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Review - Gem Heavy Flat Top & Featherweight

Let's talk about single and double edged razors and the blades that they use.

Review - Gem Heavy Flat Top & Featherweight

Postby SharpSpine » Fri Dec 23, 2011 1:44 pm

Both of these razors, the Heavy Flat Top (often misnamed the G-Bar) and the Featherweight harken back to the 1950s. From the little bit of research I've done I believe that the HFT was out first, followed shortly by the FW. As you can see in my pictures below the head shape of these 2 razors are almost identical. I've read that some say they are the same head, but just from looking at them side by side I can see a couple differences, though definitely minor. The name itself gives you an idea of what they were after in designing these razors, a flat top! Some advertisements I've seen actually suggest to use these razors with the head flat against your face. This, unfortunately, isn't what I've found to work best for me. I'll start that way and then lower the handle just a bit so the head is barely off of my face and this is the angle that works best for me. Both razor utilize the solid guard bar as opposed to the closed-combs of the 1912s. I personally get a much better shave from the solid guard bar over the closed-combs.

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Other than overall looks the only other thing really different with these razors is the total weight. From their names I'm hoping you don't need me to go into further detail. If you do, then please sell off all of your safety razors and go back to using disposables so you don't hurt yourself. There is some debate in the wetshaving world as to whether or not razor weight contributes to the aggressiveness of the razor. From using both of these razors my conclusion is that a heavier razor does lend itself to being more efficient. I can achieve the same results with both razors but a different number of passes is required. The FW always needs more face time to get the same result as the HFT for me. If I do 3 passes with the HFT, then the FW will require at least more touch-up if not a full extra pass. The more passes I perform, the more likely I am to have irritation. This is why the FW, despite its lighter overall weight, typically gives me some irritation while the HFT does not.


While these razors share very similar, if not the same, heads their handles are completely opposite. To me the HFT is one of the sexiest razors our there. The plating on these are phenomenal which keeps these looking great even as they are 50-60 years old. This is great except that it keeps the price of these razors a good 3-4 times higher than other SEs. The knurling on the HFT handle is definitely not rough, but I've never had one slip out of my hand either. Some have made comments that the bottom nub is annoying, but for me it fits perfectly in my grip right between my pinky and ring fingers. The bakelite material of the FW is very easy to grip thought not the prettiest thing to feast your eyes on. You can definitely zip this razor all around your face so long as you keep a light pressure


I could easily use the HFT as my daily razor. It's efficient enough and very smooth. A MMOC it is not, but still quite capable. I rarely use the FW anymore, however, if I have a bad windburn, sunburn, or crazy razor burn then I would definitely consider using the FW if I was in a must shave situation. You must be careful with the FW not to add pressure during your shave because of how light it is. Subconsciously you start pressing down with it more since it's harder to feel on your face, but this is not necessary and will likely lead to a good bit of irritation.
> Brian < Slow Down & Write!

Selling off shave kit to fund Fountain Pen acquisitions.
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Postby ShadowsDad » Fri Dec 23, 2011 2:18 pm

Sharpspine and I hatched this plot of reviewing the same razors and putting our independently derived reviews in the same thread. This is the first in the series of planned reviews. The other (not planned) was the review of the EverReady '29, and that's where this all came together.

GEM Featherweight and G-Bar

These razors feature the same shave heads, or so it's said, so that's why we're reviewing them together. That’s where the physical similarities end.

I’m going to give my first impressions of many months ago, but for the purposes of this review I revisited the HFT to get fresh impressions. That is below.

The Featherweight is, as the name implies, very lightweight due to the plastic handle. I’m sure the handle can break, but I’ve never seen a broken one. Or one with cracks in it for that matter. They can get dented if they aren’t loved for a time and put in a drawer. Most of the dents I see are on the base of the handle. I like the handle on the Featherweight. You might think it would be slick, but it isn’t. Combined with the light weight it just works great for me. The Featherweight (FW from now on) weighs 30grams.


