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Portland Razor Company Interview with WhyIWetShave.com

This is an article about a small three person company that can only be described as passionate about their work.  This passion started in Los Angeles, CA with Scott having an idle thought of making a straight razor to shave with, which turned into a passion to make a product that others would like as well.  This passion turned into a dream that was shared by his girlfriend Alex and a move to Portland to pursue it.  In Portland this passion took root in Scott as he joined the team..  This passion has become the Portland Razor Company.  

Note:  Alex couldn’t make it to the interview due to her other job 🙁


 

PRC is made up of three people.  First off is Scott Miyako.  Before he started the company, he worked as a custom guitar amplifier maker in Los Angeles for about six years.

SCOTT:   “It started with me, wanting to make a razor. I would say that was the first thing. And then, somewhere between after I had learned how to make a razor and I was trying to make better razors; I was already straight shaving at the time. Then, I was like, “Well… hey, maybe I should actually make a razor that I think maybe someone else might like”

Scott states that his biggest struggle with learning how to straight shave was understanding how to actually maintain the razor. It took him awhile to actually understand how important proper stropping technique was to keeping the razor shave sharp.  Scotts shave set up is fairly simple. It’s some light olive oil on the face, then a hot shower.

SCOTT:   “I cycle between hard soaps for lather but right now I have been reaching for Craftsman Soap Co.’s shave soap. I use a badger brush to face lather. I cycle between razors as well, but my standard is probably my 6/8 PRC Hydra. I finish up with alum or witch hazel.”

Next up is Alex Pletcher.  Alex is Scott’s long time girlfriend and support.  Alex and Scott have always been fond of Portland and had visited Alex’s family in the Portland area several times.

SCOTT:   “We’ve always wanted to move to Portland, just because we liked the city, liked the nature, liked the culture –yeah; liked everything about Portland. She has family who lives in Westland. And then, I had just visited a bunch of times and wanted to get the hell out of LA and come up and visit”

Lastly, but not least, is Hunter Lea.  Hunter is a Colorado native who moved to Portland.  Hunter met with Scott by chance at a local makers warehouse called ADX.

HUNTER:  “So, I’m here from Colorado Springs. And kept hearing about ADX and I avoided it for months. And I still don’t know why. And the first time I went in, I was taking one of those tour kind of orientations. And they were like, “What do you want to make?” And I was like, “I want to make knives.” And they go, “Oh, that guy over there make straight razors. You should talk to him.” And we had a coffee. perfect fit for the job.”

Despite already having a full time job, Hunter started putting hours with PRC and when he was offered a full time position, accepted.

HUNTER:  But yeah, basically, orders kept coming in, I kept getting better at making razors. And Scott was like, “Look, if you want a job, you have one. Do you want to make razors?” And it took me a couple of days. And then, I finally went to my employer and I was like, “Look, I have an opportunity to do this really cool thing.”

Hunter does pretty much all of the writing for the blog. Alex makes most of the scale blanks, built and maintains the website and take scare of all of the photos.  Scott takes care of most of the emails and customer service. They all make razors.

When asked about the history of the company, Scott states

“We started the company to help fill what we saw as a void in the straight shaving market.  When I was first getting into straight shaving, I was upset that my only options were to restore vintage, buy from overseas, or commission a custom made American razor.

Don’t get me wrong, I love many of the razors that are being made today as well as the companies who make them. I just thought that it’d be nice if an American company would start making some razors that could compete in quality and cost with the established European makers. The company started with me, my old workshop in LA, and a hobbyist’s knife making setup. I spent the better part of a year trying to come up with a razor that I thought was of high enough quality and function to actually sell.

After I had the product it was time to choose the place to make it, Portland was the obvious choice for us. Alex and I had always dreamt of living in Portland and being a part of the maker movement here. We love the city, the closeness to nature, and the culture in Portland that “American made” is still very much alive!

So, basically, the way that the company started was, it was just me, making razors. And so, it started off with my goal of having a product line. But also, before we had the product line, I really was just making each razor, one at a time, anyway.

So, it’s basically a custom-made process. But that’s how you have to start.  Once I found the shapes and sizes and things I thought worked the best, then, we tried to turn it into an actual product line, where we could basically make the same thing, over and over and over and start to get better at making them.  This meant more consistency which made us able to reduce the price point of it, because we’re making more of them.”

