The Best (and Worst) Straight Razor Oils to Prevent Rust

A straight razor demands respect; take care of your tools, and they will take care of you! With proper maintenance, a quality straight razor can last several lifetimes. The more you use your razor, the more important routine maintenance becomes. Besides stropping and honing, oiling your razor is an important step to consider in protecting your razor’s longevity.

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When developing our Cascade Steel straight razors, we reached for modern materials with superior edge retention and stainless properties, which means frequent oiling would be redundant. Unfortunately, for 200 years the best razors were made with high-carbon steels. High carbon steels get incredibly hard and sharp, but can rust if water even enters the room! Since wet shaving is inherently--well, wet, rust prevention is an important step for a majority of straight razor users. This includes those using vintage straight razors and razors by Portland Razor Co. made with O1 high-carbon tool steel. In this article, we review some of the best and worst oils for straight razor rust-prevention.

A good razor oil:

  • Displaces water effectively

  • Is skin safe

  • Is safe for common scales materials and finishes

  • Does not resinify

  • Won’t spoil or go rancid

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Recommended Straight Razor oils

Camellia Oil - Great

Refined camellia oil (also known as tea seed oil) is a fantastic all-around razor oil. It is a light, skin safe, colorless oil with low viscosity which does a good job of displacing water and is easy to apply. Provided it is well refined, it shouldn’t resinify or spoil.

Mineral Oil - Great

Mineral oil is a widely available and very effective razor oil. Low to medium viscosity, skin safe, safe for scales materials, does not resinify, won’t spoil, petroleum product.

Ballistol - GREAT

Ballistol is marketed as an eco-friendly alternative to petroleum products like mineral oil and WD-40. It is skin safe, biodegradable, low viscosity, aerosol. In general, Ballistol will not resinify, however we have encountered a few instances where it reacted negatively with other oils and became sticky.

not recommended for straight razor maintenance

We don’t recommend…

WD-40 - Not Recommended

WD-40 works, but keep it off your skin and scales. We like it because there’s a good chance you already have some at home! The “WD” literally stands for “Water Displacement,” and it does that job really well. It also contains solvents which help break up old grease and rust but can be harmful to scales. It is not listed as a known carcinogen but is irritating to some when in contact with the skin or if fumes are inhaled. For these reasons, we wouldn’t recommend it as your go-to razor oil, but it works in a pinch or if performing a restoration of a razor with lots of build-up on it.

Olive Oil - Not Recommended

Yes, you can prevent rust with olive oil! But, should you? It has medium viscosity, it displaces water, you probably have some in your kitchen, and it is obviously skin and food safe... It can also resinify fairly quickly and will go rancid over time. You should avoid any culinary misadventures in the bathroom by using olive oil (or any other cooking oil) to prevent rust only in emergencies.

Petroleum Jelly - Not recommended (Worst option)

You can do a lot of things with petroleum jelly. Sure, you can slather it all over your straight razor and successfully keep it from rusting… but please don’t. The goopy stuff sticks well to your straight razor to displace water, but it attracts and holds everything else it might come into contact with such as dirt or hair. It’s very much a bummer to clean off as well, requiring soapy water or solvents in all the razor’s nooks and crannies (which is exactly where you don’t want water and solvents!). Cleanup is an important consideration since removal of oils is a necessary step prior to honing to keep contaminants out of your expensive water stones.

We hope you found this review of razor oils helpful! Did you learn something new? Do you have a question about razor oils? Leave it in the comments below! If you are ready to take the next step in learning to care for your razor, consider signing up for an upcoming honing and maintenance class. There you will have the benefit of hands-on instruction with a Portland Razor Co razorsmith for more specific and nuanced guidance.

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!

Yes, Barbers & Stylists Can Use Real Straight Razors

You may have heard that conventional straight razor use is illegal in professional barbershops and salons, or that they are somehow unsafe for you or your clients, or that only single-use blades are permitted. This is a MYTH perpetuated by decades of misinformation, and we’d like to set the record straight.

A Portland Razor Co. Deluxe strop hangs from a vintage barber chair strop hook.

A Portland Razor Co. Deluxe strop hangs from a vintage barber chair strop hook.

State Board has the answer

Each state’s health authority lays out specific requirements for clean and safe practices in barbershops. We have checked rules & regs in many states including OR, CA, WA, CO, UT, PA, FL, TN, NY, NJ… In fact, the only state we have confirmed explicitly prohibits use of conventional straight razors is Rhode Island!

