The Myth of the "Beginner" Straight Razor

“Which straight razor would you recommend for a beginner?”

Our recommendation is to start with a quality straight razor which is guaranteed shave-ready...

This is perhaps the most frequently asked question we receive, and one we address by saying: there’s no such thing as a “beginner razor”.
This answer reflects the goal set for all of our customers: we want to help you find the last razor you will ever need. Our recommendation is to start with a quality straight razor which is guaranteed shave-ready that will last a lifetime. All other considerations including point shape, size, and length, and on and on for 10,000 forum pages are secondary. A straight razor is a lifetime investment, so go with your gut and get the one that looks and feels right to you. That razor is the only one with which you will enjoy practicing your shaving skills and take pride in using day after day. Because straight shaving is a skill you will need to practice, you should choose the straight razor that you’ll be excited about using! Making the investment for a quality razor as someone who is new to straight shaving is safer, shortens the learning curve, and saves you money in the long term. After that, it’s just about enjoying your shave.

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Safety

Buying quality assures that your razor will be sharper, and therefore safer to use. A sharp blade cuts through hair smoothly, predictably, and reliably with little effort. A dull blade might pull, tug, snag, or require additional pressure to cut hair. Imagine applying more pressure to your face with a dull blade, snagging on tough hair. You push a little harder and the razor suddenly snaps free… Hopefully it’s traveling in a safe direction when you overcorrect out of reflex. Need we say more?

The Learning Curve

Straight shaving can seem awfully complicated. One way to learn a new, complicated skill more effectively is to break it down into smaller, simpler, more manageable tasks. Crawl, then walk, then run.

Buying a quality razor from a reputable manufacturer allows you to feel what “shave-ready” really means from the start. It also spares you the uncertainty of manufacturer defect and leaves fewer variables to consider when a shave doesn’t go well. For example, if your razor is sharp but you’re still experiencing pulling/irritation, then we know you should look at your shave prep: has the hair had enough time with moisture to soften? Is your shave lather too dry? If your razor was shave-ready but suddenly isn’t, you might have damaged the edge with improper stropping or hitting it on the faucet.

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These are all problems that can be figured out. To fix manufacturing defects like faulty grinds and bevel angles, which are hard to notice much less fix, you’ll need special tools and skills. Improper heat treatment or a ruined temper is practically invisible until you attempt to hone the razor, and cannot be repaired at all. Buying quality allows you to focus on the things you can control, like prep and shaving technique.

Save Money

Buying a quality razor from a reputable manufacturer allows you to feel what “shave-ready” really means from the start

Simply put, quality razors are easier to use, they shave better, the edges are sharper and last longer thanks to proper heat treatment and handling, and they last forever. They cost more upfront, however. The price tag can be hard to swallow, but what you are paying for is craftsmanship and materials. Cutting corners on production costs to make a razor more affordable typically result in something that won’t shave at all.

If you are the type of person who likes to “test the waters” by trying the cheapest version of something before investing in a more quality option, understand that your experience with a cheaply-made razor will not be comparable to one made by skilled craftspeople. Sooner rather than later you’ll have to pay for it to be sharpened, or replaced with a better razor because it couldn’t be sharpened to begin with. In the long run, the more expensive razor will require less maintenance, be easier to fix when something goes wrong, and will last longer than a cheaper alternative.

Story time: I learned to drive in a beat-up manual transmission vehicle that was barely road-worthy and had all kinds of problems. But (and this is the important part) it was cheap! A “perfect first car”, according to my dad. And since I didn’t have anything to compare it to… well, I honestly thought I was just a bad driver. It wasn’t until years later, when I had the opportunity to drive a stick shift in decent condition, that I realized it might not have been my fault driving that clunker was such a pain. Learning to drive on a broken-down piece of junk had also taught me a lot of bad habits which then had to be unlearned when I was finally able to upgrade. All this to say: it would have spared us all a lot of time, money, and inconvenience if we’d been willing to spend a little more on the front end.

