Current DE Razors - What Are They Made Of?

Discussion in 'Double Edged Razors' started by noelekal, Apr 29, 2012.

  1. The older Gillettes were fabricated of brass but could feature any of several different plating metals. I'm learning that they came plated in nickel, gold, silver, and, just saw in a thread here recently, rhodium. Didn't realize that any Gillette models came factory plated in rhodium. Later, the handles could be made of aluminum or plastic.

    What about current razors?

    Apparently the Feather razors are stainless steel. Merkur, Muhle, Parker, Weishi, Edwin Jagger, along with others are frequently mentioned here on the Forum. What is the underlying material from which these modern DE razors are fabricated?

    Are there any pitfalls to any of these. Are any more prone to losing their plating? Are they prone to denting, bending, or shattering if one suffers the misfortune of dropping one?

    Is there anything to look out when considering a modern razor?
  2. Among the semi-generic ones from Asia (don't know about Parker), such as Concord and Lord, it is an alloy formulated for molding, and is available in a wide variety of component mixes. "Pot Metal" is the colloquial term for it.

    I believe that "Zamak" is a brand name for many Pot Metal formulas.
  3. With copper prices as high as they are these days, good brass is getting expensive to come by. Zamak is much less expensive, but doesn't stand up well to moisture exposure. Its ok as long as the plating remains intact . . . but let the plating get dinged and have moisture get underneath . . . it's gone in no time!

    With brass shortages during World War II and the Korean Conflict, bakelite was used by Gillette for handles on the Tech razors. In the early 1950s, plastic TTO knobs were used along with aluminum and steel handles for the Black-Tip Super Speed. Some of the SS razors from that era also had steel base plates instead of brass. Every time I find a Black Tip I grab my magnet to see exactly what it is made of!
  4. The better razors are often made from a zinc alloy and then covered in chrome plating. That's true of my Edwin Jagger DE89l. Some of the really higher end razors may be stainless steel.
  5. I own both a Parker and an Edwin Jagger razor and whilst both deliver very nice shaves, the Edwin Jagger appears to be a bit better made, The plating on the Parker razor is already starting to show signs of wear and in one spot has devloped a very small crack whilst the EJ looks the same as the day I brought it. From what I have read the Parker razors can be a bit inconsistant in quality so I might have just been unlucky. As they say YMMV
  6. There was a thread on here recently about the Feather razor. It is not just stainless steel. It's covered in a chrome coating of some sort I believe. Someone will come along who remembers it better than I. I can't remember if the underlying metal was, in fact, stainless steel or not. I think everyone was surprised because it was always believed that what you saw was the base metal, like a Darwin Deluxe made of Solid Cobalt Steel.
  7. I would assume that the cheaper the razor the lower the quality standard and the materials that went into it.

    I think the Gillette Aluminum Handeles were in 1952 and 1953. Bakelite (A Type of Plastic and very Brittle) was during WWII and Plastic as we know it was in the 1970s and 1980s (I Guess).

    Denting would seem to be a problem with any razor except a solid stainless steal one.

    However, the cost to produce and the cost to purchase becomes an issue.

    It is probably true that a Gillette Razor from the 1960s would be more expensive than the current razors of today but, I do not know if it is because of the materials or if the current labor laws of the States or the federal Government would be the driving force of the higher cost.

    So I have to assume that one thing to consider in Modern Razors is the Cost and if you can find out the materials.

    But, there are some things that you may not ever know.
  8. Not completely off topic: I'm entertaining the idea of having an old razor re-plated. Is there a thread discussing the merits/disadvantages of Rhodium, Chrome and so on/
  9. "Zamak is much less expensive, but doesn't stand up well to moisture exposure. Its ok as long as the plating remains intact . . . but let the plating get dinged and have moisture get underneath . . . it's gone in no time!

    Thanks for the heads-up. It would be disappointing to have one's razor dissolve. If I determine to get a modern razor I'd like to avoid Zamak if possible. Some decorative plumbing fittings featured a base metal of this type and when they go bad they are awful.
  10. Weber razors are stainless steel and made in the USA. <Insert standard disclaimer here; I just read about them in another thread.>
  11. A Superspeed was $1.29 and a Fat Boy was $1.95 but that was real money back then. Heck, a new house cost maybe ten grand back then.
  12. "snips and snails and puppy dogs tails"

    I, similarly, was pretty surprised to learn that most of the contemporary high-end DE razors were made of pot metal. Odd considering their price. I think companies such as Weber, Ikon and Tradere are proving that people are willing to pay more for a better made product.

    Yes, Weishi razors are made of brass, and despite their reputation, I found mine to be really high-quality build. Isuspect Lord razors may be made of brass as well.
  13. A while back, I looked up the corrosion resistance figures for Zamak 3, 5 and 7, as well as brass alloys. I don't recall the source - it was a fairly esoteric materials science website - but it indicated that these versions of pot metal should be fairly resistant to corrosion and not much worse than most brasses.

    However, the Zamak can corrode over a longer period under some conditions. This is becoming an issue on old car parts, after 30-50 years. One source says:

    "Pitting occurs as the zinc in the material separates and precipitates out of the aluminum, sometimes as a process of electrolytic reaction. This process pushes up the surface and causes the plating to blister." They also add that removal of the damaged part and re-plating is very difficult to do right. But again, this isn't happening in just a few years, even in the far more corrosive environment seen by engine parts.

