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Finishing of Gillette Razors and Razor Blades (1956)

Gents, I had an opportunity to transcribe this article from Industrial Finishing (London), 1956, vol. 9, part 2, p27, 29-30. It sheds some light on how things were done by Gillette UK ca. 1956. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

Finishing of Gillette Razors and Razor Blades

Plating and Finishing of LARGE quantities of razors and several millions of razor blades are manufactured every day, and they all require varnishing, coating or some other form of surface treatment before they are ready for wrapping, packaging and dispatch. Some interesting methods for carrying out these finishing processes have been adopted at the Isleworth, Middlesex, factory of Gillete Industries. Ltd., who produce not only several types of razor blade, but also two kinds of razor in several different grades, as well as the dispenser, which incorporates a compartment for the disposal of used blades at the back.

Rigid standard control is maintained throughout all stages of production, in order to ensure uniformity to within very narrow margins of the finished product.

The raw material, as far as the razor blades are concerned, arrives at the factory in hermetically sealed drums, each containing 36 coils of high quality cold rolled steel, which, in width, is a little more than the finished blades and in thickness approximates to twice that of a piece of newspaper. Each of these coils is approximately half a mile in length.

The strips of steel are fed into perforating machines which stamp out the shape of the blade without separating one from another, so that the steel continues to remain in long, continuous strip. This process is undertaken at the rate of about 800 blades a minute and at this and all subsequent stages of production, until after grinding and stropping the edges, the blades remain in continuous strip form.

On arrival at the factory the steel is comparatively soft and, after the perforating process, it is subjected to a series of continuous operations beginning with degreasing, in preparation to receive the cutting edge. This is done by passing it through a bath containing a fluid which renders the grease miscible in water and subsequently through a water bath.

The hardening process is carried out by passing the steel through electrically heated furnaces, the atmosphere of which contains a controlled amount of water vapour, the effect of which is to give the "blue" Gillette blades their basic and distinctive colouring. No colouring matter is used at this stage of production, a chemical reaction being obtained through the atmosphere in which it is hardened.

In order to render the ends of the blades flexible, so that they will not break when bent in the razor, the strip is then "end tempered" by passing an electric current down the strip. The hardening process is carried out a temperature in the vicinity of 8/900°.

The next step in production consists of etching or printing the brand name and certain other details onto the blades and this is done in aniline type printing machines, designed by Gillette Industries and manufactured in their own toolroom. The blades are next lacquered, in order to prevent rusting of the body of the blade. In the lacquering shop each strip is fed into one of three 40ft. high machines, each of which accepts at one time ten of the half mile reels. The strips first pass through a lacquer bath, excess lacquer being removed by a system of scrapers and brushes. The lacquer is next dried and the strips are finally stoved at a temperature of approximately 175° in electrically heated ovens. It is worth noting at this juncture that the blades are sharpened after they have received their coating of phenol-formaldehyde lacquer. The lacquering operation takes place at approximately 250 blades per minute.

After they have been lacquered, the coils of steel are welded together into continuous strips of about 15,000 feet in length in order to facilitate grinding by making it a more lengthy continuing operation. The majority of movement of goods about the factory is undertaken

by mechanical handling equipment, very little man-handling being done anywhere in the factory. Despite the thinness of the steel, the edge is not just one facet but consists of three facets ground and stropped into the steel. The machines undertaking this part of the production process are linked up and the strip passes through at the rate of nearly 500 blades a minute. As it passes through the first four stations, the first facet is ground, top and bottom edge, in each side. It then passes through four sets of grinding wheels and receives the second facet which is subsequently honed and stropped to a fine cutting edge. At all stages the width of the blades is checked.

After the sharpening process, the blades are subjected to minute inspection and are then passed by automatic conveyor to the wrapping department. Here the edges of the blades are sprayed with a corrosion resisting medium. In the blade department each blade is wrapped by high speed wrapping machines and anchored with four spots of grease to the inside wrapper to prevent the edges from rubbing against the covering and being damaged by coming in contact with the paper.

The safety razors are made from brass strip and brass rods, the guards being made from strip and the handles and caps from rod. The manufacture of the caps is a particularly interesting operation. Briefly, the rod is cut into four inch lengths from which two caps are made by hot pressing which is followed by a multiplicity of processes to produce the shape required, depending upon the type of grade of razor being produced. As was mentioned above, there are two types of razor (the one-piece and the three-piece razor) and each of these is made in several different finishes and qualities. The sequence of the finishing department is much the same as that to be found in most plating departments, i.e. the surfaces are first polished or otherwise finished, the parts are then cleaned and finally plated. Some parts of the more expensive razors are manually polished, but in general, single purpose speciality machines are used. One of the machines used in this department automatically polishes the tops of the caps. The raw caps are fed into a hopper at one end of the machine and delivered polished at the other. Adjustment of the buffing wheels is fully mechanised.

