[UPDATED December, 2015]
“What is the best double edge safety razor?”
I get the question all the time. Unfortunately there’s no easy answer. Unlike razors with multi-blade, pivoted cartridges that come from a few large multi-national companies and manufactured to a very narrow set of specifications, double-edge (DE) razors (and blades) have a wide variety of options to choose from. Lets look at some of the variables and see what stands out. These are not the only products of course–I’m listing the most popular razors that many people say may be “best” in a particular category–so if you know of a good DE razor not listed here be sure to mention it in a comment! All the prices here are in U.S. dollars and approximate. This post last updated 3 September 2014.
These “endorsements” are my own opinion and I was not paid by any vendor or manufacturer for these recommendations.
Probably the most obvious factor is going to be price. There’s no sense looking for something you can’t afford. I have seen new DE razor prices range from under $5 to well over $200.
There are some acceptable inexpensive DE razors. They probably will not become heirlooms for the grandkids but they should be acceptable to get started with if you are on a budget. Sharpologist ran a post a while back about a couple inexpensive razors for under $15. The $15 to $30 range offers some additional alternatives, including the all plastic Wilkinson Sword, the mostly-plastic Feather Popular, and the all (light) metal Weishi. You will also find some promising newcomers such as the Matador (open comb–more on that later), Cadet, and Black Tie (which incidentally all come from the same manufacturing facility in India). Maggard razors, another relative newcomer, are also well-regarded and inexpensive.]
The $30-$40 price range is where you will start seeing the more popular, better-made razors. Probably the most recognized models in this range are the Edwin Jagger (EJ) DE8x series and many Parker razors, as well as the low end of the Merkur line (including their popular 180/23C, and 33C) will be in this range too.
The $40-$50 range is where you will find the enormously popular Merkur Heavy Duty (AKA “Heavy Classic” or 34C) and Edwin Jagger DE89lbl (The lbl variant has since become difficult to find but all handle styles share the same head design).
Above this pricepoint is where you will find razors that are popular for reasons other than (or in addition to) performance. Different head styles (such as the Merkur 37C “Slant” or the Muhle R41), materials (like the Feather All-Stainless Steel, the Above The Tie 7 Piece Razor System, or the Pils), special features (including the Merkur adjustable razors–Progress, Futur, and Vision) or special handle designs or materials are examples of this category.
New vs. Used vs. Vintage
The next factor for finding the “best” razor is whether it is new, used, or vintage. A new razor is just that: in production, for sale, and not previously used. A used razor is one that is currently in production but has been used before. A vintage razor is one that is out of production (both used and “new old stock”). The previous section described popular new razors. You can get used versions of these same razors for probably around 75% of their new price–they generally hold their value pretty well. Vintage prices can be “all over the road” depending on condition and the seller’s knowledge (or lack of knowledge).
There are a number of sources for used or vintage razors, including local antique stores and fleamarkets, internet auction sites, and buy/sell/trade (B/S/T) sections of the internet shaving forums. Maybe even a forgotten razor in an older relative’s bathroom? Local stores have the advantage of having something you can see and feel–you are more likely to know to what you are getting. Internet auction sites can be useful if you know what you’re doing and are looking for something very specific…though there is always the danger of seller shenanigans. The B/S/T areas on shaving forums are probably the place most likely to get a decent razor for a fair price. These areas sometimes have “PIF” offers as well: a user wanting to “Pay It Forward” by offering a razor at little or no cost to a new shaver, a member of the armed forces, or for some other reason.
Two excellent “vintage” DE razors include the Schick Krona and various versions of the Gillette SuperSpeed–see this Sharpologist post for more information. Vintage specialty single-blade razors such as the GEM have their fans as well.
Open Comb vs. Safety Bar
Double edge razors have heads that can be divided into two general groups: Open Comb and Safety Bar. Open Comb’s have obvious “teeth” that help guide heavy stubble and shaving cream into channels. Safety Bars have a solid (or scalloped) bar that provides some additional protection to the skin from the blade. Generally, Open Comb razors will not be as gentle on the skin as safety bar razors (the Muhle R41 notoriously so!), though there are exceptions (such as the Goodfella, a surprisingly mild Open Comb manufactured in New Zealand). Most older vintage razors will have an Open Comb.
