• Obie's Conversations

    by Published on 12-09-2023 04:00 AM
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    2. Obie's Conversations

    A straight razor without a properly honed edge makes for an unpleasant shave. Whether a basic blade or a high-end custom, it needs the master’s touch to paint silk over steel. Anyone can stroke a flat piece of rock with his razor and call it honing, but a selected few can claim the throne as the masters of the hone. They not only know the wide range of sharpening stones, but also how to use them. Of those the name Randy Tuttle reigns among the top hone masters.

    Obie: What is the fallacy, the misconception behind proper honing?

    Randy: For new guys the number one misconception is that fine grit finishing stones are magic bullets that will solve all problems. The truth is none of the finishing stones will make up for a straight razor that has: a) frown in the edge, which is more common that we think, b) vintage razor with oxidized soft steel on the edge, and which will not hold an edge, c) poorly developed bevel, and d) where inadequate time was spent on the intermediate grits.

    Obie: To take the question further, what then distinguishes the hone master from the pedestrian?

    Randy: The ability to evaluate a razor before the honing begins to determine what steps will be necessary to achieve a shaving edge. You need to evaluate a razor for frowns in the edge, warping of the edge or the spine, hone wear pattern along the spine and its implications. Also the angle of the bevel and its implications, and the hardness of the steel, and what hones will be suitable — hard steel/soft stone, soft steel/hard stone. Just to name a few things that must be considered.

    Obie: You’ve been at this for a long time. How long have you shaved with the straight razor?

    Randy: About 7 years now, but I first tried about 1996, when I was given my grandfather’s straight razor and Frictionite 00 hone. At that time the Internet was just starting and I could find nothing to help me learn to hone a razor. I tried but the results were a disaster.

    Obie: I assume you didn’t start honing your razor at the same time. Or did you?

    Randy: Ha! Yes I did. I had the same desire as a lot of the new guys. I wanted to do it myself.

    Obie: My humble honing experience comes from Sham (hi_bud_gl) and you. Two masters, indeed. My stroke is Sham’s, I know, especially in the distinct way he uses the back hone movement to not only keep the slurry, but also to use it as the instant correction tool. I have incorporated some of your strokes in my method, as well. From you also I have learned the proper method to eliminate frowns. From both of you I have learned how to set the proper bevel. To an extent I also have learned some things from Lynn, although I have not sat with him to hone yet, but I plan to in the coming months. Talk about being lucky to have such distinguished teachers. When you were starting out to hone, who were your teachers, your influences?

    Randy: My teachers were the guys on the Yahoo SRP forum led by Lynn. Not just the guys who succeeded, but also those who reported their failures. I think there were 400 registered members at that time and Lynn was running the show. There was a whole lot of experimentation and a remarkable lack of written resources to reference. Guys would try this hone and that and report their successes and failures. We did not have the Norton 4/8 at first, so we were trying every hone out there, old and new. I don't recall anyone mentioning Jnats, Coticules or Eschers. The three main external things that moved us forward were the Pyramid Method, some old barber texts that had chapters on honing, Razor Central by Arthur Boone, and the Norton 4/8.

    Obie: What were some of the trials you faced, some of the challenges, the bumps in the road?

    Randy: We had to learn to divide and conquer. To break things down into categories, such as new razors versus vintage razors, German full hollow grinds versus thickly ground Sheffields, razors with a smile on the edge versus a straight edge and the implications for honing. The major achievements were developing useful honing strokes such as the rolling X strokes, half strokes, and compensating strokes, and realizing that the vintage razors had soft oxidized steel on the edge that needed to be removed so that a strong, solid edge could be created. When to use pressure and when not to was important. And the most important was to learn that the development of a solid bevel was the foundation for everything that followed.

    Obie: As you were learning, I assume you were also collecting stones. You have an amazing collection now. Was there a particular method to your acquisition?

    Randy: Yup! Estate sales, flea markets, antique stores, eBay and knife collectors were my main sources. They still are. I don't go looking anymore, because I have so many, and I am working on another related project.

    Obie: Give me a short rundown of some of your stones.

    Randy: Norton 1/4/8, Shapton Pro, Naniwa SS, Chosera 1K, Shapton GS 1K, many Coticules and Escher type stones, Silk Stones, Tam O'Shanter & Water of Ayr, Charnley Forest, Turkey oil stone, various Arkansas stones, Carborumdums, King, Jnats, some mystery hones, and many Barber hones.

