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DE Blade Challenge

There is always discussions about DE blades.  Which ones are the smoothest?  Which ones last the longest?  Which ones are the best?  

I had decided that it would be interesting to test various blades using the same equipment, pass technique and shaving lather to see what blades work best for me and how long the blades would hold up.   I got some blades together to perform a day by day test and here is the rules I set for myself and the testing results.

Before the discussion of the testing begins, lets discuss the non hardware side of the equation.   I have a fast growing medium to course beard with sensitive skin.   I also get ingrown hairs where my formerly reddish brown hair (now grey) is on my beard.   This means that I occasionally get small weepers, which are no big deal to me and is mostly affected by the aggressiveness of the razor and or blade quality.    If you have a tougher skin, or thin hair growth then you may not be able to appreciate my situation.   This is the reason why I got into wet shaving.  

I realized that once I learned proper preparation and developed a repeatable technique, that I would be be able to test out various blades I have collected and find out what works best for me.   This is a formal documentation of the testing from my notes for each blade that I chose to test.   If a blade is not listed, I either did not have one available or I chose not to test that blade.  

My purpose in performing and publishing this test is not to bash any razor blade or to belittle the preference of anyone who uses the various blades.   I just wanted to produce as impartial of a test a possible.    Now to the testing rules.

Rules of Testing:

1. This blade test is not a test of facial endurance.   At the point of achieving a BBS or when a problem occurs the shaving stops.   If BBS achieved then the blade continues to the next day.  BBS is determined by rubbing the back of the hand against the face in an upward motion.  If there is friction due to exposed hairs, then another pass is required.   If there is a problem or the blade is dull it is retired and the test ends.   If a blade cannot finish the face shave to BBS then it is ruled retired and the day is not counted.  The face shave and head shave will be completed with different razor (and blade) and the next blade is readied for testing the following day.    If the blade makes the final face pass with major issues (discovered later) but can shave the head, the day is counted, but the next blade test may require postponement until the skin heals.

2. Shaving is accomplished by a south to north pass for passes one and two.  If additional passes are required then a cross face pass at the jaw and neck are used with an additional south to north pass on the upper face for each pass.    A full pass is the entire face and a half pass equals at more than one fourth to one half of the face area.  This will be noted with each shave if a half pass is used.   Please clearly understand that this is not an optimal technique but serves as a repeatable one.   This technique will cause additional weepers than I normally receive in daily shaving since I am "forcing" a harder shave pattern on my face.

3. Head shave is required with every use. This increases the usage rate and tests the blade beyond the normal shaving regimen for most users.  This adds approximately 2 times the shaving area of the face on each shave.  This is an endurance test for the blade and will cause enough usage for easier comparison between the blades.   Head shave is made with enough passes to allow the head to shine, but not BBS.  Again, this is not a test of skin endurance.  If the blade completes the head shave then the test is counted, but the test could be terminated if the pass is complete and a problem is found afterward.

4. All testing done in the morning. No additional shaves are allowed that would affect the level of beard growth between tests.   The testing is not to interfere with the normal morning schedule, so if a blade requires too many passes to accomplish a BBS shave within the time constraints of the morning, then the blade is retired at the end of that shave regardless of whether it can continue.   

5. No corking or stropping of blades allowed at any time during the testing.

Equipment and Preparation methods for all testing:


1. Gillette Slim Adjustable.   This is a razor that I have used most often and I am the most familiar with.  This also allows for adjustment to see how far a blade can continue.

2. Cream – 50-50 Mix Godrej Menthol Mist and Bump Stopper Gel.  (This is to prevent the argument of one cream versus another cream or soaps or gels).  This is not my normal lather so it allows for a constant lather, but one in which I cannot say improves or well lessen the testing.   This produces a good slick lather with plenty of cushion.  The Tea Tree oil in the Bump Stopper helps my face to recover well after shaving.

3. Preparation - Shower then shave only with no addition prep work (no pre-lather, oils, etc.).

4. Brush – Tweezerman Badger only (no substitution).

5. Hot water was developed by using filtered water and hot pot.  One mug of hot water is used to clean the razor and the other pre-warmed with hot water to provide heated lather.   This is my normal method of shaving (not a test of hot or cold water shaving methods).

6. Razor and Blade provided a quick dip in isopropyl alcohol and a shake off to remove water and prevent rust after each shaving session.   A visual inspection is done after each session to make sure that the blade is free from any issues (rust, etc.) before the next session.
   
7. Gillette Slim Adjustable is cleaned at the end of each test with scrubbing bubbles to remove any soap residue before beginning with a new blade.

Test Information and Results:

Each test is denoted by a number, date tested and testing information.   If a razor does not complete the test the number is replaced with an NC and the information for why the test was not completed is provided.

A rating of each blade will be made at the end of all the testing and the ratings will be based on an equal rating of the following criteria on a scale from 1 to 5 (1 worst and 5 best) with the exception of #3 Longevity *.

