How to Buy and Restore Vintage Straight Razors (2022)

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Matt Pisarcik and Sebastian Sandersius.

When you think of the manliest way of shaving, your mind undoubtedly goes to your great-grandpa’s tool of choice: the straight-edge razor. You may have thought about owning one, but immediately dismissed the idea for a host of reasons. They can be expensive, delicate, mastering their use is a real art, and so on.

And while this article won’t go into how to shave with one (Brett’s got a great write-up hereon how to shave with a straight razor for beginners), we will certainly address the other concerns that may have stopped you from getting back to the roots of shaving with the luxurious and thrilling experience of using a straight razor. Today we’re going to give you a primer on how you can pick up a top-quality used straight razor on the cheap and then restore it yourself to its former glory. Soon you’ll be reminding yourself that you’re alive each morning, by placing a razor-sharp blade next to your neck!

The Ropes

Before you set out trying to find, learn about, restore, and eventually shave with a straight razor, it’s a good idea to learn “the ropes” of this new hobby.

First, you need to get acquainted with the parts of a straight razor:

How to Buy and Restore Vintage Straight Razors (1)

There are also two major “grinds” of straight razors—the Hollow Ground and the Wedge (and a few in-between):

How to Buy and Restore Vintage Straight Razors (2)Wedge style blades are generally larger and require more time/effort to hone or sharpen whereas the hollow-ground blades trade mass for convenience in regards to upkeep. Both perform terrifically, and it is generally recommended that people new to straight razor shaving start with a hollow ground, mainly because of the ability to sharpen it with ease. Luckily, most of the straights you’ll find are some type of a hollow-ground!

(Video) Restoring An Antique Straight Razor: Cleaning, polishing and honing your way to a great wet shave.

Where to Get ‘Em

While newly made blades are available from companies like Dovo and Muhle, finding a vintage straight razor is not only more economical, but can often prove to pack more punch for the time and money you invest into it. Like anything made in the 19th and early 20th centuries, vintage straight razors can be found in very high grades of steel from classic old world cutlery empires such as England, Sweden, and Germany. However, you may be asking yourself, where do you find such a razor?

The first place to look could be closer than you think. Check with the older members of your family to see if an uncle or grandfather had a straight razor that’s been kept throughout the years. Chances are you may either find a straight razor or another cool keepsake such as a shaving mug or brush. If you don’t turn up anything here, worry not because a day of antique shopping around your city could just as easily result in making your first razor score. Oftentimes you’ll find straight razors in display cases along with other manly items like watches, cufflinks, eye-glasses, pens, coins, wallets, pipes or flasks. It may also be a good idea to let the shopkeeper know what you’re looking for because often small items like this can be hard to spot.

If you’re fortunate enough to find a vintage straight razor, remember that not all razors are made equally, and likewise not everything you find is worth purchasing. This brings us to the next important topic to consider.

What to Look For

Back in the heyday of straight razor manufacturing, there were literally hundreds of cutlery companies across the world making razor blades for sale. However, in the straight razor community of today, there are several common manufacturers that have a proven track record and are generally agreed upon as having a long lasting quality, grade of steel, and ability to hold an edge while delivering a comfortable shave. On a larger level, it is also known that some of the best straight razors came out of a select few parts of the world known for metallurgy.

How to Buy and Restore Vintage Straight Razors (3)Solingen, Germany – often referred to as “The City of Blades,” this German town (pronounced ZO-ling-en) is responsible for some of the best known blades in the world, past and present. Great manufacturers from this city include:

  • Bartmann
  • Dorko
  • Dovo
  • Dubl Duck
  • H. Böker & Company
  • J.A. Henkels
  • PAX
  • Puma

Sheffield, England – Considered by some as the world’s cutlery empire in Europe throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Popular manufacturers from this city include:

  • Fredrick Reynolds
  • George Wostenholm
  • Joseph Allen & Sons
  • Joseph Elliot
  • Joseph Rodgers & Sons
  • Wade & Butcher

United States of America – Many parts of the country such as New York, Louisiana, and Massachusetts were cutlery centers around the turn of the century and put out fine straight razors of several makes:

  • Case / “Red Imp”
  • Clauss
  • Genco Cutlery Company
  • Geneva Cutlery Company
  • J.R. Torrey
  • Ontario Cutlery Company
  • Shumate Razor Co.

