When one first considers growing a mustache it is difficult to know where that might lead. For me this was the beginning of a path to straight razor shaving. At the end of Movember it is tearfully necessary to bid one's cookie duster adieu.. and what better tribute than to do so with your own elk antler straight razor.
Step 1: Collecting Your Parts
1. Old Straight Razor. Though I plan eventually to take a whack at making my own blades, I do not presume that this is an easy matter. For the time being I buy them at auctions on ebay and typically find them in lots of 6 razors. There are many manufacturers whose blades are quite valuable. I tend to stay away from them as they are cost prohibitive, and as well these specimens are usually of greater significance to simply be restored. Check the value of the old razor your grandfather has laying about before you go cracking the scales of a family heirloom.
2.Elk Antler. This one was a shed-horn (i.e. no elk were harmed in the making of this instructable) but collecting them from taxidermists, websites, dog chews, or hunting are also other ways to find them. I choose elk antler because they have a very large diameter, and therefor the end project will show a great deal of antler exterior. It is possible to do this with Whitetail Deer antlers, but only the largest will provide you with a sufficient surface area for the desired effect, and cutting these antlers seems foolhardy to me. One could use a Mule Deer with a thick main beam, or other less common undulate but Elk are in plentiful supply, and their antlers can be found readily. You will need a section that is at least 7" long.
3. Miscellaneous Brass Rod and Tube. These will be used to pin the scales together, and as well will serve as the bushing on which the blade will rotate. I do not specify a size, as each blade is different, and finding the appropriate fit is a bit of an art (read: kicking and cussing).
Step 2: Cutting Your Antler to Length
I start by first measuring the antler against the size of the known scales. This i merely a visual comparison to find a section of beam that is long enough, and has the appropriate contour to fit your desired final appearance. I mark these sections with masking tape, as I am usually making more than one at a time. It should give you a desired cut length. Measure twice, cut once, it will only get shorter from here.
This first cut will run perpendicular to the beam's length.
Step 3: Lengthwise Cut
The second and third cut are taken lengthwise. The first of these two cuts is the most difficult so watch your fingers. I used a band saw with a 32 tpi blade or higher. Elk antler is harder than any wood I have in my shop and I've found that higher tooth count is appropriate for the material. If your band saw has a fence for marking widths of cuts I recommend using it.
This is when you will start to notice the smell of cutting antler. There really is nothing else like it. I've not found any way to keep this permeating odor out of my nose, if you find a way I'd be interested to hear it.
Both of these cuts are taken from opposite sides of the same section of anther. Its is how I ensure getting a matched set.
Step 4: Scale Shaping
Mark first of your two halves of the antler by laying the old scales over the top as a guide. This can also be done after removing the blade from the old scales. It is important to get the shape right so that you don't have a razor blade that peaks out of the bottom of the scales when it is closed...
Carefully cut the first side out on your band saw and then use it as a template for your second antler side. This will ensure that you have the best matched set possible.
After the second half has been marked, it too can be cut out leaving you with two halves that are symmetrical.
Step 5: Shaping
I have an 8" belt sander that I use for flattening out the bottom side of the two scale halves. As I mentioned earlier, Elk antler is very hard, it will take a considerable amount of time to do this by hand, so I recommend, and personally only use power sanders (life is too short to shape these by hand).
Once the two halves are flat, I will tape them together so that I can soften all of the harsh edges, and then I taper the points at either end. In the world of razor building, the more thin you make the scales, the more impressed your admirers will be. Antler is a very strong natural substance, so don't be afraid to push the limits.
Once you are satisfied with the roundness of your edges, the flatness of the insides we will start working on Blade fitting.
Step 6: Free Your Blade... Free Your Mind
I always get anxious about this part.
Use whatever tools you have that are able to free your blade from its aging restraints. I typically use a set of dykes and start by cracking the old scales. At that point the bushing is typically able to fall free. I also add a piece of masking tape to the blade. Taping the blade serves two purposes. First and foremost, I have ten fingers, and intend to keep them all. Secondly, it keeps the delicate blade safe from unnecessary dings and dents. These blades are eventually going to be trusted with the delicate act of wet shaving, any inconsistencies will later be a hazard, or a tremendous sharpening burden.
Step 7: Hole Setting
To find the location of where your holes should be places is done with the blade. I place the blade against one of the two halves and mark the hinge side first.
The tail end hole is then marked ensuring that you have given sufficient room for the blade to swing into place without striking it.
To select the appropriate sized drill bit I test fit them in the pivot hole in the blade. Once I have selected the best fitting bit I start to look for brass rod or tube that will as well fit that hole for the final steps. With this bit selected I use a drill press to first drill the marked half. Then I tape the matching half to the drilled half and complete the passes so that the holes are concentric.
Step 8: Gaping the Scales
In order for the blade to fit, and pass through the scales there are two techniques that are used to create a gap. The first technique involves using a small, slightly angled wedge, in the heel end of the scales that holds the space open throughout the handles. The second, and the one that I've employed on this example, is to sand a gap into the scales so that there is a space where they do not touch. I employ this second technique when I am making scales out of antler as it is very difficult to work with in such small sizes. However, when I make wooden scales I use the wedge technique, as it will often give me an excuse to make an accent color. Here in the antler, I feel the look is clean, and effective.
Be careful at this stage as you sand, your pieces should be quite thin, and it would be unfortunate to watch your hours of work ruined due to a lack of measurement, or grip.
Step 9: Final Assembly, and Finishing Touches.
Once you have a blade gap you are ready to assemble the three pieces. I have always started by peening the pin in the tail end of the scales first. In this project I used tube rather than rod, so my peening started with a center punch to bell the tube into place. Once the first side is fitted, I moved to the other side, cutting the tube 1/16" longer than flush, allowing for room to peen the tube. Here again I used the center punch to bell the tubes opening. I strongly recommend using a ball peen hammer for this as it aids in shaping the rod or tube that you've selected.
With the heel side done it is time to fit the blade at the pivot. Here you should be mindful of the blade's full path as you slowly peen the two halves together. Make sure that the peening is done in a fashion that resists free movement of the blade, but that it still allows it to be opened and closed.
Ramashish Saw made it!