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Why SE?

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SE Razors
They’re so cheap, why not pick a few single-edged razors?

If shaving with a safety razor is a ritual that only a small minority of American men still enjoy, then shaving with a single-edged razor comprises a minority of a minority of wet shavers.
Maybe that’s why I like it. In the year or so since I first watched Mantic59’s introduction to wet shaving, I’ve migrated my routine almost exclusively toward single-edged razors. Occasionally, I go back to my Merkur Slant or Edwin Jagger DE89 and get good results. But something appeals to me about the “indie” nature of SE shaving. It feels like an secret shared by few select shavers.

I also like it because it’s easier, cheaper, and for me, yields better results.

While I’m no expert, and I encourage you to do your own research, there are basically two types of SE razors: GEMs (and their variations) and Injectors. The Schick Injectors were made up until the ‘90s and are super-easy to use. Loading the blade feels like loading a gun, and with the firm, small blades, you can maneuver your way around your face with ease. It’s so easy, it feels like cheating. The only downside that because they’re not made anymore, it’s questionable how long the blades will be. As a rule of thumb, the newer the Injector, the milder the shave.

That rule also goes for the GEMs. The early 1900s models look more like woodworking tools than razors (or perhaps medieval torture devices), while the later ones border on Art Deco or Mid Century Modern. GEM, too, petered out by the ‘90s with its final product, the Contour II. SE heads are quite large, because so is the blade (think paint scraper or lab tool), so it makes getting into corners a bit tricky. But it’s something you get used to within in a week.

The best GEM razors, according to most, were the ones made from the ‘20s to the ‘50s. My personal favorites include the Micromatic Open Comb and the Push Button, but each has its own character (the later ones, however, shave mostly the same).

I also like the lack of blade variation. While learning how to use a DE razor, I spent hours obsessing about which Japanese or Russian blade goes best with each razor. In the world of SE, you basically have two choices: stainless steel or not. My choice is the stainless, because it doesn’t rust, literally, in between shaves. You can buy a box for $5 at Walgreen’s or CVS. They tend to be pennies more expensive than DE blades, but I get a solid six shaves with each rigid blade. Some people get closer to eight. The blade thickness feels more substantial than DE shaving; I’ve heard some compare it to straight razor shaving.

Finally, because not so many wet shavers are even aware of SE shaving, razors are still cheap. Mind you, none are made anymore (except for the Cobra, and I won’t get into that), so you’re looking at vintage stuff on eBay or the BST forums on the boards. But you can get a mint condition GEM or Injector – possibly one that’s “new old stock” for less than $20. “User grade” SE razors can be found for a few bucks.
Single-edged shaving is cheap, easy and as retro as can be. If you’re getting a little bored of your routine, give it a whirl. The barriers to entry couldn’t possibly be any lower.

Andy Tarnoff

Andy Tarnoff

8 thoughts on “Why SE?”

  1. Well, this article kind of hints at what I think is the best reason to use SE. That is that the blade thickness allows the whole razor to feel solid as compared to the DE razors, where the blade is anchored in there securely, yet still feels like it is twisting and torking! I don’t care much about the indie nature of it, but the solid blade is something that added great value to my shave. I felt like I might be wasting my money when I looked for the injector and GEM online, then looked for blades. I broke the first injector razor, so had to buy a second one. Now, I think it is part of my recipe for the perfect shave. When you get ready to shave, you have to trust each of your items to deliver proper performance for you, the brush, the cream, the razor handle, the blade. And with the DE blades, trying to squeeze two sides into one blade could be a rube goldberg approach, but nobody has examined it that way and come to that conclusion. Still, just my intuition. Thanks Andy, and people don’t ignore the wisdom and intellect of our ancestors.

    1. Well, regarding his comment about the commercial nature of spending money searching for the ‘perfect’ DE blade, it makes sense. It would be nice to be freed from this obsession, even if it isn’t something we think about daily. I don’t think any of the shaving vendors is consciously trying to cheat us or play a practical joke or a mind game, but I guess they are doing it nonetheless. I just bought some Personna labs and several Russian blades, not searching for the perfect blade, but merely trying new ones out. So, I agree with him!
      One advantage is actually owning an antique, which gives a different feel to the experience, rather than a recently built device, made to be a copy, good or bad, of an antique.
      My slantbar from Merkur might be a decent use of the give or flexibility in a DE blade. Maybe, all this time spent on DE shaving wasn’t a waste.

  2. I usually use a straight razor. However, in situations where this kind of razor is difficult to maneuver, I use a Gem Micromatic. I have many different Gems, Evereadys, and Stars, but I like the Micromatic open comb. I like an open comb better in any safety razor. No one I know, to whom I have given a Gem, has not been delighted with it. Plus, it is easy to get carbon steel blades (Gem Blue Star, Treet, and Pal). They do not last as long as stainless, and I advise removing the blade and letting it air out after each shave, but they are sharper, and, therefore, give a better shave with less irritation.

  3. I was fortunate enough to have a gentleman PIF me a GEM SE and it has been a great experience. I agree completely that it’s nice to not have to worry about which blade to use. I also like that most of the razors and the GEM blades are made in the USA.
    The shave has been easier then a traditional DE and certainly less irritating. You can shave with a little more freedom with this type of razor because it is more forgiving then a traditional DE in my opinion. Certainly worth a try if you have never experienced this type of razor!

  4. There are also different types of “Valet Autostrop”-SE-razors out there, loading the blade is similar to a GEM, I assume (don’t have a GEM).
    As far as I know, only Feather produces new blades (stainless und non-stainless) for this type of razor.
    Interesting about a Valet: you can strop the blade with a simple mechanism.

  5. The joys of SE shaving! One bit of warning, however. I started off with a GEM Featherweight and then added a Gbar. Before you knew it I had a Damaskeene, Ever Ready 1914, GEM 1912, Bullet Tip, Star, Ever Ready Stream Liner, Bullet Tip, GEM Micromatic Open and Close Comb, GEM Clog Pruf – and the list keeps growing! These are exceptional razors, relatively inexpensive, and each has a character of its own.

  6. Just a quibble with this excellent review — the Cobra doesn’t fit the two basic types of SE razors that are identified. It is neither a GEM nor an injector razor. The blade is not injected into the razor; it’s just impossible to do that given the razor’s construction. On account of the use of Feather Artist Club single edge blades with it, it is probably more accurately described as a hybrid of an injector (looks like one but isn’t) and a straight edge (the blades it uses are professed to be comparable to the traditional cutthroat razor). This quibble in no way should detract from the excellent survey of SE razors. Bravo!

  7. Nice Article on S.E. Shaving.
    I also get a closer shave with my GEM Damaskeene & stainless steel blade than D.E.’s or cartridges.

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