FAQ: Will it Hone? | Why Some Straight Razors Can Be Honed to Shaving Sharp and Some Cannot

"Can you hone this razor? I found it in xyz and I don’t know if it’s worth the trouble…” We’ve honed thousands of razors and want to offer up some guidance on the subject. You might be surprised to learn just how far-gone a straight razor can appear on the outside while still being a good candidate for use as a daily shaver! Often a straight razor just needs a little TLC - one of many reasons why straight razors are the ultimate shaving solution! In this post we explain what we look for in evaluating the quality and condition of a straight razor prior to honing and provide some photo samples of what can or cannot be honed.

What we look for in a straight razor

The primary considerations we assess when determining “honeability” are the maker/manufacturer of the razor, materials used, and wear and tear. Other factors which affect the quality of the razor include the workmanship, how it was heat treated, and how it was handled after heat treatment during finish grinding.

Maker/Manufacturer

If the maker or manufacturer is known and the razor isn’t rusted through or burned away by a grinder, it can likely be honed to shaving sharp. Cheap, re-branded razors made in China & Pakistan are an exception. These are widely available online and marketed as “shaving sharp” when few actually keep an edge. We call these things “razor shaped objects” and are easily identifiable by their… shall we say ‘inconsistent’(?) workmanship, mystery metals, and luxury materials (Damascus steel, buffalo horn, brass-lined scales, etc) at insanely low prices. One such manufacturer even stole our process photos in an effort to appear more legitimate! This is a classic instance of “you get what you pay for” and while some of these razors retain a pretty good edge, just know that it’s a gamble as to whether or not a razor matching this description is honeable. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.

By contrast, a vintage razor which is not rusted through is practically a sure bet (we aspire to have the same said of our straight razors in 100 years!). By virtue of its survival, we can tell that it was made by skilled workers using quality materials. In the case of a vintage razor, the main thing to look for is rust. Light surface rust or patina (discoloration of the steel over time) isn’t much of a problem, but if rust--usually red--has penetrated from one side of the blade to the other, it is unlikely to produce a perfect edge.

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Diagnosis: it will not hone!

This modern razor is of unknown make and clearly white labeled/re-branded with a laser on the blade’s face. It has a few telltale signs of poor quality:
- uneven grind
- a cheap flathead screw at the pivot instead of pins and washers or a countersunk high quality screw
- chunky box-like scales
- a mirror polish which is very difficult to achieve on a properly heat treated razor with high hardness. The low cost of this razor was disclosed to us and it was a red flag that this razor was most likely not heat-treated properly as a way to save costs on the labor a mirror-finish requires.

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Diagnosis: it will hone…?

This vintage Sheffield blade shows some signs of neglect. The red rust needs careful polishing/removal before we can determine how deep it goes, but the edge looks relatively clear of rust! Because the edge is rust free, we’ll have this razor sent in so we may determine if the rust does not penetrate through the blade. If the rust has compromised the blade, we will refund the honing service fee.

Materials

Vintage razors are almost universally made with high-carbon steels. Some will have brand names like “blue steel” or “silver steel,” but all are of relatively high quality if they have survived a few decades or twenty. High carbon steel is relatively easy to work and heat treat, resulting in harder, sharper blades. The heat treatment is, in reality, the most important invisible step in making any blade. It’s also the easiest corner to cut during manufacturing, since softer metals are easier to grind and errors only become apparent during sharpening. Steel which is improperly heat treated will be softer, more flexible, and unstable in the microscopic dimensions required for a razor’s edge.

There are many stainless blade steels available, many of which can make a fine razor steel. We are very proud of our stainless razors and take great care in owning our heat treating process. Even 440C stainless does the job well… if heat treated properly. To retain their stainless properties, they must be heated in an anoxic (oxygen-free) environment. This adds time and complexity to the process, something large manufacturers prefer to avoid. Then, as in any bladesmithing process, they must be ground slowly to final thickness to avoid overheating the blade after heat treatment. Heating the paper-thin blade beyond the tempering heat of the blade ruins the steel by making it soft and unable to take an edge. This is why razors should never be sharpened on grinders: the heat from that much friction is enough to render it useless.

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Diagnosis: It will hone!

