Entries Tagged 'Blades' ↓

Straight razor (cut-throat) training videos

This is what men did to shave before safety razors, which is why most of them grew a beard. It takes a lot longer, you are more likely to cut yourself and maintaining the blade edge takes a lot of time. The upside is that it is macho and will impress the women, there is less environmental impact and you are safe from the impending shavepocalypse that the big global shaving companies are going to bring down on us.

And best of all:

Some double edged safety razor blade brands

Once again this is not an academic paper, just a list of some of what is available. I have not included any supermarket own brands/re-labels. Obviously one factory can make many different brands, Petersburg Products International (PPI) for instance makes about a dozen Lord in Alexandria Egypt also make quite a few as do Samah in Bangladesh, Malhotra in India,  Benxi Jincheng in China and Feintechnik in Germany. It is quite easy to buy OEM blades from several different factories who will put any name you want on them, hence the plethora of obscure brands from China.

Apollo. From Solingen, Germany.

Asco. Made by Lord in Egypt.

Astra. Several different models in this brand. All from PPI.

Astor. A Bic brand for their Greek made blades.

Balaka. A Samah blade from Bangladesh.

Bic. Greek made blades from a large and well known French manufacturer.

Big Ben. Made by Lord in Egypt.

Bluebird. A second brand from Derby in Turkey.

Bolzano. Italian market blade once manufactured in Italy. Now made in Germany by Feintechnik.

Centwin. A brand of Malhotra in India who say they are the world’s largest shaving blade manufacturer.

Champion. A Samah blade from Bangladesh.

Cheetah. A Benxi Jincheng brand from China

Croma.Made in Germany by Feintechnik.

Crown. Made by Lord in Egypt.

Crystal. From the Personna factory in Israel.

Derby. Made from Swedish steel in Turkey.

Diamant. Made in Germany by Feintechnik.

Dorco. Several different models. From South Korea.

Elios. Made in Germany by Feintechnik.

Feather. Japanese.

Flying Eagle. From Shanghai Razor Blade Co., China, who also make razors.

Gillette. Several different models made in several different factories around the world. Owned by Procter & Gamble.

Gold Cow. One of several brands made by Yantai Huamei Razor Blade Co., Ltd in Shandong, China.

Happy Bird from Ningbo Fuda Blade Co., Ltd. in China.

Iridium. From PPI, production suspended.

Kai. From Japan. Are they still in production?

Laser. A brand of Malhotra in India who say they are the world’s largest shaving blade manufacturer.

Lion. From Lion Match in South Africa. They also make DE razors.

Lord. One of the big global producers of DE blades, in Egypt, under several brand names. They make razors too.

Merkur. Of Solingen, Germany. Rightly more famous for their razors.

Minora. A Gillette brand name used in Africa.

Nacet. A Gillette brand manufactured by PPI.

Panda. A Benxi Jincheng brand from China

Permasharp. These blades were originally made by a Turkish company called Permatik Celik Sanayi. Gillette bought the company and in 2003 moved production of the DE blades to PPI.

Personna. Several different models made in several different factories around the world. Now part of Energiser.

Polsilver. A Gillette/PPI brand.

Racer. Made by Lord in Egypt.

Rainbow. Made by Lord in Egypt.

Rapira. Made in Moscow, Russia by Mostochlehmash, from Swedish steel. Also use the Ladas and Voskhod brand names.

Rotbart. PPI blades for the German market.They come in Extra Dunn and Supersanft flavours.

Schick. Big global brand owned by Energiser.

Shark. Made by Lord in Egypt.

Sharp. A Samah blade from Bangladesh.

Shogun. Difficult to know what is going on here. The red packs look like a not very good Chinese blade. The black packs look like Chinese Feather rip-offs. Or maybe a genuine Feather sub brand.

Silver Star. Made by Lord in Egypt.

Souplex. Made by Medyna in Solingen, Germany.

Sputnik. A PPI blade for the Russian market.

Super-Max. From Vidyut Metallics Limited in India who say they are the world’s second largest manufacturer of razor blades.

Swish. A brand of Malhotra in India who say they are the world’s largest shaving blade manufacturer.

Timor. Made by Giesen & Forsthoff in Solingen, Germany.

Topaz. A brand of Malhotra in India who say they are the world’s largest shaving blade manufacturer.

Treet. Pakistani manufacturer with several different blade models including 3 from carbon steel.

Trig. A Treet brand from Pakistan.

Vijay. A brand of Malhotra in India who say they are the world’s largest shaving blade manufacturer.

