In the past few years the demand for custom shave pieces has skyrocketed. More and more wet shavers are looking to new, modern approaches to a skill that was all but forgotten. I guess you can say it’s like building a classic car with a modern engine. Charcoal Goods delivers just that. With the use of some modern technology and unique styling, this one one operation has gone from building several razors per month to having a waitlist of several hundred people.
The razors are unique with several designs available through the waitlist process. When you sign up you receive a number and that is essentially your place in line. When your turn comes, you have the option of ordering the handle, top cap and guard of your choice along with anything else available on the site. There are different metals (Stainless Steel, Copper & Brass) and you have the choice to go with different levels with the guard (Lvl 1 mild, Lvl 2 medium, Lvl 3 Aggressive) and if you would like to go with an open or closed comb. There is even a choice to go with a forced patina (antique) finish or polished. If you aren’t in a rush and want a truly custom piece then this is way to go.
Periodically, you’ll find that Charcoal Goods will have several production models ready to go for immediate purchase. I was fortunate enough to purchase one of those razors a few months ago. I must say I am quite impressed with the design and performance. Before we get into the actual review lets discuss the man behind the scenes at Charcoal Goods.
Brian Twilley is the man behind the unique designs and the sole operator of Charcoal Goods. With a Masters Degree in Fine Arts under his belt , it’s no surprise the creativity and thought process that goes behind his work. He began producing razors in 2014 and has since been steadily increasing his product line to more complex designs and other shaving products.
After a slight detour with his career in 2008-09, Brian decided to that he wanted to work for himself. He began spending time at a friend’s machine shop and started learning the art of machining. Soon after he met a traditional wet shaver who convinced him to try a double edge safety razor. Impressed with the shave, but not the quality of material, he began making some handles out of scrap parts.
The first prototypes and custom models were all made on a WWII era machine and finished by hand. After some time Brian went with a more modern CNC machine to help with his designs and production. All of Brian’s designs are original and built using a variety of metals such as stainless steel, brass and copper.
*Note: You can read more about Brian in a recent post on a popular wet shaving forum.
Recently, I caught up with Brian via email with some questions regarding his business. Here is the conversation:
Q: Do you have any photos of any original prototypes or the original WW2 era machine that you made the first razors on? Would you mind sharing them?
A: I don’t really have any good photos from the old shop. There are a few shots on my Instagram page @charcoalgoods from back then, but they were taken on a different phone so don’t have the actually image files. I did attach a photo of an early prototype that helped determine the dimensions.
Q: How do you make the the very unique boxes that the razors come in?
A: I only sell a few hundred razors each year. That makes it really hard to purchase quality packaging as when you buy custom product boxes or gift boxes you must buy thousands. So I thought I would use my industrial laser cutter to cut cardboard and wood into something that I could I turn into a decent looking box. It is pretty eco-friendly in terms of packaging and I know that most people just throw it all in the trash anyway so it’s a lot better then a glossy printed box with foam inserts.
Q: When forcing patina, what is the exact process? How long does it take? Are there any challenges?
A: The forced patina is very labor intensive and there is no way to automate the process. Each razor needs to be finished by hand. The exact steps to the process are a trade secret but you can try it at home using a variety of easy to procure chemicals like ‘liver of sulfur’ and ‘brass black’. The biggest challenge is getting people to understand that the process is not permanent. It will wear off in spots over time, which is the whole point.
Q: What are the blade gaps of Level 1,2,3? How were able to come up with them?
A: Level 2 & 3 actually use the same gap so it would just confuse people to publish those dimensions as those baseplates shave very differently. So, I don’t publish the blade gaps as I don’t use blade gap to control the aggressiveness. People get all worked up about blade gap because a single early razor maker decided it was important. Focusing just on blade gap is like shopping for a new car and only comparing what tire size the vehicle has!
I know that makes it hard to compare all of the razors, but I think subjective comparison is more useful then objective comparison as each manufacturer comes to it from a different design perspective.
Each of my baseplates is a unique design that utilizes a number of different variables to create the aggressiveness profile. It is overly simplistic to come up with one baseplate design and then increase/decrease the blade gap and claim you now have all of these great options. It took me 18 months of work to finalize all of the dimensions for each of the baseplates and refine the universal top cap. It was a lot of trial and error and figuring out how changing a single dimension would affect the shave with me being the guinea pig. Designing new razors is a lot easier now that I know the secret formula!
