Definitions
  
With the rebirth, so to speak, of straight razor use these days, many forums with sizeable memberships have evolved on the Internet with the intention to gather as much information as possible regarding straight razor use, care, and value. In the process, misinformation rears a charlatan head from both the good-intentioned as well as from the piss ants who thrive on the fawning they get from those who are greener than a hillbilly booger.

   It has been said on several of the forums that a "custom" razor is one that is made or manufactured with customer input. After all, they looked up the definition of the word custom on Wikipedia and in Webster's dictionary. Many of these statements usually come from the pseudo-intellectual, and they just can't find it within themselves to hold hands with some common sense... or accept a very long standing definition from those who actually have done the work for years and years. Straight up - customer input for design or preferences does not set the slightest of criteria on whether a knife or razor is "custom" or not.

  Terminology in my trade can certainly be a bone of contention for a lot of us because we hate to see definitions changed or words to lose their original meaning merely because a falsehood was repeated so many times, by those without a clue, that it eventually becomes the truth. The problem with that is that those without a clue don’t know it and their ignorance only gathers confidence as it rolls along Interstate Dipschidt.  

  A perfect example of this phenomenon is the word "toe" in regard to straight razor terminology. I know you had to have heard that word by now. Unfortunately, it's now an accepted term denoting the tip/point of a razor and it drives me nuts. Several years ago, the word "toe" was systematically regurgitated without consideration for accuracy by some guys on one of the forums who wanted to pretend they knew something about razors... by guys who had been in and around the straight razor scene for, oh, at least 10 months. I mean, hey, it only makes sense to call the tip of the blade on a razor the "toe" if the back of it is called a heel. Right?

   Wrong. It's not a correlation to a dang human foot, people. Heel is actually descriptive terminology to illustrate one of the specific areas of a blade or cutting instrument. Knife blades have heels, chisels have heels, engraving tools have heels, block planes have heels, straight razors have heels. None of them, I repeat, none of them have any dad-burned toes. Back to the definition of custom so that you do not become part of the problem. *See Addendum below:

  The following  are the generally accepted terms as used by custom knife makers and by most of the folks in the knife industry.  I picked up on this terminology over the past 30 years from reading many books and from hanging out with fellow knife makers and not from giving reverence to a small group of guys who merely had  an interest in razors and decided to talk about it on the Internet.

      Factory .......... Mass produced by many workers who use automated machines to do much of the work. Not necessarily all of the work, but most of it.
     
     Bench Made... A small company or one-man operation where the knives or razors have some or all of the parts manufactured without the aid of a person behind the machine making them. Using a C n C mill is a good example  of  a piece of machinery that would put the end product in the bench made category. Milling machines, on the other hand, are permissible for use in the custom category because human coordination and actual physical manipulation is still necessary to do the work. There are several extremely talented machinists using C n C mills who carry the mantle "custom" maker even though many of the other makers bristle at giving them credit for being one. On the other hand, the C n C guys get equally testy if they are not being credited as making custom stuff. I stay out of those arguments.
      
      Handmade..... These are the folks that pound the steel using a forge, heat treat and temper their own steel and then grind everything away that doesn't look like a razor. This term has often been used interchangeably with the word custom made. The boys who forge don't always relinquish credit to those who only utilize stock removal to manufacture a blade. A handmade knife or razor is also a custom but a custom isn't always considered handmade.. These days it's also considered a two-tier process. One being the production of the billet of steel for the blade and the other tier as the actual making of the blade. Because stock removal has become so prevalent, the handmade folks have lightened their stance a bit... for the most part.
    
      Custom........... These are the products made, usually by one person, utilizing tools that must be operated or guided by hand. A drill press, for instance, or a milling machine, a grinder, or a disc type sander are all good examples. There are a lot of procedures in making a custom blade that require hand sanding and fitting, fitting and refitting. Custom pieces can be similar to one another but the maker could never produce and exact copy ot the last one that came off his bench as you could by using a C n C mill. More than one person can be involved in the production of a custom blade. As an example, one person could make the blade and scales, another could engrave the steel, and a third could scrim the scales or make the sheath. These efforts are usually called collaborations. Although multiple people may be involved, they are still considered custom as long as everything is done by hand by all of them. None of these processes have a single thing to do with customer input.

A customer can definitely design an entire knife or razor and have a maker manufacture it, but that is not the defining criteria that makes it a custom piece. What he has is a special-designed or special-ordered custom.



*Addendum:
May/2010, someone sent me the following email...

Hello,

I found multiple instances of this "Henry T. Lummus" fellow using the word "toe" to describe the end of a straight razor blade opposite the heel. Outraged, I immediately remembered you and your wonderful work of preserving historical terminologies and decided to send you this man's name and offending publication. I hope you don't mind. Page 5 is especially egregious, when this Lummus character invents another term "straightback" and claims they are made "with the toe wider than the heel." Maybe you can make him a charlatan or something. Those dad-burned toes really get my dander up.

Regardless of the fact that this was not sent with any real intention to help, I can appreciate another smart ass. I have been known to be one, myself. Naw! Regardless, the information certainly changes a position I have always held to this point. Along with the message, he sent the following link. I don’t know how long it will be there, so I will summarize.

Up to the time I had received that email, I have always said that I had never seen written reference to the use of the word “toe” to denote a specific part of a razor other than a specific modern day shaving forum and on a few sites influenced by it. After seeing the information that was sent, I can no longer say that because Mr. Lummus uses it 4 times in his essay on collectible razors. It does not, however, change my position on the use of the term. The article appears to have been written by a knowledgeable man. However, I believe the article was written through the eyes of a collector in that 1922 Antique guide or publication. Notice I said, “through the eyes of a collector”, and not a cutler. The cutlers being the folks who actually made the razors and rely on a set standard when it comes to the nomenclatures of their trade. The references that seem to legitimately come from the perspective of the cutler depicting the front portion of the blade always refer to it as either the tip or the point. It’s still no big thing if “toe” is used, it’s just not correct in my view, and an insistence that it is the go-to word for the point of the razor was the basis of my challenge.

Something to keep in mind is that Mr. Lummus also stated the following:
·
F. Reynolds razors were worthless
·
That the styles and workmanship of razors had become inferior after the civil war.
·
That no better razor was ever made than a wedge

That hints to me that it was just as easy to have incorrect information in 1922 as it is today. My apologies to those who really like using the word “toe” instead of point or tip and have been known to use common sense as a second language. A little smart-ass lingo, there...

Rock on “toe” people.
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