Class Warfare Blog

May 3, 2017

Getting Sharp with Razor Blades

Filed under: Business,Culture — Steve Ruis @ 2:35 pm
Tags: , ,

I am getting very tired of things invented just to be able to make money and which actually do not create any value. (tag line Capitalism Amok!)

What got me thinking about this was razor blades, of all things. I had blanched at the last time I went to buy razor blades. They were thirty dollars for six “cartridges.” And I was in a discount store! So, I had my eyes open for an alternative and I found “Harry’s” (A good shave at a good price!) and they had a special offer on a handle and a set of blades, so I took a chance. The handle was quite nice (plastic but not flimsy) and the blades, er, cartridges were similar looking to many of the others. When I tried shaving with one, I discovered that there was a bit more drag than with a new Gillette cartridge, but they seemed to retain their sharpness for longer. The Gillette blades grew more dull faster. And they were a small fraction of the cost, so I was good to go.

Then I needed to reorder blades and I received a different cartridge, one “new” and “improved.” Nothing can be both new and improved, I assumed this one was new and better than the old one. Why change the design if it isn’t to improve the quality? Well, these new cartridges had much more drag than the old ones. They were still using (supposedly) German steel (not surprising as they have stopped making steel in the U.S.) so what was the problem? I looked at the new design and noticed that now there are five blades when before there were four.

I was disgusted. I then ran across an article extolling the virtues of old safety razors, like our fathers used, especially since you didn’t have to track down an old one; they were still making them. I hadn’t used one of these in over 50 years but the article was convincing. I bought an inexpensive razor and, at the recommendation of the article razor blades from Amazon: 100 blades for $10! Now we are talking! My cheap core soared like a bird.

The really interesting thing I learned when I took my first shave was that I got the best shave I had had in my memory. Not recent memory, all of it! I also got a bit of a nick, being out of practice with that instrument.

Why did this single edge razor perform so much better than these high tech modern ones. It was all very puzzling. The old razor took much less pressure and seemed to do a better job without needing a lot more strokes to get the job done. Then it occurred to me.

Can you see the gaps between the blades? They are there but really small.

Do you know how a knife cuts? Most people think that a knife cuts like a saw but really a knife is a pressure generating tool. The entire weight of a kitchen knife plus whatever force you add to that (usually not much is needed) gets distributed on a surface of very little area: the knife’s edge. Pressure is “force per unit area” and is calculated by taking the weight involved (weight is a force) and dividing it by the area it is spread over. How much area do you thing a knife’s edge has? (Hint: damned little.) And, of course, the only part of the edge that counts is the part in contact with the carrot or whatever, the rest doesn’t matter. A weight of just a few pounds (combined weight of knife and simulated weight added by your skillful manipulation of the knife) divided by a very tiny area and you get enormous pressures. This pressure basically pushes the carrot apart. (This is also why dull knives are so dangerous. The pressure created over a dull edge is much less which leads us to press harder and harder which leads to slips and … ouch!)

What is true for a knife is also true for a razor blade. When one blade was replaced by two you increase the area of edge by 2X. Now if what you were cutting was two times wider, that would have averaged out, but those blades are not cutting the same hairs. So, two blades, three, four, five…! We now have five times the blade area, so we have to use five times the push to get them to cut the same as the old razors.

So, thinking like “two blades ought to be twice as efficient/good/etc. than one” lead us down the garden path to $6 shaving cartridges (Each!) which do no better than the old one-bladed ones. We did not check our thinking; we just accepted their marketing as true and forgot about it. (Remember the frog in the pot of water with the temperature slowly rising?)

Does a two-bladed razor require half of the strokes to do the job? I didn’t notice any effort saving all the way up the ladder to five-blade “cartridges.” I did notice fewer nicks, though, even though I was pressing harder and harder all the time. The reason there are fewer nicks is plain to the naked eye. If you look at one of these cartridges, you will see than none of the blades is exposed much at all. This is where the safety razor had its fault. It exposed a lot of blade and that blade mowed down facial hair like a scythe; it also could nick you if you didn’t pay attention. To help with this, new safety razors have different amounts of blade exposure built in and there are various blade designs, etc. to enable a best set up for your face and skin.

It is a whole new … old … world. Old and Improved!

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14 Comments »

  1. How much have you experimented with old fashioned affairs?

    Comment by The Pink Agendist, née Mr. Merveilleux — May 3, 2017 @ 6:04 pm | Reply

    • the slit-throats? I tried for a while, didn’t like it.

