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Smythe
Advisor
From: United States
Posts: 990
Please bear in mind, though there are many “recommended” brands of razors… “Today” we are referring to the various "conditions" of the so-called recommended brands with a focus on the steel blade.

Disclaimer: I am by no means a self-appointed Judge, Jury, and Executioner of buying vintage razors, these are simple rules I follow to make life as a restorer and shaver (and sometimes razor vendor) somewhat pleasant.

All these rules apply to full hollow ground blades but some do apply to wedge and near wedge ground blades.

If you are new to restoring/honing vintage razors:
- Avoid razors with turned up points no matter the brand, will be accompanied by uneven bevels. In this case: the bevel is narrow at the heel and become progressively wider at the point… it’s just too difficult for an inexperienced to sharpen.

- Avoid razors with excessively wide bevels at the point (doesn’t have to be turned up at the point as mentioned above)… also difficult to sharpen.

- Avoid razors with differing bevels on each side of the blade, that is: the bevel is wide on one side and narrow on the other (these differences are more pronounced at the point), these will have corresponding wide and narrow wear on the spine on each side… chances are the blade is badly warped.

- Avoid razors with excessive pitting near the edge and/or point. With full hollow ground blades, the edge and point are already very thin from factory and removing rust/pitting from these spots could result in a blade too thin and week in that area, such an edge may not stand up to the rigors of honing or shaving.

- Avoid razors with excessive frowns. Chances are you will have to remove a lot of material from the edge to get it “flat?” and you will end up cutting away much of the necessary stabilizing ridge behind the edge.

Note: Know the difference between a blade with a nice smile and a worn out blade with a turned up point… the two are close but completely different... you may want to avoid the worn out blade.

Have a look at the photo below of two Full Hollow ground razors (same brand and model), the one at the top has an edge with a slight smile. We would say it’s a “full” blade because it hasn’t been sharpened much and still has most of the original steel; this razor would be easily sharpened and maintained by anyone new to sharpening razors.

However though some would say the blade at the bottom has a bigger smile, it is in fact worn from being re-sharpened over many years and now has a Turned up Point. This blade is very difficult to sharpen and maintain for anyone new to sharpening straight razors because, you would have to raise the tang at the end of each stroke to sharpen “round the bend”. Notice also the large flat spot on the spine that gets bigger at the point (difficult to see in the photo) indicating it’s been sharpened mostly at the point.

Incidentally if you master the art of honing (hollow ground) razors and you manage to sharpen a razor in that condition you should get a decent shave, hollow ground and full hollow ground razors typically have thin bevels throughout their service life, so there is not much steel to remove to get it shave ready, however have a look at the photos below…

Two Near Wedge ground razors (same brand and model), the one at the top has very little sharpening wear, would also be considered a “Full Blade”, the bevels are small (difficult to see in the photos) and again is “relatively” easy to sharpen and maintain by anyone new to sharpening razors.

However the one at the bottom has a few issues, notice the bevels are thick and the flat spot on the spine is also large and both are progressively larger at the point.
Because Near Wedge ground razors have only a small amount of “hollow” when fresh from factory (new), the bevels are relatively thin (as well as the flat spot on the spine), however the bevels will become progressively thicker thought its service life. The thicker the bevels (as seen in the razor at the bottom of the photo) the more steel will have to be removed to get the edge shaving sharp. As such, the razor at the bottom of the photo is frustratingly difficult for the beginner to sharpen and maintain.


If you are an aspiring collector and/or concerned about Cosmetics/Originality, or plan to enter the business of selling the fruits of your restores, the bar will be set a little higher (or lower depending on your collecting preferences). You may need to be aware of the value of the razor you are attempting to purchase (as-is), what it will take to restore it (your skills and resources), and finally what it would be worth when restored (if you fix it will they buy it?)… more to be said, but let’s reserve that for another article.

- Avoid razors with “missing” manufacturers mark on the tang… well this one is obvious… so you may want to avoid razors with extensive rust and pitting in that area. Manufacturers mark is a testament to the quality of the product, no manufacturer wants to put his mark on an inferior product. So of for some reason the mark missing, you will never know if it of good quality (sure, it could be a Wade & Butcher that lost it’s mark at some point in its life, but if you buy it you take the chance, if it shaves well, then more power to you. However if it’s junk, you get to keep it as a “lesson learned” because now that it’s modified, you cannot return to the seller).

