Thursday, November 10, 2016

Merkur 030 "Bakelite" Razor Review, Part 1

Yesterday I received my Merkur 030 "Bakelite" razor. I unpacked it with great enthusiasm -- very interested to view and use this unusual razor.

I was not disappointed. I will review this razor in two parts. Today's review focuses primarily on the design and physical characteristics of the instrument. The subsequent review, which will not follow immediately, but instead will be done after I've given the razor a more thorough shaving evaluation.

Let's not waste another moment; let's get on with the design review of the razor:


Bakelite was one of the first plastics made from synthetic components, and found its way into many industrial, military and commercial products. In my recollection (and according to Wikipedia) it was prone to degradation over time including brittleness, which led to cracking. However, Bakelite is still used today in some products such as wire insulation, brake parts, other automotive parts, and industrial-electrical applications. My personal recollection of Bakelite is that it was often a uniform black color. Despite my lack of awareness of two-toned Bakelite, the two-toned red-black color of this razor certainly suggests vintage, and perhaps there actually were many such Bakelite products with this appearance.

However, I don't believe this razor is really made of Bakelite. I believe that it's a more modern plastic with a vintage look. This is a good thing. Modern plastics exist because earlier formulas had flaws that make them inferior to newer developments -- at least for some applications.

Also, this razor is quite light, weighing about 15 grams. My sense is that Bakelite was a rather dense plastic, and I believe that this razor would weigh a bit more if it were actually made of Bakelite.

I like that this razor has a vintage look but is likely made of a modern plastic. In my opinion this offers the best of both worlds: the improved performance of a more advanced plastic than Bakelite, but with a retro look.


After thinking about it, it's clear that the contours and thicknesses of the razor are significantly influenced by the manufacturer's choice of material -- that is, plastic rather than metal.

Top Cap

The top cap is thicker in its center than the usual metal top cap. This is not just a stylistic whim. The thickness of the top-cap center is obviously related to the embedded center post, which is the only metal part of the razor. The threaded center post is brass, and must be well anchored in the top cap (by having sufficient -- that is, additional -- plastic in the cap center) to be sufficiently strong and durable to serve as the anchor that will hold the top cap to the baseplate, while standing fast against the resistance of the installed blade.

The top cap has a more visually salient curve to its outer/upper/top contour than the typical metal three-piece razor due to the thicker center of the top cap, which then tapers toward the blade edges.

However, the top-cap-and-baseplate combination also causes the installed blade to curve a bit more than normal, and this, too, is not a style-driven decision. It is instead a direct result of the use of plastic rather than metal to make the top cap.

The top cap is thicker in the center, meaning its upper contour slopes more dramatically toward the blade edge. This steeper slope of the top cap then requires more bending of the blade to avoid an excessive scraping angle (that is, too large an angle between blade and face) while shaving. This is the reason for the larger curve of the blade when installed in the razor.


The edge-to-edge curvature of the baseplate is also more pronounced than the typical razor. This is visually emphasized not only by the greater curvature of the blade, but also by the location of the safety bars. The safety bars offer what looks to be not a small blade-bar span. This somewhat generous span combines with the bar location being a bit closer to the handle than the normal metal razor, which then determines a shave plane (formed by the top cap and safety bar) that is closer to parallel to the razor handle than is normal.

This shave-plane angle, to recap, is not style driven, but rather functionally driven. The thicker top cap creates a cascade of design decisions -- greater blade curvature, greater baseplate curvature, and lower, closer safety bars -- that are all required to get an appropriate blade-edge-to-shave-plane angle that will deliver a comfortable, efficient shaving character.


The handle appears to be made of the same plastic as the rest of the razor, and has no metal parts. This means that the female threads of the handle are made of plastic, and deserve careful attention to preserve them as the razor is assembled and reassembled over time. However, it should be noted that the threads are standard as in most other razors, and therefore other handles can be substituted as desired to achieve different razor lengths, weights, and degrees of durability.

