How to Buy and Restore Vintage Shaving Gear

by A Manly Guest Contributor on August 19, 2010 · 46 comments

in Dress & Grooming, Shaving

Editor’s note: Here at AoM, we’re big proponents of bringing back the traditional wet shave by learning how to shave like your grandpa (with a safety razor) or even like your great-grandpa (with a straight razor). If you decide to trade in your multi-blade cartridge razor for the old fashioned variety, you may find yourself with an old piece of gear that has a lot of character and history, but is also a bit worse for wear. What do you do to bring it back to looking the way it did when Grandpa unwrapped it on Christmas morning? To answer that question, I asked the vintage shaving experts at RazorEmporium.com, Matt Pisarcik & Sebastian Sandersius, to provide AoM readers with some advice on how to get their old razors looking like new.

The classic style of shaving is back. That’s right, men everywhere are turning in their plastic multi-blade cartridge razors for sleek metal safety razors and some are even going for straight razors. And who can blame them with the price of new multi-blade cartridges going for around $4! A straight razor can last a lifetime and double edge blades for safety-razors cost around 20¢ a pop. Frugality isn’t the only issue though; it has been argued countless times that you can actually get better shaves doing it the old fashioned way. There are even a few manufacturers today still making vintage style safety razors: iKon, Merkur, Mühle, Parker and Pils just to name a few. While these modern manufacturers exist, many men are discovering the fun of using a vintage razor made decades ago. Besides bringing some history and tradition to your morning routine,  you can take pride in the craftsmanship and mechanical niftiness of some of these fantastic vintage shavers.

Where to Get ‘Em

When looking for classic style razors to shave with, the first thing you may ask is, “Where do I find these old things?” The answer could be closer than you think. Your uncle, father, or grandfather may have old razors from days gone by that have been hidden away in a bathroom cabinet, just waiting to be rediscovered. However, if you don’t have luck there, try antique stores, online auction sites and even online stores specializing in vintage shaving products.

You may have thought that antique stores were only for old Chinaware or furniture, but they can very well be a treasure-trove for vintage shaving gear. When checking out an antique store, look for the display cases with other manly items such as belts, ties, eye-glasses, flasks, pipes, cuff-links, etc. These are usually great places to find a vintage razor just waiting to be put back in service. Also be sure to ask one of the antique dealers if they have any shaving items, as there are often razors tucked away somewhere in the store.

If you’re lucky enough to come across some old razors, take note that not all finds are worth purchasing, of course. Over the years, several manufactures made many different types of safety-razors and blades. This brings us to the next important thing to consider…

What to Look For

You are looking for a razor that you likely want to shave with, so most importantly you’re going to need to know if blades are still being produced for your find. Fortunately, there are three major types of blades still made and widely available for vintage shavers.


As shown in the picture above, the three major blade types are:

1) “Double edge blades” which are mostly for razors branded Gillette.

2) “Single edge blades” which are mostly for razors branded GEM, Ever-Ready, and Star.

3) “Injector blades” which are mostly for razors branded Schick or Eversharp.

The aforementioned brands are the ones you want to look for. Here are a few razor models which you will commonly find:


Colloquially these razors have names (from left to right): GEM “1912,” GEM Micromatic, Gillette “Flair Tip” Super Speed, Gillette Slim Adjustable, Gillette “Fatboy” Adjustable, Schick Krona, and Schick Injector. Each of these models are known to give great shaves, but keep in mind that one may work better than another for certain men. Whatever you get, it is likely to be very dirty so now you need to know how to make it “shave ready.”

How to Clean Your Razor

So when you find an old razor at an antique store or via the web, it will likely be caked with disgusting old soap scum:


You may be wondering how to get that razor looking new and shiny again. Thankfully with enough elbow-grease and some common store-bought cleaning products, most of your antique store finds can be brought back to great shaving condition. Here are some excellent products and simple steps to follow that will be incredibly helpful in making your razor sparkling clean:


1) Pre-soak the razor in some warm water and maybe spray it down with Scrubbing Bubbles to initially loosen up all the gunk.