- Become accustomed to the “proportions” of the various sizes of a straight razor blade… that’s is to say, whatever the size in width (4/8th, 5/8th, 6/8th, 7/8th or 8/8th), most blades are between 2.75 to 3 inches in length. So a “full” 8/8th Square point blade, may appear to be a “chopped” or “shortened” 6/8th square point blade… they are roughly the same proportions, but I am sure you want to avoid the chopped one.
Now from time to time you will see “shorter” blades (around 2.5 inches in length). In fact, many razors were manufactured shorter than average (some Swiss blades come to mind). Some shorter blades were named (but not always) Dwarf, or Junior and the original scales fit the blade nicely… so don’t scorn all short blades.
Please note: Some amateur restorers may shorten a blade (because the point was damaged) and then realizing the blade will no longer “fit” in the original scales, will cut the scales shorter, drill new holes and re-pin in the now adjusted scales, or they may simply use the ones from another razor whose scales happen to be the right size… so you may want to watch out for that… but while there is nothing wrong with placing such a re-fitted razor for sale (there are many folks who prefer a shorter blade), I believe it is “dishonest” when the fact is not mentioned up front.

Know with confidence the different vintage scale materials ((Coming soon) - Link to post - To all aspiring Razor Restorers... Scale Identification)

Now I am going to touch on a few points that may become controversial (and emotional) for those who sell razors… but here goes.

- Avoid razors with a tang that is too thin, such as some frame back razors, they are a pain to strop… it’s like trying to flip a Popsicle stick. A tang should be thick in proportion to its height so it rolls easily between your thumb and forefinger when stropping or honing (I suppose I have small hands so I am a bit biased).

- Avoid razors with nickel plating; they are often not easy to spot because the razor appears bright-yellow-white and shiny (factory fresh… most would say the razor is in excellent condition) without the usual Blue-Gray “patina” found on vintage carbon steel blades. Note: I will go into details because it not much talked about.

They don’t tarnish like un-plated razors because the nickel plating protecting the steel beneath does not tarnish, and maintains its luster even in harsh conditions. Even the tang stamp and Jimps are plated with the bright yellow-white Nickel. However, occasionally, for some reason, the carbon steel will tarnish under the plating, then “bubble” and flake the plating, and look like the bumpers on old vehicles from the 60s.

Apparently plating was once a popular treatment for razors, but quickly fell out of favor for obvious reasons (see below paragraph). And believe it or not, some top rated and popular German and American brands, at one point in history plated their products (I have only seen one Sheffield brand razor with the plating but there could be more).
Plating the was the solution to the age old manufacturing goals 1) They didn’t have to spend the man hours to polish the steel or remove much of the grind marks because 2) the plating would “fill in” the un-polished steel resulting in a smooth and “expensively finished” appearance and 3) they could plate dozens of razors at a time in a single bath of plating solution within a few minutes (as they say where I am from… they killed 3 birds with one stone).

Unfortunately, these razors were usually made from inferior steel (or inferior heat-treatment), but whatever it is… are usually very hard steel. When carbon steel is too hard, it is also brittle, and thus will micro-chip at the edge when honing or shaving, this most likely results in razor burn. And in the best case, no matter what you do, or how careful when sharpening, the resulting shave would come up short… This is extremely frustrating for anyone new to sharpening straight razors because, 1) it is a “recommended” vintage razor, 2) of good brand, 3) in excellent condition… but doesn’t shave well despite your best efforts.

So how do you identify a Nickel Plated razor? As mentioned earlier, these razors are nice and shiny but may have a few “spots” of rust where the plating was scratched at some point in its life. When the plating is rubbed off or stripped to reveal steel that has not yet tarnished, you will see two different colors, one will be Dull Gray (the un-polished carbon steel) and the other appears to be polished steel (the Nickel plating). Note: the color difference is very subtle and almost impossible to spot from photos.

Now let’s say you have a razor with a few spots of rust, you then begin to sand and polish out the tarnish, you may see very subtle color differences in the steel.
Bright Yellow-White for Nickel plated steel (not yellow enough to be called “gold” but when side-by-side next to carbon steel the difference is clear).
Bright Blue-White for polished carbon steel (or bright Blue-Gray depending on who you talk to).
Dull Blue-Gray for un-polished carbon steel (the plating is stripped but not polished)

Now let’s have a look at a few photos of a two different nickel plated razor:
In this first photo a shot of the rear tang… notice the “bubbling” of the plating in a line corresponding with where the top of the celluloid scales would be when closed. Note the blade is opened at the 270 degree.


