[Note from Mantic59: I recently updated my popular “Best DE Razor” article and also posted an alternative from Doug at Shave Like Grandad’s. I also asked Michael “Leisureguy” from Later On, another respected shaver, to offer his opinions. UPDATED November, 2021.]
Double-edge safety razors once were described as ranging from “mild” to “aggressive,” as though razors could be ordered in a row, with the mildest at one end and the most aggressive at the other and the others falling in between, each one milder than the razor on one side and more aggressive than its neighbor on the other, with perhaps some ties.
Safety Razor Comfort And Efficiency
But as I considered my own experience with safety razors, I realized that in fact razors don’t line up in a row but rather must be arranged on a plane with two independent axes: “comfort,” with razors going from extremely uncomfortable to extremely comfortable, and “efficiency,” with razors ranging from extremely inefficient to extremely efficient.
A comfortable safety razor is one that feels good on your face. It shaves smoothly, and you feel that you are safe from nicks—and in fact it is not prone to nick. An uncomfortable razor feels harsh and requires that you exercise care or the razor will nick you. Thus a comfortable razor is non-threatening even if your technique is imperfect, while an uncomfortable razor punishes quickly any deviation from excellent technique (“technique” here refers to maintaining light pressure and the optimal angle for the razor you’re using).
Comfortable razors work well even if the angle is not perfect and/or the pressure is a bit too much, but an uncomfortable razor will bite if your technique falters in any way.
An efficient safety razor removes stubble easily and effectively without your having to think about it or work at it, while an inefficient razor requires more attention and care to get a smooth result. A very efficient razor will leave much of your face totally smooth after the second pass (the across-the-grain pass), but generally a third pass (against the grain) is needed for some areas (e.g., the chin, under the jawline, and the upper lip).
The problem with the terms “mild” and “aggressive” is that they are used sometimes to refer to comfort and sometimes to efficiency, so you can’t be sure which is meant.
Of course, as with everything in shaving, YMMV applies, and a given razor’s feel and performance generally depend on two things: (a) the individual (men vary in the thickness and toughness of their beards, in their prep (which is also affected by water hardness and choice of shaving soap/cream, since those vary as well), in their technique, and in the sensitivity of their skin) and (b) the brand of blade used. In effect, shaving involves a three-element system: the razor, the individual, and the brand of blade. Changing any one of those can take the shave from great to mediocre or from mediocre to great.
So to some extent my experience with a given razor may not match yours, but I find that these recommendations do indeed work for many. With any new razor, it is important to try a few different brands of blade—a brand that works best in one razor may not be best (or even good) in another—and to experiment to find the optimal angle for that razor.
That said, let me offer a few examples of how the two axes work:
Safety Razor Comfort And Efficiency Axes
Uncomfortable and inefficient: This quadrant is generally uninhabited, since a razor that is both uncomfortable and inefficient doesn’t last long in the market. These razors are “aggressive” in terms of comfort but “mild” in terms of efficiency.
Comfortable and inefficient: An example is the Weishi (aka Van Der Hagen, Micro One Touch). This razor is often recommended to a novice because of its comfort, but its poor efficiency often leads to a (bad) habit of using too much pressure just to get the razor to perform. These razors are “mild” in both comfort and efficiency.
Uncomfortable and efficient: The Fatip Grande and the first version of the Mühle R41 are examples. Some men (who have excellent technique) like these razors for their efficiency, but I found that I was on tenterhooks when shaving with them, feeling that the slightest misstep would produce a nick. These razors are “aggressive” in both comfort and efficiency.
Comfortable and efficient: These razors occupy the sweet spot, and all the razors I am recommending fall, for me and for many, into this quadrant. These razors are “mild” in terms of comfort and “aggressive” in terms of efficiency.
The Safety Razor List
Safety Razors are listed in order of price, but in terms of feel (on the face) and performance they are all much the same: very comfortable and very efficient. Price varies by the material and manufacturing method, and I don’t consider things that you might find also important, such as aesthetics (which also varies a lot by individual) or feel in the hand (heft of razor and texture of handle). I decided not to include razors that cost more than $100, though some (but not all) razors in the above-$100 category are indeed both comfortable and efficient.