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The G-Bar or more correctly the Heavy Flat Top (That's what GEM called it, but it's HFT from now on in this review) is an all metal razor, and is significantly heavier than the Featherweight. The first time I handled this razor during a shave my impression was that the handle on this razor is the pits. It appears to have a gripping surface, but the surface seen is all rounded nubs and they’re slick. That bothers me, but surprisingly (to me) it doesn’t bother lots of other folks. For me, the weight combined with the slick grip makes for a razor that I didn’t like and I felt the shave suffered compared to the FW. I’m at a loss to understand why that was, except for what I already stated. The weight of the HFT is 60 grams, exactly twice as heavy as the FW.

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Putting both razors side by side the dimensions are close enough by eye as to be identical. The head on both is 1 11/16" wide at the widest part (the spring below the head), and 1 1/8" in depth. The handle from the head to the base is 3 3/16" on the FW and measures just 1/16" shorter on the HFT (longest dimension). Neither handle is designed to be replaceable. Both razors share similar heads.

These shave great for most folks. For me the Featherweight was best, but it’s me who can’t get along with the G-Bar, other folks love the thing. They are on the mild side for a single edge (SE) razor, mild enough to be a good introduction to SE razors. I learned to blade shave this time around on a Featherweight. To put it into perspective, these razors might possibly be a 3-4 setting on a Slim or Fatboy, but that’s just a WAG. Despite the mildness, they will give a great shave. Not as close as a more aggressive razor, but they will produce a BBS with just slightly more effort. I learned to shave using a Featherweight and back then it did draw blood now and again. Today I marvel at that. If I worked at it I probably could find blood with one, but with minimal SE expertise these are useable w/o seeing blood. Sort of like the Tech razors of the double edge world, they are quite forgiving. They ARE NOT Tech mild though! They’d be good for the beginning SE razor user, but aren’t too mild for the experienced shaver.

That was then, this is now...
It’s months after my first shave with the HFT, and in the interest of fairness for this review I had to use it again. Heck, I’m not the same shaver I was many months ago. How will I like it today?

On 12/22/11 I lathered up with p.160 and loaded the HFT with a vintage carbon steel GEM blade. Since it’s a blade that will rust, when I first loaded it I put a few drops of mineral oil (actually Skin-So-Soft) on both sides of the blade to prevent rust. Frankly, the shave was every bit as good as I’ve had many times with the FW. My big concern with the razor is still the handle. While it didn’t pose a problem (it didn’t the last time either) it still felt slippery to me, and I prefer sharp edges that facilitate a light grip. The reason slippery doesn’t feel right to me is because of the heavier weight of the HFT contributing to the “It’s going to slip out of my hand” feel. The HFT doesn’t have those sharp edges as I already wrote. Bottom line... While I’m not a big fan of the handle, I can use this razor.

On 12/23/11 I used exactly the same products and the same blade for todays shave with the FW. I re-oiled the blade after the shave on the 22nd , to prevent rust, and loaded it into the FW. I duplicated as much as possible the shave I used for the HFT; soap, brush, face prep, etc. The razor is an old friend, so there were no surprises, I like this razor. It’s lightweight, and for me that’s a plus. I count on a very light grip for the “pressure” required to maintain razor contact with the face, not the weight of the razor. I was ultra conscious of the handle. The handle on the FW doesn’t have sharp ridges either, but sharper than on the HFT, but the light weight of the razor and the very coarse ridges molded into the handle make it work far better than it should.

Both razors shaved exactly the same for me (they didn’t the first time I used the HFT with the HFT being the loser then). Both razors share the same head, so one would expect a similar shave to result, or at least I would expect that. Of the 2 I prefer the Featherweight, but it’s no secret that if I have the choice of a lightweight razor I’ll choose it over a heavier one every time, everything else being equal. I want to state again though that both resulted in a similar shave this time.

Neither of these are on my short list, but I have them and use the Featherweight once in a while to say “Hi” to an old friend. I still have a problem with the handle/weight combination of the HFT, but at least I can coexist with it now. I was going to eventually part with it, but now I’ll hold onto it and once in a while use it as well. Neither of these razors will be used frequently however. I’m an aggressive razor junkie, and these simply aren’t aggressive enough to be an everyday razor for me.

If I had a bad ice cube the night before, that would be a really good morning for the Featherweight or HFT if you get my drift... or just for kicks. Most often it’ll just be for kicks; really, I swear I rarely get a bad ice cube :-) . Plus the Featherweight took my shaving virginity this time around with a blade and you’ll never forget your first, or so they say.

