I enjoy it when I get asked to make something a little different. This time, a friend of mine got in touch and asked me to make some new scales for his razor. Or, more accurately, some old scales for his razor.
It turns out that he bought a very old and rare razor from another friend of mine, but he considered that the scales it had (obviously not the originals) were too late in style for the blade; they looked wrong. Like a great-grandfather dressed like a teenager.
So, the brief was clear: make some scales which suited the razor’s period of manufacture. The razor dated from the early years of the Nineteenth Century, around the time that Napoleon was trending on Twitter. I was happy to oblige.
The scales were to look like the scales popular in Bonaparte's time.
The style of the scales was to be more Eighteenth century in style. My friend sent me some images of scales from the period. He requested blonde horn and a lead spacer.
I worked out some measurements from the photographs and established two things:
- The scales were very straight, the curve featured in later scales designs were an important development, they enabled the razor to sit deeper in the fold of the scales which, also, meant that the pivot end of the scales was narrower;
- The scales were thicker than later scales.
The challenge would be to make scales that replicated the style of the Eighteenth century, but that would encompass the blade safely.
Bear in mind that the edge of the blade is a lot lower than the pivot hole on the tang. To reduce the width of the scales at the pivot end, it would be necessary to introduce just a slight taper.
Believe me, I went back to the drawing board many times. Eventually, I found a design that would enable the blade to be encompassed safely, whilst maintaining the simple straight-line effect of the period scales.
Cutting out the shape from the horn is usually straightforward; I use a template. Reducing the width of the horn blank takes a while and it’s important to ensure that the scales are reasonably flat and smooth on the inside.
Horn is lovely, but smelly stuff to work with.
Too thick for scales at this stage.
Using the template. Next, cutting out.
Making the lead spacer. I buy a lot of lead for spacers – it’s my favourite material. In my opinion the spacer is an important part of the razor – it does more than provide the gap between the two pieces of horn, it provides balance. The spacer also decides how far the blade’s tang can go into the scales. I usually prefer a tapered spacer, this forces the scales to adopt a curved shape.
I hammer the lead into the approximately correct thickness and then get to work shaping the taper.
Like most people, the dullest lump can usually be coaxed into something useful
The choice of pins and washers for the spacer end of the scales was suggested by some of the photographs I had seen. It so happened that I had a few wide washers which were built up and the pin was pinned over them.
The scales prior to polishing and the consumption of lots of hot tea.
The pivot end hole was drilled, and the razor blade was introduced to its new home, between two brass washers which I had made last year.
The scales were then polished and, polished. After this it was just a matter of polishing some more.
The razor was honed, stropped and it’s now a 200 year-old smooth shaving machine once more. Guess what, with some care and attention, this razor will still be shaving someone 200 years from today. Beat that Gillette!
In the evening sun, the partially open blade shows the translucence of the new, old scales.
Do you have an heirloom razor? Did you know I restore straight razors? Read this post about restoration.