PR Collaborators | Rick Molitor of New Basin Distilling

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.

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We met Rick Molitor of New Basin Distilling Co in 2015 via a chance encounter and, as one does over a dram of good American whiskey, we hatched an idea. Rick had just finished bottling a batch of Resignation Rye and needed to retire one of the Oregon white oak barrels used to age it. Though no longer useful for aging fine liquor, Rick hoped we might be able to turn it into something other than firewood. We happily obliged by making a limited set of co-branded Cascade Steel straight razors with unique engravings and scales which showed off the unique character of charred, rye-stained Oregon white oak. Rick has helped us over the years to raise funds and awareness for men’s health issues, supported our business by co-sponsoring events, and keeps our friends and clients happy with a steady flow of luxurious libations at the Portland Shave Shop.

Q: Tell our readers about your business. What do you do? What is your company story?

New Basin Distilling Company is a true Farm to Bottle distillery. We are proud to take our own farm grown grain and turn it into liquid magic. Our story started like any group of drinking buddies. It doesn't take long

Q: Is being in Oregon important to you and your business? Why/why not?

This is a catch 22 - we love Oregon. 3 of the 5 New Basin partners are multi-generational Oregonian. We have fertile fields for our grain production and the world's best water-Opal Springs water can't be beat for natural purity and flavor. Being 100% Distilled in Oregon is important to us. However, the business climate and tax structure for distilled spirits in Oregon is a huge obstacle for Oregon distilleries. The current tax structure on distilled spirits range from 31 to 51% of the listed price just in Oregon. With these numbers, along with local and Federal taxes we are starting to see distilleries close or move out of the State.

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Q: What sharp things do you use (knives, razors, axes, etc) at work? What tools are your favorite to use?

We love the collaboration with Portland Razor with the creation of a razor with scales made from one of our Resignation Rye Whiskey barrels. This is the sharpest item I've carried in our tasting room.

Q: Do you straight shave? If not, would you consider it?

I have received many straight razor shaves but never shaved myself. Would love to learn!

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Q: Where do you look for inspiration?

My son is currently attending OSU in the Food Science/Fermentation Studies Program. He has helped New Basin Distilling create more efficient and effective distilling procedures. I'm excited for younger distillers to challenge and change the landscape of what make a true American Whiskey.

Q: We love your product and are proud to serve it in our barbershop! In your own words, what’s better about it than its big-box store competitors?

You really can't compare locally grown, milled, mashed, fermented and distilled product. I can literally walk you into one of our rye and wheat field. Also, as stated above, naturally raw and untouched water from Opal Springs makes our whiskey that much better!

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Q: What is the most “Portland” thing to ever happen to you?

Serving New Basin Distilling Cocktails at a Portland Fashion Week party!

Q: What is one thing you wish more of your customers knew about you or your work?

How passionate and true we are to making an amazing Farm-to-Bottle Oregon Whiskey!

Q: How can readers get in touch with you?

Get a bottle at your local liquor store, swing in the distillery at 2063 NW Andrews Dr. Madras, OR, 97741 give us a call at 541-980-4595, on the web at www.newbasin.com, follow us on Facebook @NewBasinDistilling or search #newbasindistilling

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PR Collaborators | Evan Worthington, Craftsman Soap Co.

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.

For us, Evan Worthington of Craftsman Soap Co. is a reminder that you just never know where the best opportunities will present themselves. In 2014, mere weeks after founding Portland Razor Co., Scott was hiking the Lost Coast Trail with some friends. It was one of those, “I haven’t seen you all in forever, let’s go sequester ourselves in the wilderness because it might be another 7 years before we get a chance to do this again.” kind of trips. Scott brought a few of his straight razors to show the group (engineers, product designers, and all-around studs themselves) in an effort to get some feedback. Greg, lovingly known as Big Greg, told Scott of his friend Evan who had a line of all-natural soaps and personal care products. Evan emailed us shortly after and the rest is history...

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Q: Tell our readers about your business. What do you do? What is your company story?
A: Being the guy behind Craftsman Soap Company, the primary objective here is making soap. Of course I consider the formulating, perfumery, photography, and business aspects of the brand, but soap making is understandably at the core. I started making and selling soap professionally almost four years ago, and had made my own supplies for a few years before that. As I invested more time and energy, Craftsman Soap Company kind of naturally took shape. I’ve always wanted the principles of the business to center around a low-tech, handcrafted approach, and an attention to quality and origins of materials. So the products have always been natural, and for a long time now all ingredients have been botanically sourced, aside from the waxes and balms which rely on beeswax.

Q: Is being in LA important to you and your business? Why/why not?

A:I’d imagine this is true with most communities, but I feel a strong connection with the customers I have in Los Angeles. It’s a big community, but I still feel the connection. Being in LA, it feels good to build on the city’s contributions to the maker movement. I’m proud to print “Handcrafted in Los Angeles, California” on every box of soap.

Q:What sharp things do you use (knives, razors, axes, etc) at work? What tools are your favorite to use?

A:I probably have more sharp things than I need in the workshop, I’m a fan. I have a card scraper that is probably gets the most use. It’s just a thin card of stainless that’s intended for furniture making, but it works great to clear the workbench of soap, which tends to stick to everything. A guitar string isn’t really sharp, but it’s sharp enough to fulfill all my soap cutting needs. A nice heavy gauge E-string cuts a thin kerf without breaking. And of course a good knife for just about everything. There are always bags and boxes to open, and I’m always doing some urban foraging for sprigs of herbs, flowers, and plants for photography.