This vintage cutthroat by J.A. Henckels has an especially dark patina and some pitting, but no red rust which penetrates through the blade. We’ll maintain the gentle blade curve so that very little metal is removed in the honing process. Our belief is “the less material removed the better” as it extends the life of the razor and we are all about waste reduction around here!

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Diagnosis: it will hone!

This vintage straight razor shows signs of wear near the toe. This can easily be resolved in a normal honing session.

Wear & Tear

In most cases, a quality straight razor can be restored after minor damage or neglect. On the other hand: grinders, salt water, and improper honing can wreak havoc on otherwise perfectly good razors.

As mentioned above, grinders can easily create enough heat from friction to affect the heat treatment of a razor, effectively ruining it. Grinders remove material in a heartbeat, shortening the razor’s lifespan and causing irregularities in the razor’s edge geometry. At best, this will complicate any attempts at restoration. At worst: bye bye razor.

Salt water is especially problematic for carbon steels. Tap water is bad enough, but salt spray will cause rust at an accelerated rate. If you plan on taking your razor with you for an island getaway, don’t forget to keep your razor dried and oiled between uses!

Improper honing isn’t always catastrophic, though it’s much harder to put material back on than to remove it. Hone wear induced over years and years may produce wide bevels and irregular geometries, but these are more a nuisance than a fatal flaw. Most times, material was simply removed unevenly, affecting the final edge geometry. This can be compensated for by removing material in the right places or by adding it artificially, i.e. with tape on the spine to make it thicker during honing.

One thing that is often forgotten is the condition of the razor’s scales. The scales are an important safety feature, protecting you from the razor and the razor from you when not in use. For this reason, broken or missing scales need to be addressed before sharpening the razor.

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Diagnosis: needs scales, but It will Hone!

Cracks at the pivot are common, especially in vintage razors like this one. It seems to be holding, but the scales should be replaced if this is to become a daily shaver. Scales are an important safety feature, keeping you and the blade safe when not in use. We can take care of re-scaling and honing this razor will be ready to shave on!

Our honing service

Ultimately, a honemeister can only decide once the razor is in-hand and on the hones for sharpening, as some flaws and damage are invisible until sharpening begins. It isn’t terribly common, but it has happened on occasion that invisible flaws and cracks emerge or propagate once the razor has pressure applied to it on the hones. In these situations, it is our policy to refund the honing service fee and return the razor to you.

Do you have a razor that needs honing? In doubt as to whether it is worth saving? If you still have questions or think you might have a unique issue, we invite you to shoot us an email to info(at)portlandrazorco.com with photos of your razor in question and we will assess it for honeability!

Yes, Barbers & Stylists Can Use Real Straight Razors

You may have heard that conventional straight razor use is illegal in professional barbershops and salons, or that they are somehow unsafe for you or your clients, or that only single-use blades are permitted. This is a MYTH perpetuated by decades of misinformation, and we’d like to set the record straight.

A Portland Razor Co. Deluxe strop hangs from a vintage barber chair strop hook.

A Portland Razor Co. Deluxe strop hangs from a vintage barber chair strop hook.

State Board has the answer

Each state’s health authority lays out specific requirements for clean and safe practices in barbershops. We have checked rules & regs in many states including OR, CA, WA, CO, UT, PA, FL, TN, NY, NJ… In fact, the only state we have confirmed explicitly prohibits use of conventional straight razors is Rhode Island!

Now, obviously we are not lawyers, we are just advocates for a better world with a more sustainable culture. As such, give your local health authority a call. We have phoned different states and most often the response to, "Are reusable straight razors illegal to use in the shop?" is, "Who told you that? Of course it's fine to use those..."

Nevertheless, you may carry this myth with you as a barber or stylist. I think we create barriers like this because we are afraid of what the answer will be. The answer might restrict us further or reveal an answer for which we weren't prepared to digest. We are taught that striking out on our own is to pursue a freedom we couldn't find in a "regular" job, so we avoid rules and avoid authority so that we don't have to be on the hook for knowing the answer. I completely understand this and I could dedicate a full series of posts to the fear and doubt we are taught to expect in daring to be different. Maybe I will get around to that post at some point, but not today. In the meantime, call the board! They have the answers!

AND before we get too far off track, I want to show you the rules as they are written today in Oregon!

Portland Razor Co.  “Barber Special” Straight Razor  in High-Level Barbicide.

