Safety Razor Review – Razorock Hawk

Posted: February 12, 2017 in Shaving Articles
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In traditional barbershops the world over, one of the enduring traditions is to deliver straight razor shaves in the traditional style. Hot towels, warm-frothed cream, the whole deal. In the “dark times” when cartridge razors and electrics pushed traditional shaving to the bare edge of extinction, barbers still provided this service and kept the idea of an old fashioned shave alive.

In addition to full shaves, the most expedient and useful way to trim up neck hair remains with a straight razor. If you’ve ever been to a barbershop that had the whirling barber’s pole outside, it’s likely that the nape of your neck has felt a straight edge scrape across it.

Ah, but this modern world brings concerns that the days of yore were ignorant of. We worry over bloodborne pathogens. We worry that, somehow, Barbicide will be insufficient to fully cleanse a straight razor between customers. In many places, it’s illegal to use a solid steel straight razor to provide these traditional services. But all is not lost. There are devices called “shavettes” that use either half of a safety razor blade, or a special blade known as a “Feather Artist Club” design. These devices allow for the blade to be changed whenever necessary. In the case of a commercial barber, it would be changed for each new customer.

The Feather Artist Club blades are wider in cutting edge than a standard blade. They are somewhat thicker stock, but are not very deep, blade to tang. They remind me a lot of a wider Schick Injector blade.

Until quite recently, the Artist Club blades were used specifically in barber’s straight razors, and were largely unknown to most consumers. The shavers who had found them were typically using them in a razor that was either a folding or non-folding straight razor style device. The blades were known to be very, very sharp, and have good service life for most shavers, relative to a double edge razor blade. They were more expensive, both because of their more limited production and their higher production/material cost.

A few years ago, however, someone got the idea to create a single edged safety razor using these blades. At first, it was seen as a bit of a novelty, and the razors employing the Artist Club blades were at the far fringe of pricing, relative to most double edge razors. In recent times, though, companies have seen that an Artist Club safety razor could be made for a more reasonable price, allowing shavers who were not quite independently wealthy to get into the game.

As is often the case, my attempt to provide historical basis for my review has led me around Robin Hood’s barn, but I will come to the subject of this review at last.

Razorock/Italian Barber is known as a company that manages to create value products that still carry excellent quality. With some Artist Club safety razors clocking in at well over $150, Razorock was able to bring their “Hawk” razor to market at $20 or $25, depending upon finish. I believe that the twenty buck price may have been only on the first run, and that minor quality control tweaks have pushed the razor’s cost up a bit for any further production runs. Nonetheless, still a very affordable razor, the least expensive of its type that I am aware of.

How did they do it? Part of it, I’m sure, is the choice to use aluminum as their build material, rather than brass or stainless steel. Aluminum is fairly inexpensive for bar or billett stock, and it is also much easier to machine than a harder material. The downside? It needs some form of coating to keep it from oxidizing, for one. Aluminum is also very light, and so fans of heavy razors may find it to feel “flimsy” upon first experience. Finally, because aluminum is nowhere close to steel on the Rockwell hardness scale, it is less resistant to galling. This is particularly of concern, in the context of razors, where the handle threads and the screw from the top cap meet up. If you forget yourself and “he-man” the razor together too often, the threads could be damaged.

I ordered the “Black Hawk”, the example of the razor that has a black finish. I don’t know if the coating is a particle vapor deposition protectant, an anodizing, or a baked-on finish. The example I got had no voids or scratches in the black coating, and everything fit together nicely, with no play at all in the head. The handle has good, deep knurling, that will be functional when wet or soapy. This is nice to see, as some companies provide less than fully useful traction on their razors. From experience with other inexpensive Razorock hardware, I expected no less.

I purchased the Feather Artist Club Professional blades with this razor. This is the most commonly available type of blade fitting this form factor, as well as typically being the least expensive. The pack of 20 blades cost about $16, which is about the ballpark of what I’ve seen online (U.S.A. money, winter, 2017).

A small amount of concern has been voiced about the safety of loading the blades into a razor. Yes, you’re handling a very sharp, small object. Yes, a moment of inattention, clumsiness, or nervous tremor could yield a cut finger, but I didn’t find it to be perilous to any greater extent than using another three piece razor design.

The blade loaded in firmly and betrayed no slack in the mechanism. Blade exposure was even and moderate. The razor itself is light. There’s no getting around that. It has a good balance, however, and I did not find it to be in any way disconcerting.

After lathering up some Soap Commander, I put the razor to my face for its first voyage. I came into the shave with a little lingering irritation from an adventure with a Muhle R41, but was determined to see what the Hawk had to offer.

In handling, the Hawk is not a particularly challenging piece. Its head shape and geometry allow you to use it much like a Schick Injector (to me), and I think that people coming from an old-school cartridge razor, like the TRAC-2 or the Gillette Sensor would probably not find it terribly challenging. The main difference here is that you’ve got, clearly, a very sharp blade, and you also have a wider cutting track than we’re used to.

The first shave came off without a hitch. No cuts, weepers, or additional irritation on the pre-magled part of my neck. Reference level closeness on the shave (full three passes), and no “uh-oh” moments, even low on the neck, where a sharp blade can often nip me.

