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3 Piece Razors? It’s The 21st Century: Why Are We Still Buying Them?

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Why Can’t We Have Nice Things?

I truly enjoy shaving with a DE razor.  Wielded with a bit of skill a DE razor can shave competitively with any other razor, and better than most.  But why must we continue to endure three piece razors?

I’m not talking about vintage razors now…but new, 21st century razors from Merkur, Edwin Jagger, Muhle, etc.  Why must we fiddle with three small bits of metal every time we need to change blades (and who hasn’t accidentally mounted the bottom plate upside down every once in a while)?  Yeah, yeah…they’re based on time-tested designs out of  patent so they’re cheap and easy to produce.  OK, then why is a Weishi or a Parker less than $30?  Licensing a 60+ year old technology from Gillette for a twist-to-open TTO razor head can’t cost that much, can it?  And Merkur proved an alternative design is possible (albeit in the Vision 2000’s case over-engineered).

I can tolerate a two-piece razor like a Merkur HD.  I can understand that the typical three piece razor can have a thinner head than a TTO so it may be easier to maneuver around those difficult areas like under the nose (just look at the profile of a Goodfella razor).  I can appreciate the engineering that goes into Pils and Ikon razors (some of them are quite beautiful-looking).  But is there no other design alternative?


Shave tutor and co-founder of sharpologist. I have been advocating old-school shaving for over 20 years and have been featured in major media outlets including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Lifehacker. Also check out my content on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest!View Author posts

50 thoughts on “3 Piece Razors? It’s The 21st Century: Why Are We Still Buying Them?”

  1. 3-Piece versus TTO is a NON-ISSUE.
    Seriously, who cares? The “arguments” against 3-pc razors fall into two general categories: Ease-of-use and Time-wasted.

    Ease of use: Yes, twisting a ring is easier than unscrewing a handle. Using an electric toothbrush is easier than a manual one, but it doesn’t mean the manual toothbrushes (or 3-piece razors) are HARD to use. If you can use a toothbrush or comb your hair, then you can use a 3-piece razor. Traditional wet shaving is all about the experience — being in the zen-like state while enjoying the process of shaving like Grandpa. It’s NOT an exercise in efficiency. Non-issue.

    Time Wasted/Saved: Yes it will save a few seconds to twist the knob on a TTO rather than unscrewing then re-screwing a 3-pc handle. So what? I spend much more time building a good lather and prepping my face for a good shave than I do loading a blade. Again traditional wet shaving is all about the enjoyable experience. It’s NOT about saving time. Non-issue.

  2. I just came across this, and thought I’d add to the thread. There’s no right or wrong here, just what works best for each of us, but I’m not really a fan of the 3-piece razors, and much prefer the TTO. Aside from the fact I love the vintage-style mechanics of a TTO, for me they are much easier to load and clean by a wide margin.
    The one 3-piece I have is a bit of a pain when disassembling for cleaning and changing the blade. I have to shake the 2-piece head apart and the blade stays locked in it’s curved position at the top of the head, making it necessary to grab the edge and work it loose. I have to set the head down and grab the blade on each side to get it to come off. Granted this may very well be an issue with the manufacturing tolerances on this particular head, but I have to be very careful with this particular razor.
    Regardless of that, when re-assembling I just found it to be more involved than a TTO. Don’t mistake that for difficult; this isn’t rocket science, but simply more fiddling around with all the pieces, and as others have mentioned making sure the lower plate is right-side up . By comparison my TTOs are opened, unloaded, cleaned, dried, re-loaded, and closed in 15-20 seconds. No fuss at all.

  3. I don’t buy your argument that the cost savings of DoubleEdge is not significant over cartridge.
    Gillette Fusion Proglide cartridges cost between $4 and $5 each. After 4 weeks of shaving every day, the blades will be noticeably less sharp. you could certainly continue using the same cartridge for another month, but at a markedly lower quality shave. Perhaps men with thin beards can suffice with this, but if you have thick hairs, the dull blades catch on and irritate. If you change them once a month, it will cost you $60 per year. I have already been shaving for 10 years now. That would have been $600.
    Feather Double Edge razor blades cost approximately $0.30 each. I have never experienced a shave as good as when using a fresh feather razor. In terms of closeness, ease of shave, lack of skin irritation. it shaves so close I look different than when I shave with a cartridge (gillette fusion). After 2 weeks of shaving, you can notice the blade is not as frighteningly sharp as when fresh, but is still very sharp. It is good to replace it after 4 weeks. In one year that works out to cost $3.60. Even if you say I don’t change the blade often enough, ok, let’s say every week. that is $15.60 per year. and with a guaranteed magic shave. it ten years that is $156.
    $444 saved over the course of 10 years.

