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Vintage Coticule Shootout

I have been honing and using straight razors for a little more than 6 months. I have tried a number of different finishing options. Shapton Pro 12k, CNat, JNat, Black Ark, Translucent Ark, Jasper, CBN, Diamond Paste, etc. But I keep coming back to coticules. I like that you can go from bevel set to finish to with one stone. I like that I get an edge that is plenty sharp to shave but extremely smooth and unlikely to cut my face. I now have 4 different vintage coticules in my collection. And I decided it was time to do a little comparison to see how each performed relative to the others. Some of you may have seen this on the razor thread on KKF. I will be going more in depth and have more thoughts, info, pics, and vids to share about my journey here.

I honed up a dozen razors. 3 razors for each coticule. I picked razors that were in good vintage shape. They came from my "No Major Issues" box. Which means they can just be cleaned and honed and used. Some have wonky bevels/chips/minor pitting or blemishes. But nothing that will affect shaving that can't be fixed on the stones. I did three razors on each coticule. Each razor has had the bevel fixed and set with the Shapton Pro 1500. After that each got the exact same progression, just with different coticules.

Honing Progression
Dilucot - 3 rounds, diminishing pressure as I go. All edge leading on the hones and edge trailing on the strops
1. Medium slurry generated by the other coticules - 50 laps
2. Dilute by 1/2 - 50 laps
3. Flood with fresh water, drop of propylene glycol - 50 laps

4. Plain linen strop - 50 laps
5. Horsehide Shell Strop - 50 laps

Coticule #1
This is my fastest coticule. It is a natural combination with a Belgian blue. The feedback of this coticule, both tactile and audio, is kind of grainy. And there is a visible grain structure to the stone. There are faint traces of the blue material visible in layers from the side view. There is also a line of blue material that seems to have seeped into the yellow material at some point during formation. At first glance it looks like a crack but you can't feel it with a fingertip, fingernail, or while honing. The size is 6 X 1 3/8". At first, I was unable to get quality edges off of this stone like I could off of the Shapton Pro 12K or my Arkansas stones. But gradually, my technique improved. The edges still don't feel especially sharp, but they effortlessly get the job done. I think that this coticule pairs especially well with heavier grinds. It would not be my preference for finishing something that was very hollow. Bevel setting is definitely possible on this stone. It would be quite slow for fixing repairs, but for a coticule it is quite quick. For the mid grit to pre finishing stage, this is the best stone I own. Here are some pictures.

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Coticule #2 - 4 3/4 X 1 1/4"
This was the second vintage coticule I purchased. It is a glued combination with BBW. It is slightly smaller but still a fairly convenient size for razors. No visible grain. Surface is kind of blotchy though. Patches where there is more yellow, blue, or pink. Smoother feedback, not as much feeling of bite. Lower pitch sound, more muffled. Generally I like the edges off this one better but I like the first one for the rest of the honing process due to sheer speed. I am not sure how hardness/softness relate to the fineness/coarseness with coticules. But this one feels finer and softer than the first one.


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Stay Tuned. More to come.
 
Coticule #3
This one is more similar to #2 than to #1. It is a glued combination stone. Soft and creamy. Very yellow in color. The size is 5X1". Not as fast as #1, not as fine as #2. Still a great stone, but my least favorite of the 4.

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Coticule #4
This last one is kind of an oddball. JR Torrey of Worcester, MA produced a lot of razors. They also sold strops and hones. I purchased a 4 in 1 combination paddle strop/hone system. I believe it was produced between about 1880 and 1900. The hone portion of the system is labelled Italian Old Rock honing stone. I did some research and this is almost certainly just the marketing name for a particular type of Belgian coticule. I was extremely impressed with this stone. It was both fast and fine. Not as creamy or as smooth as #2 but sharper and I believe that it was as fast or faster than #1.



Torrey Coticule


Here is a list of the razors. I used each one once. I'll go more in depth with pictures and videos as I have the time.

Coticule #1
1. Oxford Germania Solingen 5/8 Hollow
2. Solingen Red Imp Wedge 5/8 Quarter Hollow
3. Torrey Our Beauty MA 4/8 Hollow

Coticule #2
4. Union Razor Works NY 5/8 Hollow
5. Unknown Solingen with Stainless Scales 5/8 Half Hollow
6. New England Razor Co English Steel MA 5/8 Hollow

Coticule #3
7. Genco Pyramid 6/8 Hollow
8. Solingen Red Imp 5/8 Hollow
9. Bowdin's Art MN 5/8 Hollow

Coticule #4
10. J. Wostenholm Ebro 5/8 Hollow
11. Friedmann and Lauterjung Electric 5/8 Hollow
12. Henckel's Friodur Inox 5/8 Hollow
 

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Razor #1 Oxford Warranted Germany
Adolph Kastor started off importing knives from Germany to the US in the 1870s. After the tariffs of the 1890s Kastor began manufacturing knives as well. There are a million brands associated with Kastor. And lots of private label stuff for hardware stores (Simmons, HibbardSpencerBartlett), department stores (Sears Roebuck), hotels and grocers is confirmed or suspected to be produced by Kastor related companies.
Camillus
Germania
Oxford
Imperial
Wadsworth
WH Morley

