Introducing the Professional Line

We are excited to introduce the Portland Razor Co. Professional Line Straight Razors! The Professional Line Straight Razors can be fully sanitized due to their unique blade and scales materials, improvements which make them the ultimate shaving tool for professional barbers and stylists. We believe that conventional straight razors not only out-perform disposable razors in many categories, they also offer a waste-free solution to practitioners in search of green alternatives.

The Problem

" --In reality, conventional straight razors can be used in most states with proper sanitary technique."

For decades, disposable razors have been commonplace in shops across the United States. Used properly, disposable blades are perfectly safe and sanitary. That said, blade changes take time, pose an added risk to the professional handling them, often barbers will have to throw out unused blades because they are simply not sharp, and they end up in our landfills as hazardous waste. Students are often told in barber school that there is no alternative, that conventional straight razor use is illegal or unsafe. In reality, conventional straight razors can be used in most states with proper sanitary technique. (We have checked rules & regs in many states including OR, CA, WA, PA, FL, TN, NY, NJ… In fact, the only state we have confirmed prohibits Conventional Straight Razor Use is Rhode Island!)

Even knowing the proper sanitary technique is not enough, unfortunately. Existing razor manufacturers never changed their design or materials to keep up with evolving requirements. For example, all sharp implements which may come in contact with the skin must be fully immersible in a high-level disinfectant. This means the whole razor, scales and all, must be fully immersed to be sanitized. Products like Barbicide do a very good job of destroying organic matter, which makes them great for killing contagions (yay!) and bad for plastics, wood, horn… everything traditionally used to make razor scales. It’s also brutal on most blade steels, causing rust or deformation of the edge.

With these problems in mind, we were ready to get into the shop and find the solution.

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Design Process

Our first and most obvious task was to find materials that are easily sanitized. Our Cascade Steel has the perfect chemistry and edge-retention characteristics to survive prolonged exposure to Barbicide with little to no change in sharpness or surface finish. It’s also easier to clean and maintain than carbon steel blades(such as our O1 razors from our Classic and Artisan lines) without sacrificing cutting performance.

With the blade accounted for, the scales posed our next challenge. We wanted something durable, non-reactive with Barbicide, and easy to work with. This meant metal was out of the question, being either too flimsy or too heavy for our purposes. We settled on resin-based materials, being widely available, lightweight, and easier to work with. After exhaustive testing, we went with a high-impact, chemical-resistant fiberglass and resin composite.

In thinking of how professionals tend to put more mileage on their tools than hobbyists, we decided to upgrade the rest of the hardware while we were at it. Stainless pins and washers replaced the usual brass, making the razor more durable overall.

Once we found all the appropriate materials, we began vigorously testing them in a real-world environment: Portland Shave Shop. Each of our barbers was equipped with a prototype razor, instructed on its care and use, and given license to test them however they saw fit.

It makes sense that a razor designed for use on one’s own face might not be ideal for shaving others. The barbers would work with the razors for a few weeks and come back to us with their feedback, and we would take the razors into the shop for modifications. We started from scratch more than a few times, deciding that we needed two different razors to tackle most jobs in the barbershop. The resulting designs were worth the effort. They come with some obvious changes, a few less-so: we extended the jimps and made them barely deeper to improve grip, and the overall length of the razors was shortened so they would fit in sanitation jars from common manufacturers. The taper of the tang and balance point of the blade were altered to make the razor more comfortable in pinch grips and when held back-handed, grips more common in the barbershop than in the bathroom at home.

Performance

The barbers testing our razors had great feedback. The first thing usually had to do with tactile feedback, or how they could feel the hair and skin by holding the razor. Picture a disposable-blade razor for a moment; a thin piece of metal (the blade) is inserted into a metal or plastic housing with several moving parts, and is fastened together with pins, springs, or magnets. This creates several degrees of separation between the hair being cut and the hand of the barber. All that plastic and hardware absorbs the force of the hair against the blade and it never makes it to the barber’s hand! By contrast, conventional razors are a single piece of steel with only one degree of separation between the client's hair and the barber's hand. This results in an immediate difference in how much the barber can feel on the skin through the razor, allowing them to make adjustments on the fly more naturally than with a disposable blade. This has resulted in fewer nicks, closer shaves, and greater overall comfort for the client.

