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.

Pasted Strops, Revisited

We gave customers the option to paste the inside of their prep strop several months ago and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. If you are on the fence, here is what you need to know about pasted strops.

What does "Pasted" mean? A pasted strop has had an application of very fine polishing abrasive, in our case: chromium oxide paste. This is applied to the inside panel of the prep strop and allows for more aggressive stropping action to prolong the life of your razor's edge. 

Why paste my strop? If your stropping is solid (check out our stropping guide) then stropping occasionally on paste will make your razor's edge last longer, which delays (but does not replace) the need to pay for honing services or buy your own stones. On the other hand, poor stropping on paste will only make the problem worse

How often should I strop on paste? We generally strop our razors on paste every 10-15 shaves, or whenever you notice that your razor is not shaving as efficiently.

Do I need to reapply paste? When we apply paste at our shop, we generally apply more than an individual shaver should ever need for their own use. That said, if you notice that the paste has worn away or is no longer doing its job, it may be time for a reapplication (but more likely, it is time to hone your razor).

How do I apply paste to my strop? We offer a one-time application for $5, but there are several other types of abrasives you can purchase and apply to your strop: powders, sprays, and wax pastes. We prefer the wax pastes because they are easy to apply and go a long way, simply color in the part of your strop you'd like to paste just like you would with a crayon. 

Where do I find chromium oxide paste? Check with your local hardware store to see if they carry chromium oxide paste, just ask for "green jeweler's rouge" or "green buffing compound." If you can't find it locally, there are plenty of quality sources from online knife-making stores to Amazon.

We hope you found this information helpful! 

 

 

 

Straight Razor Care and Storage

Portland Razor Co. blades are made of 01 tool steel, a high-carbon steel with excellent edge retention, workability, and good corrosion resistance. It is not, however, a stainless steel and requires some special care.

  • Keep your straight razor clean and dry between uses.
  • Strop it well between uses. This keeps the edge keen, and clean of debris that can cause corrosion on the blade or irritation on your skin. 
  • For long-term storage, apply a very thin coat of light oil (camellia is recommended) or Ballistol and wipe off the excess.
  • Store in a breathable/moisture-wicking container. PR has nice merino wool sheaths available for purchase, but a sock will do! Do not store straight razors in a leather sheath long-term.
  • Using your straight razor regularly is the surest way to make sure you are cognizant of its condition. Inspect yours frequently to assure that it is always ready to perform! 
  • Finally, store your straight razor out of reach of children. 

Straight Razor Safety Basics

WARNING: RAZORS ARE EXTREMELY SHARP. MISUSE CAN CAUSE SERIOUS INJURY! SHOULD YOU ATTEMPT ANY OF THE TASKS DESCRIBED IN THIS ARTICLE, YOU DO SO AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Below are a few simple do's and don'ts for safely handling straight razors. This is by no means an exhaustive list; you are ultimately responsible for learning to safely handle your own blade, so take it upon yourself to become familiar with safe practices, and use them consistently. Above all, use common sense.

DO

  • Handle your razor with extreme care and control.
  • Keep your razor folded/sheathed when not in use.
  • Fold/Sheath your razor before handing it to someone else, or if you must change focus for a while.
  • Keep your razor dry, clean, and sharp.
  • Shave in a well-lit room free from distractions and other hazards.

DO NOT

  • Try to catch a falling blade. 
  • Use your razor for anything other than shaving hair.
  • Test the edge with your finger! The safest way to test the edge's sharpness is with the "shine test" or the "hanging hair test."
  • Let water or lather rest on the blade longer than is absolutely necessary, moisture on the blade will cause it to rust. Not a safety issue, but definitely a buzz-kill.

 

If you have never held a straight razor before, or are still inexperienced using them, we recommend you practice simply holding it. Open and close it until you feel comfortable you can perform this operation safely 100% of the time. Then, try a few different grips and manipulate the blade in one hand as if to shave. Remember that dropping the razor can damage the edge or scales and should be avoided. 

straight razor hand position 1
 
straight razor hand position 2

Honing at Portland Razor Co. Part III

WARNING: RAZORS ARE EXTREMELY SHARP. MISUSE CAN CAUSE SERIOUS INJURY! SHOULD YOU ATTEMPT ANY OF THE TASKS DESCRIBED IN THIS ARTICLE, YOU DO SO AT YOUR OWN RISK. 

Any informed discussion about honing has to begin by saying: there isn't just one way to make a razor sharp. The ultimate test of any honing method is the act of shaving, and judging how well the blade removes hair and feels against the skin. If it cuts hair and doesn't ruin your face, then it works. How well it works depends on an infinite number of factors that may have nothing or everything to do with honing, from the quality of the steel to whether or not you drank coffee with or without sugar this morning.

Part III of this series covers how we hone a razor at Portland Razor Co., from setting a bevel on a virgin blade to final polishing and stropping...

Everyone has different priorities, and choosing a honing method is no exception. When we founded Portland Razor Co., we decided that a razor would never leave our shop less than shave-ready. It had to be functional, durable, and affordable. Honing became part of that equation, and we needed a reliable, repeatable method for getting shave-ready edges on hardened O1 tool steel that didn't take forever, and also didn't cost thousands of dollars. What follows is the best solution we found to meet our needs.

(Left to Right) DMT Diamond stones, Naniwa Chosera/Professional 1k, Norton 4k/8k, Naniwa 12K "Superstone"

(Left to Right) DMT Diamond stones, Naniwa Chosera/Professional 1k, Norton 4k/8k, Naniwa 12K "Superstone"

Our Hone Progression:

  1. DMT Dia-Sharp Extra Coarse diamond stone - initial bevel setting
  2. DMT Dia-Sharp Course diamond stone - final bevel setting 
  3. Naniwa Chosera/Professional 1K
  4. Norton 4k
  5. Norton 8k
  6. Naniwa 12k "superstone"
  7. Chromium Oxide-pasted nylon strop
  8. Nylon strop
  9. Hanging Hair Test

Setup

We don't mind getting our table tops wet and covered in metal dust, so our setup utilizes individual stone holders and a spray bottle UPDATE: We now have a dedicated honing station with running water.