  4. I picked up a 3 piece razor because I dislike the long length of the of that screw required on the two piece. My guess is a slight drop might damage it easier because of the length. The 3 piece is just easier to make sure you have it cleaned, no long tube. I like it also because it lies flat when taken apart, unlike the 2 piece. I had a Butterfly style razor for years, do miss the ease of loading/unloading, cleaning the blade, but that thick, bulky head would always cut me around the corner of my nose, it also caught tons of crap and clogged in the saftey bar. I don’t have that problem with my 3 piece Mukur 1904 open comb, an no, this razor doesn’t need any special handling because it is a comb. LOL about reversing the bottom plate on a 3 piece, was half asleep the other day, screwed the handle with just the top head and blade only. Now that is a man’s man razor, no comb.

  5. Bought a 3 piece safety razor in Spain back in the mid-sixties and still use it.
    Try shaving in the shower, using just hand soap in the morning. Smoothest shaves you’ll ever get.

  6. I’m pretty new at this but I really prefer 3-piece razors so far. My DE89 and Weber feel smoother and more solid than the Gillette TTO’s to me. I also like how easy they are to clean. Once you get used to changing the blade, it’s really very easy.

  7. I have three razors and all of them are three piece
    gillette tech
    tto’s to me look clumsy and have never been tempted to get one purely based on looks.
    This whole de thingy is supposed to be simple and tto has too many moving parts to be considered simple.
    tto’s are just a bit better than multi blade catridges for me.
    hmm on second thoughts
    lets lump them all togethere
    ttos no better than multi blade catridges..

  8. I’m a relative newby to DE shaving. I’ve started out with an Edwin Jagger 89lbl. I previously had never dealt with such an implement. I’ve had no trouble with its three piece construction. I disassemble the razor after each shave thoroughly clean the parts and blade, dry them, reassemble and place on the rack. The whole process takes but a few moments. I haven’t reversed parts or cut myself. It’s all really quite simple. For the cartridge lovers: The Track3 is a nice design but the cartridges only last me at the most 3-4 shaves, they’re pricey and the whole thing just isn’t as fun as the preparation, technique and focused awareness required for DE shaving.

  9. I use cartridges. Recently moved to the Gillette Fusion Proglide. OMG. Ridiculously smooth. “Glide” is certainly the word I would use. ULTRA close… with one pass that can be as high speed and careless as you want. No badger brushes. No cream dishes laying around. Just clean shaves, quickly.
    Yes, replacement cartridges can be pricey. But one cartridge lasts FAR longer than one blade. Plus I buy them on eBay to save money. Right around ~$2.25 a cartridge without buying in bulk. So yes, a bit more money. But all in all, we’re still only talking about a few bucks spaced over many months. Borderline insignificant in my eyes.

    1. I agree. From what I’ve read, people seem to swap in a new blade after roughly 7 shaves. Whereas I can go a month and a half on a cartridge.
      3-piece = 1 year/7 days= 52.1 blades = ~$16-17 in blades
      Cartridge = 1 year/45 days = 8.1 cartridges = ~$18.25 in cartridges.
      I think that’s actually a pretty unbiased comparison. If you think it’s not, let’s give the blades the benefit of the doubt and assume they saved us $5….. that’s A YEAR. $5 a year. Big deal. Let alone that a cartridge is super easy, quick and effective. And you can keep all that “shave like a man” business. Why don’t we still use an ax to chop down trees? Because the chainsaw was invented. Quit living in the past and pretending that it’s “more manly”. Let me shave quickly and get back to raising my children, like a real man.

      1. I think you need to re-work the calculations. If the cartridge lasts you a month and a half, a d.e. blade will last more than 7 shaves.
        The cartridge will degrade in sharpness gradually so after 6 weeks it must be a rough shave. Certainly no where near the slickness on day 1.
        Are you shaving daily to achieve about 40 shaves on a single cartridge? I would be interested to know if you shave with lather or gel.

