PR Collaborators | Sarah Wolf of Wolf Ceramics

PR Collaborators is a blog series highlighting hardworking individuals who help Portland Razor Co. be the best we can be. We consider the people and companies featured here to be integral to our success and hope our readers will show their support for these wonderful makers.

Several months ago we had the privilege of hosting local photographer and designer Connor Ebbinghouse at Portland Razor Co. Scrolling through his Instagram feed gives viewers a glimpse of Portland life and all the wonderful and interesting people we have the privilege of calling our neighbors. In browsing through Connor's beautiful galleries we came across one such neighbor, Sarah Wolf of Wolf Ceramics. We had been keeping our eyes open for the right collaborator to make shave dishes and scuttles for Portland Razor Co. and we were taken by the quality and aesthetic of Sarah's work immediately. We reached out to her and were delighted when she agreed to take on the project! As an added bonus, it's great to know that it is in fact possible to meet great people on the Internet!

sarah wolf wolf ceramics

Q: Tell our readers about your business. What do you do? What is your company story?
I started Wolf Ceramics about two years ago and shifted to working in my studio full time just over a year ago. Ceramics had been a hobby since grade school, but only a hobby. I studied Geochemistry in college and then almost went to graduate school for architecture. I kept coming back to clay because I love working with my hands and it is incredibly satisfying to make objects that will be well used. I decided to go back to school for ceramics instead of architecture and eventually chose to take the leap and start my own production studio. While gearing up to setup my own studio, I took part in a Mercy Corps small business program, taking business classes and participating in a matched savings grant program to help cover equipment costs. Now I spend my days in the studio and it is so fun. I am energized by exciting collaborations with other Portland businesses (Like Portland Razor Company!), which push me to try new things.

Wolf Ceramics Mug Sample

Q: Why Portland?
Portland is my home! I grew up here in Northwest Portland. I came back to Portland after leaving for 7 years, and now have a studio in the same building as my mother! She is an artist and has a painting studio just up the stairs from my work space.

Q: Is being in Portland important to you and your business? Why/why not?
Portland has been such a wonderful place for my business to grow, and for so many different reasons. Because I grew up here, I feel the support of my family and the community that a grew up with. But beyond that, the creative community in Portland is so welcoming, supportive, and collaborative. I am constantly meeting people who are doing interesting things and thinking of new ways that we can collaborate or work together in ways that are mutually beneficial. I have found the community of ceramic artists here to be kind and generous. The world of ceramics had also connected me with all sorts of other industries, from restaurants and coffee shops to florists and photographers.

Q: What sharp things do you use (knives, razors, axes, etc) at work?
What tools are your favorite to use? Trimming tools! After throwing on the wheel, we let work dry part way, and then flip it to trim and shape the bottom of the piece. I also use razor blades in the studio for all sorts of things, from cutting handles to the right size, to cleaning up glaze lines.

Q: Where do you look for inspiration?
I love textiles, in fact I may have a textile obsession. I also love drawing and playing with shapes and negative space. Sometimes I’ll peruse Instagram or Pinterest for patterns and shapes, start drawing, and just see where it takes me. I also love working from prompts. Sometimes a friend or business will come to me with a question or suggestion. Maybe they love a particular handle or wish that that their mug was different in some way. Maybe they need a particular tool and haven’t been able to find it anywhere. These sorts of conversations always get me thinking and often lead to new forms and new designs.

Sarah Wolf of Wolf Ceramics at Work

Q: We love your product. In your own words, what’s better about it than its big-box store competitors?
I find that I always enjoy using things more when I know where they came from and who made them. Its the same with coffee mugs as scuttle mugs. When I use a hand made object that I know was made with care, it often pushes me to be more thought full and intentional in what I am doing. I find my self taking more pleasure in the experience of using that object and even being more present in that moment.

Wolf Ceramics Coffee Pour Over

Q: What is the most “Portland” thing to ever happen to you?
One day I found myself biking down the street along side a man on horseback.

