I have wanted a safety razor for a long, long time. I don’t have the skills to use a straight razor and I’m tired of bags of plastic sticks with skin scrapers on one end. Lots of companies still make safety razors, but they also abound in junk and antique stores. However, I kept running across the ones that were either gunky bronze or had the little serrations like a hedge trimmer, which I incorrectly assumed were for giving yourself film noir stubble. (It turns out that these are called “comb-edged” razors and they still give you the highly sought-after baby’s-bottom-smoothness, but are recommended for men with especially bristly faces.) Matt found a closed-edge, double-sided stainless steel jobber in great condition at a junk store over the holidays and put it under the tree for me. I didn’t have a chance to use it until today, though, because my blades only just arrived. Razor blades for razors (as opposed to razor blades for paint scraping or craft implements) are no longer sold at the corner drug store,* so I had to resort to online commerce. On the upside, the blades are ridiculously cheap and plentiful on Amazon. (Seriously. I paid $0.04 for two packages of ten new blades.)
Which brings me to my next point. How did these things get replaced by the plastic things most folks use today? Having just used this thing I can tell you that convenience and ease of use – whatever Gillette, Bic, and Schick may tell you – are not an issue. (See next paragraph for raving.) You buy one shaver (mine was $5 or $10 but fancy new ones range from $40 to hundreds each for the platinum or elk horn-handled models) and then feed it blades at a cost of practically nil to somewhere around $0.10 each and it lasts you a lifetime. Somebody may have used my razor their entire adult life before it ended up in a junk store by way of an estate auction. I think the profit factor is definitely the motivator here. What red-blooded capitalist wants to sell people one razor and a few packs of blades a year for chump change when they could make a cheap plastic handle and then charge $20 for a handful of complicated cartridges? Or, worse, they get you to do what I did: too goddamn lazy to change cartridges, I bought the giant bags of entirely disposable razors. (Al Gore has a place reserved for me in his special environmental offenders ring of hell.)
Well screw all that angst and worry. I have a way better product now. Here’s the rave you’ve patiently waited for: this thing practically shaved my legs for me. I’m blind as a bat without my glasses, and the steamy, dim light of the shower is especially difficult for me. (Yes, I gave this dangerous-looking implement its inaugural run in the shower. I shaved with Ivory soap, too. Why do a test run in less than authentic conditions? If I’m going to shave my legs at all it’s going to happen like this.) I was afraid I was going to end up looking like Michael Palin’s barber character from the Flying Circus, but it turns out that you’d have to actually try to harm yourself with this bad boy. I watched a dozen videos and read a dozen articles before attempting this feat, and one thing they all advised was to “let the weight of the razor be all the pressure you apply.” Which, like a new knitting stitch, didn’t make any sense until I tried it. The razor is really heavy – I wouldn’t be surprised if it has a secret lead core – and if you just touch it to your skin, holding the end of the handle very lightly, and drag it around (in straight lines, mind – no side to side stuff) it pivots where your fingers grip the handle and glides over your skin, leaving absolutely nothing in its wake. What takes some getting used to is not the technique, as it turns out, but the sensation – or lack thereof. No scraping feel. You can’t feel the hairs being cut. Why? Because hair doesn’t have nerves. It’s dead, Jim. What you feel when you shave with a regular razor is skin cells being shaved off. (Which isn’t a bad thing, actually –if you are a light touch and use a sharp blade you get outstanding exfoliation. If you push down or use a dull blade you get razor burn.)
And for those of you who learned in school that the safety razor was invented by Gillette purposely for troops in WWI, I learned today that our teachers were only half right. As the name implies, the safety razor was originally intended “to reduce the level of skill needed for injury-free shaving, thereby reducing the reliance on professional barbers for providing that service and raising grooming standards”.” Patents for safety razors were applied for as early as 1847 (and not by Gillette). But the rest is largely true. Gillette invented the double-edged razor blade and was awarded a military supply contract to manufacture the 3.5 million safety razors issued in personal grooming kits to troops. Why worry about the state of your facial hair when the Germans are shelling you? Because they were also lobbing in canisters of mustard gas, and a gas mask is only as effective as its seal. For a good seal against the skin, smooth cheeks are essential. When the men came home they brought the kits, and their new shaving habit, with them
Source: “Safety razor”. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safety_razor
*Note from the future (08/27/15): though they aren’t listed on the website, my local Rite Aid does now carry generic safety razor blades at a reasonable price.