In this second photo of another blade you see where the scales have rubbed off the plating and now appear “stripped” and you can clearly see the different colors. Note: the photo has a yellow hue.



In this last photo of the same blade, same side, but different angle, notice a small strip of plating is peeled back towards the pivot hole revealing fresh steel, also notice tiny lines “bubbling” just below the pivot hole. Note: the photo is high-contrast.


Note: Most nickel plated razors you encounter will be Hollow Ground (single stabilizing piece) or Full Hollow Ground (later models with double stabilizing piece). However, it is unlikely you will find older Wedge and Near Wedge razors with nickel plating because the technology was not available at that time.

Note: You may notice I refrain from listing brands/models that I know were nickel plated. Not all nickel plated razors were of inferior steel, in fact, a few were good shavers (but never excellent). I don’t have a complete list, so it wouldn’t be fare to list the ones I have become familiar… but at the very least now you have a batter chance of identifying them on your own. However please Note: I may one day update this article with a list of such brand and models.

On-line Auctions - bid very low or avoid altogether auction with:
- Only photos of the item are at extreme angles, the razor looks “cool” and may appeal to your masculinity. But such photos hide the true shape of the blade, differences in sharpening wear on the spine, size of the bevels and staining on the metal. And if the razor was restored you may never know how well until you have it in hand. Leave the extreme angles to gallery displays.

- Only photos depicting closed razors. With the exception of those who collect only for the beauty of the scales… Any idiot knows that an open razor is about the blade. Most likely there is something to hide. This includes photos of half/open (or half/closed) razor.

- Only few photos depicting the item too far Zoomed-out, or only photos of parts too closely Zoomed-in… In the first instance you only see the forest but not the trees; in the second case you see the a few trees but not the forest. Either way, chances are there is not enough information for a wise decision.

- Only blurry photos (with the compensatory apology from the seller)… well this is obvious.

To all aspiring Razor Restorers/Honers - The “Good” Razors to avoid.


It is best to ask for clearer photos of the razor “opened” and that at least a “full face shot” (of both sides would be nice). And do ask well before the close of the auction so the seller, realizing there is interest in his item will have time clear the cobwebs from his head and snap good ones.

In relation to online photos please note: Not everyone knows the meaning of “White Balance”… I won’t go into details, but it’s something you should be aware of. Looking at an online photo, if the steel appears reddish brown (as if it tarnished or rusted), or green (like the Copper stains), it may in fact be bright shiny white steel… this will occur if the person talking the photo didn’t properly adjust the white balance on the digital camera, and now the photo has an “odd hue”… don’t worry, if you see reflections, no matter the color, the steel is most likely un-tarnished… unless the hue is blue… then the steel may have been burnt.

Finally, let’s talk about “The Gamble”: Gambling can be fun and rewarding, in fact, I have won excellent razors based on auctions with bad photos and little information…But if you failed to follow the above rules or bought the cursed thing before you read them, or lost your gamble, then you may still be in luck… see below:

- There is no shame in returning goods that do not meet your standards (buyer's remorse). Sure, you may be out the cost of initial and/or return shipping because it cost resources to have the goods delivered to your hands (and this is especially true for oversees shipping). Most honest sellers will gladly (or grudgingly) accept returns for a full refund (and the nicer ones will return initial shipping cost). But please use good judgment; it may not be cost effective to spend the same amount as the cost of the item to return-ship to the seller, and you may still be out the cost of initial shipping (remember shipping cost may double in this case).
However, it is my opinion that if the blade has such considerable damage/flaws and was not depicted or mentioned in the listing, you should additionally demand the cost of return shipping.

- Many auctions will have somewhere in the listing “Sold As Is”… but if you look carefully you may also see “if unsatisfied please contact us before leaving bad f… bla, bla, bla… we do our best to work things out”. So much for the “sold as is” statement… Don’t be intimidated, send the damn thing back and expect the return of your initial shipping, PLUS cost of return shipping if the item is obviously damaged or is considerably not as it should be.

