Grooming,  Review

Shaving Terminology

Shaving Terms

1-piece razor

New blades are inserted into a one-piece razor by turning part of the handle, which opens a pair of butterfly doors on the head. Although the razor has many parts, no disassembly is required to change blades.

Vikings Blade Chieftain JR with TTO Butterfly doors open.

2-piece razor

A two-piece razor has a top that is removed (generally unscrewed from the handle, but some tops snap off). New blades are placed under the top, and the handle is then reattached.

CoffeeAddict, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
2-piece razor

3-piece razor

A three-piece razor has a base plate, top, and handle. New blades are inserted between the top and base plate. The handle is screwed into the top two pieces to secure both of them.

Ben Rose, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
3-piece razor

Adjustable Razors

The most common type of adjustable razor uses a dial on the handle to change the blade gap and perhaps the blade angle. This controls how aggressive the shave feels. Another type of adjustable razor uses different base plates in a three-piece razor where each base plate gives two different blade gaps depending on which end is up when the razor is reassembled.

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When I was young (in the 1950s and 60s), most aftershaves were alcohol-based. The alleged purposes of the aftershaves were to close the pores of your skin and relieve any shaving irritation. They also gave users a feeling on the face, which is hard to describe if you haven’t experienced it. The brace. Another function was to provide a manly scent, although men’s colognes were longer lasting. Alcohol-based aftershaves are still available, e.g., Aqua Velva, whose tagline was, “There is something about an Aqua Velva man.”

Many (most?) men have moved away from alcohol-based Aftershaves because of the drying effects of the alcohol on the skin. Nowadays, aftershave balms and lotions provide healing and soothing to your skin when you finish your shave.


Subjective assessment of how much of the razor blade is exposed to your beard and skin. Other factors which contribute the aggressiveness are the blade angle, whether the comb is open or closed, and the blade used for shaving.


Alum is a sulfate salt of aluminum and potassium. There are several different types of alum. Alum is used in shaving as an astringent to stop bleeding and close pores. Many shavers (including me) rub alum over our face after a shave before applying aftershave. I wish I had known about this years ago. It feels great!

Badger shaving brush

Shaving brushes are used to create a lather from soap or cream. The brushes have traditionally been made from boar, horse, or badger hairs, and the premium brushes are made from a specific area of the badger. These are called silver-tipped badger brushes. The qualities that make a sliver-tipped badger hair lather brush so good are the ability to hold water and heat, whip up a lather, and still feel comfortable on the face (or wherever you are shaving).

Badgers are killed to collect their hair for these brushes. I’ve read that badgers are considered a pest if that makes you feel better. But modern synthetic badger brushes are preferred by many because no animal is harmed to make them, and the synthetics perform nearly as well.

Blade angle

The angle of the razor blade to your face (or other areas) is generally about 30 degrees. However, the razor’s head on some razors bends the blades to make a more acute and aggressive shave.

Blade gap

The blade gap is the distance between the edge of the blade and the safety bar of the razor. The larger the distance, the more aggressive the shave.

Blade gap is the distance between the blade and the safety bar.

Butterfly doors

Two doors open on the top of one-piece, turn-to-open (TTO) razors to change the blades. See 1-piece razor.

Cartridge razor

Multi-blade razors that contain 2 to 5 (or more?) blades secure the blades in a plastic cartridge that attaches to a handle. Most cartridges are proprietary to the manufacturer and only fit their handle. When you replace your cartridge, the old one adds plastic and metal to your local landfill. Double-edged and single-edged blades for safety razors can be recycled more easily.

Closed comb

The part of the razor that touches your skin and keeps the blade from cutting deeply into you is called the safety bar. There are several designs for safety bars, from smooth flat bars to ones that look like a rake or comb. If no open spaces break up the bar, it is a closed-comb design.

Double Edge (DE)

DE razor blades are sharp on two edges.