Either razor would make a good introduction to SE shaving because you probably won’t find a milder SE razor.

Just a word about that (mild SE shaver). The HFT and FW are as modern as my SE razors get and I have no interest in acquiring a “Clik” (or is it a pushbutton?) GEM. It very well may be milder. As the GEMs get more modern they seem to also get milder, so there may very well be at least one model milder than the FW or HFT. I don’t know, and unless a more modern SE razor gets thrown into my lap (not likely) I’ll never know.

Oh, and the blade I used, the vintage GEM “Duridium process" blade, how was it? It’s not as good as a modern blade. I’ll hold onto them as curiosities, but I doubt I’ll use any more of them. I'm not that nostalgic.
Brian

Maker of Kramperts Finest Bay Rum and Frostbite http://www.krampertsfinest.com/
Or find it at Bullgoose, Italian Barber, and West Coast Shaving. Brick and Mortar: The Old Town Shaving Company at Stats, in Pasadena, California
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Postby Quarterstick » Mon Dec 26, 2011 11:33 pm

Thank you for the detailed reviews gents. It was a good read and has got me thinking more about trying out single edged razors. Although, I would really like to focus on DEs just now.

Note: I read the fine print on signing up at SMF and knew that the development of certain disorders came with reading and increased with active participation.
Andy

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Postby SharpSpine » Tue Dec 27, 2011 3:41 pm

Quarterstick wrote:Thank you for the detailed reviews gents. It was a good read and has got me thinking more about trying out single edged razors. Although, I would really like to focus on DEs just now.

Note: I read the fine print on signing up at SMF and knew that the development of certain disorders came with reading and increased with active participation.


The great thing about SERAD is that it's much cheaper than DERAD so come on over to the SE side of the shaving force! BTW, we allow people to go back and forth from the light side to the dark side unlike those super strict jedi-shaving cults! :lol:
> Brian < Slow Down & Write!

Selling off shave kit to fund Fountain Pen acquisitions.
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Postby CMur12 » Tue Dec 27, 2011 3:59 pm

Thanks, Brian/SharpSpine and Brian/ShadowsDad. I have both of these razors and a 1912. I especially like the ergonomics of the 1912, but it is too aggressive for me. In fact, the Featherweight and the Heavy Flat Top are too aggressive for my regular use, also.

I use these razors with current production Treet (or GEM Blue Star) carbon steel blades. They aren't quite as smooth as the Stainless and Stainless with PTFE blades, and they don't last quite as long, but they are very noticeably sharper. A Treet carbon steel blade and a very light touch will mow through any beard effortlessly. (I can usually coax 3 shaves out of one of these blades, simply by airing it out dry and hand-stropping it. I live in a dry climate, so I don't need to oil blades.) When I use stainless blades, I have to apply some pressure to get the same cut, and this results in added irritation, so I only use carbon steel blades (Treet or GEM Blue Star).

Would either of you know how the Heavy Flat Top came to be known as the G-bar?

Thanks again -

- Murray
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Postby SharpSpine » Tue Dec 27, 2011 4:13 pm

CMur12 wrote:Thanks, Brian/SharpSpine and Brian/ShadowsDad. I have both of these razors and a 1912. I especially like the ergonomics of the 1912, but it is too aggressive for me. In fact, the Featherweight and the Heavy Flat Top are too aggressive for my regular use, also.

I use these razors with current production Treet (or GEM Blue Star) carbon steel blades. They aren't quite as smooth as the Stainless and Stainless with PTFE blades, and they don't last quite as long, but they are very noticeably sharper. A Treet carbon steel blade and a very light touch will mow through any beard effortlessly. (I can usually coax 3 shaves out of one of these blades, simply by airing it out dry and hand-stropping it. I live in a dry climate, so I don't need to oil blades.) When I use stainless blades, I have to apply some pressure to get the same cut, and this results in added irritation, so I only use carbon steel blades (Treet or GEM Blue Star).

Would either of you know how the Heavy Flat Top came to be known as the G-bar?

