Is one edge better than two?

Discussion in 'Articles' started by Slivovitz, Feb 2, 2012.

  1. Slivovitz

    Slivovitz Well-Known Member

    Drop in on us for the first time, and you'll find yourself in the middle of dozens of ongoing conversations. The old timers who have been here for a few months fill their posts with mysterious abbreviations, and casually allude to well known facts about things that you've never heard of. What is MWF? What's a DFS? What does it mean to shave XTG? And you came here to find out about double edged safety razors or straights; what's all this about "SE" razors?

    Single edged (SE) safety razors are the "other" type of classic safety razor. The blades are still made, but the razors are not. In our little world here, they are a hot topic, but outside of these forums, you'll seldom hear of them. Available only as vintage, they aren't everybody's cup of tea, but those who do discover them often become fanatics. A short primer on the subject might be helpful.

    The focus here will be fairly narrow. A wide variety of safety razors, including even a couple of cartridge and disposable types, have a single cutting edge. There have been many fine designs, using a variety of blades, but I won't try to cover them all just now. For now, what we are looking at are the classic SE razors produced under American Safety Razor (ASR) brands, Gem, Ever Ready, and Star. We'll be looking at the most readily and cheaply available types, and ones that use blades similar to this:

    The note is important. This may look like a utility blade, but it is actually a Treet carbon steel blade made specifically for shaving. CVS has the same blade under its own brand name, and Gem makes a stainless steel version. Use a utility blade from a hardware store, and you'll think you know why these razors vanished from the scene. That would be a shame, as you'd be missing out on some great shaves. I'll have some more comments on how to shave with an SE razor latter, but first let's look at some of the choices. There are many excellent models out there, but the ones that follow are all fairly easy to find at good prices. You won't go far wrong with any of these.

    The classics.
    The photograph above shows, left to right, a Gem 1912, a Gem Junior (a 1912 variant), Ever Ready 1914, and Ever Ready 1924. In each case, the year is that of the patent, not necessarily when the razor itself was made. There are many slight variations on these, particularly the 1912, with minor differences in the head and handle design. The 1912 was also made under the Ever Ready and Star brands.

    A significant feature of all these is the guard bar design. Have a closer look. It's not quite a guard bar, not quite an open comb. The perforated design is closed at the bottom, but open in the middle, a sort of transitional stage. That unique half open design is, as far as I'm concerned, perfection. Once you have the basic angle figured out, the guard bar helps to guide the razor gently around all the angles and curves. You really have to try it to appreciate it. All of the above models have this feature, but for my money the 1912s had it just right. The 1914 is slightly more awkward to open, the 1924 isn't as well balanced, and may have a tendency to bite. They are all fine razors, though, and any one of them would be a good place to start.

    The middle years.
    The next three razors take us from the 1930s to the 1950s. Left to right a G-Bar (or Heavy Flat-Top), Feather Weight, and Pushbutton. Again, these are all excellent razors, The guard bar is now a conventional looking solid design, much like those you find on DE razors. The craftsmanship doesn't impress quite as much as with the older models, but these are still well made. If the plating wears off a G-Bar, you'll quickly get little spots of corrosion; it seems to be pot metal. The Feather Weight and Pushbutton have plastic handles. Still, these razors tend to wear their years well; any that you get will already have lasted more than half a century.

    The feel of these has gotten a bit milder than the 1912s, and for me, they don't have that same intuitive rightness. Other people actually prefer them. For those who don't like shaving with a previously owned razor, no matter how thoroughly it has been disinfected, there is a chance of finding Feather Weights and Pushbuttons still in their sealed original packaging. If you don't mind a used razor (I don't) they can be had quite cheaply.

    The twist to open (TTO) models.
    The next three are the Gem Micromatics. Left to right, the Open Comb, the Clog-Pruf, and the Bullet Tip (or Flying Wing). These all have knobs at the bottom which you twist to open and close the razor. In addition to that TTO mechanism, they have unique shaving characteristics.

    The Open Comb Micromatic is the ideal SE razor for many people. It is certainly the most aggressive of those dealt with here, and needs to be treated with respect. There is no need to panic, but a number of people have recorded bloody first encounters with it; I'm one of them. Once you get the blade angle figured out, as I was quickly motivated to do, it's nothing to worry about. Like most aggressive razors, it will give a very close shave in a minimal number of passes, and it only bites if provoked. For all that, I prefer the 1912, but many would disagree.

    The Clog-Pruf (sic) is not nearly as threatening, and can still provide a close shave. The Bullet Tip is very mild, some would say too mild, but can still work quite well. As with most mild razors, the trick is to find that narrow sweet spot where it's actually cutting your whiskers.

    The final two.
    You will find different explanations as to why SE razors vanished from the marketplace. The reasons why consumers come to adopt a particular product line over another are complex. Much has been written on this subject, and I have nothing original to add. Whatever the reasons, some time in the 1970s ASR gave up the battle and stopped offering new SE razors in stores. Some inconclusive anecdotal evidence indicates that they were still available as a mail-order only item into at least the 1980s, but I can't document that.

    The last two models were the Contour and the Contour II, pictured above. Neither is a bad razor; I've gotten decent shaves with both. They are very mild, and the materials seem to be cheaper than on the earlier versions. Based on conversations with other collectors, some of the parts that are metal on my Contour II may have been plastic on later ones. I see these as a sort of half hearted token effort, made when the handwriting was already on the wall, but ASR was not quite ready to call it quits.

    My tips for using an SE razor.

