Razor Blade Review: Derby Premium

Posted: April 2, 2017 in Shaving Articles
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1) Sharpness: Good
2) Comfort: Great
3) Value: Good
4) Availability: Good
5) Country of Origin: Turkey
6) Passes “First Shave Test?: Yes
7) Longevity (# of shaves): 3
8) Notes: The topic of the Derby Extra blade is a devisive one in a lot of shaving forums. Some people love it. Many people hate it. The detractors of the classic Derby blade say that it is far too dull, and that it is not capable of a good shave. May as well shave with a soup spoon, some say. As for me, I was hesitant to try the Derby Extra at first, since many negative opinions where swirling around. I found that, in my usage, it turned out to work very well in some razors. For some of my stable, the Derby Extra has proven to be a sub-optimal choice, but there are a lot of blades to choose from. For a few of my razors, the Derby Extras work great. In the end, I found that I quite liked the blade, and its inherent value was enough to justify purchasing a pack of 100. For a very aggressive razor, the smoothness of the Derby Extra has proven to be useful. Also, its gentle nature is great if there is a concern about how aggressive a newly-acquired safety razor may be.

I was intrigued when I learned that Derby was coming out with another blade, the Premium. It is about $4 more expensive than the Extra for a pack of 100, putting it right in the middle of the road in terms of price. The description of the blade makes it seem that the components of of the coating are the same as the Derby Extra. Which is basically an amalgam of every steel coating known to man, it seems. I won’t list them all here. You can take a look elsewhere if you’re interested in the full chemical breakdown. The primary difference is the naming convention, packaging, and the “Swedish Steel” it purports to be made of.

Now, the Swedes are known to have some pretty darned good metallurgy. You’ve got Sandvik and Udderholm (sp?), who both make really great blade steels for the knife industry. In shaving, you’ll see that some of the new old stock straight razors from Parker, for instance, were made from Swedish Steel. I believe that other straight razors, especially those made in Japan, seem to favor the Swedish Steel. I would anticipate that it’s likely a Sandvik alloy of some kind. I have knives that use this type of stainless steel. and they’ve always served me well. There are a few DE blades that are made of this type of steel, the Rapira Swedish Supersteel, for instance.

What are we to make of all this? Is it balderdash? There’s only one way to find out. You guessed it. Science. Possibly Great Science. But maybe not. The funding for great science has been cut back in recent months. (Just kidding, the funding’s still there. It’s better known as my credit card.)

My first test blade went for a ride in my wonderful ’46 Gillette Aristocrat. It performed beautifully in the old miracle machine, and I got tremendous shaves over three passes, close as can be. No complaints at all. The Aristocrat likes a moderate blade just fine, so this wasn’t altogether unexpected. I did three shaves with this combination, and had no negative experiences. No palpable deterioration of the blade was obvious to me by the end of the run.

The second razor (with a new blade) was the Phoenix Artisan Accouterments Bakelite Open Comb Slant. Yeah. Totally different in every way from the Gillette. This razor has unholy amounts of blade torsion and blade reveal. It looks like you should sign a waiver before being allowed to use it. It is exceedingly efficient, but it’s safe enough. I just don’t find it to be terribly wise to go against the grain very often. I did do one shave in this way, and it was a little more aggressive than I prefer. Not the blade’s fault. It did the best it could. I just shouldn’t go against the grain with a slant. That’s just me.

The second and third shaves were two-pass affairs, and they went along swimmingly. The third shave came and went, with the blade performing like brand new. Through the first two blades, it seems that the Premium blades have good service life. I didn’t push it, because I typically don’t find that to be a wise or useful thing to do, but I believe that this blade, in my usage pattern anyway, has at least 4 shaves in it.

The last test razor was the Feather AS-D2, the razor that, nominally, is still my reference shaving tool. (It really hasn’t been for several months, but because the Feather had such a good run with the Derby Extras when I was testing that blade, it seems wise to give it a shot with the Premium.)

In the shaves I did with the AS-D2, it acted…just like one would expect for the big Feather. Very smooth, very easy shaves. Great handling charactaristics. Not the final word in efficiency or absolute closeness. As others may have pointed out, the Feather requires a more extreme angle of approach to allow the blade to address the whiskers to its best advantage. The Derby Premium blade did not let the razor down, nor hold it back it its task.

(I should mention that I used the Derby Premium in conjunction with the Merkur Futur for the remaining two blades in the first pack, and it did just peachy in that beast. The Futur is not the most discerning razor when it comes to blades, however. It seems to plow through the stubble in a similar way with anything remotely sharp.)

In recent times, I’ve taken to testing a blade more thoroughly than I did early in my testing phase. Over five blades in four razors, I felt that the Derby Premium acquitted itself very well. I never felt as if there was any roughness, nor was there a sense of futility in terms of cutting power. It got along well with four very different razors, and so I feel confident that there is a certain level of consistency and utility to be had. In terms of simply answering the question of whether or not it’s worth a try: that’s easy. Certainly worth a try, unless you require the very very last word in sharpness to be at ease.

Now to the harder question. Is the Premium blade significantly better than the Derby Extra? Hmm. I feel like they are a bit sharper, and also feel as if they keep their edge a bit better than their less expensive stablemates. Night and day difference? Perhaps not. Both are smooth. Both, in my experience, are pretty reliable to do what you think they’ll do. Both have nice packaging and are marked with a nice, even print. It is possible that I’ve been hoodwinked, and that there is no difference between the Extra and the Premium blade, but I don’t think so. I injected a few Derby Extras into the test to see if I could notice the difference on successive nights, and it felt like I could. All of these assertions are doomed to be slightly subjective, and confirmation bias can exist even after learning about confirmation bias, so who knows? I will operate on the assumption that they are, in fact different in more fundamental ways than packaging.

On to the value question. Is the admittedly small difference between the two Derby blades’ performance enough to warrant the significant price hike? That is a very tough call. At around $14 American (Winter 2017), the Premiums are costly enough to be in competition with a lot of great blades. Not to be repetitive, but I’d probably take the Astra SP blade over the Derby Premium. That said, I think that the Astras probably dull out faster than the Derbys do, so it’s possible that you’d get a few more shaves out of the Derbys, if you really pushed it.

Then again, all discussions of blade value may be semi-moot, as the blades are one of the least expensive elements of a shave. Do you really care whether it’s 9, 11, or 14 cents a blade? Is that margin you want to watch? I have long since abandoned the idea that wet shaving is primarily a money-saving venture. I do it because I like to. A few pennies here and there don’t really matter much. Percentage-wise, the Premium is significantly more expensive. In actual money, though, who cares? It’s a good blade. It does the job. For a segment of the shavers out there, it might be just the thing.

Cheers, and happy shaving!

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