A good razor for a novice will be good for anyone, naturally enough, since for a novice a razor should be as comfortable as possible and not inclined to nick even if his technique is still imperfect, while also being quite efficient to minimize the number of passes and touch-up required. Some razors much appreciated by experienced shavers—the more aggressive Fatips, the Mühle R11, the slants, and others—I would not recommend to a novice, though naturally enough (this is shaving) some do think such razors are fine for a novice in that with them a novice will quickly learn good technique—or else. I suggest a more forgiving approach.
Back in the day, for many products the Sears, Roebuck and Co.’s catalog offered three versions: good, better, and best. I’m sure the upselling was intentional, but the categories stayed with me: “good” was enough to get by, “better” offered noticeable improvements, and “best” presumably could not be beat. In my recommendations here the “good” is a razor for the frugal shaver, the “better” is my usual recommendation, and the “best” is the “money is no object” razor for a novice.
GOOD: A razor for the frugal novice/shaver
For the frugal novice (or experienced shaver), I recommend a $3.50 razor (price includes shipping): the Dorco PL-602, a well-designed plastic razor currently sold on eBay. I find its feel and performance are excellent. I learned of this razor through the Sharpologist review by Victor Marks and immediately ordered one, and I’m pleased that I did. The PL-602 will also make a good travel razor: lightweight and easily replaceable if lost in transit or left in some hotel bathroom. At the price, one might even buy one simply to use as a change of pace, and it’s a great razor to give to those you’re trying to convert to DE shaving.
BETTER: My usual recommendation for a novice razor
The razor I usually recommend for a novice falls between the “good” and the “best” in price and in quality of materials. For U.S. residents, I suggest the Maggard Razors open-comb head ($16) with one of the Maggard stainless handles. I like the MR7 ($16), but any of the handles will serve: they all have enough heft to balance the head.
For those who live outside the U.S., I recommend the Parker 24C (globalized link), whose head is quite similar to the Maggard OC head and which sells at about the same price of $30. The Parker 24C, like the Maggard OC, feels quite comfortable and performs well, but has a handle of plated brass rather than stainless steel and threading that makes it difficult to use the head with other handles. (I was unable to seat the 24C head on my Stealth handle, for example.) For these reasons I prefer to recommend the Maggard OC.
The “better” option, Parker or Maggard, is very comfortable and very efficient, the essential characteristics for a novice razor (and highly desirable in a razor for anyone). The “better” razor has more heft than the “good” razor and will undoubtedly be more durable, and though it lacks the range of “settings” of the “best” razor below (and has a head of plated Zamak rather than stainless steel), it also costs substantially less than the “best.”
BEST: The razor for the “money is no object” novice
The Rockwell 6S razor, whose three double-sided baseplates offer six different “settings,” is a relative bargain among high-quality stainless razors: $100 for the complete set-up. In contrast, the Above the Tie razor system also offers six baseplates: Mild, Regular, and Heavy, each available with a bar guard or with a comb guard, but the cost for that set (one complete razor ($185) plus the other 5 baseplates ($73 each)) is $550. One reason for the difference in pricing is that Above the Tie heads are made by machining stainless steel, and Rockwell uses metal injection molding (MIM). In terms of feel and performance the two are quite close, except that I find Rockwell baseplates extremely comfortable across the entire range, something not at all true for the ATT baseplates, at least for me. (The R1 and S1 are perfect for me, but the others I tried just didn’t work.)
Related article: The Rockwell 6S Version 2
In a review on Wicked Edge, I explain why the Rockwell system seems particularly suited to the novice: he can progress through the baseplates as his skills improve and as he discovers his preferences. This is much the same advantage as an adjustable, but (a) the Rockwell is made of stainless rather than plated brass or Zamak; (b) the Rockwell system uses no moving parts so maintenance is minimized and mechanical failure doesn’t happen; and (c) although it’s easy to swap Rockwell baseplates, it’s not so easily done as turning the dial on an adjustable razor: some novices, encountering common novice start-up problems as they learn prep and technique, tend to become obsessed with spinning the dial on adjustable razors, trying to resolve every problem by changing the adjustment setting. The Rockwell system encourages a more methodical approach to solving problems, most of which are due to prep, technique, and blade choice.