Other Notable Brands

(Video) Restoration of Rusty Wild West Era 1820s Straight Razor

  • C.V. Heljestrand of Eskilstuna, Sweden
  • Thiers Issard & Le Grelot of France
  • Filarmonica from Spain

What to Avoid

Undoubtedly when you’re out hunting for straight razors, you’re going to come across some blades that should be passed over. Here’s a brief list of things to avoid:

  • Razor blades with chips in them, especially near the cutting edge.
  • Razor blades with burn marks or notable discoloration as this can represent heat-damage.
  • Razor blades with substantial rust or deep pitting, especially near the cutting edge.
  • Razors that have a flattened spine and/or lots of scratch marks at the spine. This represents large amounts of honing, reducing the life of the blade.
  • Razors made in Pakistan.

If you find a razor from one of the cities or makers recommended above, chances are you are holding a great piece of tempered steel that should be able to take a keen cutting edge capable of providing a terrific shave. Good razors can be found anywhere from $5-$50, which is a steal when you consider that it should provide you a lifetime of shaving.

Whatever you get, it is likely to be very dirty, rusted, or covered in soap scum so now you need to know how to clean it up.

Restoring Your Vintage Straight Razor

So when you find an old straight razor at an antique store or via the web, it will likely be in some state of disrepair. It’s not uncommon to find a straight razor looking like this:

How to Buy and Restore Vintage Straight Razors (4)

To restore a straight razor, there are two major areas to cover: 1) Cosmetics and 2) Cutting Edge. We’re only going to cover the cosmetic restoration topic, because a terrific article on sharpening the cutting edge can be found here.

Cosmetics

(Video) Old GERMANY WW2 razor restoration!

The blade of most vintage straights will at least have some kind of patina or natural darkening of the metal due to age. Others may have various stages of rust on them from improper storage over time. Even the handles or “scales” may need some cleaning up in order to look good again. Products that you’ll need for this work can be found at your local hardware store. Here’s how to start the revival:

1) Using sandpaper or a power tool such as a Dremel, re-surface the blade to remove rust and get it evenly smooth. You’ll likely have to progress through stages of sanding wheels with several different grits. If your blade has heavy rust or pits, you’ll want to start with the lower grits like 320. Finish up with grits beyond 10,000 and you’ll start to see a mirror finish. Long and even strokes lengthwise across the blade work best, and remember to take your time and exhibit patience with this process.

How to Buy and Restore Vintage Straight Razors (5)

2) Switch to miniature buffing wheels for your power tool and use a metal polishing compound such as jeweler’s rouge or MAAS to get the blade looking shiny. This process works well in removing surface patina or light scratches and other cosmetic flaws.

3) Next, clean up the scales and pins using the buffing wheels and a polishing or buffing compound such as MAAS or even Turtle Wax. Most vintage scales are made from animal horn, bone, celluloid or plastic and should do well with these and similar products. Toothpicks and cotton-swabs are your best friend for getting into the hard-to-reach places in this process.

4) Carefully clean off any residue from the buffing process with a fresh cotton cloth, and disinfect using a rubbing alcohol or even barbicide, which can be found at local beauty supply stores.

5) You can tighten the pins that hold together the razor scales using a ball-peen hammer. The original pins are formed by “peening” or mushrooming out the ends of a piece of metal. If the razor becomes loose in the handles, just tap the pins evenly on both sides lightly until it has tightened up again. Take your time with this–hitting too hard can damage or even crack older and delicate scales.

How to Buy and Restore Vintage Straight Razors (6)

(Video) Restoration of a Rusty Vintage Straight Razor

IMPORTANT TIPS

  • Follow any and all manufacturer instructions when using a power tool and make sure to wear protective eye, hand, and face garments.
  • It’s important to note that when using a power tool with your straight razor blade that you don’t damage the temper or hardness of the metal by getting it too hot. Use a glass of cold water to dunk your blade in during the process—it should never get too hot to touch with your bare hands.
  • Avoid sanding/buffing of the razor’s bevel/cutting edge.
  • Always remember you’re working with a sharpened piece of steel and treat it with the same respect you would a very sharp kitchen knife.

