Posted by: wrmcnutt | March 2, 2011

A Close Shave: Going Old School

I am a part of a relatively new, relatively small movement:  men who are tired of disposable razors.  I’m old enough to remember the first Bic Shaver.  It was a brand new development in men’s grooming.  It was a razor blade attached to a disposable plastic handle.  Light, simple, and cheap, you used it for a week, maybe two, and then tossed the whole thing away.  It was cheap and convenient, but there was one problem.  It didn’t give you as close a shave as you used to get with a safety razor.

And so they added more technology.  I remember the development of the Bic 2.  Instead of one blade, there would be two.  And I clearly remember the animations on the TV commercials, showing the first blade pulling the hair out and the second one cutting it off, to all appearances cutting it off below the skin.  Well, this was an improvement.  The Bic Twin did shave better than the original disposable razor, but, frankly, did not shave any better than the safety razor.  And they cost more than the single blades.  As the decades have rolled by, disposable razor manufacturers have entered into an arms race, adding more and more blades to the disposable cartridge, until most recently, I kid you not, Gillette came out with the Fusion, a five-blade geegaw that was supposed to be the final word in disposable cartridge razors.  I got sucked into buying one of these things, and to tell the truth, it gave me a pretty damn good shave.  The problem is, replacement cartridges run about three dollars each, and they’re only good for about a week at best.  Ok – I’ve got a fairly light beard, and can squeeze two weeks out of one, but the second week is a pretty poor shave, and dammed uncomfortable.

And this brings me to a darker problem that many men are already aware of.  Razor manufacturer’s swear that they don’t do this, but those of us who have been looking for a good shave for a while have noticed something:  the blades you get with the initial purchase seem to give a far better shave than the replacements do.  It’s as though once they convince you to use the razor, they stick you with slightly cheaper, and inferior blades.

So when the Fusion failed me after the break-in period was over, I decided to return to my roots.  I learned to shave usign a hand-me-down safety razor given to me by my Dad, back in about 1977 or so.  That razor, of course, is long gone, but I started doing some research and discovered a small but avid community of men who shave old-school. There are two basic kinds of safety razors – the “three part” design and the “butterfly” design.  While I learned to shave on a butterfly razor, I preferred the styling of the three-part which I ordered.

I remember very clearly all the nicks I had given myself back in the day, and was someone concerned, given that I am on a daily aspirin as a mild blood-thinner. I was expecting to go to work the first week looking like the survivor of a zombie apocalypse.  To my surprise, I have yet to cut myself two weeks into this experiment.

And you know what?  I think I’m getting a closer shave.

I just ordered SIXTY blades for twenty bucks.  At a week a blade, that’s more than a year’s worth of shaves for under a sawbuck.  That’s opposed to around $125.00 for blades for the fusion, and there’s no plastic involved.  The variety pack of blades has some of the top brands, so I’ll let ya’ll know how they work out.

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  1. And I bet you can recycle those blades, as opposed to the Bics.

    • In theory you could, but razor blades are considered a medical hazmat, and you’re not supposed to recycle them.

  2. The first time I used a disposible razor was when we were crossing from the USS Saratoga to the USS America (I was an air wing marine). A group of us sent to escort the gear got seperated from our sea bags, so they got us some disposibles from the base hospital, which was the only place that had such things then. We had one guy from Mississippi who said he didn’t need one, he’d just shave with his TL-28 (a knife we all carried, it was much like a boy scout knife with one blade for use as a screwdriver). Well, guess what, he did, using it just like a straightrazor. I remember him saying, “You never know when you might have to shave when you’re out huntin’ or something.” I made a mental note never to get in a knife fight with him.

    • Nothing like a nice, sharp, shiney KNIFE!

  3. I have been using the “butterfly type” for most of my adult life. I never did like that one pack of 10 disposable razors cost 5 times as much as one box of 10 double edged safety razor blades. I have occasionally bought disposables in an emergency, but have rarely used the entire pack. I used to keep the left overs in my travel bag. Now I have been out of town for weeks at a time and bought the Fusion 5 Bill mentions. It does give a good shave. But it clogs quickly with my beard and there is no way to take it apart and clear it. I’m just going to have to order myself a second safety razor, since Malwart sure doesn’t carry them.

  4. Recycle the blades? What sort of lunatic are you. I remember more than a few houses in the family with the most important shaving accessories of all – the embedded steel slot in the bathroom wall to dispose of your used razor blades into the dead space between the lathes!

    I once saw a chart of how many decades per foot it took to fill up that space with old, rusty razor blades, and it was, indeed, decades per foot (unless you were using the boarding house tables).

    • I’ve often wondered about that. Kelly’s grandfather’s blades are currently all entombed in our bathroom wall. Mine have started joining them.

  5. I have never used a safety razor, so I can only comment that handling my dad’s was always an exercise in pain (I was quite young). On the other hand, I have used a straight razor, and have never cut myself with one. I have cut myself with every single disposable razor I have ever used…

    As for multiple blades, it is a farce to squeeze extra money from the consumer. Use a single-bladed razor, and keep it clean. They can be sharpened with great care. Sharpening a safety razor blade is easier – there is a glass gizmo that looks like it was made to butter corn. Just add a few drops of water, put your finger on the middle slot of the blade, and slide it back-and-forth. I usually get a year or two from each disposable, however, as I rarely shave more than the top & bottom lines of my beard. 😉

    • I’ve given some thought to a straight razor, but have decided to leave that adventure in old-schooling to a later date in my life. Perhaps after I retire. Unless, of course, my hands start to shake.

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