A quick note.  Scott and Hunter are very quick to point out that none of their initial success wouldn’t have been possible without ADX.  ADX is a community workshop where you rent out a space and everyone shares tools and equipment.

Scott:  “So, when we first arrived in Portland, we dumped all of our workshop stuff off at a community shop called ADX, which is really close to here. It’s just a few blocks away. They are a community workshop. You can imagine, it’s like a gym, but for people who make things. So, basically, people pay a membership fee and they get to use all the tools.

So, it’s a really cool place. And luckily, we had visited Portland, before and gotten in contact with them and told them our idea about this razor business. And they were like, “Sure, come on down. You can rent this little 10 x 10 corner and put your stuff there. And then, use whatever the other shop tools that you may need to get going.” And so, that’s what we did and took our stuff there, the first day of arriving in Portland.

And then, pretty much, we were up and running and making what was to become our product line, right away. ADX is super helpful, very important to us getting started and we’re not the only business, obviously, that they do that for. That’s what they’re all about, is helping other people who are small and then, eventually, getting too big and kicking them out.”

PRC shares a work space with David of Veteran Bicycle Company.  David was also a member of ADX when PRC was there.

HUNTER:  ”Our setup here is a pretty good representation of what happens, a lot of time  in Portland too. We couldn’t afford the space on our own, we don’t really need all this space. But we said, “What the hell, we might as well work together.  Which is what exactly ADX is proud about being and is good at, is linking people together who are of similar mind sets – or dissimilar mind-sets and working together.”

Describe PRC and what you do:

PRC sees themselves as a small company who handcrafts straight razors and strops in SE Portland. They talk about one day offer more handmade products, but started with straight razors and strops because it is the two things you absolutely need to get started with straight shaving.

SCOTT:  “Yeah. And I guess we should add, to, that we basically started the business the good old-fashioned way. I sold a few good things that I had that were nice and just started the business with our own money. Hunter has helped out, a little bit. And – I mean, a lot of bit, but I just mean likewise, right? There was some money risk for him, too”

“We haven’t taken out any huge business loans. We just started out, like – we started with product-centric of, “Make the good product and then, also – and then, I’ll pay for you because, the first couple of months, we don’t have any money coming in. You are making stuff, you’re trying to push stuff and, “Hey, please give it a try…”

“Yeah. I mean, and even when we first started really selling razors, we were still just recuperating from moving here and paying for rent and not making any money for a long time.  So, paying yourself enough to live and then, everything else stays in the business. And that’s just how it is, when you’re a small business owner.”

At this time Portland Razor Co sells straight razors and strops.  The idea behind making razors and strops is that they are consider the two things you absolutely need to straight shave.  While PRC only sells one type of strop at the time of this interview, they have a few options for razors.  They have their standard production line, they produce custom razors, and have just started putting out their new Artisan line

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PRC razors do not follow the traditional lines, but have evolved from their take of form following function.  Scott and Hunter were very aware that this take on a modern classic might not sit well with traditionalists, but believe that there is a large enough market that this would not be an issue.

Alex actually does the scales at ADX.  All stock scales are laser cut to speed up the process of creating the razors.  This saves on both the time involved and effort required.  One side effect of this is that the wedges are cut at the same time.  There is a large portion of the straight razor community that is quite adamant about using a “wedge” instead of a “spacer” in the scales.

SCOTT:  “Right. I mean, it’s probably is really that in our manufacturing process, it makes sense for us that we can cut out the spacers, out of the same material that we cut out the scales material out of, build it up, quickly have something that works and as far as our manufacturing process goes, it helps us keep material costs down, it helps us keep the speed of creating it reasonable.”

This seems to have proven to be true.  Most traditional straight razors have a taper along the length of the tang.  When these are opened or closed, the tapered portion of the tang that is contact with the scales moves and causes the scales to flex.  The PRC razor does not have a taper along the tang, thus eliminating the flex of the scales.  While the theory is sound, I don’t know if there are any long term issues with design.  I haven’t heard anyone speak up yet, but time will tell.