2) Use a nylon brush and/or a brass brush to scrub off remaining gunk. Note that a brass brush with fine/thin bristles is particularly good for cleaning out knurling. Such a brass brush can be found in the gun cleaning section of your local sporting goods store.

3) Scrub the razor down with some toothpaste. Whitening toothpaste is particularly good for polishing up metal.

4) Dry the razor and use a cloth rag to buff it up with some metal polish. Note that Maas or Flitz metal polish are excellent for this.

5) Use some toothpicks and cotton swabs with some metal polish to clean the tight nooks and crannies.

6) Scrub the razor one last time with a nylon brush and some dish detergent.

7) As a last measure of disinfecting the razor, dunk it in some blue barbicide solution commonly found in beauty supply stores.

You don’t need to follow these steps too rigidly, but done in any sequence they should get your razor to look much better and “shave ready.”

Further Razor Restoration

The next level of restoring your razor to be “like new” can be attained with the use of an ultrasonic cleaner and jeweler’s cleaning solutions. Further, a tumbler with proper soft media (such as ground walnut shell) can gently bring your razor to a highly polished mirror finish.

These more specialized methods are what we employ in restoring all the fine razors we sell at RazorEmporium.com. With these restoration methods, you should be able to make that nasty looking razor shown above clean up like this:

This Gillette “Fatboy” Adjustable has the original-factory nickel plating. Sometime a razor you find may have some flaws such as plating wear or scrapes/scratches in the metal. These don’t usually take away from the functioning of the razor but even these aesthetic imperfections can be remedied. At RazorEmporium.com we offer a professional custom plating service. We can strip old plating, smooth scratches in the metal, and plate a razor in nickel, silver, 24K gold, and even rhodium. As an example, here is a Gillette “Fatboy” Adjustable plated in rhodium:


Take note that this razor has much more luster than the nickel plated razor shown before. Rhodium is a precious metal, more expensive than gold and platinum, that has a brilliant white shine. Rhodium is a particularly beautiful metal to use because it has a wonderful luster, and it doesn’t tarnish like nickel or silver, keeping your razor looking brand new for good!

Final Thoughts

The information in this article is truly a culmination of many years of reading up on the subject, trial & error, experimentation and gaining the advice of others. We’ve found these methods to be the most effective in going about the restoration of vintage shavers. We hope you will have fun finding, cleaning, and shaving with the kind of razors your grandfather may have used. There’s truly something nostalgic about getting a great shave from something that has been around for so long and is still a testament to manufacturing quality and craftsmanship. Please feel free to contact us for further information about the history, collection or restoration of vintage double edge, single edge or straight razors.

___________________________________________________________

Many thanks for the article guys! Be sure to check out RazorEmporium.com: A gentlemen’s source for all your vintage shaving needs.

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Briain August 19, 2010 at 10:50 pm

No need for all those cleaning agent, to loosen all the soap scum and scale just soak in vinegar.

2 Shawn August 19, 2010 at 11:03 pm

I’d like to suggest any beginner to get a Gillette Tech razor. Its an amazing starter thats extremely mild but can be tuned to be more aggressive by your angle/technique. I’ve yet to ever “really” cut myself with my 1939 Tech and I’ve owned it for about three years now, shaving nearly every day.

What is more important than the Razor, is the BLADE! Then the cream/soap you use. Frankly, the razor is the least important thing I believe, aside from any badger hair brush (I don’t use any fancy silvertip, just a basic wooden handled pure badger hair brush).

