There are a lot of old carbon steel double edge blades out there, but most of them are hit and miss as far as availability is concerned. For that reason I rarely invest in new old stock (NOS) carbon steel blades. What’s the point in finding a blade that you like if you will only be able to use it a few times? I do use NOS blades on occasion, just to try them out, but it’s an uncommon thing for me. Every once in a while I will stumble upon some NOS blades that seem to be fairly readily available and I will be tempted to buy a few hundred, but I usually resist the urge. Most NOS DE blades are carbon steel, and while carbon steel blades have their advantages, one of their huge disadvantages is that they rust very easily which makes storing them and maintaining them something of a chore.
When I do use NOS carbon steel blades I put them through a quality control process before they ever even touch my face. Who knows how the blades were stored before I received them, or how they were handled? The first thing I do is to open them up and inspect them visually. I look for any signs of rust, pitting, or damage. If they seem OK, I pull out my loupe and look at the edge under magnification to make sure that there is no active rust on it. If the blades are still good to go, then I repackage them and put them in a plastic bag, which is stored in a cool dry spot. Before using a carbon steel blade I rinse it with rubbing alcohol and pat it dry with a piece of toilet paper. After using one, I pat it dry with toilet paper and coat it in a thin layer of mineral oil. This process ensures that the blade is rust free and clean and that it will remain that way. It adds a minute or two to my shave routine, but I believe that it is absolutely necessary when using NOS carbon steel blades.
As you can see, inspecting, using, and maintaining carbon steel DE blades is time consuming, but the quality of some of these old blades is amazing, and the nostalgia factor is pretty high too. It’s fun to use a blade made in the 50s in a razor from that same time period. Plus, it’s interesting to occasionally try something that’s a little off of the beaten path.
With all of that in mind, I recently purchased some NOS Marlin carbon steel blades off of eBay. The auction was for 55 blades and cost me a whopping $2.25, including shipping…I just couldn’t resist. I had seen Marlin blades pop up on various sites before, so I knew that if I did end up liking them that I could easily buy more. I did a little digging and discovered that Marlin blades, distributed by the Marlin Firearms company, were only manufactured by Marlin for about eight years before they began simply rebranding other companies’ blades and selling them under the Marlin brand name. There is nothing wrong with this practice, and it is fairly common in the world of DE blades, but it does make it slightly difficult to know exactly what it is that you’re shaving with. Marlin distributed blades for several decades, so they must have been picking pretty solid blades to rebrand, which put my mind at ease as far as the probable quality of these blades is concerned.
Once I received the blades I was annoyed to discover that about 1/4 of them were simply unusable. That is the chance you take when you buy NOS carbon steel blades, but it is still aggravating. Most of the blades were fine (about half of the remaining blades required some minor cleaning to make perfectly usable, but the rest were fine as they were). Once my inspection of the blades was done, I repackaged them, put them into a plastic zip lock bag, and completely forgot about them. It wasn’t until I received the Gillette Old Type head that I remembered these blades and pulled them out of limbo to give them a try.
The Marlin blades are packaged in a simple piece of folded blue paper with the words “Double Edge Marlin”, interspersed with a rifle printed diagonally on the front and “High Speed made in the USA” and the Marlin guarantee on the back. The blades themselves are coated in the usual dark blue tint that most carbon steel DE blades are known for and have the words “Marlin High Speed made in the USA” printed on both sides. It’s interesting to note that the “High Speed” is printed with motion streaks to make the words appear as if they are indeed moving at high speed. This little touch is the equivalent of racing stripes or flames on a car: utterly useless, but kind of fun.
I have used the Marlin blades four times now in four different razors. My thoughts on them are fairly consistent with my thoughts on carbon steel DE blades in general: a little harsh at first, but mellowing out after a single use. These blades are nice once they calm down and they’re fairly forgiving without sacrificing cutting ability, but they’re also a pain to maintain. If these were standard stainless steel blades, then I would probably use them in my regular rotation, but their high maintenance requirements demand too much of my time for not enough of a return. I will probably pull one out to use on occasion, but the majority of these blades will likely remain in limbo until I can find a more suitable home for them. In the end, I’m just too lazy to use carbon steel DE blades regularly. If you like carbon steel blades and like playing with NOS blades, then Marlins are a good, low cost, readily available choice.
The blade on the right is a good example of what happens to a blade when it is poorly stored and wasn’t even worth inspecting. I did end up checking it out, and was not surprised to find it totally unusable.
This blade required some cleaning, but was basically OK. The discoloration on the right side tab is from the oil on my fingers.