By April 23, 2013

Start Learn Master: Three Blades for Double Edge Safety Razor Shaving

I love shaving. I would have never said that before I started using a double edge safety razor and taking better care of my skin. I love learning about shaving supplies and techniques, and I love building my skill level. I also love the personalized aspect of traditional shaving — everyone’s skin and facial hair is different, so successful shavers will often use different combinations of tools and techniques.

Because of the many combinations of pre-shave prep, razors and techniques I’ve shied away from writing about blades. However, I get enough requests from friends and readers I thought I would give a run-down of three blades. I chose three, and only three, in order to frame them as good blades for beginners, novice, and intermediate shavers. Once you become a “master” shaver, you should be able to pick your own great blades.

What makes a blade good?

This is what I look for in a razor blade:

  • Sharpness. This is the number one thing I care about. I have coarse, thick facial hair that grows in multiple directions. It’s important for me to have a sharp blade so my skin does not become irritated due to “over-shaving.”
  • Durability. A blade may be sharp, but lesser quality blades will wear out more quickly. For example, I can eke out an extra shave with my higher quality blade. When you shave nearly every day like I do, those extra days start to add up. Also, a durable blade will deliver a more consistent blade as it starts to wear. Cheaper blades will go from “hey, not bad” to “MAH FACE!”
  • Consistency. Blades are made all over the world in all kinds of places on all kinds of machines. Some blade manufacturers have inconsistent — or less consistent — quality control.
  • Availability. It’s not as easy to find blades in the United States. Cartridge razors far, far dominate availability at big box stores where most of us get our stuff. I have to import my daily razor from a guy in Singapore in order to get a good price. Availability is important. Two out of the three blades I’ll talk about are easily available over the Internet.
  • Cost. It wasn’t a driver for me, but the low cost of consumables is a primary driver for some. Cartridge razors are way more expensive, which made me reluctant to pitch them, which contributed to the rough shaves I was experiencing. The less expensive your blade is, the more likely you are to replace them.

Start: Astra Superior Platinum

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My recommended beginner blade is the Astra Superior Platinum. At less than ten cents each delivered from Amazon they won’t break the bank. The blade is not as sharp as the other two I’ll recommend, but that’s a good thing for beginners. I also find that the blade fades after two uses, but that’s because I’m used to sharper, more durable blades.

The Astra seemed pretty sharp when I just started out, especially compared to the Derby and Lord razors that shipped with my starter razor or I found along the way. However, now that I’ve refined my technique and tried other blades it’s not the bloodletter I once thought.

I still use the Astra every now and then when I get a new razor just to see how the combination works. I’m about to finish a shave cycle with the Astra and a Gillette Tech. It’s serviceable and the risk of a nick or irritation is very very low. I have to make three passes on my face and four on my throat to equal my typical shave with the Feather. Looking at it the other way, the Astra is a lot less aggressive than other blades.

Great for:

  • Beginners
  • Sensitive skin
  • Thin facial hair and/or hair that (mostly) grows in the same direction
  • Starting budgets

Learn: Yellow Gillette 7 O’Clock

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The shaving novice will be hard pressed to find a more inexpensive, consistent, readily available blade in the United States than the yellow 7 O’Clock blade from Gillette. It’s easily found on Amazon or other e-tailers, and can sometimes be found in “ethnic” stores in larger cities. I hate typing that phrase, but typing “international market” sounds like a Pier One or World Market.

Anyway, the Gillette 7 O’Clock comes in many different models. The yellow one is one of the sharpest, and one of the most durable. There are other colors with varying aggressiveness and durability. Depending on your skin and hair type you may want to try the blue, green, or black varieties.

I like the yellow because it is sharp enough to deal with my screwed up stubble. It’s not quite as good as the Feather, but its easy availability makes it a solid performer for the shaver who has a good grasp about shaving preparation and technique.

I wish the yellow 7 O’Clocks were a little more durable — I can get three shaves out of them before I notice the blade scritch scritching on my throat. A blade is too dull if it tugs on your skin when you use light (or no) pressure during a shave. Put it in the blade bank.

At about 25 cents delivered from Amazon I think it’s a great blade that might carry you well beyond your novice shaving stage.

Great for:

  • Tougher beards
  • Moderate to heavy razors — as long as you have your technique down and apply little to no pressure while shaving
  • Teaching delicate variations in technique so you can progress to more aggressive razors and/or different blades. If you don’t have your shit together, you will cut yourself.

Master: Feather Hi-Stainless

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I imagine a tiny-ass Dwarven Japanese blacksmith folding steel over and over again to create a katana-like razor blade for the battlefield of my face. The Feather Hi-Stainless razor blade isn’t made that way, of course — it’s not folded, either — but it’s a damn sharp blade that is more durable and keeps its edge longer than the other blades I’ve tried.

It’s not for beginners, and when I get new razors I “downshift” back to the Gillette Yellow 7 O’Clock because the Feather is very unforgiving. Even when I took my time and concentrated as much as I could I would still get weepers when I paired the Feathers with the heavy Cadet TP-26 open comb razor.

Once the Feather has earned your respect you can expect amazingly close shaves with it. I could get away with a single pass shave with the Cadet and a Feather. I do a “two and a half” pass with my Gillette Super Speed or Gillette Tech; I shave my face and throat twice, and then my throat once more. It is super, super close and leaves my skin smooth for about 36 hours. If I’m in a hurry I just do a two pass and call it a day — no one else will notice except for me.

The Feather is about 35 cents per blade if you buy from an Amazon Prime seller. I got mine for about 29 cents a blade from a gentleman in Singapore, including postage. If you don’t mind waiting a long time for the blades to come over on a boat, check out the Badger and Blade forum and look up the user “Aneurysm.” I bought my last batch from him about a year ago and I assume he’s still selling. I’ve purchased enough blades from him to last me almost three years, so I don’t stay current on his status.

I change Feather blades every four days. This is being aggressive; I could probably use the Feathers another day but I figured I’m paying for a premium blade and I want the best experience possible.

Great for:

  • More experienced shavers who want a very close shave
  • Tough beards, especially with hair that grows in multiple directions
  • Shavers who want a challenge
  • Someone who shaves frequently and wants a great shave every time they use the blade

It’s your face

Like I said at the opening, shaving is a very personal pursuit. You may not like what I like. However, these blades are great benchmarks and even if you don’t wind up making one of them your daily stubble scraper you can use them as references when trying to find a blade you do like.

Good luck, and I hope you have as much fun shaving as I do.

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