Razor Review: Phoenix Artisan Accouterments Bakelite Open Comb Slant

Posted: January 8, 2017 in Shaving Articles
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Here, we have the last stop on my tour into plastic razors. The (admittedly wild name to follow) Phoenix Artisan Accouterments Bakelite Open Comb Slant razor. (Deep breath!)

I’ve shaved with open comb razors. I’ve shaved with slants. I’ve never shaved with one that is BOTH. Until now. Let’s dig into it.

Bakelite is, as I’ve discussed in the past, a plastic from the days of yore. It is a phenolic resin that uses wood pulp as a base. It is a light weight, hard plastic that is rigid and inflexible. Bakelite is a bit of a darling with the retro set.

This razor is based upon an old design, somewhat based upon a razor called the Fasan. That razor was of German design. Collectors have been known to pay a significant amoung for these old razors. They are hard to find, and more the stuff of campfire story than a piece most people have seen, let alone shaved with. The tales say that they are really great razors. Having never seen one in person, I can’t attest to any of those fish tales. I certainly won’t be paying hundreds of dollars for the opportunity to “see one with my hands.” I believe that there was another Bakelite razor that also served as an exemplar, from the language used on the PAA website. In any case, the PAA owes some significant design queues to razors from the heyday of safety razor shaving.

An open comb design is typically thought to increase the efficiency of a razor. A slanted blade presentation does the same. When combining the two design elements, a razor design is clearly looking for maximum cutting power. In addition to these two features, the PAA Bakelite features a lot of blade exposure.

A lot.

Perhaps the most of any double edge safety razor I’ve used. That said, the blade gap is quite small, much akin to an old Gillette open comb. Because of the large blade reveal, the thin material of the DE blade can pick up a resonance as it cuts. This gives rise to fairly loud audio feedback during the shave, and also a very present blade-on-face feel.

So, how does it shave?

The PAA Slant is very efficient. Very. Efficient as a Gillette Slim on “9”. Yeah. Efficient as a Merkur 39C? Yeah, and then some. The PAA don’t play no games. It ain’t got no time for that. (I want to point out that I am from Maine. “Ain’t” is a birthright for me. I don’t need to appropriate it. I have access to it by natural law. Says me.)

My first shave was a two pass with a few pickups, using a Dorco ST-301 blade (new), lathered with TOBS Peppermint. About as close as it could possibly be, given the mechanics of the shave.

Is it more efficient than the Fine Ultralight Slant? Yes. Just a bit more efficient. I think that you have a bit more blade feel with the PAA, but as long as you’re well prepped and you keep your wits about you, there’s no reason to think you’ll be gravely disfigured.

The PAA is not, I repeat, NOT a beginner’s razor, however. If you tried to jump right in with a razor this efficient, you’d likely have some wicked rough shaves. It isn’t mean or terribly likely to bite, but anything with this much blade reveal is not a first safety razor. Very light razors, as this one is, also tempt you to press. Don’t get me wrong, you have to keep the razor on your face with the PAA. There is a very light amount of tension you supply, as the razor weighs about what a turkey feather would. But you don’t actually force the blade into your face. Which, I suppose, should be self apparant.

Glide across the skin with the open comb is easy and slick. The correct cutting angle is not hard to find. If you are prone to irritation going against or hard across the grain, this razor may not be a good one to do wild experiments with in that capacity. That said, because of its efficiency, it should give you quite a good shave without going in those directions. Safe two passes should be possible and comfortable.

If you have a bump, protuberance, or old welt from an eariler misadventure, the amount of blade exposure on this razor will make it more prone to grabbing onto those prominent spots.

The grip – always something I look into – is just fine. As with all the plastics, the handles don’t seem to be as slippery as with some chromed razors. No issues there. The shape and texture of the PAA slant’s handle is nearly identical to the Merkur 45’s. The PAA, however, has a brass inset, so that there’s no metal-on-plastic issue to be concerned with. That is an advantage over the Merkur.

I have used enough light razors now that I have no problem with them. If you’re jumping from a real heavyweight, though, it might take some time to adjust. For veteran shavers, who are the only ones with any business tackling a razor this efficient, the technique should be easy enough to grasp.

A word about the blade loading. The PAA torques the blade, as many slants do. The PAA, however, requires quite a bit of force as you cinch it closed. It is good that the retaining bolt and the threaded carrier are made of brass, because I don’t think a purely plastic mechanism would survive long in such a stressed roll.

The second shave was a sort of two-pass with pickups. Very good, very nice, and I found that, even just with the second shave into the run, I was already getting used to the razor enough to experiment a bit with angles and little “extra” scuffs across the skin. I didn’t hurt myself, and I walked away with a shave I was highly impressed with.

For the third shave, I loaded in a Personna Red blade. I got perhaps the best shave I’ve had with that particular blade, as it seems to suit the PAA razor nicely. It did not increase the percieved aggressiveness, but it did cut just a bit closeer than the Dorco.