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Final Thoughts

We may be straight razor enthusiasts to our core, but we can appreciate why they might not be for everyone. If you find yourself disinterested, don’t fret or throw the razor in the trash! You can always keep it tucked away in a drawer or proudly on display as a work of functional art until you feel the urge to try again. If you are secure in your decision to move on, consider gifting it to a friend or selling it online! A quality straight razor holds value and will be snatched up by straight shavers more eager than yourself.

Now, if you find you’ve caught the razor bug and you want to upgrade to something custom, go for it! Your old razor will be ready for you in the event you want to revisit it, or you can pass it on to another budding enthusiast when the time is right.






FAQ: Will it Hone? | Why Some Straight Razors Can Be Honed to Shaving Sharp and Some Cannot

"Can you hone this razor? I found it in xyz and I don’t know if it’s worth the trouble…” We’ve honed thousands of razors and want to offer up some guidance on the subject. You might be surprised to learn just how far-gone a straight razor can appear on the outside while still being a good candidate for use as a daily shaver! Often a straight razor just needs a little TLC - one of many reasons why straight razors are the ultimate shaving solution! In this post we explain what we look for in evaluating the quality and condition of a straight razor prior to honing and provide some photo samples of what can or cannot be honed.

What we look for in a straight razor

The primary considerations we assess when determining “honeability” are the maker/manufacturer of the razor, materials used, and wear and tear. Other factors which affect the quality of the razor include the workmanship, how it was heat treated, and how it was handled after heat treatment during finish grinding.

Maker/Manufacturer

If the maker or manufacturer is known and the razor isn’t rusted through or burned away by a grinder, it can likely be honed to shaving sharp. Cheap, re-branded razors made in China & Pakistan are an exception. These are widely available online and marketed as “shaving sharp” when few actually keep an edge. We call these things “razor shaped objects” and are easily identifiable by their… shall we say ‘inconsistent’(?) workmanship, mystery metals, and luxury materials (Damascus steel, buffalo horn, brass-lined scales, etc) at insanely low prices. One such manufacturer even stole our process photos in an effort to appear more legitimate! This is a classic instance of “you get what you pay for” and while some of these razors retain a pretty good edge, just know that it’s a gamble as to whether or not a razor matching this description is honeable. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.

By contrast, a vintage razor which is not rusted through is practically a sure bet (we aspire to have the same said of our straight razors in 100 years!). By virtue of its survival, we can tell that it was made by skilled workers using quality materials. In the case of a vintage razor, the main thing to look for is rust. Light surface rust or patina (discoloration of the steel over time) isn’t much of a problem, but if rust--usually red--has penetrated from one side of the blade to the other, it is unlikely to produce a perfect edge.

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Diagnosis: it will not hone!

This modern razor is of unknown make and clearly white labeled/re-branded with a laser on the blade’s face. It has a few telltale signs of poor quality:
- uneven grind
- a cheap flathead screw at the pivot instead of pins and washers or a countersunk high quality screw
- chunky box-like scales
- a mirror polish which is very difficult to achieve on a properly heat treated razor with high hardness. The low cost of this razor was disclosed to us and it was a red flag that this razor was most likely not heat-treated properly as a way to save costs on the labor a mirror-finish requires.

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Diagnosis: it will hone…?

This vintage Sheffield blade shows some signs of neglect. The red rust needs careful polishing/removal before we can determine how deep it goes, but the edge looks relatively clear of rust! Because the edge is rust free, we’ll have this razor sent in so we may determine if the rust does not penetrate through the blade. If the rust has compromised the blade, we will refund the honing service fee.

Materials

Vintage razors are almost universally made with high-carbon steels. Some will have brand names like “blue steel” or “silver steel,” but all are of relatively high quality if they have survived a few decades or twenty. High carbon steel is relatively easy to work and heat treat, resulting in harder, sharper blades. The heat treatment is, in reality, the most important invisible step in making any blade. It’s also the easiest corner to cut during manufacturing, since softer metals are easier to grind and errors only become apparent during sharpening. Steel which is improperly heat treated will be softer, more flexible, and unstable in the microscopic dimensions required for a razor’s edge.