SCOTT:  “So, yeah, I guess you could say it’s one of the things: I know that there are people out there who don’t like the spacers. But with the straight tang design of our straight razors there is not an issue with flexing of the scales when the razor is opened.”

For the rest of the assembly of the scales the spacer is glued in place and a single pin is used to ensure safety in the unlikely event the glue would fail.

RAZOR DESCRIPTION

PRC outsourced the very first step and have the blanks cut at Portland Waterjet. They basically send them a sheet of 01 tool steel in the thickness that they want, which is 1/32” thicker than the original.

HUNTER:  So, we used to basically take some buyer stock of this and then go on our bandsaw and start cutting – which we still do, for our totally custom razors. That’s the way we do it. But also, water jetting we expected it to save us a little bit of time, just with filing the jimps out, but it wound up saving a ton of time.

This step made doing those batches a lot easier. This streamlining enabled PRC to go from working on batches of 4 razors to batches of 20 razors.  This allowed for a quicker turn around time and better quality assurance.

SCOTT: “If you just sit down and you started a razor, beginning to end, it will take you about a day to make one of our standard razors; a custom razor will take you longer. But if you sit down and you grind ten one day, heat treat these ten the next day… Then rather than doing one a day, you start getting doing more and more like that, processing – we’re probably at our max, right now, at four a day. And that’s really like – if Hunter and I were both only making razors, we could probably make eight a day. But right now, there is a lot of customer service, there’s a lot of phone calls, a lot of emails. It’s all part of business.

HUNTER:    “So, when we look at changing any part of the process, we always look at it like, “Okay, does this make a better razor?”  Does it make a better product?” is the real question.”

A few months back, PRC completely changed the design of their standard line and updated it based on feedback.

First of all they incorporated stock that was 1/32”  thicker. This allowed the razor to have a 16.5 degree angle instead of the previous 16 degree angle with the original design.  The thicker spine is to make it sit a little bit better on the hone.  While widening the spine they also got rid of the heel notch.  This results in a nice, gentle curve, instead of that dramatic curve that they had before. Because of the water-jetting, all of the toe shapes are the same every time, and the jimping is extremely consistent.

HUNTER:  “The thing we can definitely say is, we know that what we are doing, right now, really works. We both have razors that are the exact same thickness steel, honed through the same exact process: with one piece of tape, one without, the edge is still good and things like that.”

It’s worth mentioning: after the water-jetting, everything is still done by hand.  The initial hollow grinding, the contouring, and the heat treating is still done in small batches by PRC.

SCOTT:  “The product of ours that I am most proud of is our Siren razor. A 6/8ths Round Point that we are able to offer for $120 in acrylic scales. There are no shortcuts taken or shortcomings to this razor, it is made of the same O1 tool steel and is handmade just like the rest of our razors. We simply offer The Siren at a lower entry level price to help newcomers to straight shaving save a little money when making the initial investment.

The Siren has replaced the Gustave as the base production razor that is available for $120.  The Gustave had no jimps or filing on it. Use of the water jetting has allowed us to keep the same price point and still include jimping.  One of the really common questions we get is “Why does it cost less?” And, “Is there any kind of shortcut or shortcoming of the razor?”

Now, the answer is really, “No.”– The process of making the Siren is exactly the same process as making any of the other ones: the profile is already cut on the waterjet, it’s the same exact steel.

The only reason we’re offering it for less is that we wanted to make a razor that could compete with all the other razors that are on the same price point that are awesome razors. And so, we’re trying to make an awesome razor, as well that is in that price point. And our other razors are at the other price point, which helps us, because people like those, too. And it helps us offer that razor at that price point.”

Portland Razor Company Siren whiwetshave.com interview

PRC Siren

 

PRC also has a pretty unusual naming convention.  Each of their razors has a unique name pulled from mythology.  (e.g; Kraken, Siren, Gustave, Leviathan, Hydra)

SCOTT:    I think it was when Alex and I were just talking about it, pretty much every single razor out there is described in  is 6/8, 7/8, 8/8, round point, front point, spanish point… They named them that way and it’s made by this person. It’s like every single razor is named that way We thought, “There really is no reason why we can’t just give these names.”

SCOTT:    And actually, it really just – probably, in the very beginning – just confused the shit out of people.

