Isaiah 2:4 proclaims that God will judge nations, rebuke many people and the people will “beat swords into plow shares.” Apparently, either God, the people, or both, didn’t shave much. The power and comfort of a good blade against the skin cannot be over emphasized. Any man who ever dragged a dull blade across his face can attest to that. Women don’t seem as sensitive to this fact, even though they shave such tender parts as armpits and legs, and once they grace their skin with a razor, well, the blade is as dull as a plow share. Any boyfriend or husband knows the condition of a newly-minted fine edge of steel once the lady of the house shaves. Drops of blood, screams and curses erupt from the bathroom as a man uses his corrupted implement to whack off the whiskers. What it is about soft hair and tender skin that rips the edge off a blade may never be known, but I suspect it is in the handling of the blade itself that beats any man’s razor into something less than a garden tool. Alas, blades of a throwaway nature are manufactured for the fair gender, but sooner or later, your better half will grab your fine instrument and give it a few strokes, dulling it beyond repair.
Men appreciate blades more than women because before gunpowder, swords were the preferred method of killing. Killing was the sport of kings and manly men, and really wasn’t a favorite of the ladies. Throughout the ages, men designed thousands of sword designs based on how they wanted to kill things. Chronologically, some favorites are the Greek Xiphos, the Roman Gladius, the Viking Sword, the European Longsword, the English Broadsword, the Spanish Rapier, the Executioner’s Sword and the Sabre.
Much care and science always goes into the design, development and manufacture of swords, and many of the finest swords in history were hammered and honed by hand until their fine edges were ready for battle, execution or whatever it was you wanted to hack, slice, stab, skewer, or lacerate. Not so much with early razors which date back to the Bronze Age when razors used for cutting hair were mainly composed of bronze or fashioned from the mineral obsidian, known for “concordial fracturing” which forms razor-like edges on the stone. Tombs in Egypt contained razors of copper and gold, and ancient tribes used flint, shark’s teeth and clam shells to remove unwanted hair. Of course, Egyptians and tribal members devoted a lot of time to the shaving process as it was painful, time-consuming and often bloody.
It took the food service industry, not warriors or farmers, to design the first straight razors in Sheffield, England at the beginning of the 20th Century. The straight razor was the most poplar method of shaving before 1900, but began to fall from grace when King C. Gillette fashioned a thin piece of steel encased in a handle called a “safety razor.” Before Gillette’s invention, most men didn’t shave everyday, but during World War I, the threat of nerve gas attacks changed all that– gas masks would not seal on a hirsute face and the American tradition shaving each day began.
Finally, after centuries of sword making, someone from the sword industry decided to jump into the shaving cream fray. In the same town that started it all, the Wilkinson Sword Company of Sheffield manufactured the first stainless steel safety razor blade that was good for shave after shave (as long as your wife or girlfriend stayed out of the bathroom). Wilkinson was not only a sword company, but was quite capable of beating them into plow shares and vise versa, since they also made garden tools, typewriters, scissors and even motorcycles.
Although the razors of today, including the new multi-bladed cartridge varieties with heads as large as a Hoover upright, are relatively efficient and effective in removing a man’s beard shave upon shave, it seems odd that a civilization that developed so many tools for splitting skulls and digging trenches can’t produce a blade that can handle a woman’s armpit hair without being destroyed. Apparently we’re not as bright as a blade.