Types of safety razors; a pictorial guide

Lets face it; safety razors can be confusing for those new to traditional shaving, and to old hands too. Some of us can instantly imagine what a three piece open comb double edge razor would look like, but others might feel a bit more lost in the jargon. So lets walk through part of my razor rotation and collection and highlight at least some of the common terms.

Safety bar, open comb, scallops and more
Gillette Slim w/ solid bars vs Gillette Old w/ open comb vs Asylum Shaveworks RX with scalloped bars
Phillips Philite razor with a scalloped plate vs Yaqi Mini with toothed base and top cap

While it’s tempting to claim you can either have a safety bar or an open comb (OC) – like the original Gillette Old Type – but in reality there are a number of razors straddling the line with scallops. My Phillips Philite is a good example of one that do just that, with it’s deep scallops that let lather run through the head of the razor. Some OC razors continue the comb on the top cap, but to my mind this has more to do with aesthetics and not with function.

One, two and three piece razors
Merkur 985CL three piece vs Gillette Old Type two piece vs Gillette TV Special Superspeed one piece
Basically this describe how many pieces the razors breaks down into when you open it it. Once piece razors are also commonly refered to as Twist To Open (or TTO for short) or butterfly razors, but at least one one piece razor – the Segal – had a different solution and required special blades that are no longer easily available. So called injectors is another case of one piece razors requiring a special blade, but luckily injector blades are easy to find.

Slants
Merkur 39C slant and the Merkur (most likely) Bakelite slant
Some razors are simply twisted… and are commonly referred to as slants and are considered aggressive razors overall. There are benefits to a slant; for starters they cuts the stubble easier due to hitting it at an oblique angle. Another benefit is that a twisted blade will be slightly stiffer than the same blade in a normal safety razor. Slants can also be fun, especially if you got a weekends worth of stubble to mow down. The twist can be slight or greater, as can be seen comparing my Merkur 39C and my old Bakelite slant that I bought as new old stock (NOS).

Adjustable and non-adjustable
Gillette Slim adjustable vs Gillette TV Special Superspeed non-adjustable

Some razors lets the shaver adjust the aggressiveness on the fly, while others have a fixed blade gap and angle set once and for all. While the added utility can be nice to have, it do make the razor mechanically more complex and drives the cost up in addition to making the head thicker to contain the mechanism. A few modern three piece razors offers several base plates so the shaver can adjust the shave without the added complexity, but those cannot be adjusted on the fly like a traditional adjustable can.

Single vs double edge
GEM Micromatic Clug Pruf single edge vs Mergress Adjustable double edge
If you say “safety razor” to most people, they will instantly think of a double edged – or DE for short – razor. But single edged razors (SE) is a thing too, and they come in all the different variations listed above as well. One thing to keep in mind is that while there is – at least these days – only one standard for double edged razor blades, there is several different and non-compatible blades for SE razors. In my rotation I have a few SEs; three that uses GEM blades and one injector razor.

Steel, brass, zamak, potmetal, bakelite, plastic…
Asylum Shaveworks RX in stainless steel vs GEM 1912 in brass vs Parker 22R partly in zamak vs YUMA in potmetal vs Philips Philite in a bakelite analog vs an unnamed medical razor in plastic

Safety razor can be made from almost any material, from titanium down to wood… and to some extent the choice of material affects the feel of the shave and the hole left in your wallet after buying one. High end razors these days are often made from hard, durable materials such as stainless steel and titanium, while zamak has gotten an undeserved bad reputation in my opinion. And while I  do try to limit my consumption of plastic thee days, there is nothing inherently wrong with plastic as a material for an inexpensive safety razor; it does what it needs to do and is affordable,
The wood razor I referred to? That was the Welch’s Saratoga, also known as the E-KON-I-ME and was a pre-plastic disposable.

Hopefully that was informative and helps clear things up for those who were unsure of the terminology.. if I missed out on something, please let me know.

Shave of the day 26th June

Razor: Gillette Slim
Blade: PolSilver Super Iridium
Brush: Omega #10048
Pre-Shave: The Lavish Gentleman Natural Strength Oil Cleanser
Lather: Pereira Shavery Shaving Cream w/ Activated Charcoal
Aftershave: BullDog Sensitive Aftershave Balm
Additional Care: Alum Block, Gentlemen of Sweden Original Beard Oil, & Pereira Shavery Boomerang Beard Comb

A “improved” shaving mug and a stray idea for a modern application

A lot of inventions aim at improving something that is already simple and functional, often to solve imaginary or minor problems. The improved shaving mug that David Heston patented in early 1875 do have some potential though… more about that later.

Having observed that the common shaving mug of the day was made for having a soap in the bottom, and therefore was fairly large and made it awkward for travel and storage, Mr Heston invented and patented one that was modular… in his own words:

…a shaving cup of detachable sections. It also consists in a soap-receptacle made detachable from the body of the cup, and constituting an integral portion thereof.

Mr Heston was limited by the technology of his time, so the drawing shows a bayonet joint between the soap cup and the shaving mug proper – today we would likely use threads instead, and indeed Mr Heston points that out as an alternative.

It will be seen that the cup may be easily produced, and for transportation packed in small compass. Provision is also made for filling the lower receptacle U with soap or shaving compound without. introduction through, or independent of, the top portion B, and the entire inner face of the cup is most readily accessible for purposes of cleansing.

