[Updated August, 2020] The “open comb” razor was one of the original safety razor head designs. While the evolution of the double edge razor generally moved to a safety bar, the open comb concept did take a branch of its own which has been recently re-discovered: the double open comb or self lubricating open comb razor.
In The Beginning: The Grand Shave King Self-Lubricating Razor
The Grand Shave King Self Lubricating Razor was characterized by having a slotted top cap with an open comb base plate (the slots may or may not line up with the teeth of the base plate). The purpose of the slots was to serve as a sort of reservoir for water and lather. From the original patent by Joseph Mellon:
“My invention relates to a new and useful improvement in a safety razor, and has for its object the provision of a safety razor so constructed and arranged that when dipped in water or placed in a running stream of water, it will retain a quantity of the water and release the same when the cutting edge of the blade is placed against the face.
“It is another object of the invention to provide a safety razor so constructed and arranged that it may moisten the lather immediately preceding the cutting blade as it is drawn over the face.
“Another object of the invention is the provision of a safety razor having a back plate provided at its opposite edges with transversely directed longitudinally spaced apart slots of such a width as to provide water receiving and retaining spaces so that as the razor is drawn over the face in the shaving operation, the water retained in the slots will flow onto the face and serve moistening purposes.”
A patent was applied for in 1944 and granted in 1945. There were actually three different model variations of the Grand Shave King. Few survive today due to their somewhat fragile construction. Most belong to collectors: when one does come up for auction their prices have been listed at several hundred dollars.
Modern Updates To The Design
In recent years the renewed interest in “old school” safety razors have given rise to modern reproductions or updates of long-forgotten razor designs. The Grand Shave King is one of these designs.
[Note: AliExpress, Amazon, PAA, and West Coast Shaving links are affiliate.]
Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements (PAA)
The first and most well-known update of the Grand Shave King was produced as sort of an homage by Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements (PAA), who named it the Double Open Comb razor (commonly abbreviated to just “DOC”). Their first model was made of zinc and brass but a second revision is now Nickel-plated. There is also a travel version. From the PAA website:
“The Phoenix Dbl OC is based on the classic Self Lubricating Grand Razor, a masterpiece in both design and concept! It is one of my favorite razors of all time, and again, I don’t think it was ever fully evolved or explored after it disappeared into wet shaving history…until now!
“I took the basic design tweaked it and made some slight alterations, removed the dip in the center of the head cap, added a tad more weight to the handle for consistent fulcrum, and hit it with our special brand of knurling.”
The most obvious visual “alteration” is the width of the teeth in the cap:
A second model, the Evolution, tweaked the design with a much more aggressive head geometry. Check out Joe Borrelli’s Sharpologist review of the Evolution: The PAA “Evolution” DOC Razor for a full discussion. This razor is no longer produced.
A third model, the Ascension Twist, was introduced that further refined the design with a geometry between the original and the Evolution, and a form of adjustment. This razor is available with a version produced in CNC-machined Aluminum, another in CNC-machined Stainless Steel, and a premium version produced in CNC-machined copper.
Related Post: Is The Adjustable Safety Razor Finally Catching On?
The success of the PAA DOC razors inspired others to look at the Grand Shave King design. Yaqi, the Far Eastern “original equipment manufacturer” (OEM) of shaving paraphernalia that recently started dipping its corporate toes into the direct-to-consumer market with their AliExpress store, launched its own version of the self lubricating razor, the DLC:
There are actually several razor styles, with two heads available: the Mellon head based on the original Grand Shave King and the Beast head with a much more aggressive head design. Although these razors are often compared to the PAA designs, side-by-side the Yaqi’s lower-cost design philosophy is apparent:
Canadian wet shaving vendor Italian Barber offers their own take on the self lubricating razor design, the Razorock SLOC. This appears to be a similar design to the Yaqi “Mellon” version but is offered with a head constructed of zinc alloy and a higher-cost head constructed of milled aluminum. Italian Barber offers a number of different handles to pair with these heads (the head by itself is available as well).
At least one Grand Shave King-style self lubricating razor head has appeared on Amazon. It is probably OEM’d from the same place that Yaqi gets their heads but, as with many products on Amazon, be mindful of the source.
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How To Use A Double Open Comb Or Self Lubricating Open Comb (D/SL OC) Razor
Despite the “self lubricating” moniker you really do need to use water and lubrication–good prep and a good lather are essential for a close, comfortable shave just like any other safety razor.
And, like any other double edge (DE) razor, you must set the angle of the blade against the skin yourself. But the blade angle range of a D/SL OC razor is quite narrow–and critically important. While you can usually “fudge” the angle of the typical DE somewhat, “riding the cap” or “riding the guard,” you must really pay close attention to the optimum angle of a D/SL OC for the best shave performance.
Many D/SL OC razor users use the audio feedback of the blade edge against the stubble as their guide: these razors are generally quite “noisy” when used properly.
Shaving with short strokes and frequent rinsing seem to be more effective than taking long, sweeping strokes. This makes sense because too much water and lather caught up in the razor’s teeth will clog the channels, reducing its effectiveness.
My Experience With D/SL OC Razors
I have used a number of Grand Shave King-esq razors over the years including the original PAA DOC, the Evolution DOC, and a couple variations of the Ascension Twist DOC; the Yaqi Mellon SLOC; and I have an Italian Barber/Razorock SLOC head. Out of all of them all I prefer the latest incarnation of the PAA Ascension Twist DOC, followed closely by the Razorock SLOC.
[Note: I purchased all these products: none were provided to me for editorial review.]
Although generally the differences are subtle and all perform well I think the Ascension Twist has the most flexibility in blade gap (e.g. I can make it reasonably gentle as I like mild razors) and though the blade angle “sweet spot” is fairly narrow as mentioned above I think it’s perhaps at least a bit wider than the others. I find it exceptionally comfortable, too.
I think the Razorock SLOC has a slightly wider “sweet spot” and when I pair the head with a lighter handle so the center-of-gravity is closer to the top it gives me an excellent shave–mild but not too mild.
Unlike many shavers who use this kind of razor, I rely less on the blade’s audio feedback and more on the visual “track” of the razor. A too-steep or too-shallow angle will result in lather channels on the skin, like what a regular open comb razor may leave if I “ride the comb.”
Short strokes are important for a D/SL OC razor. I use short strokes anyway, no matter what razor I’m using, so this is familiar and comfortable to me.
I think these types of razors are particularly good for against the grain and cleanup (“touch and cut”) routines–especially “blade buffing.”
Double open comb and self lubricating open comb razors today owe their design to a vintage razor of the 1940’s. Although they might be a little more of a challenge to a “newbie” to traditional shaving, in that the blade angle is more unforgiving than a typical double edge safety razor, these razors can provide excellent shaves with a lower chance of irritation.
Do you have a “Double Open Comb” or “Self Lubricating Open Comb” razor? What do you think of it? Leave a comment below!
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