    Obie: That’s an astonishing collection. What’s the best method to maintain these stones? We maintain our razors through the standard methods of preventing rust, and so on. What is the proper way to maintain stones?

    Randy: For water stones, we do not let them freeze or soak in water for any length of time. Keep them free of swarf by either scrubbing with a nylon pad under running water or lightly lapping — refreshing — between honing sessions. The Coticule, Tam O Shanter and other non-porous hones simply need to be kept dust and dirt free and lapped when you need to restore the cutting power. The barber hones build up a glaze that needs to be removed with either sandpaper, a rubbing stone, or by lapping. The reason they develop that glaze, which is built up swarf, is because of the high percentage of abrasives in them. There is very little space between the abrasive grains, so they trap the swarf between the abrasive grains, especially when used dry. That's also why they cut so fast. They have a very high percentage of abrasives.

    Obie: Some of the great stones are gone. The Swaty, the Escher, and others. What happened? How did they disappear?

    Randy: From what I have read the quarrying of Thuringan-Escher type hones stopped when, for some reason, the Communists dynamited the quarry and closed it. What happened to the Swaty I do not know. Most likely the competition from American manufacturers such as Carborundum and the American Hone Company, and others, drove them out.

    Obie: What is, then, the status of hones currently being manufactured?

    Randy: Waterstones and ceramic hones are the primary ones now and they keep on getting better and better, but I am sure others will be coming along. The old begets the new and the new begets the old.

    Obie: Are there mines still to be discovered?

    Randy: Most likely. I remember SRP's JimR visited Bali and came back with some volcanic Tuffa hones that none of us have heard of, and just recently there was another guy on SRP with some interesting natural hones. There is a lot of unexplored territory.

    Obie: Buying stones from various online sources can be chancy. How do you evaluate a stone offered for sale, say, on eBay? What do you look for in that stone?

    Randy: I look for color, size and markings to fit within a range of those parameters. For a Thuringan-Escher type stone I look for a size of less than 2 inches wide to 3/4 of an inch thick, 5 inches plus in length, and a color range from dark blue to green-yellow or blue gray-green. The other telltale sign is scratch marks. Those will scratch very easily, so a bunch of scratch marks tell me it’s soft. If it has cleaves, that indicates a quartz-noviculite-chert type hone. Texture is also important

    Obie: What is your prized stone?

    Randy: A 2" x 8" combo Tam O'Shanter/Water of Ayr. I have only seen this one. The other is a 10” Escher Y/G. I prize them because of their unusual size and their effectiveness on a straight razor.

    Obie: No matter how prized the stone, would you not say that one must also know how to use it for optimal honing? In other words, do you find it essential for one who hones to know the characteristics of the stones he uses?

    Randy: Oh yes. A person has to know what stage of honing that hone fits into, what it is good at, and what it is not good for. The Tam O'Shanter is an example. When I first received mine, I tried using it with just water as a finishing stone. Frankly I spent a lot of time with it and got nowhere. Then I worked up a slurry on it and found that it was very good at removing microchips and functioning as a 6000 grit. That is its strong suit — its best use for straight razors.

    Obie: What is your method of honing?

    Randy: I use a basic rolling X stroke for almost all my honing. I decided to stick with that for two reasons. First, it is an easy stroke to learn. It’s the stroke I teach new guys. Second, it always works. It is slower than performing circles, but it is very controllable. I deviate from that stroke only when removing a frown from an edge or reshaping an edge.

    Obie: Let’s take a for instance: You come across a blade to restore. How do you determine if the can be restored?

    Randy: There are four deal killers:

    First, rust on both sides of the edge. In that case the rust has gone all the way through the steel — and a lot of steel will need to be removed. The exception is if the blade is a 7/8 or larger. Then there is enough meat to end up with a razor of reasonable width and size.

    Second, a cracked blade. Guys have to learn and apply a modified thumbnail test to check for cracks hidden by patina. That would be a good subject for a video.

    Third, wide hone wear on the side of the spine indicates that the angle of the bevel is now probably to shallow. That will result in an edge that is thin and weak and most likely will microchip. It also results in a wide bevel, which takes a lot longer to hone.