Efficiency is a subjective measure of how easily your razor plows through your beard. More aggressive razors are also more efficient.

Injector razor

Schick invented an alternative to Gillette’s double-edged safety razor that used thicker steel for the blade. A special container held new blades. A key-like protrusion on the blade container fit into the razor, and a slide on the top injected a new blade into the razor, simultaneously pushing out the old blade. This meant you could change blades without directly touching them.

Several companies are still making this form of safety razor. Schick still makes injector blades.

Open comb

An open-comb razor has a safety bar that looks like a small rake with tines. This design is more aggressive and efficient on heavy beards.


The act of shaving can be broken down into three parts: The steps you take to prepare yourself for the shave (pre-shave), the shave, and what you do after you’ve shaved (post-shave).

Beard oils or other pre-shave products make it easier to shave off your hair and provide additional lubrication.


There are several optional but recommended treatments for your face after you’ve shaved. The first and simplest is to splash your face with cold water. Another recommended step is to rub a wet alum block over the shaved area. If you’ve cut yourself, a styptic pencil may provide more direct treatment than alum, though they are the same compound. An aftershave lotion, balm, or brace can then be applied. In addition, or instead of aftershave, a moisturizer, perhaps with sunblock, can be applied.

Razor materials

  • Aluminum isn’t a common material for razors, but it has been used for vintage and modern razors. As you know, it is a lightweight metal.
  • Brass is perhaps the most common metal for safety razors. Vintage Gillettes and others were made by stamping solid brass. Most brass razors today are made from poured molds using a brass alloy.
  • Plastic, sometimes combined with steel, is common on cartridge razor handles but also some higher-end razors.
  • Stainless Steel is often used in premium razors. The metal doesn’t need to be plated to protect the finish.

Razor Plating

  • Nickel: Most (not all) of Gillette’s razors were finished by Nickel plating the brass body of the razor.
  • Chrome plating is used on some razors. I personally prefer Nickel because I think it holds up better.
  • Gold plating was used on some of Gillette’s most expensive razors, such as the Aristocrat line. It is still considered a high-end finish. I’ve had bad experiences on Gold plated guitar parts and would prefer Nickel. Still, my grandfather had a gold-plated Gillette, and I’ve seen an Aristocrat on eBay I wouldn’t mind owning.
  • Rhodium Plated. This is a more durable plating than Nickel and is available from as an option for their replating service and on their Rex brand of razors. It looks similar to Nickel.
  • Silver plating has been another option used on some razors.

Safety razor

The design of a safety razor prevents the user from accidentally making deep cuts into their skin while shaving. A safety bar keeps the blade edge away from the skin.

Safety bar

A bar runs along the length of the blade between the skin and the blade edge. The gap between the bar and blade controls how much the blade can reach your skin and thus protects you from deep cuts.

Single Edge (SE)

A single-Edged razor or blade is sharp on only one edge. See injector razor.

Shaving bowl or mug

Shaving bowls or mugs are used to whip up a lather from soap or cream with a shaving brush. Some shavers use a brush to make a lather in the palm of their hand, and others make the lather directly on the skin they intend to shave.

Shaving brush

Solid soap or a softer cream is whipped into a lather with a shaving brush and a little water. The brush is then used to apply the lather to the area to be shaved. Some shavers do not use a brush and simply work the lather with their fingers on the skin.

Shaving cream

Some still use pressurized cans of shaving cream, but shaving cream can also come in a thicker paste-like form which is made into a lather with a shaving brush.

Shaving soap

A shaving soap is a solid soap formulated for shaving. Some people use regular soap bars instead.

Shaving Oil

Shaving Oil is used as a pre-shave to lubricate and lift your beard.

Styptic (pencil)

A styptic pencil is another form of astringent, usually made from alum (see Alum block) which can be used to stop cuts and nicks.

Turn-to-open (TTO)

Part of the razor handle turns to open or close the butterfly doors to change the blades.

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