3 John R August 20, 2010 at 1:16 am

When I decided I wanted to pick up a safety razor I just went and bought a new Merkur razor online. I don’t have much to compare it to, but I’ve been really happy so far. It’s turned shaving from something that I absolutely dreaded to a comforting part of my bi-daily routine. Maybe eventually I’ll look around for a real old-fashioned razor but for now I’m happy. I also don’t have the money for a real badger hair brush, but I have a synthetic hair brush, which I like and fits with my being a vegetarian and all that.

4 Chris Kavanaugh August 20, 2010 at 1:19 am

ALL components; razor,blade,brush,soap or creme, aftershave-even the quality of water from the tap are important for a good shave.Every man is different, and finding just the right combination of kit a near alchemist’s quest. If you want to shave correctly and not lose enthusiasm with early mistakes make use of the shaving forums.

5 Honda Enoch August 20, 2010 at 3:18 am

When you buy a used razor, it’s a good idea to boil it in a small pot of water for about 10 mins to help looses any grime and kill any bacteria.

6 jason August 20, 2010 at 8:00 am

These tips are great! I’ll use them next time I clean my razor.

By the by, I bought an old razor about 2 years ago from an on-line antique shop. it even came with the even came with the original case and blades (unopened). Not bad for a product made in 1920. With shipping it only cost me $6!

I have only used a disposable razor one time since then and it was horrible. Only in a pinch will I use one again.

7 Timothy Covington August 20, 2010 at 8:51 am

BTW, you can buy new safety razors online from Duluth Trading Company.

8 Edward August 20, 2010 at 9:39 am

Put them in a pan of boiling water with some baking soda for several minutes. The baking soda foams up and cleans them nicely.

9 Paul August 20, 2010 at 9:52 am

A great community of classic shaving is over at http://badgerandblade.com/

Many members are always selling razors.

10 Charles August 20, 2010 at 10:11 am

This was great! I have my father’s Gillette Tech and GEM Micromatic and both need some loving to get them looking like new. This article was just perfect. I’m happy the care I give my straight razor is doing the job of keeping it beautiful, but my grandfather left a straight razor to us that needs to beautifying. Will we see that addressed or is that something a professional do?

11 Frank Sullivan August 20, 2010 at 11:58 am

Great story and nice place and people at this razor emporium , I have suffered from razor burn all my adult shaving life tried every thing that was availabel at my local CVS and Rite Aid.

Now with a few tips from a phone conversation with them have some goodies on the way and some great links to a Mantic59 site with all sorts of shaving techniques.

Thanks to AoM for posting this great information.

12 Cameron T. August 20, 2010 at 12:16 pm

The Mantic videos are invaluable for those just starting out. I’ve been wetshaving with a DE for 3 weeks. Still learning, but I’ve been getting pretty good shaves for a while now.

13 CoffeeZombie August 20, 2010 at 1:19 pm

With all these posts on old-school shaving, y’all are starting to make me want to start shaving again (hatred of shaving being one of the reasons I grew a beard)! However, at this point, the beard has grown on me (har har), and I can’t imagine going back to being clean-shaven.

Perhaps, instead, I will defy my wife and go for the Gen. Burnsides look, so I have an excuse to buy a vintage razor. I’ll be sure to tell her it’s this blog’s fault. ;-)

14 Brandon August 20, 2010 at 3:12 pm

I have used a shavette for several years now – it uses single edge blades…..I cant find anyplace close by to sharpen/hone the full on straight razor yet.

15 Shannon August 20, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Always used an electric and hated shaving, then I got a Fusion and a brush and some shave soap and I began to enjoy shaving. After seeing people suggest a safety razor I ordered the Parker 99R Butterfly Open Double Edge Safety Razor a few days ago and I’m looking forward to shaving like grandpa!

