As you can see the fakes are extremely believable except for the writing on the sides, where they are presumably trying to avoid the wrath of Procter & Gamble and of course the simple fact that the product quality is only a fraction of that of the real thing.
Fake Iridium razor blades. Says Betersburg Products International etc
Real Iridium razor blades. Says Petersburg Products International etc
Usually a company is very happy to get product information out to their customers, it is called marketing communications and they have special staff whose job it is to do this. The lady doing this job at PPI is Galina Petrenko. I sent her the following email:
from Bruce Everiss
date 19 January 2011 08:02
subject For Galina Petrenko re Double edged blades
19 Jan (14 days ago)
I run the traditional shaving blog Bruce on Shaving http://www.bruceonshaving.com/ and the Pogonotomy forum http://pogonotomy.proboards.com/index.cgi so have a very keen interest in traditional shaving using double edged blades. PPI make what are widely considered to be the best double edged blades that can be bought so there is a lot of interest in what you are doing. I personally have many of the different sorts of blade that you make. However there is a great lack of information about what PPI are doing with double edged blades.
I was wondering if you could be so kind as to answer just a few simple questions about PPI. Your answers would be of great interest to many traditional shavers around the world.
1) You produce many different brands of blades. These include Astra, Sputnik, Permasharp, Polsilver, Rotbart, Nacet, Minora and the several different variations of the Gillette brand. Is it possible to have a definitive list from you of your DE brands?
2) Are all these different blades engineered the same in terms of steel, grind, coatings etc. Or are they all different to one another? Or do you have a small number of variations that are packaged under different brand names for different markets? If so which blades are the same?
3) The stainless razor steel you use is excellent, it will hold a good edge for a long time. Is this Swedish steel? If not what nationality is it?
4) There is a huge resurgence in interest in double edged shaving in the West. The number of enthusiasts is growing rapidly. Is PPI aware of this and does it have plans to look after such enthusiasts?
5) The Iridium blade was a favourite amongst double edged shaving enthusiasts in the West. However it is currently unavailable for us to buy. When will it be available again?
Thank you very much in advance for your time and trouble in answering this,
And the response, after two weeks, is a big fat zero. Now Galina might be on her annual vacation, which would be skiing at this time of year. Or maybe it is taking her time to collate the information. But I doubt both of these, I think that they just don’t want to talk to me. And you can see why, to them DE blades must be a low margin commodity compared with their highly priced and high profit margin cartridge razors where they have a patent protected monopoly. So why give publicity to something they have openly said that they are trying to replace? It was just wishful thinking to expect them to actually give answers.
Lord is an ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 company based in Egypt’s second city, the port of Alexandria. Their 2,200 employees make several billion razor blades a year (and lots of the razors to put them in) using 8 of their own brand names and also the brand names of many supermarkets and other businesses around the world that they manufacture for. They export to 75 countries.
From a traditional shaving point of view they seem to have a very good cost/performance balance in that they make very good blades (but not the very best) at very attractive prices (though not the cheapest).
Their 8 brands are:
Lord. Platinum, Super Chrome and Super Stainless.
Big Ben. Super Stainless.
Shark. Super Stainless.
Crown. Super Stainless.
Asco. Super Stainless.
Racer. Super Stainless.
Silver Star. Super Stainless.
Rainbow. Super Stainless.
Just as with Petersburg Products International I refuse to believe that these are 10 different razor blades. In fact it is more likely that there are three different razor blades (the three different Lord models) and that everything else is just packaging.
Currently the Shark brand is finding favour with the traditional shaving community (I am using one at the moment). Presumably this is because they have the nicest packaging of the 8 brands!
In October last year the supply of Iridium razor blades, made by Petersburg Products International (PPI), suddenly dried up, retailers world wide could not get any more from anywhere. Once the word was out existing stocks sold out in less than a day. And now individuals with hoards of these blades are selling them for a handsome premium on eBay and on the shaving forums. Buyers are happy to pay this premium because the Iridium was almost universally perceived as being a bit special, combining extreme sharpness with supreme smoothness and great durability. To many they were the best blade in the world.
thank you for your message to P&G and your interest in our products.
Judging by the structure of your Russian phrase, English should be more natural to you:), therefore replying in English to your question ( if I understodd it correctly).
The PPI company still produces Super Iridium double edge blades and has no intention to stop the manufacture of this product.
However, we have no information as to where to find these blades in retail in your particular country.
