Monday, November 14, 2016

Tightrope Walking? The Merkur "Bakelite" 030... Longevity vs. Comfort?

After my nice maiden shave with the Merkur "Bakelite," I had a couple of rough shaves with it. This puzzled me. I thought my initial blade went bad, so I put in a different new blade in from a different manufacturer. Same outcome, worse actually.

The Merkur 030 "Bakelite" razor

After thinking about it, I realized that I was trying to walk a tightrope and may have been falling off. Let me explain....

I'm very aware of the fragility of this plastic double-edge (DE) razor as compared to one made of metal. The plastic is most vulnerable where it holds the center post, and the threads of the handle, with the center-post connection probably being the most likely point of first failure. And after my initial shave, which was good, I wrote my article on the razor's design. This made me more focused on not over tightening the handle to avoid excess strain on center post and handle threads.

So after my maiden shave I was heeding my own advice about avoiding premature failure of the razor; prior to my shaves I was making sure to tightly press closed the blade sandwich of the top cap, blade, and baseplate as I tightened the handle just enough to hold the sandwich closed.

But there's an issue here. In any DE razor, the blade acts as a spring trying to separate the top cap from the baseplate, and in this razor because of the additional blade curvature, the blade-as-spring exerts more separation force.

So it appears that this razor, because of its unique materials and degree of blade curvature, snugs up during assembly a bit differently that my other two- and three-piece razors. My metal razors, when I press the inverted blade sandwich together on my bathroom counter top and screw the handle down to secure the blade sandwich, they snug up rather positively. That is, once the handle contacts the baseplate (while I'm compressing the top-cap-blade-and baseplate assembly down into the countertop with my fingers) the amount of further tightening to get from "contact" to "snug" is rather small. Yet with the plastic razor -- even when I'm compressing the sandwich completely and quite firmly with my fingers -- the "snugging" of the blade sandwich is less positive; that is, as I tighten the handle it makes contact with the baseplate but then allows a bit more turning of the handle than would a metal razor before the razor feels firmly and positively assembled. I would attribute this less-positive closure feel to the more flexible nature of the plastic as compared to metal. Perhaps both the center-post anchor point as well as the threads of the handle flex ever so slightly, and thus allow a bit more turning of the handle to achieve a positive connection between all the separate parts of the razor.

In both shaves after my maiden shave with the plastic razor, I was trying to walk that tightrope, trying to snug up the handle just enough but no more than absolutely necessary, balancing between unnecessary excessive tightening and under tightening. To over tighten would be to create razor-life-shortening strain, and under tightening perhaps allows the blade angle to slightly increase in the razor, bringing with it a more aggressive and more harsh shave.

So it's possible that in my trying to preserve the razor by using only as much tightening force as necessary that I was under tightening the razor. This would explain the more aggressive and irritating second and third shaves.

So now I'm going forward with the rest of my evaluation aware of the possibility that I may have to use slightly more force when "buttoning up" the razor before my shaves. My goal, of course, is to avoid the unacceptable comfort of my last two shaves with the instrument. I'm now aware that that comfort may come with an unavoidable price, which is that the "Bakelite" razor, unlike most metal razors, may have a finite life span. It may well be that this razor is a long-lived disposable, but with its life measured not in days but rather in months (up to a few years).

Of course, time will tell. I'll offer more observations when I publish my shave review of the instrument.

Happy shaving!

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