The Fabled Chronik Straight Razor

Let's talk about single and double edged razors and the blades that they use.
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drmoss_ca
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The Fabled Chronik Straight Razor

Post by drmoss_ca »

Some years ago, claims were made for this relatively uncommon brand of Solingen razor that were, to say the least, contentious. These included the claim that one pass with the grain would be better than any other razor against the grain, and that it did not need stropping for forty consecutive shaves. Recently, some Chronik razors appeared on eBay, and were sold for very high prices, and the buyers have been kind enough to pass them around some straight shavers for opinions. I believe I am the last on the list, and have been told to hone them as I see fit and try them out. They arrived yesterday, and seem to be fairly sharp already (as might be expected given that they have been through the hands of some highly respected honers recently!) Nonetheless, since I am used to the shaves I get from razors honed the way that I usually do it, to make it a fair comparison I thought I had best take them through my usual routine. First though, let's take a look at the three razors:

This one came in a Classicshaving.com box and doesn't actually say 'Chronik' on the tang, but when you compare it to the second you'll see it is the same razor branded for sale by Heinrich Klein, and like both the others, it has the two hearts under the crown on the tang:

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The second is exactly the same, but is branded 'Chronik' on the tang:

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Unfortunately, it doesn't close without some care as the blade would like to catch on one of the scales and it does have some superficial rust spots, but none are anywhere near the blade edge. Here are a couple of examples:

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The third razor has yellow celluloid scales, but the same tang markings as the second:

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It shows signs of heavy honing in the past, and somewhat unevenly; see how in this closeup of the blade the spine has flats worn into it at both ends but less so in the middle, and the edge has matching deeper bevels at the ends?

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Unfortunately, I forgot to take a similar picture of the reverse of the blade, which shows similar changes in the middle of the spine and the edge. I can only think someone has once upon a time honed the razor pressing at the tip and heel on one direction, but with a finger in the middle of the blade going in the other direction. Either that, or the blade was bent and honing has been used to flatten it. It's an odd wear pattern.

All the razors have shallow scalloped jimps on the top of the tangs:

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There are deeper and narrower jimps on the underside, some of which have been allowed to grow some rust:

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Honing was done in what has become my standard routine:

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From left to right can be seen the Shapton Diamond Glass lapping Plate, which was used on all the hones prior to this round of honing, then there are 2k, 5k, 8k, 15k and 30k Shapton stones, and finally some HandAmerican Liquid Chrome on leather magnetically attached to a corian bench hone. After lapping and rinsing the hones, starting with the finest and working back to the coarsest to minimise risk of coarser particles contaminating a finer hone, the razors were given ten strokes (five roundtrips) on the 2k, twenty on the 5k, thirty on the 8k, forty on the 15k and fifty on the 30k. Each razor was rinsed between hones to reduce contamination of a finer hone by coarser particles from the previous hone. The hones were also rinsed between razors to remove any steel particles. The spray bottle of water was used to wet the hones prior to use (they don't need soaking like Nortons do). After honing each razor had 100 strokes (ie fifty roundtrips) on the chromium dioxide/leather bench hone. All the hones and the leather bench hone were turned end for end halfway through each razor's visit to it to ensure that any possible unevenness would be affecting both point and heel of the blade. All this is usual practice for me. The only difference between them all on honing was the marked reduction in drag of the yellow-scaled razor (#3) on the hones. For all its signs of wear, this feels like it will be the sharpest.

I shall be stropping each razor according to my usual routine as well. There will be ten strokes (five roundtrips) on the 'linen' side of an Illinois #827, thirty strokes on the rough russian leather side of this intermediate strop, and then twenty strokes on my antique thick hard Fromm - which is as smooth as glass and nearly as hard! In the interest of a fair comparison, I shall shave in exactly the same way each time. This will mean a hot water wash of the face with Nancy Boy Sweetgrass soap, rinsing and re-application of more of the same soap. One of the last four remaining tubs (?in the world) of Charles Tyrrwhitt Lemon & Cedar cream will be opened and used (via a small Moss scuttle and a Simpson Chubby 3 Best) in honour of this special test. I shall conduct my usual two and a half pass shave - the first pass downwards, the second across, and the third, half pass, will go against the grain only on my cheeks and chin.