You will notice that the list includes both safety razors with a bar guard and razors with a comb guard. Razor feel/comfort and performance/efficiency are determined by overall head design (and blade choice) and not by the type of guard, which is a design detail irrelevant to most shavers (though a man who shaves only once every week or two might prefer a comb guard).
[Ed. Note: Amazon links below are Sharpologist affiliate links. Alternate sources are readily available with a simple query on your favorite search engine.]
~$3.50 (when found on ebay, slightly higher on Amazon) – Dorco PL602. Because of its light weight (it’s made of molded plastic) and low cost, the PL602 is a good choice for a travel razor (since such razors are sometimes left behind), but it’s also good as a daily shaver. I always keep several on hand to give to men who are willing to give DE shaving a try. The PL602 is a two-piece adjustable razor: tighten all the way, then back off a fraction of a turn if you need more efficiency. (The Merkur Progress adjustable uses the same technique.) For me, the efficiency is fine with the razor fully tightened.
$6 – Baili BR171 (also available from Amazon for $11 as the BD176, which includes a case). In Canada, it’s available for CDN$9 as the RazoRock DE1. This razor has a nice design (to my eye) and good heft.
$15 – RazoRock Old Type. You can also buy the head by itself ($8) and use it with a handle you already own (one advantage of the three-piece design).
$22 — Yaqi double-open-comb camouflage. Yaqi makes a broad range of razors and brushes, and I have a second one of the double-open-comb razors (in gun-metal finish). The heads are identical, so I think you can pick any of their DOC razors and be confident that it will be very comfortable and very efficient. I picked that one because I particularly like the matching brush, which has two interchangeable knots mounted in a threaded base that screws securely into the tapped handle. One knot is a bi-color synthetic (called “Target Shot,” since it is modeled on the quadrant aiming system used in German submarines in WWII), the other an excellent silvertip badger.
$25 — Vikings Blade Chieftain. This is an exceptionally good twist-to-open razor (with a head that covers the blade’s end tabs, a plus) that comes in a gift-worthy box. It is extremely comfortable and efficient and would be a great gift to some man who so far hates shaving.
$25 – Maggard V3A head on Maggard MR11 handle (or any other handle, really). The V3A head by itself is $10. The “A” is for “aggressive,” which is misleading. Although the razor is quite efficient, it is also quite comfortable and non-threatening, though it does have a bit more blade feel than the V3, but not at all unpleasant.
$30 – Parker Semi-Slant – Razor comes with a (rather long) handle in satin chrome or graphite (color). Although a slant, it is remarkably comfortable—as comfortable as any of these—and the fit and finish are excellent.
$30 – RazoRock Lupo – Made of machined and anodized aluminum, this razor comes in three colors. The head covers the razor tabs (and the ends are rounded. It has more blade feel than some others but is quite comfortable and well-behaved.
$30 – RazoRock MJ-90A. This razor is the apotheosis of the Edwin Jagger DE89: the head is CNC machined from aluminum so the threaded stud won’t break, the blade’s end tabs are covered, the handle is stainless steel.
$30 – Maggard V2 open comb head with MR7 handle (or any other handle, really), or Parker 24C or 26C. The heads are indistinguishable. One caution: the coating on the 26C’s black handle tends to chip. These heads are plated zinc alloy.
$40 – RazoRock Baby Smooth (also available on Amazon). Made of machined aluminum alloy.
$40 – Fine Marvel. Chrome-plated zinc alloy with good heft.
$40 – Fendrihan Stainless Steel. Striking appearance, excellent heft, and fine performance.
$50 — Henson Shaving, AL13 or AL13 Medium. An unusual but highly effective design that also is quite comfortable. Head covers the blade’s end tabs, and the head shape helps you maintain a good cutting angle. Aircraft aluminum and available in various colors.
$50 – RazoRock Mamba. Made of machined stainless steel.
$55 – RazoRock Game Changer. Made of machined stainless steel. Somewhat more efficient than RazoRock Mamba but equally comfortable.
$65 – iKon 101. Head is cast aluminum alloy. (Head by itself is $40.)
$80 – Phoenix Artisan Ascension. A double-open-comb design (cap and guard both combs) available in stainless steel.