Q: Do you straight shave? If not, would you consider it?
Nope, but maybe...

Q: What is one thing you wish more of your customers knew about you or your work?
I want to somehow show my customers more about the process that goes into making each piece. In fact, I have been working with a friend on a tiny short film that documents making one mug from start to finish! I think that ceramics often have a low perceived value, because you can go to Ikea and buy 10 perfectly matching, factory made mugs for $20 or $30. Its always a little nerve racking pricing new work, because I want things to be affordable and accessible to all sorts of people, but I also need to charge enough to make my business viable. When I know more about how something is made, and the complex challenges that the maker faces when creating it, I find my self feeling good about paying a fair price for the object and more inclined to treat it with care and make it last. I feel more inclined to own fewer, higher quality things.

Q:How can readers get in touch with you?
Check out my website wolfceramics.com or email me at sarah[at]wolfceramics.com!

Shortened Lead Times, New Location

We are proud to announce that our lead time on straight razor orders is now only three to four weeks!

Yes, you read that correctly. Our straight razor backorder is weeks, not months.

Making Straight Razors in SW Portland

This efficiency increase can be almost entirely attributed to the setup at our new workshop. In February we began the search for a larger, more permanent space in which to make our straight razors and strops. Thanks to the venerable Kelley Roy, owner of ADX, we were directed to the building we now call home. The former cabinet shop, located just a few blocks south of Downtown Portland, recently changed ownership and is currently being renovated to house other Portland Makers. We are fortunate enough to be the first tenants in the building and look forward to meeting our future neighbors. It took a few sleepless weeks of dust masks, epoxy paint, and bribing our dads to help us out, but we are very pleased with our new 1200 square-foot space!

Straight Razor Production Upgrades

Easily the most exciting result of our move: production is faster than ever! Lead times on our straight razors are currently three to four weeks, down from three to four months this time last year. The new shop affords us space to layout our straight razor manufacturing process and allowed us to invest in more sophisticated equipment. Much of what we’ve learned comes directly from sharing ideas with fellow makers (it is just better when you work together!). I hope other makers and creatives can learn from our experience. In no particular order, here are some of my favorite upgrades we have made to our shop to improve our straight razor output:

