IntroductionFrom the very early 1900s until 1963, Rolls Razor Ltd. (London, England) produced and sold some of the finest razors ever made. Known the world over, they were ingeniously engineered and superbly constructed. Moreover, their metal cases - most of them ornamented with the Ancient Greek "key" design - remain prized today as excellent examples of Art Deco. In the early Twentieth Century, while King Gillette and others began marketing their disposable blades, Rolls Razor Ltd. opted to employ the ancient principles of blade honing and stropping to create a safety razor designed to last a lifetime. They succeeded brilliantly - albeit a century too late, perhaps. I have no doubt the majority of all Rolls Razors ever made are still around somewhere. Although many remain hidden away in trunks, attics, and basements, there is lively traffic in them on eBay.
I first saw a Rolls Razor being used in 1966, and was fascinated immediately: a razor with a permanent blade and its own sharpening system! For years thereafter, I would check antique barns and flea markets, hoping to find one in good working condition. Unfortunately, those that I did find had been long neglected, and were in rough shape. Finally, I stopped looking until I discovered eBay's auctions!
At least two generations have grown up with disposable razor blades and, later, entirely disposable razors. The "throw-away society" is in full swing. Who on Earth would be willing to hone and strop a razor anymore? Unfortunately, in our race for convenience, we have discarded far more than consumer goods. I would offer that maintaining a "razor-sharp" blade teaches self-reliance, discipline, and material conservation: old-fashioned values with enormous application today. Well, enough preaching; you get the picture, I'm sure.
I have acquired a small collection of Rolls Razors, all through eBay. A few came to me in mint condition; others looked more like hard-driven farm equipment than razors, and most were somewhere in-between. However, with a little TLC, every one of them is service-ready once again--another tribute to their enduring quality.
The logo of Rolls Razor Ltd. is "The Whetter." He's on every razor case, faithfully maintaining that famous edge. Well, I have news for you. As of this moment, that's YOU! Read all the company's instructions carefully. Every word was written for a purpose. What follow are merely amplifying notes to those instructions. Once you have actually used the razor a few times, it will seem like second nature. There is no need to be afraid of using the razor! It is designed to give you a superb, safe shave. All Rolls Razors are basically the same; what you learn using one generally applies to any other model; and you just may be tempted to acquire more.
We can't go back in time (yet), but we can take some good tips from days gone by. One of them is that shaving should be a pleasant experience. - Enjoy your "new" Rolls Razor!
Using the Razor
- Open the hone lid. This is the one showing "The Whetter" (Company logo). Put the hone lid in a secure place where it won't be in the way or fall off the sink.
- Lift up on the operating handle, and gently push the handle slightly forward over the leather strop. This will make the blade swing upwards. When the blade is vertical, hold the operating handle in that position. While doing so, tilt the whole case slightly to allow the shaving handle to roll out of its storage place (in the side of the casing) into your hand. Remove the shaving handle, and place the razor case back on the countertop. Twist the blade a quarter-turn to the right or left, thus releasing it from the mounting pin. Remove the blade. Next, carefully put everything but the shaving handle and the blade to one side, away from the sink basin. You don't want any water to get into the casing, or on the strop, while you shave. When you move the casing, be sure the mounting pin remains vertical over the strop (the pin is sharp, and should never be allowed to touch the leather strop).
- Attach the blade to the shaving handle. If your shaving handle unscrews in the middle, loosen it until the blade bracket is completely clear. Next, slide the blade into the bracket, and center it on the handle. Work close to your sink's countertop (helps prevent damage to the blade, should it slip from your hand). While holding the blade in place, tighten the handle until the blade is held firmly in position. Older, "one-piece" handles have a little ball-detent, which holds the blade once it is properly mounted in the bracket. Again, work close to your countertop! Lastly, be sure the metal blade guard is below the blade's edge. Your razor is now ready for shaving.
- Wash your face with soap and hot water: it softens the whiskers. Next, apply your favorite shaving soap, cream, or gel. Rolls Razors come from the days when shaving brushes were common. I recommend using a shaving brush and a good quality shaving soap (see Appendix for sources). In any case, keep that soap, cream, or gel handy - in case you want to go over a rough spot again. Never dry-shave; it hurts - and it's the fastest way to dull any razor.
- Dip the blade in lukewarm water just before you start shaving. When holding the handle, I hook my index finger right below the blade, while resting the handle's base on my ring finger. Always keep the face of the blade flat, or nearly flat, against your skin as you shave! The blade is designed to work at the same angle a master barber maintains when using a straight razor. This probably is the single most difficult thing to remember, because almost all of us grew up using the later razors (which are designed to be held at a much greater angle). If the blade is shaving you without any noise, or very little noise, you probably have the angle right. - It takes a bit of practice, but you'll get it. Rinse your blade in lukewarm water frequently as you shave.
