A little while ago I wrote a post about the King Oscillator. I’ve decided to prod around a bit more, and what would you know… someone posted a video of it that gives a little more detail. More importantly, it shows how the blade move. Very instructive, if the drawings were not clear enough.
It is a short video – about one cup of coffee – so well worth watching. The same guy also have a video of using the King Oscillator, but I found that less worth watching.
The safety razor was the cutting edge of shaving technology a hundred and twenty years ago. You could even say the bleeding edge, if your razor featured a replaceable blade that wasn’t quite secure… something Walter J Smart sought to fix with a trio of razor patents.
In chronological order, the patents are British patent 1905-24,010, US patent 881,033, and US patent 960,424. The all revolves around the same idea though; using a spring loaded top cap to pin the blade down. To quite from the earliest of the three, the idea was to:
…provide a razor of this character where in the blade may be easily inserted in its holder and withdrawn therefrom and which will be held accurately in place.
British patent 1905-24,010
As can be seen from the drawings, the basic idea is that a narrow blade is held in place by an arrangement similar in concept to the clothes pins I grew up with. The user would push the rear of the top cap down, insert a blade, and let go of the top cap. To remove the blade, the user would push down the cap and give the razor a shake. All the variations featured blade stops to prevent the blade for sliding too far forward.
I can see this design being easily adapted for most of the narrow single edge blades we use today – the various Feathers, Schick’s Prolines, injector blades… even half a DE-blade would work. And the patents are long expired, so it’s a free for all.
The patents are all available for your reading pleasure at EspaceNet and Google Patents, or alternately over at razors.click:
One way to make a profit selling razors in a cut throat market is lowering manufacturing costs. A way to cut cost of manufacture is to have the fewest possible parts, and the fewest possible steps. The easy way to achieve this is to design the razor to be easy to manufacture from the start, rather than trying to modify it later. You can’t get much simpler than one part and – as far as I can estimate – three steps. And that is how simple Charles Ballreich idea for a one piece single edge razor was. It is clear from the patent that ease of manufacture was a a primary objective. To quote from the introduction:
My invention relates to safety razors, and has for its object to provide an exceedingly simple, cheap, and effective safety razor, and to these ends it consists in the various features of construction and arrangement of parts adapted to co-operate in the manner substantially as hereinafter pointed out.
We’re all familiar with King Gillette’s early patent for the double edged safety razor, and his stroke of genius that was the simple, replaceable, flexible blade. But did you know that a very similar system was patented by Mr Benjamin Kiam at roughly the same time? A system, I might add, that had blades that would have been slightly easier to manufacture?
Mr Benjamin Kiem filed two patents on his invention, although the second one is just an improvement on the first. Looking at when he filed the patents – 1904 and 1907 – Mr Kiam was most likely inspired by the Gillette razor. The shape of the head and the use of a double edge blade is other giveaways. But while it’s interesting to see what was copied, it’s even more interesting to see what was new.
The overall design was fairly straight forward. A strong frame had the top cap as one side, and the blade and bottom plate rode on bars on either side. A bolt came up from the handle, and pressed the bottom plate and blade against the top cap. Nice, easy, and simple to grasp.
Where Gillette’s design used pins and holes to orient and secure the blade, Mr Kiem let the cutouts in the blade ride along two bars on either side of the razor head. This have several benefits. For the blade it means that instead of three holes in each blade, Mr Kiem would only have to punch a single hole hole between each blades before the continuous steel band was cut into length. For the base plate, it means no holes had to be drilled. And for the cap, no pins would have to be moulded, machined or otherwise secured. On the flip side the head is a complex shape and be hard to manufacture. As can be seen from the drawings, it would probably be easier to cast than to machine from a billet.
Or, as Mr Kiam describes the head in the patent text:
…comprising a main frame having side bars provided in their inner sides with recesses b and with projecting portions 5 and having the back plate rigid with said main frame and concaved on its inner face, the flexible blade and the guard-plate provided in their ends with notches to receive the inwardly-projecting portions 5 on the inner sides of the side bars of the main frame, and the handle provided with a screw turning through the cross-bar of the main frame and bearing against the guard plate and adapted to press the same toward the back plate, the guard-plate having a convex surface conforming to the concave surface of the back plate…
The main difference between Mr Kiam’s two patents is in the head. For the first patent he envisioned the frame and top cap is in one piece. In the second patent this assembly is in two parts, likely designed that way for easier manufacture. The seed for this idea is also present in the first patent, as can be seen from a careful examination of the text and drawing. His second patent also depicted square instead of round cutouts in the blade and bottom plate.
Overall I would say that Benjamin Kiam’s patents represents a very interesting road not taken… It should be possible to manufacture razors more or less to these patents today, but there would have to be quite major modifications done to make them work with modern, slotted double edged razor blades.
Ever wished that you had more choices when it came to blades for your vintage Star, GEM or EverReady razor? Or have a lovely old wedge razor, but either is lacking the blades or can’t manage to get them sharpened and honed? Turns out that the solution was invented and patented one hundred and fifteen years ago… It’s a safety-razor-blade holder. To quote Louis Heckel:
A couple of days ago we had a look at Mr Nordskog’s oddly shaped safety razor, which was patented a hundred years ago. One of the patens which cites Mr Nordskog’s patent is assigned to American Safety Razor Company. Filed by Clemens A Iten in 1984. The later invention appears to be a recreation of the former patent in the shape of a multi-blade, disposable, cartridge monstrosity. One straight edge, one convex edge. No rounded edge on the short side though.
