April 5, 2012

Straight Shave Update, Homemade Strops

I've been slowly trying to accustom myself to the deep waters of straight razor shaving. Its slow going, but I figure after 100 shave attempts I will surely be getting somewhere. My razor is out for a touch up by a local B&B forum member after a botched sharpening attempt on my part. Stropping on a free hanging pasted strop is not recommended, in case you were wondering.

So far I'm up to doing a 1-2 pass shave on my sideburns, cheeks, upper lip, and some of the neck. I do this at night after the kids are in bed because I don't want to try to rush it in the morning, and I'm already later than I want to be to work most days. I do a pass in the morning with the electric to clean up stray hairs and cover what I didn't do with the razor. I did the whole face a couple times, but had a lot of trouble in the chin area and ended up with some really nasty irritation in the lower lip to chin area. So I backed off on the coverage until my technique improves.

I'm using a tube of Tom's of Maine shave cream which was kindly sent to me for free from a generous B&B forum member. I like this product, but it has been discontinued. I figure by the time I finish the tube I'll hopefully be making my own shave soap anyway. I'm using a kamisori razor.

One improvement will be stropping, an essential operation to keep the blade in shape for straight razor shaving. I started out stropping on an old copy of the Economist on the edge of the tub; not sure how effective this was. I now have two rough and ready, but hopefully functional strops that I've made up in the last month.

My first non-magazine strop was this strip of cotton/nylon webbing from McMaster (3531T53). Its 2" wide, and I installed two #16 stainless steel crimp on snaps which I had in my sewing supplies from SnapSource so it could loop over and attach to the towel bar in the bathroom. This definitely improved the shave experience. I applied green rouge buffing compound to the back of this, which led to the unfortunate edge weirding.

The reason I was making do with magazines and webbing was that I had ordered a strip of veg tanned leather from Zack White Leather, but it was taking a long time to arrive. It did finally get here though, and I shaped it into a rough strop at work in the shop with sheet metal tools. Unfortunately I scraped the front pretty badly with the hand shears when I was cutting the handle area, but I figure this strop is going to get wrecked anyway so I wasn't too broken up about it.

The top loop for the towel bar is made from some pigskin I had around in the sewing supplies (also from McMaster), and some stainless binding posts I had at work (yep, from McMaster). The pigskin is delicate and stretchy, which is kind of good for tensioning the strop, but it gets tugged out of shape too easily at the binding post attachment. Next time I might go with a heavy canvas or light weight leather. I'll use this one until it fails though.

Just for fun I loaded some printing blocks into the press and debossed a design into the handle section. Looks pretty sharp, though I think for a better effect I might get a block with higher relief than is needed for letterpress. Though the text is good, the trident is not deep enough. But on the other hand I didn't adjust anything on the press to balance it out. It was not all the way closed since the leather is way thicker than paper, so the platen was not parallel to the bed.

Not having neetsfoot oil, I experimented with rubbing some coconut oil on my hands and into the strop. I have no idea how much is appropriate but I started with a light application. The leather could easily soak up a lot more but I don't want to overdo it.

As for performance I don't know how these would stack up to other strops since of course I have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to wet shaving and razor maintenance.

The strip of leather for the strop was $16 and was long enough for three strops. The webbing was $5.20 and was long enough for 4 strops. So when I destroy these ones I already have materials for replacements. In retrospect I didn't need the 3" wide leather; my razor is less than 2" itself. The 2" webbing seems perfectly adequate.

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