In Part 2 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 DE razor blades. I choose the title "The Glib, The Big, and The Unappreciated. The focus of this installment shall be on "The Bad" or as I would like to spin it "The Big". There are many directions this could go. The most obvious would be to go on a rant about cartridge razors, those multi-blade Dr. Frankenstein-like creations instituted by Gillette in the early 1970's in an attempt, and quite a successful one, to recapture the razor blade market away from Personna who had dominated DE razor blade production for the previous 10-15 years and had just introduce what could easily be argued to be the best DE razor blade ever produced - The Personna 74* made from super durable Tungsten Steel and coated with Titanium. If you ever wanted to talk about something that was Big in the shaving world, then the Personna 74* could easily fit the bill also. At the end of this article I will post two video shaves involving this blade, my first shave with it and a video of my 30th shave with the same blade.
But no, I will not carry on about cartridge blades (but dang it sure is fun), nor will I talk about the super blades of the past that are no longer being produced (i.e., Personna 74*, Schick Plus Platinum, PolSilver Iridium(browns), etc.). We shall stick to the present and look at the razor blades that are "The Big" players today in the wet shaving world. But semantics and definitions are always a problem...what do I mean when I refer to "The Big"?
The most obvious would be to look at the most popular razor blades. But that is a difficult statistic to obtain. I'm sure there are companies like Gillette or Proctor and Gamble that collect such data, but obtaining it would be difficult and thinking about corporate espionage makes my head hurt. About all that can be surmised is antidocal observations regarding the popularity of some blades and beyond popularity to a possibly more crucial point, importance and contributions in a larger worldwide wet shaving market. So, first stop is the shaving groups and forums. The second would be the general marketplace.
When you look at the shaving groups that post Shaves of the Day (SOTD) you see some common razor blades being showcased. To produce a good shave a blade has to be not only sharp but smooth and comfortable. This is where YMMV comes into play. The popular blades for beginners generally have greater smoothness and are relatively less sharp. As one's skills improve sharpness becomes more important. For some beard types sharpness is the most important element and for others with more sensitive skin smoothness is more important. Yet it is a mistake if you have sensitive skin to think you need a less sharp blade. My observations and experience it that smoother shaves can be more easily achieved using the sharpest blade your face can tolerate. In reality there has to be a balance. But also the razor plays a role in what blade you choose. As I presented in my video on closed versus open comb razors there are certain blades that work better in certain types of razors. A mild razor can more comfortably handle a sharper blade and a more aggressive open comb razor may demand a smoother type blade that is still quite sharp on the sharpness blade scale. Such factors you have to work out for yourself over time.
A very common site in SOTD postings would be the very popular Feather Hi-Stainless Platinum Coated blades. Everyone seems to be using them and those who aren't using them are asking about this Japanese made blade that many claim is the sharpest DE blade currently available. Kai is another Japanese blade known for it's keen edge but it doesn't get near the attention or love.
Feather blades are a little more expensive than many other blades currently available, but they are less expensive than they used to be. If an individual prefers Feathers that preference is usually very staunch and loyal, well nigh to being described in loving, religious and affectionate terms. In other words, Feather blades are possibly the "darlings" of the wet shaving world. They would be the Tom Cruises, Garth Brooks, Rolling Stones, Matt Damons, and Princess Di's of the world...the very highest top shelf - the best - the star. When discussing razor blades the most common question is something like "how does it compare to a Feather" or as someone mentions not getting a close shave with a particular razor usually someone pipes in "you should use a Feather."