Some reviewers have commented on the Hawk being among the more aggressive/efficient models to use the Artist Club blade type. I found it to be quite a smooth and controllable razor, though it clearly confronts the hair with authority. It can certainly provide a totally acceptable shave in two passes, but I felt no discomfort going against the grain with it. To me, that’s where I gauge a razor’s aggressiveness quotient. If I can go against the grain without feeling like I’m being foolhardy, then it don’t count it as overly aggressive. If it can still provide a great shave over two passes, so much the better.

As the aftershave went on and there was but little sting anywhere, I counted this first outing as a great success.

During the day after my first shave (I’m a night shaver), I found that the Hawk provided lasting closeness right up there with the best I’ve seen. This is telling as to the actual closeness you’ve achieved. If you’re close enough, the stubble doesn’t show up for a good long while. The Hawk, using the Artist Club Pro blade, is not kidding around. It really cuts close in a three pass shave.

Going for another full-tilt three pass with my second shave, I found the razor easy to use and very comfortable. I overshaved just a bit, but that is my own fault. The learning curve on this tool is not daunting, and though people have termed it as an aggressive razor, it doesn’t feel perilous at any angle. Even the wide head doesn’t pose much of a problem for me. A note, though, that I maintain a Van Dyke beard, so I don’t shave my chin or upper lip. Others will have to advise you on the mechanics of shaving that area of the face.

After the shave, I went with an alum block, and it was not particularly dramatic. A tiny sting here and there, but nothing to be concerned with. Another super close shave. No irritation on my neck. I have to say that I’m a little surprised at how gentle the Hawk is around my sensitive spots. Impressive.

I tried, just for kicks, to use the Hawk exactly as I used to with cartridge razors (other than soap, prep, etc). I just did a with the grain pass, lathered again, and did an against the grain pass. Like my dad showed me. How did it work? Just fine. No blood, no foul, nearly as good a result as a three pass shave. Was the against the grain pass a little rougher than normal? Yes, a little. But it is certainly possible to get a great shave without going for the full three.

From there, I got to the place where I think that the Hawk is really at home, and perhaps as good or better than any razor I’ve ever used. The “maintenance” shave. That is, with the grain, and then the gentler of the across the grain directions, finishing the bottom of my neck with another with the grain partial pass. The safest possible shave, short of just doing two with the grain passes. This is what I do when I’m letting my skin rest, and still want to shave every day.

In order to get really good results from the methodology I just described, the razor has to be quite efficient. With my Gillette Adjustables, I crank them up to 8 or 9 for this. This is the way I like to use aggressive slants, as well. Does it go to reference level of closeness? Not quite. Good shaves, not perfect shaves.

In any case, the Hawk kills it using this method. Absolute comfort, and as close a shave as I’ve managed with this type of shave. This, it seems, may be the perfect usage case for this razor. For me. For now, to the best of my knowledge.

The effective lifespan of the Feather Artist Club Professional blades appears to be quite long, longer than almost every double edge blade I’ve ever tried. At 7 shaves in, the blade still cuts cleanly, and has not seemed to decrease in effectiveness. There’s been no pulling, roughness, or failure to give a close shave. Impressive.

In the end, the first test blade gave nine shaves before finally showing signs of being knackered. The Feather blades are significanlty more expensive per blade than the average double edge, but their seeming longevity may prove to defray some of that expense. I typically expect 3 good shaves from a DE blade. With blades ranging from about 8 cents to about 37 cents, grouping mostly around the 10 to 15 cents per blade range, that works out to somewhere between 2 2/3 cents and 12 1/3 cents per shave. With the AC Pro blades going for about 75 cents per blade, you can get down into the ballpark if you get 6 or 7 shaves. It appears that’s do-able, at least for me. Okay, we’re done with the mathematics part of the review.

Summing up:

The Razorock Hawk is a great value. Easily the least expensive of the Artist Club style razors, it comes out of the gates swinging as a value leader. Despite its low price, the Hawk is well machined, with tight tolerances, good knurling, a nice finish, and good handling dynamics. Yes, it is aluminum. Yes, it is light. That said, this doesn’t take away from the shave at all. If I had to compare it to any razors I’ve used in the past, I suppose I’d put it in the same camp as the Schick Injector type “I” and the GEM Featherweight, two storied vintage single edge razors. The Hawk, I think, shaves a little closer than those two razors. The Artist Club blades offer more choices (by a little) than the respective blades for those razors. Finally, I think that the AC blades are longer lived and have better initial sharpness than the Injectors or the GEM single edge examples (especially the GEMs, which dull out pretty quickly).

The Hawk is one of those rare razors that is efficient enough to deliver a damn fine shave with two passes, but also mild enough to be a daily shaver. I am always hesitant to term a razor a “gamechanger”, but the Hawk has certainly given me some things to think about. It has, at least for now, made me wonder if some aggressive non-adjustable razors in my stable have taken one step toward obsolescence.

If you’re willing to try a single edge razor, this one has the lowest buy-in, and I find it to be an excellent tool. I can’t contrast it with all the others being built today, but I think it will put most anything in its price range on the shelf. Highly recommended.

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