Frustrated by his dull straight razor, King Gillette envisioned an inexpensive, double-edge blade that could be affixed to a handle, used until it was dull, and then discarded. His dream became a reality when the first modern safety razor was patented and mass produced in 1904. Since that time, the basic designs of the safety razor have remained relatively unchanged. Although the materials and craftsmanship have varied over the years, there are still only a few basic designs of safety razors. This article describes the three types of double-edge safety razors as well as the benefits and drawbacks of each design.
Twist-to-open razors are also called TTO, butterfly, or silo razors. They are a one-piece design with no removable parts. Razors based on this design include popular vintage razors, such as Gillette Adjustable and SuperSpeed from the mid-1900s, as well as current models offered by brands, such as Parker. These razors are identified by a cutting head with two hinged plates. When the knob is turned, a mechanical release triggers the plates to open or close exposing the inside of the cutting head, so that the used blade and be easily removed and replaced. The twist-to-open razor design allows for a fast blade replacement between shaves making it a popular option for many wet shavers.
Because these razors have a more mechanical design, there are moving parts that can be prone to wear and breakage over time. Small hinges are prone to collect deposits of soap or cream and can affect the opening and closing action of the razor if they are not properly cleaned or thoroughly dried between shaves. You should also take caution not to over tighten the release knob on these razors because it may damage the mechanics and make the razor unusable.
Some of the most popular razors on the market today are two-piece design razors, including the Merkur 34C Heavy Duty and the Merkur 500 Progress (including the modified Mergress). With this design, the top plate of the cutting head unscrews and is removed to insert or change a blade. The top has a long screw that extends into the handle of the razor, where it secures into threads coming from the release knob at the bottom of the razor. When handling your safety razor, remember that gravity is your friend. Turn the razor upside down, holding the top of cutting head with the thumb and forefinger of one hand, and simply turn the release knob until the razor separates. Tilt your fingers allowing the used blade to fall out and drop a new blade onto the top of the cutting head. The guides in the cutting head will hold the blade into place as you replace the base/handle and tighten the release knob. Two-piece razors are favored by many wet shavers because it is not necessary to tinker with the blade in order to align and secure it into the razor.
A downside of the two-piece razor design is that they are more difficult to clean between uses. The base of the cutting head is permanently attached to the handle and it can be hard to remove lather residue that gets there. Also, shaving soap and cream can get into the hollow handle where the screws and threads meet and it is impossible to clean those hard-to-reach areas. Another concern with this design is to avoid wearing out the threads in the handle. It’s important to avoid over tightening the knob on the razor because that can alter the alignment over time or damage the threads that screw into the knob making it more difficult to reassemble the razor when changing blades.
The three-piece design dates back to the original Gillette model safety razors introduced in the early 1900s. Unlike the two-piece razor that has the base of the cutting head attached to the handle, the three-piece razor allows the base to be removed as well. The parts are: (1) top of cutting head, (2) base of cutting head, and (3) handle. Most of the handles on these types of razors are solid metal, with threads at the top so that the cutting head can screw on securely. These razors typically have no moving parts or knobs, so they are easier to clean and maintain over the years.
Like the two-piece design, it is safer to flip the razor upside down in order to change the blades. Hold the cutting head by the sides carefully with one hand while unscrewing it from the handle. Once the handle has been removed, lift the bottom plate by pinching the corners to avoid the edges of the blade. Tilt your fingers allowing the used blade to fall out and drop a new blade onto the top of the cutting head. Again, holding the base plate by the corners, lower it back down onto the blade that is now seated in the top piece. Return and tighten the handle to securely assemble the razor again.
The drawback to the three-piece design is that a blade must be handled a bit more when assembling the razor because the top and bottom plates have to be held together with one hand while reattaching it to the handle. Extra care has to be taken to avoid accidentally touching the cutting edge of the blade during this process. If the top and base of the cutting head are not properly lined up when securing them on to the handle, the blade can become off center as well, leaving one side with more blade exposure than the other. However, after changing the blade a few times the process becomes very routine and most wet shavers do not have difficulty keeping the blade lined up when reassembling their three-piece razors.
Although the three basic types of razors differ in how they assemble, the basic function is the same: They securely hold a double-edge blade so that you can achieve a comfortable shave. Choosing a particular type of razor is simply a matter of personal preference. Some wet shavers prefer the two-piece and twist-to-open designs because of the easier blade installation while others prefer the more traditional and easy-to-clean three-piece razors.
A beginner to traditional shaving would be fine with any of these three types of razors because the way a razor assembles does not affect its performance. Available brands and models vary in size, weight, and cutting-head style; however, the way the way the razor shaves depends less on the type and more on the user’s technique and choice of blades. All three razor designs are available in a variety of styles, since they make up most – if not all – of the safety razors in existence. The ingenuity and simplicity of King Gillette’s vision has provided more than a century of convenient double-edge shaves.