Further Straight Razor Restoration

Even when using the methods above, you may encounter a straight razor that needs a further step of restoration. Perhaps it is a great blade that just has severe pitting, or maybe a classic razor with a set of broken scales. The use of greaseless buffing compounds, high power buffing machines and even custom made replacement scales need to be employed at times when doing heavy and ongoing restoration.

These more specialized methods of restoration can be done by professionals. With these restoration methods, you should be able to make that nasty looking razor shown above clean up like this:

How to Buy and Restore Vintage Straight Razors (7)

Final Thoughts

This article is by no means a complete or comprehensive guide to restoring a vintage straight razor. It is intended to be a starting point for those interested yet unfamiliar with where to begin. There are hundreds of shaving-forum threads and countless Wikipedia entries that cover every possible aspect of restoration and honing that you can spend hours if not days poring over. However, all of the information out there can often make the practice look too daunting to even want to attempt or make you feel as if there are some pre-requisite skills you need to have in order to attempt or learn any of this.

That’s why we created this article to really cover the highlights and the “down and dirty” information that you need for your first attempt at cleaning up a straight razor and getting it to look great again. Part of the appeal to the traditional wet shaving approach is accessibility and a spirit of “do-it-yourself.” Don’t be afraid to purchase a razor and try these methods out—if you ruin or damage the blade or make a mistake, it’s okay! However, I’m a firm believer that restoring a vintage razor isn’t rocket science and can be carried out by even a novice if done in a methodical, careful, and thoughtful manner.

We hope that by reading this article you feel inspired to shop, purchase and restore a vintage straight razor. Straight razor shaving and restoration are terrific hobbies that can provide tremendous pleasure and a great feeling of accomplishment.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

(Video) I go antiquing looking for a vintage straight razor to buy, restore, and resell.

Matt Pisarcik and Sebastian Sandersius are the vintage razor experts at RazorEmporium.com. These guys sell vintage razors that they meticulously restore to their old luster and also offer razor restoration, where you can send in your old razor to be refurbished. I can personally vouch for their awesome services; they made my great-grandpa’s 19th century straight razor look brand new. I couldn’t believe how shiny and handsome they made it. It was pretty amazing.

FAQs

How do you restore an old straight razor? ›

Restoring An Antique Straight Razor: Cleaning, polishing and ... - YouTube

What should I look for in an antique straight razor? ›

As a general rule, look for a blade that is free of pitting and rust at least 3mm above the cutting edge. This should give potential for at least a few sharpenings on your antique razor. If there are more than a few dots of rust, it's best to move on and find another razor.

Why did we stop using straight razors? ›

As shaving became less intimidating and men began to shave themselves more, the demand for barbers providing straight razor shaves decreased. Since 2012, production of straight razors has increased multifold.

Does a straight razor last forever? ›

Since 2012 the production of straight razors has steadily climbed, as more and more people realize the advantages of shaving with this method...and it really does make sense. These razors are made to last forever and rarely require sharpening. Compare this to modern cartridge razors that last a week.

How do you sharpen a straight razor with sandpaper? ›

Straight Razor Sanding Tips - YouTube

How do you clean a straight razor scale? ›

The simplest and most efficient way to clean a straight razor is to wash it with soapy hot water. It does not have to be any special shaving soap; an ordinary mild soap will do. The glycerin in the soap will help wash off the dead skin cells and lather residue sticking on the blade.

Are vintage straight razors good? ›

There are some truly fantastic vintage razors on the market, but most will fall far short of a brand new blade from Dovo or Thiers Issard. Certain vintage razors use interesting or rare steels that have gone out of production, such as true Sheffield Steel or Sheffield Silver Steel.

What is the oldest razor brand? ›

The Gillette Company

How much is a straight razor worth? ›

A typical quality shavette can be anywhere between $15 and $50. The upfront cost of a straight razor can be expensive in comparison, but there's no need to replace the blade, so you will save money over time by not having to purchase more. Quality straight razors are typically in the $100-$150 range.

