Friday, August 22, 2014

Reasons not to buy a straight razor

We love straight razors, and a large number of hits on our website and this blog are from people looking for information on them. If you are one of them, you probably already understand the appeal of getting one. In the name of balance, and to help you weigh up your decision, here is our only occasionally tongue-in-cheek list of reasons NOT to get one.

Straight razors need maintenance

Sure, you'd never need to buy another blade again, but the one you have will need regular care and attention. Are you really going to take a minute or two out of every morning to go through the ritual of stropping it? Are you prepared to learn to hone it (and to look after your honing stones), or send it out to get honed once or twice a year? Will you remember to oil it now and then? These aren't deal-breakers for many people, but certainly this is more effort than your cartridge razor has ever demanded.

Straight razors demand patience

With proper care and attention, a straight razor will deliver the best shave of your life, but stop paying attention, and you WILL cut yourself. Don't believe me? I have visible scar tissue on my chin from the time I was shaving in a small bathroom and managed to knock the light switch with my elbow. In my initial moment of confusion, I managed to hit myself in the face with the Wade and Butcher wedge razor pictured in this article. It was not pretty, and 4 years later I can still show you the scar. The razor and I are still on good terms, and my chin still seems to do...whatever it is chins are for... just fine. If I'm feeling impatient or hurried though, I save the straight razor shave for another day and use one of my safety razors.

On a related note:

They are less safe than safety razors (duh!)

Provided you use it properly, you'd have to be very unlucky to do anything seriously life changing/ending in the normal process of shaving with a straight razor. All the examples I can find in a quick search are due to infection rather than blood loss, and are not coincidentally from before the era of antibiotics. Still... in thousands of years of human history, someone must have managed to actually cut themselves to death with one. Nicks have the potential to be deeper as straight razors lack the safety bar that give safety razors their safety.

There is a learning curve

Getting to know a straight razor is a journey. Sure, all razors have a learning curve to some degree, but a straight razor will demand much more from you than even the most aggressive safety razor, and your very first shaves with it may not feel great. You will have to get to know the contours of your face and the growth directions of your facial hair in a level of detail you never imagined. On the bright side, if you make progress up this learning curve, then decide straight razors aren't for you, you'll be that much better at shaving when you stitch back to something less demanding.

They cost more

...initially. The real barrier here is initial cost of the razor, strop and (optionally) hones. If you're on a budget but interested in straight razors, this can be the major factor holding you back from trying. In the longer term, an entry level straight razor should pay for itself within a few months to a couple of years compared to the more expensive cartridges. Compared to a traditional safety razor with double edge blades, or a Dollar Shave Club style arrangement, a straight razor will take a little longer to pay for itself, but over a long enough time should save you $. If nothing else on this list puts you off trying one, then you probably shouldn't let cost hold you back. If it does, then maybe double edge razors are more your speed.  

You may become a snob

Once you've had your first perfect shave, you won't want anything less. You've been warned. If you are used to flying hand baggage only, be prepared to start packing hold baggage just as an excuse to take your razor with you. You may find yourself sneering at products in the men's grooming aisle of your local drugstore. There is a distinct risk that you will gravitate towards specialist shaving forums to discuss the pro's and con's of particular types of razor, shaving creams, technique, etc. This may hurt productivity in other areas of your life.

You might end up with a collection

Sure, one good straight razor should be enough for anyone. But there are many really NICE designs out there; from your basic, reliable Dovo "Best Quality", to Boker's Damascus steel blade, to a Thiers Issard with genuine mammoth horn scales. And that is just new, current production razors. Vintage restoration is a whole other (and rather more complicated) ballgame. Get hooked on straight razors, and you may need either plenty of willpower, or plenty of disposable income, and quite possibly a forgiving partner.

Visitors using your bathroom may be intimidated

Using a straight razor is a little bit dangerous, albeit in a fine-if-you're-careful, vaguely-life-affirming sort of way. After all, an infected cut from a straight razor killed of Lord Carnarvon, though a mosquito, lack of antibiotics, and if you believe some people, Tutankhamun's curse share rather more of the blame. Still, some people may not understand the appeal of it. Case in point; I once, briefly left my travel shaving kit on a bathroom counter at a friends house. I later heard from my host that another guest went to use the bathroom in the meanwhile and was apparently scared by my shaving hardware. Bear in mind that my travel razor at the time was a Merkur 34 safety razor. If that intimidated them, imagine what they'd have thought of me if I'd brought one of my straight razors instead!

If after all this, you still wish to join me among the ranks of Straight Razor Shavers, may I humbly suggest taking a look at Kaliandee's selection. It currently includes popular models from Boker and Dovo, including the affordable Dovo "Best Quality" already named in the article, which is an excellent model for the beginner (I have one myself), and we have more models and brands on the way. If I've put you off straight razors, maybe a safety razor is for you?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Gillette Vintage (1920's) Travel Razor

Last month my wife bought me a vintage Gillette travel razor as an anniversary gift; I've been using it on and off for a month, and think it's high time I showed it off.

I consider vintage razors like this to be proof, were it needed, that traditional safety razors can stand the test of time*. This model is already older than my Grandparents, and will probably still be delivering good shaves when the latest Fusion cartridge is obsolete.

This 1920's** razors has clear similarities to currently available models, but also a notable difference.

Gillette 1920's vintage travel safety razor, double edge, open comb, assembled front view
Note the open comb

Gillette 1920's vintage travel safety razor, double edge, open comb, assembled rear view
Brass ages well

Gillette 1920's vintage travel safety razor, double edge, open comb, in case
I haven't dared use the old blade, it's currently fitted with a Wilkinson
The similarities between this vintage model and ones available today is clear, and for the probably obvious reason that they all use the standardized double edge blade, and there are only so many shapes that make sense for this- something to hold the blade, and something to hold the razor by. 

This model is a three piece design, much like Jagger/Muhle razors. This works well for travel as it allows it to be disassembled into a fairly low-profile case, though this is still much larger than Merkur's travel razor. It is also a bit simpler to make. Some people find two piece razors easier for blade changes, but the difference is pretty minor. 

The biggest difference between this razor and most to be found on the market today is the shave head. First of all, it is brass, and like the rest of the razor, it is not chrome-plated. Most modern safety razors use a shave head cast from zinc alloy and plated in chrome or nickel (iKon are an exception). 

A cast zinc head used to be the mark of a cheap "pot metal" razor, as the older zinc alloys were very prone to corrosion if the plating was chipped in any way. Today, these alloys are much more resistant, although good plating is still important for shave quality. It is much easier to cast a precise shape from zinc than it is to create a similarly precise shave head by machining brass or stainless steel. This use of cast shave heads helps to keep modern safety razors affordable without any detriment to the shaving performance, but is probably why modern shave heads are noticeably "chunkier" in profile than the vintage Gillette. With no need to plate the head, the whole razor is left as plain brass.

This razor gives an enjoyable shave, somewhere between my Edwin Jagger and Merkur 34 for comfort and closeness. Currently it is my only open comb razor. 

If you are interested in picking up a good quality new safety razor razor to be someone's future heirloom, check out the selection in the Kaliandee store

*Of course, travel was less affordable and accessible to most people in the 1920's, so a razor aimed at someone who traveled enough to need a travel razor was probably not a cheap, "low-end" model, which possibly also contributed to it's survival. 

**my expertise is not in vintage razors, so this dating could be wrong, but I'm fairly confident in it.