Second, conventional razors tend to be less aggressive. While some may see this as a drawback, most find that it allows them to give a closer shave that is less irritating to the client’s skin. Our theory is this: you want a razor that is sharp enough to cut the hair with no resistance, but not so sharp that it removes more than the topmost layer of dead skin. The blade should pass effortlessly through hair but glide over the surface of the skin without irritating it.

Third was ease of maintenance. Cleanup is a cinch thanks to the stainless blade, as the whole razor can be rinsed under running water without fear of rust. Sanitation is also simple as with any other sharp in a barber’s toolkit. Because the blade steel and scales materials are non-reactive, they can be fully immersed in Barbicide Plus--or other high-level disinfectants--without the material deteriorating or harming performance. One drawback of course is the need to strop, but this is far outweighed by the benefits of a non-disposable blade. Once the technique is mastered, stropping can be done at the chair while the client is enjoying a hot towel or while your next razor is resting in disinfectant, allowing you to multitask.

On the topic of stropping: we find the edge is durable enough to forego stropping between every client if the blade is only used for neck shaves. Basic lineups don’t seem to put as much wear on the blade, so barbers in busy shops need not take the few extra minutes between clients to strop; only sanitizing is necessary.

Finally, there’s nothing to throw away. We care about our planet and our impact on it, so finding ways to reduce waste is important to us. Switching to conventional straight razors at Portland Shave Shop has allowed us to do away with disposable razors entirely, meaning we both generate less waste and help our barbers save time and money.

1.75-inch Professional Straight Razor // "The Lineup"

With a shorter blade and a familiar profile, this razor is ideal for line ups and detailed razor work around the ear, or in creative cuts. The blade still has enough weight behind it for a full face shave, but if you are a specialist and are shaving faces every day, we recommend the 2-½” model.

2.5-inch Professional Straight Razor // Barber Special

This razor most strongly resembles the vintage blades used in barbershops for over 100 years, and brings traditional barbering hurdling into the 21st century. Longer than the Line Up razor, this blade is for barbers whose practice is built around the traditional straight shave. The added surface area allows you to make more strokes before wiping the blade, and the added weight carries the blade through whiskers with less effort.

specs

  • Handmade in Portland, OR
  • 5/8 Round Point Straight Razor
  • 2-1/2" cutting edge
  • Can be fully submerged in high-level disinfectant
  • Durable scales
  • Stainless pins and washers
  • Lower and Upper Jimps for Added Grip and Control
  • Quarter-Hollow Ground Stainless Cascade Steel
  • Hardened to 62 HRC
  • Shave-Ready: Hand-Honed to 12K grit and Stropped Before Shipping
  • Pinned by Hand

Pasted Strops, What You Need to Know

We had a gentleman stop by our shop the other day with questions about pasted strops. His razor was losing its edge quite quickly and he wasn’t very keen on having it honed several times a year… If this sounds at all familiar, then this article is for you.

At Portland Razor Co. and at home, we use Chromium Oxide on a polyweb strop to polish and restore the razor’s edge. Chromium Oxide, aka “CrOx,” is a fine abrasive similar to jeweler's rouge. Used in conjunction with the small amount of heat and friction from stropping, it smooths the bevel very nicely, reduces hone lines from sharpening on a stone, and results in a smoother, sharper edge. It’s a nice in-between step, being more aggressive than stropping alone while not removing material the way honing does. It’s a great tool in your toolbox and will prolong the life of your blade between honings, ultimately saving time and money by stretching how long you can go before investing in a hone yourself or sending your razor to be sharpened. It is not a substitute for honing.

Before even thinking about pasting your strop, take a serious look at your stropping technique. Imagine that your razor’s edge is made up of tiny metal hairs… er, microscopic metal fibers. The goal of stropping is to clean any debris from the edge and to align these microscopic metal hairs, making them ‘keen’.

For a good stropping stroke:

  1. Hold the strop firm and flat, but not too tight.
  2. Lay the spine and edge flat on the strop (the spine will be in the direction of travel across the strop).
  3. Push away from you with the spine and edge flat on the strop material, with little to no pressure.
  4. Before you reach the far end of the strop, flip the razor over, keeping the spine in contact with the strop.
  5. Pull towards you, flip over on the spine.
  6. Repeat.

Some common mistakes we see with stropping that will affect the blade include:

  • Rolling up on the edge in the middle of a stroke.
  • Pulling the edge towards you or away from you (instead of leading with the spine).
  • Applying too much or uneven pressure.
  • Not enough tension in the strop (there is slack).
  • Too much tension in the strop (the blade skips off the material or can’t make full contact).
  • Hitting the hardware on either end of the strop with your blade.