    Fourth, Uneven hone wear on the side of the spine. This can indicate one of three things. The most frequent is improper honing, and most likely the edge has a frown shape to it. Then you need to check the depth of the frown and decide if the end result will be worth the work involved. Next, the uneven hone wear can indicate a poor grind of the blade, which we usually see in the old English Sheffields. Either the spine thickness is inconsistent or the concave portion of the blade right along the edge is fat — too thick. Finally, it may indicate a warped blade, either the spine, the edge or both.

    Obie: Let’s assume you see potential in the blade, but it has a frown, it is stained, with some rust, and as a bonus some chips. How do you, Randy Tuttle, give life to that blade?

    Randy: First remove the rust by either the use of sandpaper or grease-less buffing compound. Usually both.

    Second, remove the frown by raising the spine, approx 1/4” to 1/2”, off the hone-sandpaper-Dmt diamond hone, approx 500/1000 grit, and focus your pressure on the high points on each side of the frown. Just use back and forth strokes on the same side, alternating every 10 to 15 strokes until the frown is gone. Then start working on the visible chips in the same manner. Finish with strokes that move from heal to toe to even up and shape the edge.

    The result will be an edge that has some deep scratches. So then it is time to work on the 1000 grit hone — using the normal X stroke, but with one layer of tape — to smooth out the scratches. Make sure the bevel extends all the way to the edge. Then remove the tape and go to the 4000 grit and get the bevel to the proper level. Once again, make sure the bevel goes all the way to the edge. From there it is just the normal 4000/8000 finishing sequence.

    Obie: Do you strop following the stones? Any specific pattern?

    Randy: I do not. I want the edge to rest. I just make sure the blade is dry and oiled.

    Obie: Do you put much thought in the Hanging Hair Test? Put another way, do you give a hang about the Hanging Hair Test?

    Randy: Yes, I do — because I can. My hair is suited to that test and it tells me if the razor is ready for a shave test.

    Obie: What, then, determines, to you, if that razor is shave ready?

    Randy: Only the shave will tell you that.

    Obie: The question of how often one should hone his razor comes up. I’ve never found a formula for that. I hone when I feel the razor needs it. Your view?

    Randy: I agree with you. When it no longer shaves the way I want, then it gets a refreshing of the edge.

    Obie: What is the basic stone requirement for a shaver who hopes to maintain his blades? For instance, I have a small set up of Chosera 1,000 with slurry stone, a Norton 4000/8000, a Naniwa 12,000, a Thuringian, and a mysterious Japanese stone. I don’t plan to go into the honing business. Both you and Sham have said that’s all I need. What is your suggestion to other shavers like me who just want to maintain their razors?

    Randy: A 6000 and an 8000 grit stone are the basics needed. You can get a very good shave from an 8000 grit stone. At the other end is either an abrasive pasted paddle strop, or a finishing grade stone, or a good, known barber hone. I prefer to first go to an abrasive pasted paddle strop, 0.5 micron chrome oxide, and if that is not enough, then down the grit ladder to a finishing grade stone or a barber hone. The 6K & 8K are my last resorts.

    Obie: The world of straight razor shaving calls for several separate elements that must be mastered. Honing is one, an entity onto itself. What advice do you have for one who considers maintaining his or her straight razors? What is the honing starter kit, if such a kit exists?

    Randy: A good plain leather hanging strop. An abrasive pasted paddle strop using a size of 0.5 micron, either a finishing grade stone or a barber hone. That should keep you going for a long time

    Obie: What emotional and psychological value, and pleasure, do you derive from honing a razor?

    Randy: The strongest is a sense of continuity with the past, specifically with my grandfather. We now have something in common — I am the same as him. A link with the past. The other is a strong sense of satisfaction that I have learned a manual skill that I can apply, and get rewarded for, every day — and for the rest of my life.
    by Published on 09-26-2023 09:01 PM
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    2. Obie's Conversations

    The love affair between the straight razor and the strop is like reading Jane Austen by a warm fire, or savoring port wine with Stilton cheese. For me, aside from tuning the blade as if a musical instrument, stropping paves a link into a state of bliss. I often find myself stropping far more than I need to just because of that. No wonder I continue to explore the world of strops and strop makers. One such world belongs to British strop maker Neil Miller, whose vast interests and talents have amounted to a string of successful careers.

    As a maker of strops, how do you view the relationship between the straight razor and the strop?

