[Updated July, 2018] “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 surprisingly 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. Amazon and West Coast Shaving links are affiliate.
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 $2 to well over $400. Happily, prices for many popular double edge razors have generally dropped over the past few years!
There are some acceptable inexpensive DE razors. They probably will not become heirlooms for the grand kids but they should be acceptable to get started with if you are on a budget. The under $20 range offers some reasonable products, including the all plastic Dorco PL602 (here is a review) and Wilkinson Sword, the mostly-plastic Feather Popular, and the all (light) metal Weishi. Many of the lower-cost Maggard razors are also well-regarded.
The $20-$50 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) and Parker razors, as well as most of the Merkur razor line.
This is also the range where you will find the enormously popular Merkur Heavy Duty (AKA “HD,” “Heavy Classic,” or 34C) and Edwin Jagger DE89 series (the “lbl” handle variant appears to be the most popular but there are a wide variety of handle styles).
Above this price point is where you will find razors that are popular for reasons other than (or in addition to) performance. Different head styles (such as “slant” razors as discussed below), materials (like stainless steel or titanium), special features (including adjustable razors), special handle designs, and razors designed specifically for travel situations 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 NOS–“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 flea markets (though availability at these places has dropped in recent years), 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 various versions of the Gillette SuperSpeed, and the Schick Krona–see How To Buy A Vintage Razor From Ebay for more information on what to look for when buying a vintage razor.
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’s edge. 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. 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
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. 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. However “adjustable” razors can change the gap to make them more gentle or more aggressive. There are only a few fully adjustable razors currently made, primarily from Parker and Merkur though others (such as the Rex Ambassador) are beginning to enter the market. There are also some vintage adjustable razors.
A variation of the adjustable razor design is the Rockwell 6S (and its younger, less expensive brother, the 6C). They are not an “adjustable” in the normal, continuously-adjustable sense, but rather they offer different base plates. Each plate has a different amount of blade exposure set. Other manufacturers are beginning to pick up on this theme, offering different base plate options with some razors.
What is a slant razor? Think of it like a mini-guillotine for stubble. Held at an asymmetrical blade exposure by design, the slant is meant to offer a more efficient cutting angle for a DE blade which can give a closer shave more quickly. The design has been around for at least 70 years, but as the DE razor list popularity beginning in the 1970’s, most slants also vanished from the market. This niche’ is just beginning to re-assert itself. See “A Slanted Conversation” for more information.
Criteria For The “Best” Razor(s)
Here are what I consider the “best” razors in several different categories. This is based on:
- My own experience and the experience of other users as researched 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!”
I was not paid by any manufacturer for these recommendations.
What Is The Best DE Razor?
- Best Low Cost Razor: Maggard MR1 – Honorable Mentions: Dorco PL-602 (plastic), RazoRock DE1, Baili BD176
- Best “Popular” Razor (tie): Merkur “Heavy Classic” 34c two piece safety bar, Edwin Jagger DE89 series three piece safety bar (the “LBL” version seems to be the most popular). Honorable mention: Parker 92R TTO safety bar
- Best Open Comb Razor: 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 (tie): Parker Variant, Rex Ambassador (continuously adjustable). Honorable Mentions: Merkur Progress; Rockwell 6S (not truly “adjustable” in the normal sense, it has different base plates you can swap out for varying levels of shave).
- Best “Slant” Style Razor: Merkur 37C. Honorable Mention: Ikon X3 aluminum
- Best Razor For Travel: Merkur Travel Razor. Honorable Mention: Parker Travel Razor A1R.
- Best “Price Is No Object” Razor: Above The Tie 7 Piece Stainless Steel Razor System (Honorable Mentions: Timeless razors, Feather AS-D2 All Stainless Steel).
- Best Vintage Razor: Gillette SuperSpeed, circa 1955 (Honorable Mention: Schick Krona, circa 1965)
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!
Razor Sampler Pack Resources
Over to you! What do you think?
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