Now, obviously we are not lawyers, we are just advocates for a better world with a more sustainable culture. As such, give your local health authority a call. We have phoned different states and most often the response to, "Are reusable straight razors illegal to use in the shop?" is, "Who told you that? Of course it's fine to use those..."

Nevertheless, you may carry this myth with you as a barber or stylist. I think we create barriers like this because we are afraid of what the answer will be. The answer might restrict us further or reveal an answer for which we weren't prepared to digest. We are taught that striking out on our own is to pursue a freedom we couldn't find in a "regular" job, so we avoid rules and avoid authority so that we don't have to be on the hook for knowing the answer. I completely understand this and I could dedicate a full series of posts to the fear and doubt we are taught to expect in daring to be different. Maybe I will get around to that post at some point, but not today. In the meantime, call the board! They have the answers!

AND before we get too far off track, I want to show you the rules as they are written today in Oregon!

Portland Razor Co.  “Barber Special” Straight Razor  in High-Level Barbicide.

Portland Razor Co. “Barber Special” Straight Razor in High-Level Barbicide.

Oregon's rules & Our Sanitization Process

The Oregon Health Licensing Office names razors specifically in its definition of sharp implements:

817-005-0005 Definitions. (30) ”Sharp edged or pointed, non-electrical tools and implements” means those items which may on occasion pierce or cut the skin and draw blood, including razors, cuticle nippers, cuticle pushers, nail clippers, tweezers, comedone extractors, shears, and metal nail files.

Oregon also makes an important distinction between grades of disinfectant:

(20) “High-level disinfectant” means a chemical agent, which has demonstrated tuberculocidal activity and is registered with the EPA.

Finally, they give instructions for proper sanitation:

817-010-0068 Disinfecting Non-Electrical Tools and Implements (3) For all tools and implements with sharp edges or points completely immerse in a high-level disinfectant used according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

In short, conventional straight razors are perfectly safe for you to use as long as they are properly sanitized between each client. We developed the following process to meet these requirements and guarantee that our razors are sharp and safe for each client. Every step should be performed before each use:

  1. Carefully rinse and dry the entire straight razor with a clean towel.
  2. Strop the razor.
  3. Immerse the razor and scales (closed) in an approved high-level disinfectant such as Barbicide Plus* for manufacturer’s recommended duration.
  4. Rinse and dry the razor with a clean towel, and place in a sealed, clean container for storage prior to use.
  5. Upon completion of the shave, repeat steps 1-4 to prepare for the next client.
  6. Because a strop is porous and cannot be sanitized, NEVER strop the razor without then completing the entire sanitation process. The same is true if the razor comes in contact with any other unsanitary surface.
  7. NEVER use the razor on multiple clients. For the safety of your clients, sanitize the razor before using it on your next client.

where did this myth come from?

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This brings us to an important point which may explain why conventional straight razors fell out of fashion in the first place. As our understanding of blood-born disease and sanitary practices expanded, health authorities updated code to keep clients and pracitioners safe in the 1980s and 1990s. Unfortunately, straight razor manufacturers had been on the decline since the early 1900s with the introduction of disposable razors to the market and never updated the straight razor's materials to withstand the disinfectants required by the new rules:

  1. Vintage Blades made of high carbon steel do not hold an edge in high-level disinfectant.
  2. Vintage Scales made of organic materials such as bone or horn or low-quality plastics also do not fare well in the high-level.

In this way, conventional razors were made impractical through legislation while still leaving the door open if improvements were made to the materials. When developing our Professional Line, we approached these rules and regulations to guide our material choices and were able to hatch a straight razor that was classic, non-disposable, and fully sanitizable!

If you have any doubts of the legality of using a conventional straight razor in your shop, we urge you to take a quick look through your local health authority's documentation. It is all available online and should clear things up!

 

P.S. If you feel your barber would benefit by implementing conventional straight razors in their practice, we hope you will share this article with them!

*All Portland Razor Co Professional Razors are made with non-reactive scales and are stable in Barbicide Plus.

What is Pre-Shave Conditioner?

We seek to provide our customers with the highest-quality products and the knowledge and skills to use them. To that end, we are proud to introduce our new Executive Pre-Shave Conditioner as part of our new Executive Shave Essentials line.