There are many stainless blade steels available, many of which can make a fine razor steel. We are very proud of our stainless razors and take great care in owning our heat treating process. Even 440C stainless does the job well… if heat treated properly. To retain their stainless properties, they must be heated in an anoxic (oxygen-free) environment. This adds time and complexity to the process, something large manufacturers prefer to avoid. Then, as in any bladesmithing process, they must be ground slowly to final thickness to avoid overheating the blade after heat treatment. Heating the paper-thin blade beyond the tempering heat of the blade ruins the steel by making it soft and unable to take an edge. This is why razors should never be sharpened on grinders: the heat from that much friction is enough to render it useless.

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Diagnosis: It will hone!

This vintage cutthroat by J.A. Henckels has an especially dark patina and some pitting, but no red rust which penetrates through the blade. We’ll maintain the gentle blade curve so that very little metal is removed in the honing process. Our belief is “the less material removed the better” as it extends the life of the razor and we are all about waste reduction around here!

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Diagnosis: it will hone!

This vintage straight razor shows signs of wear near the toe. This can easily be resolved in a normal honing session.

Wear & Tear

In most cases, a quality straight razor can be restored after minor damage or neglect. On the other hand: grinders, salt water, and improper honing can wreak havoc on otherwise perfectly good razors.

As mentioned above, grinders can easily create enough heat from friction to affect the heat treatment of a razor, effectively ruining it. Grinders remove material in a heartbeat, shortening the razor’s lifespan and causing irregularities in the razor’s edge geometry. At best, this will complicate any attempts at restoration. At worst: bye bye razor.

Salt water is especially problematic for carbon steels. Tap water is bad enough, but salt spray will cause rust at an accelerated rate. If you plan on taking your razor with you for an island getaway, don’t forget to keep your razor dried and oiled between uses!

Improper honing isn’t always catastrophic, though it’s much harder to put material back on than to remove it. Hone wear induced over years and years may produce wide bevels and irregular geometries, but these are more a nuisance than a fatal flaw. Most times, material was simply removed unevenly, affecting the final edge geometry. This can be compensated for by removing material in the right places or by adding it artificially, i.e. with tape on the spine to make it thicker during honing.

One thing that is often forgotten is the condition of the razor’s scales. The scales are an important safety feature, protecting you from the razor and the razor from you when not in use. For this reason, broken or missing scales need to be addressed before sharpening the razor.

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Diagnosis: needs scales, but It will Hone!

Cracks at the pivot are common, especially in vintage razors like this one. It seems to be holding, but the scales should be replaced if this is to become a daily shaver. Scales are an important safety feature, keeping you and the blade safe when not in use. We can take care of re-scaling and honing this razor will be ready to shave on!

Our honing service

Ultimately, a honemeister can only decide once the razor is in-hand and on the hones for sharpening, as some flaws and damage are invisible until sharpening begins. It isn’t terribly common, but it has happened on occasion that invisible flaws and cracks emerge or propagate once the razor has pressure applied to it on the hones. In these situations, it is our policy to refund the honing service fee and return the razor to you.

Do you have a razor that needs honing? In doubt as to whether it is worth saving? If you still have questions or think you might have a unique issue, we invite you to shoot us an email to info(at)portlandrazorco.com with photos of your razor in question and we will assess it for honeability!

Product Update | A Bittersweet Farewell to The Classic Line and The Artisan Line

TL;DR: We are saying goodbye to the Classic and Artisan razors - the Cascade Steel will take it from here so we may decrease lead times ASAP! We’ll release limited edition runs of the models we’re retiring. Sign-up for email updates to be the first to know when these limited edition razors are released!

In order to better serve you all, we must retire our Classic and Artisan line razors on a built-to-order basis. The Cascade Steels will take their place as our flagship razor line. We made this decision based on abundant positive customer feedback of the Cascade Steels and upon reevaluation of our own stated mission: to provide the tools and knowledge you need to get your best shave and to make the last razor you'll ever need.