Portland Razor Co. “Barber Special” Straight Razor in High-Level Barbicide.

Oregon's rules & Our Sanitization Process

The Oregon Health Licensing Office names razors specifically in its definition of sharp implements:

817-005-0005 Definitions. (30) ”Sharp edged or pointed, non-electrical tools and implements” means those items which may on occasion pierce or cut the skin and draw blood, including razors, cuticle nippers, cuticle pushers, nail clippers, tweezers, comedone extractors, shears, and metal nail files.

Oregon also makes an important distinction between grades of disinfectant:

(20) “High-level disinfectant” means a chemical agent, which has demonstrated tuberculocidal activity and is registered with the EPA.

Finally, they give instructions for proper sanitation:

817-010-0068 Disinfecting Non-Electrical Tools and Implements (3) For all tools and implements with sharp edges or points completely immerse in a high-level disinfectant used according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

In short, conventional straight razors are perfectly safe for you to use as long as they are properly sanitized between each client. We developed the following process to meet these requirements and guarantee that our razors are sharp and safe for each client. Every step should be performed before each use:

  1. Carefully rinse and dry the entire straight razor with a clean towel.
  2. Strop the razor.
  3. Immerse the razor and scales (closed) in an approved high-level disinfectant such as Barbicide Plus* for manufacturer’s recommended duration.
  4. Rinse and dry the razor with a clean towel, and place in a sealed, clean container for storage prior to use.
  5. Upon completion of the shave, repeat steps 1-4 to prepare for the next client.
  6. Because a strop is porous and cannot be sanitized, NEVER strop the razor without then completing the entire sanitation process. The same is true if the razor comes in contact with any other unsanitary surface.
  7. NEVER use the razor on multiple clients. For the safety of your clients, sanitize the razor before using it on your next client.

where did this myth come from?

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This brings us to an important point which may explain why conventional straight razors fell out of fashion in the first place. As our understanding of blood-born disease and sanitary practices expanded, health authorities updated code to keep clients and pracitioners safe in the 1980s and 1990s. Unfortunately, straight razor manufacturers had been on the decline since the early 1900s with the introduction of disposable razors to the market and never updated the straight razor's materials to withstand the disinfectants required by the new rules:

  1. Vintage Blades made of high carbon steel do not hold an edge in high-level disinfectant.
  2. Vintage Scales made of organic materials such as bone or horn or low-quality plastics also do not fare well in the high-level.

In this way, conventional razors were made impractical through legislation while still leaving the door open if improvements were made to the materials. When developing our Professional Line, we approached these rules and regulations to guide our material choices and were able to hatch a straight razor that was classic, non-disposable, and fully sanitizable!

If you have any doubts of the legality of using a conventional straight razor in your shop, we urge you to take a quick look through your local health authority's documentation. It is all available online and should clear things up!

 

P.S. If you feel your barber would benefit by implementing conventional straight razors in their practice, we hope you will share this article with them!

*All Portland Razor Co Professional Razors are made with non-reactive scales and are stable in Barbicide Plus.

What is Pre-Shave Conditioner?

We seek to provide our customers with the highest-quality products and the knowledge and skills to use them. To that end, we are proud to introduce our new Executive Pre-Shave Conditioner as part of our new Executive Shave Essentials line.

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What is Pre-Shave Conditioner?

Pre-shave conditioners are chemically and functionally different from pre-shave oils. Pre-shave oils primarily add lubricity to your shave, and help to get more performance out of cheap shave creams and soaps. Since our Executive Shave Cream already contains high levels of quality, natural oils for lubrication, we decided to go a different route: use a pre-shave conditioner to soften the hair and extend the life of the razor's edge. Our Executive Pre-Shave Conditioner has a lower pH (higher acidity) than pre-shave oils. This quality of our Pre-Shave Conditioner softens hair and makes the hair easier to cut. Because hairs will be softer, less pressure may be used during shaving and the blade will experience less wear and tear. For our first pre-shave conditioner, we have added eucalyptus and mint essential oils to create a soothing, cooling sensation while you prep for your shave.