1. Price    2. Sharpness    3. Longevity *    4. Smoothness of Shave     5. Availability    6. Closeness of Shave

* Longevity is developed by total day count.  An additional ½ day is added if blade is deemed to be pulled from use with a potential for another shave remaining.

Price is determined by what I payed for the blades at the time of purchase or current pricing (2010 - early 2011 time frame).   There may be better buys for each blade, but I chose a quick pricing view to determine reasonable pricing.

To get a 5 on availability you must be able to walk into a brick and mortar store to purchase.   A 4 score means that you can get this on two or more of the major internet suppliers.
A 3 or 2 score means that this blade may only be available from one supplier or has difficulty in staying on the market.  A 1 score is for items out of production.

There will be a final score matrix at the bottom of each test sheet that will allow comparisons to be made against each blade.   The total score is absolute scale of implied quality, while the average score considers value in the market.

This test is to determine the best overall blade and not the most popular, or the one with the most mystique.   This is a one blade test so if a blade pulled out of the pack is bad, then so be it.  One unused blade is issued for each test with one opportunity to do well or to fail, so yes this is not a double blind or an aggregate test of multiple samples.  I will have no favorites in this challenge.   Let the chips fall where they may.        

Since this is my test on my face, please keep in mind YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary).

Now for the testing.

Test #1 Personna 74
The Personna 74, introduced in 1970, is a tungsten steel alloy, making it strong and wear resistant blade.  Personna coated it with a microscopic layer of titanium, proving additional protection to the tungsten steel.   This blade is no longer in production and is very difficult to procure.  This is a New Old Stock (NOS) blade from an unopened package.

Test #2 Bolzano Superinox Inossidabile
The Bolzano Superinox Inossidabile is Titanium plated stainless steel blade manufactured in Germany.   This blade is currently in production.

Test #3 Shark Super Chrome
Shark Super Chrome stainless steel polymer coated double edge razor blades are made in Egypt using Wilkinson Sword equipment and technology.  This blade is currently in production.

Test #4 Wilkinson Sword – Super Sword Edge
In 1965, the British company Wilkinson Sword began to sell blades made of stainless steel, and could be used repeatedly until blunt.   These blades were manufactured in England and are no longer in production.  This blade is no longer in production.  This is a New Old Stock (NOS) blade from an unopened package.  The descendents to this blade line are produced primarily in Germany, Egypt and India under the Wilkinson and Lord brand names.

Test #5 Gillette 7 O’CLOCK Super Platinum
Platinum edge coating gives these stainless steel blades durability and sharpness.  Made in Gillette's plant in Bhiwadi, India.  This blade is currently in production.
•    Note that the same packaging is used for the Gillette 7 O’CLOCK Super Platinum blades made in St. Petersburg Russia which can cause identification issues.

Test #6 Personna Platinum (Red)
Made in Israel, Personna blades are platinum chrome coated stainless steel blades and are called also called Red IPs.   This blade is currently in production.

Test #7 Gillette Platinum (Grey/Dark)
Platinum stainless steel blades made in the St. Petersburg Factory in the Russian Federation.  Production status is undetermined due to various rumors of Gillette moving product lines.

Test # 8 Dorco ST-301 Platinum Stainless Blade
This is a Platinum-plus stainless steel coated blade with PTFE coating.  This product is currently under production in Korea.

Test # 9 Super-Max Super Platinum
Platinum coated stainless steel blades made in Vidyut Metallics Pvt. Ltd. in India (Super-Max World).  This blade is currently in production.

Test #10 Personna Super Stainless (Great Britain)
Stainless steel, blades with Glydex (PTFE) coated edge made in the Great Britain in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s.   This blade is no longer in production.  This is a New Old Stock (NOS) blade from an unopened package.

Test #11 Astra Superior Platinum

Stainless steel, coated blades with a Platinum plated edge made in the St. Petersburg factory in the Russian Federation.   This blade is under production at this time.

Test #12 Schick Deluxe (with Krona Edge)
This stainless steel, dark blue/black coated blade was made in the U.S.A. in the 1960s. Factories in Sweden and Canada made these blades for international markets.  This blade is no longer in production.  New Old Stock (NOS) blade from an unopened package was used for testing. 

Test #13 Supermax Super Stainless Sunrise
Supermax Super Stainless Sunrise is a stainless steel blade coated with Titanium for hard edge.   This blade is the top of the Supermax line of blades.   This blade is manufactured by Vidyut Metallics Pvt. Ltd. in India.   This blade is currently in production.

Test #14 Merkur Super Platinum Stainless
This blade is made with Platinum coated stainless steel in Merkur’s plant in Solingen, Germany.  This blade is currently in production.

Test #15 Gillette 7 O’Clock (Yellow)
Stainless steel blades made in the St. Petersburg factory in the Russian Federation.  This blade is currently in production.