  • Organization. One of the big selling points for the new shop is the natural, logical division of space. The warehouses we looked at prior to finalizing our decision were open-layout and would have been more effort (read: más money!) to build out. It also allowed us to separate ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ operations, improving overall quality control. Believe me, there’s nothing worse than finding steel dust from grinding razors on your half-dried wood finish. Having these divisions in place also means we can set up our old work benches and optimize them for specific tasks. Which helps create…
  • Orderliness. Far better than our old multi-multi-multi-purpose work table, each step in our straight razor production process has a dedicated station. Raw steel waits by the door to go to waterjet, straight razor blanks go by the grinders. Scales materials stay by the laser-cutter and laser-cut blanks are stored on the assembly station. We have a sink dedicated for sharpening straight razors and an anvil on a stand closeby for assembling a straight blade into scales immediately after. Leather and poly-webbing are stored inside our sewing table and strop hardware is within an arm’s reach. Relevant tools are stored at each station, and each station has its own set of tools. This one was especially helpful to me, since I tend to forget where I set things down.
  • Visual Inventory. This ties in with having dedicated stations for each step. Visual inventory just means that all materials and parts are prominently on display. This lets you know when you need to make more of something or order more material. One forgets how quickly you go through 500 brass washers until you’re down to 5 and you really, really need 6 of them...
  • Batch Production. Straight razors in production are done in batches of four and travel in a box from station to station. The order number, straight razor model, straight razor scales material, and other straight shaving add-ons in the order are printed and slipped into a cardholder on the lid of each box. This way, we always know exactly what needs to be done to complete an order. This saves time mapping out our day, we don’t check the master list as often, and assures that orders are constantly going out the door rather than languishing at a particular station for days. The 4-8 straight razor batch size seems to be our sweet spot, being able to move quickly while guaranteeing standards of quality are met at each step.
  • Automation. We have invested in a few pieces of equipment that have majorly slashed our production time. We have written before about using our Laser Cutter and Thermark to brand our razors. Our Laser Cutter also cuts templates, cuts prototype parts, and engraves our straight razor boxes. Being able to cut out a custom part in seconds is a very powerful thing if you know your way around CAD. We also purchased a clicker press. It is basically a terrifying cookie cutter. Before the clicker press, we would painstakingly cut out strop pieces by hand: first the basic shape with a rotary cutter, then the internal corners with a chisel, then the hardware holes with a hand punch. The clicker press makes very quick work (about 2 seconds!) of cutting out our strop components.
  • Error Proofing/Quality Control. Bad things happen fast, good things happen slowly. Having quality control steps built into the straight razor production process helps us achieve balance in making the best straight razor or strop possible, while getting it out the door in a reasonable timeframe. Work at every station starts and ends with a quality control step to guarantee that every batch of straight razors and strops meets our high standards. Each batch passes through multiple hands between steps, getting fresh eyes on the product and catching errors well before it gets to final assembly. If a straight razor doesn’t look exactly right, it’s far better to stop the line and take it back a step than to try and fix it after everything has been put together
  • Friday, Fun Day! We dedicated our Fridays to shop improvements, process innovations and experiments for a couple reasons.
    • First, it forces us to finish projects outside of normal straight razor production- things that are too new or risky for a normal day. This can be hanging a bike rack, setting up garbage and recycling systems, setting up lighting for our product photography corner, or nabbing great stuff from free piles around Portland (our huge cutting table was rescued from it’s destiny in a landfill on the corner of SE 3rd and Morrison). Other projects usually take the form of custom straight razors that require developing new techniques or build on our existing skillset. Each of these straight razors is a unique work of art unlike anything in our production line. These have resulted in some of our best work so far, and can be seen on our in-stock customs page.
    • Second, it helps us grow. Decorating a retail space, fabricating a new straight razor display, programming the laser-cutter, experimenting with gold plating… every project presents a challenge and an opportunity to learn. They frequently take a left turn and become something completely different from what we imagined, but that’s another fun part of the the process and why we insist on making time for it. You never know what might come of it!
    • Third, it keeps things fresh and interesting. The core straight razor production process--though much refined--has remained largely unchanged over the past three years. Although I’ve gotten much faster and more consistent at it, surface grinding my 500th straight razor felt a lot like my 50th… it’s hot, sweaty, dirty work. Knowing I get to try something new at the end of the week is a great motivator for me when work starts feeling repetitive.
    • In Short: It’s a fun way to grow individually and as a company, constantly improving and staying relevant.

I’m sure a lot will change in the coming years, but I can say with confidence that it will only get better. The focus has always been--and will continue to be--on making the best American-made straight razors we can and providing you with essential straight shaving knowledge.

With a bit more time on our hands, I’ll be attempting to create more content for the blog, videos, and tutorials. Keep your eyes open here and subscribe to our YouTube channel for updates. If you’d like to see a blog post or a video about something, let us know in the comments!

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In our last shop, this work table was used for scales assembly, finishing scales, razor assembly, razor honing, etching straight razors, packaging finished razors, shipping, and sometimes eating lunch.  Now it is dedicated to packaging and shipping.  

In our last shop, this work table was used for scales assembly, finishing scales, razor assembly, razor honing, etching straight razors, packaging finished razors, shipping, and sometimes eating lunch.  Now it is dedicated to packaging and shipping.  

 
 
straight razor blog july 206 1

Scott's Condition and Treatment

Hey everyone, Scott from Portland Razor Co. here. I need to give folks an update on what’s been going on with my life and at PR. For those of you who have kept up with the blog, you probably are aware that I’ve been sick and in and out of the hospital lately. I have good news and bad news:

The good news is that I have an official diagnosis. The bad news is that I have stage II testicular cancer, which is a bummer.