How to Use the Executive Pre-Shave Conditioner

The best time to shave is always after a shower, when the hair is hydrated and warm; a hot, moist towel is a great substitute if you don't want to shower. While your hair is hydrated and gently towel-dried:

  1. Dispense a dime-sized amount of conditioner onto your palm.
  2. Rub your hands together and massage into the hair.
  3. You can remove any excess with moist towel.
  4. Allow essential oil fragrance to bloom and cool the skin for a soothing, aromatic shaving experience.
  5. Lather shave soap/shave cream as usual.

PRE-SHAVE CONDITIONER SPECS:

Eucalyptus Mint Scent, Handmade in Portland, OR, 3.3 oz., Crafted from high quality, natural ingredients, formulated for smooth and comfortable shaves, Easy-pour, shatter-proof bottle. Ingredients: Water, Cetearyl Alcohol, Betaine, Coco-Glucoside, Shea Butter, Olive Oil, Sunflower Oil, Coconut Oil, Phenoxyethanol, Jojoba Oil, Aloe Leave Juice Powder, Xanthan Gum, Essential Oil Blend, Citric Acid, Lactic Acid, Benzoic Acid, Dehydroacetic Acid, Vitamin E

The Executive Pre-Shave Conditioner softens hair, extending the life of the razor's edge and soothes and cools the skin for a more comfortable traditional wet shave, no matter what blade you’re using! 

Source: https://www.portlandrazorco.com/shave-esse...

Portland Razor Pro : Bronze Certification

We are proud to introduce this educational series for professionals interested in using Portland Razor Co. straight razors! This series will help you get the most out of your conventional straight razor, improve the quality of your services, and help you stand out.

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"Straight Razor", "Cutthroat Razor", "Open Razor", "Conventional Straight Razor", "Folding Razor", whatever you call it, you have probably heard that these razors are illegal to use in barbershops in the United States. In most cases, this is not true. Just like clippers and shears, there are rules for HOW to use them to keep you and your clients safe. If you are a licensed barber or stylist looking to take the leap, our free course is here to help! Read on for full details.

Our Bronze Certification is completely free and packed with useful information for new and veteran barbers alike. We believe straight razor shaving to be at the heart of traditional barbering, so we are very excited for the opportunity to contribute to its resurgence in the American barbershop.

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Unfortunately, we have heard from many hair professionals that instruction on the use of traditional straight razors is not widely available. We want our customers to have a great experience with their razors, so we developed our own series of courses to help barbers further their understanding of these traditional tools. Topics discussed in the Bronze Certification include, but are not limited to:

  • Straight Razor Anatomy
  • Strop Anatomy
  • Safe Handling of the Razor
  • Special Care Considerations
  • Stropping
  • Honing // When to hone, who can hone
  • Sanitation

Licensed professionals are expected to perform due diligence and check with their local health authority for specific guidelines and regulations controlling the use of straight razors before using them in a licensed facility.

To become Bronze Certified, read through the information document and take the online exam. After you submit the exam, we will review and contact you within 5-7 business days with your results.
Again, the Bronze Certification is completely FREE. Even if you do not intend to take the test, the free info document contains a wealth of knowledge that will help you get the most out of your razor.

We know that you expect a lot from your tools. Good tools are an investment in yourself, your best work, and your clients’ satisfaction. We believe that conventional straight razors are superior to disposables in every way, and want you and your clients to have the best possible experience with our product. Whatever your experience level--novice or expert--we strongly recommend you read the free intro document and take the test if you want to get the most out of your straight razor. Take care of your tools, and they will take care of you!

The Top 5 Reasons to Shave with a Straight Razor

Wondering if shaving with a straight is right for you?

Straight shaving can have a meaningful impact on your physical, emotional, and financial well-being while reducing your impact on the environment. By deciding to become a straight shaver, you are resolving to take back control of your shave, transforming a loathsome chore into an enjoyable, empowering ritual. Here are our top 5 reasons you should be shaving with a straight razor.

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Portland Razor Company’s TOP 5 REASONS TO SHAVE WITH A STRAIGHT RAZOR

1: Straight Shaving is Good For Your Skin.

