Most, of not all of the reviews of the Rolls from non-Rolls users, indicate that the shave is less than optimal; this generally along with some confusion as to why the razor sold so well for so long. The problem is that the blade has been dulled by years of use and abuse as it sat around in the humidity, banged around in boxes and drawers, and generally lay forgotten. The trick is to prepare the blade outside of the case, treating it something like a straight razor. You can do this yourself, or if you hit Badger and Blade and ask around, you might find someone to do it for a reasonable fee.
It needn’t cost a lot of money to prepare your blade either. The author, a woodworker, has in the shop a three way sharpening set with a silicon carbide (course) and two Arkansas stones (medium and fine). (Similar to this, although Rockler tends to be pricey.) The only purchases required for this project were a flat honing surface, (a home depot marble tile for less than $10, and some fiber-optic lapping media (Amazon.com, less than $2 per sheet. Watch the shipping). The author uses 5µ (micron), 3µ, 1µ, and recently purchased a couple of sheets of .3µ for experimental purposes.
Preparing and Honing the Blade
Choosing a blade to hone
The author is fortunate to have a small “parts bin” with a number of blades in it, so the first step was to choose a couple of good examples to work with. The Rolls blade is not quite a simple as it looks. There are actually three pieces, the guard, a small ball bearing, and the blade proper.
Setting the Bevel
The first step is setting the bevel, that is getting an even cutting edge can be successfully refined to a razor’s edge. For this process, the author chose a course Silicon Carbide stone.
- Carefully disassemble the blade. Pry the guard from one side or the other. Note the location of the ball bearing and either remove it or tape it in. The ball bearing keeps the guard on one side or other of the blade edge. The razor will still function without it, but the author prefers having it installed.
- Clean the blade with soap, water, and steel wool if necessary. It’s best to clean it before you hone it.
- Tape out the spine of the blade ensuring that the tape is the same thickness on both sides. The author found one thickness of tape sufficient.
- Make 40 or so passes (back and forth equals one complete pass) on the course SiC stone using a fairly firm pressure to set the bevel. Rotate the blade 180 degrees after each pass. The author works the blade both ways, as opposed to only against the edge at this point.
- Make an additional 20 or so passes gradually decreasing the pressure. It’s time to move on when the scratching from the SiC stone is even on both sides and the edge is straight and even. Don’t worry too much if the edge looks rough as the next steps refine it. Note that a loupe can be handy here, but a magnifying glass may suffice. The author uses a the 7x and 10x from a cheap Harbor Freight set. (http://www.harborfreight.com/5-piece-loupe-set-98722.html)
- Repeat the process on the Arkansas medium and the fine. Keep the stones oiled and wipe the scarf periodically. Work each stone until the scratching from the last stone has been removed, and the scratching from the current stone is even.
- Moving on to the lapping film, the author used 5µ, 3µ, 1µ on the marble tile. Again, work each sheet until there are even scratches and then about 20 complete stokes with gradually decreasing force.
- You’re not done with a step in the progression if some of the scratches are larger and deeper than others. Uniformity is the key here! Take your time and get a consistent edge before moving on.
- Once the blade is through the lapping media, it will be wonderfully sharp and ready to be refined on the strop. The author uses a Rolls Razor strop painted with Chromium Oxide green paint to start that process.
- At this point go ahead and put the guard back on the blade. It’s better to do it now rather than stropping without the guard as the little ball bearing in the side of the blade will likely fall out otherwise.
- Do not work with the edge facing your hand! Set the 2-pin side of the guard into the side of the blade opposite the bearing and then clip the other side. Be careful. It’s better to push from the back of the blade with the guard sitting on something. It will click right in.
- Mount the CrOx strop in your razor. Make sure the strop is not mounted in the hone side. Stropping should drag the blade across the strop with the edge trailing.
- Mount the blade.
- At this point the author uses the “4-way” stropping system described in the Badger and Blade ShaveWIKI. Run the blade for one minute, making about 2 complete back and forth passes per second. Turn the razor case 180 degrees (reverse it in your hand) and run the blade for another minute at the same rate. This time flip the blade and repeat. The revers the razor again and repeat a fourth time. That means that you’ll be on the Crox for about 4 minutes. The procedure might be a touch of overkill but it compensates for any odd angles put on the razor while you’re stropping. It also polishes the edge beautifully. You shouldn’t see much in the way of scratching at this point.