        1. Also, many people have problems with in-grown hair. Spec. black men, like me. So it’s not really much of a choice, also having tried cartridge systems I find that they don’t get as ‘deep’ as a de.
          It comes down to aggressiveness, I turned down my futur on one side, and up on another and it felt like the one turned up more went deeper into the skin; not cutting, but deeper in a good way.
          It felt smoother, more lively, and softer. Plus, honestly DE is quicker pretty much once you know how to use it. If scraping 5 dull blades across your face in the shower is fast, sure you can do that with a de too.
          No-one said you have to follow, ‘routine’ but if using a brush, cream everything then adding the DE is faster, if nothing else it also gets more hair off.
          A cartridge pretty much leaves me looking like I have 1 or 2 day stubble. Trying for any more results in severe, burn, ingrowns, and blood.
          Aka Nastiness.
          Three pieces are cool, Idk if I want a non-adjustable again though. I like them, because it’s less work, and more reliable.

        2. I guess maybe I got a little too nit-picky, but I was trying to remain unbiased. The point I was making is that the costs are close. You could quadruple the savings I calculated, it’s still not much. Insignificant spaced out over a year. I will add that a close friend of mine, who got me interested in this in the first place, says he changes blades every 3 shaves. So like I said, I think my calculations weren’t too far out in left field. I’m willing to give the blades the well benefit of the doubt. Still insignificant.
          And I will note and agree with GunZX in that I guess everyone’s experience may differ. I know some people fight razor burn/bumps. So if you have a problem with that using cartridges, then I completely see your point. I’ve never had a problem with that, even shaving against the grain. If you do, then by all means, do what you gotta do. I’m sure that sucks.

  10. Interesting post – funny I didn’t notice it before now.
    For me, the beauty and fascination of the three piece razor lies in the simplicity of it. It’s simple. It’s hard to break.
    In a world where more and more features are added to even the simplest little thing, I find it fascinating to use such a simple tool as a three piece razor.

  11. I personally prefer the TTO razors like the superspeed or the slim but still I wouldn’t be without my Merkur 1904 in my rotation. I find the 3 piece has a heavier head which is good for heavy stubble if I’ve been lazy for a couple of days.
    But still I don’t see why my 3 piece couldn’t be a 2 piece like the HD. I guess it comes down to personal preference. If they stopped making them you’d have someone putting in a post saying I miss them bring them back.

  12. Ted Pettinicchi (TAP119 on B & B)

    Mark, your question is one which also vexes me. Why, after all the years the Gillette patents on its TTOs have expired, is no one manufacturing new ones or replicas? One session on Badger & Blade would demonstrate to any rational corporate marketing executive that there would be money to be had in reviving that most sought-after of all the TTOs, the Gillette Super Adjustable: The Fat Boy.
    Last Fall, I wrote to Gillette and asked why they no longer manufactured TTOs or even DE blades for market here in the US. They politely said it was not in their corporate strategy. Reading between the lines, I inferred that their answer was, “You want us to bring back what? Those went out with buggy whips and black & white TVs!”
    Okay, I get that building multibladed shaving “systems” which look more and more like cheesegraters costing many dollars each is at the core of the corporate strategy. Isn’t there somebody out there willing to try it? If the tooling & dies still exist, it couldn’t be that hard to make new FatBoys, could it?
    I am and always will be an employee; I gladly state I don’t have that much business sense. However, isn’t entrepreneurism about finding a need and offering goods or services to fill it?
    T. A. P.

    1. I think you will find that Parker manufacture TTO razors. They appear to have at least 5 models of “butterfly” available, can’t speak from experience because I have a fatboy and a slim, so have no interest in buying one.

  13. I primarily use 3 piece razors for a number of reasons, many have already been stated.
    1) they pack flat
    2) they are easier to completely clean – have you ever done a complete tear down on a TTO razor? It is not pretty the amount of crud that gets trapped in the mechanism.
    3) There is less to go wrong with the razor.
    4) I like having the option to use swap handles or use custom handles to get just the right feel
    5) Simplicity strikes harmony with my aesthetic
    6) They work better for me. I can never get as good of a shave with a TTO or adjustable as I can with most 3 piece razors.

  14. I have a Merkur Progress, a Gillette Slim and a Feather AS. The worst for blade change is the Merkur – because the adjustment knob is also the screw for the razor’s head. The Gillette is TTO so its dead easy and seems to consistently seat the blade correctly. The Feather AS – a 3 piece – is less work than the Merkur, but the blade is locked down perfectly every time.

