THE SHAVECENTER Presents
A Selection Of Top Quality Straight Razors From France
They have supplied us with the following information from their famous THIERS-ISSARD Razor factory about the history and quality of their products:
HISTORY OF THIERS-ISSARD RAZOR FACTORY: the factory was founded in 1884 by Pierre Thiers (1860-1929) who was a blacksmith of incredible renown and strength. He was probably bigger than he was tall, with huge biceps and he was famous for the quality of his work, mostly razors, which were all hand-forged in the all style, that is, all individually hammered out from the forge by many hundreds of hammer blows! From the age of 10 to the end of his life, 6 days a week, until he dropped dead in his forge probably from the exertion, he gave 10000 blows about each working day!! when he created his own factory he added the name ISSARD that of his wife, so differentiate his works from that of some of the others of the THIERS family who were also making similar articles. In fact the Thiers family goes back to at least 1582, when the famous "chart of the Jurande" or guild charter mentions at least 3 different "Thiers" as master razor makers! As the business became larger, he was followed by others of his family besides his wife of course who helped in many of the operations. There was Pierre Thiers junior 1884-1962, Louis Thiers (1910-1985) and finally another Pierre Thiers (1914-1997). Finally the family sold the factory in 1985 to the current owner, Mr. Gilles Reynewaeter, who has kept alive the same traditional methods of razor manufacture, that have always made the razors of this company famous. Thiers-Issard has sold its razors since the beginning of the company of course in France but also largely in Italy, England, Spain, and Germany and during long periods in North America.
GENERAL RAZOR HISTORY: Razors are one of the worlds earliest tools. In fact we can find similar formed tools in some of the Celtic burial places and other burial places of many old civilizations. These original hand razors were round or oval and usually in bronze or in stone. These tools changed very slowly until the 13th Century and then much faster changes occurred in the 14th century until now and the definitive version of the hand strop razor came about.
ABOUT THE STEEL THEY USE: English steel has been considered to the much the best quality steel to be used for razor manufacture and in fact this steel did much to make the razor the wonderful tool that it is today. This steel, especially in the 18th century, became something very important. The english made crucible alloy steel at this time, while other countries, that is France and Germany only used regular steel, which was not nearly so good (less good at edge-holding and hardness). It is only with the 19th century that the real importance of the quality of this English steel and its importance for the final product and edge was really understood. IN FACT, WE STILL USE SPECIAL ENGLISH STEEL WITH A HIGH CARBON CONTENT EVEN TODAY IN THE MANUFACTURER OF MOST OF OUR RAZORS. (THE ONLY EXCEPTION IS A SMALL SERIES THAT WE MAKE FOR THE GERMANS USING A SPECIALLY REQUESTED SOLINGEN STEEL—WHICH WE DO NOT INFACT THINK IS ANY BETTER).
HOW THEY MANUFACTURE THEIR PRODUCTS: In the middle ages, razors were made out of forged bars, of any type of steel, piece by piece, forming was done by file, hardening with wood charcoal, and polishing with wood or skins, final polishing was done on leather or stone.
As the process now goes:
- we obtain the razor forging blank from a manufactured matrix which we position under the very large forging hammers.
- we then get rid of the surplus by the process of "detourage" or removal of the metal that is on the outside of the forging stamping, roughly this is a clean up process of the rough forged blank.
- at this stage we drill the hole in the tang of the razor where later we will fix the handle with its rivet. important between step: before lead hardening is also done BUT ONLY ON THE FINEST RAZORS, THE FANCY FILE WORK ("GUIOCHAGE" IN FRENCH) ON THE BACK OF THE RAZORS AS A DECORATIVE MARK, AN EXAMPLE OF THE GREAT PRIDE OF THE BEST RAZOR MAKERS WHEN THEY PUT THEIR PERSONALITY INTO EACH RAZOR. BOTH THE EAGLE BRAND RAZORS THAT YOU BUY ARE DONE WITH THESE DISTINCTIVE BACKS, ASKING FOR AT LEAST AN HOUR OF EXTRA WORK IN THE PRODUCTION TIME OF AN INDIVIDUAL RAZOR. EACH BACK IS OF COURSE DIFFERENT AS THEY ARE HAND DONE!
- after this, we LEAD HARDEN at 800 degrees centigrade the forged blank and then we effectuate an annealing at 300 degrees to give the steel not only hardness but flexibility. this is a necessity if we want the tool not to be too brittle. WE ARE ONE OF THE ONLY COMPANIES IN EUROPE, IF NOT THE ONLY COMPANY, STILL TO LEAD HARDEN. WE HAVE A SPECIAL DISPENSATION FROM THE GOVERNMENT ALLOWING US TO LEAD HARDEN (IN SPITE OF HEALTH RISKS—BUT ONLY FOR A SHORT PERIOD EACH MONTH—LESS THAN ONE WEEK). LEAD HARDENING IS THE ABSOLUTE BEST METHOD FOR THE HARDENING OF RAZORS AS THE STEEL IS HEATED ABRUPTLY (WHEN PLUNGED INTO THE BOILING LEAD) RIGHT TO THE CORRECT TEMPERATURE! THUS GUARANTEEING THE MOST PERFECT PROPER HEAT TREATMENT.
- after hardening the blanks are now ground to any one of a number of hollow grinds, depending on the profile (and cost of given profile) that we want to get on the finished razor.
