For a very long time, the shaving option was a very sharp knife. The most recognizable and iconic of which being the straight razor. But just over a century ago the safety razor was thrown into production and the modern era of home shaving was born. The first of the types of safety razors to follow.
Today to the uninitiated, ‘safety razor’ is synonymous to the cartridge razors widely available in grocery stores. But originally it meant the double edge safety razor. For many, these were the gold standard.Rightly so.
The double edge design first hit the market before the introduction of plastics. Meaning that the design and construction was limited to metals, and in some cases woods or even ivory. They were a sight to behold and true to the values of that day, designed to last.
This article will review the main types of safety razor designs available on the market today.
The conversation starts here as the cartridge razor is the most common on the market. It’s found anywhere and everywhere shaving supplies are sold. The razor itself is typically a plastic handle with some version of a knurled grip, or rubber grooves.
The cartridge razor is on a head that has the ability to pivot approximately 15-30 degrees, allowing it to correct slightly to the angle of the face. Usually, these have some sort of quick release switch so the cartridge can easily be discarded and replaced.
The cartridge holds as few as a single blade, and as many as six in some models. The notion being that one can get a very close shave with a multi-blade system as the whiskers can be pulled slightly further away from the face and then removed.
The benefits of these types of safety razors are that they are probably the most user-friendly shavers created. The exposure to sharpened edges is minimized, and the shaver need pay much less attention to shaving pressure and angles than the double edge models.
The primary drawback is the price. The replacement cartridges typically are quite a bit more expensive than alternatives. There are a growing number of services online that have sprung up to sell less expensive direct-to-consumer replacements. There are savings to be found here, but not to the degree of the double edge replacement razors.
Multi-blade cartridges are more prone to clogging. The space between blades is very small, lather/whisker buildup can slow down the time efficiency of the save as the shaver must spend much more time cleaning the razor during the shave.
These razors aren’t as resilient to tapping them against the sink to clear the blockage because of the construction material. Although, razors made of more robust materials are available online.
One-Piece Double Edge Design
A favorite of shavers who like gadgets. This is a mechanical design where the shaver twists a release, causing mechanical latches to open so the expired razor can be released and replaced with a fresh one. There are no removable parts with this design.
The design is sometimes referred to as a TTO (Twist-to-open), a butterfly, or a silo razor. Like all double edge razors, it secures a flat blade into place and allows the user to experience the classic wet shave.
The tradeoff of having no removable parts is having more moving parts. This means the model requires a little more general care and maintenance to ensure a long life. The moving parts are more prone to breakages and build up of soaps.
However, this razor is by no means fragile. The shaver who uses the one-piece razor can switch out blades faster than any of the other double edge designs available.
Modern version of this vintage design typically use all metal parts for extra strength. When the release knob is turned, two hinged plates open outwards to expose the inside of the cutting head. Users need only hand tighten/loosen the release knob, clean after every use, and allow to dry thoroughly after every shave.
Two-Piece Double Edge Design
The two piece design breaks into (obviously) two pieces. The top of the shaving head would be secured to the handle of the razor by means of a long shaft with a threaded end that would be inserted into the handle. The two would be secured together by means of a twisting knob at the hilt of the razor handle.
These types of safety razor allows for more ability to easily clean individual parts (the less moving parts, the less places for soap to accumulate). The component pieces are extremely stable and durable.
The head would need to be disassembled to replace the razor. Because the threaded end of the shaft is secured with an attached knob, there is no risk of losing small pieces during disassembly. The knob can be tightened and loosened adequately by hand.
To replace the blade, the shaver would hold the head on either side between thumb and forefinger to reduce the chances of accidental cutting. The head is held in the downwards position as the knob is held in the upwards position. Twist to release and allow gravity to remove the top piece/shaft out of the handle. This also prevents debris from falling into the now-open hole in the handle.
The old blade would be discarded, any caked soap wiped clean, and the new blade secured in place. The steps would be reversed to place the shaft back into the handle and resecured with the twisting knob.
Though more robust than the previous two designs discussed, care must still be taken to keep the razor clean of debris, and not to strip the threads by overtightening.
Three-Piece Double Edge Design
The three piece design is likely the most recognizable of the three double edge designs. Due to the manufacturing capabilities at the time, the three-piece models would have been the simplest to manufacture. They also happen to be the design that are most likely to have a long life, even with some rougher treatment.
The razor breaks into three part: Top of head, bottom of head, and handle.
The two components of the head can both fit in the palm of your hand. The top piece will have a short threaded stem that serves to guide the blade into place, as well as the bottom piece. The two sandwich together, and the stem threads into the handle, hand torquing it into place.
It takes about the same amount of time to remove the spent razor, clean the parts, and reassemble with a new razor as it would with the two piece design.
The drawback for these types of safety razors is that there are more parts and smaller parts. The advantage is that the individual parts become easier to clean and there’s less likelihood of debris falling into the female end of the bolt threads.
In this model there is no tightening knob, instead the shaver would secure the shaving head between index and thumb with one hand, and simply twist the entire handle into place until the desired torque is reached (once again, hand tighten only to preserve the life of the threads).
One item to note about this design is that there are more competitors in the modern market that are constructing the unit out of hard plastics and epoxies. Though in many cases these are strong and durable, they typically aren’t as durable as the traditional metal components.
That being said, some shavers prefer these models as they are usually lighter to handle, and sometimes less expensive than their metal counterparts.
Slant Bar Razor
This guy is a little variation on the double edge razor that has a smaller, but very loyal fan base.
The blades used are identical to the others, however the shape of the shaving head actually presses the blade to a slight angle. Instead of the blade’s edge being perpendicular to the handle, it’s a few degrees off ninety.
It tends to be called an aggressive shave. Due to the angle, it can be used to cut hairs that are more coarse with less strokes. Typically the people drawn to it have either very rough beards, very sensitive skin, or both. Not a beginner's razor, but a powerful option.
Single Edge Razors
In the world of vintage shavers, the single edge razor has been holding ground quietly in the background. There’s been a variety produced over the years, but functionally they tend to look like something halfway between a cartridge razor and a double edge razor.
Some have been designed so that they can use the same double edge razors that are ubiquitous in the market. Others like the OneBlade have razors designed specifically for them. In some cases the head will pivot the way cartridges do, other models are more stable. They all hold in common the ability to remove and replace the single blade as it dulls (rather than replace a cartridge).
The price tag on the OneBlade makes some eyes bulge, but a number of people swear by it.
These are the main types of safety razors available on the market today.
Each one will have some variations available that may appeal to different shavers. Looking online, there’s a variety of different manufacturers. Each one with a different price point, building material, and aesthetic.
The technique required only really differs between the double edge razors and the cartridge models. Cartridges are more user-friendly. The double edge requires a little more practice, skill, and finesse, but that in of itself is sometimes a quality that shavers prefer. This depends on how ritualistic the shaver might decide to make the process.
Some find that switching from a cartridge to a double edge takes something that used to be perceived as a chore and moved it into a joyful experience. Others make the switch just because of the order of magnitude of price difference between replacement razors.
As with most purchases, the customer’s best bet is to take in these differences, think about where their own preferences lay, and take a shot with a product. If budget allows, purchase multiple types of safety razors. There are many designs and models, and sooner or later the shaver will gravitate to the razor, blade, and technique best suited for them.