- The edge created by the CoOx is shavable and, in fact, preferred by many straight razor users. But on the advice of MJClark on B&B the author discovered that he prefers a blade stropped on Iron Oxide (FeOx). The general consensus is that it is much less harsh. It also appears that the original Rolls stropping compound was FeOx based.
- Mount your reconditioned strop in the case. Apply FeOx powder. See photo, you don’t need much at all. Remember, FeOX ground this fine is a pigment and will stain any porous surface that it contacts. Wear gloves or a baggie over your hand and don’t overdo the application. Too much will impede your stropping process.
- Ensure that you’ve mounted the strop so that the blade is stropping (edge trailing).
- Repeat the 4 way stropping process.
At this point your blade should be shave ready. It’s just about time to reassemble the unit and try it out. If you want to do that, skip the next section as it can be done any time.
Reconditioning Your Hone
Restoring a whole stock hone is a fairly simple task, consisting of light scraping, cleaning, and perhaps lapping. They are pretty fragile things and it’s difficult to remove them from the holder without snapping them in two. Rolls Razor did at one point provide replacements, but they seem to be few and far between these days. The author has found that it’s best to limit work on an existing hone to the cleaning that can be done without removal. This can be done pretty efficiently with soap, water, and a simple Nylon toothbrush or weapon cleaning brush.
Replacing a Broken Hone
One of the most common issues with a Rolls in the wild or on eBay is a missing or broken hone. Apparently they can be repaired, and this is on your author’s to-do list at some point (see this Straight Razor Place article on restoring a broken hone:http://straightrazorplace.com/workshop/88386-rolls-razor-hone-restore-picture-heavy.html).
As a stop gap or, if you prefer, to create MJClark’s “21st Century Rolls Razor,” try this: create you’re own lapping film holder.
- Take a piece of 1/8″ luan or similar soft material. It should be about the same thickness as the holder.
- Use the holder to trace a pattern on your material.
- Cut just inside your line.
- Sand as necessary to fit your holder into the lid.
- You need it to sit flat, so make sure the lid is complete clean before installing, and make sure the holder sits fairly tightly into the lid piece.
- Cut a piece of lapping media to fit the holder and attach.
- The author has cut the lapping media a bit long so that it can be installed by clamping it under one edge of the razor, against the luan holder and then closing and latching the razor on the other end. It works well enough but it’s a bit of a pain to change out. (see below). In the next iteration, the author intends to make two or three holders and attach a piece of lapping media from each of the final steps in the progression. Rubber cement may be the answer as it can be kept even with minimal effort and is removable.
Honing Your Razor
While stropping is done with the edge trailing at about two complete back and forth strokes per second, hone is different. In fact, honing at the same speed as stropping will damage your hone and blade. Hone at that speed on the lapping media will destroy it as well. The entire process takes about 15 minutes, maybe a couple of more if you’re using multiple steps of lapping media.
- Remove the stropping lid, any extra blade, and the blade handle.
- Make about 7 gentle and complete back and forth passes on the hone.
- The friction clip assembly will take care of keeping the proper tension on the blade. Concentrate on keeping your strokes even.
- If you’re working through a couple of steps of lapping media, repeat as necessary.
- Strop the blade using the four way technique. If you use the CrOx strop, don’t forget to use the FeOx.
- Done. Strop as normal before your first shave.
Reassemble the Razor
- Re-assemble the friction clip assembly if you haven’t already done so. Ensure that the blade holder post is rotated 90 degrees after assembly so that it will ride in the groove on the brass shaft.
- Install the friction clip assembly by snapping it back over the brass shaft. Start at either end of the clip and then line up the razor holder post properly. Once it’s aligned, snap the clip all the way on. It will go right in if the post is properly aligned.
- Wipe the case and lids down.
- Ensure they are completely dry.
- Verify that you’ve got the hone installed in the correct holder. (It’s the one with the Whetter.)
- Verify that you’ve got the strop installed in the correct holder. (You guessed it: it’s the one without the Whetter!)
- Install the reassembles blade on the post
- Place the handle with the blade holder end either over the end of the stropping handle or in the recess in the side on top of the running gear. If you have a spare blade in a box or holder, it fits inside the stropping handle and the blade holder in the latter position.
Done! Now you’re ready to give it a test run! If the blade is not right you can try stropping it some more or you back up a bit in your progression. Remember, you’re not done with a step in the progression if some of the scratches are larger and deeper than others. Uniformity is the key!
Next: Shaving with your Rolls Razor