Also take a look at the strop itself. Make sure that it is clean and smooth, with no debris or nicks that might affect your blade. Any oily quality to the leather is indicative of a well-conditioned strop, whereas built up scum can catch harmful debris. A few small nicks on the edge close to either end is pretty common when you’re learning and is caused by flipping the razor over while it is still moving towards the end of the strop. Smaller nicks won’t be an issue and can be smoothed out just by conditioning the strop with your palm. However, if you are missing chunks of material then it’s time to shop for a new strop.

A General Warning: Any errors in your stropping stroke or flaws in the material will be exaggerated and made worse by stropping on CrOx. With that in mind, we can only recommend pasting your strop to competent shavers who are confident that their strop game is on point. If you’ve evaluated your technique, the state of your strop material, and you’ve decided you’re ready for the next level, then it’s time to get pasty!

How To Paste Your Strop

 

You will need a strop and a Chromium Oxide chalk, spray, or paste for this tutorial

Where to Buy Chromium Oxide: 

CrOx is widely available in a variety of forms. Knife-making, honing, and straight razor sites are a sure bet, and have the most options. If you're looking to save a buck (let's face it: who isn't?), you can find generic versions at most hardware stores, though some will dispute the purity of these options. We purchased our three-pound brick of "Knifemaker's Green Rouge" from knifemaking.com for $12.95 and it does the job. You will never use three pounds of CrOx, unless you start painting your face with it every day (which I invite you to try; don't forget to take pictures and tag us on instagram)!

When to Paste:

Knowing whether your razor can benefit from a pasted strop is tricky. Maybe you've noticed a tugging or roughness while shaving, or maybe your razor isn't popping hairs the way it used to. Whatever your test, when there is a noticeable change in performance that isn't corrected by casual stropping, then it's time to paste. 
We use our Chromium Oxide pasted strop every day just on the razors we manufacture. It gets a lot more use than the casual shaver ever will, and we still only need to reapply paste every couple of months, using the strop a dozen times every week. You will likely only need to paste your strop once.

Where to Paste:

Stropping on a pasted surface shouldn’t be part of your daily shave routine. The idea is to create a more abrasive surface than your normal strop, so we recommend pasting on the prep side and not the leather side; it generally holds the CrOx better, distributes it evenly over time, and has worked well for us for years. Apply CrOx right in the middle of your strop where it gets the most traffic, but consider the following:

  • If you have multiple strops, you can simply decide which strop will be your pasted strop and use it only when your blade needs a few restorative passes.
  • If you have just one strop, the ideal placement is on the reverse of your prep side.
  • If your strop is a one-piece hanging strop like Dovo’s small cowhide/linen strop, this may not be possible without seriously modifying the strop.
  • On the other hand, two-piece hanging strops like ours give easy access to multiple stropping surfaces (ours also have interchangeable components with screws instead of rivets). With these, you can just flip your prep side over, secure the leather side out of the way, and paste away. Depending on how you’ve anchored your strop, this can be a little harder to do in practice but is much cheaper than buying a second strop.

How Much Paste:

A quarter-sized portion of CrOx will do the trick. Rub the chalky stuff directly into the center of your strop and spread it with gradually increasing circles. Normal stropping will spread it more evenly over time. If you like it less chalky and prefer a more pasty consistency, add a few drops of mineral or neatsfoot oil and mix them beforehand. Apply the oily slurry evenly to your strop and let dry, wiping off excess oil with a clean cloth. There are also some nice CrOx sprays out there. Just shake, spray, let dry overnight, and strop!

Stropping With Paste:

10-20 passes on a pasted strop is more than enough for a quick touch-up. You can visually check the bevel for even distribution by looking for a characteristic fogginess where the paste is working. Go to your normal prep side for a standard 30-40 passes to smooth it out and remove excess paste, and then your leather for 40-60 passes for the extra 10%!

Pasting your strop helps keeps the honemeister away. Your stropping technique should be somewhere between ‘competent shaver’ and ‘razor-wielding ninja’ before you worry too much about going out and buying Chromium Oxide. It makes good stropping better when used in moderation and bad stropping much, much worse. If your razor isn't cutting hairs at all, no amount of pasted stropping will save you and it's time for honing.

Help us keep new shavers on the cutting edge! What are YOUR best tips for pasted stropping?