It’s said that Alexander the Great (the very clean-shaven fellow picture above) wept when he realized he had conquered all the known world, and found there were no more realms to scout, plan against, and conquer.
Hardware vs Software
Some wet shavers may be feeling that way in our own “known world”, as we contemplate the “singularity point” of superlative shaving “software” from many brands that provides excellent shaves. Realistically, it seems that we can’t expect shave soaps to develop much more beyond where they are now at in development terms.
So, if software is in a holding pattern of static shared superlative supremacy, how about hardware? I’d argue we’ve seen less innovation in DE model development than we’ve seen in shaving soaps. We’ve seen different designs with varying combinations of aggression, efficiency, aesthetics, and quality, but it’s a challenge to argue that a $450 Wolfman does things all that differently from a $50 Merkur 34C. Few of us want to follow the siren song of plastic handled multiblade futility, which is where Big Razor wants us to go if we are looking for “something new”.
What about if we look at fewer blades? That is to say, what if we go from two blades mounted spine to spine, and return to a single thicker blade? Of course, a different design of head and handle would accompany the different blade. This is not exactly anything new, as GEM did it back in 1898 or so, and Schick followed suit 27 years later. Both of those technologies still survive today (though barely!) and have been joined by the Artist Club (“AC”) blade and razor, a Japanese innovation of more recent vintage (1951).
The ACs had an odd little detour on the way to consumers though, as they were generally found only in barbershops for many decades after creation, while GEMs and Injectors were intended for mainly at home consumer use from their origins.
ACs really only crept into domestic cabinets and closets in traditional Tbar design (i.e. not as shavettes) in around 2009 when first the Cobra was introduced and then somewhat more affordably in 2014 when a newer Cobra model (the “King”) was made and then the Mongoose appeared (to kill the Cobras, get it?). So, the AC undoubtedly is the new kid on the block!
Above are the three blade “families”, with dispenser, blade, and representative razor shown. From L to R: Artist’s Club (AC), Injector, GEM.
First, we’ll discuss some shared aspects of SE shaving among all the blade types. In later parts of the series, I’ll review specific examples of SE razors, in particular two made by Blackland Shaving, the AC Vector and the GEM Sabre.
There are then definitely hardware alternatives to DE shaving, but are there any reasons to try a SE other than a desire for variety? There certainly are claims made that would justify such effort…
Chattering All the Time Can Be Harmful
Many wet shavers find they are getting bad shaves for no apparent reason, even after they’ve practiced their technique, and are using high quality razors, blades, and soaps / creams. This can be mystifying and frustrating, and the solution to this could be the phenomenon known as blade chatter. A known issue in forestry, blade chatter in wet shaving is somewhat different.
If you look carefully at your DE razor, you will see a very thin and very sharp two sided and two-edged blade being held in a cap, usually on two chunky posts. There’s also a top cap holding that blade down. In a mechanical sense, there’s plenty of opportunity for that blade to flex and even move around a little bit on those posts, and under that cap to some degree, as the tolerances (space between the perimeter of the razor blade holes and the posts, and between the blade and the top cap) are pretty generous by engineering standards.
There’s a bit of wiggle room there, and the thin blade can also flex readily under certain circumstances. So, we can call chatter a combination of low-level blade movement and incidental blade flexion.
What circumstances? This seems to be a question of type of beard, accumulation of stubble, and individual shaving technique. Some users never have an issue with DE chatter ever, some have it with certain combos of blades / razors, some have it when they let their stubble grow for a bit, and some unfortunates have it with most of their shaves no matter what other variables exist. There’s a wide variety of user experience with this issue, with some calling it a myth and other shavers saying it’s a real problem for them.
Some razors use different approaches to securing the blade – the pins used by Above the Tie come to mind as do the quad corner clamps on the Wolfman WR2. Even with these closer tolerances (and higher costs!) though, there are still some complaints. What to do? Imagine a much thicker and heavier blade in a razor – the laws of physics suggest that blade will be less readily moved and will definitely be considerably harder to flex.
Many shavers who find DE shaving to be intermittently irritating / unsuccessful due to alleged blade chatter report SE use solves their possible chatter issues. SE razor manufacturers also make such claims.
Let me be forthright. I’ve gotten plenty of bad shaves, but cannot say how many of them, if any, were due to blade chatter. I have however anecdotally met many experienced wet shavers who have turned to exclusive SE razor and blade use on the theory that DE blade chatter was periodically (or consistently!) messing up their shaves. So, though I personally cannot comment on whether SE razor use can solve this problem, or even whether this problem exists, I can present it for your consideration as a reason to try an experiment with SE shaving, especially if you are getting irritation and cannot figure out the likely cause of such.