- Many vendors will say “I am no expert… bla, bla, bla… so please ask questions… bla, bla”. You need to understand, this is no excuse for selling an item with flaws only visible and known to you when the item is finally in hand… send the damn thing back.

Finally: When returning an item, please follow this one basic rule… Be a Gentleman/Lady, send the seller a “polite” message. You would be surprised how quickly issues can be resolved with a few kind words…
...In My Opinion a peaceful resolution is the best solution… However, if despite your best efforts, you cannot avoid bloodshed, then PayPal’s Dispute Resolution is there to help… or our CC Company VIA charge-back.

With all the above said, let me add, there are always exceptions to each and every the rule. For example:

- Some razors the have “turned up points”, and may appear worn, however there are a few that were manufactured that way.

- Not all Frame Back razors are difficult to strop, some simply have better ergonomics, and most “Faux” Frame Back razors do not have this issue.

Have a good one my friends

Addendum: (July/11/2010)
I must give credit to Bill Ellis for publishing an excellent article “Buying Straight Razors On Ebay”. And though some things may have changed since it was first published (2006) it is still relevant today, and I believe everyone interested should give it a read.
http://reviews.ebay.com/Buying-Straight-Razors-On-Ebay_W0QQugidZ10000000001450975

And when you are done with the above, you may also want to read “Selling Straight Razors” by Bill Ellis:
http://reviews.ebay.com/Selling-Straight-Razors_W0QQugidZ10000000001456052
2010-07-10 03:33
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BlueDun
Insider
From: Switzerland
Posts: 333
Smythe,

what an excellent and helpful post. Thanks for sharing this information with us.
How many new razor affictionados fall for the same pitfalls again and again - me included. Although it's too late for me now I hope it will serve new members well.
Allow me to add a link that used to serve me well:

http://www.billysblades.com/mint.html

Cheers
BlueDun
[Last edited by BlueDun, 2010-07-10 14:40]
2010-07-10 12:24
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Bart Torfs (Bart)
Associate
From: Belgium
Posts: 5001
Our post of the month. At least!

Thank you doctor Smythe. :thumbup: :thumbup:

I decided to pin up the thread, so it remains on display for future generations of new members.
We will turn it into an permanent article later.

Kind regards,
Bart.
Then the light shone, trumpets sounded and I got to the other side, where men shave with smiles on their faces, razors pop hairs, and a continuous choir singing «~~Keen and Smooth~~» is heard everywhere. (Matt)
2010-07-10 14:38
Avatar
Smythe
Advisor
From: United States
Posts: 990
iconBlueDun:
Smythe,

what an excellent and helpful post. Thanks for sharing this information with us.
How many new razor affictionados fall for the same pitfalls again and again - me included. Although it's too late for me now I hope it will serve new members well.
Allow me to add a link that used to serve me well:

http://www.billysblades.com/mint.html

Cheers
BlueDun

Damn!!! I know there was something missing from this Article... thanks so much BlueDun... will edit the article and place the info as an Addendum.

Thanks again
2010-07-11 20:24
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Woodash
+1
Posts: 202
What a great article! How did I miss this before?...
==================
....WHOOPS!....
Steve
2010-10-17 17:34
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Gunner777
Posts: 167
Billy has some pet peeves but ebay sellers are at the top of the list! His video is very good as well especially if your just starting out doing restorations.
Gunner
2010-10-17 18:40
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urmas
From: Estonia
Posts: 205
Thank you Smythe! This is very useful reading.

Best regards,
Urmas
2010-10-17 19:33
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ferroburak
From: Turkey
Posts: 31
Thanks for the article, I enjoyed reading it :)
2010-11-09 18:44
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Toff
From: United States
Posts: 240
Thank you for a great article and the links posted by you and others.