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What is Pre-Shave Conditioner?

Pre-shave conditioners are chemically and functionally different from pre-shave oils. Pre-shave oils primarily add lubricity to your shave, and help to get more performance out of cheap shave creams and soaps. Since our Executive Shave Cream already contains high levels of quality, natural oils for lubrication, we decided to go a different route: use a pre-shave conditioner to soften the hair and extend the life of the razor's edge. Our Executive Pre-Shave Conditioner has a lower pH (higher acidity) than pre-shave oils. This quality of our Pre-Shave Conditioner softens hair and makes the hair easier to cut. Because hairs will be softer, less pressure may be used during shaving and the blade will experience less wear and tear. For our first pre-shave conditioner, we have added eucalyptus and mint essential oils to create a soothing, cooling sensation while you prep for your shave.

How to Use the Executive Pre-Shave Conditioner

The best time to shave is always after a shower, when the hair is hydrated and warm; a hot, moist towel is a great substitute if you don't want to shower. While your hair is hydrated and gently towel-dried:

  1. Dispense a dime-sized amount of conditioner onto your palm.
  2. Rub your hands together and massage into the hair.
  3. You can remove any excess with moist towel.
  4. Allow essential oil fragrance to bloom and cool the skin for a soothing, aromatic shaving experience.
  5. Lather shave soap/shave cream as usual.

PRE-SHAVE CONDITIONER SPECS:

Eucalyptus Mint Scent, Handmade in Portland, OR, 3.3 oz., Crafted from high quality, natural ingredients, formulated for smooth and comfortable shaves, Easy-pour, shatter-proof bottle. Ingredients: Water, Cetearyl Alcohol, Betaine, Coco-Glucoside, Shea Butter, Olive Oil, Sunflower Oil, Coconut Oil, Phenoxyethanol, Jojoba Oil, Aloe Leave Juice Powder, Xanthan Gum, Essential Oil Blend, Citric Acid, Lactic Acid, Benzoic Acid, Dehydroacetic Acid, Vitamin E

The Executive Pre-Shave Conditioner softens hair, extending the life of the razor's edge and soothes and cools the skin for a more comfortable traditional wet shave, no matter what blade you’re using! 

Source: https://www.portlandrazorco.com/shave-esse...

Portland Razor Pro : Bronze Certification

We are proud to introduce this educational series for professionals interested in using Portland Razor Co. straight razors! This series will help you get the most out of your conventional straight razor, improve the quality of your services, and help you stand out.

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"Straight Razor", "Cutthroat Razor", "Open Razor", "Conventional Straight Razor", "Folding Razor", whatever you call it, you have probably heard that these razors are illegal to use in barbershops in the United States. In most cases, this is not true. Just like clippers and shears, there are rules for HOW to use them to keep you and your clients safe. If you are a licensed barber or stylist looking to take the leap, our free course is here to help! Read on for full details.

Our Bronze Certification is completely free and packed with useful information for new and veteran barbers alike. We believe straight razor shaving to be at the heart of traditional barbering, so we are very excited for the opportunity to contribute to its resurgence in the American barbershop.

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Unfortunately, we have heard from many hair professionals that instruction on the use of traditional straight razors is not widely available. We want our customers to have a great experience with their razors, so we developed our own series of courses to help barbers further their understanding of these traditional tools. Topics discussed in the Bronze Certification include, but are not limited to:

  • Straight Razor Anatomy
  • Strop Anatomy
  • Safe Handling of the Razor
  • Special Care Considerations
  • Stropping
  • Honing // When to hone, who can hone
  • Sanitation

Licensed professionals are expected to perform due diligence and check with their local health authority for specific guidelines and regulations controlling the use of straight razors before using them in a licensed facility.

To become Bronze Certified, read through the information document and take the online exam. After you submit the exam, we will review and contact you within 5-7 business days with your results.
Again, the Bronze Certification is completely FREE. Even if you do not intend to take the test, the free info document contains a wealth of knowledge that will help you get the most out of your razor.

We know that you expect a lot from your tools. Good tools are an investment in yourself, your best work, and your clients’ satisfaction. We believe that conventional straight razors are superior to disposables in every way, and want you and your clients to have the best possible experience with our product. Whatever your experience level--novice or expert--we strongly recommend you read the free intro document and take the test if you want to get the most out of your straight razor. Take care of your tools, and they will take care of you!