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Razor review: "Robert Williams custom"

December 14, 2010 — R

Many good things have been written about Robert Williams's custom razors. There even is a fan club for them. I was therefore much pleased to be sent one of these razors for reviewing purposes by a friend in the US. It arrived yesterday. The following is not so much a review as an attempt to lessen my pain by sharing it. This razor has probably been the single most disappointing shaving related experience ever.

[Update] Make sure to also read the background story and the happy ending.

Razor in box with wrench.The razor came in its original, nondescript black box that has a "Made in PRC" sticker. It contained the razor, and a torque wrench for the scales.

This is a fairly big razor. Many, including myself, find that an attractive feature in a razor. However, this applies to visually appealing razors. In the interest of objectivity, I showed the razor to my wife. She has a musical vein, and likes my razors for their aesthetic value. Her comment was short, and to the point: "This is an eighties design, and I mean that in the meanest possible way. Do you not dare put this into our living room." The razor is visually unbalanced. The blade itself relatively short, as you can see when comparing it to the equally wide Henckels "Friodur". The scales are fairly large, resulting in an uneven overall look, dominated by broken lines.

The American Hero Razor vs. a solid piece of German craftsmanship.The tang is relatively long - a characteristic feature or Mr Williams's razors. The jimps are deep, and flawlessly executed. Stropping the razor is relatively easy, although the scales are too rounded to allow for a perfect grip.

The edge, however, is not only very wide, it is also uneven. The owner informed me that he had neither shaved with the razor, nor even stropped it, before sending it to me. So I was looking at a "factory edge". I am still at a complete loss as to how whoever honed this razor managed to create this uneven, and wide, bevel without at least producing a minimum of sharpness. But this razor is dull. And by "dull", I mean, it will not shave. At all. It will not pop arm hair, it will not remove facial hair. I have never seen such a complete lack of performance outside the realm of Asian import blades. I find this unbelievable, not least because Mr Williams owns and runs a forum in which he frequently publishes honing related articles.

Now, there has been many an outcry over German razors that were allegedly not shave ready. I have seen more than just a few  factory Dovos, Revisors, and Wackers. All of them were shave ready in the sense that they could be used to remove facial hair. The perceived sharpness of an edge is a very personal preference, so some of these razors offered - to me - room for improvement. But at least one could shave with them.

Nice and even full hollow grind...Unfortunately, this is not all. Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. I will therefore not comment on the aesthetics of the  micarta scales. Their size is adequate (albeit too wide for my hands), but their weight is not. The coloured wedge is a feature I have seen far too often lately to find it interesting any more. If you open one of the images of the scales at high resolution, you will find that there is plastic (?) residue round the front pin. Also in this picture here, you can see that the tip of the razor is unevenly ground. This flaw should not have slipped Mr Williams's attention, as it is clearly visible with the naked eye.

To make matters worse, I cannot even comment on how the razor actually shaves. Since I do not own this razor, I will not perform the complete resetting and rebuilding of the bevel required to bring this razor to shave readiness. What I can tell you, however, is that the razor's balance is far from optimal. One, it is rather top heavy. Two, the long tang (or, "monkey tail", as it is sometimes called) makes the razor awkward to handle. Three, the combination of top heavy blade and light scales will make this razor hard to wield without a high amount of concentration, experience, and skill. Needless to say that this is not an entry level razor, yet I was expecting its handling to be much, much easier than it is in reality. The test strokes I made were unsteady, and uneven, resulting in a shaving experience far from pleasurable.

Front again. The wife called it, "an eighties design, ugly as sin, and optically unbalanced...So what does that leave us with? Unfortunately, an optically unbalanced razor with visual and technical defects, delivered dull, with quite suboptimal handling and a box made in China. At USD 350, this is a sad performance. On a personal note, I must admit that I am bitterly disappointed with this razor - maybe because the word "custom" had led me to expect something extraordinary.