I have found all the Rockwell baseplates to be extremely comfortable (more comfortable than any of my adjustable razors) and highly efficient. I compared the Rockwell R1 and R2 baseplates to my Feather AS-D2, using a Feather blade because that’s what I use in the AS-D2 and what I prefer in a very mild razor (e.g., the Gillette Tech, the Wilkinson “Sticky,” et al.). The R2 worked fine, but the R1 turned out to be the closest match to the AS-D2 in terms of feel and performance.
After that test I moved to the Rockwell R5 and R6 baseplates, forgetting that the razor held a Feather blade. But there were absolutely no problems: even the most aggressive of Rockwell baseplates were quite comfortable and well-behaved, even with the Feather blade. Normally a Feather blade will not work well for me in even a modestly aggressive razor, like the Edwin Jagger. But with the Rockwell, I found the Feather completely comfortable even in the most aggressive baseplate. I have to attribute this to the Rockwell design.
Obviously, the Rockwell will be a good razor for the experienced shaver as well as a novice, but those who have already developed good shaving technique have a broad range of razors available to them and probably have a “setting” that they prefer. (For the Rockwell, I believe that the R3 will be my day-in, day-out preference.)
The special advantage of the Rockwell for the novice is that the Rockwell, like an adjustable, offers a range of aggressiveness. A novice not only does not know what level of aggressiveness works best for him, he is also likely to find that the optimal level will change as his skills improve. For example, I advanced the setting for my Gillette Fat Boy from “3” to “4” to “5” over a period of a couple of years as my technique improved. And, as noted, the Rockwell’s excellent design provides a comfortable and efficient shave with any of the baseplates.
The Rockwell handle is also extremely comfortable: its chequering is not so piercingly sharp-pointed as on some other handles, but it’s still quite grippy. However, nobodysawme on Wicked_Edge raises a good point: “The Rockwell handle uses 10-32 SAE thread, many modern razors use M5x0.8 thread. There’s a 5% difference in diameter and a 1% difference in thread pitch.” The result is that when I tried my iKon 102 head on the Rockwell head, I did feel some slight resistance (since iKon uses the M5x0.8 threading). However, it did work and I returned the 102 head to its usual home atop an iKon Bulldog handle (also M5x0.8 threading) with no problem. Still, it’s worth keeping in mind. Older Gillette razors also use the 10-32 threading, but most modern razors, particularly high-end razors, use M5x0.8. Obviously the issue is moot if you stick to using the Rockwell handle with Rockwell heads, but one of the special advantages of the three-piece design is the ability to swap handles. (Some of my iKon and ATT heads ride on UFO or Tradere handles.)
I did ask Gareth Rockwell, who heads up the company, about the thread-pitch issue. He wrote:
“The pitch between 10-32 and M5x.8 are nearly identical, but the diameter differs slightly. We selected the smaller diameter 10-32 to ensure the threading (which is produced straight from MIM, and is not machined) would comfortably fit within an M5x.8, even if there was a slight variation in diameters between pieces (accounting for the – very slight – variability within critical dimensions inherent in MIM). You’ll notice we also flattened the threading on two sides of the threading of the 6S cap, both to allow it to be produced by MIM and so that it leaves enough play that it can comfortably work with a M5x.8 handle.”
DE novices today are lucky to have such a range of excellent choices of new razors. Obviously, vintage razors also offer good options, but some would rather buy a new razor than a used razor.
Note that with any new razor you must do some renewed blade exploration to find the brand of blade that works best for you in that razor. A brand that’s best in one razor may not be best (or even good) in another. And with an new razor you must find the optimal shaving angle. Move the handle farther from your face (toward being perpendicular to the skin) until you don’t hear/feel the blade cutting, the blade’s edge having risen above the stubble. Move the handle a little closer to your face and when you hear/feel the cutting resume, you’re close to the optimal angle. Play judiciously with the angle, back and forth, listening to the sound, and you’ll soon discover the optimal angle.