Now on a personal level and this is just me, so you Feather worshipers don't take offense. I present this view because if you read any shave forum or group posts at all you will get plenty of Feather praises and adoration. I personally think Feather blades are good blades, but they are not my favorites and they are not even the blade I consider the sharpest, and Personna 74*s are not even being considered in this evaluation, although I do think the 74*'s are sharper. I do not consider Feather blades to be the smoothest or even the longest lasting blades. To the contrary, I think Feather blades do not last as long as the average blade. In other words, I personally (and YMMV certainly applies) do not see Feather blades as a good value or a good choice of blade...not for me. You will have to decide this for yourself, but a word of caution to beginning DE shavers. Do not attempt to use a Feather blade until you have at least 30-60 days experience under your belt. Very sharp blades like the Feathers will tend to cause irritation and additional weepers unless given proper respect and precautions, particularly in unskilled hands. Don't ruin what could be your "go to" blade in the future by trying to ride that unbroken green bronco before even learning how to ride the gentle old saddle horse at the kiddie park. Your time to test out a Feather will come soon enough...don't be too anxious.
There are some other blades that also fall into the category of "The Big" that deserve mentioning and some will be discussed more than others. These include such blades as the Gillette 7 o'clocks. There are four sub-types of these Russian made blades: Yellow SuperEdge, Black Super Platinum, Green Super Stainless, and Blue Super Platinum. Gillette also has the Gillette Silver Blue blades and the Gillette Super Thin Platinum. I have tried all of the 7 o'clock varieties and my favorite is the Yellows and I do not particularly like or dislike the others. I have not tried the Gillette Silver Blue or the Super Thin Platinum. The Blacks are nick named Ninja's. Many hold these blades to be their all time favorite blade. Both the blacks and the blues carry the same name descriptor "Super Platinum." The Blues are produced in Russia and the Blacks in India (at least they used to be the last I heard). The Blacks are in much shorter supply and are consequently more expensive. Whenever they come "in stock" on the virtual shelves of the online sellers the supplies are snapped up quickly. Even though they have the same name, many claim that the Blacks are sharper and smoother than Blues.
Which brings to bear another issue - supply and demand. It is wrong to think of a blades overall quality and "trigger pulling" worthiness by looking at the price tag. In general, price has very little to do with how desirable a blade is and has more to do with the supplies available of that blade worldwide. Occasionally things will happen in the manufacturing environment that causes shortages of certain blades for a period of time and consequently there is a mad dash to buy these blades in fear that the supply will not return or that product will no longer be produced. This is an underlying fear among traditional wet shavers and it is manifested in a type of Acquisition Disorder to stockpile favorite products in fear of the impending Shave Apocalypse when DE shaving supplies disappear from shelves in mass forever. This fear is not unfounded in principle. Traditional wet shaving products are not a priority to large corporations, marketers, or retailers. Probably on at least a weekly basis traditional wet shavers experience a cherished product disappearing from their local store's shelves never to return. I fear this has just happened with one of my favorite after shaves, Brut Dominant.
On the one hand this fear of a Shave Apocalypse is a foolish thing. One thing is the total miss use and understanding of what an apocalypse really is, which is a "revealing". It doesn't mean the end of the world, but that is what pop media has led you to believe. A more appropriate biblical term would be Armageddon, which is the location of the final battle described in the Book of Revelation after the return of Jesus Christ. Enough with the theology lesson.
If you consider that there is a demand, and the traditional wet shaving population is growing steadily, nevertheless traditional DE wet shaving is the "red headed step child" of the male grooming world. The big boys like Gillette actually have plans of totally eliminating DE shaving altogether...yes you heard me correctly, that is their plan and desire. In their minds there is nothing better than a multi-blade shave, canned goop, and focus group designed products and they believe it is their duty to convert the entire world to their point of view. The salvation of the traditional Wet shaving world lies squarely on the shoulders of places like Germany, India and Asia and some other less developed 2nd and 3rd world locations where the use of multi-bladed razors just hasn't caught on yet. We can hope it never does, but that risk is always there. It is the smaller companies in Germany, Egypt, India and Asia that maintain competition against the giant Gillette in Russia. Personna in the United States and Israel are factors but from what I understand it wouldn't take long for Gillette to make their dream come true if they could just close down a few more blade manufacturers in a few select locations.