    How do you actually go about shaving with with an SE razor? If you're already comfortable using a DE, then you probably have two of the most important things down, good prep and lather, and a delicate touch. The other thing you have learned, blade angle, is going to be radically different with an SE, but once you get it right, it's not inherently any more difficult.

    1. Make sure the corners of the blade are under the blade stops. On most SE designs, there are obvious hooks that go over the right and left corners of the cutting edge, make sure that one side does not get on top of these. On a few designs, like the Ever Ready 1914 and some old razors that I haven't dealt with here, these are just little nubs, and you need to rest the end of the blade carefully against them.
    2. The blade angle is going to be much steeper than with a DE razor. Start with the head of the razor flat against your face. This probably won't work all that well, but for some models, it might. If needed, start to bring the top of the head just slightly off your face. Find the shallowest angle that produces good results.
    3. Use a light touch. Not new advice for any kind of razor, but quite important here, more so with some models than others. Use the lightest touch that will produce good results.
    4. Take it slowly, and give yourself a little time to adjust. It's not really that hard; these razors were used successfully by millions of people. Once you learn the learn the little tricks of technique, and you mostly teach these to yourself, you may not want to shave with anything else.
  2. GDCarrington

    GDCarrington Burma Shave

    As far as finding well preserved razors go, you will find more excellent condition SEs for far less in price than the comparable DE. Blades are still available. The "bang for buck" value of these is very good.

    Excellent article.
  3. SharpSpine

    SharpSpine Well-Known Member

    Gotta love the original safety razor. These models are excellent. I'd love to see a bit more regarding lather catchers but I realize that they don't always utilize a modern blade.

    Thanks for a great write up. I didn't think it was possible but you've actually made me love these razors even more!
  4. macaronus

    macaronus Sir Nice-a-Lot

    Great write up! Nice to know a wee bit about the SE razors and their properties. Thanx!
    I've got a Gem Micromatic, but still need to get me some good blades. Do you get as much shave out of a SE blade as from a DE blade?
  5. SharpSpine

    SharpSpine Well-Known Member

    I've taken a single blade to 12 shaves & could have gone farther.
  6. macaronus

    macaronus Sir Nice-a-Lot

    Thanks Brian! I'll be sure to lay my hands on some Se blades when SWMBO allows it and when my allowance is up to it again! :)
    GDCarrington likes this.
  7. fishcrow

    fishcrow Birdman of TSD

    :signs107:Excellent article Brain, thanks for the write-up.
  8. ShortStrokes

    ShortStrokes Well-Known Member

    Really enjoyed reading this. Thank you. Just got my first SE today.
  9. SharpSpine

    SharpSpine Well-Known Member

    Sounds like there will be some DEs on the BST soon! ;)

    Enjoy your first of many shaves on the sharp side!
  10. Xezmer

    Xezmer Active Member

    I've had such bad luck with SE's.. gave my brother all my SE razors and blades after a final attempt that resulted "bumpy" :bounce015:
  11. swarden43

    swarden43 "It's your shave. Enjoy it your way."©

    Great write-up. I've had Sundays dedicated to my SEs for quite some time, now.

    As a matter of fact, March 5th starts our SE Theme Week. :happy093:
  12. Conrad1959

    Conrad1959 Well-Known Member

    Thank you for your analysis. I have some SEs but have never used one. Will now.
  13. HoosierTrooper

    HoosierTrooper Steve-less in Indiana

    Count me as a huge SE fan, and that includes injectors. I try to use a variety of razors, including DE and the occasional cartridge system I enjoy using the old Gem, ER, Treet, Star, Schick and Pal razors the most.

    That is a very nice article as well, thanks for putting it together.
  14. Shaver X

    Shaver X Well-Known Member

    I thought everyone knew about getting a DFS shaving WTG, XTG and ATG with MWF and an SE. Oh, the joys of forum Engrish! ;)

    Seriously, that is a great article and will likely encourage more than a few traditional wetshavers to try a single-edge razor. The photos are most helpful, and will help folks identify the razors often described only verbally. Thank you for that information!
  15. Issac

    Issac Member

    My grandfather has a few single edges. About three or four Vanitys from the 1910s and a gold GEM push button.
    (The finish was in perfect condition, and it still had the little instruction slip where the razor goes).

    I could always go back and get one but I remembered reading this reddit post.
    (If you've never used reddit: click the title for the image)
    On a side note this post has a pretty good guide to using a SE as well as how to deal with shaving injurys.
  16. ridgerunner

    ridgerunner Active Member

    Excellent article! Thank You for a interesting and well written article.
  17. Asd

    Asd Well-Known Member

    After I got ClogPruf and OCMM from Dale, I became a huge fan of SEs. OCMM is my ideal razor, it gaves me the best shaves ever. Treat SEs with caution and awareness and don't try to 'teach' them what to do and you'll be rewarded!
  18. johnus

    johnus Well-Known Member

    After the 12 they're still good for scraping paint off your window glass. Can't ask for more!:)-)
  19. lradke

    lradke and doggone it, people like me

    I dont know about these SEs. That looks an awful lot like a utility blade to me......;)

    SEs are amazing! I prefer the injector and Autostrop to the GEMs. The blades just feel sharper and smoother to me. That being said I do have a lather catcher in my collection still. :)
  20. SharpSpine

    SharpSpine Well-Known Member

    I picked up an E2 injector from the Grab Bag & I'm looking forward to trying it soon after I finish test driving some borrowed DEs. Right now I'm missing my OCMM.

Share This Page