HUNTER:    Well, especially with the misprint.

SCOTT:    Right. Right. And we spelled “Hydra” wrong, on the first one.

SCOTT:    We joke around, because – I don’t know if you’ve seen this on the straight razor blades, but yeah. Our first 10 Hydras: somehow, we spelled it wrong, in just – like dyslexia or something we etched “Hryda”, instead of “Hydra”.

SCOTT:    So, there are 10 “Hrydas” out there that maybe, one day, will be worth something.  But anyway – yeah, we figured – it was just like, I don’t know, “Why not give them names?” And it’s really cool, now, too, because people say now know what a Hydra is: it’s our 6/8 spike point.

So we figured it gives us some other opportunities to just have fun and draw some pictures and put it on our packaging and then, give the razors somewhat of a character or identity.

SCOTT:    Yeah. And we’re hoping to incorporate more of that on the website. And we actually have a pretty good friend who is a local artist, who actually specializes in drawing monsters, which is awesome. So, she is doing all this custom artwork for us. And we’re hopefully going to start incorporating it into our boxes and stuff like that. Yeah, just kind of make the whole package kind of special.

Now that the production line is up and running, PRC is coming along with a new line of razors that incorporates a lot of the most commonly requested custom features.

SCOTT:    Yeah. We’re calling it the Artisan line.

SCOTT:    Basically, what it is that we’ve had a lot of requests for razors that are very similar to this, in customs, where people kept asking for the same thing: “I want shoulder-less,” “I want the detail,” “I want 7/8” – or, 8/8…

HUNTER:    Which are all things that are really popular in the custom market, right now.  So, rather than keep making customs and charging people for custom features we are making an upgraded line with those features.  And hopefully, this will fulfil some people who are looking for something that looks – I mean, this definitely looks more custom. But it still has our basic shapes, it has our basic jimping, kind of. It’s just an exaggerated tail version of what we already do. And, yeah. And it’s going to be in 7/8 and 8/8.  Though I’m sure that after we release that, we’ll be getting people asking if we can make that in 5/8 and 6/8 and stuff.

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One other product that is being added to the lineup is the “shorty” razor.  This is a razor that has been designed to be shorter than the standard razor.  Most people who use these have salvaged them from damaged razors.  PRC will be the first, that I know of, to make these intentionally.

HUNTER:    We finally settled on a name for it; we’re going to call it the Sprite.

SCOTT:    It’s like the baby version of the Siren.  So, the – yeah, the Sprite; the baby Siren.

PRC Sprite

 

And last but not least, PRC is still doing custom work.

SCOTT:  We can customize almost any part of our razors, to a certain extent of course. Common requests for customization would be: different scales materials (stabilized woods, exotic woods, buffalo horn, etc), custom etchings (names or special dates), custom filing or completely different razor shape (blade width 4/8 ­ 10/8 , jimps, spine work) and even razor steel (01, different damascus mixes, 1095, etc)

PRC has also been producing and selling strops, how are they doing for you?

SCOTT:    “Yeah. If anyone’s wondering, we use 7 – 8 ounce calcite, all American leather, vegetable-tanned. We do the dyeing, ourselves. And we precondition it with neatsfoot oil. So, that’s just a matter of rubbing the right amount of oil in, till it’s about right. And then, we glass burnish to get this finish. And so, that’s all just rubbing glass jar on it, basically.”

SCOTT:    “And then, glass burnish the edges, so they don’t roll up. We cut these all out by hand and assemble them all .  So, we have D rings, on the top, on the bottom. And mainly  the idea behind the double the ring is, you can also paste the inside of your strop, also, paste the inside of a couple of these separate pasted sides, actually.

You just unclip it, click the back around and then, you strop in, like you normally would on your regular nylon set or the other set.  So, yeah. Yeah. And the idea beyond the strop, to is – again, we’re not making the strops for the people who already have 10 strops and all the fancy… we wanted to make this strop that works for the person who only has one strop.  But if they only had one strop, this could do pasted, unpasted all in one.”

So, you guys now have your razors and strops and your cases. So, what kind of sale ratio are you doing, for strops to razors?

