Hands Behind the Art: Brian Twilley, artist/metalworker
We love featuring amazing artists who help to take our grooming to the next level. So, here at West Coast Shaving we go to great lengths to find interesting artists and companies founded on good quality, good craftsmanship, and good materials. We want to introduce you to some of the people who go out of their way to make your grooming experience exceptional in our blog series called, "Hands Behind The Art."This post features the artist behind Charcoal Goods, Brian Twilley. With a masters degree in Fine Arts and a deep well of knowledge from apprenticing with an old-school machinist, Brian turns out beautiful and functional safety razors that are turning heads. Exceptional craftsmanship and design have us giddy with delight to carry these grooming utensils. We asked Brian to give us a little more insight into his amazing craft.
WCS: What were the first items that you machined?
- Brian: Whatever I was told to. I was apprenticing at Efficient Velo Tools, which is the top manufacturer of professional bicycle repair tools. The boss would set up a machine to make something and I would copy it. It was a good way to learn how to run the machines. The shop is 100% manual. There isn't a computer in there. The machines don't do anything unless a machinist is turning dials.
- WCS: How did you get into machining safety razors?
- Brian: I had setup my own machine shop and was having a slow month about the same time Imaginary Authors told me about wet shaving. I took one look at my Merkur that I had shaved with a couple of times and thought I could do something a little better. First, I made a couple of razor handles on one of my lathes. Then I made my first DE razor head on my manual Bridgeport vertical mill. It took the entire day to machine the head manually, but it shaved great. I started posting stuff on Instagram and started selling custom handles. It was too time consuming to machine the head without CNC help so I stuck to selling handles for a bit. Over time I was able to grow and now I offer CNC machined razor heads, of my own design, in addition to the handles.
- WCS: What does CNC stand for?
- Brian: Computer Numerical Control. Basically, instead of the machinist turning a dial to move a cutter a certain distance, a computer tells a motor to turn the dial. It can be highly accurate and repeatable. CNC type control is also what makes a vending machine spit out a soda or your inkjet printer work. It's everywhere.
- WCS: What makes a CNC machined razor better than others?
- Brian: Well, something like a safety razor could be stamped, cast, or machined. Most safety razors are either cast or stamped, and they work great. It's is a very cost effective method of mass-production. Machining a part can produce the most accurate result, but everything about the process is more expensive. It's important to remember that we sent men to the moon and returned them safely to earth on equipment that was largely made by manual machinists. Cost was no object. It had to be perfect. It would have been ludicrous to machine a safety razor back then, as it would have just taken too much time relative to what you could charge for it. CNC machinery lowered the production costs for many items and made something like a high precision machined razor head possible, and reasonably affordable, by reducing the labor costs.
- WCS: What specifically makes a CNC head better?
- Brian: Typically, you can hold a tighter tolerance, work faster, and offer higher repeatability through the use of CNC equipment. But, it comes at a cost. It's easy to push the start button and walk away and when you come back the machine will have executed its program. But, that's no guarantee that the part you made is any good or even accurate. It's a garbage in, garbage out type deal. The process needs to be well thought out. I spend a lot of time running simulations and designing part holding fixtures before I make anything. 90% of machining any part is the setup. All the hard work is done by the time you hit the start button. After that you better hope that you didn't make any mistakes. But, a talented master machinist can make accurate work on an old worn out manual machine with a dull cutting tool. Modern CNC machinery can only produce high precision work if the operator has learned proper skills.
- WCS: What is the most time consuming single part of machining a safety razor?
- Brian: The finish work. It all need to be done by hand. Everything from the buffing and polishing, to chasing the threads so the razor assembles easily, there are no shortcuts.
- WCS: What is your favorite way of engaging with your customers?
- Brian: Instagram. I don't have internet access in my shop, but I can usually get on Instagram.
- WCS: What is the most unusual request you have received?
- Brian: I've had a couple of requests for solid Tungsten razors. Tungsten is a very dense, exotic metal, that is also very hard. While it would be possible to make one, it would be a lot cheaper to make a solid Sterling Silver razor instead!
- WCS: Anything else you would like to share with our customers?
- Brian: Whenever I have to fill out a form and list my occupation, I write down Artist. I hold a Master's in Fine Arts. While I also apprenticed as a machinist, learning how to operate machine tooling is just another skill. It's no different to me than working in a photography dark room, throwing clay, or painting. They are all skills that must be mastered if you want to create something new.
Take a peek at some of Brian’s mentions:
- Alt-Innsbruck - Alt-Innsbruck's Cologne and Aftershave combines the strong, masculine fragrance of tobacco and the soothing qualities of menthol. Alt-Innsbruck uses a traditional recipe unchanged for over fifty years. It's simplicity is its greatest attribute.
- Pitralon Aftershave Splash, Swiss - First developed in Dresden, Germany in 1927 by Karl August Linger, Pitralon has a long history in the world of men's grooming. The head of the fragrance is released when it is applied to the skin. Notes of banana, ylang-ylang, geranium, rose, lilac, eucalyptus, and spruce give off a floral top. The heart creates the identity of the fragrance and makes it recognizable. Here notes of ylang-ylang, lemongrass, rose, lilac, lily of the valley, aniseed, and conifer dominate. Base notes of ylang-ylang and vanilla support the other aromas and remain longest on the skin.
- Pitralon Aftershave Splash, Classic - The Pitralon Classic has the strongest cedar note of all the fragrances in the Pitralon line. It is a masculine, spicy classic that leaves you refreshed and energized. Top notes are green notes, lemon, bergamot, mandarin, lavender, and pineapple. Then the heart notes of sage, pepper, coriander, cyclamen, rose, lily of the valley, jasmine, orchid, iris, and cloves takes over. Finally the enduring base notes of cedar wood, vetiver, patchouli, sandalwood, leather, oakmoss, and musk leave their mark.
- Myrsol Balsamic Water - Myrsol Balsamic Water includes essences from rosemary, lavender and thyme to sooth irritated skin after shaving.
Imaginary Authors – Pick any of these intriguing and complex aromas to finish your daily grooming.