      Comment by john zande — May 3, 2017 @ 6:43 pm | Reply

      • No, that’s a straight razor, for which the described one was a “safety” alternative. There’s a lot more to those beasts that people let on. By getting one that exposes less blade, there is less chance you will cut yourself.

        On Wed, May 3, 2017 at 6:43 PM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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        Comment by Steve Ruis — May 3, 2017 @ 9:16 pm | Reply

      • Yes! There was an unused shaving set sitting in the attic here when we arrived (still in a gift box), and I tried it out. I didn’t find it much worse than modern razors.

        Comment by The Pink Agendist, née Mr. Merveilleux — May 4, 2017 @ 8:44 am | Reply

        • Scientific proof! ;o)

          We have fallen down the hole labeled “Having what you want” rather wanting what we have. So we are lead around by the nose by advertisers and marketeers. Classical economics says that economic decisions are made by people in possession of all of the pertinent facts. Advertising should therefore a) not be necessary, and b) eschewed as a distortion of the facts (e.g. this perfume will make you *look *like this super model). Instead we lead to make this purchase, that purchase for things we do not want. I like to see the thoughtful purchases you make for your home. Americans tend to fill their garages with their mistaken purchases, then have a garage sale, and go out any buy more stuff with the proceeds, just to replace that stuff in the garage. It is the patriotic thing to do. (George W. Bush actually encouraged us to this, so it is “genius-recommended” as practices go.)

          The tipping point was when ordinary citizens were referred to by politicians and their ilk as “consumers” rather than “customers.” As a “customer,” I feel somewhat respected. As a “consumer,” I feel like I am in an economic feedlot being force fed to bulk me up for “harvesting.”

          On Thu, May 4, 2017 at 8:44 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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          Comment by Steve Ruis — May 4, 2017 @ 9:12 am | Reply

    • Actually, there is a a story there (I am now living with my best friend’s ex-wife) but much wine must be had before I will tell that story.

      On Wed, May 3, 2017 at 6:04 PM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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      Comment by Steve Ruis — May 3, 2017 @ 9:13 pm | Reply

  2. I obtained liberation when I realised I didn’t have to buy shaving cream/foam. Soap works just fine.

    Comment by john zande — May 3, 2017 @ 6:43 pm | Reply

    • Yes, sir! We have been sold a bill of goods. Check out the ingredients in your toothpaste. I started using Sensodyne toothpaste only to find its only “active ingredient” to be sodium nitrate, a common salt.

      On Wed, May 3, 2017 at 6:43 PM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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      Comment by Steve Ruis — May 3, 2017 @ 9:14 pm | Reply

  3. I bought a pair of Barber shears some 50 years ago, and every now and then I cut a foot or so off my beard to keep from stepping on it. The irony is, now I comb my chin and not my hair. There’s a washcloth for that.

    Comment by persedeplume — May 4, 2017 @ 7:06 am | Reply

    • They say “baldness is in your genes,” but that can’t be right, ’cause I got hair in my jeans. (Gallagher)

      On Thu, May 4, 2017 at 7:06 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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      Comment by Steve Ruis — May 4, 2017 @ 7:49 am | Reply

      • Lol.
        I miss Gallagher. But not CarrotTop.

        Comment by persedeplume — May 4, 2017 @ 7:52 am | Reply

        • I still own a Sledge-O-Matic.

          On Thu, May 4, 2017 at 7:52 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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          Comment by Steve Ruis — May 4, 2017 @ 7:54 am | Reply

  4. Those safety razors are what I remember guys shaving with when I was a kid. That and a bristle brush of some sort to lather up with.

    Nowadays I use a simple one blade disposable Bic razor. And Edge shaving gel. The can of Edge lasts forever it seems and the Bics are cheap enough to suit me, and get the job done.

    Back when the two blade disposable came out I tried them for a while but found I liked the old mono blade better. I merely watched with some interest over the years as they went from two blades, to three (more better) to four (3 blades? Sheesh! 4 is more better!) to five freaking blades! which is even more more better.

    I did a post on this subject some time back, I think I remember saying something along the lines of them soon coming out with a new and improved razor with 42 blades and driven with a V 8 engine! Now that would be a MANLY shave 🙂

    Comment by shelldigger — May 4, 2017 @ 5:43 pm | Reply

    • Thing would probably lay a patch on my cheek!

      On Thu, May 4, 2017 at 5:43 PM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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      Comment by Steve Ruis — May 4, 2017 @ 9:02 pm | Reply


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