I was recently interviewed by BBC Cymru Fyw, the Welsh language service website of the BBC about razor restoration. The discussion was revolving around the ecological benefits of shaving with a straight razor, which is the antithesis of the disposable, plastic culture which surrounds us.
Plastic cartridge razors shave a couple of times, but they're going to last for ever. Plastic cartridge razors are poisoning our planet.
I happened to mention that a straight razor can last a lifetime or even, with reasonable care, many lifetimes. As an example I mentioned a razor that I had recently sent back to its owner after restoration. It's Somme razor.
Freshly honed and oiled. Ready to shave for the first time in 101 years.
I was contacted by a good customer who has a fine eye for quality Sheffield razors, asking me if I would be interested in working on a razor, a special razor. I was intrigued, particularly when I learned that the razor was recently pulled out of the earth from the German lines on the Somme front. It had been in the soil for over 100 years.
I was intrigued, particularly when I learned that the razor was recently pulled out of the earth from the German lines on the Somme front. It had been in the soil for over 100 years.
The razor was parted from its previous owner near Pozières about 100 years ago. The previous owner was more than likely a Prussian soldier, part of the German army that held that sector of the lines. This view of the area gives a glimpse of the hell that the soldiers suffered.
Welcome to Pozières
The razor was a French made microtome razor, meaning that it was only ground properly on one side. The razor itself struck me as older than the period in which it was last used.
Its condition was, as one would expect very poor.
It was pinned onto horn scales, which had substantial bites taken out of it. The edge had corroded away and the entire surface of the razor was corroded. Not just ordinary corrosion, but really deep pitting.
This deep type of corrosion makes the heart sink. I call this type of pitting Aero rust; if you are familiar with the chocolate bar popular here in the UK, you'll know why:
At first glance, I was concerned at the possibility that there would be too much deep pitting spread over too much of the razor's surface to enable a smooth bevel to be set. Would this razor shave again?
Freed from its scales, which had developed a warp away from the lead spacer, I could see the razor properly.
My approach to razor restoration is to make a mark without leaving a mark. So the brief I set myself was to restore sympathetically. That being said, the razor would require some serious remedial friction. This would take hours of work and lots of tea.
Eventually, the razor had a mostly uniform surface. Still more work to do, but it looked promising. The edge was also corrected at this stage, I opted for a slight smile to the profile; the edge near the tip had originally corroded away.
A work in progress, the face is taking on a smoother appearance.
Polishing followed, then the scales, which had been re-profiled to remove the damage to the edge, and straightened mechanically, were pinned on. I used the same technique to pin the scales together that had been originally used when it was first manufactured. The lead spacer was reshaped in order to match the scales which were slightly narrower all round after the remedial work.
A workshop photograph of the re-pinned razor.
The scales were painstakingly polished to bring out their natural lustre and the razor was ready for honing.
Even at this stage, I was slightly worried that the razor would not produce a shaving edge. The razor, though, was determined to shave again.
The honing went well. The steel was good and it responded to a bit of gentle persuasion.
A French razor, owned by a Prussian, meets some Belgian rock.
After stropping, the razor was ready to shave. I took a moment to reflect on it. It was a lovely razor, beautifully balanced with its heavy lead spacer.
The privilege and joy of the first shave, however, belonged to its owner. The first shave in over 100 years.
I wondered about the man who had owned it, how it came to be lost. I wondered what that man would make of our world today. The world he knew had passed, along with all his generation. I wondered what he would think of his razor, freshly restored.
One thing remains, the pleasure that a well prepared straight razor can give in shaving. Anxiously awaiting the feedback of the new owner, I was overjoyed to hear that the razor's first shave had been a joy.
Here's the photograph sent by the owner. I liked that he had placed a watch in the photograph, the reference to time was fitting. The razor which had been lost in the worst of times had won its greatest battle - against time.
As far as I'm concerned, the razor also wins an argument for responsible shaving in our battle against the mess made of our beautiful world.
The profits from this restoration went to a Food-Bank - everyone wins.