Razor blade material technology

Nearly forty years ago now I had a chat with a cutlery retailer in Liverpool who specialised in supplying the many chefs in the city. He told me that Sabatier knives were the best and that they came with two kinds of blade. The carbon steel blades were for professional chefs, they were much sharper but demanded far more care, if they were left wet they would quickly rust, for instance. The stainless steel blades were for housewives, easy to look after but not capable of taking the same sort of edge as a carbon blade.

Now, of course, it has all changed. Chefs use stainless steel knives and Sabatier are no longer the pre-eminent brand.

The safety razor industry invented by King C. Gillette at the beginning of the 20th century had a novel business model, known as bait and hook. The razor itself sold at a loss to use the price elasticity of demand mechanism to get the maximum number of customers on board. Once they had bought their razor they needed a constant supply of the patent protected blades which sold at a big profit. This business model has been imitated by other industries, notably the video game console industry, where the basic console is often sold at a loss, but its manufacturer makes a big profit on every game sold. Other users of this business model are the cellphone industry and the computer printer industry.

With Gillette’s model the shorter the life of a blade the more money he made, so he made the blades of carbon steel which would rust very quickly. Maybe requiring a new blade every day. Of course you can stop the rust by removing the blade from the razor and keeping it in a bath of alcohol, but who can be bothered? So it came as a revolution in 1960 when the British firm, Wilkinson Sword, introduced stainless steel blades that lasted much longer. This forced all the other blade manufacturers to do the same and the carbon steel blade was dead (nearly). According to Wikipedia stainless razor blade steel is: a martensitic stainless steel with a composition of chromium between 12 and 14.5%, a carbon content of approximately 0.6%, and the remainder iron and trace elements.

If you want to try an old fashioned carbon steel blade today you still can. Treet in Pakistan make two types the “Blue Special” are in fact black and the “Dura Sharp” are the same blade with a PTFE coating. These are very easily available online from Amazon, eBay or specialist retailers like Connaught. Because they are different to stainless steel blades some people don’t like them at all. Other people think they are fantastic. These carbon steel blades really divide opinion amongst DE shavers, so they are well worth trying just to find which side of the fence you are on.

In the 1970s Personna tried to move the razor game on with the famous 74, made of tungsten steel. But by lasting around 10 times as long as a stainless steel blade it destroyed the basic business model of the industry so it died a natural death.

So where now? We are spoiled with many different manufacturers of excellent DE blades from around the world. The technology for making these to a high quality at a low price has been mastered. In fact there is no excuse whatsoever for a bad blade. But still we are stuck with the old business model and it is possible to make blades a lot better than what we now use. The main problem is productionising new technology in order to hit price points that consumers will accept.

I have already written about the ultimate blade, by using the hardest substance, diamond, and placing every atom in the optimum place it is possible to make a blade that will last 1,000 times longer than stainless steel whilst being sharp enough to split hairs. But it will be difficult to make a viable business model out of this.

There is a technology that is somewhere between steel and diamonds. That technology is ceramics. Kyocera in Japan make kitchen knives out of zirconia (this has a hardness of 8.2 mohs compared with steel at 5-6 mohs and diamond at 10 mohs) , which holds its edge ten times longer than steel and which is impervious to corrosion. They even make an electric machine for sharpening these, a technology that could be adapted to razor blades. However these blades don’t bend which makes them incompatible with most current DE razors. So whilst there is potential here we are unlikely to see it. And when an enthusiast tried to make his own ceramic cut-throat razor he couldn’t get it to work.

Kyocera themselves have looked at the possibility and this is what they have to say about it:

How come you don’t make a shaver?
Too dangerous! A metal razor blade has a relatively “rounded” edge (under the microscope) which prevents the blade from cutting into the skin. A ceramic razor blade, however, does not have a rounded edge and slices into the skin. Thus, a ceramic shaver would be too dangerous to use. Several engineers in Sendai who tested prototypes can confirm this painful fact!

So there you have it. Looking at the reality it seems that the technology of the blades we use for DE shaving is stuck in a rut. The only viable way out would be if someone had another go at making tungsten steel blades, but in artisan like quantities.


  1. Interesting article , with the shaving blade industry being a billion dollar industry and each blade more expensive the last, no wonder people want a longer lasting shaver. I am involved with a individual that has a patent pending product for a solution that extends the life of a razor blade, substantially. It uses a common eco friendly solution (oil free) that is readily available. We have gotten over 60 shaves with one blade. We are looking for individuals that would like to test the product and will forward a free sample. I can also provide a pdf file, on further information on the product called Razor Shield. Please feel free to contact us.

