If all the razors in your life have been plastic and multiple bladed, then read on to get a glimpse into the history of a better way to shave. And if you are already a fan of classic shaving, you can read on to learn more about the in-and--outs of this wet shaving biz. Eric delves into the genealogy of the DE blade and takes apart the safety razor to help you better understand wet shaving.
A Brief History
The history of the named “safety razor” can be traced back to the Kampfe brothers in the late 19th century with their patented Star Safety Razor. This was a single-edge razor with a one-sided blade sitting on a bottom plate and secured with a catch. Underneath was a sort of sloped, “open mouth” trap so that shaved lather and whiskers could settle and be rinsed very infrequently, making the shave more convenient and less time-consuming. Though this design proved incredibly successful, King C. Gillette decided to take this design one step further. In 1901, Gillette patented his so-called “double-edge” safety razor design, which took the grooming industry by storm, revolutionizing wet shaving into what we’ve come to enjoy to this day. As the name implied, the blade used for his new design was two-sided, allowing for an even more efficient and timely removal of facial hair. Gillette continued to monopolize the double-edge razor and blade industry. Each new razor was a variation-on-a-theme to fit the differing needs of millions of men. Virtually all of these designs have thrived and are continuing production even today.
Anatomy of a Safety Razor
Essentially, there are three main portions to the body of a typical 3-piece safety razor: the top cap, base plate, and handle.
Base Plate: Accurately named, this is the (typically) metal plate upon which the blade rests during the shave. Rectangular in shape, the longer parallels on either side of the plate feature one or both of two safety systems: a safety bar or open comb design. We’ll get more into their purpose a little further down.
Top Cap: The top cap is the smooth, sloped metal cap which will secure the blade in place and prevent any lateral movement during the shave. Three posts emitting from the underside of the top cap ensure the secure fit. They align with both the blade and base plate cutouts. The center of the three posts is threaded in order to screw in place with the internal threading of the handle.
Handle: This one’s pretty self-explanatory. This is what you hold to maneuver the razor during the shave. They come in a variety of lengths, shapes, and grip texturing. The length is typically 3 to 4 inches. Grip texturing most often comes in the form of knurling, which will increase the friction between the metal surface and your fingers. The knurling is either a small diamond pattern or angular lines - most commonly known in wet shaving as the “barberpole” design. However, texture could also be applied with a sand-blasted or matted finish.
Safety Razor Designs
Closed Comb: This type of design refers to the solid bar base plate design, which I mentioned earlier. Great for up to several days’ growth, the solid bar pulls taut the skin directly down from the blade, making for an easier, tug-free cut and a more comfortable post shave experience.
Open Comb: In this design, the safety bar has been replaced by (typically) 8-12 metal teeth extending from the base plate. This is ideal for someone with extraordinarily dense or long facial hair growth. While a safety bar may actually pull down and mask the above hair types (causing tugging and skin aggravation), the narrow teeth of an open comb razor simply pass between the stubble. This limits any drag and makes for a smoother shave.
Slant Razor: This is a very ingeniously designed razor style. In this design, both the base plate and top cap are skewed so that, when the blade is secured, its edge tilts at a slight angle. While shaving, this means that though your hand may be moving the razor handle with/across/against the grain the blade itself incorporates some lateral motion. Similar to a chef cutting a dense food or ingredient, using some lateral motion eliminates the resistance against the blade edge and provides a more even cut. This would be most beneficial for those with the tough beard/sensitive skin combination.
Adjustable Razor: As the name implies, you have the option to change the quality of shave you will get from this design. Adjustable razors feature a nestled platform within the base plate. Typically, the handle displays a numbered, rotating bottom dial which, with each greater number, raises the nestled platform further up and away from the safety bar. This increases what’s known as the blade gap, which is a term used to describe the longitudinal distance between the blade edge and the safety bar. As a general consensus, the wider the blade gap, the more obtuse the ideal shaving angle and the greater efficiency of the shave.
Butterfly Razor: Typically in a closed-comb design, the butterfly razor excels in blade loading. Simply a twist of the handle opens the two-piece top cap akin to a venus flytrap, allowing you to simply drop the blade in the center linear post and, with a similar counter-twist, the doors secure shut, and you’re ready for the shave!
Aggressive Vs. Mild
These two terms are thrown around quite a bit with safety razors. In general, an aggressive razor is one which has a wide blade gap and/or blade exposure.
Every razor - unloaded - forms a plane that extends from the edge of the top cap to the edge of the base plate. In application, this plane would be the skin. The blade exposure refers to how far the blade extends past this plane. If the blade edge lies perfectly on the plane, it’ll likely be a smooth shave. The further the blade extends past the plane, however, the more likely it’ll be that the blade may “chatter”, which may cause irritation. However, depending on the specifications, this effect can be mediated.
Finding the right razor may take some trial-and-error, but knowledge is power and knowing the types and uses of the safety razor may help you cut through the clutter and find just the right “cutter” for you. West Coast Shaving stands ready to serve you with a myriad of safety razor choices.