The photo shows my Merkur 23C razor and the steel facsimile razor I made. The 23C is a nice razor, although a little too mild for my preferences. My steel facsimile is tuned to be a bit more aggressive than the Merkur. My steel razor works very well and I even prefer it for my more wiry 73 year old whiskers.
This Instructable will show how to make a facsimile of the baseplate from a Merkur 23C razor using mild steel rod and flat bar. The homemade steel razor has three advantages: 1) Its aggressiveness can be customized by bending the 1/8 inch rod that forms the safety bars. 2) Mild steel does not rot like the zinc alloy* in molded razor heads often does, and rusting can be hindered quite easily.** 3) You can enjoy using a razor customized to your liking without paying lots of money for an all stainless steel razor. The satisfaction of getting a very good shave from a razor you made and tuned to your preferences also protects you from Razor Acquirement Disorder (RAD), the irrational need to buy yet another new razor in search of the perfect razor.
- 1/8 inch steel rod
- 1/8 x 1/2 inch flat steel bar
- Metal surface
- Welder or brazing torch
- Center punch
*I bought my Merkur 23C before I knew about zinkpest, which is the German term for the crumbling rot that often happens over time when water comes into contact with the zinc alloy used in modern safety razors costing under $100. People on Internet shaving forums say their zamac alloy razors, including Merkur, often fail after three to five years of steady use.
** Any nascent rusting can be seen early as a faint brown stain. I painted my razor parts with clear spray shellac and I smear Vaseline on them regularly. I also take the razor apart after shaving so water cannot rest in one place long. I lubricate the screw in the top cap to reduce wear.
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Step 1: Make the Top Cap First
Earlier I did an Instructable on making a top cap for a safety razor. Little inaccuracies always creep into my projects. If you wish to make your own steel razor, make the top cap first. Then you can make the baseplate to allow for inaccuracies that crept into your top cap.
Step 2: The Setup
I am working on top of a piece of sheet steel. I set the baseplate from my Merkur razor on the sheet steel and clamped two pieces of wood next to it on both sides. Two pieces of steel could be used in place of the wood. If you do not already have a razor to use as a pattern, the baseplate is 1 x 1 5/8 inches.
Step 3: Bend Two "L" Pieces
To start I cut two pieces of 1/8 inch rod to 2 5/8 inches in length each. I taped them together and put 1 1/2 inches into the jaws of a vise. Then I tapped on the ends with a hammer to make the bend 90 degrees.
Step 4: Trim
I placed the "L" pieces into the form made from the Merkur baseplate and marked the pieces for trimming.
Step 5: Prepare for Welding or Brazing
I have a wire feed welder. If you do not have access to one, you could braze the ends together. I used masking tape to keep the "L" pieces in place with a little more certainty. Weld both joints. Grind the welds so the rods are smooth.
Step 6: Fit Steel Bar and Weld
I have done this a couple of different ways. Both present risks. The photo shows the bar cut short enough to fit between the ends of the safety bar assembly, but shimmed from below to raise the steel bar. The risk is that the elevation on one end will not be the same as that on the other end.
Another way is to cut the steel bar longer so it rests on the ends of the safety bar assembly. The risk on this method is the blade is too high above the safety bars and the razor will be far too aggressive. But, there will be some ability to adjust that. It will be described in a later step. You can also spend some time with a file working down the thickness of the steel bar, but that is labor intensive, although effective.
Another possibility is to thin the ends so the thickness of the steel bar over the ends of the safety bar assembly is less and the steel bar rests a little lower in the safety bar assembly.
There are too many variables to give dimension figures in thousandths of an inch. The final shape of your top cap is an important factor. My Merkur 23C shaves about the way I like when I add a plastic shim between the blade and the baseplate that is about 0.030 inch thick. I tried to replicate that shimming with my steel facsimile. Adjustments I have made are according to how it looks to my eye, and that is based on some personal experience with double edge blade shaving.
Align the steel bar so it is parallel to the safety bars, and also centered between the safety bars. Tack weld both ends of the steel bar to the safety bar assembly. Brazing with a MAPP gas torch is possible for those who do not have access to a wire feed welder. More than a tack weld at this point raises the risk for the bar moving as the welds cool. Then you will need to cut the welds with a very fine cutting wheel and try again.
Grind the weld beads so they are on an even plane with the top surface of steel bar.
Step 7: Marking for Drilling
A safety razor uses three holes just a tiny bit larger than 3/16 inch in diameter each. But, check the position of the screw and two studs in the top cap and try to replicate that as you prepare to drill holes. Beware of the mirror effect that happens because you flipped the top cap over and a distortion to the right then becomes a distortion to the left. Mark hole locations with a spring loaded center punch.
Step 8: Begin Drilling
I drilled the first holes with a very small drill. Drill out to larger sizes in steps. Check hole location against your top cap. Make the holes drift a little to take out fit problems as much as possible, if necessary.
You may need to use a small round file to make the fit between the top cap and the base smooth. The goal is for the top cap to be centered between the two safety bars on the baseplate and for the blade exposure to be equal on both sides. Try the top cap one way and then the other. Use a saw to mark the ends that should be paired. Paint the marks with a bright color so proper alignment is easier when installing a new blade.
Step 9: Adjust the Safety Bars
This could be risky if you brazed the safety bar assembly. The braze joints are weaker than welded joints and could break when adjusting by bending.
To adjust your razor place the top plate in a vise so the edge of the steel bar is even with the top of the vise jaws. The first photo shows how to place a screwdriver for prying in order to make the razor milder. The second photo shows how to place the screwdriver so the razor is more aggressive. Bend as near as possible to the ends of the safety bar assembly on both ends.
To test, put a blade into the razor and hold the handle about 30 degrees out from your cheek. Lightly pull downward. Judge for yourself when the amount of blade drag seems about right. Adjust the baseplate so the drag is about the same on both side of the razor. The real test will come when you lather up for an actual shave.
After you have gotten the adjusting about as good as possible, just shave numerous times. Any new razor requires becoming accustomed to it so you know instinctively how to manipulate it in your hands. By any standard, this steel razor is a heavy razor. But, that has its advantages. Just let the razor rest on your skin and the weight of the razor applies the right pressure.
You will derive a lot of satisfaction from getting very good shaves from a razor that did not cost more than a new cordless drill. And, your cost per shave will be around 1/20th of the cost per shave from those disposable cartridge razors. (See the next step if you need a handle.)
Step 10: Handle
A razor needs a handle. I like a longer handle around 4 inches long. The photo is one I made from 3/8 inch steel rod. I drilled one end to tap for 10-32 or for M5 x 0.8 threads. Those two are so close to one another that they are interchangeable for use on a razor. I decided the handle was too heavy and drilled it out to be hollow. Then I welded over the end. I also have access to a lathe and cut some grip rings into the outside surface. Here another razor handle I made from a M5 x 0.8 nut and a piece of 1/2 inch rod. Many very inexpensive razors with zamac top cap and baseplate come with an actual stainless steel handle. You can use a handle you already have.