Straight Razor Care and Maintenance Tips for Barbers and Stylists

Our Pro Line consists of products we recommend for performing top-notch services in barber shops and salons. We received a question this week regarding our Pro Line which we feel might be helpful to other barbers and stylists using our straight razors. With Sydney’s permission, we have included her original email below:

“I am a barber and I recently purchased a straight razor from you guys. I am absolutely in love with it, however, I couldn’t find definitive after care instructions on your site. Any and all help is greatly appreciated.

Best,
Sydney

 

First, we love this question and what it says about Sydney’s professionalism. Not only has she invested in quality, sustainable tools for the trade, she's taking the initiative in learning to care for those tools and protect her investment! For those seeking a competent barber near Simi Valley, look no further. You can book an appointment here: @syd.scissorhands

straight razor shaving in the Portland Shave Shop Barber Shop in Portland, OR

Straight Razor Care, Between Services

Fortunately, caring for your Cascade Steel straight razor between shaves is super easy and can be broken down into the three S’s:

Strop! — Sanitize! — Store!

Strop

Stropping keeps your razor keen, clean, and ready to shave effortlessly. After sanitation and skin prep, having a sharp blade is the most important factor in providing a quality shave service, so don’t skip it! The more often you strop, the less time it takes each stropping to restore the edge to shaving sharp. At a minimum, strop your razor at the beginning and end of every shift, but ideally before every service. While this may seem like a cumbersome chore--especially at first while you’re getting the technique down--just remember how much time is wasted changing blades in your shavette. It also gets a lot faster the more you practice. Skipping the strop or doing so improperly will result in lost time waiting for the razor to be sharpened down the road. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our in-depth stropping tutorial.

Sanitize

Between services, rinse the entire razor and immerse in an approved disinfectant. This isn’t just because it’s required by health authorities (which we’ve written about extensively in a previous post); keeping your razor clean will keep it looking and performing its absolute best. Since you’re using our Cascade Steel razors, the entire razor is safe to immerse in water and high-level disinfectants for worry-free sanitation and compliance.

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Store

Once your razor is properly stropped and sanitized, close and store it somewhere safe. Ideally, your razor should have its own sheath or box; don’t just toss it in your kit, since other tools can slide between the razor’s scales and damage the edge inadvertently. A toothbrush travel holder is an easy-to-clean and widely available storage solution for your cutthroat razor!

We hope you found this helpful! If you have any other questions, please send them to us!



FAQ: "Help! I Chipped My Straight Razor! Can you fix it?"

If you’re reading this article, you probably have a damaged razor. Don’t panic! It’s really no biggie, even if it makes for an uncomfortable shave. A quality straight razor can be restored to shaving-sharp without much heartache. Minor damage like chips & dings can be resolved with a basic honing service, but even major damage like a bent or broken point can at least be made functional again.

Why do Straight Razors Chip?

Shown here is a straight razor with a classic case of “sink bite.” Though a pain to shave with, the edge can be easily restored with proper tools and techniques.

Shown here is a straight razor with a classic case of “sink bite.” Though a pain to shave with, the edge can be easily restored with proper tools and techniques.

Straight razors are highly specialized tools and differ from your average kitchen or utility knife in a few key ways. Harder steels, thin blades with deep hollow grinds, acute bevel angles, and polished edges excel at shaving hair. These characteristics produce finer edges, but they are also make them more brittle, meaning the blade is more likely to break than bend. You wouldn’t want to chop an onion or shuck oysters with a straight razor, for example (at least, not one you want to shave with later)!

The most common source of damage we see is from what we call “sink bite.” This occurs when the user rinses with the blade open and bumps the edge against the faucet. Other common sources of frustration are the lids on Barbicide jars, other items in your toiletry bag, countertops, fingernails, combs, and dry shaving (did you know that when dry, human facial hair has the same hardness as an equivalent thickness of copper wire?).

How to avoid chips and dings.

Fortunately, most damage can be avoided by adopting a few simple practices:

  • Don’t touch the edge.

  • Close the razor to set it down, rinse, or sanitize*

  • Test sharpness by shaving hair, not by touching, strumming, or finger-nailing the edge

  • Strop your razor properly. Click here to view our tutorial

  • Prep your hair for shaving. Dry hair is tough, wet hair is soft!

*Our Cascade Steel is stainless, so rust is not a concern when rinsing and sanitizing the razor. Vintage razors and modern blades made of carbon steel should be kept dry and oiled to prevent rust.

How to Fix Chips & Dings

Even straight razors with major damage, like the large chip pictured here, can be made safe to use again.

Even straight razors with major damage, like the large chip pictured here, can be made safe to use again.

While a chipped razor is a pain to shave with, it isn’t the end of the world. Quality straight razors are designed with maintenance in mind, and restoring the edge is fairly straightforward. The only way to remove a chip or ding from your razor’s edge is to hone it out on a stone. While similar to knife sharpening, honing razors is a nuanced skill that requires more specialized tools and techniques than your pocket knife does. Skilled DIY’ers are encouraged to check out our tutorials, take our honing class, pick up a quality hone and give it a shot. For everyone else, you can send us your razor for a honing service for restoration.

Straight Razor Care - Pins

Straight Razor Pin, Closeup

Straight Razor Pin, Closeup

What is a pin?

Traditional Straight Razors have two distinct parts: the blade and the scales. This article is focused on the joining of those two parts, namely the pins where the blade and scales meet.