Q: Do you use the same process with your shaving brushes?
A: I’ve only ever designed a few shaving brush shapes. While I enjoy making the shaving brushes they don’t get as much interest from people as the razors so I don’t spend too much time on it these days. More something that I do for fun if I have a spare day.
Q: Any new products in the future?
A: My brand grew in popularity much faster then I had ever expected. So right now I’m focused on increasing production without sacrificing the quality and trying to reduce the waiting list time. I’ve had to put all of the new product ideas on the back burner. Between now and the end of the year I’ll be working on filling orders from the waiting list and manufacturing some ‘ready to ship’ complete razors from the more popular choices.
*Note: This razor was purchased for full retail direct from the Charcoal Goods website. This review is based upon the author and is in no way shape or form the opinion of Sharpologist.
A month or two ago I picked up my first Charcoal Goods razor. Having been on the waiting list for several months, I was pleased to see a razor available for sale on the website so I decided to take the plunge early. I chose the Torpedo handle with a level 2 closed comb head.
As with all my reviews, I like to mention the packaging, but I do not hold it to add or subtract anything from the performance of the razor itself. Charcoal Goods uses a laser cut cardboard box that is something I have never seen before. The razor fits inside disassembled and came with a pack of blades, care instructions and a cool piece of wood engraved with an image of a safety razor and the Charcoal Goods logo. It smelled like fresh cut wood when I first opened the box which I thought was really cool. It’s also important to mention that you can have you initials or other design etched into the box if you choose to.
The first thing I noticed about the razor was the finish. The antique finish reminds me of picking up an old Gillette at an antique shop and I had to remind myself that i am indeed holding a brand new razor. The patina was evenly distributed and throughout the entire piece and looks great. If this isn’t your style it is important to mention that you can get it polished as well but it will patina over time.
Closer inspection of the baseplate shows a serial number as well as the level. The baseplate like the box is also engravable if you want your initials put on it.
The weight of the razor is also worth mentioning. At 115 grams this gives the Torpedo a good heft and requires a different approach when shaving that we’ll go over a little later. The grip on the handle is unique with three spots for grip. Just holding the razor feels comfortable and I find my fingers naturally find the three points without much assistance.
Now the most important part. How does it shave?
I went with a standard two pass shave, first pass shaving with the grain (WTG) and the second (ATG).
Shaving WTG proved to be an experience. The longer handle ( 4 inches long) is a plus to those who prefer a longer handle and a minus to those who don’t. I found the handle not to pose a problem for me but I could tell it was border line in the way. Any longer and it would have forced me to adjust my technique.
As for the shave, the razor cut comfortably and was easy to maneuver in the trouble areas. I didn’t see an advantage for the slightly scalloped cap but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t assist in the shave. The weight of the razor made it feel solid and strong. I used extremely light pressure ( which I highly recommend when using any razor) and let the razor do the work.
Shaving Against the grain was similar, light pressure and the razor gilded with ease. I’d like to compare this razor to a hot rod or chopper motorcycle. A custom piece that is unique and will turn heads in any parking lot, yet it’s efficient enough for everyday use.
At a price point of $215-$230 usd it’s on the mid to higher end of the modern safety razor range but is not at all far fetched. You get a serial numbers razor, built by a single craftsman in the USA. This razor is built well and is designed to be passed down to the next generation.
If I could improve on this razor, I would probably shorten the handle a bit (from 4 in to 3.5 in) as at times it was slightly difficult maneuvering around certain parts of the face.
All in all, I highly recommend trying a Charcoal Goods razor to see for yourself!
The Torpedo by Charcoal Goods is an impressive piece indeed and a great addition to my collection. It’s a true piece of art and performs well indeed.
About the Author:
Joe Borrelli is a long-time wet shaving enthusiast and collector. He hosts the Wet Shaving News/Talk Podcast , runs his own self-funded website http://shavestraightandsafe.com/ and operates a YouTube channel to help inform the community of new information involving the wet shaving world. Joe holds a BBA from Florida Atlantic University, and currently works for the nation’s largest wine/spirits/beer retailer. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Linda, reading, writing, outdoor activities and collecting wet shaving apparel. Find out more about Joe here.