I started chemotherapy last Friday and had an orchiectomy (for those of you that are curious, you can look that up) which went well. But stage II testicular cancer means that the cancer has spread to my lymph nodes, which is pretty painful and requires aggressive chemotherapy and pain management. I’ll be in chemo pretty continuously for the next 80 days.

Yep. Cancer is a bummer. 

Yep. Cancer is a bummer. 

Enjoying my last straight shave before chemo gets fully underway!

Enjoying my last straight shave before chemo gets fully underway!

Hunter and Alex have been helping a lot lately, and we’ve been planning and discussing the future between doctor’s appointments. We do a lot more than just hang out at the workshop; we do pretty much everything together! This past weekend they helped me shave my head with a straight razor for the first time, and we made a video which you can check out on our YouTube channel. It was a lot of fun, and I admit we went to the electric clippers for a lot of it and then cleaned up with our new Kamisori. Anyway, we had a fun time with it and it gave me a chance to talk about my experience and what’s going to happen with Portland Razor Co.

Many of you might be wondering what this means for PR. The first thing I’ll say is: PR is not going anywhere. We already have a pretty great team, and we’ve been training up a few other guys. Luckily our clients and customers have been very supportive despite our backlog and despite being told that they’ll have to wait a little longer. Hunter and Alex know what to do at this point and they’re just chipping away at that backlog for now.

Hopefully this will be just a little blip in PR history, and I’ll be back at it making razors before you even realize I’m gone. Until then, Hunter and Alex will be around to answer your questions. If you feel like sending me any personal questions, they’ll pass it along and I’ll answer any questions I can.

There simply aren’t words to describe how much your support means to me. I probably wouldn’t be in as good of a place with this stupid cancer if I didn’t have PR.  I’m so glad to have our PR and straight shaving community and I’m glad I have a really awesome team to keep it going for me in my absence.

I also want to take this opportunity to tell folks a little bit about my experience in finding out that I had cancer. Maybe there’s a chance someone reading this article is in the same situation I am and has some of the same questions.

I never actually formed a sizeable tumor on a testi. The first thing I noticed were these horrible back pains in the middle of the night… obviously not to scare anybody who’s ever had back pain, but I’d say this back pain was more intense than normal. I wasn’t able to sleep, but I didn’t think anything of it and it only lasted a few days.

But then it came back about a month later. Same thing, nightly back pain for three days in a row. I took some advil and it went away. But this past month, I had some really excruciating back pain. It usually started towards the evening, and I started to think something else might be going on. I actually ended up in the ER a couple times because of how intense the pain was. It took them a while to diagnose it. Once they started to get a hunch that it might be cancer, it was as simple as doing a specific blood test. Once they found the markers for germ cell tumors, the testicular cancer cells, the doctors knew what to do.

The back pain was caused by severe swelling in my retroperitoneal lymph nodes, which sit between my abdominal aorta and my spine. Basically these enlarged nodes which are filled with testicular cancer cells are pushing on my spine, causing severe nerve pain that kind of jumps around and is totally random. That’s why it was a little hard to diagnose, because the pain was sometimes in my lower back, my upper back, my abdomen… If that’s what you’re experiencing it could definitely be nerve-related, and if you’re having anything like that, don’t hesitate to go get it checked out. It could be nothing, and even if it is something it’s no big deal, because it turns out that testicular cancer is one of the most treatable cancers in the world! I’d be in worse shape if I was 80 years old and had a bad flu, I’m told. Obviously, a lot of us deal with back pain, but it is not a big deal to go to the doctor and have them take a look.  I’m glad to have listened to the warnings as my prognosis is so positive because we were able to find the problems early on.  If you are wondering about a weird pain or discomfort, talk to your doctor and maybe get some blood tests done. Nobody’s gonna laugh at you!!

Anyway, thanks again for all the support! I’m gonna keep doing what I can while in chemo.  Hunter or Alex will be available in the meantime and can be reached at hunter@portlandrazorco.com and info@portlandrazorco.com.