Buying a Vintage Razor
(Without Getting Burned)
It is easy to find vintage straight razors for sale. It is easy to find them cheap. But it isn't always so easy to find one cheap that is worth having. If you are a newbie then if you go looking on Ebay for a razor, chances are good that you will end up with something that is unusable or nearly so. I just wanted to show you some examples of razors to not get, razors to get only if you have experience in fixing up old beaters, and razors that maybe yeah, you ought to get. I want to showcase some common defects for you to watch out for.
Sometimes a razor isn't all it is cracked up to be.
Pun intended. Cracks can be very faint in ebay pics. But nearly any crack is absolutely fatal to the razor.
Can you see the crack? It might not be a crack, but with no good pics, better assume that it is. Also, notice the pitting. A fair amount of steel will have to be removed to get the bevel down to good steel. If the blade is not cracked, yeah it could be repaired. But repair jobs are best left for when you have honed a few razors from the bevel up.
Slightly Butchered Wade and Butcher
Here is a nice W&B that has been badly honed. Notice the upswept toe? This usually happens when the heel end of the blade is lifted slightly while honing. Sometimes this happens when the razor is honed with an intruding stabilizer riding up on the hone, or the shoulder of the razor. Sometimes when the honer is trying desperately to make the very tippy toe of the razor shave, he rolls the heel up to let the toe make contact with the hone. Unfortunately this usually only makes the problem worse. This razor can be honed as is with a rolling X stroke. (Which will likely make the problem worse) or it can be honed flat with pressure at the deepest part of the blade, like just after the word "Wade" in the blade etching, until the edge is straight, which of course will remove an awful lot of steel, or it can be honed into a more symmetrical smiling curve, by someone who really knows his business. Either way, this is not a razor for a newbie honer. If you buy this and you have not honed a few smileys, send it out, or trade/sell it to someone. This brand is rather highly sought after.
Chipping Away At It
Here is another that could easily be rescued by someone with a dozen razors under his belt, but a newbie should pass on this one. The chipping near the heel is pretty deep, and the stabilizer is getting pretty close to the bevel plane. Nice enough razor, but it is still a repair and not a simple bevel set.
What's Not to Like About a Spike?
The Union Spike was made by the tens of thousands and is a very common American Vintage razor of good quality that usually goes pretty cheap on fleabay. The toe is very slightly turned up but no biggie. An edge profile like that, with the edge nice and straight except for the last 3/16" or so, you just hone it. You want that deadly spike tip muted, anyway. But look closely... is that a crack? And what is that peculiar dark spot about 1/3 the way out from the heel? this could be just a bad picture and maybe you could get the seller to post some better pics but if not, or if the auction is ending in an hour or less, let someone else have a go at it. There will be others.
Not So Adorable Adoration
Look at the wonky hone wear. This one wouldn't be hard to make a decent shaver out of it, but don't get this as your first ever razor to hone yourself.
This razor is obviously vintage. So why is it shiny? Because somebody polished it. Not necessarily a bad thing, if whoever did it knew what he was doing, but a lot of well meaning individuals will take old vintage blades to the buffer and overheat the edge. Steer clear unless you are confident that who did this knew what he was doing.
This is obviously a fake patina. Not necessarily a bad or a good thing. I just think it is deceptive. If you like it, go for it.
Often a seller will sell a bunch of razors in lots of maybe 3 to a dozen razors, especially if he has some real dogs to get rid of. The furthest one has a huge chip knocked out of the toe. It could be made into a shorty by someone who knows how. But are the rest worth the price? The ones that are ready to hone and shave? Don't figure in the value of a project razor when bidding on a lot. You might never get around to fixing it up.
Razor Shaped Object (RSO)
An RSO is a razor that kinda looks like a straight razor, but cannot function as one. Usually the steel is crap. Beware of "High Speed Steel" because even if it really is HSS, that is not a good razor steel. Watch for "Made In Pakistan" or overly thick scales that belong on a pocketknife, or oversize pins, very thin or very thick spines, spacers instead of wedges, or "kewl" styling. Or a price that is under about $75, with only a few well known exceptions. These are meant to sell at an extremely high profit margin, not to satisfy the customer and shave his face nicely for the next 70 years.To the untrained eye, they look like perfectly good straight razors. Don't buy it.
Here is an example of the "kewl,dude!" style of RSO. This is obviously meant to catch the juvenile eye and not to take or hold a good edge, or give a good shave.
Wow, more curves than Mia Khalifa in that edge! Sure, it can be fixed easily enough into a good user grade shaver, but noobs, back off from this one and all like it. Oh, and the horn scales might be getting a bit dried out.
Dam, a Scene
This is what I'm talkin bout. This will hone up without too much trouble.
