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Steels used for straight razors

Hi.

My first post...

I have an interested in Japanese kitchen knives. A very important factor in a kitchen knife, as you can imagine, is the type of steel it is made from. Many (including me) have a preference for carbon steel as it takes a keen edge and - significantly - is easier to sharpen than most stainless varieties.

I thought I'd buy a used straight razor as an interesting thing to do, and immediately searched for carbon steel straight razors. But then I discovered that the type of steel is not something that is listed in sellers' descriptions of straight razors.

So my questions are:

(i) do carbon steel razors exist; and

(ii) if they do, which models should I look for?


Best wishes
Steven
 
Far, far, far more important. Of absolutely critical importance. Is the matching of the heat treatment to the steel’s specific chemistry.

‘Carbon steel’ could refer to any number of simpler carbon steels, but is also commonly used by laypersons to refer to tool steels, high carbon mold steels, high speed steels, and basically anything not stainless.

Conversely, ‘stainless’ could refer to any number of martensitic stainlesses, austinitic stainlesses, marriaging steels, precipitation hardening steels, etc.

Crucible makes a 440 grade modified with more carbon than typical for grade. This steel heat treated competently will vastly outperform most non stainlesses if they are heat treated less competently. Even if they are heat treated well, it will perform right there with all but the very best of artisan blades.

It is a sure bet that any non artisan made razor was heat treated in a batch with a bunch of fairly similar steels. Maybe even only razors from the same grinder in the case of the better ones. This sort of batch heat treating tends to lead to very small compromises in the HT for individual blades. That’s not necessarily a problem from the perspective of owning or using one such razor, but it really adds a lot of squishyness to the already not cut and fried difference between such broad catagories as ‘stainless’ vs ‘carbon’.

TL/DR: stainless or carbon is not at all a reliable indicator of blade performance.
 

Slash McCoy

I freehand dog rockets
Hi.

My first post...

I have an interested in Japanese kitchen knives. A very important factor in a kitchen knife, as you can imagine, is the type of steel it is made from. Many (including me) have a preference for carbon steel as it takes a keen edge and - significantly - is easier to sharpen than most stainless varieties.

I thought I'd buy a used straight razor as an interesting thing to do, and immediately searched for carbon steel straight razors. But then I discovered that the type of steel is not something that is listed in sellers' descriptions of straight razors.

So my questions are:

(i) do carbon steel razors exist; and

(ii) if they do, which models should I look for?


Best wishes
Steven


What they said. If it don't say, it is almost certainly a carbon steel. And a good stainless razor from a reputable and competent maker is pretty much just as good as an equivelant carbon steel razor. Typically or I should say stereotypically the SS blade will be harder to hone but in practice there is little difference. In days past the national origin of steel made a big difference. Sheffield steel behaved a certain way. Swedish steel, German steel, American steel, all had their peculiarities, some real, some maybe more the stuff of legend than fact. But I am here to say that a Heljestrand Swedish blade can be much slower going to hone than a typical Solingen blade. All the major razor makers turned out good products, though. That's how they became major producers.

Stainless steel CAN rust. Just not as easily. So simply buying stainless won't eliminate the necessity of caring for it.

Almost any vintage razor from a well known manufacturer is worth having if it has not been damaged, abused, or severely worn like to a toothpick. Most modern razors of a certain price point will be good, though there are perhaps an exception or two. Mostly, cheap modern razors are not worth having, particularly if they originate in Pakistan and at one time that could possibly have been said about China but there are some razors coming out of PRC that while crudely ground by unskilled workers who obviously don't even shave with them, are actually made of surprisingly decent steel and can be made into very satisfying shavers. For instance, a Gold Dollar 1996 costing $11 can be honed right out of the box with no great amount of hassle and put to shaving immediately thereafter, if my 4 for 4 record is any indication. And the humble #66 is a fantastic bit of steel for modifying into a very nice razor indeed, though it can also be simply honed by someone not afraid to be a little aggressive with it.

Bottom line, most razors you will find are made from good steel except Pakistani junk and maybe an oddball here or there. Instead, be on the lookout for twisty, warpy, poorly ground, cracked, pitted, or severely and badly honed razors and give them a miss. Beware of overpriced jewelry that doesn't perform any better than a $100 new or $40 vintage razor, as well. Pretty doesn't shave. It just sorta sits there demanding admiration.
 
Hi.

My first post...



(i) do carbon steel razors exist; and

(ii) if they do, which models should I look for?

Welcome.

1 - yes
2 - doesn't matter much really, most vintage razors are carbon steel and most were made well. To be honest, you should be more concerned about condition and profile than steel type. There were many types of carbon steel used throughout the years and, for the most part, they all worked out just fine when the smith was competent. So, for example, nearly any Wade & Butcher razor that is in decent condition will shave very well if it is honed correctly.

