Black and White Ebony Razor Scales
When I first got my straight razor it had black plastic scales. While they didn’t look horrible, they felt cheap and I knew I could do better. So I stopped by my local Woodcraft and found a piece of black and white ebony. It was 1″x1″x12″. I figured that would be wide enough and boy, was it close. I ended up making it work with a slight modification to my plans.
Something I was not aware of when purchasing that ebony was that it’s notorious for surface checks and warping while drying. Since this was a piece covered in wax it was assumed the wood was at least mostly green. So I proceeded to cut it into thin strips and leave it for several days indoors in a reasonably dark place to dry. I needed to make sure it wasn’t going to check after I spent a lot of time working with it. After I was reasonably sure it wasn’t going to be an issue, I hand-sanded the thin strips down so they were flat and the correct thickness.
Be careful with ebony dust as it may cause a rash or itchy skin on some people. The only way to know if your are allergic to it is to carefully expose yourself to some or you could just avoid exposure altogether. Its also a sensitizer for some people, which means, after repeated exposure it may cause a reaction in someone who has never had an issue with it in the past.
Anyway, after sanding it flat and to thickness (about 3/16″-1/8″ - this is too thick, I discovered later), I attached my patterns with a little spray adhesive. If you allow the spray adhesive to dry most of the way until it’s just barely tacky, it will be strong enough to hang on during initial shaping, but weak enough to easily peel off later. I have several versions of patterns. I had to try a couple of versions to find one I liked that also fit on the thin 1″ wide strips. I then proceeded to roughly shape the profile of each scale individually, leaving about a 1/16″ around the pattern or more.
The two scales were then stuck together, back to back using double sided tape so they could be shaped in three dimensions together, insuring a perfect match. Holes for the bottom pin must be drilled before the shaping to ensure they are in line with each other and the center line. When the shaping and sanding was done for the outsides of the scales, they were separated using a utility knife (very very carefully), and the insides then sanded to their finished state.
The last thing that had to be made was a wedge to go in the side opposite of the pivot for the razor. I made mine less than 1mm at the thin side and about 2mm or more at the thick side. This was easily accomplished using a disk or belt sander, applying more pressure to the side that needed to be thinner. The wedge was then glued in with the thick toward the pivot. I did one side first, let it dry, continued the hole through the wedge, and then used a pin to ensure the hole was lined up when I glued the other scale on. It was critical that the pivot was lined up perfectly so I put a pin through that at this point too and used that to align everything during glue up. If the pivot is not perpendicular to the handle, the razor will not close straight and may strike the side. Finding a fool proof method for this is something I’m working on. Note that when the scales are glued on, there will be a wider gap than needed at the pivot, this is correct and ensures a fuller shape of the scales. This helps give the razor room to close and is also aesthetically pleasing.
After all that, the scales are done. You can finish yours however you see fit. I will cover some of my favorite finishing methods in a later post. The pins can then be put in place. I used tiny nuts and bolts from Micro Fasteners. The wedge gets one washer on either side, the pivot gets one washer on either side on the outside and one on either side between the razor and the scales. This prevents wear on the scales and on the razor. The pivot should be tight enough that the scales will stay in place when opened - so fairly snug. The nice thing about using adjustable pins is you can easily tighten and loosen them.
Now the sad part about these scales; they ended up warping after all. They were technically still functional but too far off my standards. Oh well. They looked good while they lasted and were a good learning experience.