  2. Until the patents ran out on Gillette’s original razor around 1920, they charged a fairly steep price for all or most of their razors, a price that was much higher than the Fusion, relative to general wages and prices.

  3. One subject that recurs on shaving boards like Badger and Blade, where I found a link to your site, are the terms “Chrome” or “Chromium” vs. “Stainless” used on blade packaging. After participating in these discussions more than once, the light recently came on for me.

    The steel used for making almost all (except for a couple of Treets) DE blades is strip stock containing anywhere from 9% to 14% chromium. I have read that in order to be termed “Stainless,” the metal must contain at least 11% or 11.5% chromium, the main alloying agent in stainless steel. Those manufacturers who put “Chrome” or “Chromium” only on their packaging likely use steel strip stock with less than 11% chromium. Some mfrs., of course use both the terms chrome and stainless in their packaging.

    Using “chrome” steel with 9-<11% content could serve a twofold purpose: 1. It is likely less costly. 2. It is less brittle than real "stainless," so fewer microscopic chips come off the edge during the honing process, leaving fewer gaps in the edge and making it smoother. Wilkinson some 50 years ago didn't consider the stainless blade smooth enough for market until they developed a PTFE (Teflon) coating process to fill in those microscopic gaps in the edge.

  4. Greetins to the shaving world! I am the individual who first discovered the solution that Bill Eldridge has previously mentioned. I have obtained a provisional patent on this liquid, antimicrobial, solution. My testing
    on a fusion five blade by gillette. 64 clean nice shaves
    when submerged between shaves. 23 shaves without
    solution protection. All my shaves were conducted on two day beard growths.
    For three years I have conducted tests on Mac 3 turbo,
    manufactured by Gillette. In one particular test Dates:
    May1 and finished September 14. Yes ONE””” blade.
    97!!!+++ Shaves. Yhis is a miracle product now protected by patent.
    I am familiar with Kyocera and Sendai, Japan. Perhaps I will contact them on the manufacture of this easy clean
    effective “”Razor Saver.. ie Razor Shield. My team including Bill Eldridge Will obtain a non provisional patent in the upcoming months.
    This prduct may I add is even greater for the young occassional shaver and the guy who enjoys a two day shave. Anti_ Oxidation is one big factor.
    Have a great shave
    Lawrence Burns

  5. I am sick of replacing my razor blades. I would love to be one of the people who test and try one of the samples to see how this really works. How can I get one?

  6. My comment on the quote:

    “Too dangerous! A metal razor blade has a relatively “rounded” edge (under the microscope) which prevents the blade from cutting into the skin.”

    Why can they hone the ceramic blade with a rounded edge by not honing it so finely?

  7. I just came across this and it sounds great. Is it in stores now?

  8. Concerning steels used in razor blades….first the term stainless steel is marketing and not used in the metallurgical industry anymore and has not been for. Several decades. Two the 9 to 14 percent figure covered most of the non precipitation hardening chromium steels also referred to in the old ASM standard as 400 series corrosion resistant steel. These steels under heat treatment develop a materialistic structure that is hard and tough. There steels are not as hard as the old carbon steel blades which I am quite familiar with as I used them in several experiment making structured surfaces, but these steels are much harder than the 300 series materials used for kitchen ware. These alloys have no nickel or fairly small amounts thereof, for good reason. while the addition of nickel to bring the material to a 304 series alloy also know as 18 8 cres the material wou
    D have much improved corrosion resistance than the 400 series but be much too soft to be a good b
    Ade. The other consideration is that the additional corrosion resistance is useless.
    Btw the old blue steel blades were great. When they were on the market against the newer crew b
    Area they were far cheaper. They gave a better shave also. It was easy to keep a b
    Are in good shape. You rinse in very hot water. Flicker you wrist to knock most of the water off then dip in in aftershave. I used to get a two weeks out of them. Also the best razors were the old screw together types they held that blade tight. However now after radiation treatment I think I could shave with a piece of cardboard.

  9. High guys I was thinking that having a cartridge filled with 45 degree angled sharpened corrugations might help for a better closer shave since their is an increase in points of contact with the skin and hair. May be just having a convex or concave curve evenly sharpened at 45 degree would create the same effect also as you see in curved blades. If your interested I would really appreciate it if you would comment on my idea any input is appreciated weather here or at http://www.quirky.com/ideations/152616

    thanks allot:)

  10. I mean, I shave my legs everyday but my grandma told me that it’s unhealthy for me to use Gillete razors. Apparently they contain toxic chemicals that could give you cancer. This could start the zombie apocalypse… I recommend everyone to be careful and use Venus instead.

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