- Shave in long, steady strokes. If the blade is sharp, you'll not even feel it. As much as possible, try to shave with the grain of your beard. Check for any spots you may want to go over once more.
- When you're satisfied you've had a terrific shave, rinse both sides of the blade thoroughly in hot water, and remove it from the shaving handle. Be sure to work close to your countertop! Tap out the water in the blade mounting hole into a towel, blow out the remaining moisture, and then pad both sides of the blade dry with your towel. The residual heat in the blade will help dry any hidden moisture. Remember: you want that blade nice and dry. "Rust ruins razors," as Rolls Razor Ltd. liked to say.
- Return the blade to its mounting pin, locking it in place with a quarter-turn. If the friction clip wings resist the turning of the blade into position, lift the blade slightly as you turn. Then, gently lower the blade onto the strop, using the operating handle.
- Now, you're ready to strop the blade. Always strop after every shave, with the blade still warm from the hot water rinse. With the blade resting on the strop, grasp the operating handle in one hand, and the razor casing in the other. I usually do this while sitting down. Since I'm right-handed, my left hand cradles the casing on my right knee, and my right hand works the operating handle. How you grip the handle is a matter of preference. Just be sure that the operating handle stays "in the middle of the road"--that is, favoring neither the left nor the right side of the razor casing. Don't squeeze the casing or the operating handle too tightly. I recommend you follow the "Four-Way Stropping Procedure": First, position the casing so that the single latch-hole of the hone lid is away from you. Push/pull rapidly for about fifteen seconds, going the full length of travel in both directions. The sound you want to hear is like someone saying the word, "batter" as fast as he can. Next, reverse the casing's orientation to you (the single latch hole should now be close to you, while the hone lid's double mounting slots are at the far end). Strop again rapidly for another fifteen seconds. At this point, I recommend you reverse the blade on its mounting pin and repeat the two stropping procedures. That totals to four, fifteen-second stropping segments, thus exposing the blade to all possible orientations on the strop. Stropping restores the blade's edge by taking out the microscopic dents caused by contact with your whiskers. That's why stropping a warm blade is more effective than when the blade is cold. It's blacksmithing at the microscopic level! The natural surface of the leather is the active agent in stropping. Like our skin, it may appear smooth, but the microscope reveals a rugged terrain. More on this when we discuss strop maintenance.
- When you finish stropping, leave the operating handle all the way at one end or the other. Be sure to place the blade's safety guard down so that it rests directly on the strop. Doing so will elevate the blade slightly, keeping the edge away from prolonged contact with the strop leather (which is slightly acidic).
- Dry the shaving handle thoroughly. If you have a two-piece handle, unscrew it and blow the moisture out of the top half; then towel both halves dry (all of this takes about ten seconds). Now it's time to put the shaving handle back in its place inside the frame. You have a choice of which side to use: both are contoured to accept the handle. With the blade still in place on the strop, simply angle the base of the shaving handle over the blade and into its groove. When properly in position, the handle's blade bracket will point away from the blade. Next, put the operating handle down on the strop. Notice how that secures the shaving handle in place. Such imaginative engineering!
- Finally, put the hone lid back in place. Don't "snap" the lid closed. Instead, keep the release button depressed until the lid is firmly back in place. Then release the button. Do this whenever you close either lid. It saves wear and tear on the lid's latch mechanism (the same guidance also applies to lidded pocket watches).
- Congratulations! You have just completed your first Rolls Razor shave! Don't forget to rinse your face, and your shaving brush. Be sure to shake out your brush thoroughly, and let it air-dry (hanging it upside down is best).
HoningEventually (the time varies with each person), stropping will no longer restore the blade's edge. You will know when you're nearing that point, and that's the time to hone. Honing resets the blade's edge by removing damaged metal, while preserving the edge's proper angle. Because it removes metal, honing should be done as sparingly as possible. Stropping pulls the blade, while honing pushes it. Both operations use the same back-and-forth motion, but honing is done at a much slower and gentler pace. I find that honing is most effective if one hand holds the razor in place on a firm surface (like a desk or countertop), while the other hand works the operating handle.
It's easy to slap the blade on the hone when reversing directions. Don't do that; the edge will suffer, and you could damage the hone! The following is the best guidance I have ever seen about proper honing. It came from the factory - a small, printed card accompanying a 1936 Imperial No.2 model:
"Hone so gently that two distinct clicks can be heard: one when the blade guard contacts the hone, and the other when the blade follows through the guard."
Over the past eight years, I gradually arrived at the following honing sequence. I call it "The Four-Way Method".
