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How To Use An Adjustable Razor Most Effectively

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It’s no secret that I like adjustable razors. I used to say that you could pry my Merkur Progress out of my cold, dead fingers.  I’ve moved on from the Progress but I still prefer adjustable razors.  What is the most effective way to use an adjustable?  Let’s find out….

What Is An Adjustable Razor?

An adjustable safety razor can change the blade gap between the razor blade’s edge and the razor head’s base plate.  The blade gap changes the exposure of the razor blade to the skin to create a milder or a more aggressive shave.

For more detail check out my recent article Is The Adjustable Safety Razor Finally Catching On?

That said, since you can “adjust” your shave, what is the best way to use this kind of razor?  I think there are three general routines you can go through.  Like Goldilocks you may have to try each method to find the one that juuuust right for you.

The Set-And-Forget Method

I think the most straightforward way of using an adjustable razor is to simply find the one setting that works best for you and stick to it. While this method does not use the razor to its fullest capability it is certainly easy and avoids fussiness in your shave.  This is also the best way to use “semi-adjustable” razors that come with different base plates, like the Rockwell 6S or 6C (affiliate links) since it might be difficult to swap base plates mid-shave.

The Dial Down Method

I bet most people use the “dial down” method when they first try an adjustable safety razor.  This is where a shaver will shave their first pass at a relatively high setting (lots of blade gap) then dial down for successive passes.  The thought process here is that this method will remove as much stubble as possible on the first pass then dial down to avoid nicks and cuts for the balance of the shave.

This method may be good for those who want a shorter, great-but-maybe-not-best shave experience.  Because the blade gap is smaller later in the shave the blade edge does not as efficiently cut the remaining stubble.  And for me this method actually increases the chance for nicks and cuts by trying to take off too much stubble at once early in the shave.

The Dial Up Method

The other side of the coin is starting at a relatively low setting for the first pass and dialing up for successive passes.  Advocates of this method say it not only reduces the stubble most comfortably but also does not take off too much stubble at once, decreasing the chance of nicks and cuts.  Later passes at a higher setting (more blade gap) removes more stubble closer to the skin line.  Because the amount of stubble is shorter later in the shave there isn’t as much chance to the blade edge to “catch” and cause a nick.  The thing to watch out for is a higher possibility of razor burn.  However if the shave is done efficiently, without repeating strokes during the pass, this concern can be reduced.  Think of the recent trend of “dermaplaning” for women.

This method may seem counter-intuitive but works best for me when I do my typical three pass shave!  I can consistently get a “baby’s butt smooth” this way (though I will dial back down if I do a touch-up after my third pass).

A note about adjusting–up or down. You should start out with relatively small adjustments: perhaps dialing up or down by a half-step. For example, if you are trying the “dial down” method and your regular razor razor corresponds to a “3” on a particular adjustable, try the first pass at “3.5,” the second pass at “3,” and the third pass at “2.5.”


An adjustable safety razor can offer unparalleled versatility in shaving when used effectively.  They can be used to not only tailor a shave to your specific circumstances, they can more easily mitigate other variables in the shave that might otherwise cause problems.  Transitioning to an adjustable razor may take a little time to fully appreciate its capabilities, but I think it’s worth the effort.

Do you use an adjustable razor?  How do you use it most effectively?  Leave a comment below!



Shave tutor and co-founder of sharpologist. I have been advocating old-school shaving for over 20 years and have been featured in major media outlets including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Lifehacker. Also check out my content on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest!View Author posts

17 thoughts on “How To Use An Adjustable Razor Most Effectively”

  1. For me, I find that adjusting most razors is too much of a pain while shaving. In each section on the third pass, I immediately flip the razor over and shave the section again with the dry side of the razor for touchup. I sometimes need to rewet the skin with water or thinned down shave cream. The cushion of the shave cream seems to prevent me from getting BBS. This method does not work well with certain hard water or if I am lax in using moisturizer on my face.

  2. I used to be a “set it and leave it guy.” But I’m rethinking that.

    Currently I’m doing a modified dial down method with great success: First pass is the setting I would use on a set it and leave it method. Second pass I dial down by one-half. And for the final pass I dial down to the lowest setting.

  3. I’ve never met an adjustable razor that I didn’t LOVE. I have about 10 of ’em, all the usual suspects.

    I’m a “set it and leave it” guy. In my limited experimentation with dialing up and dialing down, I found no meaningful advantage in fiddling with the dial. I have tough old man whiskers. For me a 5 on the Fat Boy and a 6 on the Slim and Super Adjustable is spot on.

