Shaving is so mundane task that many will never give a second thought about it. While it is a charming image of how our dads and granddads taught us to shave, I am reasonably certain that for many of us it didn’t go that way.
If you are anything like me, you just picked up a cartridge razor once you started to feel the need to shave. Years passed and you never quite grew out of it. Which is a shame!
Shaving can be comfortable and enjoyable. Read on and step into a bigger world.
Double Edge (DE) Safety Razor
The standard head, or handle, of a DE razor opens for easy replacement of its double-edged razor blades. This type of razor was first popularized by an 1880’s upgrade of the age-old straight razor, when Brothers Frederick and Otto Kampfe filed a U.S. Patent for the first safety prototype.
The boxy style proved popular, and in 1903 a salesman named Gillette added disposable blades to produce a bestseller. Later developments brought cartridge, electric and disposable razors to market, but many users prefer the close and controlled shave they get with a DE razor.
A shaving revival has happened in recent years that has bolstered the DE market. A number of quality manufacturers make DE razors—there are lots of choices available. These razors are also economical over time: disposable blades are cheap.
Single Edge (SE) Razor
Another vintage style, the Single Edge design actually predates the more popular DE razors. The body profile, balance and perpendicular head which these two blades share are essentially the same as those being sold by 1850. The so-called invention of DE razors was actually an innovation.
Traditional SE blades are usually thicker to stand without the head’s support. The head can be angled for a more natural grip, part of why some shaving aficionados swear by them.
Vintage razors are in steady demand, and a new high-end SE razor was recently introduced. There are nifty blade-ejecting “no-hands” Injector models available, along with a multitude of suitable GEM razors—they are no longer produced, but they can be found for a reasonable price online.
This is the original razor: it goes back to bronze blades used in Ancient Egypt. In 1680 the first steel-edged razor was produced: it became the shaving choice for over 200 years, until safety razors were introduced. It takes time and real skill to achieve a good shave and maintain the blade’s edge. The quick adoption of the safety razor gives a clue about the challenge.
Some seek the experience, however. Interest in this razor style has been increasing. Some users want to avoid disposal waste, and like the idea of an heirloom that lasts. Many connoisseurs favor a straight razor: the blade cuts a broad, smooth swath, and the angle can be finely adjusted. It’s excellent for cutting beards and longer hair. The single cutting blade also reduces skin irritation, and is easier to clean and needs less rinsing than multiple-blade models. Nostalgia is another factor.
A utilitarian take on the straight razor, the shavette is basically a mount for a ½-sized disposable blade. Shavettes are typically made of light materials and weigh much less than straight razors. They are excellent for touching up hairlines, where close control is needed.
Shavettes are easy to maintain—just switch out the blade—and inexpensive, too. Some users like the control they offer, but the narrow, light blade is very unforgiving. Also, the unsubstantial blade mount can vibrate and cause irritation. Because of these issues, this razor is not recommended for beginners.
The handles on this type are similar to a safety razor’s, but the entire head is a disposable cartridge. Often the cartridge carries multiple blades and options like an aloe strip or wear indicator. It’s the easiest razor to learn to use other than electric, and the throwaway head probably means that maintenance is close to non-existent.
The shave you usually get isn’t notably close or smooth, but it does the job. Depending upon brand, a cartridge razor can range from affordable to “whaaat?”. They get you on the replacement cartridges.
Disposable razors are the logical endpoint of that game. These razors come in one disposable piece, with one or more blades embedded into the head.
There’s no maintenance or learning curve involved, and these razors are pretty safe as razor blades go.
However, they’re made of light, cheap materials: so you have to press. It’s hard to get a good shave, but disposables are great for a fast, mediocre shave. Also they clutter up the environment.
Their crowning claim is that they’re better than nothing. These razors come into their own in a travel bag … just tuck a package of disposables in your luggage and you’re good to go.
There are those who shudder at the indecency of an electric shaver, and may wish to skip this section. Some cannot abide a razor that abandons the hallowed clean planes and simplicity of its predecessors to emulate a weed-wacker. What went wrong?