One reason for the poor performance of plated blades could be a form of plating damage known as "Hydrogen embrittlement." When not all gussied up for a party; that means that tool steels can and will be damaged by improper plating at too high a amperage, which forms steam against the metal. It may be somewhat alleviated by a heat treatment after plating.
Long technical article here:
here

When I was working at a large manufacturer, one of the guys sent a 36"/90cm "U" bent piece of 20mm/.75" tool steel/silver steel to the plating lab. When it came back, He said "This should be strong enough!" Another fellow grabbed it and pulled it apart at the ends. It broke! I have seen plated springs' such as used on garage doors' that shattered like glass when dropped or stretched.
Respectfully
~Richard
PS edit: This could also be a problem when and if one were to use a electrical method of rust removal.
"Life is a journey between birth and death, preferably undertaken with panache!""
2010-11-22 16:58
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Smythe
Advisor
From: United States
Posts: 990
Thanks Richard, we are in your debt... because you may have answered a question that’s been bothering me (and maybe a few long dead razor makers) for quite some time. It would explain why these razors shaved so poorly. Electro Plating, at the time was relatively “new technology” and though they were many advantages to plating razors, no doubt, they were un-familiar with Hydrogen Embrittlement.

The effect (bad steel) is mentioned in a few old books on razors, the reader would be warned against purchasing plated blades. Again, they probably didn’t know about Hydrogen embrittlement so they assumed it was bad quality steel and sometimes called them cheap or Tin Plated razors.

Many well respected manufacturers of razors plated their razors… and I would suspect they would use good quality steel and heat-treat to the same high standard as any other good quality cutlery manufactured previously to plating, but they never discovered the true reason why the razors didn’t perform well.

However, I fear the remedy we now know today may not work with vintage blades. I suspect the plating itself would prevent the hydrogen from escaping the steel. And after reading the WikiPedia article, it appears there is a time limit of 4 hours after exposure to the gas before applying the remedy… after which time the gas would cause permanent damage to the steel… I am afraid all plated vintage blades are well past that time limit.

Thanks again for your post... Indeed I never thought of it.
2010-11-22 21:16
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Toff
From: United States
Posts: 240
Hello Mr. Smythe,
I am a high function autistic with an admixture of OCD. I have been fired by the best and worst of places and had to learn new skills often to feed my family. I probably post too often with background and/or little known facts. I have read so many threads on the Fora which had BS and/or no back up information with which to make an informed judgment. I shall continue to post for just such a person as you! Thank you for making the few minutes of re-searching worth while.
Respectfully
~Richard
PS, Plating at too high a current is often the cause of embrittlement. That causes the material being plated to overheat and "steam" the plating solution which allows free Hydrogen to be produced.
edit: The high amperage would be used by a not so good shop to put a lot of plating on in a very short time. A good plating job starts with a highly polished part.
[Last edited by Toff, 2010-11-23 00:24]
"Life is a journey between birth and death, preferably undertaken with panache!""
2010-11-22 23:47
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Bart Torfs (Bart)
Associate
From: Belgium
Posts: 5001
This thread already was interesting, and it's getting better all the time.

:thumbup:

You won't get fired here, Richard. But the pay's not much either. ;)

Kind regards,
Bart.
Then the light shone, trumpets sounded and I got to the other side, where men shave with smiles on their faces, razors pop hairs, and a continuous choir singing «~~Keen and Smooth~~» is heard everywhere. (Matt)
2010-11-22 23:55
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Smythe
Advisor
From: United States
Posts: 990
Richard, that’s what makes us valuable… our ability to reason… and a touch of OCD. I too have been fired by the best and the worst (I suppose it’s their loss), and had to discover interesting ways to feed my family, and latest and best was to start my own business… but that another story.

Please, post more often my friend, there are many heads her to discuss and peacefully come to logical conclusions… so we don’t have to depend on the junk people post as fact… future generations will appreciate it.

P.S. Thanks for yet another valuable piece of information. Indeed, I believe those vintage manufacturers, not yet understanding the complexities of plating, would turn up the current as high as they could afford, to get those products plated as fast as possible… and couldn’t care less about a few more bubbles in the plating solution.
2010-11-23 02:25
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DENNIS KELLY (DJKELLY)
+1
From: United States
Posts: 774
Looks to me, Toff, you are in the right place, indeed. Sincerely, Denny
STAMP OUT QUICKSAND
2010-11-23 05:27
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RicTic
From: United Kingdom
Posts: 240
+1 here.
This forum is gradually collecting some very knowledgeable and extremely interesting individuals.
Great reading for a human sponge like myself.
I've got so many blank pages that need writing in, so to speak.
Please post more Toff. :thumbup:
Kek man camov te jib bolli-mengreskoenaes,
Man camov te jib weshenjugalogonaes.
2010-11-23 23:21