    Neil: Well, let's start by stating the obvious. You can't have one without the other. Seriously though, I like your “tuning the blade” analogy. I find that very apt. The relationship between the two is also synergistic in that the raw, freshly honed razor's edge is enhanced by stropping. Stropping also conditions the strop, burnishing its surface. For me the act is deeply symbolic, too. It provides a bridge between the past and the present, and represents continuity.

    Obie: As a tuning instrument, then, what essential properties does a quality strop possess?

    Neil: As long as the leather is of sufficient quality, has no artificial top layer, is suitably pliable for the type of strop and possesses suitable draw, then the prime requirements are met. Width and length come next in importance. Handles, hanging gear, swivels, hooks and means of attachment are all of secondary importance.

    Obie: Going on the assumption of every positive having its parallel negative, what screams of a low quality strop that one should avoid?

    Neil: Anything that does not meet at least the first four requirements should be regarded with a certain amount of caution. For instance, a hanging strop made with a hard, card-like leather that has no draw at all is next to useless. Unless it is designed to undergo a breaking-in regime. That is something rarely seen nowadays, but it was common with older strops. I mean particularly the old Russian-tanned strops — the name persists, but the strops are not the same these days.

    The leather is of prime importance, providing it is of good quality — and the strop will be OK. Price is something of a determining factor, too, although a good, serviceable strop can be produced for quite a small sum. If the price looks too cheap, then it is in all probability not good for the purpose.

    Obie: A subtle war has always existed between the hand-made and the machine-made worlds. Clothing, automobile seats, straight razors, strops, just about everything, I suppose — one or the other may win the battle, but who the war?

    Neil: I don't think I would use the words “battle” and “war,” Obie. In a way we are comparing two different philosophies, both of which have their good points. Which one you choose, machine-made or hand-made, will most likely have more to do with your own philosophy of life than with one being inherently better than the other. As with most things in life there is no simple answer. One man might choose a megabuck custom made razor, another a more pedestrian model. If they both do the job to the particular individual's requirements, all is well and good.

    Obie: In our correspondence you’ve made a statement that intrigues me. It’s a profound statement, I might add. You’ve said, “I like to see the hand of man in human works.”

    Neil: That is part of my philosophy of life. I believe that mere mortals can aspire to perfection, but never attain it — that is the province of the gods. When I see something impressive made by a machine, I appreciate its value. But when I see something impressive that is hand-made by a man, I can see the heart and soul that has gone into it, and I am infinitely more impressed. The small tell-tale marks that something has been hand-made are like tracks in time, another link to the past when all things were hand made out of necessity.

    Sometimes when I restore or repair vintage razors, I find the maker’s initials scratched on the inside of the scales. In recovering old paddle strops I have revealed handwriting on the timber that was covered with leather. In repairing old camera lenses I have seen the lens grinder's name signed in India ink on the outer rim of the brass-bound lens. These things have a visceral impact for me that is hard to put into words. It could include nostalgia, tradition, toil, remembrance, continuity, sentimentality, solidity — all these things and more.

    Obie: So then I can only assume you lay open this philosophy before you like a book and proceed to use the recipe to make the Neil Miller strop. How does a strop start in your handcrafted world and the process of making it progress?

    Neil: Not with a recipe, unfortunately. It starts with the leather, with a half or full hide, a croupon or a small oval shell. I have to feel the nap, if any, the natural grain, the scars and the marks. Then I can see the strop.

    Obie: What determines what type of a strop you make, what style, and what size?

    Neil: As I said, the leather kind of dictates its end use for the most part. Once that has been established I can see where I want to go. When I worked in design, we were taught to “feel what's in the air.” It’s a semi nonsensical phrase that means you are guided more by feeling or intuition than by anything else. Of course, that “intuition” is colored in great degree by what you have previously experienced, so it's probably not a blind thing anyway. Don't tell the fashion designers I said that, by the way.

    Obie: Not a peep out of me. Tell me, does each type and size strop offer specific challenges or are they not all that different?

    Neil: Width, thickness and tanning make a huge difference. For a 3-inch strop we ideally want leather that is not too prone to cup or to curl. Most leathers will exhibit this tendency to some degree. They were once the coverings of curvilinear animals, after all. So we have to choose carefully. Something from near the shoulder will not be that appropriate, for example, as the skin of the animal in life was quite bent and stretched in that location. The thickness will dictate how the handles and the hardware are applied. Very thick leathers, say around 5 millimeters, aren't that easy to sew, so you have to resort to rivets or to skiving it down where it is to be joined.