I don't know for sure which razor belongs to whom, so I shall continue to call them #1 (classicshaving box, faux tortoiseshell scales, no problem in closing, 'Heinrich Klein' on the tang), #2 (plastic pouch, faux tortoiseshell scales, tries to catch a scale on closing and 'Chronik' on the tang) and #3 has the plastic pouch, yellow scales and 'Chronik' on the tang.

So:

Sunday 2nd December
#1 razor (Heinrich Klein etc) was used.
The first pass (downwards) went OK, and that either means a razor is sharp (it cuts and doesn't pull the hair), or very blunt (it passes over the hair and doesn't even catch on it). Unfortunately it was the latter, as the cross-grain pass showed. This was not very comfortable, and left more stubble than I would normally expect. Attempting to go against the grain did nothing whatsoever to remove the stubble that remained. It just didn't cut it, in all senses. What's more, it left me a bit sore. Looking under the microscope today, I can see why - this razor has a corroded edge with lots of tiny nicks in it! This is at 200X magnification:

Image

If I were strongly motivated, I would now follow a daily progression of repeat honings until the razor either succumbed to my efforts or I gave up on it. This kind of edge often means a soft steel that will look good after honing, but crumbles on usage. But there are two more to try, so I have wiped it with 99% isopropanol and put a thin coating of mineral oil on the blade. I believe this one was bought relatively cheaply as it was not branded 'Chronik' so little harm has been done to the purchaser. I looked up the eBay auction it was sold at, and note it was described as 'never used' - I suppose that might be true, but the mice have certainly been nibbling away at the edge!

Monday 3rd December
#2 Tortoiseshell Chronik was used.
A bit better; there is hope that this razor might be useable with further work. It would shave against the grain, but not as closely as I would expect from my half-hollow TI's or my giant W&B wedge. I believe the purchaser of this razor paid an exorbitant sum for it, and he has my sympathy. I'd happily pay around $30 for it if I wanted a run of the mill Solingen razor. The edge shows a clearly neater appearance than the atrocity above (again at 200X):

Image

Tuesday 4th December
#3 Yellow scaled Chronik was used.
This one felt the smoothest on the hones as noted above. The microscope tells the story as to why:

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This didn't shave too badly at all. I've had better, but there were no major faults. I shall take another picture tonight to show the state of the edge after the shave - I hope it isn't going to be a one-shot wonder with a ragged edge. Later - it isn't:

Image

I believe the owner of this razor can continue to use this one as part of a rotation of respectable razors. Knowing him just a little, I think I can say it won't be amongst his best, but it will be, at least, serviceable.


Summary
These are pretty variable. The tortoiseshell handled razors probably have different steel from the older looking yellow scaled version. The older razor could be a decent shaver if it can keep its edge, which is something the owner will have to tell you about after longer term use. The first two really seem to have an inferior steel that breaks down easily at the edge. So, no magic in the brand, but the possibility that some of them may be decent, but ordinary razors. There's no need for anyone to spend vast amounts of money on any other examples that may turn up for auction. So where and how did the myth arise? My theory, which I offer without malice, is this. I have often noticed that poorly honed razors will shave surprisingly well with the grain. I have speculated that microserrations are good for catching hairs that would otherwise just lie flat under the blade and escape being cut. I believe there was once a thread on SMF to this effect - yes, here it is. I do recall that the original promulgator of the magical properties of the Chronik said he shaved several times a day (I can't find the original post, but it was referenced in this one), and so I assume he was shaving downwards each time. My theory is that a ragged-edged razor is an excellent choice for a with-grain-only shave, and that this is what he was noticing. I refer you again to the thread linked above on microserrations and downhill shaving. I can even recommend a very coarse honing compound sold in woodworking specialty stores that will give exactly this edge with little effort (be careful; it eats metal!) If you agree, and like to shave downwards only, buy a Chronik (or a Simco or Zeepk) and enjoy the peculiar efficiency of a ragged edge when shaving with the grain. Should you prefer to shave across the grain, or even against it, save up for an earlier Chronik, or better still, a Thiers Issard!