- FULL GRIND For the cheapest razors or where the maximum strength is needed. in general this is either done for price or because the razor will be used very roughly be unskilled users and thickest edge is wanted. we do no razors like this.
- half-hollow (example: special coiffeur models) this grind is a good compromise for razors where you want a relatively inexpensive product and in general for rougher use. the special coiffeur or special haircutters is a very good choice as a general purpose razor in a barber shop or for a beginning user who is not used to sharpening.
- fully hollowed (example: Le Petite Francaise) this is the fully hollowed grind but not quite too the point that it will "sing" when plucked. however, these are still very difficult to make.
- fully hollowed and "singing" (example: both Eagle brand razors) this is the best form of fully hollow grind, pushed to such an extreme extent that the razor, like fine crystal will "vibrate" and play a note or "sing" when plucked. We throw away about 25% of the razor blanks made like this because the slightest "paille" or crack or imperfection in the steel blank will make the razor "mute"!! Needless to say, it is entirely up to the skill of the razor maker to make the difference between these different hollows, even thought he is helped by different special water/ceramic grinding wheels. In order to get a fully hollowed razor 4 different grinding operations are called for, each using different wheels, different materials and different pressures of same by the skilled operator. This is really one of the hardest of all operations.
- Now comes the final polishing step, bringing the form to a polish—again we must make a choice according to cost effectiveness. A satin polish with a fine grain mill will give a nice finish for a quality product at a good price. Both the "Special coiffeur" and the "Le Petite Francaise" are made with this finish. This finish takes very well the regular black acid marking technique. However, if the best of the best is needed and especially if we want a gold mark on the final product, 1 or both of the sides must be pushed well past satin polish to a "polisglace" or mirror polish. Again, this means more time and effort than a mere Satin finish. "Eagle" razors, have this mirror finish on both sides! PLEASE NOTE THAT THE "EAGLE" RAZORS WITH THE FANCY FILEWORK ON THEIR BACKS HAVE A MUCH LONGER POLISHING TIME THAN A MERE ROUNDED BACK RAZOR!
- Now comes the gold marking which is only used on the best of the best of razors (again, EAGLE because of the extra cost and marking time. This process is very long and involves reserving or masking off the areas where you don't want the gold leaf by a special varnish which must dry for at least a day on each razor. Of course, each razor is done individually and is then golded separately! Black marking is performed on less costly razors, where the black is acid etched into each piece, necessitating less drying time and making time per piece.
- The best handles are both put on by hand and also hand polished for the best possible finish. Red stamina handles are by definition very resistant as the rosewood layers pressed together with phenolic resins at 30 tons of pressure give a maximum amount of water-resistance and resistance against movement but still have the wonderful shine and grain of real rosewood! Less expensive razors will have white plastic handles but riveting them on is still not an easy joy. IMPORTANT: EACH CUSTOMER WHEN CLOSING HIS RAZOR SHOULD "FOLLOW" HIS BLADE INTO THE HANDLE! THIS IS VITAL FOR THE LIFE OF BOTH EDGE AND HANDLE, AS EVEN THE BEST HANDLE MAY MOVE SOMEWHAT DURING ITS LIFE AND GETTED KNOCKED OFF CENTER, AND REMEMBER EACH RAZOR IS DIFFERENT AND HAS ITS OWN FOLDING PATH. IF YOU MAKE SURE THAT YOUR RAZOR CLOSES INTO THE HANDLE THEN YOU WILL INSURE THAT THE EDGE DOESN'T BY ACCIDENT BREAK ITSELF OR CUT INTO THE SIDE OF THE HANDLE!
- After the blade and handle are joined the final sharpening process is done, with the blade flat down (back and edge) on a special water stone wheel. Then each blade is honed again on a Belgium flat water stone and final honed on a special strop (ref. 260) first with a special paste (ref 260) and then again on the other side of the leather strop with no paste at oil, only the oil from the palm of the hand as a lubricant. At this time each blade is tested and checked (they must bend with a fingernail pressure if they are too be passed inspection.). Also, "singing" razors are all checked again by plucking and discarded if they do not still "sing". Razors are now wiped off, oiled for rust protection, and wrapped up for sending! What a job!
SOME SPECIAL NOTES ON SOME OF THESE RAZORS: EAGLE BRAND RAZORS ARE THE TOP OF THE LINE, AND IS A BRAND THAT WE HAVE SOLD MANY OF IN PREVIOUS YEARS IN AMERICA. YOU CAN IMAGINE THAT THIS SYMBOL AND THE QUALITIES IT REPRESENTS WOULD HAVE BEEN POPULAR WITH EARLIER GENERATIONS! "LE PETITE FRANCAIS" IS A SPECIAL SHORT AND NOT WIDE RAZOR WHICH WE CALL THE SPECIAL SHORT AMERICAN, AS IT WAS IMMENSELY POPULAR WITH CUSTOMERS OF OUR OLD WHOLESALER IN AMERICA WHO SOLD IT TO MANY TRAVELING CUSTOMERS BECAUSE OF ITS SMALL SIZE. THE SPECIAL RAZOR SHARPENING PASTE, IS AN EXCELLENT PASTE WITH HIGH QUALITY ALUMINE AND HARDLY ANY GREASE BINDER, GIVING IT JUST THE RIGHT CONSISTENCY.