    Set it and leave it reigns!

  4. For the day-to-day shaving, I set my Ming Shi and forget it. My beard is the same length after every 24 hours and my razor has already been set to the optimal setting after lots of trial and error. No nicks, cuts, runs, or errors.
    My beard isn’t a lawn and I shouldn’t have to click and set the razor all over the place like a lawn mower deck.

  5. I have a handful of adjustables. I’ve experimented with each one till I found it’s best setting then leave them there. I like the idea of your dial-up method and plan on trying it soon.

  6. Wow, a great discussion. This is why Sharpologist is better than most forums!

    I went from a Progress to a Varient and now use a Rex regularly. I don’t need a very aggressive razor, so with the Rex I typically use a 2 on the first pass and then dial down to a 1 for anything else (about 1 less than the other adjustables btw). If it matters that’s with a middlin sharp coated blade (Personna lab blue, Astra platinum, etc)

    I usually find that the dial-down gets the job done with absolutely zero irritation, and that’s my goal.

  7. Using either both vintage Fatboy and Gillette Slim with Derby, Gillette blue and Wilkinson blades, I used a more aggressive adjustment on the first pass with the grain and then I go soft on the subsequent passes mainly across and against the grain.

    When I really want a close shave, it’s either the RazoRock German 37 head, the Muhle R41 and Puma 5/8 straight razor.


  8. I use my favorite REX Ambassador, the dial down way. I have a very strong stubble which even the REX on a Feather would be ineffective on anything but the highest setting after a three-day growth. Subsequent passes, I dial down to 4 and then for the final pass I dial still down to 1, which gives me a chance to go over my trouble spots with abandon and get a BBs every time. To give an idea of how strong my stubble is, the Rockwell 6S on plate 6 and on a brand new feather is inefficient.
    The other vintage adjustable I love is the Gibbs no 17, which on the N setting is highly effective and a bit smoother than the REX on 6, but who wants to clip blades every time.

  9. I always dial up with each pass. Using my Gillette Super Adjustable (O-2, my birth year and quarter), I’ll start out on 3 for a first pass with the grain, and then turn it up to 5 for the next two passes across the grain –“ears to nose, and then nose to ears passes,” as I like to call them. For my last pass against the grain, I’ll turn it up to 7 to get that really smooth, BBS shave! I dial down to 3 right after that fourth pass so that my razor is ready for next use, and will also use it on that setting if any buffing or touch up is needed. This is just how I’ve always done it since getting the razor three or so years ago. I’ve never tried a setting lower than 3, and I’ve never dialed up to 8 or 9 either. If it isn’t broke, I don’t try to fix it.

  10. I use a RockwellC ,,plate 4 for 3 passes &Flip over to plate 2 for T/U,also use plate 3 for three passes ,flip over to plate 1 for T/U with a feather blade.
    Great shaves,zero irritation.

  11. I have two adjustable razors the Ming Shi and the Premeire Rasage with either I like the dial up two pass method for both. Starting at .5 with the Ming Shi up to 2.5 because of the weight of the Premiere Rasage 1.5 to 3.0 both using Astra green or Derby

  12. I use the dial up method as well, with 3 passes, I have a 1960 Gillette $1.95 Fatboy I use with Feather blades. I then dial it down again or use my 1934 Gillette Red and Black Deluxe (Gold Plated) for a Gillette Slide pass (and sometimes the first pass) that I learned from a Sharpologist video several years ago. I get really close shaves this way, so thanks Mark for the tip.

  13. I’ve been a dial up user since I was a kid. It started because I can’t not turn the dial. A gadget must be used. Then, when internet forums came around and I trotted out my Gillette Super I got reinforcement for the habit.

  14. I have a Variant. I usually leave it set at 2 with an Astra or Parker blade. The thing is so smooth with a new blade I sometimes wonder if it is working.. If I use a less aggressive blade, then I turn it up a bit. Sometimes as the blade gets duller I turn it up a little as well as well. With a Kai or feather blade, I turn it down to 1. I often am in a rush in the morning and need to shave fast, hence the lower settings. Even with 1 pass, I usually get a BBS shave.

  15. You convinced me that the dial up method is better after testing both with my 1959 Fatboy. Dial down doesn’t yield as close a shave.

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