Vincent. There is a Vincent razor from China. Maybe these blades are related.

Voskhod. Made in Moscow, Russia by Mostochlehmash.

Wilkinson. Several different models made in several different factories around the world.

Zorrick. Another brand from Vidyut in India, of Super-Max fame. You can buy these for as little as $2 per 100.

7am. A Samah blade from Bangladesh.

The Chinese situation is a little confused. It is difficult to know who is a manufacturer and who is just an intermediary, so several companies can claim to be the source of a given brand. Also several companies claim to be the biggest. Also there are lots of brands which are difficult to pin down. Also there are quite a lot of carbon steel blades that most in the West wouldn’t know how to handle. They rust if not managed properly.

If you strip the brands away back to the actual factories then it is surprising how few there are. Gillette hoovered up lots of different European brands and consolidated them into PPI, which made a big difference. The only Western European country with any diversity of manufacture left is Germany. The USA is also pretty bereft of blade manufacture.

I think a lot of what we see in this article will soon be feeling the cold chill of the Gillette Guard, companies like Malhotra and Vidyut make enormous numbers of blades and you have to wonder what their SWOT analysis is like at the moment. And of course Gillette themselves will be keen to convert their own DE manufacture over to the Guard. The Shavepocalypse is not too distant a possibility.

My razor blade stash

Razor Blade Stash

With the constant background threat of a shavepocalypse and the huge economy of buying in bulk most traditional shavers have several years supply of razor blades stashed away. The same here, so I thought I would go and count them to see how much really was in the draw (they take up surprisingly little room). This is not boasting, these blades are pretty cheap (except for the Personna 74s). Also this is not the totality of the stash, there is a pile more in the bathroom cabinet for medium term usage and also for the blade brands that are in smaller quantities. So this list is the strategic reserve. Also the numbers are not exactly exact, there might be a few more or less.

100  Gillette Bleue Extra (St Petersburg)
100+ Feather Hi-Stainless from Japan
300+ Iridium Super (St Petersburg)
75 Gillette 7 0’Clock Sharp Edge yellows (St Petersburg)
75 Astra Superior Platinums (St Petersburg)
70 Rapira Super Stainless (Russian, from Moscow)
50 Treet Dura Sharp carbon steel blades (from Pakistan)
50 Personna 74s. A piece of history.
100 Gillette Platinums, in the blue boxes (St Petersburg)
300 Shark Super Stainless from Egypt
200 Super-Max Super Stainless
100 Derby Extra (in the horizontal packaging)
50 KAI from Japan

So about 1,500 blades in all, or 15 years supply. Is this enough or too much? One thing is for sure and that is that the supply chain empties very quickly indeed when there is a panic. All the world’s Iridiums sold out in a day when the rumour spread that they were discontinued. And I don’t have to use all these blades, they come in very handy to give to friends who are coming over from the dark side or for using in trades. When good blades have been discontinued in the past their value has rocketed.

Are more Petersburg Products International blade brands under threat?

Regular readers here will know of Petersburg Products International, the factories near St Petersburg airport in Russia that are 65% owned by Procter & Gamble where about a dozen of the very best brands of double edged (DE) razor blades are made.These include Astra, Sputnik, Permasharp, Polsilver, Rotbart, Nacet, Minora and the several different variations of the Gillette brand.

Just recently they stopped manufacturing the Iridium blade, a favourite of the traditional shaving community, which was also made there. When the rumour about this spread the remaining stocks worldwide sold out in one day.

It makes very great sense for Procter & Gamble to get out of the low margin, commodity, DE blade market. They have just introduced the single bladed, patent protected Guard system razor that is aimed directly at users of DE blades in the developing world and they have said directly that they aim to convert large numbers of users over.

Against this background it is interesting that a friend of a real shaving enthusiast currently in Russia is scouring the retail outlets for blades. Here are a couple of quotes from what he has written on a forum: “they cannot get hold of their favourite Astra anymore” and “Sputnik is slowly disappearing“.

You would expect Russia to feel any discontinuation of production first because they have the shortest supply lines to the factory. So has production of these two brands also stopped? And what about all the other brands made there?

Just to be safe I just bought another 150 Astra Superior Platinum blades. An insurance policy.

The shavepocalypse

The key to traditional shaving is the double edged (DE) safety razor blade invented by King Camp Gillette which has been in continuous production now for over 100 years. This is a consumable product so we real shavers need a continuous supply of them. If this supply were to ever dry up then traditional double edged shaving would be impossible, the dreaded shavepocalypse.