But do you want full hollow, wedge, near wedge, 1/2 hollow, bellied full hollow, frame back, faux frame back, etc? Then - what size? 4/8 - 9/8 or larger? Figure that out, and you'll know more about what to look for and where. For example - if you want a 15/16" 1/2 hollow with a barber's notch, start looking into Sheffields and not so much into Japanese blades.

If the quest is a modern blade, you'll find TI using C135, Dovo uses some stainless still I believe, and then there are Artisans using all kinds of steels from 01, D2 and all the way through the spectrum to Tim Zowada's self-created Michegane steel.

There are people who will have preferences of one over the other - and yet others that will say there can't possibly be any differences between the steels.

IMO, the known makers out there are turning out good blades that take good edges. As for who can discern the subtle differences between those blades is up to the individual users to decide.

I'll put the weight of the equation on the smith - I don't think that, neccessarily, D2 is going to make a better blade than 01... I feel that it has to do with the maker's skills, not so much the bulk material but then again the material has to count to some degree, doesn't it?
Yes, I think it does but only as it applies or relates to the makers talents and skills.

But for someone's first razor, most of all of that is just superfluous considerations. Find a blade you like and want to shave with, get it honed and shave with it. You'll need a strop.

You can worry about Aogami, Shirogami, pearlite bands, grain structure, HRC, HT&T and the rest later after you know whether or not you even like shaving this way.
 
Hello All, Glad to read a little bit of info from some fellow steel enthusiasts! I'm a metals geek myself.
I love D2 steel and I think it would make an awesome razor. I've heard it called "semi-stainless" due to the really high chromium content, yet it is not as tough to sharpen as a true SS. For something that lives in a wet environment that sounds just about perfect. Downside is an edge can chip out pretty easily but we aren't putting force like boning an animal on a straight razor.
@Devon_Steven Interesting first post!
 
Thanks everyone for the very useful replies. I should apologise for the lack of contributions on my part - my first post coincided with an unusually busy period at work. But rest assured that I have been reading and considering all of the replies.

Dzaw: interesting to hear that heat treatment is being discussed here as well (as well in my normal kitchen knife world). Your observations on batch heat treatment also has interesting implications in the knife manufacture context. And thanks for teaching me what TL/DR means :O)

Slash: "Stainless steel CAN rust. Just not as easily." - there is a maxim on the kitchen knife forums that "stainless is just that, it stains less". Thanks for the guidance on sharpening also, very good info in your post.

Gamma: Also really good info. I don't yet know what style I will prefer. To be honest, I just want a cheapish used blade to play around with. I'm gradually learning how to spot a decent one. You're right about a strop. For my Japanese kitchen knives I strop with a piece of balsa wood. But with kitchen knives stropping isn't quite so critical, many cooks actually prefer a more serrated edge (some finish on 1,000 grit, or 1,200, or 3,000, 5,000, 6,000 or 8,000 - it depends on the appplication and 5-6K is about the finest in common use). Also, stropping a kitchen knife sure as hell makes it sharp, but if you're making contact with a cutting board, super sharpness doesn't last long. Having said all that, there are plenty cooks that use kangaroo (etc) leather strops and diamond paste...


Thanks everyone...

Steven
 

Chan Eil Whiskers

Fumbling about.
Hi.

My first post...

I have an interested in Japanese kitchen knives. A very important factor in a kitchen knife, as you can imagine, is the type of steel it is made from. Many (including me) have a preference for carbon steel as it takes a keen edge and - significantly - is easier to sharpen than most stainless varieties.

I thought I'd buy a used straight razor as an interesting thing to do, and immediately searched for carbon steel straight razors. But then I discovered that the type of steel is not something that is listed in sellers' descriptions of straight razors.

So my questions are:

(i) do carbon steel razors exist; and

(ii) if they do, which models should I look for?


Best wishes
Steven

Steven, good questions. Welcome to the forum. You'll find a lot of help here. Also you'll find rabbit holes galore.

Far, far, far more important. Of absolutely critical importance. Is the matching of the heat treatment to the steel’s specific chemistry.

‘Carbon steel’ could refer to any number of simpler carbon steels, but is also commonly used by laypersons to refer to tool steels, high carbon mold steels, high speed steels, and basically anything not stainless.

Conversely, ‘stainless’ could refer to any number of martensitic stainlesses, austinitic stainlesses, marriaging steels, precipitation hardening steels, etc.

Crucible makes a 440 grade modified with more carbon than typical for grade. This steel heat treated competently will vastly outperform most non stainlesses if they are heat treated less competently. Even if they are heat treated well, it will perform right there with all but the very best of artisan blades.

It is a sure bet that any non artisan made razor was heat treated in a batch with a bunch of fairly similar steels. Maybe even only razors from the same grinder in the case of the better ones. This sort of batch heat treating tends to lead to very small compromises in the HT for individual blades. That’s not necessarily a problem from the perspective of owning or using one such razor, but it really adds a lot of squishyness to the already not cut and fried difference between such broad catagories as ‘stainless’ vs ‘carbon’.

