouges or protrusions on the profile of the blade. Having either of these defects does not make the razor quaint or anoint it as having artistic flair.
· Make sure the end of the blade is not farther than 1/8 inch away from the butt spacer when the blade is closed.

Are some of these requirements strict? You bet they are… As they should be when customers start shelling out huge dollars for custom work. If the razor you pick out can’t pass most of these requirements, then it’s my opinion that you should not spend the big dollars to get them. The more educated you are about what to look for in a custom razor, the better decisions you will make when you decide to purchase one. Just because something is hand made doesn’t mean you should be willing to accept the kind of flaws you would find unacceptable with any another product. I doubt that the really good makers would object to these requirements – they most likely adopted these, and more, long before I said anything. You are entitled to get what you pay for and you should not have to accept “artistic variances” that simply translate to mean excuses for amateurish or handyman work.
Bill, if your razors are even half as good as your writing, you can expect me to come knocking on your computer screen sometime soon.

A great post. Thanks.


Thanks for your comprehensive tutorial on customer razors. In fact, you have provided a benchmark for evaluating any straight razor. I would add that unless a person has experience handling metal tools and thus an appreciation for tolerances that they should stick to manufactured razors for the first year as they develop an eye for a straight razor.

I hope to place an order with you one day as you clearly are craftsman.
Thanks Bill. As a newbie to the straight razor world I found this very informative. As CloseShave said, it's a good way to approach any razor, not just custom ones.
Not only is this information helpful, I believe it is worthy of sticky status.
I have learned more about custom straight razors that will help me when i make a purchase. In fact,this info will help me in making a straight razor purchase period!

Not only is this information helpful, I believe it is worthy of sticky status.
I have learned more about custom straight razors that will help me when i make a purchase. In fact,this info will help me in making a straight razor purchase period!


I think so as well. It is a sticky.

Thanks Bill! Excellent information!!
Great post Bill - informative and clear.

As I've said before, "handmade" is not an excuse for poor workmanship.

Your post will help folks evaluate the workmanship of any straight they get, from any maker.
Thanks Bill, I'm just now getting ready to venture into the world of straights and this will be a great help when I start shopping around for any razor. Naturally, I'm still a good ways off from the custom razors but I am always checking your site for well-priced restorations! Now if I can just check in on a day their not all sold. :biggrin:

Thanks again.
Thanks for your comprehensive tutorial on custom razors. In fact, you have provided a benchmark for evaluating any straight razor. I would add that unless a person has experience handling metal tools and thus an appreciation for tolerances that they should stick to manufactured razors for the first year as they develop an eye for a straight razor.


Bill - thank you for the excellent information (as always)!
After I voted, I saw a little of blue bar in the "not useful" column...it actually made me mad until I looked closer and saw that there weren't any votes there. heh

A great thread and an excellent resource, great work Bill.
Thanks Bill.
Sometimes I wonder why people praise second rate work (mine included). While my work is never "perfect", I try to show any and all flaws in the pictures I post.

Warning to newbies looking to buy new or restored razors: Camera tricks and lighting can make even a scratched up blade with deep grind lines look like it has a perfect mirror finish. If you're not sure, ask for a picture with an object reflected in the blade.
I hope that they sticky this one. Very nice to hear from a world class craftsman who has enough understanding of his God given talents to know that humility is a small price to pay for the gift! Thanks for the insight.

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