Since I last wrote about this, not so long ago, the battlefield has changed significantly with three huge events and the balance has shifted and maybe the day of the shavepocalypse has moved a little closer.

Firstly Gillette launched the Guard razor aimed directly at converting hundreds of millions of men from DE shaving to a patented cartridge system that is a lot more profitable for them and which stops competitors from making blades for Gillette razors. This will be rolled out worldwide where there are lots of customers who cannot afford the expensive Fusion system. With billions of marketing dollars behind it this will be the biggest DE killer yet.

Gillette themselves say (my bold): “This week, we will make one of the most significant product introductions in Gillette’s history. This product, called Gillette Guard, is the first razor we have ever designed from start to finish for consumers in emerging markets and brings to life our mission of serving more men, in more parts of the world more completely.”

Secondly there is the news that the Iridium DE razor blade, perhaps the best DE blade of the lot, has been discontinued. This was made in Gillette’s St Petersburg factory and there are rumours that the many other brands of DE blades made there may also be discontinued. To Procter and Gamble, who own Gillette, manufacture and marketing of DE blades is a low profit sideshow, so this makes sense. It also puts more pressure on consumers to switch to far higher profit cartridge systems.

The third big news is the takeover of The American Safety Razor Company (Personna etc) by Energizer (Wilkinson Sword, Schick etc). If the combined entity is going to have the faintest chance of taking on Gillette then they need to rationalise their production and marketing behind strong, profitable brands, which means patent protected system razors. So we could be very easily about to lose a whole pile more brands of DE razor blades. The good news is that Energizer haven’t announced a low cost system razor like the Guard. Yet.

If the above triple whammy transpires we will have lost most of the Western DE razor brands, not only that there will be two massively powerful global organisations proselytising patented system razors and trying to make the shavepocalypse happen by killing off DE shaving.

Working on the traditional shaving side is sheer momentum, 400 million wet shavers in India who don’t use system razors yet and probably a similar number in China (but remember that there is a lot of disposable razor use in much of the developing world). So the big multinational shaving companies have an immense conversion job, but this is a job that Gillette are throwing equally immense resources at.

Also there are other DE blade manufacturers. Biggest is Super-Max in India, but there is Treet in Pakistan, Lion in South Africa, Lord and their many brands in Egypt, Feather and Kai in Japan, Derby in Turkey, Dorco in Korea etc. Obviously Gillette with the Guard has declared war on all of these so we could be looking at a house of cards that brings the shavepocalypse when it collapses. Making DE razor blades is a low profit commodity industry whilst the Guard is a high profit brand.

What might emerge now are low volume, high cost artisan razor blade brands. This is eminently feasible. Without the economies of scale each blade would be a lot more expensive, but still far cheaper than a system blade cartridge. And we would still have DE blades. There are a couple of brands (Souplex and Timor) in Germany who are almost at this level already.

For diehard DE shavers who refuse to ever go over to the dark side of system shaving there are three ways to handle a shavepocalypse. The first is to grow a beard, the second is to use a straight, cut throat razor and the third is to hoard. In fact razor blades are so cheap now and storing them takes so little room that hoarding makes a lot of sense and many traditional shavers already have enough stashed away to last their expected lifetimes. 1,000 good quality blades cost about $120 and are enough to last at least 10 years. With recent events this seems to make good sense.

Petersburg Products International to close?

There is a rumour going round that Procter and Gamble are going to move production of some of their shaving products away from Russia (or even close down there completely) and in future are going to concentrate production more in China and India. This makes sense on so many levels. It gives them manufacturing economy of scale, moves production closer to the biggest markets, reduces labour and materials costs, rationalises their global operation etc etc. Also Russia must be a difficult place to do business with state interference and so much corruption.

Procter and Gamble are massive, their turnover is $79 billion a year and their Gillette shaving business is just one of 23 brands they own that each generate over a billion dollars a year in revenue. These include such names as Duracell, Braun, Oral-B, Ariel, Pringles and Pampers. So they need to run their operations with ruthless efficiency.

If this happens it could be a disaster for traditional shaving. About a dozen different brands of double edged (DE) razor blade are made in the Petersburg Products International factory. They include Iridium, Astra, Permasharp, Sputnik, Polsilver, Rotbart, Nacet and several different variations of the Gillette brand. It is where the famous Gillette “Swede” blades were made. These are some of the very best blades available in the world.

To Gillette this double edged blade business is small, it is nowhere near as profitable as their patent protected system razors and it is a real pain to support so many brands. Rationalisation must make sense. And now we have the low cost Gillette Guard system razor this could be a strategic move to finally dump DE blades. Moving customers worldwide from DE to Guard and making those Guard razors in an Indian factory makes a lot of corporate sense.

