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A Shaving Experiment

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An Experiment

I received this message on Reddit and I thought I would post it here for everyone to comment on.  Perhaps some of you science-oriented readers could contribute suggestions?

First, sorry for the long message.
Second, a background of why I’m messaging you. There has been a recent post in /r/askscience regarding an unofficial scientific fair. Although I rarely post anywhere on Reddit, this is one of the few subreddits I still check on from time to time and I really enjoy the idea of getting people interested in science. Although the fair isn’t aimed towards people like me, I think it would be fun, humorous, educational, and possibly even beneficial to do a science experiment I’ve been daydreaming about for a few years.

This is where you come into play. Two years ago I decided to throw out the ol’ Mach 3 Turbo and get something nicer for my face. I scoured the web to figure out what kind of razor I should invest in, and I came across some of your videos in the process. I learned quite a bit from them, actually, and my technique all came from watching many of your Youtube videos.
Ever since picking up a Merkur razor and Feather double edge blades, I’ve always wondered what the blade looks like as you continue to shave. We all know the blade dulls, and eventually you start nicking your skin, however I can’t find any pictures on the internet of the effects of continued use on razor blade sharpness. Now, I already know what the general outcome of this experiment will be and what it will look like. I could argue with myself that this isn’t a good experiment. However, I’m not doing this for the competition, I’m doing it for fun and to get some cool pictures of razor blades corroding and dulling over time.
I come to you to ask what type of variables I could consider testing. As far as I’m concerned, you’re the leading expert and might be able to give me ideas of what things I could test. I have quite a few variables off the top of my head, and many of them I won’t be able to change due to time limitations. However, feel free to comment on my experiment, or please feel free to mention something you’d like me to “test” out of your own curiosity.
In order to get this done in time, I’ll need to test as few variables as possible. I’d prefer to pick popular choices people might actually be interested in. The dependent variable is sharpness, as this will depend on our parameters. Another possible thing to test is chemical composition, which I can do to some extent with a very fancy microscope I have at the laboratory (scanning electron microscope with “energy dispersive spectroscopy” capabilities for quantifying the alloying metals present). For example, my platinum coated Feather blades might only have a platinum coating a few microns thick, and as I shave three or four or five times, we might be able to see that platinum coating disappear. This is a diagram of what I’m trying to explain. The types of pictures I would take would look like either thisthis or this.
The testing methods will have to be consistent for this to be a “scientific” experiment. This means, I’ll have to shave every day to make sure each shaving is consistent with beard length. I’ll also have to use the same number of passes each shave. Not only that but I’ll have to make sure to use the same method, for example I’ll have to make sure to shave with the grain on the first pass, and against the grain on the second pass. Unless, of course, we wanted to use that as an independent variable (will my blade dull quicker if I shave with the grain first and against the grain second pass, compared to if I only shaved with the grain for both passes?).
I was thinking of shaving every evening after my shower, after a predetermined soak length and temperature of my beard. Then, I would keep a few razors untouched from factory conditions and store them in a dessicator so they don’t get hit by moisture over time (moisture is a variable I wish to avoid, since everyone’s environment will be different). The first day will be after 1 day of not having a shave, and the shave will have predetermined conditions. Then I will keep the Day 1 razor blade and store that in a dessicator as well. Then on the second day, I’ll shave with a new razor blade with identical conditions, only we won’t throw this razor blade away. We’ll want to keep this razor blade for 2 day’s worth of shaving. The experiment will continue for up to 5 shaves or so. This way, we’ll have 5 different blades, each having been used for anywhere from 1-5 shaves. Heck, since each shave usually has 2 or 3 passes, I could even set this up so we check out the sharpness of the blade after every single pass. Then we might have 15 blades to look at with varying sharpness, since 5 days of shaving with up to 3 passes is 5×3=15 passes total. This might push the limits of my cheek sensitivity.
Anyway, I just wanted to run this by you to get any feedback. As far as I’m concerned, you are the authority when it comes to shaving. Feel free to mention your thoughts, anything you might change, or any other variables you think should be tested. Again, this is for fun. There are many flaws in this experiment, and it will not be thorough by any means. Still, I think it would be fun for the shaving community to check out cool micrographs of the razor blades they use close up.
Again, sorry for the long message. I tend to type a lot. Thanks for reading!

