Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Grandad's Best: How to Insert a Blade in a 3-Piece Razor

*UTO stands for unscrew to open; this includes all two- and three-piece razors, and does not include TTO (twist-to-open), butterfly-door style razors.
Two two-piece razors: Merkur 37C slant (left) and
Wilkinson Sword Classic (right). Both top caps are shown
in the proper orientation for blade insertion, although
a cloth on the counter between it and the top
cap will prevent marring a chrome finish.

Many shavers use UTO-design razors, but never learned to properly insert a blade. First, a bit about the razor design:

A two-piece DE razor has a top cap and a separate handle-baseplate assembly. The key characteristic of this design is that the baseplate, with its safety bars, is attached to the handle. Some examples of razors of this design are the Wilkinson Sword Classic and the Merkur 37C slant bar. The Wilkinson razor does not further disassemble, while the Merkur's handle-baseplate assembly can be further disassembled into the handle-baseplate piece, a threaded knob (that engages the threaded rod on the top cap), and a small spring ring, which retains the threaded knob in the barrel of the handle-baseplate piece.
Above: An inexpensive three-piece razor shown with
baseplate clearly a separate piece from the handle.

A three-piece DE razor has a top cap, a separate baseplate, and a separate handle. When assembled, the threaded rod on the top cap screws into the threaded handle, and these two sandwich the baseplate in between.

When inserting a blade, all UTO razors are best assembled upside down; that is, handle up, on a padded surface. The steps are as follows:
Press the baseplate firmly down against the top cap while
tightening the handle. Do put a cushioning cloth (not shown)
between the counter and the top cap to prevent damaging
the finish on the metal.
  1. Put a towel or wash cloth on a counter. This is to prevent marring the finish of the metal top cap over time.
  2. Put the razor's top cap on the cloth, with threaded rod pointing up.
  3. Put the blade over the threaded rod and allow it to settle into the top cap. This is a key step, which allows the blade to initially self center as much as possible into the underside (which is now up) of the top cap.
  4. Put the baseplate and handle over the threaded rod of the top cap, but don't screw it tight yet.
  5. With the razor still upside down (handle up) on the counter, with your fingers press the baseplate down onto the blade and top cap. This is also a key step, which tends to maintain the blade in its self-centered position and not allow it to shift.
  6. Tighten the handle to lock the blade in position within the razor head.
  7. Verify even blade reveal by looking straight
    down at the top cap of the assembled razor.
  8. Verify even blade reveal by looking straight down on the top cap.
Now you're ready to shave with your UTO razor. Make it a good one.

Happy shaving!


  1. I usually just use the palm of my hand, but I guess that's not the safest way and you cant easily hold the top cap and base plate together. I'll try your method. Some razors make it easier to align blades than others. The Techs have nice corner tabs and most have a center bar. Check out the Eclipse Red Ring - it has posts on top of the base plate so you don't have to do it upside down.

    1. The method I suggest here I learned from Merkur, the DE division of Dovo-Solingen. They recommend this method to maximize the self-centering capability of their razors. This method not only accomplishes that, it's also safer than most alternative methods.

  2. Doug,

    I've seen you make a reference to this blade self-centering method in the past, and I'm curious as to why this practice helps control the placement to a great extent. For example, the Merkur 34C, like most non-stainless steel razors, doesn't have extremely tight tolerances. When the blade is placed over the threaded rod, which you state is the key step, the blade can still shift easily to a certain extent. It's still dependent on a human eyeballing the placement (which is the problem), and then solidifying it with the baseplate and handle. The self-centering via this method still seems problematic because, like I said, the tolerances exist on the cap as well. I'm wondering about your thoughts on this.


    1. Hey, Brooks, thanks for the question.

      I have found this method to be very effective; and as I said, I didn't invent it -- I learned it from Merkur -- that is, the good folk at Dovo-Solingen in Germany. I, personally, have only found one razor that has tolerances so sloppy that the blade won't self center, and that is the Maggard razor head that accompanied the MR3B "big boy" handle that I've written about. (And Maggard has stated in writing publicly that their razor heads often need blade adjustment.)

      I, personally, have never used a Merkur 34C, but I have a 33C classic, 15C open comb, and 37C slant bar and this method has worked EVERY TIME without fail. It also has been literally FLAWLESS with all my Tech razors, the Rimei Tech imitators, and even the pathetically-cheap Chinese three-piece razors that sell for $3 or less.

      Why it works: Though most DE razors APPEAR to not have tight tolerances, this is an illusion. Yes, when the blade is just laid loose into the inverted top cap, the blade can wiggle. However, most two- and three-piece razors actually have blade-seating tolerances that are pretty good as the blade seats fully into the top cap -- that is, if the user doesn't muck things up by working against the razor's ability to self center the blade. When the top cap is inverted on a flat, fairly-level surface such as a bathroom counter and the blade is simply laid on over the center post, the blade will generally self center in the top cap fine by just the force of gravity. Then if the base plate is laid on -- again just letting gravity alone settle the base plate onto the blade, most razors will have the blade self centered at this point. The key step following this is to simply press the base plate down without applying any lateral forces. This will allow the blade to seat fully and evenly into the top cap, and will "lock" the self-centered blade into position snug into position as the center of the "blade sandwich", tight between the top cap and base plate, where the self-centering capability is maximized. Then without releasing the finger pressure on the base plate, simply snug up the handle so its pressure replaces that of the fingers on the base plate. And, voila! the blade is self centered and good to go.

      Most shavers foul up this self-centering process because the blades are thin and flexible. So if one attempts to assemble the razor in the hand -- especially if at angles other that that of the top cap lying on its back -- the thin blade can easily be coaxed into a non-centered orientation in the razor head.

      Readers have mentioned other incredibly-expensive razors that don't self center well. I personally wouldn't tolerate such behavior, which I believe is the result of a very poorly built razor indeed -- irrespective of cost or materials used. Heck, my $4 (including shipping) Rimei RM2003 self centers like a champ (and shaves well, too)!

      Anyway, I hope my answer helps to explain why this method works, and it does!

    2. And BTW, Brooks,

      I'd be interested to hear if you've started using this blade-loading process, and how it is working for you and your 34C.

      Hope to hear from you again. Best regards.

    3. Doug,

      I apologize for the insanely long amount of time it took for me to respond. I had originally commented as "Anonymous", and so I obviously didn't get a notification of any type when you responded.

      I've actually used that blade-loading process for quite some time. After some thought, I came to a realization. My original quandary involved you referring to that method as self-centering, as if the blade was guided perfectly in place by design. In short, I believe it was just a misunderstanding of words. That method has a greater chance of "proper alignment" because it's cutting down on the blade being greatly pulled to one side or the other when attempting to load the razor sideways. I completely agree with you on that.

      I have something of interest to you, and I'll gladly send it/them to your e-mail address listed if you'd like. I know you've been wanting clear pictures, profile view, of the Merkur 34C. I have clear evidence of the neutral blade exposure, along with lines denoting blade angle and span. I also have clearly marked profile pictures of the modern DE89 (Edwin Jagger, as I'm sure you know) series heads.