Q:Where do you look for inspiration?

A: I get a lot of inspiration from my senses when I explore a new ingredient, particularly sense of smell. As an example, with perfumery I’ll take a vial of a new essential oil - say, hay absolute - and I like to see where that sort of transports me. There’s the thematic level, where floral and herbal notes like lavender and yarrow come to mind if you were to imagine a field, but there’s also the pairing of complementary scents from unexpected origins, say a citrus or a spice from thousands of miles away. In the same way those scents come together, oils and waxes can come together in soaps and balms just as harmoniously, and that harmony is very inspiring.

Q: We love your product. In your own words, what’s better about it than its big-box store competitors?

A: Being handmade certainly sets my products apart from big-box competitors, but I’m also able to address a niche audience who has an appreciation for quality and originality. I get to pull from a much broader pool of ingredients, enough to be a logistical nightmare for a factory. The choice from the very beginning to be palm free and to use sustainable and natural ingredients also sets Craftsman Soap Co. apart.

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Q: What is the most “Portland” thing to ever happen to you?

A: I think most of the ‘Portland’ happenings in my life are pretty self-imposed. At one point I was keeping chickens and bees in the backyard, and spending a lot of time at a community ceramics studio, so every ‘what else do you do’ conversation felt pretty Portlandesque. There was also the time I went car-free for a month. Trying to explain how that was voluntary was pretty difficult.

Q: Do you straight shave? If not, would you consider it?

A: I don’t straight shave, but I do use a safety razor. Hopefully I get some credit for that? A friend who blacksmiths in his garage forged a solid steel razor with a wedge grind that he gave me, I use it from time to time, but it definitely takes patience and skill. I’ve definitely drawn blood more than once.

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Q; What is one thing you wish more of your customers knew about you or your work?

A:I make a concerted effort to act and appear professionally, but I think this throws people off sometimes, so I have to laugh when people mistake Craftsman Soap Company for something much larger. I wish more customers knew that while everything here is professional, it is still a small and genuinely handcrafted operation. There’s no gimmick or smokescreen, I legitimately weigh and blend every ingredient by hand, cut every bar of soap myself, and pour every ounce of oil, after shave, or wax into their respective bottles and tins

Q: How can readers get in touch with you?

A:Readers can find us at www.craftsmansoapco.com and reach out directly either through the contact forms on the website, at the Craftsman Soap Co. page on Facebook, on Instagram @craftsmansoapco, or by emailing us directly at hello@craftsmansoap.com.

Thank you, Evan! Keep up the good work!

How to Shave Like Your Great Grandma

We know, we know: Your Great Grandma probably didn't shave. 

You see, there's just no precedent for women using straight razors. When straights were most prevalent, it was still scandalous for women in America to show their ankles in public! Nobody was going to see your silky-smooth skin except in the most... ahem... intimate setting, and I can't imagine there was a lot of trend-setting to be done coiffing women's body hair at the time. But this entertains the notion that women (and men, for that matter) shave their bodies for others' benefit, which is an infuriatingly patriarchal notion, so allow me a clarification: shaving is a personal decision, one that your peers have no business making for you.

We are obviously pro-shaving, and yet you will often catch us sporting several weeks of chin-fluff (we're insanely busy making beautiful razors, after all). Further, we are fully aware and comfortable with the fact that the women in our lives may skip shaving here and there, or choose not to shave at all. That's a choice people make for themselves and we encourage that kind of free-thinking around here. Our company and our products only hope to provide the best tools for the job when you decide that it's time to slay any furry beasts.

In case you've been wondering, all of our products are also products for women! We may not brand them differently, but all of our razors and strops work perfectly well for women. Our products do not discriminate based on the gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation of your fluff, scruff, whiskers and curls. They work to sever asunder undesired strands, stubble and vibrissae without prejudice and with precision, while offering a permanent and sustainable solution to your daily shaving ritual.

No Substitute for Experience

When I first started looking into straight shaving, I read hundreds of articles and watched dozens of hours of video, believing that it was the best way to prepare for my first shave. But months after reading my first article I still didn't have my own straight and I still hadn't tried it; I had zero first-hand experience. I was so caught up in research that I didn't even think to ask myself why I hadn't actually done anything!

Then I bumped into John. I didn't know a lot about him except that he was English and that he enjoyed expensive scotch, was generally quiet, and blended in with the background with faded jeans and a white T-shirt. We had a friend in common and met at a birthday party, which is where this story really begins. I had a beard that needed shaving and I must have mentioned that I'd been looking into straight razors, but truly I can't remember. What I can remember is the look on his face, how John lit up and literally leapt from his barstool with excitement.

"Do it, it's brilliant!" he said. "Forget about researching it, just do it. And use your own damn common sense." Then he told me the story of shopping for his first straight razor, how the salesperson told him it wasn't worth the trouble, that it was a waste of money, how he was going to cut himself and it was going to ruin the whole thing. "Then I told him to **** off and bought a straight razor someplace else. I used my brain and went slowly, managed not to cut myself at all, then I cleaned up with my leftover cartridge razor and that was that." He was breathless. I started to ask him for advice and he shushed me and said, "Go try it, then we'll talk. Just do it."

He was right, obviously. I won't say my first shave went perfectly, but I managed not to ruin my face and it was enough to get me really excited about learning a new skill. John knew then what I know now: that there's no substitute for experience. 

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