16 Chris August 20, 2010 at 4:45 pm

I started looking into DE and straight razors as a better way to manage my oily skin. For years (starting in Middle School) – I had issues with large pores and lots of oil on my face. When I started shaving using the crappy razors (even though they are VERY costly), the little ‘moisturizing strip’ on all of them didn’t help my oily skin condition at all. After years of struggling with oily skin and pimples – I found using a simple DE (Merkur), a good razor (I prefer Feather brand), some good shave soap, and a nice badger hair brush really cleared up my skin, in addition to giving me the closest shaves possible. Don’t forget to get some good toner (I prefer Sharp’s toner) and good lotion too (I prefer Baxter’s).

In addition to the awesome results – it feels like a MANLY thing to do….and frankly, shaving is a pleasure now – not just something to get done as quickly as possible in the morning.

17 Matt August 20, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Thanks for all the great comments guys. I’m glad this article has helped. While boiling old nickel or silver razors may not necessarily harm them, air on the side of caution when it comes to Gold razors from yesteryear.

Most companies like Gillette put a thin lacquer on their Gold razors to help the finish from wearing off- and by boiling these kinds of razors- you’ll be taking that protective layer off.

-Matt

18 Justin S Powers August 20, 2010 at 7:03 pm

I got really excited when I saw the top of this article, but was totally bummed to find it was only about safety razors. I just got a call yesterday from my grandmother telling me that she found an old straight razor in my late grandfather’s stuff (I asked her before, and she said she didn’t think he had one). He was a lifetime collector of cool old stuff, so I can’t wait to see it!

I would love to see a post on restoring straight razors!

19 Vaughn Hathaway August 21, 2010 at 5:50 pm

I am 72 years of age. While I use an electric razor for convenience, Mon-Sat, I use either a single or a double edged razor every Sunday morning. I also make my own cup soap and use a shaving brush with my Sunday “wet” shaves. I have some old GEM, Gillettes and Schicks that belonged to my grandfather and my dad. In fact, just last night, I gave my oldest son, an antique Gillette that had been used by my grandfather befor 1935 (that is the year in which he died). I also have a shaving mug that belonged to one of my great-uncles, Uncle Charlie, who died sometime in the 1950s, and was kept on the shelf at Adam’s Barbers in Chester, IL. until he died.

20 John Small Berries August 22, 2010 at 10:42 am

Great tips.

And I was highly amused that “The Art of Manliness” appears to be resurrecting the vintage newspaper practice of publishing articles that turn out to be advertisements.

21 Brett McKay August 22, 2010 at 1:43 pm

@John-

So glad you’re tickled, but it’s really not akin to the practice of publishing ad/articles. Rather it’s the very modern practice of blogs trading exposure for content. If there is a topic of which I can’t write about because of a lack of expertise, I can invite some experts who know what they’re talking about to write a piece for us. In return they get some exposure for what they do. And readers get a piece of content that would have otherwise not appeared. So it’s really win-win for everyone, I think. No money changes hands, and I put the links in to the writer not because they pay me to do so, but because I’m grateful to them for taking the time to share their advice.

22 Ian August 22, 2010 at 10:26 pm

I just bought my first DE razor. I found it at an antique store today for $19 dollars. It’s a 1921-1929 (unsure due to the lack of serial number) Gilette Single Ring. I have shaved with it yet, I’ve just been working hard to get it nice and clean and new looking again, then I’ll let er’ rip.

23 Ian August 22, 2010 at 10:26 pm

*Haven’t shaved with it

24 Nicolas Rodriguez August 23, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Fellas, I read this post Friday morning and the very same day I went to a store (very old school with knives, nail clips, straight razors) and they had the safety razors, it was brand new (German Solingen) and to my surprise it wasn’t expensive at all, I took it with me for only 7 bucks along with the razor blades (Solingen too) which were very very cheap as well and super sharp and of course the shaving brush (which I’ll have to replace for a better-quality one, it was too cheap to be good haha but first I’ll use for a month or so)… on Saturday I had my first experience with this razor and the wet shaving, the result wasn’t very good, it improved a bit on Sunday but today… hoo! it was excellent. Of course before trying the new shaving method I went through youtube and I watched the videos from mantic59 and another fella who shows how to shave with a safety razor – now I love shaving, there is 0 irritation and it makes you feel better.