This really does work well (and really is work as well). However, it's the only method I know that can deliver maximum sharpness by averaging-out the irregularities of each particular razor (e.g.: imperfect hones and strops, pressure imbalances, etc).
- First: Gently hone for at least thirty seconds with the strop lid's latch hole at the far end from you. Don't slap the blade, and listen for "the two clicks". Take more time if you want; there are no prizes for speed.
- Second: Bring the latch-hole end toward you and hone for an equal amount of time (the strop lid's two mounting slots should be at the far end from you now).
- Third and Fourth: Reverse the blade on its mounting pin and repeat the last two steps. That amounts to at least two minutes of honing, in every possible orientation. Of course, if the blade's condition warrants it, you will need to hone more.
Good honing is a skill that comes with practice; the key is fine control of the hand muscles. That is why I put my index finger through the operating handle loop: it seems to help with those minute movements. Always strop after honing (see the preceding section).
Strop MaintenanceA good rule of thumb: if it's time to hone, is it also time to dress the strop? A strop that is dried-out, hard, or cracked will not restore the blade; in fact, it could damage the blade. You will see your strop daily, so just remember to check if it remains supple, and free of dirt and grit. I have done some research on strops, and the great majority of references I encountered say leather's natural surface is ideal for stropping purposes. Using an effective strop dressing regularly is essential! After trying a number of things, I have had good luck with Lubriderm skin lotion (unscented). You can buy it just about anywhere. If you use Lubriderm, you should dress the strop weekly. I have discovered that 100% pure Vitamin E oil (tocopheryl acetate) also makes a wonderful strop dressing (see Appendix). Do not use mink oil, neat's-foot oil, baseball glove oil, etc. on your strop. When in doubt, stick with the Lubriderm.
To dress the strop, I strongly recommend you first remove it from its lid by prying it up with a toothpick placed in the larger of the two indentations at the lid's base. Gently pull the strop up from the lid's edges, and away from the two strop clips. - Be careful not to bend the clips in the process! Place the strop on a flat working surface - like your kitchen counter. Any soil or grit should be wiped away with a soft cloth. If necessary, minor scratches and cuts can be sanded out with #400 grit sandpaper (sand the entire strop lengthwise, very lightly and evenly). Next, squeeze a quarter-size drop of dressing onto the strop, and work it into the leather thoroughly with your fingers. Let it dry, and apply a second coat. If you are using Lubriderm, the strop should be dry enough to use within half an hour. Wipe away any excess residue, and return the strop to its lid. Be careful to slip the strop fully underneath the two holding clips, and then press it beneath the lid's edges (all three remaining sides). Using your thumbnail, ensure it's properly seated all around.
LubricationLike any machine with moving parts, your razor eventually will need fresh lubrication. First, remove both lids (strop and hone), the shaving handle, and the blade. Clean away the old lubricant, using a non-toxic solvent (I recommend Goo-Gone), a toothbrush, and a lint-free rag. Thoroughly clean the gear wheels, gear tracks, roller wheels, and both sides of the operating handle base. Wipe them dry with a clean, lint-free rag. Next, use a toothpick to apply fresh lubricant (don't use a cotton swab; the cotton filaments will get caught in the gears and other parts). Apply a small amount of Vaseline or Chapstick (about the size of a bb) to the place where the gear wheels on either side meet their tracks. Also, inspect the three grooves on the brass spindle (beneath the friction clip). If needed, give each groove a small "pinpoint" of Vaseline or Chapstick (smaller than a bb). In all cases, avoid using too much lubricant. Give the operating handle a few double-strokes, and then wipe away any stray lubricant from all other surfaces. The roller wheels and their tracks always should be free of grease and dirt. Replace the blade and the stropping lid, and test-strop the blade with a few double-strokes: all parts should run smoothly. Check again for any excess grease. Finally, return the shaving handle and the hone lid to their proper places.
With the exception of the brass spindle's three grooves (one on each side of the operating handle, and one centered beneath the friction clip), do not lubricate the brass spindle, or any part of the friction clip assembly. - Those parts provide the system with the resistance needed for proper stropping and honing, and any lubrication will defeat their purpose.
Field Stripping the Razor, and Cleaning the Friction ClipKeep an eye on that brass spindle: you can see it running through the bottom of the friction clip. It should never have any grease on it, but sometimes that does happen. The telltale signs are black, greasy streaks on the brass cylinder surface. If you see that, you need to clean the friction clip assembly. To do that, it's necessary to field strip the razor. This is not difficult, and actually is the best time to clean and re-lubricate the entire mechanism.
