The humble razor blade has been a grooming stalwart since the industrial revolution. But while technologies and our understanding of shaving may have developed over time, some basic principles to manufacturing the perfect razor have remained throughout the years with the sharpness and angle of the blade a key feature. So just how are razors made for shaving?
History of the Razor Blade
Shaving has been an important part of the male grooming routine since the beginning of time. Cave painting even show that Neanderthal men practiced shaving by scraping hair off with rough implements likes stones, flint and clam shells. There’s also clear evidence that the ancient Egyptians were almost meticulously clean shaven on their heads and beards; a custom which was eventually adopted by the Greeks and Romans around 330 BC. But despite shaving’s popularity, ancient razors were often crude and dangerous to use.
But in 1762, a Frenchman named Jean-Jacques Perret invented the first ever safety razor. Modelled on a joiner’s plane, Perret’s design covered the blade on three sides to protect the user from nicks and cuts – very much in the same mould as today’s razors. Similar inventions were introduced throughout the 1800s but it wasn’t until the 1900s when men began to shave inside the home rather than using a professional barber.
In 1895, an American named King Camp Gillette had the idea of marketing a disposable blade that didn’t require any sharpening – often a stumbling block for men who showed interest in the safety razor. His company, Gillette, began selling these disposable blades in 1903. Though they only sold a modest 51 razors and 168 blades in their first year, by 1905, sales rose to 90,000 razors and 2.5 million blades.
Manufacturing the Razor Blade
Most of the world’s razors are made in a very small handful of factories around the world. Gillette, for example, manufacture their blades in Manuas, Brazil and St Petersburg, Russia, while Vidyut produce them in Bombay, India. These factories produce unimaginable amounts of blades with Harry’s factory in Eisfeld, Germany alone churning out 1.3 billion blades per year.
Razor blades are periodically exposed to high levels of moisture and that means they need to be made from a specially-made, non-corrosive steel alloy. The grade of steel must be hard enough to allow the blade to hold its shape, but it also need to be malleable enough to be processed. The preferred type of steel is therefore called carbide steel.
The first process in razor blade manufacturing is therefore the mixing and melting of the components in the steel. The ideal stainless steel has a composition of chromium between 12% and 14.5%, a carbon content of approximately 0.6%, and the remainder iron and trace elements. Though, depending on cost, variants of this are often used. The steel is then crafted into long strips.
Shaping a Double-Edge Razor Blade
When shaping a double-edge razor blade, firstly the long steel belt is put a through a high speed machine which ‘punches’ the blade to remove the complex centre shape of the blade and the four holes in the corners. A lubricating strip with vitamin E and Aloe vera is added to ensure that contact with the blade doesn’t irritate the skin.
The steel blade is then heated to temperatures of 1,075°C – 1,120°C, then quickly cooled to between -60°C and -80°C to harden it, before being tempered again to a temperature of 250°C – 400°C. This process is called ‘stressing out’ and is done to harden the metal without it becoming brittle.
Next the belt of blades goes through an etching machine where each blade is branded. A protective coating is then bonded to the cutting edge in a process called ‘sintering’. Each blade then needs to have its edges grinded, polished and finally honed. The honing process, which produces the final sharp edge, is performed with animal leather.
Manufacturing Razor Blade Cartridges
Multi-bladed razor cartridge blades are made in a very similar process. However, during the machine ‘punching’ process, the blades are scored so they can be snapped off further down the production line. These blades are then added to moulded plastic components through various assembly machines where spring loaded arms push the blades into place and secure them in the cartridge slots.