Looking back, it seems like I was just about the last person to realize that I'd eventually end up forging straight razors as a hobby.
I first got interested in straight razors back in 2006 after realizing that my Gillette Mach III was consistently ripping my skin to shreds and brining tears to my eyes--and costing me a lot of money in the process. I decided to see if I could find a better way to shave, and that led me to Straight Razor Place, a forum full of helpful and enthusiastic (if a little obsessive-compulsive) devotees of the straight razor.
The entrepreneur in me quickly realized that I could make a little money (and pay off the gear I found myself buying) by hiring out my services as a razor sharpener. Soon I was sniping antique razors on eBay, which I would clean up, hone and sell. I tried to keep the prices low to help out people who were looking to get their first razor.
When I moved into a house with a garage ("garage" in guy language translates to "shop") I got the idea that it might be fun to learn to make custom handles, or scales, for the antique blades I was selling.
One day I was talking to Howard Schechter, the proprietor of The Perfect Edge, and he suggested that I should get a little belt sander to speed up all the sanding I was doing. "I can see where you're going, even though you can't," he joked.
Pretty soon I had a belt sander, scroll saw and drill press, plus my trusty Dremel and an assortment of hand tools. I was headed down a slippery slope.
A few weeks later, I was talking to Lynn Abrams, the founder of the SRP forum, and he told me, "When you start making razors, I want to buy one." I got a laugh out of that and said that I was content with restoring old razors. Working with steel seemed intimidating.
Shortly after that, I found myself unemployed and looking for a way to generate some more income while I hunted for a job. Why not use the extra time I had on my hands to learn how to regrind vintage razors? Regrinding is the process of cleaning up an old, worn razor by grinding in the hollows until the metal is clean and bright and the hone wear is gone.
My father-in-law helped me build a 2x72" belt grinder, and I got to work ruining old razors, and in some cases, fixing them. Free-hand hollow grinding is a difficult skill to learn, I found.
Since I already had a grinder, I started asking questions about steel. That's how I started corresponding with Mike Blue, who makes knives and Damascus steel and is generally a font of knowledge. Mike answered dozens of questions and, as a good teacher will, asked a few rhetorical ones to keep me thinking and learning on my own.
"Just stay away from hammers and forges," he warned me in one e-mail, "or you'll get sucked in by the Dark Side." Of course, that piqued my interest. Within a few days I was heating a piece of of carbon steel with a plumber's torch and beating on it with a ball peen hammer. I destroyed that piece of steel--but what a blast!
A few months later I successfully shaved with a razor that I'd made with my own hands, and I was hooked.
Making razors, and the occasional knife, is a welcome diversion from my day job. Moving hot steel with a hammer could hardly be more unlike pushing pixels and bits on a computer screen, and I hope to be crafting razors well beyond the next release of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server.