Test #16 Rapira Super Stainless
Stainless Steel blades produced in Moscow, Russian Federation by Mostochlehmash.   This blade is currently in production.

Test #17 Lord Platinum Class
The Lord Platinum Class is a stainless steel blade coated with chromium.   Lord Precision Industries, once known as Wilkinson Sword Middle East, with its factory in Alexandria, Egypt produces a variety of blades.  The Platinum Class is currently in production and is the flagship blade of the company

Test #18  Feather New Hi-Stainless
Feather razor platinum coated stainless steel blades are made in Japan and are known for their exceptional sharpness.  This blade is currently in production.

Test # 19 Bluebird Hi-Stainless
Bluebird Double Edge Razor Blades are a manufactured in Turkey by Derby.  Stainless steel coated with five different coatings.   This blade is currently in production.

Vacation from Testing until 5 July.

Test # 20 Gillette 7 O’Clock (Green).
Stainless steel blades made in the St. Petersburg factory in the Russian Federation.  This blade is currently in production.

Test # 21 Derby Extra Super Stainless
Derby blades are stainless steel, chromium-ceramic, tungsten and platinum plated.  They are currently in production and manufactured in facilities in Turkey.

Test # 22  Treet Classic
One of the last line of classic carbon steel blades remaining is made by Treet in Pakistan.  This particular blade is still under production.

Test # 23  Gillette Goal
These stainless steel blades are produced in India by Gillette.  This particular blade is under production.

That concludes all blade testing.

Data Analysis:

I gathered all the data and placed it into two sets of rankings.   One was as you see in each testing results box.   The other was the same data less the price and the availability.  The first one represents the state that exists today, versus the second which would be everything from all times was available in brand new mint condition.   When I put this together, I was truly surprised at what I found.    Some of the beliefs I held in blades were overturned and some new champions emerged.

If everything from all times was available in brand new mint condition and price was not and issue, I would be buying Personna Super Stainless (Great Britain), Personna 74's,  Wilkinson Sword – Super Sword Edge, all the vintage blades along with the Supermax and the Bolzano Superinox Inossidabile blades.   Reality does set in and some blades that are held in high regard are challenged by the unflinching arbiter known by that name.  

In fact the overall absolute champion blade in terms of longevity and overall usability is the Personna 74.   In fact it wore on so well that it allowed itself to reach a point of vulnerability on the last shave.  If that shave had not occurred it would have scored an average without price and availability 13.1 with 10 shaves versus 6 for the Personna Super Stainless (Great Britain).   That is relatively the same performance with 67% more shaves at shave number 10.  It clearly is in a class by itself without question due to the Tungsten Steel coated with Titanium materials used to develop it.

In the scheme of shaving, razors, brushes, scuttles, bowls, and mugs are the durable goods.   Blades, Lathering products, and Skin Care products are consumables.   Yet in kind of a strange way we act as if blades should be a durable product.   That is true only if the blade is a straight razor.   Some of us want that blade to last until many times beyond its ability to shave well.   Others have a day rule for all blades regardless of whether the blade is still good or not.     

Since I have this data, my future purchases should be determined by what is available.  My current stock is unaffected by this testing.  I will not sell any off any of my stock based on these results, but if I buy more blades I should use the 80% rule as a good cutoff selection system.    If this testing is indicative of all future shaves (again a one blade test does validate a normal sampling), then I should not pursue the blades at or below the 80% line and pursue the blades above the 80% line in the chart below.


I had never used any of the Supermax products or Rapira products before this testing and I was surprised that they would perform so well.   These were the big winners in this test.  Now to the most controversial rendering of this test, the Feather blade.   Yes, the Feather is the absolute sharpest blade.   If that were the only criteria, then it would be the winner.  In my viewpoint sharpness is only one factor in the testing.   The fact that the Feathers do not last long, and are one of the most expensive in production blades (Bolzano Superinox Inossidabile is the highest) simply relegates this to a one trick pony in this test.   To me Feathers would be a one and done blade based on my testing.   Others love the Feathers, but I wonder if is more of a style over substance issue with this blade (the mystery versus reality).    Now if Feather could manufacture their blade with the same sharpness and to last 3 times longer at the same price, then it would be an overall contender.

Conclusion:

Well, I found some new blades that need to be explored further and some that need no more pursuing.   Was this test useful for me?   Yes.  Would I want to do it again?  No.   I think I like trying different products, razors, brushes, lathers, etc. to allow me to stay tied down to this any longer.   From the stand point of vintage blades, the market is trending up price wise so much, with ever reducing supplies versus more wet shavers demanding to try these products, that it is no longer prudent to try to stock up on these items.   The current suppliers have blades that are high quality at a reasonable price.    They should be supported as much as possible in today's reality.   I hope that this helps in some way your understanding of blades and testing, and if not I thank you for taking the time out to read this testing review.



Updated:  Chart correction on Bluebird and Feather Calculation 8/21/2011.


8/21/2011                                                                    GD Carrington (all rights reserved)


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