The double edge safety razors have made a major comeback, with men appreciating the closeness of the shave they provide, the old-school feel and last but not least, the cost of replacement blades. They’re much cheaper than your regular Mach 3 blade. Anyway, if you’re in the market for a double edged or safety razor, there are a couple of factors to keep in mind when making your selection.
Vintage double edge razors
Gillette came up with the first double edge razor in 1903. They produced the double-ring razor and a couple of years later came out with a single ring razor. The single ring, like the double ring has an inner barrel that would unscrew. The handle and base plate were all one piece and there was a top cap. The top cap had a threaded middle post and two barrel shaped posts on the outside. These would line up with the three holes that were in the blade to make sure that when you assemble this razor the razor blade was straight.
There may be some confusion between the double rings and the single rings. They’re very similar. Some people will get one of these razors and they’ll say, “Look there’s two rings on the bottom of this handle, so I’ve got a double ring”. Well, that’s not what indicates the double ring. A double ring is identified by two rings at the top of the handle whereas the single ring only has one.
Old type razors
During those early years, they also made the old type of razors. The old type, just like the double ring and single ring were open comb razors. This is also a three-piece design with a solid handle that unscrews from the post on the top cap and then it completely separates from the base plate. If you’re going to load one of these razors, all you have to do is pick up your blade, drop it on the top cap. Grab your base plate and drop it on top of the blade. Then screw your handle on and you are good to go. You do want to be careful because the sides of the blade do poke out of the side of the razor.
These old razors were all serial coded and using that serial code you can determine the age of the razor. When you’re looking at a single ring or a double ring razor, what you want to look for, is a letter followed by a string of numbers along that inner barrel. If you’re looking at an old type, what you want to look for is a serial number that is printed on the base plate. Some old razors have two numbers, one on each side. What that means is the first serial number was on there from the date of manufacture and the second serial number was put on there when the razor was returned to the manufacturer for repair, early on.
Open comb razors
After the serial number codes, we have a series of razors that were made with no date codes. The first one going to talk about is the new type. In these razors, they extended out the sides with open combs and curved them down a little bit to make it a little bit more smooth on your face. Also instead of having the three posts in the top cap, they only have one center post. That necessitated them to change the design of their blades. Originally the blade only had three holes. Now they have three holes and a long slot in the middle to accommodate going over that bar. So as they changed their razors, they also had to change the way they made their blades so that it could accommodate the new razor as well as the old razor.
Solid safety bar razors
After the open comb, they also made a solid safety bar razor (E.g. Gillette Tech). The solid safety bar razor is also a three-piece design. This type of razor has lather slots in the base plate. This allows the lather to pass through those slots and build up underneath the razor as you’re shaving rather than passing through those open combs. Even though some of these razors didn’t have date codes or serial numbers on them, you could still tell what year they were made, by the blades that were packaged with them. In 1930, Gillette started date coating their blades with the letter ‘A’ and in 1931, the letter ‘B’ and so on. You could tell from the date code on the blade, what the date of manufacture of that razor was or at least, the year.
Single piece razors
In the 1950s, they started putting those same date codes on the razors. The first date code for a razor in 1950 was the letter ‘V’. That’s because they continued to use the same system which was being used for the blades and they just transitioned over to using that same lettering nomenclature. During this period, one-piece razor was also introduced. This was the primary razor and every razor that Gillette made after that was a one-piece design. Now this is called a twist-to-open or at TTO razor because when you twist the knob on the bottom, it opens. We also call this a butterfly style razor because as we open it, those doors open like a butterfly’s wing.
On top of the one piece razor we have the silo doors and a center post called a load bar. This load bar has a notch in it. If you’re going to load one of these razors, all you have to do is grab your blade and put it directly over that center post, drop it in and close it up. The side notch made it possible to load blades from the cartridge without ever touching the blade. This made the razor super fast to load safely without touching the blade and without worrying about ripping it by the edges and cutting yourself (Gillette Super speed Razor). As this design was very convenient it caught on and there are lots of razors that were made in that style. The Gillette Sheraton and Senator was one-piece TTO razor and had an open comb design. We have some more fancy razors like the Aristocrat which had a little bit wider handle, much more heavy and gold-plated. There were razors for women like the Gillette Lady, with a longer handle to make it more convenient for women to use for shaving their under arms or legs.