A cap and platform having an elongated longitudinally curved surface with a flexible shaving blade between them seem to be one of the major claims in the patent. Other claims goes into the construction of the cartridge.
Sometimes I peek at a patent because the name of the inventors reminds me of someone. This was one of those times, and I’m happy I did. Mr Nordskog filed his patent for a “new and useful safety-razor” in early 1919. According to the claim, the object was to:
Most of us are happy with a single or double edge razor. Some want more than that, and I’m not talking about carts… I’m talking quad-edge. And I’m not talking about the one that Mr J K Waterman patented in 1909, no… This one is a bit newer, and was filed by Robert E Hamilton in 1924.
So lets see that Robert tried to achieve, that the offerings with fewer edges failed at:
…its prime object to generally improve upon such devices by providing a simple and efficient construction which will afford a maximum number of shaves with a minimum amount of trouble, one which is reliable, inexpensive to manufacture, easy to manipulate, strong, durable, and well adapted to the purpose for which it is designed.
US patent 1,721,113
As can be seen from the patent drawing, Robert’s razor features a massive – and I mean massive – head. The square top cap, plate, bottom plate, and handle is secured together in a somewhat convoluted way.. Lets quite Robert again:
A guard plate 7 having a square formation is provided with a concave inner surface indicated at 8 on which is mounted a U-shaped spring clip 9 by means of a screw 10. This verging terminals 11 and is adapted to be inserted through the square opening 2 so that its diverging terminals 11 overlap the outer face of the body 1. The upper face of the body 1 is of a substantially concaved formation and a square blade 12 is adapted to rest thereon being held in place by the guard plate 7. This blade is provided with four cutting edges and the corners thereof are prevented from contacting with the skin by guards 6. A bracket 14 is mounted on the outer face of the body 1 over the opening 2 and is provided with a threaded opening for receiving the reduced threaded extension 15 of a handle 16.
US patent 1,721,113
Clear as mud? No? Didn’t think so… as best I can make out you insert the four descending leaf springs from the top cap through the blade and into slots in the bottom plate. The handle just screws to the bottom plate, so you could in theory use aftermarket handles.
Case in point; Gillette Co LLC’s patent filed in the US1 on 2013-02-14, and granted just over three years later. Let me quote the relevant part of the patent text in full:
…a razor package showing my new design having a gradient pattern from the upper portion to the lower portion and a band on a razor package disposed between the upper and lower portion…
US design patent #751386S1
Yeah. Gillette patented the concept of a gradient pattern on the back cardstock piece of their blister packs. Which means no one else can do that until march 2030, unless you want a nastygram from the Gillette lawyers.
If you’ll like to see the other drawings, the patent in full is available at Google Patents.
Remember how difficult it was to disassemble and assemble your three piece safety razor the first time? Me neither, but William J Moore patented the solution in 1907; a Gillette razor – as described in US patent 775,134 – with the bottom plate removed.
Yes, you read that right. In order to make an admittedly simple safety razor simpler, Mr Moore did away with 25% of the parts. Instead of top cap, blade, baseplate and handle, William J Moore’s simplified safety razor contained top cap, blade and handle. To quote:
It will be evident that by giving the guard plate the location shown with reference to the blade, that is, on the side thereof that comes next the face, and which is opposite to the side to which the handle is applied, and from which it projects at a right-angle, make the guard plate perform the extra function of a supporting plate, and thereby materially simplify the structure, since one less part is necessary than in the case of the constructions heretofore employed in razors of this type, which simplification results in the double advantage of cheapening the cost of manufacture and simplifying the work of separation and assemblage of the parts.
US patent 856,793
In addition, Mr Moore claimed that his improved razor was easier to use than Gillette’s razor. Reading the patent text, I can see what he was going for… but given the plethora of William J Moore’s simplified safety razor that can easily be found in antiques shops, flea markets and so on, I would say the market didn’t agree with him.
An advantage, other than the simplification of the structure, which is derived by the location of the guard on the side of the blade which brings the guard next to the face, is that the degree of closeness of the shave can be determined or regulated in so simple a manner as the variation of the angle at which the razor is presented to the surface being shaved, a variation in the angle resulting in a change of distance of the razor edge from the surface being shaved. With the ordinary construction, wherein the guard is on the opposite side of the blade, the protrusion of the guard fingers beyond the edge of the razor is indispensable, and this precludes the possibility of regulating the closeness of the shave by change in the angle of presentation of the razor to the surface of the face, making it necessary when the degree of closeness of the shave is to be regulated to change or shift the position of the blade with reference to the guard, a procedure which is not only inconvenient and requires time, but which requires a certain degree of skill, which the inexperienced users of safety razors lack. By my invention, as a result of placing the guard on the side of the razor which comes next to the face, the razor edge projects beyond the edges of the guard fingers, as will be clearly seen by reference to the drawings, and it is because of this relative arrangement of the parts that it is possible with my razor to regvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvulate the closeness of the shave by the angle of presentation of the razor to the surface of the face being shaved. It will be evident that, for the attainment of this important advantage in the use of my razor, it is necessary merely to have the handle in such position that it will not interfere with the application of the razor to the face, with the guard next the surface being shaved.
US patent 856,739
William J Moore have a few other patents to his name, including a couple of single edge safety razors – one set up for a wedge blade, the other for a spined blade similar to the Gem blades. The full text of the patent for his simplified safety razor can be read at Google Patents, as well as over at Razors.click.