Monday, November 28, 2016

Shave-Performance Review on the Merkur "Bakelite" Razor

I reviewed the physical characteristics of this razor in an earlier article. Today, I'm going to discuss my impressions of the shaving character of this instrument.

The "Bakelite" Merkur model 030 or 045 (some versions come with a plastic case and pack of Merkur blades, while others just provide razor and a single Merkur blade).
The most salient characteristic of this razor is its appearance and light weight -- both due to its largely plastic substrate. Another superficial characteristic is the greater-than-normal curvature of the top cap and the blade itself. However, these characteristics are relatively unimportant to the character of its shave.

What is most important is the spans of the razor head. Specifically, these relevant spans are distance from the blade edge to both the "theoretical" line on the safety bar that contacts the skin and the "theoretical" line on the top cap that contacts the skin when shaving. (The word theoretical is in quotation marks because the skin deforms and becomes more of a contact patch. However, it is these idealized lines that determine the shave plane of the razor.)

The blade exposure is positive (that is, the blade edge lies above the shave plane) and that tends to make a razor on the aggressive side. When you further consider the large spans between blade edge and both top cap and safety bar, this razor has the capability to be used quite aggressively. One must use light pressure of razor against skin and some care for its shave to wound free and unlikely to bite.

So if the user has good control of razor pressure and is judicious in choice of shaving directions (that is, with grain/cross grain/against grain), this razor can be adequately safe and also aggressive -- capable of shaving quite closely.

However, if the user is undisciplined, in a hurry, or simply uses excessive pressure of razor against face, this razor can nip leaving weepers and nicks in its wake.

The blade exposure (the position of the blade edge, with respect to the shave plane formed by the top cap and safety bar) is a bit positive, which should give a moderately aggressive shave. In addition, because of the large edge-to-safety-bar and edge-to-top-cap spans, this razor will shave quite closely -- especially if one is prone to pressing razor against skin with too much force.

This morning just prior to writing this article, I had my most recent shave with this razor using a Dorco ST-301 blade that was not brand new. I got a very good shave that was about as close as I can get without inflicting damage to my skin.

I did change my routine to accommodate this razor's unique design characteristics. Although I did take my customary one-lathering, anti-raking shave, I did not start with my usual largely-against-grain first strokes. Instead, my first strokes were largely cross grain, which I then followed by shaving against grain. While making final touch-up strokes, I did apply some extra water and even some used lather from under the baseplate. (I don't usually rinse the lather from my razor until I've completed my shave.)

The blade reveal in this razor is large, which may allow more micro-vibration, micro-flexing of the edge while shaving, which could add a touch of irritation to the shave -- but probably not much if any. However, the blade-bar span is very large, which is one reason why this razor is not quite the lap cat one might think; so while not terribly aggressive, this razor deserves respect.
In all, this razor can provide a very good shave as it did this morning for me.

Some will object to it's light weight. I don't mind it, although I admit that I'm one who appreciates razors of all weights, not just heavy weights.

Some have called this an excellent travel razor. I suppose so when traveling by air; it is light weight, which is a good thing if one is a one-bag, carry-on-only type of flyer as I am. However, I don't use double-edge razors while traveling by air because of the extra gear I require such as brush, styptic (just in case), balm, etc -- not to mention the problem of blade acquisition or transportation. Instead, when I'm traveling, I bring a mild, shortened-handle disposable or two such as a Gillette pivoting two-blade design or a Bic single-blade sensitive along with a small wedge of shaving soap, which I face lather with hands, not brush.

Do I like this razor? Yes, I do. It's likely not going to last forever and become a family heirloom, but for those days when I will take my time and enjoy a careful, mindful shave, this is a nice option to have in the shave drawer.

Happy shaving!!


  1. Hi Doug,
    You say that the blade exposure is negative, but the blade exposure appears positive when a shave plane line is added to your picture. It looks like this razor has positive exposure and large span. Is that right?

    1. By golly you are right. I was just eyeballing the blade exposure and apparently my eye isn't all that good. I stand corrected, and will update the article at my earliest opportunity. So, yes, therefore it does have a large blade bar span *and* a positive blade exposure.

    2. My apologies to all for my error regarding the actual positive blade exposure of this instrument. I have corrected the article itself as of 4:30 PM EST today, Nov 28, 2016.