Remove the hone lid just as you would to begin shaving. Then, remove the shaving handle and the strop lid. Lastly, remove the blade. Now, you are ready to take apart the friction clip assembly. Find the bottom of the clip, and - with your thumbnails - pry both edges of the clip off the spindle. Next, give the mounting pin a quarter-turn (so that its base runs parallel to the clip axis). Push the pin over to a 45-degree angle, and wiggle it through and out of the clip barrel. For later models, remove the clip wings next (older model clip wings are part of the clip itself). Finally, using the mounting pin base, push the celluloid clip liner out of the clip barrel.
Clean each friction clip part thoroughly with Goo-Gone, and wipe dry. Thoroughly degrease the brass spindle, including all three of the spindle's grooves, and wipe dry. Next, using a toothpick, apply just a small "pinpoint" of Vaseline or Chapstick within each of the three grooves. The idea here is to give the three grooves the lubrication they need, without giving so much that it flows onto the spindle cylinder.
You now are ready to re-assemble the friction clip, and return it to its place on the spindle. Insert the liner, replace the clip wings, and wiggle the mounting pin through the hole in the clip barrel. Don't forget to give the mounting pin a quarter-turn, so that its base is at right angles to the clip axis inside the barrel. Place the clip assembly over the brass spindle, being careful to center it. Press both ends straight down with your thumbs. If you're lucky, the clip and pin will snap right into place. If not, and the pin seems to be hung-up, press the clip down gently while carefully wiggling the pin - until the pin's base seats itself within the central groove on the spindle. The clip should then spring right into position on the spindle. If you still have trouble, carefully remove the friction clip assembly, and ensure the mounting pin base is locked-in at right angles to the clip axis. Also, check to see that the mounting pin has passed free and clear through the clip's central hole, its barb upright above the clip wings. Then, try putting the clip assembly on the spindle again.
And that's as far into the razor as you should ever need to go. Further disassembly is tricky, and requires special tools and supervision. In the unlikely event something goes wrong with the gears or gear tracks, ask for advice (see Appendix).
DatingIf there is an original blade in the kit, the end of the blade spine will be stamped with the date of manufacture (2 digit year), next to the word razor. If it does not have a 2 digit year, then it was a replacement blade and all bets are off. 
- The shaving handle can be stored in two different ways: hooked over the central loop of the operating handle, or in the side of the frame. I prefer putting it in the channel provided in the side of the frame. The handle is securely stowed there, and there's no danger of accidental contact with the hone.
- The hone is very fragile; protect it! Never use a cracked or broken hone; you will damage your blade. If you break the hone, buy another (see Appendix).
- After long use, the hone may develop a surface sheen. If so, you can restore it. First, carefully remove the hone from its lid by gently prying it up from the base of the lid. Then, gently scrub it with a toothbrush and a paste made of baking soda, water and a little dish washing liquid. Rinse and air-dry the hone thoroughly, and return it to its lid. Be sure to keep the beveled edge of the hone facing up in its lid, and at the end opposite the lid's two hold-down clips. The hone can also be lapped like any waterstone or barber hone. You can use a sheet of 600 grit sandpaper on a flat surface or any lapping stone.
- Rolls Razors do not travel well. Leave yours at home, and take your Mach-3 with you on your trip. You'll travel lighter, the airport security folks will be happy, and your Rolls will love the time off!
- Have at least one extra blade (see Appendix). Strange as it may seem, the blade really does benefit from a few days rest. I think the edge slowly realigns itself when left alone. This is mentioned in the original instructions, and I initially dismissed it. However, it's true - you'll be amazed!
- Keep your spare blade lightly coated with Vaseline, but remember to wipe it clean before using it again.
- I have a solar water heater, and that means hot tap water isn't available in the early morning. If you have a similar situation, microwave an eight-ounce cup of water for about two minutes. Use it to make a good, hot lather with your shaving brush and bowl. The water will remain quite hot after you finish shaving - perfect for the blade's final rinse before stropping, and also for your shaving brush's final rinse.
- Just before shaving, strop the blade for about fifteen seconds in at least half of the four possible orientations (see the stropping section, above). It really makes a big difference. - I guess that's why barbers strop their straight razors just before using them. You still must strop after shaving, however!
- eBay has anything you ever would need for shaving, and usually well below retail prices. Always buy new items (unless you want something old for sentimental reasons). The searches "rolls razor", "shaving brush", "shaving brush holder", and "shaving soap" will display lots of choices in each category. Many items are immediately available with the "Buy It Now" option. However, shaving soaps and brushes differ wildly in quality Caveat Emptor! Stick with name brands unless you know the vendor.
- Strop dressings: Lubriderm is inexpensive and works just fine - but make sure you dress your strop weekly. Fromm #364 Strop Dressing is superb, and is available on the Internet. 100% pure (28,000 I.U.) Vitamin E oil (tocopheryl acetate) is available from Colonial Dámes. It's over $7.00 for one ounce, but it really keeps the strop leather in nice condition.
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