Here is a pretty nice Genco, as far as I can tell. Look... no problem with returns. No free shipping, though. These little details can make or break a deal. Check out all the terms and conditions, shipping method, warranty, and investigate the buyer. Is it listed as shave-ready? Check out the buyer carefully. Does he have a lot of razors for sale? Has he been in business for a few years? Does he have perfect or near perfect rating and reviews? Make sure the guy actually is truly into straight razors and has nothing but satisfied buyers of his shave ready blades. If he looks good, ask about him on the forums. Verify! ANYBODY can SAY that his razor is shave-ready, but that won't help you when it is shave time. Be sure you can trust your seller, and be sure you are getting a good deal.
That's What I'm Talkin About!
Another nice straight edged 5/8 Genco. Only moderate hone wear, not abused by a wannabe with a Bear Moo or a Norton Combo who didn't have a clue. This one has been treated gently and even though these are as common as crooked politicians, it will probably go for a relatively high price. But it will be worth it. American vintage razors are much underrated due to the hundreds of thousands that were made in the space of about 30 years. The market is or was until recently very thoroughly flooded. They were mass produced on assembly lines by semiskilled or unskilled workers under competent supervision out of good but not mythical steel. The fact is, they are pretty good razors, and the more they get snubbed, the less they appreciate in value, and the better deal they are compared to say Sheffield or Swedish razors.
This 13/16 full hollow has a lot of life left in it even though the spine shows a good bit of wear. The toe has a slight upsweep but not too bad. Look at the shoulder and you will see the reason for it... the shoulder has ridden up on the hone quite a bit. I give this one a half thumb up for a newbie to hone. Not ideal but not too shabby. You would want to put in a low snipe bid on this and if you get it cheap then good for you but don't overpay.
A Nice Pipe
Here is a Wostenholm Pipe razor in decent shape, with only moderate wear. These are great shavers similar to the Union Spike. Don't be shy about bidding on this or similar.
Keep a sharp eye out for defects, or pics that might not show the whole picture. Ask for better pics if you are not sure. Contact the seller. Verify the seller, especially if he claims his razor is shave ready. Use a good sniper app for placing your bid. Don't overbid, don't take it personal if you "lose", because you will have lost nothing. Bid what you are willing to pay, not what you think it takes to beat the other guys.
Most of the forums have a member buy/sell/trade area, and sometimes there are some pretty good deals. Watch closely for them cause the good deals get snapped up quickly. Check out the approved or popular vendors on the forum. Watch for specials, especially for new razors. When a PIF is announced, throw your hat in the ring! You might score a freebie!
After you buy your first razor, or even before, you need to get a usable strop. Not a great strop. Not a fancy one. What I mean is, not an expensive one. You want an EXPENDABLE one, because chances are good that you will trash it while learning to strop. So keep to the cheap side, but not TOO cheap. Avoid those cheapie naugahyde specials with the wire "D rings" because they are dead flat useless. One that I will vouch for, for a learner strop, is https://www.ebay.com/itm/Barber-Leather-Strop-Straight-Razor-Sharpening-Shave-Shaving-2-5-X-25-LARGE/291660816422. Another good one is Larry's Poor Man strop at www.whippeddog.com and I will probably have some for sale shortly on my Crescent City Razors site. Don't use a belt!!! Don't use newspaper, though in an emergency it will sort of work. Buying your first razor is not an emergency. Get a proper strop, even if it is a cheap one.
If you are looking for your first straight razor, get a
Shave Ready One!
So you bought your first razor. Now what? Are you actually gonna try shave with it? Okay, go ahead. Most likely you will wonder what the hell is going on, when it refuses to shave! If it doesn't SAY "shave-ready", it most likely isn't. If it says "shave-ready", it most likely isn't but maybe, just maybe, it is. VERIFY the seller! Either that, or have someone recognized on one of the forums as a competent honer, ready to receive your new to you razor into his tender mercies and return it to you ready to shave. Do not even think about buying the razor and "sharpening" it yourself. You will fail. Or go ahead and try, see if I care. See HERE for how to test a razor's sharpness. No, you can't shave arm hair and call it good. That isn't good enough. Don't believe me? Okay, then. Ask about that on the forums.
- Badger and Blade, or B&B, is a very popular wet shaving forum with considerable activity in the straight razor subforums. I am known as Slash McCoy there.
- SharpRazorPalace, SRP for short, is another forum that is maybe a bit more straight razor oriented. My Nomme de Plume there is CrescentCityRazors.
- The Shave Den, or TSD, is another forum where I am active as Slash McCoy.
And now a word from our sponsor. Get your Shave Ready Gold Dollar Razor at:
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