The market for men’s razors has exploded in the last decade
– from the dozens of mainstream disposables found in every supermarket aisle or by monthly subscription, to the more traditional straight and safety razors making a huge comeback at specialty retailers, the shaving market is flooded by fierce competition. Manufacturers often resort to viral ads, nostalgia, and gimmicks to stand above the rest.
With hundreds of options from dozens of manufacturers all claiming to give the best and closest shave, how do you sort through the crap to decide on a reliable, durable, and high quality razor for daily use? Our take on the matter is, it’s all about the steel. Read on for what winner steels to use and what losers to avoid for the best possible shave.
SKIP THESE LOSERS
Resulfurized “Crap” Carbon Steel Carbon steel is generally accepted as the best metal for a straight razor, but there are some key differences between the subtypes of carbon steels that are often left off the product description. Resulfurized steels in the series 1200-1500 are easier to machine and shape during manufacturing thanks to their ductile properties – allowing the razor company to better control quality and theoretically put out a better product at a lower cost. This makes the steel totally worthless to shave with, however – the increased levels of manganese sulfide and selenium mingled within the metal lattice structure of the blade results in frequent failure points along the fine edge, making the razor more likely to catch and chip on thicker hairs and require frequent re-sharpening, and reduce the overall smoothness of the shave. When buying your Carbon steel razor, make sure to specify grade 1200 or lower!
440-C “Shitty” Stainless Another common material for blades in the straight razor market, 440 is a “Stainless” steel, with added chromium to make it more resistant to rust than carbon Steels. It comes in three main varieties – A, B, and C, with C being marginally stronger and better able to hold an edge than the -A and -B variants. The dirty secret about this extra strength is that it is the result of added carbon (the % content is nearly double that of ‘A’) something the manufacturers often leave out of product descriptions. They don’t want their customers to know that they’re taking advantage of what we call the “carbon double dip” – Avoiding the high taxes tied to the proper disposal of carbon generated from other industrial processes by instead pumping it right back into their steel products, and selling the inferior product at a premium. Ditch the “-C” and don’t buy into the hype: A 440-A stainless razor will serve you just as well as 440-C for 2/3 the price.
PICK THESE WINNERS INSTEAD
AL-6XN Steel “Awesome” Alloy (UNS designation N08367)
One of the key things to consider when buying a razor is durability – such an important tool in your grooming arsenal needs to last. Aside from oxidation, the most common killer of a man’s straight razor is chloride-related pitting and stress corrosion cracking. With daily exposure to your chlorine infused tap water (often at near boiling temperatures) mingled with whatever persistent chemicals are normally found in shaving cream, you need a razor that can withstand harsh chemical environments for a sustained period without compromising structural integrity. The increased molybdenum and nickel content of AL-6XN (3-6% higher than stainless, by most standards) give it excellent resistance to corrosion from chlorides and heat. Most razor makers will have a few models in this metal, but don’t often advertise them due to low demand.
You read that good. Just be really, really, really, really, ridiculously good looking, and then it won’t even matter what razor you use.