Why can't barbers use straight razors? ›

With the risk of spreading diseases such as Hep B, C, and HIV–a potential consequence of using improperly sanitized razors–Ontario mandated that all authentic straight razors used in barbershops be sanitized using an autoclave–that is, an apparatus that sterilizes using heat and pressure.

What percentage of men shave with a straight razor? ›

If we can trust the source of the data in the article, 94% shave, or approximately 143 million men. Of those, 36% use an electric razor, leaving about 91 million men who shave manually.

Are straight razors allowed on planes? ›

Safety Razors: Because the razor blades are so easy to remove, safety razors are not permitted in your carry-on luggage with the blade. They're fine to pack in your carry-on without the blade. The blades must be stored in your checked luggage. The same applies for straight razors.

How often should you hone a straight razor? ›

A straight razor should be honed after 60-70 shaves or roughly every 6 months. If your blade requires honing more frequently then the stropping technique should be reevaluated.

How many times should you strop a straight razor? ›

Generally, we recommend around 40-50 round trips. While this may sound like a lot at first, it'll become a quicker process the more you familiarise yourself with stropping a straight razor. If you'd like to polish the blade and smooth the edge, flip the strop onto the canvas side and strop the razor 3-5 times.

How do you sharpen a dull straight razor? ›

How to Sharpen (Hone) a Straight Razor - YouTube

How do I identify a straight razor? ›

Sometimes there may be only blade etching/markings, this can help identify razors by models or makers branding, but this is less clear cut than makers stamps on the tang. Dating a razor can be done using the makers name also, or marks such as country of origin, or references to other important timescales.

What were straight razors made of? ›

Most straight razors are generally made of two types of steel: carbon steel and stainless steel.

How do you sharpen a razor? ›

Try to avoid cheap alternatives, as they will do more harm than good.
  1. Stones & Films. ...
  2. Step 1: Set Your Strop Up and Warm it Up. ...
  3. Step 2: Set the Razor with the edge of the blade facing toward you. ...
  4. Step 3: Gently draw the razor gently over the leather. ...
  5. Step 4: Roll the Razor on its spine so the edge is now facing you.

What can I use with a straight razor? ›

How To Shave With Straight Razor Explained The Easy Way! No Cuts

Vintage straight razors are sometimes the very best.. Think about vintage straight razor restoration as an intricate exercise.. Before you learn how to restore a vintage razor, let us first find out where to get these shaving instruments.. Even if you don’t get an old straight razor, there are chances that you’ll find other shaving equipment from them that you could use.. You have to buy other important items besides a vintage straight razor to help.. To be successful in restoring a rusty straight razor, you should have hand tools for the process.. Not all vintage straight razors are rusty.. You have two points to cover when restoring vintage straight razors: cosmetics and cutting edge.

Vintage straight razors are sometimes the very best.. Think about vintage straight razor restoration as an intricate exercise.. Before you learn how to restore a vintage razor, let us first find out where to get these shaving instruments.. Vintage straight razors are not just any common old product you get on the market.. Even if you don’t get an old straight razor, there are chances that you’ll find other shaving equipment from them that you could use.. You have to buy other important items besides a vintage straight razor to help.. To be successful in restoring a rusty straight razor, you should have hand tools for the process.. Even after searching desperately for vintage straight razors, you need to be careful not to buy what will be harmful to you.. Not all vintage straight razors are rusty.. Vintage straight razors can set you back between $5 and $50.. You have two points to cover when restoring vintage straight razors: cosmetics and cutting edge.. While some straight razors require intense professional restoration, others are simple to handle on your own at home.