So…suggestions for this experiment? Comments?


Shave tutor and co-founder of sharpologist. Also check out my content on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest!View Author posts

10 thoughts on “A Shaving Experiment”

  1. HI Great Idea , would you need to ensure that the soap or cream being used is always the same from the same batch.

  2. It sounds like a very interesting and useful experiment. If notes are kept on how each shave went, a microscope photo after each one will help correlate blade effectiveness and comfort with blade edge characteristics. Good for you, Shaving Experimenter, for undertaking such an investigation!
    I agree with David that moisture is part of the shaving environment. After all, nobody shaves dry, so the presence of moisture will more accurately replicate a typical wetshaving scenario. Perhaps it would be useful to test one blade at a time, shaving with it for as long as it lasts. This is likely to vary between the different blade types, and might be better than using a blade only for a fixed number of shaves. It will also eliminate the need for a desiccator, a piece of equipment not found in most shave dens. By the same token, mineral oil or alcohol soaks will also not be needed. Although some wetshaving enthusiasts might do this to prevent corrosion, my guess is that the great majority of shavers do not.
    I, and I am sure many others, look forward to reading your findings.

    1. Shaving Experimenter

      Thankfully there would be no math in this experiment. I was going to make this strictly qualitative. No numbers involved, only pictures.

  3. How about comparing an uncoated carbon steel blade with a stainless steel one (most of which, I believe, are coated with something else)?

    1. Shaving Experimenter

      Hey, I’m the author who sent this message to Mantic59,
      A comparison between different blades would be an excellent experiment, I thought about including that in this experiment if I had enough time. The deadline for this experiment was the end of November, and I could technically get the above experiment done in 16 days if I don’t skip a beat (5+4+3+2+1 days of shaving, then an extra day for using the electron microscope). That could possibly leave me enough time to mess around with multiple blades. The question is, what few blades should I compare? Right now, the only blades I have on hand are Feather Hi-Stainless Platinum blades, which lets me skate by with 5 consecutive shaves without changing blades. I won’t lie, there are a few nicks and cuts towards the end.
      Since this is generally considered one of the highest quality blades, maybe it would be nice to try a normal stainless steel blade (iron, chromium, and possibly a few other alloys such as manganese or nickel WITHOUT platinum coating), and then a cheapo carbon steel blade without the chromium content or other fancy alloys.
      It would also be fun to look at the blades under the microscope when they are in factory condition. Not only would we see the variance in bevel angle between brands, we might also see the difference in polish. Who knows.

  4. This is a pretty cool experiment. He says he wants to avoid moisture, and I can understand his reasoning. However, I would be most interested in whether the greatest effects in blade composition were due to the actual shaving or due to oxidation? Since the blades will obviously get wet as he rinses them off, he should have at least one control for each blade that is rinsed but not used to actually shave. I’ve also heard that drying a blade and/or storing it in mineral oil can extend it’s usable life, so that could also be another control/sub-experiment.

    1. Shaving Experimenter

      Hey, I’m the author who sent this message to Mantic59.
      It seems like you understand why I wanted to avoid moisture for this experiment. I think the effects of corrosion would be very interested to look at as well. Moisture most certainly plays a role in corrosion and blade quality over time. In fact, depending on what type of blade you have, the moisture/corrosion control will possibly have a bigger effect than shaving itself. The issue is finding an accurate way to measure moisture while keeping the experiment inside my bathroom. I could perform a separate experiment that would vary corrosion due to moisture over time as well at a later date, it would be best to separate the variables.
      I like the idea of the “control” blade, as well as storing them in mineral oil. I forgot to mention in the message, I will be drying each blade off with compressed air to help extend the usable life. Right now winter is setting in, so the moisture in the air is quite low to begin with. This time of year at the lab I work at, which shares the same environment as my home/ventilated bathroom, we often leave pure iron out for a few days with negligible oxidation.
      Without a doubt, there are multiple experiments we could set up. I can’t make the promise to look at all of the variables since I keep fairly busy, but I’ll try my best with this first experiment and see where it goes.
      Thanks for the input.

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