[Check Out Matt Pisarcik on The Moustache & Blade Podcast for a more indepth and intimate interview!]
For This week’s How to Grow a Moustache Feature Interview I am joined by Leisureguy Michael Ham, author of “Leisureguy’s Guide to Gourmet Shaving“. We decided to do a tag-team style interview and surprise the folks over at Razor Emporium. Co-owner Matt Pisarcik was more than happy to invite us in for a peek behind the curtain.
HTGAM: How and when did Razor Emporium Begin?
Matt: I started collecting razors on my own in 2005 or so. My best friend Sebastian started antique hunting with me and got into it as well. We started building our own collection, refurbishing and selling on eBay shortly after. By winter 2009 we decided to have our own storefront so that we could control our own destiny and expand into carrying retail products like soaps and blades. The website was built that winter by myself and a programmer and we had our first sale March 21st, 2010.
HTGAM: (a day in the life) Please take us through the process of refurbishing a vintage razor from arrival to your workshop to leaving.
Matt: Well there’s two processes – Revamp and Restoration. For Revamp: First step is checking the razor in. Every REVAMP order comes with a shipping form for the customer to fill out. When we receive the razor, I first verify that the correct model / serial number / date code are all listed on this form. You’d be surprised how many people mix up Slim’s for Fatboy’s and so forth. Next we run everything through our industrial ultrasonic cleaner to get the soap scum and gunk off the razor. Then we make any mechanical adjustments like correcting blade gap, re crimping press fittings, aligning doors or smoothing out TTO mechanisms. Next the razors get polished down to the base metal (brass). We get them up to a high mirror finish before running them through the Ultrasonic again to get buffing compounds off. Razors are heat dried and packaged for plating. We contract with a facility that has all of the FDA licensing to run plating on an industrial scale- they specialize in jewelry and small goods so they were a natural fit. They plate in 24K gold, Rhodium or Nickel for us. Then they send the razors back. When we get them in, we again run them through the ultrasonic cleaner, reassemble any that were taken apart (mostly fatboys), lubricate, polish and paint (numbers, red tips). The whole time we provide the customer updates to their Razor Emporium account so they know what’s happening. Typical turn around time is down to 3-5 weeks.
For restoration – the art of cleaning / repairing a vintage razor usually involves a bath in the Ultrasonic cleaner, brass brushes, tooth brushes, tooth picks, polishing wheels and a barbasol bath. Every piece presents its own challenge and I very much enjoy working on these. My preference is ALWAYS to restore in lieu of Revamping, however if there is plating loss we usually revamp.
HTGAM: Are you guys self-taught? I read that you befriended an old Gillette employee, was he helpful in the craft?
Matt: The Gillette Employee was the major contributor to the Phil Krumholz book. He was a salesman for them in the late 1950’s and early 60’s. He actually helped with the test market launch of the Blue Star lady Gillette up in Washington state. He has his own collection but really isn’t versed with restoration. Most of our knowledge is self taught and the result of making lots of mistakes early on.
HTGAM: What makes your company so unique?
Matt: We’re the only big player for refurbishing and restoring vintage safety razors in the world. Other micro sites may exist, but they are not run by collectors like us. We created Razor Emporium to be an alternative to eBay so that people could get a razor that is restored and tested. You never know what is going to come from ebay or an antique store.
HTGAM: What is the actual color names of the red used on the red tip and the blue used on the blue tip?
Matt: Stain Claret Wine and Royal Blue. Not sure what colors Gillette used but that’s the closest we’ve ever found in terms of color and finish (matte feeling, sticks to metal).
Michael Ham: What metals do you consider and reject and why? (e.g., chrome, palladium, platinum) Which metals are most popular?
Matt: We have moved away from advertising chrome plating because many people wanted it done to their adjustable and TTO razors. The tolerances are too tight for this thick / hard plating and we ran into many issues. The best razors for Chrome plating are old Merkurs or Eclipse Red Rings and such. We haven’t gotten into any metals besides 24K Gold, Rhodium and Nickel simply because the shop we contract with doesn’t offer it. However, we are looking into a new facility as of this week that offers all of our current metals on top of Black Rhodium and Black Nickel. We’ll keep the community posted if we are able to offer these new finishes in the future.