    I've begun to suspect (but don't know, this is a guess) that the issue is not corrosion of the Zamak nor the integrity of the plating, but rather the quality of the alloy and casting itself. That is also likely to be the case with the plumbing fixtures cited. If the alloy is not properly mixed, if the casting is not done well, if the cooling rate isn't correct, these zinc alloys can shrink (they are usually very dimensionally stable) or deteriorate in portions of the casting. When that happens, the overlying plating would flake off at the site, the deterioration would become visible, and blame would likely fall upon the innocent plating.

    On the other hand, the chrome electroplating may not be up par in some cases - a cost and QC issue. Doing it right is a fairly involved process with surface preparation and copper under plating - typically. I read in one place that the cost of chrome plating a particular Zamak door fixture exceeded the cost of the fixture itself.

    Brass does cost more but the differential, for something the size of a razor, simply isn't significant. For a boat propeller, sure! But per this site ( ) the current price of copper is $8.44/kg and zinc is $2.03/kg. Say the average brass is about 70/30 composition, so the cost of new brass is $6.50/kg. A medium-heavy razor like Gillette New Improved, or the current Merkur 11 or 34 or 37 weigh no more than 77 grams = 50 cents worth of brass. That's the cost of one Feather blade. A more beefy razor like Merkur 38 is 115 grams = 75 cents of brass. And how many dollars do they charge?

    I've heard of too many issues with the Zamak razors, so I'm a little leery of them. I think the material's impact resistance is of some concern too - the brass will bend but with luck, can be bent back. The zinc alloys are more likely to crack. I'd also worry about anything with threads - Zamak maybe not a good choice of materials IMO for threaded parts.
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2012
  14. I think the Joris razors are made of brass, and plated with palladium . they are nice but expensive for sure.
  15. Great info . . . and makes perfect sense. In a perfect world, Zamak and other "pot metal alloys" may have adequate corrosion resistance, but in the real world components (not just razors) made of that stuff just don't hold up as well as brass.

    The "per razor" price of brass seems affordable . . . but on a manufacturing scale of thousands of pieces, the cost savings to use Zamak is HUGE. Also to consider are the economies of scale . . . casting a few razor parts along with other items from the same pot of Zamak is less expensive as opposed to casting smaller runs of brass components . . . I'd be willing to bet the per-unit "process" costs for brass at this scale would be considerably higher than Zamak.

    Brass, when it oxidizes, does so with different results than pot metal. Zamak pits and crumbles, while brass simply tarnishes. In high-moisture conditions brass will produce verdigris (that antique people seem to love) but a little polish takes care of that quite easily. The other day I shaved with a 75 year old brass razor that had none of its original plating left. It was wonderful . . . but will Zamak last that long without its plating?
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2012
  16. I think you're correct about zinc being corrosion resistant. I believe a zinc alloy of some type is what is used in the galvanization process to protect steel. It does chip or crumble rather when bend. My concern would be the threading on a zinc 3-piece. At the same time, it's worth noting that there don't see to be many complaints on these boards about Merkurs and Jaggers rotting away.

    Brass is a spectacular material. If you have reservations about it's toughness go pick up almost any old copy of National Geographic that has an article about a shipwreck within its pages. Invariable it is the bright-work (brass fittings) that remain long after the rest of the craft has rusted away.
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2012
  17. Is anyone surprised that modern razors aren't built to last the way razors were made more than 50 years ago? The world has changed. Who thinks of anything lasting anymore.

    To put this in context, in the 1950s things were expensive. Thus, people had far fewer things. But what they had was an investment, expected to be around for a while. Old black and white televisions came in finely made cabinets. Telephones were owned by the phone company (leased by the user) and essentially indestructible. If a shoe wore down, or a television or radio or phonograph stopped working, there were repair shops to fix it.

    Today, everything is dirt cheap. Tons of stuff comes over from China. It's cheaper to buy new shoes than to resole old ones. No one repairs televisions; those shops are long gone.

    Razors were not as cheap as they would appear when we hear the prices ($1.29 for a Superspeed, $1.95 for what we now call the Fat Boy). People didn't earn much then. $5,000 a year was a decent wage for a working man in the early 50s. Many families got by on a lot less. People lived in larger groupings of extended family. Also consider that the razors themselves were a loss leader. They were designed to last precisely because they were vehicles to sell the far more profitable blades and, thus, Gillette didn't want to sell you 17 of them. The fewer you bought the better; they were simply designed to keep you addicted to the blades. (In this sense, not at all unlike today's cartridge razors.)
  18. In the 19-oughts, a skilled worker made about $2.50/day. Two days wages for a safety razor goes against the story that Gillette practically gave away the razors to hook consumers on disposable blades.
  19. Not back then. Razors were an investment, designed to last, but not cheap. Later on the loss leader strategy evolved. By the "50s, that's what was happening with the Superspeeds. They were not so cheap given that a gallon of milk was 20 cents. At six and a half gallons of milk, figuring $3.00 a gallon today (not including the ad prices induced to get you into the store), that would be around $20 today. But below retail -- perhaps around the cost to produce and distribute. A good but basic modern razor runs around twice that now.
  20. Obviously, opinions will vary, but, for the price of "modern" razors, I would up the ante, and by a Weber (baseline) or a Tradere (love my handle!).

    Zamak is crap, speaking kindly. I have a Coles & Pomco only because no one makes a stainless or brass slant. Walther/S&W and several other firearm manufacturers use Zamak in their .22 pistols. 6061 or 7075 aluminum is only slightly more expensive, and wears indescribably better.

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