When I got wind of this news I had several hundred Petersburg razor blades in stock, I now have several hundred more on order.

Wonder Photos Reveal Unsuspected Facts About Razor Blades and Shaving

This October 1931 Popular Science Monthly article is fascinating. You can find it as bigger images and with a transcript here. When you see that this article is nearly 80 years old and look at the knowledge it contains it tells you that there is no excuse for making a bad razor blade today. This really isn’t rocket science. The only major changes to the DE blade since this article are the adoption of the stainless steel blade by Wilkinson Sword in 1960, which the whole industry then followed, and the use of modern coating techniques using the likes of platinum and PTFE which tend to smooth out the microstructure of the edge.

Corking a razor blade

Different brands of razor blades vary in many ways, but the three main things that we notice are sharpness, smoothness and longevity. There is a popular technique that is supposed to improve the smoothness of a blade and that is corking. The technique is very simple, you get the new blade and hold it firmly between your thumb and forefinger, then you cut lightly into a piece of cork and drag the length of the edge gently through. Some people use polystyrene instead of cork and some people repeat the action up to four times for each edge.

The proponents of this technique have a theory. They say that some blades (notable Feathers) can be initially rough but then become noticeably smoother with use. The theory goes that by gently sliding the edge through cork you remove microscopic imperfections so that when you actually get round to using it to shave with it will be much smoother. Obviously you wouldn’t do this to a naturally smooth blade, like an Iridium, which I mainly use, because there is no need.

Now the cynics say that all you are doing is wasting time and money. That corking will not improve the smoothness of a blade, but it will reduce the sharpness and the longevity. In fact some critics go so far as to say that corking removes the coatings of things like PTFE and so has a further effect on degrading the performance of the blade.

Now I must admit to being an agnostic in this debate, obviously both arguments have some credibility. If you have any experience of this then please let us know.

Petersburg Products International, where great razor blades are made

Gillette opened their razor manufacturing plant in St Petersburg, Russia, near Pulkovo airport, in June 2000, it represented an investment of $40 million and pretty soon was employing 500 people, which made it one of the major razor manufacturing plants in the world with a capacity of 860 million blades a year. It is a joint venture with Leninets, a conglomerate with interests from military avionics to consumer goods, and Gillette have a 65% stake. Our interest here is that this factory is home to quite a few different brands of double edged (DE) razor blade that are sold in many countries.

In 2004 the facility was greatly expanded with an investment of 502 million roubles. At the same time two Gillette factories in Great Britain were closed down and their production moved to St Peterburg. This seems to be a pattern Gillette followed in consolidating their production in this Russian factory, especially that of DE blades. The factory was expanded again recently with a big new building.

So what comes out of this factory ( I am no academic so this is not by any means a definitive list):

Gillette Super Stainless, these are known in the shaving world as “Swedes” because they have the address of Gillette’s Swedish distributor on the back. These were packed on a red card.

Gillette Platinum. The same blade as the Swede but packed on a blue card and with only the British distributor’s address in Surrey on the back.

Permasharp. These blades were originally made by a Turkish company called Permatik Celik Sanayi. Gillette bought the company and in 2003 moved production of the DE blades to St Petersburg. The blades made after the move are reckoned to be superior. This brand was popular in the old Soviet Union.

Iridium Super. My favourite blade, and I am not the only one. Plenty of people have stockpiles of these in case production stops. Originally these were a Polish brand made by Wizamet before it was bought by Gillette.

Astra. Superior Platinum, Super Stainless and Keramik. A Czech brand made by Prago Union, which was bought by Gillette and which then transferred production to Russia.

Sputnik. I these are primarily a Russian market blade and the text on the packaging is in Cyrilic. The brand was owned by a Russian company called Factory for Consumer Products (FCP) which was bought by Petersburg Products International in 1996, giving Gillette their first toe hold in Russian manufacturing. (The whole story is in the book Cutting Edge). The main Russian market blade not made by Gillette is Rapira.

Polsilver. A huge Polish brand made by Wizamet which was bought by Gillette. Polsilver Stainless are now made in St Petersburg for the Polish market.

Gillette 7 O’Clock Super Stainless in the green packaging. Not to be confused with the 7 O’Clock Permasharp Stainless in the nearly identical green packaging, which is made in India and is not rated anywhere near as highly.