25 Mrw August 24, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Corn cob media will polish better than walnut media.

26 Tax Slayer August 25, 2010 at 10:12 pm

For those without a tumbler, a Dremel tool with the soft polishing tip does a really good job shining a razor up. I applied some standard metal polish to my grandfather’s old Gillette DE and worked it in with the Dremel with great results. Great post.

Happy shaving!

27 Bill August 26, 2010 at 8:16 pm

My dad died in 1985. I just picked up his old Gillette from my mom today. I’ve been wanting to get it for years, but this post reminded me. Now I know how to clean the razor, too. Thanks.

28 Leisureguy August 27, 2010 at 9:53 am

Great article. I second the comment about boiling: just soaking in warm water with some white vinegar and/or ammonia will loosen the buildup. But for a real cleaning, try a ultrasonic cleaner. Don’t use hot water in those, either: the transducer is generally attached to the stainless bowl by a special adhesive, and if you use hot rather than lukewarm water, you can loosen the bond.

I have a 65-watt ultrasonic cleaner, and I use mostly water with some vinegar, ammonia, and a little dishwasher detergent. I run it empty for 8 minutes to degassify the water, then put in the razors and run another 8 minutes. One old Hoffritz that I thought was severely corroded came out looking new: the “corrosion” was just buildup of hard-water deposits.

29 Ryan Carboneau August 30, 2010 at 11:40 pm

Great tips here everyone! I just got my first safety razor yesterday and am so excited to try it but hesitant to try it out without a proper brush. I also just picked up a used antique straight razor. Any tips on cleaning it up and sharpening it? It has a hard plastic casing as opposed to wood. Should I have it professionally done first then keep it sharp with a strop? Thoughts…?

30 Souhail August 31, 2010 at 11:38 am

Ryan,
Yes, have your straight razor sharpened by a honemeister before using it to make it “shave-ready”. Don’t use anything too harsh to clean the blade, I’d stick to Scrubbing Bubbles since it disinfects as well.

Then strop it after each use/before you shave again.

31 Tony September 2, 2010 at 11:31 am

After reading this article, I asked my in-laws if they had any old razors they were not using. Turns out they had a couple. I used some of the advice here to clean them up. I’ve never used a DE safety razor before & was happy with the result.

I do have a few questions, though. How long can you use a typical blade? I know that will vary on quality of blades and the type of facial hair. I have heavy facial hair & got into the practice of tossing the disposable razors out after 1-2 times. I have shaved twice now with the blade and take it out & clean it after each use…something you just can’t do with a disposable. Also, I used blue barbicide on the razors when I was cleaning them. Is it a good or bad idea to keep them in there after each use? Can I put the blade itself in there as well?

Thanks for the advice.

32 Matt September 3, 2010 at 9:55 am

Hey there Tony- Matt here. Congrats on finding some DE razors! In terms of blade life- it really is varied by the factors you mentioned. I can get about 4-5 shaves out of a DE blade, but I have a very heavy beard so it does wear on them fast. Most men can get somewhere from 5-8 shaves out of a blade. And at less than $0.50 for most blades, it truly is a money saver.

In terms of the barbicide: I would NOT recommend leaving the razors in there with daily usage. First of all, it’s way overkill. Second of all, it will most likely lead to rust forming on the metallic razor. I would say a few minute dip in the solution (blade included is fine) every two weeks or so should keep your razor sanitary. Make sure to thoroughly rinse it off with water when it gets out, and leave it out to air dry.

Hope that helped answer your questions!

-Matt

33 Suave September 4, 2010 at 9:59 am

I use the Merkur Futur 700, my best friend got it for me at my birthday.
One of the greatest gift ever. (and clean shaving)

34 John January 2, 2013 at 11:56 am

I have a 1951 Gillette superspeed on the way. anyone know how to clean and prevent rust build up. And How often do you have to switch out the Razors.