What we call the “pin” is essentially a solid, or round head rivet; a permanent mechanical fastener consisting of a simple rod and a head which is deformed with a hammer. It’s a simple technology with a noble history, dating as far back as the Bronze Age; it was even used to make the legendary Viking longships! In what is called clinker boat building, Vikings used an iron nail driven between overlapping planks and rounded the exposed end with a hammer in a process called clenching.

Hand-pinning achieves spectacular results and is well worth the added effort. Sure, it’s tedious work; our 1/16” pins and washers are hard to hold and easy to lose, and never mind the unsecured straight razor blade swinging round your fingers! But the results are beautiful and secure compared to modern screws and rivets. Not only that, but they can easily be readjusted without disassembly.

Pins for straight razor and knife making are most commonly made of brass, nickel/silver alloys, and stainless steel. We use brass pins because we like the way they look and feel. Regardless of the material, pins sometimes come loose and will need to be retightened. Pins become more and more problematic as they loosen, causing ‘play’ at the hinge which can irrevocably damage the scales and pins. The scale material will weaken and the head of the pin will be forced to expand outward to accommodate the new range of motion, until you end up with cracked or broken scales and a useless pin that cannot be salvaged. For these reasons, it’s much easier to maintain your straight razor by periodically tightening the pin than it is to replace or restore badly damaged pins and scales.

Why Pins Come Loose.

Pins work primarily by pinching from either side of the joined pieces, and to a lesser degree by expansion within the scales. Tension is lost over time usually because the pin wasn’t peined tightly to begin with, but the scales can also deform and become compromised due to friction, corrosion, mold, etc. The most common cause of lost tension is friction from regular use, and anything short of an actual breakage is quite easy to fix on your own!

How to Diagnose and Fix Problem Pins

Tight straight razor pins that make it difficult to open or close the razor can be loosened simply by creating friction: opening and closing the straight razor a lot (we actually recommend this as a way for your to become familiar with a new razor, and to break in the pin). Conversely, too much friction over time will loosen the pin. Consciously take note of how easily your razor opens before each shave, and of how well it stays open on its own. Any ‘play’ side to side in the hinge will eventually cause the razor to open and close off-track and should be addressed immediately.

Tightening the straight razor’s pin is quite simple. However, there are times when simply tightening the pin should be avoided.

Do NOT tighten the pin if:

  • The scales have any cracks or breakage around the pin.
  • The pin is recessed within the scale material due to over-tightening.
  • The pin’s head is flattened and brittle.
  • The pin is visibly broken or cracked.

A razor with any of the above problems will eventually need re-pinning (read below). If the pin itself looks to be in good condition and there is no damage to the scales, you are clear to start tightening the pin. You will need a small hammer (ideally a rounded ball-pein hammer) and a jeweler’s anvil or other hard surface.

Peining

Peining

Tightening the pin:

  1. With the straight razor closed, place it on it’s side, balancing the pin on the anvil.
  2. With the hammer, give the pin a few firm taps. Alternatively, you can pein it gently with the rounded portion of your ball-pein hammer with light, circular taps. Take care not to strike the scales!
  3. Flip the razor over and repeat on the opposite side. This will keep the straight razor centered in the scales.
  4. Open and close the razor to test the tension. If you feel no change, tap a few more times on either side.
  5. Repeat until you have achieved the desired tension. At Portland Razor Co., we gauge tension by whether or not the razor can strike a pose, balancing upright on the tail and scales without closing.

Re-Pinning:

Sometimes a pin or the scales simply can't be salvaged, in which case the pin will have to be entirely replaced. Because the pin is a permanent fixture, it will have to be destroyed for removal either by filing, grinding, or drilling it out. Take extra care during removal if you plan to reuse the same scales! Once you the old pin is removed, you can replace it with new brass rod and a few washers. 

At Portland Razor Co. for each production razor we use 

  1. Assemble the razor on the length of brass rod with the #0 washers on the outside, then the scales, then wide washers between the scales and blade.
  2. Leaving about 1/16" on either side, cut the brass rod with the diagonal cutters.
  3. File one end of the brass rod so it is flat on top. 
  4. Pein one end of the brass rod. Go slowly and use light taps around the edge of the rod, rather than hitting it centered, so it will lie down smoothly. 
  5. Flip the razor over and ensure that the washers are still in place. Pein the opposite side.
  6. Continue peining, alternating sides, until both sides of the pin are smooth and good tension is achieved. 

Or, you can send it to our shop in Portland...

Long Term Care

Some straight shavers choose to oil their pins to smooth the action of the hinge and preserve the metal, and there’s something to be said for going the extra mile here. However, a small amount of corrosion on the brass can actually help keep the hinge tight, and won’t normally penetrate enough to compromise the integrity of the brass or steel. If you decide to store your straight razor for a long time, it would be beneficial to apply a light coat of oil and work it into the action of the hinge, lubricating the pin and preventing deep rust.

Regularly tighten the pins on your straight razor for the same reasons you strop the blade at every shave. A straight razor that is well-stropped between shaves will keep its edge longer and is easier to restore to a keen edge than one that has been shaved with multiple times without stropping. Similarly, tightening a pin which is only a little loose is much easier and safer than trying to tighten a razor with wobble and breakage. It’s the sum of many tiny efforts over time that add up to the greatest overall experience, and will help you get the most out of your straight razor.