Three Piece vs. Two Piece vs. One Piece (“Twist To Open”)
DE razors are typically constructed in one of three ways. Three piece are the classic” (and easiest to manufacture) type, consisting of a handle, a base plate, and a head or cap. An advantage of a three piece design is that you can sometimes “mix and match” the three pieces from different manufacturers, creating entirely new razors (you’ll sometimes see this referred to as a “frankenrazor” after Frankenstein’s monster). Two piece have the base plate permanently mounted to the handle. A one piece “twist to open” (TTO) razor is the type most common just before the advent of cartridge razors: the Gillette SuperSpeed is the classic TTO.
Set Gap vs. Adjustable
Generally speaking, Open Comb razors expose more of the blade to the skin, making for a more “aggressive” shave. But even razors with a Safety Bar can be aggressive: it’s all about the amount of blade exposed to the skin. The vast majority of razors have a set gap size: the amount of the gap distance is determined by the manufacturer for a particular model of razor. However “adjustable” razors can change the gap to make them more gentle or more aggressive. There are only three adjustable razors currently made, all from Merkur and mentioned earlier. There were also some vintage adjustable razors. There are several lists that rate razors on a scale of the amount of blade gap or blade exposure. See the bottom of the Sharpologist page under “Resources” for one such list.
Mantic59’s “Best” DE Razors
Here are what I consider the “best” razors in several different categories. This is based on:
- My own experience;
- the experience of other users as read on various internet forums and blogs;
- reputation of the manufacturer;
- length of time on the market;
- razor’s general availability and popularity;
- razor’s over-all value (quality vs. price).
Remember the old adage, “Your Mileage May Vary!”
Best Open Comb Razor: Goodfella three piece (note that this is a fairly gentle razor). Honorable Mention: Parker open comb razors, the 24C and the 26C (differing only in handle design. Both shave very well and are not overly-aggressive).
Best Adjustable Razor: Merkur Progress two piece safety bar (this is admittedly a personal favorite!)
Best Razor For Those With Big (or Partially Disabled) Hands: Merkur 40 “Barrel Handle” three piece safety bar. Honorable mention: eShave Long Handle three piece safety bar (however please note that this is an aggressive razor, not for the beginner).
Best Vintage Razor: Gillette SuperSpeed, circa 1955 (Honorable Mention: Gillette “Toggle” Adjustable TTO safety bar)
Best “Price Is No Object” Razor: Above The Tie 7 Piece Stainless Steel Razor System (Honorable Mention: Feather AS-D2 All Stainless Steel)
A Further Caution To The Beginner: Blades
No discussion about DE razors would be complete without mentioning blades. Many beginners think “a blade is a blade” and while DE blades may all look similar there can actually be fairly significant differences in the way a blade is made. Metallurgy (the metal or combination of metals used to make the blade), coatings, and grinding specifications (the blade’s “sharpness”) can all play a part in the production process. So take the time to try a number of different blade brands to find the one(s) that work best for the razor you’re using (your skin, the mineral content of the water you’re using, and the shave lather you’re using play parts too). Even if you are already using a DE razor you may need to do some additional blade experimentation if you buy another DE. Some shaving vendors sell “sample packs” or “blade samplers” to make the process easier: you get a few blades of many different types. After you decide which one(s) work best you can then buy your favorites in bulk, saving a ton of money!
A Final Note
Shaving with a DE razor is not quite like shaving with a modern pivoted cartridge razor–you can’t just take mindless swipes at your face and expect a good shave. You have to learn a new skill set (and possibly unlearn some bad habits) to use a DE razor properly. It’s not a terribly difficult skill to pick up but there is a learning curve. And like learning to ride a bike or play a musical instrument some will pick it up more quickly than others. Luckily, I have a few videos to help you out!
Over to you! What do you think?