Procter & Gamble,
Consumer Relations Russia&Belarus
The immediate question that springs to mind is that if “The PPI company still produces Super Iridium double edge blades” then where are they? Not a single blade has been seen in the normal retail channels for three months. If a batch were to suddenly appear it would sell out pretty quickly as traditional shavers world wide insured against the shavepocalypse by building up their stashes. And the next batch, and the batch after that.
In the meantime there has been much debate about which PPI blades are the same as the Iridium. Over a dozen brands come out of that factory and it makes sense that often the only difference is the packaging, so which of them is manufactured identically to the Iridium but branded differently? Some think one could be the Permasharp blade, sold in Turkey. But the reality is that only PPI really know.
So, like many reading this, I am waiting to see what happens. If the Iridiums do appear, if they are the same as before and if they are priced sensibly then my stash could experience a sudden large expansion. Better safe than sorry.
Uses for blades. When King Camp Gillette invented the thin double edged razor blade at the beginning of the 20th century he intended it for face shaving. However a very sharp blade of consistent size cheaply and readily available led to it finding all sorts of uses. In trades and crafts, in hobbies, in the household, in science and in medicine. In fact in some countries now the non face shaving use of DE blades may be more than their original purpose.
Adjustable razors. These have a mechanism to quickly alter blade exposure, wasted on most users who leave theirs on one setting. Most Gillette adjustables range from 1 to 9, my Mergress goes from 1 to 5, then there is a plus sign. But the range the Mergress adjusts through is far larger than that of the Gillettes. When you get to the plus sign the blade is mightily exposed.
Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV). How often do we hear this about traditional shaving, especially when it comes to razor blades? One forum poster will say that a given blade is here to save the planet whilst the next will say that the very same blade eats small children. This is so common that it is something the community tolerates and understands.
Now to the story. Whilst being deprived of a supply of Iridiums I have been forced to try lesser blades, with mixed results. Meanwhile when I travel or am skipping the shower I often use an adjustable razor to emulate the three razors of the three razor shave, it isn’t as effective as using three separate razors as there is more to how a razor works than blade exposure, but it is a reasonable substitute. So I pop a blade into the Mergress and whizz it round to “plus” for the first pass, then to 3 for the second pass then to 1 for the third pass.
In doing this with different blades it became very quickly apparent that different blades behave completely differently at different exposures. Something can be as rough as a bear’s behind on “plus” and really smooth on 3. Another blade can be quite nice on “plus” and still quite nice on 3. This is really very interesting and goes a long way towards explaining YMMV. And, before you ask, an Iridium is amazing on any setting.
Which brings us to “kenstee” on the Pogonotomy forum. We were having a discussion about the Personna medical prep blade and he, very generously, sent me a couple in the post. This is the only Personna DE blade still made in America, all their blades for the face shaving market are made in Israel. The medical prep blade comes in two flavours, sterilised and un-sterilised, depending on their use in hospitals. Obviously one is more expensive than the other, but they are seemingly otherwise identical.
So, naturally, one of kenstee’s blades went into the Mergress for a first pass on “plus” and I have to say that it was very good, not smooth like an Iridium but not in any way draggy or rough. In fact it did a lot better than some very well known blades have done. So down to 3 for the second pass and I could not believe how super smooth the blade suddenly became. Like a light switch going on it suddenly found itself within its perfect operating envelope. Then down to 1 for the third pass and it was much the same as on 3 from a smoothness perspective.
From a cutting (ie sharpness) point of view the first pass removed nearly everything and the second pass removed what was left. A performance as good as the sharpest blades and better than many brands can achieve. I only did the third pass in the interests of science.
So if these prep blades are durable and consistent they could make a good regular shaving blade. Not quite up there with the Iridium, but better than most.
And of course the winner is traditional shaving. It gives us the infinite choice to experiment and to do what we each find works best for us.
Firstly a disclaimer, the variety of traditional shaving kit on sale is so vast that the choices are effectively infinite. And because you are different to the next man so what kit is best for you will be different, this is part of the joy of shaving this way, you can customise to your own exact personal likes and requirements. So what follows is just one man’s opinion, yours may differ substantially. Also because I am UK based this is reflected in some of the choices, however the interwebs have made us one big global community so this is not the problem it once was.
Soaps and creams.
Russian shaving creams and balms. Svoboda, Tet A Tet, Comme Il Faut, Viking, Everest, Phyto Expert
Basically creams are just soaps with water added to make them easier to use. So hard soaps are much more concentrated and can work out far cheaper per shave even if they cost more.
One of the very best soaps in the world is the Palmolive shaving stick that you can often get for under £1 in English supermarkets. Just rub it into your stubble like a big crayon then whip up into a fantastic lather with a shaving brush. The brush will then have enough charge left in it for second and third passes. This is not available in America so American traditional shavers buy it at a far higher price on eBay or bring home masses of sticks when they come here on holiday. I have done some great transatlantic equipment swaps for these sticks.
