Caring For Your Straight Razor

Part of the Uniclectica Antiques and Collectibles Online Series "Caring For Your Antiques and Collectibles"

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Straight razors are a popular collectors item. Understanding what they are made of, and how to best care for them are crucial to their preservation for future collectors.

Materials:
In general, the blades of straight razors are made of steel; themore recent razors have blades made from stainless steel. Oftenfound engraved or etched on the blades are markings identifying themanufacturer and/or the model of the razor.

Handles are made from a wide variety of materials, includingcelluloid (an early plastic), wood, rubber, horn, ivory, bakelite,vegetable ivory, and metal. Inlays and additions can be of motherof pearl, silver, copper, ivory, wood, tortoiseshell -- the list isalmost endless. While some materials, such as metal, are easy toidentify, others (such as ivory and celluloid) are virtuallyindistinguishable without resorting to chemical tests. Thus,instead of addressing a series of different materials, thefollowing care and handling suggestions for straight razors aremeant to be generally applicable.

Caring for your straight razor:
In general, the best environment in which to store straight razorsis well-ventilated, dark, room temperature (72F or 20C), and neithertoo dry, nor too damp. Your underwear drawer likely meets theserequirements; it is best to keep the razors near the front of thedrawer, however, so that the air around them is circulated (aircirculation is particularly important if the handle of yourstraight razor is celluloid, as unventilated celluloid can quicklydeteriorate). Razors should not be stored in an area that gets veryhot, such as an attic, as celluloid is very flammable, and has beenknown to spontaneously combust at temperatures as low as 50C(125F).

It is advisable to keep straight razors out of water and away from liquids as much aspossible -- both because water will encourage the iron-based bladesto rust, and also because water can cause serious damage to manyhandle materials. Cleaning razors with bleach, ammonia or detergents is discouraged, as these substances can also cause damage.

The Blade:
Metal polishes, such as Brasso, Silvo, or Autosol should never beused on the blade of a straight razor. As well as damaging thesurface, they can leave polish residues which are bothunattractive, and can be harmful to the blade and handle.

If the blade is exceptionally dull or nicked, the use of asharpening stone is recommended. A leather razor strop can be usedto maintain a keen edge. You know you're getting close when you canslice a piece of paper with your razor.

It is not uncommon to find rust on the blades of straight razors,particularly the earlier blades, made before the invention ofstainless steel. The rust can be removed using either a soft 3Mscrub pad (the white ones), or 0000 (extremely fine) steel wool. Becareful not to scratch the handle!

Next, clean the entire surface of the blade with a Q-tip dampenedwith either ethyl alcohol or rubbing alcohol. This will helpdegrease the blade. Then, apply a thincoat of light mineral oil to the blade; let it sit for a shortwhile (10 minutes, or so), and then wipe the excess oil off usinga clean, dry cloth. This oil coating will help prevent any furtherrusting.

If you use your straight razor, use rubbing alcohol to remove the oil before use, and again afteruse to clean the blade. Use mineral oil to re-oil the blade afteruse, as well as after sharpening. Be careful not to get any alcoholor oil on the handle.

The Handle:
Coatings such as lacquers, waxes, oils, and polishes should beavoided, as they can do more harm than good (trapping dirt, ortrapping chemicals that greatly increase rates of deterioration).

Likewise, soaps and detergents should also be avoided when cleaninghandles. For general cleaning, use distilled water. Do not immerseor soak the handle in the water; rather, wipe the handle with adamp cloth, and dry immediately using another clean, absorbentcloth. To cut any grease present, use a mixture of distilled water and household ammonia (1 or 2 drops of ammonia in 2 cups of water); rinse quickly with a damp cloth,and dry.

To clean wooden handles, carefully "erase" the dirt using a soft,white vinyl eraser. The eraser bits can be brushed away using asoft bristle brush. Wood handles should not be washed with water.

If you have a broken razor, it is best not to fix it yourself -- certain adhesives may cause damage to the materials. As well, certain repairs may cause a loss in value greater than the damage alone. Consult a conservator familiar with the materials involved.

Keep an eye on your razor collection, and watch for any signs ofdeterioration -- colour change, odours, cracking, flaking, warping,bubbling, etc. Deteriorating razors should be isolated and storedaway from the rest of your collection, to prevent further damage(for example, deteriorating celluloid will cause other, "healthy"celluloid (as well as other materials such as leather), to alsobegin deteriorating).

In general, the basic care outlined above will go a long way to keeping your razor in good shape for many years. For more in-depth concerns (i.e. a cloudy tortoiseshell handle, adhesive residues, broken handles), consult with a conservator who is familiar with the material in question.



Resources

For more information on razors, visit The Joy of Shaving, a site dedicated to preserving the tradition of shaving with a mug, soap, and a brush.

Relevant Books in the Knife and Razor Section of the Uniclectica Antiques and Collectibles Bookstore(click on the title or dealer's name for more information):

[*]   New England Cutlery By Philip Pankiewicz. Published by Hollytree Publications, 1986.Containing historical profiles of over 100 different New England cutlery firms, this book has become one of the most respected volumes in the field of American cutlery. The New England states saw the birth of the American cutlery industry in the 1830s, and have held an important place in the field of cutlery manufacture through the great depression and up to the present day. An essential reference for pocketknife, Bowie knife, and razor collectors. Full of photographs, drawings, period advertising, etc. Softcover, 256 pages. UN240 $10.00 Click Here to Order

[*]   The Razor Anthology Various authors. Published by Knife World Publications, 1995. A collection of selected articles about razors reprinted from 10 years of Knife World issues. Seventy-two articles offer the razor collector and cutlery enthusiast valuable insight into the history of these unique collectibles. Over 250 pages and approximately 300 photographs feature straight razors, safety razors, and some shaving accessories (hones, mugs). UN234 $14.95 Click Here to Order

ImageStandard Guide to Razors: Identification and Values 2nd Edition. By Roy Ritchie and Ron Stewart. Published by Collector Books, October 1998. Paperback, 160 pages. Synopsis: The first edition of this book, published in 1995, is now out of print. An excellent reference book for the straight razor collector. Thousands of manufacturers listed, an easy-to-use valuing system, lots of colour and black and white photos. A fantastic book, leaps and bounds improved over the first edition! Don't miss this one! UN533 $9.95 Click Here to Order

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