I know that Chris (El_Alamein), Mike (mparker762) and Lynn (Adjustme69) will be adding their opinions in due course. We have deliberately not discussed our conclusions so as to avoid biasing each other in any way.

Chris
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Pierre-Simon de Laplace
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Post by Hawkeye5 »

Thank you for busting the myth.
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Post by EverSharp »

Great analytical approach! It shows fables are just that.
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Post by rustyblade »

I'm so disappointed.

I had heard that it was sharp enough that if you shaved with it once WTG your unborn son would never have to shave for his whole life. If you shaved ATG your unborn grandson would never have to shave.
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Post by bernards66 »

Chris, Fascinating! I, of course, remember the initial extravagant claims made for the Chronik open razor....and who made them. But, they couldn't be evaluated one way or another, as the Chroniks were so rare, and, needless to say, the person who made these claims would never agree to let anyone else check out his mythical razor. Well, it turns out that while these razors are, indeed, very rare, it is not, seemingly for the reasons we would have been led to believe ( chuckle ). I'm looking forward to reading what the other experianced straight razor men have to say about their experiances with this model.
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Gordon
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Post by IsaacRN »

rustyblade wrote:I'm so disappointed.

I had heard that it was sharp enough that if you shaved with it once WTG your unborn son would never have to shave for his whole life. If you shaved ATG your unborn grandson would never have to shave.

OMG....Thats the greatest post ive read....to funny
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Post by FiReSTaRT »

Great review Chris. Good to have a resident mythbuster lol
You may want to give the first one another try on the coarse grit hones to remove the corroded metal and then rebuild the edge. 9 times out of 10, it will work. Ofcourse, you'd have to ask the owner for permission due to the hone-wear issues.
The amount of Cr2O3 that you use on your bench-hone makes me less wary of "putting on too much" next time I re-apply.
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Post by mparker762 »

The chippy razor is that 1 out of 10 razor. It seems to be made of something resembling wrought iron - on any hone it leaves the densest swarf marks you'll ever see west of Pakistan. The edge looks ok on a 1k or 2k hone, but as you move up in grit it chips worse and worse. I managed to get one great shave out of it by honing it on a slack hanging strop, but the edge collapsed midway through the second shave.

As Dr. Moss has mentioned, the hardest of the three was the yellow-scaled Chronik with the odd hone wear. This one happens to be mine. I took it to a local materials lab for testing, and it came out at 60RC, measured at four points on the blade. This is a bit low for a modern Solingen, but it's similar to many older American and newer Sheffield razors.

It took several days of vigorous honing to put that wear pattern on the razor. The razor is badly bent - bad enough to be beyond the normal "narrow hone" trick - and honing the concave side flat was the only solution given the honing tests that we were about to run on it. The razor is bent enough to make shaving with it tricky, as the convex side wanted to gouge my face. So I honed the middle of the convex side to bring the edge back in towards the centerline of the blade a bit, and that seemed to do the trick, more or less.

I concur with Dr. Moss's assessment that it's ok but not great. Even had it been straight, I doubt it would have made it into my daily rotation on the merits.

All of the razors were very badly made (in addition to the steel issues). Chris's photos don't do the razors their proper injustice. Several of them had gouges in odd places, and all but the yellow one had unfinished grinds on the tail, toe, and heel. There were voids in the steel that appear to have been there since they were new. The only thing that was done well were the graphics on the blade, which is amusing since neither Dovo nor TI seems to be able to do this correctly anymore. The best-finished example in the bunch was my yellow Chronik; unfortunately they made up for it by putting in that awful bend.

These were all NOS razors that languished in a knife store for decades before being liquidated on ebay. There's a reason they never sold. When I first saw mine I assumed it was an East German import. I've since come around to the belief that it really is a Solingen product, though probably one they'd rather forget.

I'd also like to mention that this whole investigation wasn't an attempt to "debunk" anything - we just wanted to find out what these things were really like for ourselves. And I don't believe that we have debunked anything, because one thing that jumped out at us is that these razors are extremely inconsistent. These three examples range from atrociously bad to fair-to-middling, but there are other Chronik's out there whose owners have much higher opinions of them - Joel is one of course, but there *are* others. So the spread seems very wide, and it's possible and maybe even likely that the razors on the high range of the spread could be pretty impressive indeed (certainly the one we found at the bottom end of the range was pretty impressively awful).