I was not super impressed with this shave. The razor seemed to struggle and tug a little on my neck. This is not the ideal finishing hone for this razor. But it worked fine.
I deliberately picked my weakest finishing coticule first. I actually use this one the most. It's fantastically fast from bevel set to pre finish and then it never really gets any better. The shave was as I expected. Plenty of sharp enough for my cheeks and mustache. My neck was rough. I usually do one pass South and one pass North. With this coticule I always get a little worried because the south pass it seems to just barely get through. But then you do the other pass and a little tugging, but it's alright. Beats the hell out of contact slices from an ultra lively edge any day.
And then you think, well it's not really that close, it didn't feel that close. But you wash your face and it looks pretty good. And you think well it won't last. But it does. It just works. No thrills but no risks either.

Actually out of the 12 razors I tested this was the least successful shave. That had me a little worried at first and scared that my experiment was going to be a painful failure. But all of the other ones I tested performed markedly better. I will go back and try and bring this one up a little with Coticule #2 or #4 and see if that improves things.

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Razor #2 - Red Imp Wedge, 5/8, Quarter Hollow


This one is quality. I was impressed. The fast coticule plus a little heavier grind is a real winning combo for me. The red imp 132 wedge is about a half hollow. It has a sister the 133 that is about 3/4 hollow. They are great razors with terrible scales. I got lucky on this one, the scales are great. So was the shave. The extra weight eliminated the tugging problem I had with the lighter blade on the previous day. Sometimes I find that with a heavier grind it's not a good idea to get it too keen. More likely to get weepers or contact slices than a similarly keen hollow razor. Your technique has to be more perfect. These razors were made by several German manufacturers over the years. Later versions were made in the US by Case. I believe that this particular one was made in the 1920s in Solingen by Giesen and Forsthoff for import by Morris MFG of Warren/Detroit, MI. I love this razor.

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Razor #3 JR Torrey "Our Beauty"
Well known around here, at least on Tuesday. Torrey's were produced in Worcester, MA for about a hundred years. Something like 1850-1950. If I had to guess, I would put this one in the 1920s.
This one is a little bit dainty for my preferences. Thin spine, 9/16 wide, very hollow. The faux tortoise scales are lightweight. The shave was uneventful. Plenty keen enough. Very comfy, especially around the mustache. I would like to find one of these in good shape in 6/8. I have one but it's in really rough shape and by the time I get rid of all the rust and pitting it will probably end up a 4/8.

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Coticule #1 Recap
Grainy looking, feeling, and sounding. Extremely fast. This is my "go to" workhorse for middle grit work. It can replace all synthetic stones from 2-10k. It works better with heavier grinds and/or harder steels. Doesn't produce the keenest edge or the closest shave but plenty smooth.
 
Day #4 Union Razor Works NY Bone Scales
Coticule #2 - The Returning Champion
Coticule #2 is a true finisher in my opinion. I would not hesitate to sell a razor finished on this hone so being shave ready. That first one is just not quite there. I get irritation from tugging on my neck and the against the grain pass on the mustache is not as close or as smooth cutting as I prefer. That is a delicate balance, because when you try to up the keenness it's difficult to maintain the smoothness. I really enjoyed my shave with the Imp wedge. But that's an exceptional razor in great shape with a heavier grind. The 1890s hollow grinds on the other two just didn't get enough firepower out of this stone to suit me. I don't think it would take much to bump them up. And back to that balancing act. I never get tugging with my Japanese razors finished on CBN. But I never get contact slices or weepers with a razor finished on a coticule.

When I started this experiment I had experience with 2 of the coticules. The other 2 I had not used yet. I knew that the first one was fast but difficult to finish on. And I knew that this second one was pretty much the exact opposite. Slow but provides a fantastic finish. Both sharp and smooth. Fantastic creamy feedback. Up first is a Union Razor Works, NY 5/8 hollow with bone scales. Not to be confused with the Case family affiliated Union Razor Co. of Tidioute, PA that later moved to Olean, NY and became the Union Cutlery Co. Also not to be confused with the Union Razor Cutlery Co. of Union City, GA.

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Heavy but even hone wear. This thing has cut some whiskers over the years. The shave was excellent. No pulling. This stone is the creamiest and finest of the four and the edge produced reflects the feedback.

Day #5
I used a stainless steel scaled razor that is simply marked "SOLINGEN". I think that these stainless steel versions were surgical razors. At least, 2 similar razors that I have verified were surgical models. A Heljestrand and a French one made by Guyot. Heavier grind. I would call it quarter hollow or eighth hollow maybe if that is a thing. The blade width is less than 5/8 but it still feels substantial in your hand due to the grind and the heft of the steel scales. This thing is a precision instrument. I imagine that this blade with the narrow width and stiff heavy grind could be pretty exhilarating with a jasper or Jnat edge. The grind is perfect for me and with this coticule edge it becomes a velvet squeegee. I did a rub with alum block after and there was no burn whatsoever.

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