Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Review: The Dorco Prime Starter Set

The Dorco Prime starter set** provides a double-edge (DE) razor, 30 blades, and a travel case with mirror -- all nicely boxed and suitable as a gift. The razor is a twist-to-open (also known as a TTO or butterfly-door) design.

All that a person new to DE shaving must add to this set to shave full-on old-school style would be a suitable shave lubricant, which ideally might be a puck of Grandad's Shave Soap for Sensitive Skin (or other shave soap or cream), an appropriate lathering mug or bowl, and a shave brush. Of course, one could also use canned foam or gel and skip the brush and bowl.

The blades are Dorco's ST-301 version, with which I am well familiar. I have purchased this blade in a quantity of 100, and use it regularly as part of my rotation through my rather large and varied inventory of blades. In the past, I have recommended this blade for those new to DE shaving as a reasonably priced, coated, sufficiently-sharp blade that can allow good, comfortable shaves to most, while they focus on refining their DE-shaving technique.

The plastic travel case with mirror, though a minor factor in the big picture, is a handsome brown with a matching flocked, molded lining into which the razor fits securely. I actually like it a lot because it appears to be better made, tougher, than most of the plastic travel cases that are provided with only a handful of razors (most DE razors don't come with a travel case); unlike others, it seems to be able to stand up to the rigors of travel. A ten pack of blades (three of these are included in the set as shown) will not fit in the case, but this would normally not be necessary. The case will hold a sufficient number of individual blades (still in their paper wrappers, of course) to handle one's shaving needs on most trips.

The most important component of the set -- and the most intriguing as well -- is the razor. Upon inspection, it looks like a clone of a Weishi-brand razor manufactured in China. I know the Weishi brand well because I own two versions: one made primarily from aluminum, the model 2003-M, and one made primarily of chrome-plated brass, the model 9306-F. Of those two, the Dorco Prime razor most closely resembles my Weishi 9306-F. (And the Weishi razor-head designs are reputed to be clones of the original Gillette Super-Speed razors.) However, though the Dorco Prime and Weishi 9306-F razors appear very much like twins, if so, they are fraternal twins, though near-identical.

But sticking to fundamentals, the most important aspect of a DE razor is its shaving character, not its genetic lineage. The Dorco Prime DE razor has a mild character, designed to shave close enough without much tendency to bite. In that, it is essentially indistinguishable from my Weishi 9306-F razor. With practice, a user will find the optimal angle of razor on face, and with it, can get a close shave will little risk of nicks and cuts.

However, if you're thinking of giving this set as a gift, preferences will vary. Some love the face friendly character of a DE razor like the Dorco Prime, and are willing to make the two or three (or more) passes to get a near-baby-smooth shave. (A pass is defined as a whole-face lather-shave cycle; therefore a three-pass shave would consist of applying lather and shaving, then repeating that process two additional times.) Others don't have the patience or time for a multi-pass shave -- even though that is the norm for most DE shaves -- and prefer a more aggressive (and risky) instrument so they can handle beard removal in a single pass.

That's not to say that the Dorco Prime razor can't provide an adequate shave in a single pass if one shaves daily. It can. Yet many DE shavers have come to love that ultra-smooth feel of hand on face that typically comes from a multi-pass DE shave -- no matter how aggressive or mild the razor.

I also think that Dorco made the right call when they chose this mild razor. Being a face-friendly razor, DE newbies are unlikely to be discouraged by the risk of this instrument, which is, of course, low risk. But most users will also be able to get an acceptable shave -- even in one pass -- especially if they shave daily. Also, I think that the low per-use cost of DE shaving as well as the pleasure that some men find in the process may encourage more DE newbies to shave with greater regularity -- that is, daily.
Front and back images of the Dorco
Prime Starter Set box.

The TTO mechanism in the Dorco Prime razor seems to work fine, but, in my opinion, should be initially lubricated (and periodically thereafter) by running a few drops of mineral oil down the central post into the handle. I have found (in all my TTO razors) that this makes the mechanism feel and sound better when opening and closing the razor -- and more importantly, may make the mechanism work better longer. (I suggest mineral oil as a razor lubricant because it is suitable for internal consumption, so there's sure to be no issues if it happens to merely get on one's skin.)