We are simplifying our product offerings in an effort to increase efficiency and refocus attention toward making razors built to last. As many of you already know (and have probably experienced first-hand!), we’ve carried a backorder since starting Portland Razor Co. 5 years ago. This has always been a point of discomfort for us. We are not willing to compromise on quality but also need to focus on fulfilling orders in a timely manner. In fact, we believe heaps of gratitude are owed to those of you reading this who stuck out the lead time! The decision to simplify was a tough one, and the end of the Classic and Artisan lines is bitter-sweet, as all endings tend to be.

We’ve worked hard over the past 5 years to make straight razors that delight our customers and learned a ton along the way. Incremental improvements in our designs, materials, and processes have culminated in the Cascade Steel Line. The razors are sharper and are more durable and easier to maintain than anything else on the market. They are even easy to sanitize for use in barbershops and salons! For these reasons, we feel the Cascade Steel line straight razors are best suited to meet the needs of professionals and home shavers alike.

Now, we do still have materials on hand to produce a final run of our Classic and Artisan razors, of course. And you all know we would never let good material go to waste, so we will celebrate these departing models with a Farewell Tour! In the coming months, we will create limited edition in-stocks of all the models to be retired as a last hurrah! We will send out notifications to our email subscribers 24-48 hours before we announce these limited edition razors on our social media channels.

Of course there is one very important component to this that we would be remiss not to address here; if you already have a Classic or Artisan razor on order, do not fret! Your order will be fulfilled as planned!

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the changes, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. As always, we’d love to hear from you.

RE: Gillette "We Believe"

We have received calls and messages from customers this week asking what our stance is on Gillette’s recent “The Best Men Can Be” campaign. Some asked how we felt about this ad that  “attacks men.”

We watched the video. We read what Gillette had to say about it. Here’s what we think about it:

In case you aren’t in the know… On January 13th, Gillette published a video ad titled “We Believe.” In the accompanying web page titled “The Best Men Can Be,” they acknowledge their role in shaping modern culture and their responsibility as an industry leader to promote “positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man.”

It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture. And as a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man. With that in mind, we have spent the last few months taking a hard look at our past and coming communication and reflecting on the types of men and behaviors we want to celebrate. We’re inviting all men along this journey with us – to strive to be better, to make us better, and to help each other be better.

We feel that Gillette’s message was delivered as respectfully as was possible given the format, and don’t find anything particularly objectionable about it. We certainly don’t see anything that could be construed as “attacking men” or “anti-man.” It very explicitly urges men to stand up to--and for--each other by calling out harmful behaviors. The amount of backlash Gillette has received demonstrates that the underlying issue--a pervasive culture of toxic masculinity--is very present and real.

We want to commend Gillette for trying to do the right thing. Not only are they owning past transgressions, they are being proactive in affecting positive change in our industry. Sure, it’s an ad to sell razors, but their position on these issues matters-- they have a huge audience and money to spend on messaging!

It isn’t often that we get to say this, but we agree with Gillette! We all have a lot of work to do, and we at Portland Razor Company are committed to building a community of which we are proud to be a part.  

HOW TO BE SURE YOU WILL RECEIVE YOUR ORDER FOR THE HOLIDAYS

As you all know, each and every one of our straight razors and strops are handmade. This is a process that takes a lot of work and time. We know that this season can be stressful when it comes to considering lead times and shipping times. To give you certainty that your orders will be received in time, please take note of the following dates and plan accordingly:

NOVEMBER 12, 2018

This will be the last day to place an order for built-to-order straight razors to guarantee shipments will be received before Christmas. For those of you keeping track, that’s next Monday! Orders for built-to-order razors placed after this date will be shipped in 2019. As always, there is no guaranteed delivery date for custom razors.

DECEMBER 17, 2018

This is the last day to place orders for any in-stock products and strops in time for a December 24th arrival. Orders placed after this date will be shipped in 2019.

If you are reluctant to make a decision before these cutoff dates, we do offer gift certificate codes and have an assortment of razors and shaving accessories in-stock at our brick-and-mortar location, Portland Shave Shop. While you’re at it, you can schedule a shave tutorial, sample soaps and aftershaves, learn how to strop, and even get a haircut or straight shave with one of our barbers to look extra sharp in time for your big holiday party!

Thanks for your support and we hope you all are enjoying a happy and healthy holiday season!