    Hanging strops offer the most challenges. Paddles let you get over things like thickness and the tendency to cup or curl — the thinnest and thickest leathers may be used with freedom. Shorter lengths of leather are used, too, so something prone to much scarring can be used more effectively. For instance, kangaroos tend to be quite battle-scarred.

    Obie: Do you find the need to match a certain type of leather, fabric or linen to a specific type of a strop? Or is it one for all?

    Neil: Bearing in mind what we discussed, I think that apart from hanging strops, loom-type strops have a certain requirement that must be complied with. That is the use of a thicker, more compactly tanned leather. I have seen a lot of loom strops where the leather has been distorted and ended up permanently cupped or curled.

    Obie: What type of leather do you fancy most?

    Neil: I like shell cordovan, really, but I don't use it regularly. I strop so many razors every day that I could not justify the price. I go through quite a few strops. A good tallow tan leather is almost as good as shell, and the particular type of Latigo I use forms my everyday strop. It is thinner than normal, much finer grained and less oiled, possessing a medium-light draw.

    Obie: What about the second part of the strop? Linen, fabric or felt?

    Neil: Genuine linen every time. It has a slight edge over cotton/canvas, a bigger edge over felt, and is a delight to use.

    Obie: I prefer a 2.5-inch strop, not too long, soft steer hide with a medium draw, and with genuine linen component. I like horse, too. Kangaroo I haven’t tried. As a maker of strops, do you find yourself leaning in any particular direction?

    Neil: The 2.5-inches wide for me too, Obie. Latigo and linen. That serves for everyday use for my own razors. For razors I hone for others I use two different leathers. The first has a heavier draw — oiled English bridle — to bring the edge out. The second has a fast draw and refines the edge.

    Obie: In your experience, what do shavers mostly demand? Now, I’m not all that fond of the 3-inch strop, especially since some have a tendency to buckle more than the 2.5-inch. Also, the X-pattern stropping comes naturally to me, so much so that even on my only 3-inch strop I still do the X-pattern. I have a feeling though that the 3-inch is probably the most popular.

    Neil: You are right. Most people ask for a 3-inch wide one. The shell cordovan and the red lightly oiled English bridle seem to be favorites, too. However, a lot of these requests come from newbies who have just got their first open razor, so I try to discourage them out of buying an expensive strop and to learn on a cheap model until they have got the knack. I'm getting quite good at doing myself out of expensive orders.

    Obie: The Universe has its own way of writing our script, and often the path in our life colors what we create and how we create it. That’s true with me in my writing, and was in the years I spent behind the radio microphone. You’ve had a colorful life, starting as a designer at London’s Chelsea School of Art. You’ve also run a light engineering factory, built houses, worked as a laborer building roads, had a stint as a photographer, and several other gigs. What has driven you through this varied career exhibition?

    Neil: I have been very lucky, Obie. I didn't settle down until quite late in life, and although I earned good money in the past, money has never meant that much to me. It’s just as well, seeing as I don't earn much now. I have been just as happy being a student or digging holes in the road than as an executive director. Life has been like a meandering country road to me. There have always been other avenues to explore, different forks to take, and places to just stop, look and listen.

    Obie: How has this background, then, influenced your creative work?

    Neil: I suppose the chief thing is that I have never felt bound to do any one thing. My wife works, too, and this has been an enormous help. The things I choose to do all have some sort of thread going through them, even if it is very tenuous — or even conforming to Jung's Acausal Connecting Principal.

    Obie: Which is a principal that centers, more or less, on a pattern of connection that can’t be explained conventionally. It’s all about coincidence — that some of the experiences we perceive as coincidence are not merely due to chance, but rather to the manifestation of parallel events and circumstances.

    Neil: I feel that was the case with most of the things I did when I was younger. Less so now.

    Obie: The love of working with your hands, fortunate for straight razor shavers, also has propelled you into strop making. Had you been shaving with the straight razor before you decided to make strops?

    Neil: That's very kind of you to say so, thank you. I did own a microtome razor when I was 11 or so — not to shave with, though. I used it to prepare thin specimens for microscope slides. I couldn't afford the body of the microtome — nor the razor, to be honest — it was the result of a gift. So I had to make that myself, along with the strop.

    Obie: What, then, led you to making strops?

