It's official: I have a new butterfly that I'm chasing. Perhaps because I work in the technology realm where everything needs to be new and shiny, I have an affinity for old things and old ways of doing things. I like wood and stone for building materials. I like cooking with cast iron. I enjoy working with my chef's knife for hours much more than buzzing food to a pulp in a food processor. I love Zippo lighters even though I'm no longer a smoker. I melt at the sight of a beautiful fountain pen even though I write maybe 100 words by hand a week. Even my motorcycle, which features a modern engine and brakes, etc. still looks basically like the old Bonnevilles that Steve McQueen loved to ride.
Combine this with my mildly obsessive nature and I tend to start odd collections. It starts off with something I actually use but then moves rapidly into the categories of "special" and "precious".
Fountain pens are a great example. I started with a plastic Lamy that you can still get for next to nothing and isn't really much to write home about. Then I started getting pens from Levenger that were a bit more fancy, but that I still used occasionally. Then I got a couple gorgeous and expensive pens that came in massive wooden boxes and have barely even seen the light of day, much less a bottle of ink. Those are the "collectibles". Those are the ones that make me feel like an idiot who may as well be lighting money on fire.
I'm going to try really hard to avoid that end with this new thing with which I've fallen in love.
So what is it? Well, straight razors.
Some of you are probably cringing or at least giving your screen a solid "WTF?" look right now. Straight razors creep some people out a whole bunch. I've always felt they are dead sexy.
I'm a knife guy, but somehow I've avoided my collector compulsion when it comes to knives. I have more knives than the average Joe does, to be sure, but I don't have any knives that are so precious to me that I would refuse to use them to actually *cut something*. This is the key distinction, and one of the reasons I feel OK going into this razor thing.
You see, I actually want to try shaving with a straight razor. I love ritualizing the act of shaving. I will happily take half an hour or more to shave on a weekend day, and that's just with a Mach III cartridge razor. I think a straight razor shave fits perfectly into this mindset.
I first thought about getting a straight razor several years ago, but the idea that you had to strop and eventually hone the blade threw me off. For a knife guy, I'm pretty bad at blade maintenance, so I worried that I'd make a mess of things and ruin the whole deal. I downgraded my hopes to an old-fashioned Merkur double-edged safety razor, but I ended up never pulling the trigger on that, either.
Then in March, Cool Hunting posted about Max Sprecher (with a re-post by Joel Johnson on BoingBoing Gadgets, which tells me I'm not alone as the "geek who loves old-fashioned stuff"). Max does two things that intrigued me greatly. First, he restores vintage razors to unbelievably gorgeous condition and sells them at surprisingly affordable prices. Second, he offers expert honing service for twenty bucks. This told me that I could get a razor that is probably better than a new stock unit available on the online stores for a lower price and that I could get it fixed relatively cheaply if I managed to screw it up.
Eureka! Sign me up!
Sadly, I didn't whip out the wallet when I first found out about Max's razors. Now he's all sold out and a bunch more people (like myself) know about him, so it's going to be hard to get one of his razors in the future, I think.
The switch was flipped, though, so I went in search and started doing some research. I found Straight Razor Designs, which has what I've found to be the best prices on new-stock Dovo razors. This is one of the main new-stock brands and the company offered lower prices and complimentary "shave-ready" honing, which usually costs an extra $15-20, so it seemed like a real bargain.
As I read around, though, I found suggestions that newbies would be better off shopping the classified ads at the Straight Razor Place forums where a vintage, shave-ready razor could be had for a much lower price. Lower initial investment for possibly better performance sounded good to me, so I went. And I bought a razor. It's called a Dubl Duck Special #1, and it set me back a reasonably painless $60 -- almost a third of the price I was almost ready to lay down on a new Dovo. It's not as pretty as the Dovo I wanted to get, but "pretty" is what tends get me in trouble.
Here's where it gets a little scary, though... After I bought that razor, I kept looking. And wanting.
Then I started reading about the restoration projects performed my Max (who is an active member at SRP) and others. It actually doesn't sound impossible. I watched a slew of YouTube videos on honing razors. That doesn't seem so scary, either. So I saw another Dubl Duck like the one I'd just bought for half the price but needing some honing before it would be shave-ready, and I bought it! Gah!
Now this flight of fancy about old fashioned grooming pleasures has turned into a potential hobby. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it, either, but I figure as long as I can keep my spending below the "recreational" level, it won't be a bad thing.It actually turns out the honing gear will cost me more than most of the razors I lust after, but if i actually develop that skill, it will be worth it in my mind.
If the resoration hobby gets to be a hassle, I can always cut the cord and send failed project razors to someone like Max to have them turned into decent (if not showpiece) razors.
We'll just have to see where it goes. Right now, I'm having lots of fun lurking on the SRP forum and learning a lot of new esoteric knowledge.
Updates will probably follow as appropriate, I suppose...