Or in short: Simple to make, simple to transport, easy to put the soap in the bottom part, easy to clean the top part.
Looking at this patent, it suddenly occurred to me that artisan and small scale manufacturers of shaving soap today often use plastic containers for their soaps of a standardised size… either standardised across their own range, or even across several makers (I assume this is due to sourcing their containers from the same place). This means that they could design a screw on shaving mug to fit their hard soaps… allowing modern shavers to enjoy the traditional way of using a shaving mug without taking up too much space in their den. Another option would be to sell a version of this with multiple bottom parts, so the enterprising shaver could fill the soap cups with the soap of his choice. I’m just tossing the idea out there the patent is long expired, so it’s a free for all.

Shave of the day 24th June

Razor: Gillette Slim
Blade: PolSilver Super Iridium
Brush: Semogue TSN LE 2012
Pre-Shave: The Lavish Gentleman Natural Strength Oil Cleanser
Lather: Pereira Oud
Aftershave: Nivea Cooling After Shave Balm
Additional Care: Alum Block, BullDog Original Beard Oil, & Pereira Shavery Boomerang Beard Comb

Shave of the day 21st June

Razor: Gillette 1958 TV Special
Blade: PolSilver Super Iridium
Brush: Artesania Romera Manchurian Badger, imitation horn
Pre-Shave: The Lavish Gentleman Natural Strength Oil Cleanser
Lather: Jabonman Mediterráno L.E. BullGoose
Aftershave: Myrsol Aqua Balsamica
Additional Care: Alum Block, Gentlemen of Sweden Original Beard Oil, & Pereira Shavery Boomerang Beard Comb

A 1937 safety razor sharpener

Dull blades? Or just finds blades too expensive to throw away, and need to expend the useful life of that sliver of steel? Fret not, because if it’s one thing people patented back in the day it is razor blade sharpeners…
One of the simpler ones was patented by Eric Muelberger Jr in 1937, and in the application he claimed that the existing sharpeners were both expensive and subject to mechanical wear and malfunctions… something he avoided by having no moving parts at all.

It is therefore my principle object to provide a non-mechanical safety razor blade sharpener which will not only resharpen the actual cutting edges of a blade but will simultaneously effect a hollow grinding of that portion of the blade immediately adjacent the cutting edges, the abrasive of the sharpener elements being arranged in permanent alignment.

No moving parts? Check.
Non-mechnical? Check.
Risk of slicing fingertips if you’re not careful? Check…

The upper and inner quarter of each abrasive element is formed with a curved convex surface and for the full length of the element, as at 3, for the purpose hereinafter described. The elements are spaced apart transversely such a distance that when a safety razor blade 4 is disposed lengthwise on said elements in the manner shown, the edges of the blade will rest upon such curved convex portion of the elements. In other words, the distance from center to center of the curved surfaces is the same as the width of the blades.

An important part of the idea was that blades shaved better if they were hollow-ground, something which Eric Jr achieved by careful shaping of the abrasive surface. It’s a very simple invention, at least by the standards of some of the other sharpeners I’ve seen – and I would be surprised if it didn’t see at least some production and sale during World War Two… after all, blades got harder to get hold of for the duration, and a simple, inexpensive means to keep them sharp would be welcome both at home and abroad.

Shave of the day 19th June

Razor: Gillette 1958 TV Special
Blade: PolSilver Super Iridium
Brush: Vie-Long #12705B
Pre-Shave: The Lavish Gentleman Natural Strength Oil Cleanser
Lather: Jabobman Mediterráno L.E. BullGoose
Aftershave: Barber No3 Marmara
Additional Care: Alum Block, Scotch Porter Beard Balm, & Pereira Shavery Boomerang Beard Comb

A 1849 self feeding shaving brush!

The idea of a self feeding shaving brush – in other words a shave brush that contains the shave cream in the handle – is old… older than I though. In my wanderings online I found this gem from 1849!

Be it known that I, WILLIAM S. Jewett, of New York, in the county of New York and State of New York, have invented a new and useful Shaving-Brush; and I do hereby declare that the following is a full, clear, and exact description of the construction and operation of the same…

The idea is simple enough in hindsight, consisting of a hollow handle with a twisty bottom, a  plate to push the shaving cream towards the knot, a short tube and that is about it. The patent have a single, simple drawing as well as a simple and straightforward explanation.

…a sectional or profile View of the brush, with the different parts, in which- A is the handle of the brush and also the box containing the soap which should be what is commonly called shaving cream. B, is the head of the left handed screw by turning which to the right the nut or button O, forces down the soap through the small metal tube E, into the brush. The tube E is :fixed on a thin plate D completely covering and protecting this end of the brush. The nut C should be covered with leather so that while .it fits closely the sides of the box the soap may be prevented from passing upward.

Simple, elegant, and – as history have shown us – doomed to failure and to be reinvented over and over again.

Shave of the day 17th June

Razor: Gillette 1958 TV Special
Blade: PolSilver Super Iridium
Brush: Vie-Long #14033
Pre-Shave: The Lavish Gentleman Natural Strength Oil Cleanser
Lather: Jabonman Mediterráno L.E. BullGoose
Aftershave: Barber No3 Marmara
Additional Care: Alum Block, BullDog Original Beard Oil, & Pereira Shavery Boomerang Beard Comb