Gillette 7 O’Clock SharpEdge in the yellow packaging. Very highly rated by shaving enthusiasts. I put these in my starter kit.

Rotbart. For the German market.They come in Extra Dunn and Supersanft flavours.

Nacet. One of the more obscure brands from this factory, packed in a box with a crocodile pictured on it. Were formerly made in the Czech factory.

Tiger. From the same company in the Czech republic that Astra blades came from that was bought by Gillette. This brand seems to be currently in limbo. If Gillette are still making them you know where it will be.

It is difficult to know what differences, if any there are between the brands. Gillette could very easily change the steel, the honing and the coatings to differentiate between them. Or they could just run the same razor blades into different packaging. The main target markets for these blades are Turkey, Russia and Eastern Europe, obviously Gillette want to convert these markets over to multibladed system razors so that they can make more money. So the long term future of all these brands is possibly not secure.

Double edged blade extinction

The big global shaving brands are in business to make as much money as possible for their shareholders, this is their duty in life. To do this they need to extract the maximum cash each week out of the billions of men who shave.

At the beginning of the 20th century King Camp Gillette invented the bait and hook marketing strategy, selling the razors, which only needed to be bought once, at a loss, then making a big profit on the blades, which were patent protected and needed to be replaced regularly. The only fly in the ointment was when the patents ran out, which they did in the 1930s, whereupon anyone could manufacture double edged (DE) blades. Gillette then maintained market dominance by product quality, brilliant marketing and the inertia and efficiencies of their sheer size.

In 1971 Gillette went back to patent protected blades and the bait and hook business model with their Trac II (G II in Europe) twin bladed cartridge razor. The system razor was invented and Gillette stopped making DE razors in the West, they could make vastly more profit in their patent protected walled garden. The Trac II was followed by the Atra, the Sensor, the Mach 3 and finally the Fusion in a system of planned obsolescence that keeps the patents fresh (they didn’t want to get caught again) and which has ever increasing cartridge prices and therefore profits.

Gillette’s marketing department have the job of persuading their customers to make the continued upgrades and to pay out progressively more money, they do this on a country by country basis depending on what they think that the population can afford. For instance in India just now they are making the initial push away from DE razors to low cost system razors, as the population become yet more affluent Gillette will bring planned obsolescence to the market with new and “better” models.

In the West the supply of DE blades dwindled as the bait and hook business model of the system razors succeeded, whist in the rest of the world different markets were in different stages of development according to their wealth. So when globalisation and the interwebs came along and the retail barriers between markets broke down  people in the West were suddenly able to buy a wide range of quality DE blades from all over the world.

Of course Gillette want to have their cake and eat it. Whilst trying to force the men of the planet to use their system razors they still have factories all over the world churning out DE blades for those who cannot afford the cartridges. Their St Petersberg factory in Russia, for instance, manufactures eight different brands of DE blades.

So now to the meat of this article, what are the chances of DE blades becoming extinct? On the one hand you have the immense power and wealth of the global shaving companies who want the out of patent DE blades to be killed off. These blades, quite simply, ruin their business model and reduce the amount of profit they can make for their shareholders.

But the factors that keep DE blades going are far more powerful:

  • The blades are out of patent so anyone can make them. The machinery and processes for doing so are well understood. This is not rocket science.
  • About half the world’s population live on a dollar a day or less. These people cannot afford a $4 system razor cartridge every week. Even a 10 cent DE blade is a lot of money to most.
  • We live now in a global market, it is becoming difficult for big global companies to behave differently in different countries. I mainly use Iridium DE blades made by Gillette which were never intended for the UK market, they must be horrified that these are crossing borders in huge quantities to be used instead of system razor cartridges.
  • There are lots of quality DE blade manufacturers around the world competing with the big global companies. There really is lots of healthy competition and most of these companies have very low cost bases so can make a healthy profit out of DE blades.
  • Customers in the West are getting wise to the bait and hook, planned obsolescence business model in ever increasing numbers. Just look at the resistance there has been to the switch from the Mach 3 to the Fusion, despite massive marketing efforts. And now we have the real, traditional shaving resurgence in the West, which is absolutely booming as evidenced by this and many other websites.
  • We live in increasingly environmentally aware times, we are at last realising that we need to take care of this planet. And DE blades are, quite simply, the lowest environmental impact shaving method in widespread, common use (cut-throats are even better).

So, in balance, DE blades are not going to be extinct any time soon. However there can still be good reason to stock up on your favourite blade because individual brands can succumb to commercial pressure just as in any other business. A few hundred Iridiums don’t cost much and take up little space.

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