  15. I’ll add to the chorus: the 3-piece design is time-tested, simple, seats the blade securely, and packs flat for traveling. Sure, you could have all kinds of designs, and looking at vintage razors, you find lots of design experimentation over the decades. But remember, shaving — like hammering — is a simple task. Drastic redesign toward complexity only moves further away from the original [simple] task. Of all my razors, the Joris and Edwin Jagger 3-pieces give me my best shaves. Who am I to mess that up!

  16. I have taken the Razor Acquisition Disorder ride and found that I really, really like my old Gillette New Deluxe three piece. This is after trying about three dozen different razors and giving straights a whirl, too.
    I don’t mind a three piece. As everyone has said over and over again, I don’t mind the time consuming aspect of changing the blade too much. The TTO is a bit more convenient, but I prefer the feel and maneuverability of the three piece head over my TTO’s.
    I picked up my old Mach 3 a couple months ago just to see what I was “missing” for comparisons sake. It was a disappointing shaver for me; too aggressive after two years of traditional razors. I can see now why I used to get so much razor burn from going against the grain.

  17. @Roscoe Billy Gibbons is from zztop, he has a really long beard. I’m sure you’d recognise him if you saw him. :o)

  18. 3 piece razors. Personally I like Merkur’s 2 piece design (although technically speaking it is still 3 pieces).
    I’ve used 1, 2, and 3 piece razors. 1 piece was nice and I liked the mechanism, but it wasn’t really anything special. 2 piece is what I’m using now and I love it very much.
    3 piece was what my first safety razor was. I admit I did put the bottom part on upside down quite a few times. There was one incident shortly after I bought it in which it slipped out of my hands while I was changing the blade. I tried to catch it and ended up slicing halfway through my thumb and severely cutting my index finger in the process (I needed stitches). Other than that I was fine with a 3 piece. It was an Edwin Jagger DE86. Very contemporary, lovely thing. I don’t know why I sold it….

  19. Oh, the three piece is easy to take apart and clean, and that is one of its advantages, it’s easy to clean. What worked well in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, still works good today. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If you need something faster than a good three piece razor, it’s called a Norelco. I’ve got one collecting dust if anyone really wants one.

  20. For me, I enjoy taking my time with shaving, that’s a big part of the appeal of DE and SE shaving. Putting a blade into a 3-piece is a matter of seconds, so not enough to put me off. And my 3-pieces all get far more use than any of my TTO razors, which i’m thinking of getting rid of, truth be told.

  21. One of the reasons I like DE shaving is that the equipment is old technology, rather simple but pretty much still state of the art. I could be a straight razor shaver if the equipment didn’t require regular maintenance and if my hand was a bit more steady. Price has never played a role for me in the shave of choice because in the total scheme of things shaving is relative cheap regardless of method or tool choice.
    I have of course tried a number of cartridge razors and I particularly don’t like the feel of the instrument and the fact that the heads are proprietary and there are too many of them to choose from. None of which have produced the results for me that the old school DE does.
    For me shaving is fun! If I was strapped for shaving dollars I’d probably just try to look a little more like Billy Gibbons.

    1. Same here on straight razors. I would move to them if entry costs weren’t so expensive and if — and this is a big if — I had better eyesight. I’m near legally blind and I don’t like shaving by feel, especially around the lips and nose.

      1. Sorry about not seeing so well. Frankly I just don’t trust myself with a straight razor. Keeping one sharp like a Feather is not something I think I could even accomplish. Glad you’re still getting a good wet shave done .. I’m inspired!

  22. Why the knock on cartridge razors? They’re much cheaper than most good quality DE razors. Wet shaving was supposed to save us money, as I mentioned several times in your other blog and videos. It sure as hasn’t. Not when you got the prices rising on everything, just because this growing in popularity.
    The merkur HD used to be under $25, now it’s over $42, and that’s not including the rising cost of DE blades going over $2.00 a pack and up. Pretty soon, I think that DE razors and their blades will be on the same price level as cartridge razors. Difference is, I can use weekly Sunday paper coupons at will to bring down the cost, while you get essentially no savings from shaving vendors who are stingy.

