"You've got to ask yourself one question - Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?” Clint Eastwood characters like Harry Callahan in the classic "Dirty Harry” movie in 1971 was good at expressing meaningful and iconic phrases and concepts. Another famous character portrayed by Clint Eastwood from 1966 was the no name gun-fighting Stranger in the spaghetti western "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” This too has become an iconic concept in our culture as a phrase that provides a guideline to classifying, delineate and separate a confusing group of things, like razor blades, into understandable pieces. There are the good, the bad and then all the others...the ugly - the ones that don't really fit into either good or bad, the unique and difficult to understand, the unappreciated/under appreciated or just simply the plan butt ugly.
The “Do I feel lucky” line from Dirty Harry is often how I feel when trying out a new razor blade, particularly when I was first starting out in modern day traditional DE (double edged blade) wet shaving. As the saying goes, YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary), oh how I both hate and love that saying. But at least that’s better than something like, “you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince/princess.”
It is very obvious that when it comes to razor blades, some work for you and some don’t. Some work well in some razors and not so well in others. There is a fair amount of luck involved in finding that first good razor blade. YMMV and kissing frogs leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth. Yet, there can be a better way of selecting razor blades than just pure luck and chance. It all comes down to being able to separate and understand the different types of blades and coming up with a way to organize them in our heads…to understand them beyond the usual, “My friend George uses them, so they must be pretty good.”
Part 1 of this 3 part series presents a new twist on how we think about DE razor blades. Using the famous Clint Eastwood spaghetti western "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly as a springboard to examine DE razor blades I've substituted different words in the title in an attempt to better reflect the current world of traditional wet shaving's DE razor blades. I choose the title "The Glib, The Big, and The Unappreciated. The focus of this installment shall be on "The Good" or as I would like to spin it "The Glib". You won't have the full picture of the concepts I'm attempting to present until you have seen all three parts of the series. So be patient. The first installment is “The Glib” or “The Good” of the original 1966 Eastwood film (which by the way was a time firmly in the golden age of traditional wet shaving).
Obviously a “Good” razor blade is one that works for you. But let’s substitute another word for “Good.” Glib comes to mind. Glib is not a word used often by most people but its definition here is useful – “too easy, careless, showing little preparation or thought.” The implication is that of being “in a hurry.” To be glib is to quickly say or do something without considering all the implications or consequences. There are many other words that would also fit like, brash or hasty, rushed or impatient.
Doesn't that remind you of the state you were or currently are in now, immediately after deciding to give shaving with a safety razor a try? You were/are anxious and very much in a hurry to start, to get that first DE shave under your belt, to finally be able to say you are a traditional wet shaver. To finally get a close, comfortable, non-painful shave. Of course you put some thought into it, into making the decision to take that first step, but you have now decided and you are hurrying and therefore…being very glib in some of your first choices and purchases. Now, that’s not a tragedy…it’s survivable.
It is typical to agonize over that first razor purchase if you do not have an old vintage razor lying about. But in the total scope of things the razor blades you purchase are more or less a second thought. It’s like buying the accessory package or selecting the color of a new car purchase…you first decide on the make and model and then worry about the rest…the options. A razor purchase is important but not nearly as crucial to a good shave as selecting the right razor blade.
It’s funny, but some of the very first razor blade purchases I made were simply because I liked the way the packaging looked. It’s the razor that seems most important. Well, yes it is important, but not totally, because you have to find a blade that works well in THAT razor…a blade that works well for YOU in THAT razor. The first choice of razor blade is very important because you must have a blade that works well for you before all the other things about traditional wet shaving can take place in the weeks and months and years ahead. Sadly, that first shave is often done with a second rate generic blade that just happens to be available in a local brick and mortar shop. Yes, we are anxious and in a hurry. But more for you beginners in just a bit. Let me say a word to the more experienced DE shavers.
You have already completed a vast amount of experimentation and come to the conclusion of what your “go to” blades are and have a fair idea of what blades you would like to try in the future. For you, The Glib category could be a list of those blades…the ones you always pick up because you like them and they work for you…YMMV of course. The “Glib” category could be the “Favorites.” They could also be that vast stash of hundreds of razor blades you impulsively purchased in the first few weeks and months you started traditional wet shaving. They are good blades but not particularly your favorites anymore…they just happen to be what you have and need to uses up to make room for a larger supply of the blades you really love now.
But in a wider context and particularly in the context of the beginning traditional wet shaver, the Glib category simply reflects those blades that are right in front of our face on the shaving forums and groups and the most highly advertised in Google and Amazon product searches more often than we would like to admit. There is a psychological factor involved over and above the mere physical realities of the situation. Social pressure and advertising (product searches on the internet) are powerful influences on our purchasing and overall consumptive behaviors.
The normal suspects for both the beginner and experienced DE shaver regarding their “go to” blade list could include many of the same choices. The top contenders are: Derby, Astra Super Premium, Merkur, Shark, Personna (blues), and Wilkinson Sword. Feather blades could also be in this group but are usually not first choices of beginning DE shavers due to their higher cost. If a beginner has done the proper research, there will probably be a fear factor in reference to Feather blades. Gillette 7 o’clock (all colors) might also come into play but they are down the list so to speak in the realm of first blade choices.