A very large portion of the recent growth in availability of traditional wet shaving products worldwide and particularly in the United States has been due to the smaller manufacturers, importers and artisan producers. There are small factories that produce razor blades but the vast majority is controlled by the large corporations. If tomorrow the big players in the traditional wet shaving world were to stand up and yell "Stop, we shall no longer produce any traditional wet shaving products". There would still be available shaving soaps, creams, brushes, after shaves, balms and lotions. There would also continue to be locations were razor blades are produced, but the supply lines would be greatly strained, reduced and probably not be able to meet the demand. There would be shortages. Producing razor blades requires specialized, large, heavy and expensive machinery in addition to the skilled labor involved. It would take some time for the smaller shops to expand production to meet the demand, if they could manage to leverage the huge financing necessary.
A very popular blade that is featured frequently in SOTD postings are the Med Preps or more descriptively Personna platinum coated stainless steel blades that carry the label “For Hospital Use” which is plainly written on the bottom half of the blade. These blades are coated but without an oil coating that enables them to be sterilized. They are close relatives to Personna Labs which come in the same exact blue wrapper that says “Super Super”. The printing is a little different on the blade and reportedly these blades have an oil coating that the Med Preps do not have but the Personna medical supplies catalog does not list what is generally thought of in the shaving community as a “Lab” blade other than what is considered “Med Preps”.
There are several different packaging and marketing configurations for Personna razor blades, including a non-branded (nothing printed on the blade itself) version. So in general I would conclude that most of the Personna blades that are sold in other packaging that do not have “For Hospital Use” are probably the same blades but with a different branding stamp and an oil coating. There are postings and arguments all over the forums and groups about these blades and no one really definitively has an answer to most of the debatable points. Personna "Blues" are made in the United States by the American Safety Razor Company, unless they are made in Israel and they are called "Reds"
Of course there are those who will now want to argue with me on some fine point or statement I have made. I'm not going to argue. No one really knows for sure. Personna is quite tight lipped about many things and I think they like it that way. Marketing, image, packaging, distribution, etc., have all roles to play in this drama. Many will swear that one blade is so much better than the other and that Med Preps are head and shoulders better than any of the other Personna made blades. Here's my questions and the basis of my personal opinion on the subject: In the money grubbing bottom line corporate climate we currently see in the United States and the world, why would a company like Personna make a dozen different razor blades when they can make one or two types, put oil on some and coating on others, etc.? I believe they are one blade with a couple of different treatments (coated and non-coated) and some have oil and some do not. Yes, coatings do make a difference and I believe some probably provide better shaves than others, but I do not believe they are all unique and maybe the Med Preps are totally unique without an oil coating, but many of the other blades in the various packaging are identical blades. The difference is psychological due to marketing manipulation.
I’m not as familiar with the Israeli made Personna blades so I will not comment about them other than to say there are those who believe these to be the best blades available and are as devoted to them as those who are worshipers at the Personna "Blue" altars. Yes, there are sub-denominations and splinter groups and cults involved here. Generally the blades manufactured in Israel are called Personna Reds but then there are also Personna Crystals and it goes on and on. If you are interested in such minute details go scour the web and do your research. Go knock yourself out. It would take days just to read all of the details, information and opinions and counter opinions.
All aboard, next stop – The Marketplace and a very wide and varied place it can be. Simply do some searches on Amazon, Google, Bing, eBay, etc. using the descriptor “razor blades” or “de razor blades” and you will be amazed at the variety you discover…eventually you may possibly reach the end of the list if you can scroll and spin your mouse wheel that long without stopping to eat, sleep, shave, and take care of other business. The same blades we have previously mentioned show up time and time again, particularly those mentioned in Part 1 of this series Derby, Shark, Astra SP, Gillette 7’oclock, Personna, etc.. The internet options are very wide and varied. There is of course the issue of shipping. When shipping across “the pond” from Europe to the United State or shipping to and from Canada or Australia the cost of getting products delivered becomes more expensive. Sometimes significantly. It is always better to have a local solution. But there sadly is the major rub. There are very few local marketplace options anywhere in the world outside of London and a few select locations in major cities.