A final test saw me using a Derby Extra with one shave already on it for a full three pass. I was coming off of several shaves with a Merkur Futur, which is perhaps the diametrical opposite of the PAA. The Merkur didn’t seem to love the Derby. It played along with me, but it wasn’t the best shave. The PAA, however, worked just fine with it. Much like the Merkur 39C, the PAA was perfectly happy to cut stubble with a less-sharp blade choice.

With the PAA slant, I find that going against or hard across the grain requires concentration and a very light hand. I got a really great shave, but my skin was beginning to warn me a little here and there. No blood, no razor burn, but it would have been easy to overshave and see red.

The Derby test, to my mind, is always an interesting one, as you never know exactly how a razor will behave. Some that you think will take right to the blade will poop their pants, while others work just fine. It’s one of the corners of the strike zone, for me, so I like to include it. The PAA? Totally passed.

Into overtime, I used the razor with the Polsilver Super Iridium. This blade, to my mind, is just killer. It worked fabulously in the PAA for 2.5 shaves (Shaves 3, 3.5, and 4 on the blade.) These were 2 pass shaves as I recuperated from an adventure with the Muhle R41 (article to follow), and they saw me having to shave over some irritated skin. No problems. All was well.

Summing up:

It occurs to me that razors, as with a lot of other things, are tools where there are many ways to go about doing what needs to be done. I have used and contrasted the PAA with the Merkur Futur, the Gillette Slim Adjustable, and the other “plastics” in current production. Namely, the Fine and the Merkur 45. The two adjustbles are among my favorites, and both can provide an aggressive shave if the dial is beyond a certain number. Contrasting them with the PAA, they could hardly be more different. Adjustable versus fixed. One is a twist to open, one snaps open, and the PAA is a three piece. Nickle plated brass, gold plated zinc alloy, and, of course, Bakelite. Heavy versus light. The Slim and the Merkur become more aggressive by increasing the blade gap, but have a fairly typical exposure, even at it their highest setting. The PAA, on the other hand, exposes huge amounts of blade, but doesn’t have much blade gap to speak of. Two methodologies, but both useful. It’s not really fair to compare the two. Which one will work better for you? I can’t say. Too many variables are unknown, and I can’t solve that equation.

If we compare the PAA slant with the Merkur 45 and the Fine Ultralight Slant, what we see is that all of these light razors are somewhat above the midpoint of efficiency. I would say that the Merkur is the closest to moderate, with the “teeth” increasing with the Fine, and then the PAA.

The PAA seems to be the most agnostic in terms of blade choice, though I’d think carefully before putting a Feather in there, as that could be just a bit much for a lot of faces. I didn’t see the old “smoother as blades got sharper” trend in the PAA that I did with the Fine.

The PAA is the least expensive razor of the three, but has no quality control or fit and finish issues. I don’t think it’s quite as neat looking as the Merkur, but it’s almost half the price. The Fine, while distinctive, isn’t a real looker in my eyes. The ABS plastic holds it back a bit.

Could they be daily shavers? Yes, with caveats. All of them, to some degree, would be a little bit aggressive for daily, full-tilt shaves. Even the Merkur 45. Especially the two slants. With the correct blade choice, the Fine can…CAN go against the grain. With care, so can the PAA. If you’re going to shave every day, though, that’s going to put some strain on your skin. If you shave, say, twice a week? Totally do-able. If you’re okay doing maintenance shaves that don’t use as many passes? Also fine.

What is the usage case for these razors, anyway? Well, they’re just something different, for one thing. Different feel, different looks. Being so light, they’d all make excellent choices for travel razors. The Merkur even comes with a travel case. Being potent cutters, both the Fine and the PAA should be nice for abbreviated shaves, or for people with coarse beards to manage. If you prefer a light razor, they are about as light as you get.

None of these are expensive razors, ranging from $20 to $35 or so. They each give a novel and effective experience during the shave. They are all viable options that can give you a great shave. The Merkur is probably the only one I’d hand to a beginning shaver. It’s the one among them that doesn’t need any prior warnings.

Which one is my favorite? Sigh. Tough call. Maybe the PAA? Maybe? I’m bad at favorites.

If you find you really like or need high efficiency razors, and you want one for the road, I believe that the PAA might be the top choice. Most omniverous in terms of blades that’ll work, and pretty high voltage in terms of cutting power.

So, here’s the final tally for “The Plastics”:

Merkur 45: Prettiest, most expensive, least aggressive, likes middle of the road blades.

Fine Slant: Probably the sturdiest, needs a sharper blade, super-slanted blade presentation, perilous against the grain, but efficient.

PAA: Any blade will do, value and efficiency champ, best face glide (open comb), keep your wits about you.

Well, I hope that little series proved to be entertaining and educational. I certainly enjoyed it. I will hold onto all three razors, at least for now. I’ll let you know if I decide to trim them out of my collection, and my rationale for doing so.

Cheers, and happy shaving!

Razor Review: Merkur 45 Bakelite

Razor Review: Fine Superlight Slant Razor

Next up: The battle of the Merkur Adjustables!

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