Closeup of the SE blade types. From L to R: GEM, Injector, Artist’s Club (AC).
Any Other Reasons To Try a SE Razor Besides All This Chatter?
Sure – SE razor makers and users claim the thicker blades last longer between shaves;
- 8 to 20 shaves per Injector blade says Supply.
- 14 to 24 shaves on an AC blade says this collection of SE users.
- 10 to 25 shaves on a GEM blade says this group of SE fans
Do these numbers impress you? Probably these will be more shaves than many users get on most DE blades. I personally have found some DE blade brands (Gillette Platinum and Polsilver) for me can match these claims, but most DE blades clock in at maybe half of those maximums.
I hate to quote the old saw about one’s individual variance of mileage, but some of you DE users may look at the above numbers and say “so what, I’m getting 50 shaves out of my Astra” but I think most of you may be interested in the higher values quoted.
Plus, at least in the case of GEM, many enthusiasts claim the fixed angle of the head tends to lead to intuitive adaptation of a 30 degree angle of attack, which is optimal for most shavers. If you’ve ever struggled to find and maintain the magical perfect angle, GEM can take all the guesswork out of the process!
There are many different razors using these different blades – or to be precise, there are many different modern razors using AC blades, a whole bunch of vintage razors using GEMs and Injectors, and a very small number of modern razors using these latter two blade types. I’d like to take a closer look at the modern offerings.
As GEM is the senior blade in these ranks, it’s appropriate to start our more detailed assessment of SE shaving with a razor that uses those blades. GEM razors also a different feel to them – they usually include an unusual blade retention system, and are relatively intolerant of blade angle, moreso than AC or Injector razors. That said, our first review will focus on a very unique GEM, a modern design that also handles its blade mounting in a very unusual way…
Coming next: a review of the Blackland Vector!
Good article. I occasionally use my US made 1930 Ever Ready SE and provided you get good sharp blades, the shave is excellent. I have heard some users of GEM blades honing and stropping their GEMs to save money but I don’t know if that’s true or not!
Craig K says
I may be giving too much of a spoiler away here, but I personally prefer vintage GEM razors to the modern versions. My favorites are the Pushbutton and the Flying Wing, but there are many great GEM models out there.
I have not tried honing or stropping the GEM, mainly because GEM use is affordable enough if intermittent. I mix SE and DE shaving (and even some cart use at times, shh, don’t tell!) so the cost of GEM blades never troubled me overly much. But if I used a GEM every day, maybe I too would be looking thoughtfully at a strop…
Conrad Hagemans says
Half DE blades are not mentioned. I am shaving for years with my single edge Leaf Twig razor. There are many SE razors out there using does blades. You buy them in halfs or just break a DE blade in half your self.
This is by far the cheapest way of shaving while using high end blades in your SE razor.
Craig K says
Sharpologist has already reviewed the Twig:
I’ve never taken the half DE plunge, as the fun of SE razors to me are about the novelty of using a different blade. Half an Astra I suspect would shave very much like a full Astra! (And also as mentioned, some may benefit from the added thickness and rigidity of SE blades.)
But there is no wrong way to shave of course, so enjoy your Twigging!
Keith Osmond says
Re the argument that SE blades provide more shaves per blade: that may be so, but for me in Canada, I’m paying over $30 for a pack of 10 blades. For that same money, I can get 150 to 200 DE blades. As I get 4 shaves per blade, on average, I’d need to get at least 60 to 80 shaves per GEM to break even, cost-wise.
Other SE blades would provide a better ratio, given their lower cost per blade than GEMs (I have no idea why GEM blades cost so much in Canada) but given I personally don’t see any improvement in shave quality with a GEM over my better DEs (and I’d argue some of my DEs give me a better shave), I’m not going to be ditching my DEs for GEMs. Cartridges are a better deal.
Craig K says
No argument here – I believe DE will be the preferred shave system for most. Assuming you are not in search of hardware novelty, or more seriously, have any concerns about blade chatter with DEs, a DE will meet your needs perfectly well.
I also believe many DE blades come close to or even exceed any SE blade for useful longevity, so even that is not the main selling point for most users.
So more power to you; I am sorry to hear our Canadian cousins are being soaked for GEMS though. Not sure why that is so – at least you can take solace with being able to drink Carling beer though! : D
Ted Wolf says
Very interested to learn more. I’m using GEM and AC (in addition to traditional DE) and enjoy the single edge shave very much.
Craig K says
Stay tuned! A review of the Vector and Sabre are in the pipeline, along with a survey of AC blades. (A survey of GEM or Injector blades would be not all that worthwhile…)