SCOTT:    We’re starting to sell a lot more strops. And I would say, even just in the last few months, all of a sudden, we’re starting to sell a lot more strops, just by themselves. When we sell a razor, I would say, about a third of the razors go out with a strop. And – yeah. I think it’s just – it kind of depends on what the Internet buzz at the time is.

SCOTT:    Some people wrote something our strops and now, people are buying strops. So, it kind of just depends. And if we can eventually bring on more people and make more things, we’d love to make more things and accessories: like a seven-day shave kit and roll-out cases and brushes, obviously; anything we can make.

HUNTER:    And we can make pretty much everything given the time and demands.

Sourcing material locally as much as possible.

SCOTT:    A lot of times, we’re trying to source locally, as much as we possibly can. That’s definitely part of the Portland culture, too: is source local, buy local, make local. All of our raw materials come from the US. They come from various places; not all of it. But we try to do as much as we can.

HUNTER:    Our maple and our walnut scales – which are the standard scale options– all come from the Pacific Northwest, now, which we’re really, really proud of. That was a transition we made, probably right when we moved to this shop.

Do you shave with your own razors and know the difference between a “shave ready” from the factory, and professional honing

“We absolutely shave with our own razors. Not exclusively but most of the time. We generally come up with new designs by creating them and using them first to see what we like and don’t like.

At this point, we have experienced everything from factory dull, to factory sharp, and

professional honing. We know there’s a lot that can happen to a razor’s edge between the factory and an end user, and often times factory sharp is just not quite what we would call shave ready. We know this is an issue, which is why we take a lot of pride in putting a professionally honed edge on everything that leaves our factory.

Shave ready to us means a razor that is 100% ready for a shave out of the box. The razor must be sharp along the entire length of the blade and the cutting edge must not contain any chips or jagged irregularities. A shave ready razor should not only be sharp enough to cut a hanging hair, but should also be comfortable on the skin.”

What is your honing sequence?

All of our razors are factory honed by hand with on piece of tape and with the following stone progression. Please keep in mind that our razors start out with no bevel at all, so some of these stones are not what we would recommend for most people looking to maintain their razors!

PRC Hone setup

  1. DMT Extra Coarse Stone
  2. DMT Coarse Stone
  3. Extremely worn in DMT Coarse stone
  4. Naniwa Chosera 1k Waterstone
  5. Norton 4K Waterstone
  6. Norton 8K Waterstone
  7. Naniwa 12K Superstone
  8. Strop on Polyweb with Chromium Oxide
  9. Strop on leather
  10. Clean and Ship it!

So, we spend about 3 to 5 minutes, setting an extra bevel on the extra-coarse coarse.  And then, after that, pretty normal progression, of Chosera 1K –Norton 4K, 8K and then, Naniwa 12K super stone.

SCOTT:  “We’ve thought many, many times about changing the honing setup, but but one of our goals was to help people who were getting into straight razor shaving. We wanted to figure out a setup that anyone getting into it could  afford.  That’s why we force ourselves use the Norton 4K/8K, because we know, with the 4K/8K, we know we can hone and maintain our own razors with it. It’s like, any razor we make, all you need is that stone and then, a strop. And you can pretty much keep our razors at least going, with that.   so we like to tell people, “This is a stone that you need. And the proof is that this is actually how it gets sharpened from the factory.”

What is in the future for Portland Razor Company?

PRC is looking to hire and train another razor maker.

SCOTT:    So the next person we bring on, obviously, we want them to be enthusiastic about the product and making and all that stuff. So, we want somebody who can do everything, kind of, how we can do everything. It’s –

HUNTER:    But we’ll settle for someone who is pretty good at everything and is really enthusiastic about what we can do.

SCOTT:    Yeah. I mean, and even when we first started really selling razors, we were still just recuperating from moving here and paying for rent and not making any money for a long time

HUNTER:    And again, this is why we’re looking at taking on more people, because that would free us up to keep doing these things.

General thoughts on the shaving community

1) “Trade Secrets”

SCOTT:    No, there is no real trade secret going on, here that nobody doesn’t already know.  We’ve put our spin on it, we have our branding and our culture. And we want to do the education and everything and bring that back. But yeah, basically, it’s been around or over 100 years and you, too, can start making razors. And if someone really wants to turn it into a business, it’s not as hard as I guess someone might think… I’m trying to not make it sound like it was so easy for us, but it;s doable.