TL/DR: stainless or carbon is not at all a reliable indicator of blade performance.

Very helpful information. Especially about the 440 grade. I wondered what that designation meant.

What they said. If it don't say, it is almost certainly a carbon steel. And a good stainless razor from a reputable and competent maker is pretty much just as good as an equivelant carbon steel razor. Typically or I should say stereotypically the SS blade will be harder to hone but in practice there is little difference. In days past the national origin of steel made a big difference. Sheffield steel behaved a certain way. Swedish steel, German steel, American steel, all had their peculiarities, some real, some maybe more the stuff of legend than fact. But I am here to say that a Heljestrand Swedish blade can be much slower going to hone than a typical Solingen blade. All the major razor makers turned out good products, though. That's how they became major producers.

Stainless steel CAN rust. Just not as easily. So simply buying stainless won't eliminate the necessity of caring for it.

Almost any vintage razor from a well known manufacturer is worth having if it has not been damaged, abused, or severely worn like to a toothpick. Most modern razors of a certain price point will be good, though there are perhaps an exception or two. Mostly, cheap modern razors are not worth having, particularly if they originate in Pakistan and at one time that could possibly have been said about China but there are some razors coming out of PRC that while crudely ground by unskilled workers who obviously don't even shave with them, are actually made of surprisingly decent steel and can be made into very satisfying shavers. For instance, a Gold Dollar 1996 costing $11 can be honed right out of the box with no great amount of hassle and put to shaving immediately thereafter, if my 4 for 4 record is any indication. And the humble #66 is a fantastic bit of steel for modifying into a very nice razor indeed, though it can also be simply honed by someone not afraid to be a little aggressive with it.

Bottom line, most razors you will find are made from good steel except Pakistani junk and maybe an oddball here or there. Instead, be on the lookout for twisty, warpy, poorly ground, cracked, pitted, or severely and badly honed razors and give them a miss. Beware of overpriced jewelry that doesn't perform any better than a $100 new or $40 vintage razor, as well. Pretty doesn't shave. It just sorta sits there demanding admiration.

Makes me even happier about my as yet to be honed GD 1996, Slash.

I also discovered the other day that WSP's sharpening service won't work on all razors from China, but they will hone a Gold Dollar. I plan to hone my own though if I can learn (and why wouldn't I be able to?).

Happy shaves,

Jim
 

steveclarkus

Goose Poop Connoisseur
Steven, good questions. Welcome to the forum. You'll find a lot of help here. Also you'll find rabbit holes galore.



Very helpful information. Especially about the 440 grade. I wondered what that designation meant.



Makes me even happier about my as yet to be honed GD 1996, Slash.

I also discovered the other day that WSP's sharpening service won't work on all razors from China, but they will hone a Gold Dollar. I plan to hone my own though if I can learn (and why wouldn't I be able to?).

Happy shaves,

Jim
The GD 1996 was what I learned on - lucky move on my part.
 
So... maybe some of you all are aware of this, but I somehow found an old thread from 2015 with an article by a member of the Forum about building a custom kitchen knife. Here's the article-
Designing a Custom Kitchen Knife: A B&B Member's Experience - Badger & Blade
You never know what is gonna come up on this site!

Interesting. I know of the knifemaker, Cris Anderson. He is very well respected.

The knife looks like a sujihiki - a Japanese design, a double-bevelled slicing knife. Designed to make a slice of product (typically fish or meat) using a single pull stroke.

Actually, I should provide a better source than my own memory:

"Long, narrow, thin blade knife for slicing cooked and raw meats and cleaning fat. In Japanese, Suji means tendon, Biki - pull."

From: Sujihiki Type Japanese Kitchen Knife Definition
 
[QUOTE=" To be honest, I just want a cheapish used blade to play around with. I'm gradually learning how to spot a decent one. [/QUOTE]

If you want a very nicely sharpened vintage razor to just learn with contact Larry at Whippeddog. Get one of his sight unseen razors. They are cheap, and shave well. Will not be the most pretty necessarily but will get you going for sure.
 

Chan Eil Whiskers

Fumbling about.
[QUOTE=" To be honest, I just want a cheapish used blade to play around with. I'm gradually learning how to spot a decent one.

If you want a very nicely sharpened vintage razor to just learn with contact Larry at Whippeddog. Get one of his sight unseen razors. They are cheap, and shave well. Will not be the most pretty necessarily but will get you going for sure.[/QUOTE]

Bad answer. Used to be a good answer but not now...

upload_2018-10-15_12-49-15.png


That's from the website. Today.

Happy shaves,

Jim
 
Regarding the above I contacted Larry at Whipped Dog recently and he said we was getting too many special requests with the Sight Unseen so he is just going to photograph them and list them all separately now.
 
Very interesting. I just ordered some stuff from him a few days ago, its in the mail now. You are correct, they weren't "true" sight unseen. They did have a description. However still cheap and you know it will be sharp.
 
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