The twist to open butterfly (AKA silo missile doors) double edge razor was the “state of the art” just prior to the introduction of cartridge razors. Since then that technology seems to have taken a back seat to less convenient, but easier to manufacture, technology. It’s been my long-held belief that we need to re-visit the TTO razor. Are there any good “modern” TTO razors? I decided to look more closely and create a buyer’s guide.
Back In The Day
Probably the first “one piece” safety razor was the Segal razor in the early 1930’s. The Segal razor did not open like the classic “butterfly” razor but rather the top cap pivoted to a vertical position and the blade (double edge but not the Gillette form factor) slid down the cap and onto the base plate.
Around the same time GEM produced the GEM Micromatic with a twist-to-open top. Of course it accepted GEM single-edge blades, not double edge blades.
The Twist To Open (TTO) “butterfly” razor was first introduced by Gillette in 1934 with the Gillette Aristocrat razor. Probably the best-known TTO razor, the Gillette Super Speed, was introduced in 1947 and by the late 1950’s had probably achieved the peak of its engineering design.
The Super Speed went through a number of tweaks, including another major redesign in 1966–notably adding a resin coating to a metal handle along with some cost-cutting changes.
Production of the Super Speed dropped off when cartridge razors started becoming profitable and halted in the United States altogether in 1988, though the razor was manufactured by Gillette in other parts of the world up until the new Millennium. Some manufacturing was done by third parties under license.
But the fact that many Super Speed razors can still be found in good condition at rummage sales, internet auction sites, antique stores, and your grandfather’s bathroom is a testament to its design, engineering, and durability.
Schick, Gillette’s perennial number two competitor and better known for their “Injector” razor, also produced a TTO butterfly double edge razor: the Krona. Although only produced for a fairly short time in the mid-1960’s it has a reputation in the vintage razor enthusiast community as a razor that shaves well (personally, I think the Krona is a very under-appreciated razor).
Merkur took a stab at a TTO razor in the late 1990’s with their Vision razor. The Vision was not only a TTO design but an adjustable razor as well. It was a unique design but it was also ridiculously over-engineered (IMHO) and prone to failure unless it was regularly maintained. Merkur withdrew it from production in the early 2000’s.
New Twist To Open Razors Available Now
Unfortunately many TTO razors produced these days do not have the best reputation. Most are made in China or Pakistan using an early 1960’s Gillette Super Speed design but often with sub-standard materials and workmanship. The Gillette double edge razor (and blade) patents have long-since expired. But even if they hadn’t I bet these factories would probably still be making them, as some of these manufactures seem to think copyright means they have the “right” to “copy” something. A quick search on Alibaba or AliExpress will find many examples.
But that is not to say all TTO razors are sub-standard. There are some good ones out there! The key indicator seems to be how involved the brand is with the manufacturing process. Those who merely place an order with an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) at the lowest price possible and wait for delivery will most likely get an inferior, inconsistent product.
Brands that take an active part in ensuring that agreed-upon design and quality control specifications are being followed–or do the manufacturing themselves–are more likely to have a more successful product, albeit at a slightly higher cost. That means multiple, regular trips to the factory in person. I hear this again and again from brand representatives who are “in the know.”
Brand names with time in the market can be another indicator of a better product (or at least an evolving product), though by no means a consistently accurate one.
What Are The Best TTO Butterfly Double Edge Razors?
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Names like Feather, Parker, and Weishi have been around a while and are probably well-known to the old school shave enthusiast. More recently names like Viking’s Blade have taken steps to improve their products. Let’s take a closer look (in alphabetical order):
Although perhaps better known for their double edge blades, Feather offers two TTO double edge razors, the model 800-1B (AKA the Feather “Popular”) and the new model DER-A (AKA the Feather “Adjustable”–though I would call it a semi-adjustable).
