Portland Razor Co. is a manufacturer of straight razors with a dedicated team of razorsmiths who make, by hand, some of the best and coolest straight razors around. You may know that we are their exclusive Canadian retailer, which flatters us to no end. If you haven’t checked out Portland’s awesome selection, I heartily encourage you to take a look.
Recently, Hunter Lea, one of their razorsmiths, made time for a brief interview with us. Some answers have been edited for length.
Leigh: So why straight razors? It seems like a weird niche. Hunter: Straight razors are the ultimate tool: They’re not disposable, and they’re a combination of old-school and modern technology. Everything about them is high quality and has permanence.
L: Last time I’d seen you in a video online, you were bearded. I see you’re now clean-shaven. I was going to ask why a bearded man made straight razors.
H: I did have a beard! I am bearded part of the year, but the real story is that I had an internship that I was required to be clean-shaven for. I priced out the cost of razor cartridges and realized I was going to spend more on those than I was going to make during the entire job. That was when I first looked for an alternative and found straight shaving.
L: That’s fantastic. What a great story!
H: It is! But about the beard, specifically, part of our philosophy isn’t to say you have to shave, but if you do shave, this is the best way. It’s environmental, it’s cost-effective, and it truly is a superior shave.
L: We agree. H: The other thing is that with a straight razor, you don’t need electric clippers to take it down. You can just tackle hair at any length with a straight razor.
H: We’ve been around since February 2014, so we just had a birthday.
L: Happy birthday! H: Thanks!
L: Did you know Scott already? How did you meet? H: No, it was dumb luck. I moved to Portland and was working a really thankless retail job, and I kept hearing about this place called ADX Portland (link https://adxportland.com/) [ADX is a makerspace where creators, both hobbyists and professionals, work on passion projects in a shared space. -ed]. I booked a tour there one day where I met Matt Preston, who showed me all these people working on passion projects. One guy was making huge globes out of scrap wood and glue. His only expenses were his glue and abrasives.
L: That’s amazing. H: At the end of the tour, Matt asked me, "So, what do you want to make?" And I said, "I think I want to make sharp things." He pointed at someone and said, "You should talk to that guy; he makes straight razors." Scott first taught me how to sharpen my own razor, and then I met Alex and the rest is history.
L: Outstanding. What do you see as the future for Portland Razor Co.? Are straight razors a growth product?
H: Absolutely. Our future right now is in education about the product and professional use: barbers. We find a lot of them believe it is illegal for them to use anything but a disposable blade, but it turns out that’s not true here. Once we get that conversation going, there’s a lot of interest.
L: Tell me about Cascade steel, the new steel you’re making stainless razors from. H: Cascade stainless steel is the best razor steel out there. There’s a lot less maintenance to it for the new user or the user inexperienced with carbon steels. What we’ve really developed is a better way to heat treat it so that it shaves as well as carbon, has as good or better edge retention, and sharpens well. On top of that, refining our heat-treating process has made heat treatment on our O1 razors even better too!
L: Why did you choose Kent of Inglewood to be your exclusive Canadian retailer? H: We chose you because you’re straight razor guys. You like sharp stuff. You can educate our customers, and you know that straight razors are cool - and what’s cool about them. You were the obvious choice! Customers can turn to you and know they’re going to be in good hands.
L: Well, thank you. That’s very flattering. I’m really happy we can do that, and inspire that confidence.
How long does it take to make a razor, start to finish? H: We figure it’s about a full eight-hour day to make one razor. About four hours of that is hands-on, and four hours of hands-off time like heat treating, curing scales, etc.
L: But you work in batches usually? H: Yeah. We probably make 8-10 razors per day.
L: How many straight razors do you own? How many Portland Razors do you have? H: This is the case of the cobbler’s children who don’t have any shoes. I actually don’t own any Portland razors.
L: What! H: I test so many of our razors - and we have a lot here in our barber shop - so I hardly ever shave at home anymore at all. To answer your question, I have my first razor, my Thiers-Issard, and that’s going to be in my family forever.
L: I own more razors than you, and I only own two! Do you have a favourite razor to make? H: At the risk of sounding trite, the one that’s going to be used.
L: No, I get that. H: We make every razor with the same thought: This razor is going to be around for several lifetimes. Whether that’s one of our starter razors or a custom piece with Damascus steel, I just want to know it’s being used, bringing a little bit of joy into someone’s life.
L: I think that’s great; that makes a lot of sense to me.Do you know who Canada’s head of state is? H: Is it still that attractive guy?
L: Nah, it’s a trick question. Our head of state is the Queen. But, yeah, our attractive Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, is still in.
H: Really? The Queen? I genuinely did not know that. Can you send Trudeau down here?
L: I mean, I’m not his biggest fan, but I’ll keep him over your guy.
I want to give a very big thank you to Portland Razor Co. for being such a fantastic company and, again, emphasize how honoured we are to carry their products. Of course, a special thanks to Hunter for making time for this interview!