Search This Blog

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Storing Vintage Straight Razors: Protecting Your Valuable Collection

As a dealer and collector, I take great pains to safeguard my razors. However, most old razors were made from high-carbon steel.  This presents a unique challenge to the collector, as the additional carbon leaves the metal exceptionally vulnerable to rust and corrosion. So why on earth would the great majority of razor manufacturers make blades out of high-carbon steel that would be dipped in water everyday?  While my suspicious nature leads me to believe that "planned obsolescence" might have been a factor, the more probable reason is that the additional carbon in steel enabled the bladesmith to create a sharper edge that stayed sharp longer - crucial to a good shave and fewer returned razors.  Lower carbon steels honed up faster, but had a less durable sharp edge.

So how quickly can a carbon steel razor rust?  Well, there have been times, if I wasn't careful, that a few stray droplets of water left on a razor between honing on one stone and another, left bright orange rust spots on the blade.  Yes, it can happen in minutes.  I have always counseled my customers to keep their razors OUT of the washroom, except while shaving.  The humidity will rust them for sure.  But I want to focus this piece on how to store your collection safely for a long time. This can be more of a challenge than you think.  I keep all my razors out in the open air on shelves.  Keeping them out of enclosures makes them less likely to accumulate water from any moisture that happens to be in the air (even though I keep a dehumidifier running in the room 24/7). 

If you have razors with celluloid handles, keeping them out of enclosures also helps to limit the damage to neighboring razors should the celluloid from one razor's handle begin to decay.  That one blade will be a goner, but its neighbors will have a good chance of surviving.  If they were enclosed in a display case, the whole contents could end up rusted.  It is also helpful to keep the blades coated with a protectant.  I use Tuf-Glide and sometimes Renaissance Wax, but good things have been said about pure mineral oil, gun oil, WD-40 and even Mobil-1 (although I find that these latter choices can gum up a blade).  Initially, I stored the razors on unfinished wood planks.  But then, fearing that any substance used in the production of the wood might damage the metal, I carefully covered them with green felt.  I gently rested the razors on them and relaxed.  Finally I was safe! Right?


I went to pick up a razor the other day to shave with it and, to my horror, it was stuck to the felt by the spine.  I checked the other razors on the shelf and a number of them were ALSO stuck.  And when I pulled them off, I saw orange rust!  I was just horrified.  I could find nothing on the web about felt causing rust.  I can only assume that there may have been something in the manufacture of the fabric that reacted with the carbon in the steel.  That is one reason that the collector should closely examine their prized pieces on a regular basis, regardless of how much effort they put into protecting them.

Fortunately, I caught the problem in time and was able to remove the surface rust with 0000 steel wool.  It was also fortunate that the rust was limited to the edge of the spine and not the shaving edge.  Rust or corrosion on the shaving edge of a razor can render the razor unfit for shaving.  So what did I do (aside from removing ALL my razors from the felt shelves immediately)?  I needed to find a material that would have absolutely NO chance of reacting with carbon steel.  After quite a bit of research, I arrived at two materials: acrylic (the kind that museums use in their showcases) and plate glass.  These materials, my research told me, would not react to the carbon steel in my razors (knife collectors: I believe this would apply to knives as well).
Believe it or not, acrylic sheets are significantly more expensive than their breakable equivalent.  So I made a trip to my local Home Depot and purchased large sheets of glass, which I carefully cut to the size of my shelves.  And, being that they are clear, they show off that caustic green felt rather nicely.  With relief, I replaced the razors on the shelves, now glass covered, with new confidence in the safety of my collection.  But that doesn't mean I still don't check them frequently.  It's the price I pay for keeping the things I love.

I hope this helps you to safeguard and enjoy your collection!

1 comment:

  1. thanx brother! im a new follower now!

    hope all is well...the roll of razors i do have are all shave ready! i like my tools that are designed for a purpose to be able to serve that purpose..yes im 33 and use a straight razor! my pop laughs at me -while he tosses 5$ a day in the trash with his disposables!! i focus mostly on PA razors. i have yet to get a cleaver or CUT THROAT as they call them.i do fancy them and one day ill grab one....well thats it for now.thanx for having me.

    also im with you.i prefer vintage.older the better.something about shaving with a blade a man shaved with 100+yrs ago is just awesome.its al about the history with me.

    plus shaving with a straight is a ritual that i love.