The classic style of shaving is back.. That’s right, men everywhere are turning in their plastic multi-blade cartridge razors for sleek metal safety razors and some are even going for straight razors.. Besides bringing some history and tradition to your morning routine, you can take pride in the craftsmanship and mechanical niftiness of some of these fantastic vintage shavers.. However, if you don’t have luck there, try antique stores, online auction sites and even online stores specializing in vintage shaving products.. Over the years, several manufactures made many different types of safety-razors and blades.. You are looking for a razor that you likely want to shave with, so most importantly you’re going to need to know if blades are still being produced for your find.. 1) “Double edge blades” which are mostly for razors branded Gillette.. Thankfully with enough elbow-grease and some common store-bought cleaning products, most of your antique store finds can be brought back to great shaving condition.. Whitening toothpaste is particularly good for polishing up metal.. Note that Maas or Flitz metal polish are excellent for this.. With these restoration methods, you should be able to make that nasty looking razor shown above clean up like this:. Sometime a razor you find may have some flaws such as plating wear or scrapes/scratches in the metal.. As an example, here is a Gillette “Fatboy” Adjustable plated in rhodium:. Take note that this razor has much more luster than the nickel plated razor shown before.. Rhodium is a particularly beautiful metal to use because it has a wonderful luster, and it doesn’t tarnish like nickel or silver, keeping your razor looking brand new for good!

Straight Razor collecting, shaving, and maintenance can be a rewarding hobby -- but I constantly receive e-mails from people who find my site and are interested in getting into restoration.. Do you think it would be a waste of my time to buy an old razor or two, you can find them everywhere around here,(Mississippi), and start grinding?. Some of the most important first steps to get into this hobby is as follows:. * Purchasing a shave ready razor / sending out a razor to a respected honemeister (someone who sharpens razors for people). * Having a quality strop.. If you don't know how to strop, and don't understand the feel of the razor as you shave, then, to be perfectly honest, you have no business making scales!. That doesn't mean you can't start learning restoration in the mean time.. Some of the things you can do with these beater razors:. * Try some hand-sanding. * Try out some hand-polishing. * Unpin, and re-pin over and over. * Honing practice. * Study the design of the vintage scales from several razors. * Notice how the wedge functions / how the scales bow during opening and closing. * Try cleaning, or sanding down a vintage set of scales The Newbie Restoration Shopping List (first of several investments...) In order to do the above things, sure enough, you're going to need a few hand tools.. This is the razor "Before". This next picture depicts the same razor, unpinned and hand-sanded for approximately 2 hours using 220 grit paper:. 320 grit:. 400 grit:. 600 grit:. 1500 grit:. And finally, polished thoroughly for approx 40 minutes using Mother's Polish and a rag:. The scales of course, were also thoroughly cleaned, and polished as well -- using just 1500 grit paper and a rag!!. Learning how to hand sand a razor is an important first step for someone looking to get into restoration.. You will use hand sanding time and time again -- I still use it ALL THE TIME!. I’m just starting out with restoring straight razors but it’s quite daunting knowing where to start.

What’s even more manly is to be able to restore old straight razors.. The first step to restore old straight razors is to dismantle them.. As you start using sandpaper with a higher grit, you will begin to see the mirror finish you are going for.. You can use the same process for the pins, washers, and scales.. The next step to restore old straight razors is referred to as restoring the cutting edge of the blade.. The cosmetic restoration was for the look and feel of the razor.. The honing stones are measure by grit, just like sandpaper.. The lower the grit, the rougher the honing stone.. This is the technique to hone your straight razor:. – Push the cutting edge away from you along the length of the stone.. Do not push down against the stone.. Don’t push the blade off the edge of the stone, and always make sure to use one side of the stone.. The final step in restoring a straight razor is to strop it.

The perfect candidate razor.... For NOT having professionally restored Disclaimer: There are exceptions to my recommendations throughout this article -- please understand that if a razor has sentimental value, is a family heirloom, or holds special meaning to you that its not always subject to the same analysis as the average e-bay find.. They are as follows:. * The blade should be 6/8 or larger. * The blade should not have major chips or cracks. * If the blade is a full hollow razor: The blade should not have significant hone wear, uneven hone wear, or a combination of the two.. * If the blade is a full hollow razor: The blade should not have significant rust on the hollow portion of the blade. * The resulting restored razor should have a value higher than the price I charge for my services *** They may seem like odd requirements.. What does blade width have to do with anything?. Why it doesn't qualify:. - The razor has uneven hone wear, and heavy rust. - In order to restore, the razor would have to be unpinned, jeopardizing the pivot end bolsters.. - Any wedge over 6/8 in size, regardless of amount of rust. - Unique or valuable razors. - Razors that have excellent quality steel, but lousy scales - example: Filarmonica, Henckels Friodur, etc.. - Any razor with sentimental value or family heirlooms Conclusion Not every razor is worth being professionally restored.. Darrell - November 18, 2020 Wow there’s so much to learn if you are new to using a straight razor.I’ve been practising for 6 months with small disposable straight razors and I’m happy with the techniques involved but it’s all the aftercare of the razor,using a strop and a honing stone etc that is causing me the headaches I wish I started using a straight razor 20 years ago when I first gave it some serious thought.Thanks for the info I have four razors two are ready to go and the other two are vintage/antique with beautiful carved bakelite handles from the art noveau period of the early 1900’s which I am keen to restore so you article is a great help.Darrell. Brian Fortin - November 18, 2020 Translation: Restoring a razor is like restoring a car, there’s two big considerations.