Michael Ham: Do people show a preference for a metal for a particular model? E.g., do Fat Boys get replated with some metals more than others? Does that differ for different razors?
Matt: Rhodium is by far our most popular metal- most people replace the factory nickel with this. We do get lots in for 24K gold as well – mostly aristocrats and older Gillette razors. The Rhodium Fatboy is still the highest revamped razor.
Michael Ham: What about razors with chrome plating? Can those be replated? With chrome? With (say) gold?
Matt: Chrome plated razors are usually made of zamec – zinc alloy pot metal. They are made through casting processes as opposed to milling / stamping. There is a process to plate these – however chemically removing the chrome first is an additional cost on top of our normal revamp process. Once this is done we can have it 24K gold, Rhodium or Nickel plated. Redoing the chrome is also possible.
Michael Ham: Can you coat things with DLC (diamond-like carbon)? That is, if I send you a stainless razor head, could you coat it with DLC?
Matt: We haven’t done any DLC however we’re looking into a new process called Physical Vapor Deposition that may allow us to put an ultra hard, transparent “clear coat” on top of the precious metals. Again, this is under R&D and if we can do it successfully we will offer it to our customers.
HTGAM: Are you going to eventually offer black plating?
Matt: This is an option in the future – we’re looking into Black Rhodium and Black Nickel. Look for it in 1-2 months – we’re still conducting R&D.
HTGAM: Is it typical for the black (plastic) tips to become “sticky” in the TTO mechanism over time? How can one remedy this?
Matt: Yes we often see TTO problems with the black tips. Honestly the ultrasonic cleaner, dish soap and a tooth brush can work miracles. We also have a nice long needle that gets gunk out of TTO areas.
HTGAM: Do you have many employees these days?
Matt: There’s Sebastian and myself as the owners, my wife Tiffany does customer service and shipiping and a full time polishing /buffer craftsman. I help with a lot of the straight razor restoration and vintage Gillette refurbishing. I also help with all of the REVAMPS to get them ready to send back to customers (finishing touches). We contract with Lee from A Sharper Razor for honing and a few straight razor craftsman from SRP for new scales.
HTGAM: So when Gillette needs a vintage razor they now call you?
Matt: We did help them with a WWI Khaki Set for an ad in Men’s Health and Sports Illustrated a few years ago. You can see that here
HTGAM: Have you noticed a huge revival in wet shaving since your humble beginnings?
Matt: YES! I can’t believe it really. I got started in shaving for the actual benefits – I had trouble with the Mac 3 on my neck. After getting into the vintage shaving community for this long, I am simply amazed by the popularity. It’s somewhat mainstream now. When I first started, fatboys could be had on eBay for $5. Antique store owners thought I was looking for “junk” when I asked if they had Gillette DE’s. Now everyone is hip to the movement. It’s been a great honor to be part of it!
Michael Ham: What is your impression of the traditional shaving market? How fast do you see it growing? What’s driving it? Anything beyond word of mouth?
Matt: I think that word of mouth is still the most popular method. People talk to their co-workers and friends. They’re also popping up much more in movies and TV shows. Once you start the search on Google people find all the gems out there- the chat rooms, Art of Manliness, instructional videos and books. I think people also start to wonder if there’s a cheaper way to shave and eventually come upon DE / Wet shaving.
HTGAM: What razor, blade, brush and soap are you currently using in your daily shave?
Matt: I really enjoy my 7/8 Friodor Straight Razor from JA Henckels. I also use an iKon Open Comb bulldog from years ago when we sold them for $65. For soaps I use Proraso Green or Mitchell’s Wool Fat. Blades – I love the blue iridium or Feather.
HTGAM: Might you have any razor hacks or trivia that we may not know that you would like to share with our readers?
Matt: Hmm – a brass brush / old tooth brush and dawn dish detergent can solve 90% of the problems we come across. People try to use such caustic chemicals and processes – they end up doing more damage than good. We get a lot of razors in for repair that were damaged by their owner in this way. I think most people by now know how to reset the adjustment mechanisms on Adjustables and take apart fatboys.
Michael Ham: What’s the rarest DE that’s passed through the Razor Emporium? Do you have any “holy grails” that you still are hoping to find?
Matt: A few off the top of my head: Nickel Toggle in original packaging, Tiffany Sterling Set, King C Gillette signature Old Type, New Improved De Lux set ($75 models back in the day) with heavy engraving on razor, blade banks and tubes. Some of these we’ve sold, some remain in our collection.
