The humble Gold Dollar razor is made in China by relatively unskilled laborers in what is probably a poorly equipped factory, for probably miserable wages that pretty much preclude any higher emotions like pride in workmanship or simple desire to do the best job possible and make the best product that can be made. Quality control appears to be not even worthy of the name. Quantity is probably valued over quality, if the 50 or so that have passed through my hands over the last few years are any indication. I actually suspect that the workers are paid on a per piece basis. It is obvious that whoever blesses each lot of razors as ready to ship has never shaved with one. The design team probably had one goal in mind: to manufacture an item that looks just like a real razor, and sell it for 1/30 the price of a popular competitor. Company president is probably proud of his design engineers for creating a razor "just like" one selling for $100 to $150 from some German factory.
Pan camera to the other end of the supply chain. Newbies faced with the choice between a $80 Dovo and a $4.58 (with free shipping from China) Gold Dollar #66 offered on ebay decides quite reasonably that both are razors, and one is much cheaper, a razor is wanted, and money is tight, so the Gold Dollar is the obvious choice. Two weeks later his new straight razor arrives in the mail. He strops it and tries to shave with it. It won't shave. He goes online and discovers that a new razor must be honed before it can be used for shaving. He buys a "sharpening stone", probably also from ebay, sharpens the daylights out of his new straight, and it still doesn't shave. He goes online for more information and decides that buying a 220/1k Norton Combo and a 4k/8k Norton combo and a Naniwa 12k will sort out that dull razor. So after spending nearly $5 for a razor, and another $175 or so for hones, he tries again, and it still won't shave. He reads everything he can about straight shaving, and honing, checks into online forums, and finally someone tells him:
"You expect a $4.58 (with free shipping) razor to shave like the $100 to $200 razors I am selling? It is a Gold Dollar, for crying out loud! Fron CHINA! It is a piece of utter GARBAGE! That razor-shaped object will NEVER shave, even if you hone it until you wear through to the bottom of your stones! Only a complete idiot would waste his money and his time on that thing. All is not lost, though... it will make a dandy letter opener, and an interesting conversation piece."
The dejected wannabe newbie drowns his sorrows by buying a year's supply of fusion cartridges, and forever swears off straight razor shaving. An argument ensues on the forum regarding the merits of Chinese razors. If it is on the wrong forum, those supporting the view that this razor is actually pretty good, get banned for life. On the "good" forum, someone points out that while a factory fresh GD is worthless to the newbie, with a bit of work it can actually shave, and shave pretty good. Maybe some GD fanatic even extolls the virtues of the GD in such a way that it gets some inquiring mind to thinking about the possibilities of such a cheap razor that can be whipped into shape and used with good results.
That inquiring mind is inside my skull.
After reading and asking questions, I felt compelled to put the humble GD razor to the test. I bought a couple on ebay, a #66 and I think a #200, and started working on them. I was with some justification proud of my honing skills, which were adequate for getting startling edges from most blades. I had the tools I needed, though I had not discovered lapping films at this point.
I failed. I could not get a good edge on these razors. I ordered one "shave ready" from ruprazor, and it shaved pretty good. I compared it to mine. There were subtle differences. My #66 had wide wear spots on the edge near the end of the shoulder, and also on the spine near the root of the shoulder. My #200 also had similar marks adjacent to the stabilizer. Both had very assymmetrical spines. The one I got from RupRazor did, too, but not as badly. I went back to the shave-ready GD and gave it a couple hundred laps on my freshly lapped 8k with lather, and then another hundred on a huge and well lapped translucent arkie slurried with 1µ diamond paste, then a mix of .5µ diamond and CrOx on a big homemade paddle. This time, the shave was even better. It felt as if the razor, no matter how sharp, simply would not cut my face. But it still didn't shave as close or aggressively as a Boker or Case or any of my American vintage blades that I had really put an effort into getting sharp. Another clue, not just a disappointment. I compared my GD I got from Ken with my vintage blades. The spine was kinda thick, compared to the better shavers. The blade of the GD seemed heavier in general, thicker. Also while the Gold Dollars were nice and shiny, the grind marks in the blade were simply polished, not removed. So maybe by tackling all these differences, analyzing and correcting them, I could get better results!
The #66, having no stabilizers, only shoulders, seemed like the obvious razor to work on first. I wailed away at it on my cheapo 600 grit diamond plate from Harbor Freight. I applied extra pressure, with the 600, on the spine, in an effort to reduce the spine somewhat. I went through what I used for my stone progression at the time. It shaved. Not great, but it shaved. I put the shave-ready GD to the 600 and on through the progression. Better! The blade seemed more alive, a bit friskier, more aggro. Off CrOx and diamond on the paddle, it shaved nearly as good as my vintage Boker King Cutter, which I shaved with the next day, after freshening on the paddle, for a comparison. This time, with a pretty big flat honed into the spine, the spine was only a little thicker than a 6/8 Dovo I had laying around. I went through the process again, starting with the 600. This time, I was surprised to find that it just didn't get very sharp. GRRRRRRRRR!!!
The clue was the bright worn spots that appeared near the edge, at the shoulder tips. Another session, but this time not honing all the way in to the shoulder, and x-stroking even though the Nortons were plenty wide. Wow... the best shave yet! But the very heel of the razor obviously was going to stick out there like an infected toenail after enough use and honing. I went back to the factory GDs, and honed them in similar fashion. Again, marked improvement. IT'S THE SHOULDERS! THEY GOT TO GO! Stabilizers on the #200, also.