I have heard from people traveling across Europe and they report having difficulty finding DE razor blades, particularly away from major cities. When flying you would like to take your normal shave gear, but DE blades in carry on luggage and sometimes check-in baggage can be a problem with airport security. The solution is to buy blades once you arrive at your destination or to mail them to your destination ahead of time. The same is true in the United States and really just about everywhere else. Most Major cities of any size usually have one or two places, primarily in specialty shaving supply shops, where popular brands of DE blades can be obtained but knowing about them, finding them and getting to them can sometimes be a problem, particularly if you are not familiar with that city or on a tight timeline. There are also barber supply stores that usually have at least Personna or Dorco DE blades. Independent grocery stores and pharmacies are good locations to find at least some type of generic or store branded blades, such as Best Choice blades sold in locations supplied by Associated Wholesale Grocers (www.awgbrands.com/). You can search for a location where you can buy Best Choice razor blades at the AWG Brands website link above.
Across Europe, German made razor blades are the most prevalent with Merkur leading the pack. In the Mediterranean areas products from Egypt and India are sometimes seen more frequently. In Asian areas of course Korean and Japanese brands are more prevalent. Just a general observation from comments made by people worldwide on shaving boards, forums and groups is that there are small pockets of availability worldwide, consistency doesn't exist in distribution and availability, there is no real rhyme or reason to what is found, and things ebb and flow getting better in some ways and worse in others.
Another major player in the DE razor blade world is the Korean company Dorco. Also known and packaged as Pace or DorcoUSA. Korean made blades are probably found in more locations in the United States than any other because Dorco makes the blades found in Dollar and Family Dollar Stores and any number other independent retail outlets. They are relatively inexpensive and according to many reviewers are not the greatest shavers in the world. Dorco blades also have a major presence in the barber supply shops and if you go to a barbershop and a half DE blade is used in a shavette chances are it is a Dorco blade.
Several months ago I received a comment on one of my videos from Dorco. They wanted me to review some of their men's shaving gear. I think it really was a robot program that sent messages to YouTube video uploaders that keyed on certain shaving related words and had reached a certain "popularity" threshold. I responded and I told them sure, why not, providing my basic contact information and address. I though did reminded them I was a traditional DE wet shaver and did not use multi-blade razors. I have yet to hear back from them or to receive any products for testing.
So in conclusion to Part 2 "The Big" or The Bad of the world of DE razor blades is that on one hand the supplies of blades and the variety of blades is still pretty good. Importing and exporting around the world appears to be increasing and the demand continues to grow. On the other hand, the number of suppliers is indeed somewhat limited but as long as there is a very large market for DE blades in developing countries that have not completely embraced multi-blade shaving instruments, then you can rest assured that DE blades will continue to be manufactured...well, unless someone at Gillette gets a wild hair and pulls the plug or geopolitical pressures cause a war in key locations where blades are being manufactured. Very popular blades are still being produced across the globe also in Egypt (Lord and Shark), Germany (Merkur, Croma Diamant, Bolzano, and Wilkinson Sword), India (SuperMax), Bangladesh (Sharp), and Russia (PolSilver, Rapira, Voskhod, and Astra).
Barring some major tragic events, traditional wet shaving and DE shaving equipment will be available for a very long time. I believe we are just beginning to see the popularity of our hobby and the gospel of a good shave is yet to be heard by the unshaven masses. I'm receiving more "hits" and "views" on my videos that appear to originate outside of the shaving groups I belong to on Facebook and those groups I belong to continue to have a steady influx of new members just starting out on their journey into the world of DE shaving. It sure has been a fun ride so far and I think the future will be even more exciting.
The blog and website Shaving 101 has a couple of very good articles on razor blades that I highly recommend:
Part 3 The Ugly (Unappreciated) razor blades will be coming up next...keep watching.
Thank you for reading.
Good Shaves, Be Happy, Be Safe