Monday, May 12, 2014

Potential Causes of a Poor Shave, Part One: Blade Position

I often read reviews on DE* razors. These reviews, in particular, give a good cross section of the population trying DE wet shaving. This includes the aficionados, the initiated but less passionate, and those unfamiliar with the special skills that DE razors require as compared to the multi-blade-system razors.

The poor reviews of otherwise fine-shaving razors led me to identify the following potential causes of a poor shave from a razor that should produce an adequate to good shaving experience:
  1. Razor-blade edge that is not straight due to razor defect
  2. Rough surfaces on the razor due to defect/damage
  3. Incorrect blade position in razor head
  4. Excess pressure of razor on skin
  5. Excess speed of shaving strokes
  6. Shaving multiple planes of the face in single strokes
  7. Shaving in the wrong direction in sensitive-skin areas
  8. Too many strokes in the same area
  9. Insufficient prep and lather
  10. Dull blade
  11. Mismatched razor design (blade angle, exposure, and gap) to skin sensitivity and hair toughness
  12. Mismatched combination of blade, razor, and skin
In the next few blog articles, I will cover those preceding topics not already discussed.

Topics one and two, crooked blade edge problem, rough razor, and remedies were discussed in a previous post (click here to view).

The third potential cause is positioning of the blade in the razor. This is the topic for today.

Blade positioning can be a problem in any DE razor that allows blade wiggle as the blade is being clamped into place. It is a more frequent problem in two- and three-piece designs.

Before we get into the details, let's agree on some vocabulary for better clarity. In a three-piece razor, the pieces are called the cap, the baseplate, and the handle. To identify these parts, if you hold the razor upright -- that is, with the handle down and the head up -- the cap is the part that is above the blade. The baseplate lies directly below the blade, and the baseplate has the safety bars that are normally below and slightly outside the blade edges. The handle is below the baseplate. (In a two-piece razor, the handle and baseplate are permanently joined. Further, the blade is called the blade (the blade is not called a razor) and the whole device that holds the blade is called the razor.

Inspect from above the cap to check for
even exposure of the blade edges. Always
compare to the edges of the cap.
In every razor, whether TTO**, two piece, three piece, or flip top (which is far less common and won't be discussed here), the blade edge should have an even exposure beyond the long sides of the cap. This is true for a normal three piece, for a slant-bar razor, or for a TTO, where the cap is split and opens like butterfly wings. If uneven blade exposure in relation to the cap is a problem, there are several methods to resolve the issue.

For a TTO razor, when inserting the blade, the handle should obviously be pointed downward to ensure that the blade has every opportunity to center itself on the tongue that bisects the razor head. If this is insufficient, then you will have to manually center the blade while closing the butterfly doors. This is done using the tabs on the short sides of the blade while fastening the blade into its final shaving position.

For two- and three-piece razors, the underside of the cap has a threaded center post and two additional posts flanking the center post. Many razors of this design -- even some quite good ones -- allow the blade to wiggle a bit on these posts. It does vary though. My Lord brand L6 does not allow the blade any play and it cinches down well centered every time. My Merkur 33C, on the other hand, can be assembled with the blade uneven if you don't follow this procedure:

Lay the razor's cap on the counter (on a towel to protect the finish, if you want) with the threaded post pointing up. Lay your blade over the posts and onto the cap. Lay the baseplate (properly oriented, of course) over the threaded post and on top of the blade. Press down on the baseplate as shown and screw on the handle.

In many cases, this procedure is enough to cause the blade to self center in the razor head. If not, then before snugging the handle up against the baseplate, you should visually check the blade alignment and adjust as necessary (using the side tabs) as you snug the blade into its final shaving orientation.

And there you have it. Next post will cover causes four through seven in the introductory list at the beginning of this article.

Happy shaving!

*DE = double edge
**TTO = twist to open, which has the two-piece butterfly-door top (there is also a vintage toggle design, which I guess could be called toggle to open its butterfly doors)


  1. Would a Lord L6 head fit on a Razorock classic long handle?

  2. Can't say for certain because I have no experience with the Razorock Classic Long Handle, but they probably will work together. In my experience, most DE three-piece razors do have the same threads. The two potential flys in the ointment are that some handles may not have the depth of thread to accept a long threaded rod on a top cap, or, conversely, some handles require a long threaded rod, and some top caps can be a bit short.