These also aren't the only Chronik's out there that we know of - these things aren't as rare as they once appeared, though they are still pretty rare in the grand scheme of things. Once Chris and I got ours and knew what to look for we found a surprising number of them on ebay. Chris has three, I've got one, and I saw two more NOS examples on ebay Germany. And in the course of our investigations we found several other shavers with Chronik's or Chronik-ish razors.

As an aside, I suspect this thread on B&B from a few weeks ago http://www.badgerandblade.com/vb/showthread.php?t=28175 is discussing an unlabeled Chronik. There's no heart logo, but the razor is otherwise identical to the Chroniks that Chris and I own, right down to the lousy grinds, voids in the steel, and inability to hold an edge.
Last edited by mparker762 on Fri Dec 07, 2007 7:15 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by drP »

Marvelous devastating post.. =D> (reminds me of the burst of the tulip bubble in the Golden Century in Holland...)
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Post by mparker762 »

I've updated my post above - when I originally posted it last night I was pretty tired, cranky, and scatterbrained. Now I'm just cranky.
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Post by Squire »

Now this is truly useful information. Thanks Chris for your exhaustive work and Mike for your input.

Regards,
Squire
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Post by Pauldog »

So...are these what you'd call "seconds" (or "thirds" and "fourths"), or are all Chroniks suspect?

This does point to the big advantages of in-person shopping for skilled-craft items.
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Post by drmoss_ca »

I'd call a razor or any other good a 'second' if it were functionally the same as a full-quality item, but cosmetically defective. The kind of steel that crumbles on shaving isn't fit for its purpose, and if Mike is right that it is recycled East German military steel then it's a good thing the DDR was all bark because they only had false teeth to bite with! The yellow-scaled razor was bent, but that might have been sat upon long after manufacture. The current odds are that a buyer would have to be feeling very lucky to get one with any expectation of a decent shaver. Stick with known and reliable brands.

Chris
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Post by dada »

Weren't all Chroniks always suspect :lol:

Cheers
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Post by drmoss_ca »

dada wrote:Weren't all Chroniks always suspect :lol:

Cheers
Ivo
Take your pick from these 80 posts extolling the magical virtues of the only known Chronik that was forged by the gnomes in the mines of Moria.

Chris
"Je n'ai pas besoin de cette hypothèse."
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Post by bernards66 »

Dwarfs, Chris, dwarfs, not 'gnomes'. Yes, forged deep in Moria during the Elder Days....then hidden away for long ages....until one was stumbled upon by a young...a....hobbit...who was given to excited postings on shave forums......and.....ummm....yes, well...you provided the links....
Regards,
Gordon
Last edited by bernards66 on Sat Dec 08, 2007 5:22 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Post by rustyblade »

bernards66 wrote:Dwarfs, Chris, dwarfs, not 'gnomes'. Yes, forged deep in Moria during the Elder Days....then hidden away for long ages....until one was stumbled upon by a young...a....hobbit...who was given to excited postings on shave forums......and.....ummm....yes, well...you provided the links....
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Gordon
Dwarves dear Gordon, Dwarves!
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Post by Scrapyard Ape »

rustyblade wrote:
bernards66 wrote:Dwarfs, Chris, dwarfs, not 'gnomes'. Yes, forged deep in Moria during the Elder Days....then hidden away for long ages....until one was stumbled upon by a young...a....hobbit...who was given to excited postings on shave forums......and.....ummm....yes, well...you provided the links....
Regards,
Gordon
Dwarves dear Gordon, Dwarves!
Whew! I did not want to be the one to offer the correction. :mrgreen:
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Post by notthesharpest »

If we're talking about Moria, then dwarfs is correct. Tolkien spelled it differently on purpose. I can't remember why.
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Post by Scrapyard Ape »

notthesharpest wrote:If we're talking about Moria, then dwarfs is correct. Tolkien spelled it differently on purpose. I can't remember why.
You have that backwards. Technically, "dwarfs" is the correct spelling. Tolkien used "dwarves". He wrote an essay on the subject in the appendices of one of the books. Can't remember his reasoning.
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