Nationwide Campus Injector Razor
July 26, 2006
When I first got hooked on shaving with old safety razors, I started out with the classic double-edge DE. And I loved this type of razor to death until my pal Gordon (not this Gordon — this Gordon) turned me onto the other classic safety razor from wetshaving’s golden era — the almighty Schick Injector.
At which point I went on a serious, serious bender with these things. Wouldn’t shave with anything else, yoinked as many off eBay as I could, and marveled at how a single-blade safety razor could have zero learning curve compared with a DE and yet shave just as well and maybe even better (actually, so ungodly close my face tingled for an hour and stayed stubble-free till well after I finally went to bed after staying up late to make bloggedy fun of guys who need to ask other guys how to get your face wet with water).
The Injector I love the most is the early version from the 1940’s, with the big brass head and the bakelite handle. These 40’s Injectors look cooler and show more blade than the later Schicks — feed them with modern Schick or Personna Injector blades, or better yet, cut-down Feather disposable straight razor blades and you’ll get a shave so close and so easy it almost takes the fun out of it.
By the mid-‘50’s, though, the Injector took a serious aesthetic nose-dive. The stylish brass shaving head was replaced by a generic stamped-metal assembly, and the cool-man bakelite handles gave way to plastic, and it’s that embarassingly cheap, low-rent plastic that doesn’t age well at all and never quite gets clean no matter how hard you scrub it, so there’s always that sinking feeling as you try not to think about who may have used that razor and where they might have shaved themselves before you wound up with it. I’ve tried boiling these things and they just melt like snowflakes. Hit ‘em with bleach and the cheap metal plating on the head corrodes. You can boil and scrub the hell out of an old Gillette DE till it looks brand spanking new, but funky Schick Injectors from the 50s/60s/70s/80s stay funky for life.
Gordon, our pal Andy and me all have our stashes of vintage Injectors and we swap interesting specimens back and forth for kicks, but we keep having the same conversation about how insanely great it would be if someone came out with a really upscale Injector, something along the lines of the luxurious chrome-plated DE razors Edwin-Jagger makes in the UK. Something really beefy and elegant, as nice to hold as it is to look at.
So imagine my surprise a few months ago when I learned that an outfit called Nationwide Campus was planning to sell newly-manufactured reissues of the 1965 Schick Adjustable Injector and the 1999 “Type O” non-adjustable Injector sold primarily in Japan for the last few years before Schick finally pulled the plug entirely. These razors are officially available today, for $15.99 and $14.99 respectively (plus $5.88 S/H). So for twenty clams you can have a brand new, mint condition Injector. Sounds good, yes?
Nationwide Campus didn’t ring any shavegeek bells, though. Frankly, I’d never heard of them till I caught wind of their planned reissues. I figured that if someone was going to come out with a new Injector, it would be one of the established high-end manufacturers like Jagger or Merkur. They certainly have the tooling in place — all they’d need to do would be to make an Injector-compatible head and screw it onto one of their thick brass handles, and then hold out a big net to catch all the shekels raining down on their heads from the four corners of Planet Shavegeek.
So who’s Nationwide Campus? Well, it’s not a high-end manufacturer of upscale shaving tools. This much I know. The rest is a little murky. From all outward appearances, Nationwide Campus is a kind of “jobber” web site that sells commodity-type items like NBA fan jerseys, batteries, disposable douches, bar stools, cheap perfume, and classy chairs. It’s sort of the online equivalent of a truck stop in Oklahoma that’s got shelf after shelf filled with driftwood Jesus clocks, or when you find yourself on the wrong side of town and there’s all these dollar stores that stretch for entire city blocks with Tazmanian Devil beach towels piled up on the sidewalks next to enormous oil paintings of naked black women lolling around with leopards like that one above Scatman Crother’s bed in “The Shining”. You know the drill.
I called Nationwide Campus a few weeks ago and spoke to Jay, the VP of Sales. Ordinarily I’d applaud a man’s gruff disinterest in shavegeekery and the fetishization of a grooming tool designed to remove facial hair, but jeez, I don’t know, I guess I was hoping for a little more zazz from a guy who was about to relaunch the Injector.
“So how did this project come about?” I asked him.
“I sent some razors to a factory and had them copy them,” Jay replied.
“So where are they made?”
“So, China or India?”