    1. There does seem to be a lot of mindless, follow-the-herd cartridge and electric razor bashing online, but traditional wetshaving does offer cost savings. Of course, that won’t happen if one buys 8,000 razor blades, 300 soaps and a collection of $600 vintage razors.
      Cartridge razors may be much less expensive than safety razors, but the cartridges are more expensive than double-edge blades, often by a very substantial margin. A safety razor will soon pay for itself through reduced blade costs. Prices for Merkur razors have gone through the roof, but Edwin Jagger still sells the DE89 starting around $35. Lord, Weishi and others are even less.
      There is a large selection of double-edge blades available, so it is usually possible to find some that work particularly well. There are what… at least 60 different blades sold online? The variety of cartridges, on the other hand, is much more limited.
      What is rather surprising in the article is the dislike of the three piece razors, but not their two piece counterparts. The Gillette “silo doors” system may be very convenient, but the three-piece system is not all that much trouble. From what I have seen, it is little different than the Merkur 34C two-piece disassembly/reassembly process. Ah well, to each his own.

  23. Another advantage of the 3 piece razor, that I came to appreciate after I bought one, is that it packs flat for travel.

  24. I’ve always been skeptical of the pod-bay-doors type of blade accommodation. Seems like those hinges are just another thing to break or bend or be out of alignment. And I really want my blade to be within a nanometer of alignment tolerance. It just feels to me like my Merkur 3-piece is most likely to deliver that. Could be that’s not really true, but it certainly feels that way.

    1. It’s astonishing just how durable razors are. There are people who won’t shave with anything but vintage straight razors from the 1800s. I’ve got a growing collection of vintage Gillette razors and all but two or three work as well as the day they were made. I shaved for about a month with the original, 1930s, open comb, twist-to-open razor and it worked flawlessly.

  25. This post seems designed to start a fight. But I’ll respond anyway.
    We are still using three-piece designs: they have many advantages, and no significant disadvantages. I shave with three-piece razors almost exclusively. I find that they hold the blade more firmly than any TTO, which gives me a better shave. They also pack flat, which is important for travel. The design makes it easy to mix and match different heads with different handles.
    Changing blades has never been a problem, and gets even easier if you have a magnet-equipped handle from Bob’s Razor Works. Lower production costs are nice too, since I don’t have to spend as much on a razor. That saves more money for brushes.

      1. Your lathered adherents expect you to posit. I doubt three piece razors will ever die, note how many stainless models are 3 pieces.

  26. I agree. Some of the vintage razors that I have – well that’s a different story. However, I recently purchased a Muhle R.41 and changing the blades with wet hands is a challenge.

  27. Wow, why the hatred towards 3 piece razors? I’m quite fond of the the 3 piece razors I own, the EJ D89 especially, and I can honestly say it is no more of a hassle to change than my twist to open razor (a vintage Gillette). In fact, I consider it to be less of a hassle overall, because cleaning it is considerably easier, and I think that goes for all twist to open razors. Regardless, I tend to appreciate the beauty of simplicity and there’s more to this discussion than just the cost of manufacturing and licensing.

  28. Heh, I had kind of the opposite reaction when I went from a multi-piece razor to a twist-to-open. I thought to myself, “Yeah, that’s really cool but do we really spend so much time changing blades that we need to have a specially designed razor to save 10 seconds while doing so?” (Says the man who only uses TTO razors.)

  29. Good points, but I imagine the cartridge producers and their users are asking why we’re still messing around with old fashioned DE razors? Why do three passes with a DE razor when you can have a five blade behemoth and shave your face in one pass? Those are rhetorical questions for this forum, obviously, as most of us here appreciate the many advantages of DE shaving. I won’t be going back to cartridges anytime soon or ever, and I love DE shaving, but it is more time consuming than more modern “shave technology.” So I don’t mind an extra few seconds with a three piece razor. I appreciate the variety actually. I enjoy the iKon and Edwin Jagger heads immensely. The Jagger heads for whatever reason give me some of the best shaves imaginable, even when I change them onto different handles (like the iKon bulldog handle). So I think three piece razors do have their place. They may be less convenient or more tedious to load, but if it were all about convenience and ease, we wouldn’t be here, would we?

    1. Well, let’s see: a three piece razor has fewer moving parts, is more durable and damage resistant, etc. A two piece like the Merkur 34 can be damaged if you over tighten the dial (I’ve actually seen the center post break off when this happens). A TTO has all those moving parts that can seize up or break……….

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