    Neil: When I got my first open razor, I had to have a strop, so I bought a very cheap one. Big mistake. It was hard and horrible, the hanging gear was a bent bar with a nail going through the middle, its end cut off and the shank formed into a loop. I still see them in use. If you look the head of the nail, it even has the check-marks on it. And the handle is a thin bit of stitched plastic-looking leather. I made my own strop and relegated the shop-bought one to having its ends cut-off, pasting it to a board, sanding it and coating it with chrome-oxide.

    Obie: Your strops now are available through your own online shop.

    Neil: That's right. Nowhere else. I have been approached by several large, well known re-sellers, but as all the strops are more or less unique and only made in small quantities, I couldn't meet the demand. Not that I want to, anyway. It's a creative process for me, something to take time over and make a personal investment in, not a mass-production money maker. If I had to produce them in large, regular quantities, all standardized to look the same, I'd fall out of love with it, I think.

    Obie: What is it about leather that attracts you? You obviously have to love leather.

    Neil: I like everything about it — the smell, the feel, its organic nature, its uniqueness. Plus it forms another one of those all-important links for me. It ties me into the past and brings the past into the present and hopefully the future.

    Obie: What type of a strop, then, do you recommend for a newbie?

    Neil: I can't emphasize enough that the leather is all important. It doesn't have to cost the earth. It just has to do the job effectively. Good leather, medium draw, at least 12 inches of clear stropping length and at least 2 inches in width. Slightly wider and a bit longer would be better. Paddles take the guess out of how taut to pull the strop, but you might as well bite the bullet and get a hanging strop. A paddle can always come in handy later as the carrier of an abrasive — they are more suited for this purpose than hanging strops. Get something cheap enough that you wont fret about when learning. You wouldn't take driving lessons in a Rolls Royce, would you?

    Obie: What do you recommend for the strop’s care and maintenance?

    Neil: I try to use leathers that do not need any significant amount of care other than hand-rubbing. Rather than try to adjust the draw by adding oil or tallow, I think it preferable to get leather with the required amount of draw right from the start.

    Obie: What is your general stropping method and can you offer suggestions to the newbie as well as the pro?

    Neil: I wouldn't presume to lecture to a pro. I guess we all form our own routines that suit us well enough, but which another would find fault with. With a linen/leather hanging strop there is a short adjustment period during which the leather gets burnished by the act of stropping, then settles down and changes very gradually thereafter. For a newbie, then, once this settling in period has taken place, there are just a few simple guidelines to follow. Laps on linen should be in the order of 20 to 40 followed by 40 to 60 on plain leather. Forget about oils, sharpening pastes and powders for the present. Say you go for 30 linen and 50 leather and get a good edge. You can then start by altering the ratios, possibly only one at a time, until you get an edge that is better and which you can repeat with the same regimen.

    My own routines include linen/oiled buffalo/Latigo/dry buffalo in different configurations, driven mainly by the razor in use. It doesn't make much sense, I know, but certain of my razors respond differently to different leathers. I sometimes use a very glazed, fairly fast draw buffalo strop with graphite powder sprinkled and rubbed into it. Again, it is hard to see why it works as it does — by refining the edge to a finer degree than if the graphite had not been used — but it does. On the other hand, what exactly is going on during the process of stropping? I shall abandon this subject by just mentioning the words “plastic flow” and waiting for the furor to subside.

    Obie: Sorry, Neil, but you have me curious. What do you mean by “plastic flow” in stropping?

    Neil: It's a term used to help explain the deformation of a substance once a certain amount of force has been applied. In stropping it refers to what happens to the metal at the bevel. It is said to deform somewhat due to the act of stropping. It is based on a sound principal, but is of debatable importance in this instance.

    Obie: A colorful ritual frames traditional shaving with the straight razor. We’re loaded with fallacies, too. What are some of the fallacies centered on strops, strop making and stropping?

    Neil: The obvious things that spring to my mind are really more in the realm of the theoretical rather than fallacious. Microfins, not stropping after shaving so the edge can “rest,” plastic flow, the use of substances softer than steel, that is graphite, and so on — I would include them in this area.

    The use of newsprint is not quite within this area. It borders on the magical, but it does work. I believe that the paper itself has a degree of abrasiveness, and that in the old days the greasy newsprint had a lead-graphite content that helped. Most newspapers are produced with water-jet technology these days I think, using dyes rather than pigments, so this shouldn't enhance the effect. That people say it does only adds to the wonderful “magic” of it all.

