IntroductionDouble-edge (DE) razor blades are standardized and nominally measure 43 mm (1.69 in.) long by 22 mm (0.87 in.) wide by 0.1 mm (0.004 in.) thick. They are usually made of stainless steel, but carbon steel is also utilized. Many blades have coatings, such as the platinum coated blades by Feather. DE blades are usually wrapped individually in paper, with glue adhering the paper to the blade, and come in cardboard or plastic boxes of five or ten blades per box. Boxes of 50 or 100 blades, as groups of five- or ten-blade boxes, are also commonly sold. A five- or ten-blade box is often called a "pack" or "tuck", while a box of 50 or 100 blades may be called a "pack" or "carton".
History of Double Edge BladesThe DE blades that you can buy today are different from what you could buy a hundred years ago. The original DE blades used by Gillette were almost rectangular, with slightly rounded ends, and only had three holes. They were also noticeably thicker than the current DE blades.
The original model stayed as it was for about 25 years. It was not until 1929, when a series of changes were made. It was in this year that King Gillette's patent expired, opening up the market to a host of competitors, all with their own twist on the standard blade. One important change to users of old razors (before the Gillette New Improved) was that the blades became thinner. Shavers who wanted to use the older DE models could compensate for the difference in thickness by adding a shim, such as a small paper clip, between the blade and the blade guard when putting a blade in the razor.
After four redesigns, in 1933, the razor blade as we know it was launched. Since then its shape has stayed the same. Some DE razors were orphaned by proprietary blade designs or changes made in the blade format wars. The following razors will not work with unmodified modern DE blades. It may still be possible to find NOS blades for these razors, and sometimes modern blades can be modified to fit.
While the basic shape of the blade has not changed since about 1933, blade makers have improved their products with changes to materials and manufacturing. Early blades were made of carbon steel, and blade makers invested considerable R&D finding better and faster ways to make them. As early as 1929 Gillette experimented with the stainless steel Kro-Man blades. But they were expensive and failed in the market. Later on Darwin and Silver Star also produced stainless blades, without notable success.
In 1959 Gillette developed an organosiloxane gel coating for blades, followed by a PTFE coating later the same year (PTFE is also known as Teflon, Vydax, etc.). Both coatings reduced blade friction, resulting in lower Force To Cut and a smoother, more comfortable shave. However only the organosiloxane gel coating went to market, on the Super Blue or Bleue Extra carbon steel blades. The PTFE coating languished until ca. 1962, when Wilkinson-Sword independently developed a similar process and began selling coated stainless steel blades. These took the market by storm, with Schick and ASR quickly introducing their own versions. Gillette was late to market with a PTFE-coated stainless steel blade, but ended up receiving royalties from other blade makers because of their 1959 patent on the process. This basic patent was applied for by Irwin Fischbein for Gillette. Today virtually all DE blades are stainless with an anti-friction coating. Sometimes the label indicates this with "Super" or "Extra", but plain "stainless" blades can still have an anti-friction coating.
Later in the 1960s, blade makers developed hardness coatings made of platinum, chromium, or both. These cover the stainless steel edge, to protect it from corrosion and deformation and to improve blade life. Not all blades have a hardness coating, and labeling may not be 100% trustworthy. If a blade has a hardness coating, it will be underneath an anti-friction coating such as PTFE.
Modern cartridge blades retain the basic idea of a stainless substrate, a hardness coating, and an anti-friction coating. However they sometimes use more exotic coatings than the ones used on DE blades. For example Gillette sometimes advertises that they use a DLC hardness coating on their cartridges. Some of these exotic coatings may eventually turn up on DE blades too.
History of Single Edge Blades
Like DE razors, the history of SE razors let to many abandoned formats. The following razors are incompatible with modern SE blades. It may still be possible to find NOS blades for these razors, and sometimes modern blades can be modified to fit.
History of Cartridge RazorsWilkinson Sword released a blade bonded in a plastic cartridge in 1970. The first cartridge in the US, the Trac II, was released in 1971 by Gillette. It was followed by the Atra/Contour in 1976, the Atra Plus in 1985, the Sensor in 1990, the Mach III in 1998, the M3 Power in 2004, the Fusion in 2006, and the Fusion ProGlide in 2010. Gillette's competition responded to the cartridge production: Bic introduced a cartridge-shaped disposable in 1975, while Schick produced the Slim Twin in 1988, the Tracer in 1991, the Xtreme3, the Quattro in 2003, and the Hydro 3 and Hydro 5 in 2010. Personna/ASR introduced a three bladed "Tri Flexxx" in 1999, followed by the Matrix3 and M5 Magnum cartridge razors.
Currently, razor cartridges are allowable as carry-on items aboard passenger aircraft. This fact makes them a potentially useful item for even straight, DE, or SE razor users.
Other Blade Types and ShapesIn addition to the normal straight edged SE and DE blades, there have been various other shapes. A number of rounded models have existed with matching razors. These were usually not for facial hair, but for shaving armpits and other areas.
What should you get?Each brand of blade will be different in a razor. Each face is unique and won't react the same way. When you start wet shaving, the best option is to get a razor blade sample pack. A sample pack will consist of a single box of 5 or 10 DE blades of different brands. Some sample packs are bigger than others. At least 4 different brands should be tried with a razor. Popular brands varies but most sample packs contain: Derby, Personna, Astra Superior Platinum and Feathers.
Several of the B&B Supporting Vendors sell sample packs.
As a historical note, the first sampler packs were created by John at West Coast Shaving, by request from B&B members.