HTGAM: What are some of your favorite vintage razors and why?
Matt: I love the Toggle, 1950 Executive, Hoffritz Slant, Schick Repeating Razors and NEW razors from Gillette. Bottom dials are cool too! I’m a highly mechanical person who used to play with Lego Technic sets (yes I know) so I love the ones that move and adjust.
HTGAM: A female writer for our ezine recently wrote an article on wet shaving for women, do you see this trending as well? Any razor recommendations?
Matt: Yes! We have gotten more inquires for women to join the hobby. My wife being involved with Razor Emporium for the past year has really helped some of our customers as well. She did a few videos for us.
[pullquote]I never quite understood why you wouldn’t want more time working lather directly into your beard. The bowl surely doesn’t need a shave![/pullquote]
HTGAM: Bowl lather or face lather?
Matt: Face lather. I never quite understood why you wouldn’t want more time working lather directly into your beard. The bowl surely doesn’t need a shave! I think it’s a novelty that people like to feel with vintage shaving- a nostalgia or connecting with the “image” of vintage shaving. Maybe people just like another shaving accessory in the bath room. I’m more of a minimalist so I tossed that out right away.
HTGAM: Any quick polishing tips for the average guy that doesn’t (yet) own any ultrasonic devices? [Do the ones you find on ebay for under 10 dollars even work?]
Matt: Don’t get an ultrasonic cleaner unless you want to spend $350 or so. The cheap ones don’t really do much. You need several hundred watts of mechanical power and another hundred or so for heat power. Many times the power listed combines them, and you’re just paying for heated water. My suggestion is to use a dishwasher. You’d be amazed how much gunk they get off (go figure- they’re built for it!)
HTGAM: What are some things one should look for when shopping around for a vintage razor on ebay or online in general? What are some key questions to ask the seller?
Matt: Is there any plating loss? Is brass showing through anywhere? Does it open / close smoothly? Does it adjust easily from 1-9? Does the blade tray move (adjustables) freely? Has it ever been dropped? Is there pitting (metal loss)? Are there any deep scratches?
HTGAM: Any big plans for the “Emporium” in 2013?
Matt: We’ve talked about launching our own soap line. But really we just are working to acquire more vintage razors that are in near mint condition. Those sell within hours everytime we get them!
HTGAM: Are there any really rare models that someone could easily have in their collection or medicine cabinet and not know it?
Matt: The toggles are becoming rare yet were made by the millions. The Regent Tech is another that was made around WWII that is harder to find, yet I’m sure there are more out there. The Red Dot Fatboy gets found by us in the back country antique stores more often than you would think.
Michael Ham: How many of your revamps are family heirlooms? E.g., a razor from the customer’s father or grandfather being restored to be used or to be passed along?
Matt: I would say 1/3 belong to family members. They do come in and people usually notate it on the shipping form. However most are just from an antique store or ebay.
Michael Ham: Do you get many new razors to be “replated”? (e.g., a new stainless razor to be plated in gold)
Matt: Yes – people have had us plate PILS and iKon razors in exotic metals like Rhodium or 24K gold. Again, we can do this but since they have to be processed in their own batch (away from Brass based razors) there is an additional charge. They turn out great however!
HTGAM: Lastly, any tips or pointers for a guy (or gal) who has recently stumbled, as we all do, into the world of classic wet shaving?
Matt: Take your time and enjoy the process of learning and experimenting. Don’t try to get BBS because the guys on the forums say you should at the cost of comfort and ingrown / rash. Try a lot of razors / blades out before purchasing any heavy investment pieces. And TRY STRAIGHT SHAVING! It’s not that scary and is just another cool aspect of wet shaving!
By Douglas Smythe & Michael Ham
A retired guy who hated shaving and so decided to figure out how to enjoy it. Did that, wrote a book, and now look forward to my daily shave. I also enjoy movies, cooking, reading, blogging, and the like. Visit Michael on his blog Leisureguy or at Sharpologist
Founding member and contributing writer for “How to Grow a Moustache”, an innovative cutting edge blog dedicated to all things facial fur. His mission: Create facial awareness and use his super powers [read:moustache] for good. Contact Douglas: firstname.lastname@example.org