ZSA Loves Stamp

The Rules

  • No paid or sponsored content, ever. We write these because we want to, not because it makes us money.
  • No affiliate links (no product links at all, for that reason). You can Google a product if it's interesting.
  • Only time-tested stuff. Gear we've been using for a while. Books we keep coming back to.
  • Just good things. We review these because we truly love them, and we want to tell you why. The internet has enough negativity elsewhere.
  • We won’t be covering keyboards, for obvious reasons. Other computer stuff is okay.
  • One surprise per review. A surprising thing we learned only with actual use and with time.
  • You're welcome to suggest a review of your own if it follows all the rules.
  • Read more here.

I've been shaving my head for a couple of decades now. For the longest time, I used Gillette, which was pretty much the default — just what I reached for without thinking about it too much.

Then I thought I found something better: Harry's. It was certainly cheaper, and I was getting a shave that was just as good. So for a few years, I used that.

I thought this was a good deal. Look how much space just three blades take.
I thought this was a good deal. Look how much space just three blades take.

Of course, I knew there were other options. Specifically, I knew the world of so-called "safety razors" was full of alternatives. It always seemed a little scary, though — and the handles seemed expensive.

After all, there's literally a business model called "the razor and blades model" where they sell the handle for cheap, and then turn around and charge you lots of money for each razor. So for a while, I was swayed by the cheap handle and ignored the price of the blades by getting them in bulk, and by getting what were considered a "good deal".

Here in Canada, if you buy 16 Harry's blades at once, each blade costs $2.50. That seemed like a good deal, until I realized that with a safety razor, a pack of 100 blades could cost me as little as $20 (So, $0.20 per blade).

Then I found a razor called the Leaf, which actually uses half of a safety blade. I never realized this was a thing: It turns out safety blades are designed and packaged so that you can safely snap one in half.

Safety blades snap in half -- who knew?
Safety blades snap in half — who knew?

So that means I can get what's essentially 200 blades for $20 locally. Ten cents per blade, versus $2.50 for a "budget" Harry's. That's a crazy price difference.

Okay — so it's way cheaper. That means it's probably worse, too, right? You get what you pay for, and all that?

I decided I was going to find out for myself. I bit the bullet and got a Leaf handle. It turned up in all-cardboard packaging, and it did not disappoint. Entirely made of metal, you spin the bottom of the handle to open up the top and install a blade. It also has a strategically-placed magnet that holds the blade in place as you tighten the handle down, and little orientation pins to ensure the blade sits straight. It's just a beautiful, well-made object that sits well in the hand and feels like it's going to last.

Gotta love a well-placed magnet
Gotta love a well-placed magnet

I also got a "sample pack" of lots of different blades from several brands.

So many blades
So many blades. This is enough for over a year of shaving

That's another thing, by the way: Gillette-style blades are all proprietary, so there's exactly one blade that'll work with your handle (it's that business model again). With safety razors, it's a standard: A given handle will work with all sorts of blades.

It turns out different brands of safety blades actually do feel different! I thought it might be like a "wine tasting" sort of thing where I can never really tell the difference (can you tell I'm not a wine person?), but here I could actually feel it.

Granted, this brought the price back up somewhat: My sample blade pack was $69 and had a 105 blades. That's just because I wanted to try all kinds of blades, thus making every blade more expensive. So it ended up being $0.65 per blade, or really $0.33 because I only use half a blade. That's still way cheaper than Harry's or Gillette. (Again, these numbers are in CAD, not USD, and include tax.)

So now I had my handle and my blades. It was finally time to put an extremely sharp piece of metal up against my head and hope I don't bleed all over the place. Fun!

It went just fine. I wet my head, used some soap (just my own homemade soap, nothing fancy), and went to work. The shape of the Leaf handle angled the blade in a way that felt familiar: I didn't have to learn a whole new way of holding a razor or some different technique. I didn't press too hard, I took my time, and it was great.

I ended up with a really smooth shave that felt good. That's all there was to it.

Later I did learn I have to watch how I mount the blade in the handle: I cut myself once, but only because the blade was super crooked. Once I realized it needs to be straight, there were no more issues. That's how I came to appreciate those orientation pins that let you mount the blade straight.

Lining up the blade
Lining up the blade

Over time I experimented with the blades, and not all are as good for my skin: Sometimes I do get razor burn, depending on the blade. But I definitely found some favorites. I also ended up getting a second handle from Leaf, their "Thorn," which is the more "aggressive" one. I think I like it even more than the original (which is called the Twig).

Half a blade lasts me three or four shaves, sometimes more. When it's time to pop a new one in, I put the old one in a mint tin I repurposed as a "blade bank". Here's the total amount of waste I created in several months of using this system:

My very fancy blade bank, which used to be a tin of mints
My very fancy blade bank, which used to be a tin of mints

It'll take me a few years to fill up this tin. Once it becomes full, I can tape it up, label it "sharps", and take it to be fully recycled locally. It's all metal, after all — easy to recycle.

The Surprise

So let's recap:

  • I get a shave that's just as close, if not closer, than a 5-blade shave. It's also pleasant.
  • Every shave costs a small fraction compared to a 5-blade shave.
  • It generates very little waste, and all of it is fully recyclable.
  • It's an open standard, with many different handles and many different blades that all work together, so I can experiment over time.
  • I didn't have to learn any complicated techniques or get used to a new way of shaving.

So it's better for me, for my wallet, and for the planet. And it's actually fun!

This is one surprise after the other. There's so much hype in various online communities around different topics, and it's rare that "the hype is real". In this case, for me, it certainly is.