Overall Design

Although difficult to measure quantitatively, I would suggest that though the shave plane is slightly more parallel to the handle than in most metal DE razors, the angle of the blade to the shave plane is pretty normal. I think it is a misunderstanding of design factors along with the visual impression of the razor that leads many reviewers to think that the curvature of the blade has a significant effect on the shave character of the razor. While it is true that the blade curvature causes the angle of razor to face to be flatter (that is, the handle slightly closer to face) than in a common metal razor, the angle of the blade edge to the face within the usual range of usable razor orientations is probably pretty standard.

Assembly with Blade

There are two primary weak spots in this razor: the connection of the center post with the top cap plastic, and the (plastic) threads within the handle. Of those two, I believe that the most vulnerable is the former: the center post connection to the top cap. Because of these vulnerabilities, the assembly of the razor is of crucial importance to long-term razor survival.

So the way essentially all of the video reviewers assemble blade into razor is not optimal. I firmly believe that to minimize the strain on the center-post-to-top-cap connection, the blade should be inserted into the razor on a counter top as described in my old article on how to insert a blade into a two- or three-piece DE razor.

Yet even this process needs some special care and attention.

  1. When the top cap is inverted and resting on a wash cloth on the counter and the blade and baseplate are added, you must ensure to apply sufficient pressure on the underside of the baseplate with two fingers to fully compress the blade into the top cap so that there's not the slightest gap between topcap, blade, and baseplate.
  2. As you screw the handle on to secure the blade sandwich of the razor head, only secure the handle with just enough force to prevent a gap in the razor sandwich. Any additional force will put unnecessary strain on the top-cap-center-post connection, and may contribute to a future premature failure of that junction. If you always do this (follow my recommendation), you will never twist the handle enough to damage its threads either. However, this recommendation applies to metal handles on this razor head as well. Any more turning force than necessary on the handle will not threaten damage to a metal handle, but may still emperil the integrity of the top-cap-center-post connection.

Post-Shave Care and Storage

For the reasons outlined in the preceding section, when the razor is stored post shave -- either with blade or without -- I suggest leaving the handle off entirely or loosely screwed onto the center post thus minimizing pressure on the center-post junction with the top cap.

My "Bakelite's" Maiden Shave

My first shave with the 030 was very good. Aside from serious cockpit error leading to a minor cut under my jaw (never move the razor sideways when against skin!), the shave was close, comfortable, and weeper/nick free, even with a new blade.

I used my normal process: a one-lather shave, first pass largely against grain, and touch-up strokes as necessary. The outcome was, overall (and ignoring my literal faux pas), slightly better than with my preferred instrument, the Merkur 33C Classic. This "Bakelite" razor is fairly mild in shave character, but with its blade-bar span being a bit roomy, still has the ability to shave closely, and also deserves respect -- so don't get too cocky or careless (as I did).

The light weight is a non issue for me. In fact, I actually like a light razor in that it seems to provide a better feel for the blade against skin. I believe that I am able to modulate the pressure of the razor better when it's on the light side. Of course, preferences do vary, and I suppose that the mass of most DE hobbyists still believe in the false mythology of "letting the weight of the razor do the work."

In all, I look forward to my next shaves with this razor. Tomorrow, just for fun, I'm putting the old steel "shorty" handle on the razor from my '65 Gillette Travel Tech. More reportage to come. Stay tuned.

Happy shaving!


  1. I have this razor new only 10 days ago, called a Merkur 45 in Canada. It came with 10 Merkur blades, and I am have completed 9, 3-pass shaves. I call these shaves BBS if I cannot feel stubble after 6 hours. This is the only de razor of the 3 I own that I get a great shave with Merkur blades. Can't wait to try a Bic blade, which are my favorite in a Merkur 23, or a Pearl closed comb.

    1. Actually, I believe the model 45 is not just a Canadian thing. In shopping for this razor it seemed that the model 030 (or just 30) was just the razor alone, no blades and no plastic case; while the model 45 included blades and case. Strangely, my razor, labeled model 030 on its packaging, arrived with blades and case, when I was expecting no case and a single Merkur blade. Go figure!?!