If you’re interested in a well-crafted piece of vintage straight razor, here are the best vintage straight razor brands that have been highly sought-after over decades!. With 150 years in the straight razor industry, Boker has effortlessly become synonymous with top-quality vintage straight razor.. Joseph Rodgers is a great brand for those looking for initial experiences with straight razors since their razors are more budget-friendly than other brands on the list.. The straight razor’s blade does not pull hair like safety razors.. Before heading out to search for a good antique straight razor, you should ask older family members whether they have kept a straight razor.

If you are looking for a vintage straight razor, it will probably be more of the same razor that your great grandpa used back in the day.. If you buy a vintage straight razor, the chances are that you are getting a razor of the highest quality.. Unlike these other razors on the market, straight razors are worth every dime because one razor can last you a lifetime.. A straight razor is often referred to as a straight-edge razor, an open blade, a cutthroat, a straight blade, or a straight edge.. Unlike other kinds of razors, you don’t need to replace the blade with a straight razor when it gets dull.. Shaving with a vintage straight razor is never easy, especially if you are used to other shaving tools.. A square point vintage straight razor usually has a straight point profile that translates into a sharp point that lies perpendicular to the blade’s cutting edge.. The high-quality straight razors have subtle differences that would make you go for one razor over the other.. On the other hand, square point straight razors have a more straight point profile that translates into a sharp point perpendicular to the razor’s cutting edge.. The blade size on a straight razor is the width of the blade which is the distance between the cutting edge and the back of the blade.. How much you pay for a vintage straight razor comes down to the razor’s craftsmanship, with most straight razors falling in the range of $100 to $300.. An old straight razor is sharpened the same way as a modern straight razor.. If you are a beginner, you are better off perfecting your wet shaving skills using a modern straight razor before buying a vintage straight razor.

Do strop your blade before shaving Don’t wet the scales Do clean the razor blade regularly Don’t leave razor in a wet or moist place Do rinse the razor with the soapy water Don’t forget to lubricate the razor with oil Do wipe the blade with few drops of alcohol Don’t forget to store in a dry place like a razor stand. When you use a razor stand, your straight razor can be thoroughly dried and be far away from the germs and bacteria in your sink.. Blade Oil Aside from cleaning your blades and keeping them away from moisture, applying oil on the blade after using it is another way to keep rusting at bay.. Like oil, applying a blade balm on the thoroughly dry blade may preserve the blade until your subsequent usage.. If, despite all the pampering, the inevitable comes and rust spots show up on your razors, here are some home remedies that you may try out to remove rust from your straight razor.. To use lemon in removing rust from a straight razor, you must first soak the blade in half of a lemon extract or juice for 30 seconds to one minute.. Yes, the metal cleaner or polisher may remove rust from a straight razor, but the chemical that might linger on your blade could be harmful to your skin.. Upon making sure that the blade is completely dry, you may add the oil or Beard to Blade Balm for added protection.. And since you now know how to restore a straight razor, you would not be overwhelmed in case your razor indeed did rust.

Videos

1. Antique Straight Razor - Restoration, Sharpening, & First Shave
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2. Straight razor restoration
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3. Restored Vintage Straight Razor Shave
(Shootin The Shave)
4. FROGGY SHAVE: Wade & Butcher The Celebrated complete restoration
(Froggy Shave)
5. W H Morley razor restoration
(Graham Hawcroft)
6. Restoring rusty old straight razor found in Gold Mine
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