Bevel Angle

The angle of the bevel is determined by the height difference from spine to the edge on the razor. A little geometry is required to illustrate this: by changing either the thickness of the spine or the width of the blade, you can manipulate the angle of the cutting bevel as it sits on the hone. A thicker spine in relation to blade width will result in a steeper, more open bevel angle. A wider blade in relation to the spine will create a more acute, or closed bevel. 

Putting this geometry into practice is quite simple: just set the razor flat on its side on top of the stone. We use 7/32" thick steel stock for 6/8 blades to achieve the proper bevel angle. We apply one layer of Super 88 electrical tape to the razor's spine for the factory hone, as this sets the ideal starting angle for the bevel and protects the spine (we don't feel the razor should arrive from the factory with visible hone marks). UPDATE 10/23/2017: due to production changes, we now hone all of our production razors without tape. 

1. Bevel Setting. Setting the initial bevel on a straight razor lays the foundation for all the following steps by establishing the cutting bevel's angle. At this step, we are grinding either side of the blade down evenly until they meet in the middle, creating a continuous cutting surface the length of the blade. The goal is to remove a lot of material quickly, but evenly. Starting on the Extra Coarse DMT stone, we do this by alternating between small circle strokes with the spine elevated OFF the hone, and longer circle strokes with the spine ON the hone. It's useful to think of the edge as several different parts: ultimately, we want to be removing material from the very edge (front of the razor as it travels across the hone), but any material we remove from the edge must also be removed behind it (the flat surface of the bevel). In bevel setting, we find it best to knock down material at the front first by elevating the spine and to follow up with longer circle strokes with the spine on the hone to flatten the face of the bevel. 

2. Bevel Setting cont'd. We transition to the Coarse DMT when we can still see a hair-thin reflection along the edge using a flashlight--we call this the "Shine Test". The bevel is almost set, and so we don't elevate the spine off the stone during circle strokes much, if at all.  We continue until there is no reflection along the entire edge of the razor, passing the Shine Test. The razor can pop hairs at this point, but the bevel is very rough and needs to be smoothed and polished with increasingly finer stones.

3, 4, 5. Honing. After the initial bevel angle has been established, honing can begin. We start on the Naniwa 1K, and move up to the next stone once all the hone lines from the previous stone have been smoothed on the bevel and it has an even shine. If we are honing a razor that has been in use for some time, we can usually start on the Norton 4K stone. However, razors with visible nicks on the edge will start on the Naniwa 1K, or even the DMT coarse if wear is extensive enough.

We use deliberate X-pattern honing strokes (push away, flip over the spine, pull back, with the blade travelling diagonally across the stone drawing an "X"). Some stones are narrower than the length of the blade, and so the diagonal path of the stroke ensures that the whole blade passes evenly over the stone. However, this means that the heel will come off the stone, and we have to be especially careful not to apply pressure to the heel as it passes off the stone, as this will cause a problematic groove on the bevel. 

We sometimes vary our stroke, using 3-4 strokes of each and assessing how the blade is behaving. For example:

  • Apply pressure heel-to-toe as it passes across the hone. This is especially handy on smiling blades, but also helps sharpen the toe and heel of the razor more quickly. We make sure to pass evenly and seamlessly from heel to toe during the stroke, applying pressure as a wave that rolls from one hand to the other. 
  • J-stroke. Draw a "J" as the razor passes down the hone. We combine this with heel-to-toe for added variance.
  • (Almost) elevate the spine. Apply rotational torque so the spine aaaaalmost comes off the hone, but doesn't. Here, we can feel pressure transition on to the very cutting edge of the blade, much like bevel setting. We are essentially trying to do the same thing; remove material at the front of the edge before flattening the face of the bevel behind it. We sometimes combine this with a stroke that draws straight down the hone to address the middle of the blade more directly.

6. Polishing. The Naniwa 12K Super Stone has it's own gravity. When the stone is lapped level and has the right amount of water on it, it will just grab the razor and make it perfect. We use very light pressure to move the razor across the hone, and let the stone pull the razor in and do its work. This is our finishing stone and produces the final cutting edge and polish that makes our razors truly Shave-Ready.

7. Polishing on Pasted StropSome shavers like paste, some do not. Well, we like it a lot, and will do a good 20-40 passes on it before sending a blade out the door. Chromium Oxide polishes the bevel and smooooooths that edge just the finest amount without removing much material, while also keening the edge. 

8. Stropping. How well we strop the razor can determine whether or not it will pass Hanging Hair. We strop on nylon for 100+ passes. You'll notice we do not normally strop on leather as part of our honing process. This is because we get comparable results going straight from the nylon to shaving as with leather, although stropping on leather can certainly get you an extra 10% in performance.

9. Hanging Hair Test. We test along the entire length of the razor, cutting a hair unsupported at least 1/2" out. We are looking for dull spots where the hair just slides off the edge instead of exploding... and I do mean exploding! The hair makes an audible "pop" when the blade is sharp enough. 

If you're trying this at home, step 10 is to lather up and shave with it! 

We hope you have enjoyed this series, and thank you for taking the time to learn more about our craft. If you want to learn even more about honing, email us and ask about future class offerings at our shop in Portland, OR.

Honing a straight razor with an X-pattern stroke on a Naniwa 12,000 grit stone

Honing a straight razor with an X-pattern stroke on a Naniwa 12,000 grit stone