35 Paul January 12, 2013 at 6:26 am

Inter-dental brushes are good for cleaning intricate areas

36 Fredric M. London March 9, 2013 at 11:11 pm

I have been using a straight razor for decades. Once in a while, I use a safety razor.

If you get a straight razor, the most important things to note are rust, discoloration, or nicks in the blade. If there is some, check the Badger & Blade forums to find people who will restore it for you. They are enthusiasts, not merchants, and will charge reasonable prices.

If there is no rust, discoloration, or nicks, check the forums for advice, or you may still send it off to get it shave ready.

In terms of safety razors, I have used them all. DEs can be great, and my favorites are the Gem original and the Gillette New & Improved varieties. The New ones are also good. However, SEs are the best. Any DE user I have introduced to SEs (Gem/Ever Ready/Star) has preferred them. Personally, my preference is for the OCMM, but every one of them is great.

37 Matt April 18, 2013 at 10:08 pm

I was a groomsman in my friends wedding not too long ago. He gave us all old style razors for gifts (except the best man, he got a straight). I hate shaving but using the old fashioned razor and doing preparing for a shave is actually quite enjoyable. I’m planning on getting a straight razor soon.

38 DC November 5, 2013 at 11:26 pm

I just inherited my late Father-in-Law’s Schick “Fatboy” Adjustable DE shaver and did the baking soda in water for about five minutes-worked wonders. I’ll let it air dry then buff it up later.

I too am tiring of the cartridge shave. I shave both head and face, and many of my fellow baldies are going the DE (or SE) route. I’m definitely looking forward to an “old school” DE shave!

39 DC November 5, 2013 at 11:36 pm

Correction: It’s s Gillette. Pardon.

40 Mike December 31, 2013 at 2:55 am

**CAUTIONARY NOTE**
The aggressive cleaning of a razor may destroy its value to collectors. The natural patina of an antique shaving device adds to its value. If you believe, hopefully after exhaustive study, that your piece would be of no or negligible value to a collector, then proceed.

41 Paul McWilliams January 12, 2014 at 2:18 pm

I was using a Gillette Mach3 razor and the blades that go with it,but the blades are too expensive,($25.00 for 5 blades)so I bought me a Gillette “Black Beauty”off ebay,just like my Dad used to shave with everyday! If it was good enough for my Dad,then it’s good enough for me,and it’s less expensive to shave!!!

42 Roy Pruett January 15, 2014 at 8:29 pm

I recently purchased a 1959 Gillette Fat Boy online. All the paint is missing from the adjustment numbers. How can I reapply the paint and what kind of paint do I use?

43 Not Roy February 3, 2014 at 12:35 pm

you can dip the handle into that liquid rubber. it will then have a handle like pliers where the rubber is form fitted.

44 Strange Brewer March 5, 2014 at 8:55 pm

To put the numbers back on, the best bet is to use a magic marker and reapply several times. Don’t worry about being neat, just slather it on. The use some isopropyl alcohol on a clean rag to gently wipe the excess away, being careful not to remove the ink in the number indentations. The numbers will be perfect. This is also a good method because repainting the numbers for your own aesthetic satisfaction with ordinary paint will damage the resale value of the razor. By using a magic marker, if you ever want to resell the razor, you can remove all the magic marker ink with an alcohol saturated cloth. All the magic marker will be gone, leaving whatever ink was originally in the indentations without harm.

45 JLE April 4, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Can you spray paint a double edge razor?

46 Anthony April 9, 2014 at 6:48 am

I’m glad I found this site. My dad just gave me his Gillette fatboy, (year unknown). I soaked mine for 15 minutes with very hot water and a scoop of Oxifresh powder. Then scrubbed it with an old toothbrush while I rinsed it with cold water. Very satisfied with the results.

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