The blade system oscillates or spins within a housing, which can be a rolled foil or rotary style. Maintenance requires periodic disassembly, though some “wet razor” models used with water are cleansed during use.
Electric razors are about safety and being dead-simple for consumers. There’s no learning curve–just rub it around on your face—though it takes some getting used to. Most are rechargeable or cordless wonders of convenience, but the shave is so-so.
Pro Tip: If you ever go electric, keep a blade handy for the missed stubble.
Safety Razor vs Cartridge
Cartridges are about ease. They’re very user-friendly, require no maintenance, and hardly any skill is needed. The shave isn’t as close as a safety razor’s—which is why the multiple blades are there, but the extra action can irritate skin.
Cartridge razors have two features that facilitate them to reduce the load on the skin. Load is essentially one of the reasons why you get razor burn. The majority of modern razors allow the cartridge to pivot front-to-back relative to the razor handle. This enables the applied pressure to be spread evenly onto the skin. The other feature is the number of blades and their associated spacing. A higher number of blades and small caps between them assures that the load is evenly distributed among the blades.
This is different on safety razor. We only have one razor blade, and the blade cap is usually much bigger. Other factors like safety bar, blade exposure, etc. come into play as well. Compared to cartridge razors the load is always greater, so a light touch is paramount.
Does it mean that cartridge razor produces less irritation after shave? On the contrary. Other factors like drag and cutting
Safety SE and DE razors are a balance of a quality shave and reasonable safety. DE razors are more economical in the long run, but you do have to learn to use them, and the maintenance is higher. They aren’t meant for the fast, easy shaves a cartridge razor can offer.
Shavette vs Straight Razor
Don’t let idea of a fixed single blade fool you, these razors are at the opposite ends of the quality spectrum. Straight razors are precision tools for a quality shave, but shavettes are closer to a utility blade.
A shavette is good for careful control in close quarters, but it doesn’t offer the same smooth shave—or experience. Both instruments take time to learn, but shavettes are even more difficult to get right. Read about the benefits and how to shave with a straight razor if you are interested.
Straight Razor vs Safety Razor
Safety razors are designed to take some of the
Single Edge vs Double Edge Razor
Single edge razors are the original “hoe” design of 1847, and it hasn’t essentially changed. Its blades are thick and strong, and the head is angled for comfort and control. SE razors offer a close, smooth shave—if you know what you’re doing, and take your time.
Using only a single blade side makes an SE razor more expensive. They can produce a magnificent shave in skilled hands, but this artisans’ tool doesn’t fare as well in the hurried slap-dash of what passes for shaving these days. It’s also tough to keep buying blades no longer in production, so the handles tend to end up as an expensive vintage collection. (Now you know how these get started.)
DE razors were the next-generation of their time, and became a sensation for their excellent shaves at an affordable price. Their short learning curve helped put the last of the old-style barbers out of business.
DE razors straightened the SE head to allow twice the blade use, and there is some loss of natural grip and ease. Neither is meant for a rapid shave … but, unless you greatly prefer the SE shave, the advantage goes to DE razors for their economy and market selection.
Electric Shaver vs Razor (any)
Electric shavers pummel your beard into shape rather cut it cleanly, so this will be the main difference. Electric shavers are extremely convenient though, with rechargeable bases that make day-to-day shaving simple.
How Should I Choose?
The best choice of razor is one based on your lifestyle and personal preferences. Some gravitate toward the original straight razor, the artisan’s choice.
If you want great shave quality but don’t feel a nostalgic pull to strop your own blade, safety SE or DE razors are a nice 20th-century update.
SE and DE razors have enjoyed resurgence in the past few years, because they offer a great shave and better experience. They require some skill, but there is little maintenance with these disposable blades, and you get the precise control of the more risky and demanding straight razor.
If you’re a harried commuter who could care less about the “experience of shaving,” then you have the market on your side. There are cartridges and full disposables along with electric shavers to try out. These are easy to learn and can give you the quickest shaves.
Now that you are acquainted with different ways how to shave, are you a not little bit curious how would it feel to use for example straight razor? What about safety razor? If you wish to scratch that itch read also How To Shave With a Safety Razor and How To Shave With a Straight Razor