A couple of my favorite razors were shoulderless Joseph Allens. I knew a shoulderless razor could function just fine. So why not a shoulderless GD? I set to work. Uh-oh... a file wouldn't cut the steel. I tried it on another razor. Files don't cut razors. I wasn't as hip to heat treating and tempering and stuff as I am now. Tried the file on a razor spine. Some effect, but it seemed to be wearing out the file as fast as it was wearing the razor spine. I really, really didn't want to power grind on the razor. From messing with knives, scrapers, and other edged tools, I knew how easy it is to get the dreaded blue stain on thin steel, that indicator that the temper has magically gone away, and that the particular piece of steel will now no longer hold an edge. I was determined to avoid that, knowing that the thin razor would tolerate grinding heat even less than a knife. Well, there seemed to be no other choice.
My dremel and one of the pink grinding stones barely made progress on the razor as I attempted to make the shoulder go away. Obviously this was going to be harder than I had thought. But I tried the sanding drum attachment, with the little 1/2" diameter sanding drum, and got better results. Also, the tool was less prone to go skittering off all over the razor. It made a nice dimple in the shoulder of the razor. I figured if I was careful not to overheat the blade, especially near the thin edge, I could maybe pull this off.
One question had to be answered first: whether to grind the shoulder from the blade but leave the blade within the shoulder intact, or to remove the entire heel section, shoulder and all. The first method would leave the edge full-length, but it would involve cutting in laterally to the blade profile. It would run the risk of going too thin, and the difficulty of matching the thickness of the blade grind. The other way would result in a shorter edge, but be easier by far. I chose the easy way. Grinding free-hand is pretty tough, and I have fairly good mechanical aptitude and consider myself fairly tool-wise, but my confidence does have limits. I have learned how easy it is to mess up something with power tools.
Almost right away, when I worked at the shoulder near the edge, I got the dreaded blue stain. Well, only one little spot. I figured maybe, since I still had lots of steel to remove before getting to the part that would remain with the blade, I could just continue, more careful this time. I took a couple of days of touch and go grinding to get it done. Except it wasn't done. I took off the amount I had planned, but it was still thicker there. There was still a vestige of a shoulder at the edge, even though the shoulder was gone. Apparently there was a gradual buildup, a thickening, as the edge approaches the shoulder. I carefully touched it up, going in onto the side of the blade with the sanding drum, the method that I had discarded as risky and difficult. I got it down nearly where I wanted it and stopped out of caution. Another method was needed.
Got it! Hand sanding!I fashioned a pair of sanding blocks, but instead of having a flat face, I gave them the profile of a straight razor. The idea was that sandpaper wrapped around the blocks and rubbed on the blade would wear down the high parts first. The high parts I was most worried about of course were the vestiges of the shoulder. Well, two sheets of 100 grit paper and a few hours of elbow grease later, and I was sort of pleased with myself. It wasn't pretty, but it looked functional. Pinching the razor between the two be-papered sanding blocks and running the razor back and forth between them, applying pinch pressure particularly to the heel of the blade, did the trick. I had to stop partway through the process and fair the blade into the shank to allow smooth passage of the blocks, and I also modified the blocks a bit, rounding off the corner that had to clear the transition between blade and shank. A progression of papers over several hours and I had the blade looking better. The grind marks left from the factory were gone. The logo on the blade was gone. I worked down the spine a bit, and rounded the flat down with freehand sanding, pinching the blade between thumb and forefinger and sandpaper. A thorough sanding, finishing with 1000 grit, and a good going-over with 1µ diamond on a felt wheel, and the blade looked pretty good, apart from some overgrind dimples near the transition to the shank. I did a quick breadknife of the edge to straighten out the slight smile, then honed it up.
THAT was a good edge. As good as my Dovo Best. Nearly as good as my Boker K.C. and definitely good enough to shave with on a regular basis. Not very pretty, but I wasn't looking for jewelry, just a good shave. I worked on the one I got from RupRazor and got it back up to the level it was when I first got it, maybe a little better. Well, definitely a little better. And it was already adequate when I got it, I just messed it up. Suddenly, I decided I liked the GD. I liked it very much. I was bruised and bloody, tired, had metal and abrasive dust all over the galley table and everywhere else on the little sailboat I call home, and I had invested several days work in the project, but I was happy. The thrill of victory. Sweet. I must have shaved with that #66 every day for a month before I picked up another razor. Online, I was a new enthusiastic proponent of the Gold Dollar. Lucky for me, I was on the "good" forum, where saying good things about the GD is allowed.
The #200, which is supposed to be a better, higher quality razor, is more difficult, at least for me. The shoulder can be removed the same way as the #66, but that still leaves the stabilizer. It must be removed from the blade leaving the blade intact. Much harder to do, and it is difficult to not leave any grind dimples too deep to sand out. So the #66, the cheapest model, proved itself to be the most practical for this conversion. Indeed it is a conversion, not merely an improvement or a modification. The shank still has the Gold Dollar emblem and "66 China" stamped into it, and the scales, but other than that, it is not even a Gold Dollar anymore. It is nearly a whole new razor. It is nearly the razor that the GD would BE, if they had a few competent razorsmiths at the factory, trying to turn out a superior razor for $30 instead of mass produced ripoff garbage at $4.
The edge-holding qualities of the blade, even thinned down and with the smaller bevel angle, are quite acceptable. Obviously, rather than pure junk steel, these razors are made with decent quality raw materials. Heat treating is acceptable. The temper seems not bad at all. I shudder to think what primitive methods they employ at the factory, but the steel comes out okay. It is just the crude grind of the blade and the ignorance of basic straight razor design that are lacking.
I have said it before, and I say it again here and now: the Gold Dollar #66 is a terrible razor, totally unfit to see the business side of a hone or a whiskery face. It is not much of a razor. It is NOT a razor. But it is very good material to work with. If you regard the GD as a half-finished blank from which you can, with a little craftsmanship and hard work, fashion your own razor, you will not be far off the mark.