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Tucson, Arizona, United States
I work as Panther Peak Bindery and am a bookbinder, conservator and instructor working outside Tucson, Arizona for individual and institutional clients across the country. I am a two term President of the Guild of Book Workers, was a Fulbright Scholar, taught at North Bennet Street School for over nine years and was the fastest in my middle school class at running up and down a flight of stairs (really!).



Monday, October 17, 2016

razor blades

We use razor blades on our leather paring machines. My machine of choice has been the Brockman but many people use the Scharf-fix as well. Basically they are designed to hold razor blades at a fixed point so that when leather is drawn through the machine it removes an even amount of leather.

The Scharf-fix comes with blades, the Brockman didn’t. I should add that the Brockman is no longer made, which is a shame, but the cost was always higher than the Scharf-fix and they had trouble selling because of that. I find them easier to use, less finicky, and get better results.

I’ve heard a few horror stories about Scharf-fixes the past few years but the manufacturing of them has returned to Germany and hopefully the problems are a thing of the past. The problem is that the machine’s adjustments would change while people were making passes with leather, which resulted in uneven paring and wasted time and leather. And a bit of swearing as well, probably.

I have a few of the new ones but haven’t had a chance to use them yet. I’ll report on them when I have had a bit of time with them.

In the 1990s, I used to buy Wilkinson blades from the Bartell’s drugstore near my apartment in Seattle (65th and Roosevelt, if you care) and they were utterly fantastic. These were the days before the Internet so there was no simple way to buy a case of them. But the drugstore carried them all the time so there was no need.

Until they disappeared. Eventually I found them again, most notably in London where I bought a bunch. But they weren’t as good as I remembered. Later I found out that Wilkinson had moved their manufacturing from England to Germany and most aficionados feel the quality of the blades deteriorated. I had no idea that had happened, but definitely noticed that the blades weren’t as good as before. Twenty years later I found out that I wasn’t just imagining it.

People still shave with double-edged blades. There are a couple of sites for fans: Badger and Blade, and The Shave Nook. On both those sites can be found reviews of blades.  One from Badger and Blade is here (there are several on that site):

There’s another, and better, set of reviews, with photos of the bevels, here as well:

Many people think that sharp is sharp, and that’s all that matters. The sharpest razor blade is considered to be the Feather. It is indeed the sharpest by virtually all accounts.

What’s important to note, especially in regard to using blades in leather paring, is that sharpness is just one factor. Feathers are very sharp but don’t hold an edge long enough to really accomplish anything. I found them dulling before completing even one pass. For leatherwork they are worthless, but for shaving they’re great. Different purposes and uses, different results. On these sites they’ll talk about how many shaves they get before they go dull. That’s going to be a factor when paring leather.

Of course it’s really no different with knife sharpening. Some folks sharpen a knife and it just doesn’t hold an edge, others sharpen and it stays sharp for months and months. But in those cases you can’t blame the knife; with razor blades you can. Take advantage of that!

The political situation in Russia has had an interesting effect on razor blades. Thanks to Putin’s actions (well, Ukraine and Crimea, more than riding a horse without a shirt) the Ruble has lost much of its value over the past few years. That meant that blades could be bought pretty inexpensively. Good blades, too.

What was happening was that Russians were selling blades on eBay and taking payment via Paypal. To my understanding they would then leave the money in Paypal, which would insulate it from the decline value of the ruble. It was still dollars while it stayed in Paypal. Rather clever.

I bought several blades at that time. (As I’m writing this I see that these blades are selling on eBay for $5.00 per hundred blades, plus shipping from Russia.) The ones I purchased were made by Rapira: Platinum Lux and Swedish Supersteel; Voskhod, Super Stainless; Sputnik. I bought the Sputnik only because of the name. How could you not? I had tried the Ladas before and didn’t like them so I didn’t buy any of them.

I’ve used them a bit and find that two are pretty good for paring leather:

The Platinum Lux has worked pretty well. I’ve used them on a few limp leather Bibles and find they do the job pretty well. And the same for the Swedish Supersteel.

I’ve used the other blades, especially for initial passes but have moved to these when I’m close to the desired thickness. The Sputniks haven’t done so well. Even the Vokshods have at times been a bit troublesome. But I have them so I try to use them.

A bit of it depends on the leather. Some of the iffy blades seem to do well on some leathers and are horrible on others.

Now there is an issue to bring up. There have been reports of counterfeit blades being sold on eBay. I think if you look at reviews and search the boards at Badger and Blade you’ll be able to find the reputable dealers. I’m not sure how selling five cent counterfeit blades can be profitable but then I don’t live in an economy like that.

Of course you can avoid the issue all together by buying blades from Israel or India or other countries who make some really nice blades. Check the reviews from the sites listed above.

There are several shaving sites which sell sample packs of blades. West Coast Shaving is one:

It may be a bit surprising that there are this many types of blades still available, and that there are many people still using them to shave. Sort of like vinyl records but I think a bit more substantial.

And all much cheaper than the blades that come from Sharf-fix or from our normal bookbinding suppliers. Save the money, explore the choices, and have a bit of fun. What could be better?

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