    One thing you often hear people advocating is using your belt as a strop. I suppose there are belts and then there are belts. Generally speaking, belts are not strops, though.

    One last thing that springs to mind is the almost obsessive need felt by some to oil a strop. Maybe as part of a yearly maintenance program it might be wise to do this with certain leathers, but for a new strop? You can always add oil, but it is very hard to take it away again.

    Obie: Of course, as a man who loves working with his hands, you also restore straight razors. Let’s put it this way: is there anything you don’t do?

    Neil: I think I'll take the Fifth Amendment on that one, Obie.

    Obie: You’ve had a rich and creative life. When you reflect on the past, do you regret missed opportunities or are you satisfied you did everything you wanted to do?

    Neil: It is hard not to get all “Sinatra” over this, but yes, I have been very happy with my lot. I have been very lucky to have a wonderful wife, a loving family and to have had so many opportunities. I know that full well. Of course, there are very many things I would have liked to have done, but, to be frank, one lifetime isn't nearly long enough.

    Obie: Looking to the future, what is left to do for Neil Miller?

    Neil: That country road still has a good few miles to meander along. Who knows where the next fork will lead to?
    by Published on 11-28-2017 11:00 PM
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    In recent years, the traditional straight razor has exploded in popularity around the world. Vintage razors, new productions, and even straight razors with replaceable blades, all have awakened a new passion in those still holding onto the wet shaving tradition. This rise in popularity also has sparked a new demand for custom-made straight razors that sometimes become works of functional art. Max Sprecher is one of a number of master craftsmen producing exceptional custom straight razors. I spoke with Max about his work.

    OBIE: You come from the Belgian world of art and culture, a long way from the Max Sprecher custom made razor in Las Vegas. Connect the dots.

    MAX: I’ve been straight shaving on and off for quit some time, 32 years to be exact. I bought my first razor at the age of 18 at a hunting store in Antwerp, where I was living at the time.

    OBIE: What was the razor?

    MAX: Puma.

    OBIE: How did you learn to use the straight?

    MAX: I had to master everything myself. And a local barber guided ...
    by Published on 11-05-2017 09:06 PM
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    Artisans create a bounty of shave soaps and creams for the traditional shaver that range up and down the spectrum in quality. Some are good, and some forgettable. I am disappointed in most of them. Oleo Soapworks, of Chicago, is an exception.

    Artisan Vida Perez Velazquez has created a range of superb shave soaps with intriguing scents that rival some of the big names. Luxurious lather, comfortable cushion and smooth glide characterize these soaps, their soothing aftershave properties especially notable.

    OBIE: I don’t think I am being lofty in my description. Your soaps are exceptional in every way. What makes good shave soap?

    VIDA: Wet shavers, new and experienced, ...
    by Published on 01-29-2017 12:36 PM
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    The straight razor world not only carries a colorful ritual, but it also has a colorful history. Straight Razor Place Mentor and historian Martin103 gives us a glimpse into the story of the straight razor.

    OBIE: What is the history of the western style straight razor? When did they come into use, as we know them?

    MARTIN: There is plenty of evidence found on paintings and illustrations going back to the 15th Century. ...
    by Published on 04-02-2012 02:00 AM
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    The double edge safety razor (DE) has come far from King Camp Gillette’s days, serving in three wars, as well as shaving millions of civilians. Yet the changes in the DE have been mostly functional and cosmetic, but the principle idea remains the same. The distance between the 1904 Gillette and the current crop of DE razors is about that of yesterday’s shave and today’s. The old Gillettes are still preferred by some shavers. Then again, who can resist the gorgeous Edwin Jagger DE razors? I haven’t been able to. I have several models and am currently considering several more. You can never have too much of a good thing, is what I say. These days every time I shave with an Edwin Jagger DE, which is often, I send silent thanks to Neil Jagger, who founded the company in Sheffield, ...
    by Published on 02-26-2012 02:15 AM
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    I discovered Liam Finnegan through his YouTube shaving videos. There was Liam stropping a razor. There he was honing a blade. You could see the master at work with sure hands and an air of confidence from long years of dedicated barbering and straight razor shaving. If I had the tiniest nugget of Liam’s experience with the straight razor, the strop and the hone, I’d pin a medal to my chest and proclaim, “I have arrived.”

    Obie: Currently you are the head barber and patriarch of the renowned Waldorf Barbershop and Shaving Saloon in Dublin, Ireland. You have been at this since you were 10 years ...
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