An excellent low cost cream is Ingrams which you can buy in many chemists and supermarkets. Loaded with menthol this is superb in the summer. Once again impressive value for money.
If you are a cream person then the step up from Ingrams is probably Body Shop Maca Root which is truly lush and is available on any high street. Sometimes they have it on offer which is a good time to stock up.
These are the most expensive part of traditional shaving. A top brush from a top manufacturer will be about £80 and upwards, but will last at least 30 years as your only brush. If you have several brushes it will last for ever. However there are far cheaper options as we will discover. Some people have large collections of brushes.
The brush has two components, the handle and the knot. With handles wood will not last as long as plastic, no matter how it is treated.The knot has very many variables which effect the way it works. One very obvious characteristic is the variation from floppiness to backbone.
Diameter at the base. This is the knot size. Too big eats cream/soap too small is more work to use.
Loft is the height of the bristles from the handle. They also go some way into the handle.
Knot shape. Flat top, bulb and fan are the main shapes. Most are a combination some way between these.
Hair variety. Badger, boar, horse and synthetic. Each behaves differently, each has followers.
Hair grade. Each of the above varieties is available in many grades and you tend to get what you pay for.
Knot density, how tightly packed the hairs are.
Synthetic brushes are useful in that they dry out instantly so are good for travelling. There are two sorts.
Firstly there are the simple nylon strand brushes. The £5.50 Body Shop model is a perfect example.
Then there is “synthetic badger”. The theory is that these all come from Omega in Italy, no matter what brand names is on them. They are £30+ and they are excellent.
For a bit of further reading there is Fido’s shaving brush blog which you can find in the blogroll on the right here.
Different razors perform and handle completely differently to each other, like different cars. And there are adjustable razors that are a bit like having a gearbox, you can alter the thickness of each slice of hair that they take, but the fundamental characteristics of that razor don’t change.
As ever I can’t over-emphasise that the choice is personal. What you use and how you use it is entirely up to you, the options are infinite. This is the exact opposite of what the big global shaving companies try and impose on you with their patent protected multibladed system razors.
There are two main routes you can go down, vintage razor or current production razor, let’s deal with them separately.
These are rocketing in value. But ask round friends and family and see what turns up.
With over 100 years of production there are a lot of different models to choose from but most are made by Gillette.
The Tech is a simple three part razor. Handle and two part head that just screw together. Often found in travel kits. Gives a very good and mild shave. Plentiful and cheap, everyone should have one.
The Super Speed is a succession of models with twist to open butterfly doors. These are the backbone of the traditional shaving revival. Mild shavers except for the model with a red tip to its handle which is a medium shaver.
The adjustables. Fat boy, Slim and Super Adjustable. Just dial in the aggression you want. Between passes or mid pass. Less common and going up in value fast.
There are plenty more but these are the main ones. Avoid old razors with toothed heads, except to collect till later.
Start with a Weishi off eBay or a Wilkinson Sword Classic in black delrin from Boots for less than £5. These are very mild and won’t bite. Even when you are up the learning curve they are still good for a buffing and polishing third pass. There are also the Lord razors from Egypt which are less mild and which are exceptional value. Then there are the Edwin Jagger razors that have taken over from the Merkur 34C to become the “standard” traditional razor. The new Edwin Jagger head, which they seemingly co-developed with Muhle in Germany, is amazing. It feels bullet proof, as if it will never bite, yet it very effectively and effortlessly slices through the stubble. It is easy enough for beginners yet rewards the more experienced. And the razor is beautifully made, a real piece of craftsmanship and engineering for about £20.
If you want to spend more get an iKon, handmade in Thailand, buy the tooth headed model. More money still and you want the Mergress conversion of the Merkur Progress adjustable. Made in small batches you go on a waiting list, they sell out in one hour once released. Finally there is the Feather Stainless Steel from Japan which is yet more expensive.
When you get expert you might want to try a Merkur Slant Bar, probably the most powerful shaving tool known to man. So efficient that they are perfect for people with very strong beard growth and sensitive skin.
There are plenty of others like the Joris and the Goodfella but the above list is IMHO a good guide.
These are critical, because they do the cutting and there is a lot of difference between the different brands.
The three characteristics to look for are sharpness, smoothness and blade life. Like everything else to do with traditional shaving the experience is personal and varies from person to person. Some make a Feather blade last one shave, some make it last nine. Also different blades behave differently in different models of razor. The sharper the blade the better, then it can cut your stubble with the least trauma to your face.
