Review: Portland Razor Company Cascade Steel Straight Razor
(2018) In the not too distant past, going to a bike shop to purchase a competitive road bike was more involved than today. In today’s OEM world a bike is delivered nearly fully assembled and with all its parts accounted for. Can I get a different saddle for that bike? Sure. After you buy the entire package and then purchase the saddle you want. What if I don’t like the fork? What about the wheels? The list goes on. Good luck finding a shop still using the old school model.
The old school model involved a rider walking into a shop and selecting everything suited to his/ her riding style, right down to the spokes. The process started with the frame and fork, then drivetrain, then wheels, then everything else. Once the bike was built up the purchaser would take the bike home truly knowing it was the only one like it in the world. Sure there might be hundreds – if not thousands – of Merckx steel frames, but how many of them have shot-peened Ambrosio Nemesis rims and store-cut spokes? Maybe a majority followed that set up, but it must have been nice knowing other options could have been considered.
To speak of old school is to harken back to a simpler time when shaving was a relaxing process. At the end of last year I was in search of a custom wedge razor on account of my extremely stubborn stubble. Wedge razors are the most traditional style, think a ‘V’ shape compared to a hollow, which is more like a pinched ‘V.’ Because they have fallen out of favor, it was a bit of a process to locate a razorsmith who offered wedge or near-wedge blades. I wanted a bygone razor style from a bygone razor era. Oh and I wanted the ability to customize it.
If that smacks of high expectations, you’d be right. This is how I was matched up with Portland Razor Company. Peruse their site and social media and it becomes obvious they are lovers of that simpler style of shaving. To be based in the same town as Chris King, Sugar Wheel Works, and a host of notable handmade bike companies, I thought this would be the perfect place to start with building up a custom razor order.
Just last week I received the razor and it felt great to be back to straight razor shaving. Upon slipping the blade out of the custom box two aspects became apparent: the razor was remarkably slim and extraordinarily light. It was so impressive that I couldn’t put the razor down. I wanted to hold it forever, shaving or otherwise.
I originally placed an order for Portland Razor Company’s stock Hydra blade on account of the barber’s notch. Hunter Lea of Portland Razor Company informed me that they had a new blade style called Cascade coming online. Since my razor was Adirondack themed, I thought what better way to continue the theme than a blade stamped with one of the taller mountains in Upstate New York? I put in a request for customization on the spine of the razor, again Adirondack themed. What I received exceeded my imagination in shave readiness and razor control.
My Adirondack theme continued with a request for maple scales, the counterweight portion of the straight razor that also protects the blade when stowed. I wanted to go with this option because of the prodigious presence of maple trees in the Adirondacks. The scales that came with the razor were low profile and treated in case I wanted to store the razor in Barbicide.
Let’s move to how the razor shaved, because I’m sure that’s what everyone wants to know. First I must admit a bit of nerves. It had been a while since I swiped my face with a straight razor. That said, the first few passes were beautifully accomplished. Each subsequent pass was effective and predictable. This was exactly what I missed about ‘Shave of the Day’ experiences. In no time at all, and with no nicks, my first lap was complete. I lathered up again and completed a second shave. There was no need for a third. Unlike getting a new bike, I could not continue for as long as I wanted. The lightweight craftsmanship of the straight razor plus the beautiful blade came together to create predictability and reliability. There was much joy knowing this was the first shave with this razor.
It is quite clear the disposable shave companies have much control over the male grooming category. Today one can walk into the grocery store and buy overpriced cartridges, shuffle a couple feet and pull a can of shave cream off the shelf, and if necessary, grab aftershave. It’s all the same. But for this straight razor, I went through Portland Razor Company’s steel option for a blade, went through the blade options themselves, picked out an engraving, and then bounced ideas off of Hunter Lea as to the possibilities of scales. I’m a fan of letting the artisans take over from there.
I will leave the review on a sentimental note. I purchased this razor for more than one reason. Of course I love straight razor shaving, as it has, among other things, been a savior with skin issues presented by cartridges and aerosol creams. What I really get excited about this razor is that it is constructed to last decades. With that in mind I fully intend to bequeath this razor into my family hoping they get the same relaxing experience of an old-time shave. With the quickness that is the cycling season, it’s nice to have time to slow down and revisit those old practices. After all, riding bikes is a centuries-old affair. Why stop there when it comes to customizing other parts of life? And what’s better than thinking, “This is the only one like it in the world”?