SCOTT:    Yeah. But yeah, and the friends and family thing: that’s a good way to gauge things, too. It’s like, if you’re making it so, or if you’re making something, give it to everyone you possibly know, see what they think, get as much feedback as you can. And then, if you think you have something good, then, at a certain point, you just have to give it a go. And understand that there’s going to be a lot of people who like it and a lot of people who don’t like it. And that’s okay.

HUNTER:    Maybe, just general life advice is, go to people you are going to give you honest feedback and not just feel-good answers.  I guess – I know we mentioned it, but it’s definitely worth stressing – is, we do want to do more and more with the educational component, which is most relevant to our local community, because people can just come in and we can have a little honing party, little things like that. That’s definitely something we want to do more of, in the future.

The best thing about creating razors is that it can be done in your home garage and many great razor companies start exactly there. The main thing you need is a belt grinder, a kiln, and a lot of patience! If any of your readers have any specific questions about what you need to make razors, I’d be happy to answer them if they email me!

My best advice for anyone who is trying to start a business is, do as much research and

homework as you can do, but eventually you just have to give it a go! Every great business was started with a leap of faith. Starting a business can be scary, but now is certainly a great time for interest in handmade artisan products, especially ones related to wet shaving.

2) Trying to make your own razors

SCOTT:  You don’t need a super elaborate setup to start making razors.

There is just so much information about knife-making and razor-making, now, that’s online: if someone has any kind of interest in it and any kind of time and money, then, it’s – I would say, yeah, go for it; at least, the fun thing is to learn how to do it.

SCOTT:    And you can, pretty quickly, get to the point where – you know, with the information that’s out there, you can get to the point where you can make a razor that will shave. And that’s awesome. It may take a long time, before you can make a razor that actually looks nice and feels nice, does everything. But there is a pretty quick return on investment.  I don’t know. Basically, you can you can make something cool, right away.

SCOTT:    You just kind of don’t need much.  We’ve taught it to people, how to make razors, too. And they – it doesn’t take as long as you may think it may.

SCOTT:    Yeah. Again, getting Hunter or somebody to actually make a razor that’s ready to go out and be sold to somebody: that takes a long time.

SCOTT:    Yeah, the basics are very simple. And probably, the main thing that – because it’s really just – the grinder is just shaping it. People kind of get the idea of how to shape something that looks like a straight razor.

HUNTER:  The heat treating tends to be something that kind of trips everybody up, because that’s another one of those things that while the processes have been figured out, there is also just a ton of people who have their own opinions on the best way to heat treat and do all these different things. So, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed by all the information on that, too. But if any of your readers, very specifically, are really interested in it, they can feel free to contact us. We’re pretty transparent; we’ll answer any questions about even with “Where do I get that motor?” Or something like that.  And we built the company, basically, off of the knowledge of others. So, we don’t have any problem, sharing any knowledge that we have.

First and foremost, I have not received compensation for this article in any way, shape, or form.  This is my opinion, take it for what you will. I want to thank PRC for taking time out of there day to let me pick their brain and ramble on about shaving.  You can find out more about Portland Razor Company and their products on the PRC website, Instagram page, Twitter, or FaceBook page.

It took me a little while to think of how to start off this article.  Then I went back and changed it about six times.  I had two hours of audio to try and incorporate into this and it ended being a lot more work than I initially though.  I had some video as well, but that went south REALLY quickly.   I apologize that it took so long to get together.  It had actually become more of a chore to finish because I just couldn’t seem to get a handle on the way I wanted to write it up.   I think I finally have something decent.  It’s not what the fine folks at PRC deserve, but I hope everyone enjoyed the article.


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2 Comments

  1. Todd Johnson

    Hey Matt, nice article, I enjoyed it and intend to get a PRC razor soon. I met you last year at the second annual Seattle Shave con.. Hope to see you again.
    Thanks Todd Johnson

    • Todd, Glad to see you are looking at a PRC razor. They are a great company. Hope to see you at this years Seattle Convention. Take a peak at seattleshavecon.com and keep your eyes open in the forums and social media.

      Matt

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