Thanks again -

- Murray


Most information I've heard about the G-bar misnomer is due to the G initial on the handle. The FW also has a G on the handle too but Feather Weight stuck while Heavy Flat Top must have been to hard to say so people shortened it to G-Bar.
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Postby Quarterstick » Wed Jan 11, 2012 4:25 pm

Last Thursday I received a parcel from the wilds of Maine. To say it was packed extremely well would be a gross understatement. Satan would wear ice skates to work before the contents would have suffered any damage in transit. The item within was the Gem Featherweight that Brian/ShadowsDad so generously gave to me (thank you again kind sir). When he offered it on the board during the holidays I tried to resist in the hopes that someone else would take him up on it. Alas, time passed, no one else seemed interested, and I gave in knowing full well I just opened myself up to more ways of spending my limited shaving budget.

The Featherweight is only the second razor I have owned (excluding pre-wet shaving adventures) and is my first single edge razor. The razor is in very good condition; much better than I am and it is about 20 years older than me. I wanted to give it a few tries before posting my impressions and now feel I can provide some fair comments.

Look and feel:
The Featherweight is actually heavier than I anticipated given the name. Do not get me wrong it is very light, but the head is all metal so it has some heft. They did not skimp on the production so it feels solid and I consider it to be very well made. The head of the razor appears larger than a DE. However I think this is more of an optical illusion from the configuration of having the handle attach further toward the back of the head rather than in the middle. The handle is not what I would consider attractive, but it is easy to hold on to and I am a proponent of form follows function. In spite of the heavy head and light handle, the razor has a decent balance in the hand. Overall the Featherweight is a razor that suggests good functionality although it may lack some aesthetic appeal.

Use:
It is different from using a DE although I found that it is not dramatically so. The core principles of wet shaving remain the same: watch the pressure, find the blade angle, take your time, etc. Where the light weight really shows up is in the use. It gives the impression of flying across your face and it takes more effort to focus on the principles due to this.

The orientation of the handle to the blade edge takes some getting used to. On a DE the blade edge is in close proximity to the handle, but on the Featherweight the edge is much farther from where the handle attaches. It created an odd initial experience where I was applying too much pressure because I thought my hand should be closer to the cutting edge. Also, I felt like I was shaving blind as the head seemed to block the view of where I was shaving. Both of these issues were easily overcome with a little practice. In addition, I am left with the impression that it is the handle orientation that allows the Featherweight to have reasonable balance despite the weight disparity between head and handle.

Results:
After the slight learning curve, I was able to achieve some very good shaves with the Featherweight. As close a shave as I care to get with about the same potential for irritation due to technique (or lack thereof) as my DE. All in all, my initial suspicions were confirmed. I enjoy this razor and will use it interchangeably with my DE as the mood strikes me.

The challenge… I will have to test blade options, and I am already considering different razors I would like to try. So in short the shopping list of shaving stuff I have to prioritize just got longer. At least the creams, soaps, brushes, and other equipment are interchangeable. And let’s face it this is not really a challenge, but part of the fun!
Andy

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Postby ShadowsDad » Wed Jan 11, 2012 10:28 pm

1/4stick, it was my pleasure. I wanted it to go to a good home no matter how it got there and I see that it did. It was made to be used.

Thanks for the review. Good perceptions.

Blades... CVS and Rite-Aid have GEM carbon steel blades. They are very sharp, but they will rust w/o care. I put a few drops of mineral oil (actually SkinSoSoft) on the blade top and bottom when I load it the first time and after each shave a drop top and bottom to replenish what it lost. I never had a problem with rust. But it's a PITA! I prefer the SS for that reason. Just stay away from hardware store blades, they aren't sharp enough.

Walgreens has the GEM SS ptfe blades I sent you. But the price is better from Ted Pella or EMS. TP has them shipped to me for about $50/200. Ted Pella 121-3 they are the triple facet blades.)

I recently tested a TP blade in an OCMM until I ran out of courage, and got 18 shaves from it, so expect them to last longer than a DE blade will. I just did the math. Figure 14 shaves per blade, not 18, shaving every day that's 7.6 years of shaving for $50 bought in bulk. You will easily get 7 days out of a blade, but that's still over 3.5 years of shaving.
Brian

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Or find it at Bullgoose, Italian Barber, and West Coast Shaving. Brick and Mortar: The Old Town Shaving Company at Stats, in Pasadena, California
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Postby scruffy » Wed Feb 08, 2012 11:53 am

Thank you for the comparisons and the great info.

I just used my Featherweight for the first time. It is a great shaver.
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