• Conversation with Joe and Carrie Davidowicz

    Joe and Carrie
    Joe and Carrie
    Once upon a time, for gentlemen and pedestrians alike, shaving with the straight razor was the way to go. The only way to go. Today, much to our disappointment, straight razor shaving has a relatively small following. So it is rare to find the straight razor a family affair, right in our own neighborhood, too. It is so with Joe and Carrie, SRP moderators and vendors, and son Joe Jr.

    Obie: I keep seeing this jolly picture of Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear straight razor shaving together as one happy family ó family that shaves straight together stays together, so to speak. Do people ever wonder how peculiar you family is? Especially you, Carrie, because, letís face it, women straight razor shavers arenít exactly taking over the world.

    Carrie: Iíve always been the odd one in the bunch, even growing up. So for me to do something most women would find insane is pretty normal. I just treat it like itís no huge deal and donít push it on anyone. I donít hesitate to share if someone asks about it though. It took me a while to prove to many of the guys that I am really just one of them.

    Joe: In todayís society, for the most part, anyone straight razor shaving is considered peculiar, much less the whole family. Anyone knowingly putting themselves at what they perceive as ďhigh riskĒ is considered peculiar. Then when you take into account the whole family being involved in the hobby, the peculiarity fades. There are few families out there where the whole family is involved in one hobby. This has created a bond in my family that is lacking in most families in todayís society.

    Obie: So then whoís the guilty party in having started the straight razor trend in the family?

    Joe: Me. I purchased my first straights over 25 years ago, but it was only four years ago that I was able to find information on how to maintain and use them. It began when Joe Jr. started shaving and I remembered I had the razors. It peaked everyoneís interest. I may have been the instigator, but Jr. starting to shave revived my interest in straights.

    Carrie: Points to Joe.

    Obie: Might one assume, Joe, that having spent much of your professional career in the world of metals and metal work created your initial interest in the straight razor?

    Joe: While itís true that I have many years of experiences as a tool and die maker, it was really not a factor in the beginning. It wasnít until I started reading on SRP about restorations and honing that my experience in tool making became very useful.

    Carrie: I kind of got sucked into it. Joe bought a book on how to put value on razors and handed it to me and asked me to figure out how to use it. So many variables add to or detract from the razorís value. Once I started reading through it I was able to recognize many brand names, and it enabled us to better spend what funds we had allocated for buying razors.

    Obie: Then you suddenly found yourself shaving with the straight razor. Iím trying to find the reason why and not doing so well. You must have seen something in the straight razor to peek your interest.

    Carrie: I first tried it, because Joe kept asking when I was going to switch, and also because I got tired of paying high prices for the cartridge razors. If I could get one straight razor or three for the same price as a five-pack of cartridges, it seemed the logical choice. I am all for economizing.

    Joe: When I started shaving, I was using a Gillette Super Speed and was happy with it. When the Gillette came out with the Track II, it was difficult to find DE blades. When I moved to Western NY, I happened upon a few straights at an auction. The attraction was more for nostalgia ó keeping the old ways alive.

    Obie: It takes a certain type of person, one who shows flair for going against convention. Who, then, is the straight razor shaver? What is a straight razor shaver?

    Joe: The statements you make are very true. A straight razor shaver is someone who is not a follower, an individual who is not focused on fads, or on popular opinion. He is more interested in directing his own life and is willing to put in the energy and determination to learn something new. He is someone who doesnít settle for "good enough," but who can think outside the box of how things can be better.

    Carrie: I think itís a person who is not afraid to be a bit different. I also like to be self-sufficient, so itís nice that it is something I can maintain and deal with myself. Joe made sure I could do everything from initial bevel setting to finishing off my razors so that Iíll never have to depend on someone else to take care of razors for me. That being said though, I have no problem adding a razor that needs a touch up to the working pile when the boys are having a honing session.

    Obie: Tell me, Joe, what was your first straight razor?

    Joe: Actually there were 5 of them that I got at an auction. One was a Robeson made by Boker, and a Wostenholm ďsuperbĒ pipe razor. A WP&R razor. The other one I canít remember. There have been many more added to the collection over the years.

    Obie: And yours, Carrie?

    Carrie: Honestly I donít know what the first one was I used. The first one I owned was a JR Torrey ó and I have managed to collect a respectable number of them over the last 3 years or so.

    Obie: And your sonís? Do all three of you share in your preferences of certain razors and models?

    Joe: My sonís first straight razor was one of the ones I picked up at the original auction. It was a Robesonís My Pet 5/8, somewhere around a half hollow with a muted square point. Preferences are really not an issue other than for Carrie. Joe Jr. and I will shave with pretty much whatever we come across. Everyone is drawn to the ďprettyĒ razors, but every time a ďplain JaneĒ one comes up in the rotation, we are happy with the performance. In the long run it has to shave well to stay in rotation.

    Carrie: I have found that I really like the JR Torrey Razors and the Heljestrands. I think itís because they have a pretty narrow tang on them and are comfortable in my hands. I also prefer round points, but I have a few square and spike points in my rotation also. I just have to pay more attention when I use them.

    Obie: You both collect razors, too. I suppose I can say the family collects straight razors. Iíve seen pictures of some of the razor in your collection. What do we have here?

