Safety razor


I used to watch my father shave with this. It’s a brass Gillette, made in Canada, issued to him on his induction into the Navy, probably in Regina. He had a drill, a ritual. When he was done, he would unscrew the top, wash and wipe the pieces with a towel. I must have watched him do it hundreds of times, probably mostly on weekends, although having watched him do it several times, I would often come in to the bathroom during the process and know just where he was.

I know this made an impression on my sister too, because I remember she mentioned it in a column, which I can’t find now. I have read that many women have found watching men shave to be a very sexy thing. A careful, deliberate, sensual thing. I can understand that. I use it, but not every day, not to do my whole face, and not always at the same time when the bathroom needs to be shared; neither of my kids has ever watched me.

Safety razor refers to how much safer it is than the straight razor, which preceded it. We had one of those in a drawer, which had been my maternal grandfather’s. Barbers use them still, or did a few years ago when my neck was last shaved. For someone who knows what they’re doing, the straight razor, with a good edge that can be kept keen by stropping on a piece of leather would be much more flexible, and could be used with a minimum of fuss all day long. The safety razor, with its paper-thin disposable blade, good for a half-dozen shaves perhaps, is principally valuable because the unskilled won’t cut themselves so badly with it. The shaft of this one is hollow, and my dad kept a styptic pencil in it; the one I’ve been able to buy won’t fit in the shaft. That’s good enough for the cuts this razor will make.

The safety seems to come from the right-angle handle, much easier to hold and manipulate, and the way the edges are enclosed and guarded. All these features are still with us now, in the latest versions, with three or four blades–like shaving with a venetian blind. But disposibility is already part of this design, about 80 years old, and my razor is not a superior device: it is the ancestor of what’s available today, and does the same job. Supplies are still available, generic blades from one local grocery store/pharmacy, brush and soap from another, styptic pencil from a third. But when blades are no longer readily available, I’ll just toss it back in the drawer I found it in and move on. I think my father would have been amazed at my still using it, and why would my son use it?


4 Responses to “Safety razor”

  1. Mike Says:

    Just moved to Francefrom Uk,my three piece razor was issued to me in the Army in 1962. In the move it was lost. I have a Van Dyke beard and I used the razor withought the safety bar for shapeing around. I have not so far been able to buy a replacement.

  2. Mike Says:

    Just moved to France from Uk, my three piece razor was issued to me in the Army in 1962. In the move it was lost. I have a Van Dyke beard and I used the razor withought the safety bar for shapeing around. I have not so far been able to buy a replacement.

  3. I don't pay Says:


    I’ve never heard of using just the top and the handle; was that a technique you picked up from someone or did you invent it yourself? The top plate of mine has a sort of keel, or central ridge, which while locating the blade, prevents tightening it without the underplate. a flexible washer or o ring would probably solve that problem on mine.

    In the two months since I wrote this post, I’ve taken to using sizzers almost entirely, as there is no particular advantage, rather the reverse under current fashions, to be completely clean and smooth unless you do it everywhere, or everywhere except clearly-defined areas such as a mustache (or Van Dyke).

    The advantage of first-generation safety razors like ours was that the blade itself was a very useful tool. It’s shape will live on in the ones used for box cutters and other tools, albeit with a reinforcement crimped to one blade. Those devices evolved due to the then-ubiquity of razor blades, which may pass without much notice soon.

  4. Babalon Says:

    Personally, I prefer wet shaving and have always used safety razor and shaving soap. This method has so many advantages over other shaving methods!

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