And that was pretty much that. A man of few words, and many units to move. But I was curious, and a pathetic Injector fanboy, so I pre-ordered one of the non-adjustable razors and tried to keep an open mind about it.
I don’t mean to pick on Jay and Nationwide. He’s a warehouse jobber, after all, not a Kool-Aid chugging happytime shavegeek. And more power to him — there’s a hell of a lot more people in this world who need these than need quality razors. God knows Schick was never a high-end boutique brand, and neither was Gillette. Only a fool like me constructs elaborate fantasies about old Italian artisans hunched over workbenches of golden oak, holding a loupe to their good eye as they carve endless, perfect ridges into nickel-plated razor handles while Verdi hangs softly in the Florentine air.
So last week I got the new NatCamp Injector in, and took it for a few test shaves. But first, I want to show you something:
This is the lowliest non-adjustable Schick Injector I’ve got — it’s a “Type J1” from the early ’60s, with the rancid off-(i.e. once)-white plastic handle and the generic stamped-metal head that always jiggles loosely on these handles due to nobody giving a shit by this point. But despite all this, it shaves like a dream, like all the Injectors do, even the fugly ones. Because when it came to tooling the blade mechanism and exposure gap — where the rubber meets the road — Schick got it nuts-on. And it’s something you can feel no matter what Injector you shave with.
Now here’s the new Nationwide Campus reissue:
Tell me something: which razor would you rather load a sharp blade into and scrape across your face? The Schick looks straight as an arrow while the NatCamp’s got “cheap Chinese knock-off” written all over it. From the bent safety bar to the ragged metal edges to the cheap rubber handle insert to the unacceptably loose tolerances all around, it’s a disgrace. Only a callow, easily-impressed chump would be taken in by this kind of cheesy build quality. Even with a new Schick blade installed, the middle part of the head assembly moves side to side, taking the blade along with it.
Still, my Type J1 Injector isn’t a prize pig at the county fair either, and it shaves like a madman. Sometimes looks are deceiving.
Except when they’re an excellent indicator of the road ahead, which they definitely are in the case of this reissue. Right off the bat, despite my usual lather o’ the gods courtesy of Nancy Boy’s shaving cream and Simpson’s Wee Scot shaving brush, the NatCamp nicked me something fierce on my neck and left me with a nice red ingrown hair bump — my first in well over a year. It’s still there as I type this, and probably has a few more days to go. The next morning I decided to give the razor a second chance, and I got a second ingrown for a matched set. Lovely.
As far as the rest of the shave went, it reminded me less of a real Injector and more of how a Mach3 or a Quattro cuts. Like you’re scraping your face something fierce, but then after you rinse off at the end and feel your skin, you can still feel stubble. That’s the kind of shave I got from the reissue.
I’ve got dozens of genuine Schick Injectors, and even my least favorite of the bunch shaves circles around this Nationwide Campus razor. From the earliest all-brass “scissor handle” Injector to the gaggle of 40’s bakelite jobs to the alloy-handled “Type F” to the boring but shaveworthy “Type L” (I’ve even got a few “Lady Eversharp” gam’n’minge razors that to be quite honest are excellent men’s razors, pink handles and all), there’s a certain face-feel to the classic Schick Injector shave that carries over from version to version. Sadly, there isn’t even a hint of this quality in the knock-off.
Now, I don’t have a real “Type O” to compare it with, so it’s entirely possible that the Nationwide Campus reissue is simply a perfectly executed clone of a lousy razor. But if that’s the case, why choose a lousy razor to knock off in the first place? Why not reissue a good Injector like the ’40s bakelite model? My suspicion is that the Type O wasn’t the best-ever Injector, but neither was it as rough or cheaply manufactured as this Chinese knock-off.
It’s a real drag, because I was hoping against all odds that this new razor might be something I could recommend to guys who are itching to try an Injector without going the eBay route. But it doesn’t even come close to delivering the classic Injector shave. Honestly, I get better shaves from cheap Bic single-edge disposables. It’s fitting that Nationwide Campus’s reissue doesn’t actually have the name “Injector” anywhere on it. It’s not a worthy representative of the breed.
My advice is to avoid this thing at all costs. Until someone more quality-minded (Jagger! Jagger!) decides to take a stab at it, your $20 is better spent buying a real Injector on eBay and getting the shave you deserve.