    Joe: Itís pretty much an even split between English, German, and American razors, with a few Swedish, a French, an Italian and a Scottish razor. We donít pay as much attention to brand names as we do to regions of manufacturing. Although we have many well-known brands, we also have a fair share of not so common ones with names of drug stores, etc., on them.

    Obie: Carrie, are yours in the collection more attractive to women. Might one assume these are mostly smaller blades? Or is there really a difference for you?

    Carrie: I actually use 5/8 round point razors. I do have a couple of 4/8 ones in my collection, and for me they seem the best fit for my hands and easier to get around in the nooks and the crannies of the ankles and knees without cutting myself.

    Obie: Do you have any thoughts and suggestions for ladies who might consider straight razor shaving?

    Carrie: For those who have asked me about it I have given this advice: Itís an adrenaline rush at first, and if you have a fear of blood and cutting yourself, itís probably not for you. It takes time and patience to learn, and if youíre in a hurry to just get it done and over with, itís not for you. If you like to pamper yourself and get a lot of satisfaction on mastering a craft, then itís for you.

    Obie: Have you had many takers?

    Carrie: Most women I have talked to opted for the DE. Itís a safer option for shaving some of the areas women tend to. Plus I still havenít figured out a way to use a straight under my arms.

    Obie: Iíve wondered how ladies shave under the arms with the straight.

    Carrie: I still use my DE razors for that area. I often suggest the ladies start with a DE and move up to straights later if they are interested. Most are thrilled with the versatility of the DE and probably wonít take that final step to straights. Itís really a very personal choice.

    Obie: And you, Joe, any thoughts and suggestions for gentlemen considering straight razor shaving?

    Joe: If you are interested in straight razor shaving, make sure you do your research. It takes focus and patience to develop the skills, so be ready to dedicate some time. Get a professionally honed razor to start with. If youíre looking for a vintage razor ó Sheffield, Solingen, America ó get it from a reputable seller. If youíre looking for a new one, buy it from an established vendor. Most of the new ones these days are Dovo, Boker, and Thiers-Issard.

    Obie: Any particular price range?

    Joe: Stay within budget. There are lots of razors out there, new and vintage, that may not be the prettiest, but will work well for you while you decide if straight the razor is for you. Then sit back and enjoy the journey.

    Obie: As a rule, I suggest newbies to stay off eBay until they know their way around the straight razor world. Buys on eBay can be gems, but there are also some stinky bombs passed on as straight razor.

    Joe: Totally agree. There are lots of Pakistani razors out there that arenít even useful as letter openers. Stick with vendors that sell quality blades or the SRP classifieds.

    Carrie: Very true. Weíve had some great ones from eBay and some lemons, but even with the lemons weíve gained experience in restorations, and we use some of the not so pretty ones for those learning to hone. They are more comfortable using a ďjunkerĒ than working with the good ones and messing them up. Everything has had its use and nothing really gone to waste, even if itís been just recycling the scales.

    Obie: Razors with potential are out there, and sometimes we luck out and land one waiting for new clothes by master restorers. Joe, my good man, Iíve seen some of your restorations and they are superb. When you receive a razor for restoration, what do you look for, and how do you envision the finished razor?

    Joe: I look at the condition of the blade and the grind type. Is there rust, pitting, chips, cracks or other damage to the blade? Then I can advise the owner what can be done to restore the blade. There is very little that can be done on hollow grounds that have pitting near the blade edge. There is not enough metal on it to remove the pitting completely without sacrificing the blade height and possibly its integrity.

    Obie: What about the scales?

    Joe: I like to keep them traditional, as close to the original size, shape and material as possible. But if someone wants something else, I work with him to make sure he will be happy with the razor once itís completed. Iíve worked in horn, bone, acrylics, and exotic woods. I really donít care for the G10 and Micarta materials, because they are extremely dusty and, to me, they really belong on knives. But everything is a personal choice.

    Obie: Might one see a distinct style in your restorations? Anything that stands out?

    Joe: My personal restorations have been very traditional in design with a little added bling on the wedge ends, such as domed washers and other doo-dads.

    Obie: But then the creative side of your family does not stop with razor restoration. Carrie, you are an artist in your own right. You make shave cream. What compelled you to do that?

    Carrie: It was a challenge given to me by Joe. While there are great creams out there on the market, he wanted to see if I could come up with something more affordable. It took me almost two years to come up with something workable.

    Obie: Do you offer it for sale?

    Carrie: I do sell occasionally to friends and the SRP family. Right now I have no plans to go commercial or put up a web site. Making the creams is a time and space intensive project and both of those commodities are limited at this time.

    Obie: For many ó I know for me ó the straight razor is also a hobby, something that frames my traditional shaving ritual. Do you feel the straight razor adds another knot to the bond you have as a family?

    Carrie: Itís has given us a single reference point ó I guess you can call it that. We are all involved in one way or the other, from hunting for razors, to restoring, honing, and using them. Itís one of the few things that we all have enjoyed doing. together.

    Joe: Yes, I feel that it has brought our family close in that we all have a part in collecting, restoring and honing them. Itís something for all of us together.