The “Popular” razor is different from Feather’s other products. Feather is generally known as a premium brand and their prices generally wander toward the higher end of the spectrum. But the “Popular,” with it’s plastic handle, light weight, and comparatively low price is definitely a value product. The shave is generally regarded as on the mild side (though I think not as mild as their high-end Stainless Steel razors). The razor’s light weight gives some shavers trouble because they unconsciously apply more pressure, making irritation more likely.
The “Adjustable” razor is new on the scene and can be a little difficult to get a hold of. It is adjustable but only in two positions: “1” for a very mild blade gap and “2” for a more middle-of-the-road shave. Like the “Popular” it has a plastic handle (and some plastic head parts), though I think the Adjustable’s handle is much more ergonomic.
As you might think, the mild Feather razors work well with the Feather high performance DE blades.
Parker Razors, founded in 1973 but launched in the US in 2005, now has a dozen models of TTO razors, all sharing the same TTO head design. Some have slightly different TTO mechanics inside the handle of the razor, depending on whether the TTO dial is at the bottom or the top of the handle. Although best known as a “value” brand, the design and engineering of Parker razors have evolved and improved over the years (particularly after a major re-tooling in 2010) and I think they’re pretty solidly-made razors that are a bit more aggressive than the three piece Parker razors. The Parker 92R is a favorite razor of mine though the 99R is their most popular TTO from a sales perspective.
Although apparently a family-owned business since 1985 in Australia, Viking’s Blade was originally a “white label” contractor for other brands. In 2015 they added their own consumer-oriented online presence. After an early debacle with one of their suppliers Viking’s Blade as grown into a fairly significant presence in the wet shaving world (though some of the shaving Illuminati still seem to have a chip on their collective shoulder about them), mainly thanks to their use of Amazon as a marketing channel.
In 2017 the family business was acquired by an Intellectual Property (IP) and holding company named Vullion Group. I can’t find a whole lot about them but I will say that they do seem to be taking an active part in keeping an eye on their manufacturing partners (an important aspect, as I mentioned earlier). Their FAQ page includes this comment:
“We employ Australian supervisors and QC staff in Asia to ensure an enjoyable and ethical working environment that results the tightest error margin.”
Viking’s Blade currently have four TTO razor lines: the original Chieftain, the long-handled Vulcan, the adjustable Crusader, and and the new heavy-duty adjustable Emperor. There are also some model variations in the Chieftain line (which may have caused some additional confusion in the market) and Emperor line.
While it might be fair to say that some of their early razors bear a passing resemblance to other “copycat” razors I think Viking’s Blade’s latest offerings, particularly the Emperor adjustable razor, are clearly based on original designs and made to higher manufacturing specifications. Only time will tell how durable they will be, but I have reason to be optimistic.
According to their Amazon storefront (I can’t seem to find a website from them), Weishi has been manufacturing razors since 1993. They sell their own brand and I suspect they’re the OEM for a lot of others, too: razors from brands like Van Der Hagen, Micro Touch One, and Dorco (Prime) look an awful lot like the Weishi-branded model 9306 razor (which has itself gone through several minor revisions through the years, the latest being the 9306f).
Weishi is known as a low-cost alternative and their quality control has always been kind of spotty–though it seems like it has improved over the last couple of years. And very recently there seems to have been an effort to expand the variety of their double edge razor line with the “Nostalgic” series that includes both a long handle TTO and an adjustable TTO.
Twist to open “butterfly” double edge razors are not only convenient to use but they also have a place in cultural history: ask a random person on the street to describe an “old fashioned safety razor” and the odds are they’ll say something like ‘oh, that razor where the top doors opened up to change a blade with.’ With the right kind of razor blade storage magazine blade changing can be a completely hands-off process.
Although not as common as they once were I think TTO butterfly razors from Parker and recent models from Viking’s Blade are well built, reasonably priced (comparable to other types of double edge razors), and deserving of consideration.
Do you have a twist to open butterfly razor? What do you think of it? Leave a comment below.