One of the web forums upon which I am an active participant is Badger and Blade (badgerandblade.com). Recently we started a Rolls Razer users group there and it has occurred to me that folks might be a little curious about this little gem. It’s actually one of my favorite shaves if for no other reason that it’s just plain cool!
The Rolls is often referred to as a “straight on a stick.” In cross-section, the blade looks like a short straight razor. It is also treated as such in that it requires regular stropping, and occasional honing. What I find really neat about the unit, though, is that the hone and strop are built into the case, and that the actual honing and stropping are more or less idiot-proof. This is especially useful in my case…
Additionally, Rolls units are not hard to find today. They are regularly on eBay and can be found “in the wild” at antique shows and stores.
What to Look for in a Rolls
If you’re interested in purchasing one of these razors, there are a couple of things that you might want to know. First of all, you probably won’t find a shave-ready unit on the used market. That’s not to say you won’t be able to easily make one usable! I’ll get into that in a moment. Note that it’s possible to find “new old stock” units, especially on eBay, but they tend to be expensive.
When you see a Rolls that interests you the first thing to look at is the handle. If the razor doesn’t have a handle it’s useless except for parts. Do not let someone convince you that the honing / stropping handle is the same as the razor handle. It ain’t so, and the razor is useless without its handle!
Next, look at the blade. Don’t worry too much about discoloration but pitting, especially when it extends close to or to the edge is a problem. You want to be able to hone the blade and put a good edge to it. Pitting will make that a real challenge. Also, the blade should have a guard installed. Although some folks use their Rolls without the guard, most prefer it. It doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker, er If you’re hunting in the wild rather than online, check that the guard physically clicks from one side of the edge to the other. There is a small ball-bearing that may not be readily apparent if you don’t know what to look for, but if it’s missing, the guard will not latch into position . Note that this is not a deal-breaker, as the razor will work without. It’s certainly a bargaining point though!
As a side note: blades are interchangeable across the different Rolls models. If you see one in the wild and it’s in good shape, go for it! Especially if it’s in one of the little Bakelite blade holders in which Rolls sold extra blades. The container fits nicely into the case with the blade folded down, and there is at least one theory that blades last longer if you don’t use them every day. (Just today, I saw a blade in decent shape with a handle (no case, that was it!) on eBay. The starting bid was $2… If I wasn’t on a buying sabbatical, I would have scarfed it up!)
Next, look at the case. Remove both the strop and the hone. If you intend to hone your blade “outside the case,” a missing or cracked hone need not be a deal-breaker either. This is probably the most common issue with used Rolls Razors. Event if you want to hone in the case, you can replace a broken hone Again, consider it as a bargaining point. The strop should be in decent shape. If it’s a bit dry or discolored, don’t worry too much about it. Pay attention to where the blade lands when stropping. You may see what appears to be excessive wear there, but it’s probably from the impact of the blade. It’s the area between those strike points that actually strops the blade. That should be smooth, or cleanable. The majority of strops that I’ve acquired have been easy to restore, so don’t sweat it too much.
Check the action. If it’s stiff, look to see if there’s excessive grease or old soap built up. It’s easy to clean out and as long as the gearing isn’t wonky or stripped out (unlikely) it’s probably usable. Make sure that the butterfly spring is intact. DO NOT attempt to adjust the spring by bending the leaves. It will snap and this will make you sad! It’s also hard to find a replacement unless you have a parts-razor.
There’s actually not a whole lot that can go wrong with a Rolls. Even when they’re well used, there’s generally life left in them. If you’ve found a Rolls that looks like it’s usable the next step is to get is cleaned up and ready to use. That will be the subject of another post.
Until next time,