After taking up wet shaving a lot of people develop a bad case of Razor Acquisition Disorder (RAD). It’s a devastating disease that leads to many late nights scouring eBay, haunting the local antique shops, and trying to think of excuses to tell the wife when the next package arrives by UPS. While I know people who have had RAD go into remission, it’s never truly gone.
So what happens when YOU get bitten by the RAD bug? You start looking around and come across a vintage safety razor. Problem is, you’re not really sure what to look for. What’s a good razor look like and what should you watch out for? In this post we will cover some common issues found on used and vintage safety razors. If you are new to the hobby and come across a razor with any of the issues listed below I would advise you to pass on the item (unless you like to tinker and fix things, then have at it).
For the purpose of this article a “good” razor is not necessarily the one with perfect plating and paint. A good razor will provide a great shave as found and does not require repair, special handling, or equipment to make it operable.
For a quick refresher on safety razor terminology take a look at the safety razor section of Making sense of the world of razors. Click on pics for larger versions.
COMMON SAFETY RAZOR PROBLEMS
Blade gap is space between the razors edge and the top of the comb. This gap determines how much hair is cut in each pass. If the gap is different from one side to the other then your shave, and possible your face, will suffer for it. This is often found along with misaligned doors on twist to open (TTO) models
A common problem on TTO razors is that the TTO knob has dropped. The knob is still attached to the internal mechanism of the razor but will not function properly unless the knob is manually pushed up while the knob is turned. Trying to hold the knob up and shave at the same time is asking to get cut.
Misaligned TTO doors
A common issue when the razor is dropped, the doors do not align correctly when closed. Since the TTO doors apply pressure to the razor blade, this can lead to uneven blade gap.
The comb on a razor serves to set the blade gap, stretch your skin, and direct hair follicles into the blade gap. Bent or uneven combs cause these functions to be hampered. Bent combs can also contribute to uneven blade gap. The one exception I can think of is a bent tooth of an open comb razor. If it is bent down it should be ok.
Single Edge (SE) razors often have small tabs at each side or the razor head that ensure the blade sits evenly when the blade edge contacts the razor comb. These are often misaligned or broken off.
Broken or stripped posts
For two or three piece razors make sure and check that the screw post the handle screws into has not been stripped of its threading. As well as stripped posts, when handling the razor before purchase make sure the screw post is actually attached and not broken off or epoxied back into place
Blades not produced
Make sure you can still get razor blades for the razor you want to buy. There are quite a few vintage razors available that no longer have the required blades being produced.
Older three piece Gillettes were produced with hollow handles. The end pieces were pressed in and stayed attached by the extremely tight fit. Over the years the stress has gotten to a lot of these and the handles split. This is a fairly common occurrence.
Blade moves when razor is tightened
Check and make sure the blade is firmly fixed in place when the razor is closed and secure. A wiggly razor blade is a sure way to cut yourself.
Head to handle angle
When the razor has been dropped or enough pressure has been applied to make the angle between the handle and the head of the razor anything other than 90 degrees. This movement, even if corrected, will cause a weakness at the head to handle junction that can result in the handle separating from the head.
What to do when you actually find a vintage safety razor you are interested in
Whenever possible try and handle the razor before purchase. Make sure and try out all of its features. If its a two or three piece razor then take it apart, if it adjustable, them make sure the adjustment mechanism moves as it should and actually causes something to adjust. If you are looking online, then examine the pictures carefully and ask lots of questions.
A razor can be dirty, dinged, and covered in soap scum and still be a great shaver. The same thing cannot be said of a razor that is in poor mechanical condition. Quite a few of the above issues can actually be fixed or worked with. However, I strongly encourage you to find a razor is solid mechanical condition. Everything needs to work as intended from the factory.
The above issues are all pretty common when looking for used razors. The older the razor, the more likely there will be issue. However, there are still a plethora of razors in great shape waiting to be rescued. If you are not sure about finding a razor in the wild, look on your favorite shave forum buy/sell/trade (BST) or ask a shaving buddy for some advice.
I hope this helped a little bit. Please spread the word by leaving a comment, a like, or a tweet. If you would like to be informed of new articles, please sign up for the newsletter (top right of the article). Have a great day and a smooth shave!