Gillette also makes DE blades in Vietnam, India and Brazil. These have excellent reputations but not as good as PPI.
Feather and Kai blades from Japan are immensely sharp but less smooth than PPI blades. Also they are very expensive. A Feather blade in a slant bar razor is supposed to be the absolute ultimate way to shave!
Lord in Alexandria, Egypt make several billion good quality blades a year under several brand names. Shark is the one with the best reputation. Though they are probably all the same!
Derby from Turkey are smooth and regarded as a good beginners blade, as are Personna from Israel. But you would probably be better off with a PPI blade.
If you want the best value for money then get Super-Max from Vidyut Metallics Limited in India, the world’s second biggest blade manufacturer. These are good and can be picked up at half the price of PPI blades.
One to avoid IMHO is Merkur blades from Germany, which are not as good as their razors.
Finally there is the shavepocalypse. The time when because of reducing demand the DE production lines are closed down. This has become more likely with the launch of the very low cost Gillette Guard system razor for developing countries which is targeted at DE users. This is why many traditional shavers have a stash of thousands of blades. They don’t cost much and take little space. Also they shoot up in value when a brand is discontinued as we have seen with Personna 74s, Gillette “Swedes” and now with Iridiums.
This article gives you a good place to start, but the choice out there is close to infinite, which is part of the joy of traditional shaving. So experiment, try different things and use what works best for you, even if it doesn’t work for anyone else!
Firstly a quick recap. Like many I shave with three passes, with the three razor method I select a razor for each pass that is optimised for the job. This, quite obviously really, gives a quicker and better shave and the few people who have tried it agree.
This is very definitely not the same as using an adjustable razor and turning it down between each pass. There is far more to how a razor works than just mere blade exposure. So by selecting a different razor for each pass you get to use a whole pile of characteristics that are optimised for what you are doing.
One feature of the three razor method is that the blades last a very long time because they are only being asked to do a third of the work, it is only now that I have needed to change my blades again, so I have decided to try a different set of razors as well.
This was interesting, there is definitely some merit in using different blades as well as different razors. The disappointment here was the Eclipse Red Ring which for the second pass, reducing, job was not as good as the Edwin Jagger DE89L. The revelation was the Wilkinson Sword Classic, Personna combination which could buff and polish away with gay abandon. And the Mergress was just brilliant, but then so was the 39C, both relentlessly despatching lots of stubble in very short order indeed.
So now it is time to experiment with vintage Gillette razors with the following combination:
1) Gillette long handled Super Adjustable turned up to 9 with a Kai blade. The Super Adjustable has a far wider range of adjustment than the earlier Fat Boy and Slim models and it is one of my favourite all round razors. The Kai blade is extremely sharp and in this razor it is free to do what it does best. A powerful combination.
2) Gillette red tipped Super Speed with an Astra Superior Stainless blade. The red tip is the most aggressive Super Speed but compared with the first pass razors that I have been using it is still fairly mild. The Astra is a Petersburg Products International blade so is both smooth and sharp, it could very well just be an Iridium in a different wrapper. This combination has to be very effective for a reducing second pass.
3) 1930s fat handled Gillette Tech (with the triangular cut outs) and a Super Max blade. These early Techs are not quite so mild as the later ones but they are still very benign. The Super Max blade is also not so aggressive, so this should be a good buffing and polishing combination.
After a couple of shaves this is working very well indeed, the red tipped Super Speed/Astra combination standing out in the reducing, second pass, role. This is all very interesting and great fun. Obviously my experiences and opinions are personal to me. Different combinations and methods may well work better for you. This is part of the joy of traditional shaving, we have near infinite choice to use what is best just for ourselves.
Regular readers will remember this idea of using the best tool for the job on each shaving pass. Starting with a Merkur slant bar to remove the maximum amount of hair in the first pass, then a Edwin Jagger DE89L for a reducing second pass and finally a Weishi for a polishing and buffing third pass. This works really, really well because each razor is being used for its optimum purpose. You don’t put a tack into the wall with a slegehammer so why polish and buff with a slant bar?
So now I have used the method for a few weeks I thought I would list the advantages.
It is a lot faster. The slant bar really crops the stubble like crazy, but you don’t have to work hard at it because you know the DE89L is to follow. Likewise the DE89L doesn’t have that much work to do, just the problem areas like jawbone and goatee. When you get to the Weishi it is just a matter of how polished do you want to be. So you are not asking much of each pass, so they can be done much more quickly.