In sum, this trial of the Dorco Prime starter set has been fruitful, causing me to rethink my evaluation of mild shaving razors like the Dorco Prime and my 9306. In the past, I have favored some other still-mild but slightly-more-aggressive razors including my Merkur 33 Classic, my Lord L.6 razor head, and the Rimei RM2003, which are all three-piece designs rather than the TTO style of the Dorco Prime. However, after using the Dorco TTO, it has opened my eyes to the geniality of this razor, and I'm now giving serious consideration to including a razor of this character as one of my more-frequently-used instruments.

So only the mystery remains, what are the origins of the Dorco Prime TTO? Is it a re-branded Weishi?

Well, let's begin with what it is not. Though appearing identical to my Weishi 9306-F, it actually weighs about one gram less: 56g (Dorco) Vs. 57g (Weishi), so there must be some slight difference in construction. Also, though the plating, shape, pattern, design, etc. of the two razors appears identical, the knurling on the Dorco feels slightly more crisp, offering a slightly more secure grip in the finger tips -- but this could just be due to normal manufacturing variation in plating thickness, and this might account for the weight difference as well. [UPDATE: I gave this a second comparison shortly after publishing this article, and, upon further review, I don't think there's any difference in the feel, so that probably DOESN'T account for the one-gram-weight difference.] There is even a characteristic, harmless manufacturing quirk in the Weishi that also appears slightly in the Dorco Prime razor -- though if one wasn't aware of it, it might never come to one's notice, so I'm not even going to describe it further.

The box indicates that the razor is made in China. If I had to guess, I would say with some confidence that the Dorco Prime is made by Weishi as well and is a version of their model 9306, but that's just an educated guess. A side-by-side eyeball comparison says they look identical. What I do know is that the Dorco Prime razor's shaving character is very similar to the Weishi 9306, being a mild, face-friendly design.

[UPDATE 13NOV2015: Further study and use of this razor has convinced me that though the Dorco Prime razor is a mild shaver, it is more aggressive in shave character than the Weishi 9306-F. This means that it is suitable for a larger segment of DE shavers. It is likely a better general-shaving razor than its fraternal twin, the 9306-F, which is very mild indeed, and which I use exclusively as a final-pass, against-grain razor.]

In my estimation, the Dorco Prime starter set would be good for the following shavers:
  • A young man just starting out shaving (I'm probably going to give this razor and blades to my 15-year-old son as his first razor -- I'm going to keep the travel case for myself)
  • Any shaver interested in a low-risk introduction to the pleasure and economy of DE razor use
  • Men whose faces have dips, curves, angles and may have somewhat loose, sensitive skin -- all of which would make them more susceptible to nicks, cuts, and weepers
  • Experienced DE shavers who don't have the heaviest of beards, who enjoy the process of a multi-pass shave, and who prefer mild-shaving razors
I applaud Dorco for offering this set. It is one step closer to ensuring the increased resurgence of DE shaving -- especially in the USA. I think it's a reasonable value. Even the supply of 30 blades is consistent with my thinking on how to introduce a person to DE shaving. My concept has long been to have a moderate supply of one blade that is generally adequate for most beards such as the Dorco ST-301. Using those blades and a single razor, one can get comfortable with the process and master his technique with that gear. Then once one has sufficient experience under his belt (after using at least two thirds of the initial blade supply), he can choose some samples of other blades to see if he can fine tune his shaving experience. Or, of course, he can stay with the ST-301 blade if he finds that suitable.
The Dorco Prime Starter Set could be a nice gift.

This set is similar but priced slightly lower
than the offering of the One Razor from MicroTouch -- you know, the one advertised by the bald TV-pawn-store guy. I think the Dorco set will match up well against this primary competitor, and serves as another marketing channel by which those outside the DE-shaving community can become interested to give the DE experience a try. So if Dorco can use promotional tactics that not only reach the existing DE shavers (to sell the set as a gift from DE users to DE newbies) but also those folk still using the pricey disposable multi-blade razors, I think this product will find well-deserved success.

For more information on price and availability of the Dorco Prime Starter Set, visit the Dorco Prime web site.

 ** Full disclosure: the Dorco Prime starter set was provided to me at no charge by Dorco USA for my use and review, with no restrictions or stipulations whatsoever.

Happy shaving!

1 comment:

  1. I have been a DE shaver for a couple of years now and tried the Dorco Prime this morning for the first time using the enclosed Dorco blades. It was slightly more aggressive that I thought it would be and my single-pass shave was quite acceptable. I bought this as a travel shaver, but if it keeps performing this well I will make it my daily shaver. In other words, I like it!