Later there was a new change in design with the adjustable razor. This was just like the fast loading razor except that it had an adjustment collar on it that you could rotate and change the blade gap on the razor. This in turn changes the aggressiveness of the blade. Gillette made three different styles of adjustable razors – the Gillette Fat Boy, the Gillette Slim and the super adjustable Black Beauty with a black handle. The Fat Boy has a wider handle and the Slim has a skinnier handle.
Other notable razor brands
There were some other companies besides Gillette that were pretty popular and made really good razors. Gillette was the most popular razor brand as identified by just the sheer number of them that are out there. Schick Krona is a regular twist-to-open razor very similar to the single piece Super Speed. It has a longer handle with some plastic on it. Personna and Star safety razors are out there. These two companies were the subsidiaries of the American Safety Razor Company which is the company that still makes the Personna blades.
Then you’ve got razors like Hoffritz razor which is actually a two-piece design where you turn the ring located at the bottom of the handle that releases the top cap. Barbasol also made a two-piece razor which has a shorter threaded middle post. Some British companies like Darwin made razors which had really neat art decorative handles made of cobalt steel. There were also some plastic razors like the Fasan Slant or Nellite 400 which is actually a Bakelite razor.
Modern double edge razors
Some people don’t like the idea of vintage razors and they don’t want the hassle of going to shop for them. A couple of choices that you can find inexpensively that are really great starter razors are either a Merkur or an Edwin Jagger razor. One of the common mistakes many people make using a modern three piece razor is that after inserting the blade they put the base plate on upside down. That leaves no space at all for that razor blade to poke out and there’s no way possible that that blade is going to cut the beard. All you have to do is be careful to note which way the blade came off or the base plate came off and assemble it the same way.
The other thing you want to look for is when you do assemble it; there should be a gap in between the top cap and the base plate. That gap is where your razor blade is going to stick out and actually give you some exposure. If you don’t see that exposure of that blade then it’s probably on upside down.
Picking your double edged razor
The first thing to consider when buying a double edged safety razor is the weight and length of the razor. These razors come in an absolutely huge variety of weight and lengths. The general rule is that the bigger your hand, the bigger or longer your razor should be or maybe, the heavier it should be. It’s important to note that just because a razor is small, doesn’t mean it’s not heavy.
If you need a lot of stability then buying a heavy razor is the way to go. It’s basically a comfort test and worth testing them out, to see what razor feels most natural for you. Double edged safety razors generally come in two formats and you can choose whatever works best for you.
First of all there’s the butterfly safety razor. It has two flaps on the head, which open up when you unscrew the bottom handle. It’s much easier to insert a razor as you just pop it in and close it back up. Many users prefer the three-piece version where you unscrew the bottom, take the top off to insert the blade. The butterfly option is often thought to be easier but it’s really a personal choice. Try both out and see which one works for you.
Beyond the length, weight and format of the razor, it all comes down to looks. Different people like different things. You have to choose the razor that you will be fine with looking at everyday in your bathroom and shaving your face with.
Finding the right safety razor blade
The first thing that you should look in a blade is smoothness. You want the blade to feel smooth and want to enjoy a clean and comfortable shave. You also want the blade to be versatile so that you can take it out of your razor today and put it in another one tomorrow and not have to worry too much about it not working. Some blades aren’t very versatile. They only work well in certain razors. Other blades can be fairly versatile and sort of work over a wide range of razors.
The third thing to look for in a blade is the sharpness. It’s got to be sharp. Finally, cost is another factor you would want to consider. You might not like spending a ton of money on something that you’re going to throw in a trash after three shaves or four at the max. These are some of the things that you may look at, when evaluating the razor blades.