Gentle exfoliation, like the kind you get from straight shaving and using a shaving brush, can be great for skin health. Exfoliation removes the topmost layer of dead skin cells and promotes new cell growth, collagen production, and improved circulation. Shaving with a straight razor and applying lather with a shaving brush are two great ways to add this kind of beneficial exfoliation to your shaving routine. The brush lifts hair and dirt off the skin while applying lather and moisture, and provides the most gentle exfoliation. The straight razor clears dead cells, dirt, and lather away in one clean stroke, and your technique can be modified to provide a more or less aggressive shave.
Straight shaving is cleaner than shaving with cartridge or electric razors, reducing the risk of common skin infections like ingrown hairs, razor burn and razor bumps. Safety bars, lubricating strips, multiple blades and motors are difficult to clean and can clog with hair, skin, soap, and dirt. This can cause the blades to rust, become dull, and grow harmful bacteria which increase the risk of these aforementioned infections. A quality straight razor made with high carbon steel and proper heat treatment will take and hold a sharper edge over cheap stainless blades, and can be cleaned between each and every pass, making for a sharper, cleaner, closer shave.

2: Straight Shaving is Good for Your Brain.

Learning new skills that use both hemispheres of your brain--this study suggests digital photography or quilting--improves cognitive function, memory, and coordination. The catch is: you have to keep learning new skills to continue receiving these benefits. You can get started with straight shaving knowing only the basics of shaving and stropping, but there are many learning opportunities within the world of straight shaving. Learn to hone your straight razor, build the perfect lather, set your razor into some primo scales. While we are happy to do some of these things for you, we think you will enjoy performing them yourself once you get your feet wet -- why should we be the ones to have all the fun?
Many use straight shaving as an opportunity to meditate, which has been shown to lower stress and boost your immune system. Folks who practice this type of meditation in the morning claim that it sets them up for a more productive day. Evening shavers benefit, too! Performing an analog task like meditating or straight shaving an hour before bed--especially as part of a routine--instead of being sedentary in front of a glowing screen makes it easier to fall asleep, and improves the quality of your sleep.

3: Straight Shaving Saves You Money.

A well-cared-for straight razor should provide a lifetime of shaves and save you hundreds of dollars each year! Some savings are pretty obvious, like never needing to buy refills, sign up for a subscription, or drive to the store for blades ever again. But straight shaving saves you money in less obvious ways, too. It reduces the amount of waste you create, which in turn decreases your waste disposal bill. Harder to measure--but even more important--is the reduced pressure on landfills, which are expensive to construct, fill, and close; never mind the cost of environmental cleanup as a consequence of poorly-constructed or improperly-sealed landfills!
You can enjoy all of these savings even after accounting for startup costs and recurring costs for sharpening services! The key to getting the most out of your straight razor is in taking care of it: keeping it dry, stropping it properly, and having it honed when necessary will reduce wear and prolong its usable life to further extend your savings, even into the next generation. Long-term costs can be reduced further by purchasing a good stone and learning to hone your straight razor on your own.

4: Straight Razors are Good for the Environment.

Straight shaving is a zero-waste solution. With nothing to buy or throw away, it’s the best shaving method for the environment and a simple way to reduce your carbon footprint. Every year, 68 million American men throw away 2 billion disposable razors, generating 34 million cubic feet of hazardous, non-recyclable waste. This adds to 250+ million tons of new trash, 13% of which is plastic. In short, making the change to straight shaving is a meaningful step for the environmentally-conscious.
You can improve the environmental impact of your other shaving and grooming goods as well. We recommend natural, sustainable products from responsible sources, like those made by our friends at Craftsman Soap Co. From the Craftsman Soap Co website:

“We use recyclable packaging, post-consumer recycled papers and soy inks, and have always made our products free of palm oil because of its reputation for destructive farming practices. Coconut oil, shea butter, and cocoa butter together create an alternative to palm oil that we believe creates a richer, fuller lather and a better bar of soap.”

5: As a Straight Shaver, You Have Control.

Straight shaving gives you total control over your shaving experience. While most razors are made one-size-fits-most, the straight razor is truly flexible. Sensitive skin? Curly hair? Kevlar growing out of your face? Your technique, angle and pressure can be modified for the ideal shave without having to change products or pay extra, and being able to take care of your own straight razor lets you know for sure that it is clean and sharp before every shave. A straight razor is a product that will treat you well if you treat it respectfully and responsibly, and taking good care of it will prolong its life and improve the quality of your shaves for years to come.

Other Sources Cited:
"Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) in the United States: Facts and Figures." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 30 Dec. 2014.
Clarke, Arthur C. "Solid and Hazard Waste." Solid and Hazard Waste. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Dec. 2014.