Having existed since the dawn of the 20th Century, there are many types of safety razors. Therefore, it can be confusing when first getting into the subject. Having some background knowledge is vital when looking for vintage razors. However, even knowing the different heads can help enormously when buying a new one.
Although safety razors are all built for the same purpose, there are many varieties with different functions. None are better than the other but offer a different shaving experience, which can cater to your needs.
From different mechanisms for loading blades to various heads for a different shaving experience, this guide will familiarise you with their functions. Overall, you will be able to learn the following subjects:
What Are the Different Basic Types Of Safety Razor?
The anatomy of a safety razor is relatively straight forward. A typical three-piece razor consists of a head composed of a cap and a plate, which brace the razor blade. These are usually twisted into the handle, which can be made from metal or wood.
We’ll talk about the opening mechanisms in the next section. First, let’s look over the very basic types of safety razor. Overall, there are two groups, which can consist of double or single edge razors. These simply refer to how many sides of the razor feature an exposed blade for shaving.
Double Edge Razor
Double edge razors tend to be the most common form of safety razor. In fact, the term is often synonymous with safety razors. Here the blade is exposed on each side of the cap allowing the user to shave from either.
When shaving, you can simply swivel the razor in your hand and use the other side when the first blade is covered with soap. Although it’s rare, sometimes one side features an open comb for a more aggressive shave.
However, double edge razors aren’t only convenient for the shaver. Manufacturing a double-edge razor blade is actually cheaper as no finish is required on one side of the blade.
You can more-or-less determine how aggressive a double edge razor will be by the curve of its cap. The larger the curve, the more mild the shave as the blade is turned at an angle. Conversely, the straighter the cap, the harsher it will be against the skin.
Single Edge Razor
Although rarer than their double edged cousins, single edge razors have a fervent following. A single edge razor is recognisable by the fact that there is only one side where the blade is exposed. Many argue that this offers a closer shave as the cap is designed to be functional rather than symmetrical.
However, single edge razors are much rarer these days and it’s hard to find new ones on the market. Most of the best single edge razors tend to date from the beginning of the 20th Century. Therefore, finding one can be difficult and the specialised razor blades tend to be slightly more expensive.
What Are The Different Safety Razor Opening Mechanisms
In order to securely brace the blade in place, safety razors feature special opening mechanism. It’s important that these are well built to allow for easy access but prevent the razor blade from moving inside. If it does wiggle, it can cause cutting and irritation due to vibrations.
Overall, there are three main types of opening mechanism:
- Three Piece
- Two Piece
As mentioned in the previous section, the three piece is the most common today. However, it’s not untypical to find two piece razors where the plate is fused to the handle. These usually feature a knob at the base of the handle, which is turned to release the cap for unscrewing.
Sometimes the knob also adjusts the blade exposure at the head. These are known as “adjustable” razors, which allow you to tune the blade aggressiveness to just the right level for your needs.
For instance, if you have a sensitive neck compared to your face, you can turn the razor down to its mildest setting. It can then be increased when you do the hardier parts of your face for a closer shave.
Finally, butterfly mechanisms are much rarer today and tend to be a hallmark of vintage razors. The whole razor is a single piece that doesn’t come apart. Instead, the knob at the base of the handle turns to open the head from the centre for replacing the blade.
For this reason, butterfly openings are considered more elegant and therefore, they’re highly sought after by collectors. Nevertheless, they’re still quite inexpensive if you look around. That said, they tend to be a bit pricier on auction sites such as eBay but it’s not uncommon to find them cheaply at garage sales.
Safety Razor Head Types
A razor’s head type is a frequently-discussed aspect. All plates are designed with a safety bar, which sits just below the razor blade. This ensures that the blade is properly guarded to avoid accidental cuts and nicks.
However, the way these are designed will change the type of shave you’d experience. Flat edges tend to be gentler when the blade meets the skin whilst combed guards will be more aggressive.
The different head types can be broken down accordingly:
You can scroll down to read about them all or jump straight to one by clicking on it below:
When people talk about a safety bar, they are usually referring to the blade’s guard being flat.
Although this was particularly common among razors during the 1940s and 1950s, most manufacturers today opt for a more detailed finish.
Generally, safety bars tend to be the mildest choice for shaving. This is because very little blade is exposed to the skin.
Scalloped Safety Bar
Scalloped safety bars are the most common style of razor head being manufactured today.
Although very similar to closed comb heads, scalloped safety bars provide a different experience.
Instead of being perfectly flat, the guard is slightly bevelled across its surface. The beard is therefore exposed to more blade as opposed to a standard safety bar without being too aggressive.
Closed combs tend to be regarded as a safe middle ground between mild safety bars and aggressive open combs.
Instead of the blade being entirely exposed, the safety bar is still present and protects the skin from the blade.
However, you can still reap some of the benefits of a comb guard as the spikes guide the hair into the blade.
A lot of care should be taken when using open comb safety razors. Here, the blade is exposed save for the comb’s teeth, which guide the hairs towards it. They’re highly aggressive but offer an extremely close shave.
For those with extremely thick beard growth, open combs are the ideal choice. However, they require prior experience as they can be merciless to mistakes.
Additionally, they’re also ideal for those that shave infrequently as they will reduce even the thickest beard growth with ease.
Considered something of a curiosity, there are those that swear by slant head razors. Although a controversial concept, many claim that slant heads are much more efficient at beard removal.
The concept works by the blade being held at an angle. This ensures a scything motion for the blade. The cutting energy is then focused on less blade real estate.
By slicing the hairs at an angle like a guillotine, the blade is rendered more efficient. Therefore, less pressure is required and a clean shave can be achieved with fewer passes.
Ironically, many claim that these are best suited for sensitive skin as well as thick hair. The theory goes that because the blade slices rather than cuts, it produces less irritation. However, they do require a learning curve to master.
What Are Safety Razors Made From?
As a general rule, safety razors are made out of metal. These are the hardest and most durable materials suitable for holding a razor in place. Given their complex mechanisms and screws, other materials wouldn’t be suitable.
Nevertheless, you can occasionally find handles made from other substances such as plastic, wood or even ivory. Sometimes the knob at the bottom of the handle is made from plastic too.
Whichever handle material you choose, you should consider how well you will be able to grip it with wet hands. A metallic mirror shine may look attractive but it may be like soap between your wet fingers. Nevertheless, metal handles are usually knurled or polygonal at the very least to create extra grip.
Otherwise, the metallic body is usually made from a chrome-plated metal, which can be brass or occasionally copper. It’s also possible to find razors made entirely from chrome but these tend to be more vintage models.
However, chrome has a tendency to chip over time. Therefore, the most premium safety razors are usually made from stainless steel. Even though these are more expensive, they tend to be much more durable.
Having learned about the different types of safety razor, you might be ready to make the leap and grab one for yourself. If so, head to our safety razor buying guide to read the 5 best double edge razors that we’ve reviewed.
If you already have one, you can read about how to properly use it with our safety razor shaving guide. Otherwise, jump back to our shaving homepage so you can discover the other related subjects that we cover.