The blades listed above are commonly found in the top 10 when doing an Amazon search for DE RAZOR BLADES or SAFETY RAZOR BLADES. In other words they are for the most part relatively cheap and available choices for both the experienced and first time DE shaver. Of course they are also the common blades included with razors when purchased online, if any blades are included at all. These blades occupy these positions within the marketplace because they are very popular razor blades. Nevertheless, they are a Glib choice – easy, careless, requiring little preparation or thought.
This situation isn’t particularly a bad thing. These razor blades are all very good choices and there are many people who would list these blades in their “go to” top 10 list of razor blades. At issue for the beginning traditional wet DE shaver is the discovery whether or not a particular blade is a good or bad in the long run. Obviously you never know until you’ve tried a blade personally. If you get a good shave from a particular blade, when you first start out, you have a fondness for that blade. If it is a very bad experience (we’re talking blood transfusion level of blood loss here) you will obviously hate that blade and desperately want to find other blades that have nothing in common it. This could result in a very unfortunate situation, such as having a bad experience with an Indian made blade and swearing off using any blade made in India. (Substitute any location you choose here – USA, Israel, Korea, Japan, Russia, etc.). When it comes to blade selection generalizations don’t hold water.
If you get lucky with that first one or two blade experiences then after 30-60 days using s single set up, you have a secure foundation or measuring point on which to compare all other blades. You will discover how they differ from that first blade and the realm of possible blades will be vast and broad. Although, if you have to immediately start searching for a comfortable blade and it becomes a great struggle to find one that works for you, then you are in an unsavory situation indeed and at risk of missing the best traditional wet shaving has to offer.
The more blades that you go through in the first few days and weeks of seeking that “one magic blade,” that blade that feels comfortable and non-irritating, then later as your shaving skills improve and the muscle memory becomes “grooved” you are in a very poor position to experiment with different blades and evaluate them properly.
The problem is you have a whole list of blades that you already “hate”. Those first blades failed you and you probably threw them away in anger and disgust. That’s a tragic thing to happen. The bulk of your “experimentation” has resulted in negative results. The best predictor of future behavior (impressions too) is past behavior. Before trying out new blades go back and give the “failures” another shot first. If they are still unsatisfactory, set them aside again for several months or a year before trying again. Only then will you know the truth of that blade for you.
The main issue usually isn’t the blade, but your shaving skills and fine motor skills. Within that group of blades that failed you in their first attempt, there are probably some good ones, some pearls that you have thrown into the pig pen mud, at least in your mind you have. In your heart and soul you think that is where they belong and you say “good riddance.”
I challenge you, if you haven’t done so already, after you have a few months of DE safety razor shaving under your belt to revisit those “failed blades” and see if you can’t find that lost pearl in the pig pen. It is a very puzzling thing the way you mature as a DE shaver. You would think that over time you could rely on a “go to” set up to be the only set up you would ever need, that it would never fail you and you would be happy the rest of your life if you never used different razor or blade combo again.
Well, you would think so, but sometimes situations change. They usually happen gradually over time and not suddenly so they are hard to detect, but changes do occur and things once favorites get replaced with something else. The blades that failed me in my first 2 months of modern traditional DE wet shaving almost uniformly I can use today and get a good shave. Granted they may not be stellar top shelf, go set off the fireworks type of shaves, but they are acceptably good shavers. They are now passable and no longer the total failures they had been in the beginning.
The blades haven’t changed. I’ve changed. My skin and beard has changed somewhat. My skills manipulating a razor have changed. The season has changed. In the winter it is cold, windy and dry and skin is cracked and irritated. During the spring and fall the weather is wet, cool and moist. In the summer things are hot, calm and dry and clammy. My shaving skills have improved. I know the way around my face and can shave quickly and without much thought. That wasn’t the case when I first started.
The moral of the story is this. There are the “Glib” choices of razor blades for both the beginner and the veteran DE shaver. The blades that work well for you and are readily available to you at a reasonable price point…easy, simple and requiring little preparation or thought. They could also be a careless choice if you have not re-examined those blades that have failed you in the past and not given them a second chance to redeem themselves.
For the beginner, some choices are careless also. Such a choice would be buying 100, 50 or even 20 of one type of blade before you have had a chance to try at least 4 or 5 different blades. I do not advise buying 30 different blade choices in multiple sample packages and then changing your type of blade every few days. Try a handful of blades and then get a large enough supply of that one type of blade to last a couple of months, about 25-30 blades at most. Shave with those blades exclusively. If over that period of time they consistently deliver good shaves, then you can moved on and compare all the rest with the performance of that blade. It becomes your Rosetta Stone from which you can interpret all other shaves. Ultimately that central blade may change for you. Change is a part of life and DE shaving. That is the beauty of traditional wet shaving…there is always something new just around the corner.
Regardless of new or old, experienced or beginner, the decisions we make today become consequences we must endure in the future. If we make those decisions in a well-informed manner the future problems go away. Our problems start or explode when we stumble into them without prior warnings or preparation. Don’t be glib in your razor blade choices. Make good choices instead.
Watch for the next installment, Part II where The Bad or "The Big" is discussed.
Good Shaves, Be Happy, Be Safe