Much better shave. My wife noticed this. You can polish away with the Weishi XTG and ATG using some vigour, knowing it won’t bite.
Less nicks and cuts. Because you are using the best tool for each pass you don’t have to work the razors hard. Just relax, take it easy and let them do their job. So they just can’t bite.
Far less trauma. Razor burn, red patches, whatever. Once again because each razor has been used in its best mode as a stubble cutter they end up having far less impact on your skin.
More fun. It is great getting to use 3 different well engineered shaving tools one after the other. Adapting to the different weights, shaving angles, balance and handle lengths is all just part of the enjoyment. Going back to using just one razor (when I travel) is boring.
Then, in the interests of science, it was time to try a different 3 razor method combination using optimised blades as well as optimised razors. This time it was as follows:
Mergress opened out to 5+ with a Feather New High-Stainless blade. Set like this the Mergress is very aggressive and the Feather is famous for being the sharpest of blades. As you can imagine this is a pretty effective stubble removal combination for the first pass.
Wilkinson Sword Classic, the black Delrin razor, used here with a Personna Platinum blade. I have joked in the past that you cannot feel whether or not this has a blade in it, so mild is its functioning. This means, of course, that it just doesn’t bite and can be used to buff and polish with gay abandon. Not that there is much work left to do, such is the effectiveness of the two previous combinations.
Once again the 3 razor method shows its merit. A better shave, faster with less skin trauma. What more could you want?
The true genius of the double edged razor blade is how it is bent over and held in tension within the razor. This simple engineering technique allows the blade edge to be held very firmly in a precise position whilst using the minimum amount of steel in that blade. Hence double edged blades can be extremely thin and a thousand of them only weigh a few ounces. However this is still a massive amount of steel compared to multibladed system razors that only have an edge about 1mm deep made of steel which is then mounted in plastic.
Double edged blades have been in manufacture for over 100 years (though it was only in the 1930s that they became as thin as they are today) so their production is not rocket science. However putting a superb edge (for that is what is needed) on such a thin piece of steel in a mass manufacturing process is not easy.
Most of the world’s razors are made in a very small handful of factories around the world such as Gillette in Manuas, Brazil and St Petersburg, Russia, Vidyut in Bombay, India and Lord in Alexandria, Egypt. The manufacturing processes are proprietary and partly secret. The plants are capital intensive, contain a lot of technology and run at very high speed. The above video shows the processes (if you don’t blink!) and I will try and explain them.
Now for a disclaimer. This is not an academic paper and I am not a manufacturing engineer, this is just a blog article that looks at some of the processes involved. Factories will have more and different processes and will carry them out in different sequences. Also no razor factories changed hands in the writing of this article.
Stainless steel strip for making razor blades
The process starts with drawing blade strips, the width of an individual blade, from large spools of steel. This steel is always a compromise between cost, the ability to take an edge, the ability to keep that edge, corrosion resistance and behaviour under heat treatment, plus a number of other factors. Stainless blade steel is a martensitic stainless steel with a composition of chromium of between 12 and 14.5% and a carbon content of approximately 0.6%. For a lot of the developing world cheaper carbon steel is often used.
The steel strips are like a long belt and go through a high speed punching machine to create the blade blanks, this removes the complex centre shape of the blade and the four locators in the corners, a job which requires great precision yet which a machine can do a thousand times or more in a minute. So one production line makes ten years supply of blades for an individual in 60 seconds.
The belt of blanks then go through a hardening and tempering process that involves heating and cooling the steel down repeatedly as it passes through furnaces. This is a tricky process if such thin steel is not to distort as it is subject to the temperature changes.
Next the belt of blanks goes through an etching machine to put the brand on each blade and a varnishing process to protect the blade from corrosion before the belt is broken up into individual blades.
Each blade then needs to have its edges ground by progressively finer grinding wheels, then polished and finally honed. The honing, which produces the final super sharp edge is done with animal leather. The edges then go through a vapour deposition coating/metal spray/sputtering process that adds a few molecules of titanium nitride, platinum or whatever proprietary cocktail to enhance its qualities. There are secrets here.
The finished blades then go through QA, which is why they often have the numbers 1 to 4 on them, it identifies which particular machine may be at fault if there is a problem. At this stage blades might be graded into different brands. The blades are then boiled and dried to clean and disinfect them before being packed.
It is amazing that all this work and technology results in blades that cost as little as $1 per 100, such is the sheer scale of the process.
Multibladed system razor cartridge blades are made in a similar process but are scored part way through just after the punching machine process, thus allowing the edges to be snapped off later down the production line and for the bulk of the steel to be recycled.