Parts for the cheaper grades of razor are, in general, barrel processed. They are placed in watertight barrels containing a mixture of water and abrasive in which they are tumbled for some hours. This removes machining marks and produces a satin-like finish. It still remains for the parts to be plated and this is a somewhat lengthy, multi-stage process which has been extensively mechanised. In one machine the parts are degreased in trichlorethylene. They are loaded into perforated metal drums and are then conveyed through hot liquid trichlorethylene. They are next loaded into perforated transparent Perspex hexagonal barrels in which they are acid dipped, water rinsed, cyanide dipped, water rinsed again, bright nickel plated and finally, thoroughly washed and centrifugally dried.

The first quality razor parts are jig plated, the cleaning, washing and chemical process being the same as for barrel plating. But, instead of being treated in bulk the parts are hung on jigs, one of which is illustrated. It is worth noting here that considerable pains are taken to ensure that the plating shop maintain the highest degree of cleanliness possible and that the workers concerned are encouraged to make use of the protective clothing supplied by the company.

On some of the caps of the razors the trade mark is put on by means of blasting with Carborundum grit. The machines are hand fed, each cap being placed on a rubber stencil through which, by controlling a foot pedal, the grit is blasted. Although each individual process lasts only a little over one second, it is sufficient to etch the marking onto the razor cap. There are three blasting machines in use and each operator can handle in the region of 9,000 razors during the course of a normal working day.

The dispensers are made from polystyrene centers, with metal tops and bottoms. The polystyrene parts are manufactured at the Gillette Industries factory at Reading and the metal parts are manufactured at Isleworth. The raw material for the latter is mild strip steel. One side of this is enamelled white and then overprinted in blue, leaving the trade mark, etc. in white by means of offset roller printing. The enamels are dried by passing the strip through vertical gas heated ovens. The tops are stamped out in a press fitted with a follow-on tool which perfoms the various operations progressively on the strip and finally ejects the finished component.

The article had several illustrations. Sorry I cannot provide them, but here are the captions:

  • A view of the lacquering shop, showing the perforated and tempered steel passing through the lacquering baths and ovens.
  • View of the hardening and tempering lines at Isleworth.
  • A machine polisher, made by Hockley Chemical Co., Ltd., to Gillette specifications. This machine gives a final polish to the razor caps before they are plated, and is entirely automatic.
  • A barrel burnishing machine which puts a rough polish on the razor parts prior to their final polishing and plating.
  • Razor parts being assembled on the jigs before plating.
  • A jig with one-piece razor heads being put into the plating tank. This tank incorporates a horizontal chain conveyor on to which the jigs are loaded by hand. One complete circuit of the chain takes approximately 11 minutes.
  • This picture shows an operator blasting the Gillette trade mark on to the one-piece razor caps.
  • Showing the machine which lacquers the strip metal used for the dispensers. Rust prevention is as necessary as the high gloss finish which is imparted.
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Drawing on Achim for photos, the blades described would have been something close to these:

The three-piece razor would be the Tech, of course.

And the one-piece might have been any of several models, but I suppose they only made one style at a time or they all looked the same to the author.

Apparently the parts were mostly plated as parts, not assembled razors. However it looks like the one-piece razors had their heads plated as a unit.

The bit where they weld several blade strip coils together sounds tricky. I guess that would be five or six coils welded together: 15,000 ft is almost 3 miles, and each coil is said to be half a mile.

Oh, and Isleworth would have been the famous "Gillette Corner" art deco plant. There are quite a few threads on it already: http://badgerandblade.com/vb/showth...-s-New-Palace-of-Industry-Isleworth-Middlesex and http://badgerandblade.com/vb/showth...tory-in-London-pics-and-info-thread-from-book for example.
The more expensive razors that were hand polished must have been the 4th Generation Aristocrats, and maybe the #58 sets too? . The heads of the Aristocrats were nickel plated but they almost look like rhodium, quite different from less expensive razors from the period such as the Rocket HD.

Fantastic read, thank you Mike! :thumbup1:
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