$100 – Rockwell 6S. Razor and head are stainless steel and the razor comes with 6 different baseplate “settings,” R1 through R6. These accommodate not only different degrees of beard growth but also one’s personal preference, which can change over time. And since men differ in their beards and preference, having 6 options means that different men can find the baseplate that works best for them.
Besides the conventional razors listed above, I also would recommend:
Slant razor: The iKon 102 ($40 for head by itself) or the iKon X3 ($35 for head by itself) seem best to me (and to many), with the 102 having a slight edge. These heads are cast aluminum alloy. The Merkur head (found on the Merkur 37C) is also good, and Italian Barber offers a clone, the German 37 ($20–also available on Amazon), made of zinc alloy in a three-piece design. (The 37C is a two-piece razor.) You can also buy the German 37 head by itself ($12). The Above the Tie S1 (machined stainless steel) is quite good, but it costs $185. Fatip’s Lo Storto (“The Crooked”) slant is exceptionally good. It is available with a comb guard or a bar guard, and in chrome ($33) or in gold ($40).
Adjustable razor: The Merkur Progress (Amazon link for convenience) and the Parker Variant (Amazon link for convenience) are currently the best adjustable razors. Rockwell has launched their Model T adjustable: here is Sharpologist’s review. The RazorRock Adjust twist-to-open adjustable ($15) is extremely efficient and extremely comfortable, and the default setting works fine for me [Ed. note: see Sharpologist’s review here. This razor is also available from Stirling and The Razor Company under a different brand name.]
Popular razor: The Edwin Jagger head (zinc alloy) is widely available and is quite good, though it’s not quite so comfortable as those in the list. All EJ razors have the same head design; prices vary according to the handle (Amazon link for convenience)
S Michael says
The Parker 68s is another great “first” razor. It has as far as I can tell, the same head as the Parker 24C / 26C but with a MUCH heavier stainless steel handle that is much like the iKon OSS. Even easier to use IMHO than my 26C.
Good to know. Thanks. The DE safety razor market has become extremely active as demand has increased. (It’s demand that drives companies, not supply.)
With three-piece razors, I often swap handles. My iKon X3 rides on a UFO handle, for example. That, to me, is one of the great advantages of the three-piece design.
Thomas M Quirk says
Gillette to me makes the best blade & Shick the best razor. I have been shaving for 65 years. My Da taught me with his straight razor & I moved on from there.
Edagar Fong says
I saw you recommendeded the Rockwell 6S, a $100 razor. What do think of the Rockwell 6C? My understanding is that it is identical in performance to the 6S, but at half the price ($50) since it is Chrome and not Stainless. Would that possibly be a recommendation? I have a 6C and love it, but find it to be a little on the low side of the efficiency scale, unless you use base plate 5 or 6. I think Rockwell should have shifted the design to make the 5/6 plate a 3/4 and then have an even more “aggressive” plate as the 5/6. I found the 1/2 settings to be pretty much worthless.
I haven’t tried the 6C, unfortunately, so I have no direct experience. For me, R1 and R2 are both quite efficient (using a Feather blade), and indeed the R1 with a Feather blade feels and performs just like the Feather AS-D1 (and D2). I have no trouble easily getting a BBS result with any of the baseplates.
Best informative and non schilling article yet! Has Joe been replaced?
Tom Bolt says
O.K. I am confused. Is it not the razor blade that cuts the hair on the face or is it the vehicle that cuts the hair? I have to assume there must be some quality blades. Get a bad blade and it will not make any difference whether you use a $3.00 vehicle or a $100 vehicle. The issue for me is where would you buy a quality double edge blade. I have used a Straight Edge for nearly 40 years now because I refused to pay the price for the handle and the blades. I can sharpen mine sharp enough to lay a hair on the cutting edge and slight movment slice the hair. I have seen SRs so sharp that you can simply drop a hair on the cutting edge and it will cut the hair in to. I have to believe it is the blade more than the razor carrier. If I am wrong please tell me why.
Again, I’m sorry I was unclear. It’s a three-element system—individual, (DE) razor, and (DE) blade—and changing any one can (certainly not always) take the shave from great to mediocre or vice versa.
Those who have a variety of DE razors, particularly a variety of different families (one Edwin Jagger is going to shave like any other) can try an experiment. Take several different DE razors—say, Merkur 34C, Edwin Jagger, Baili BR171, Dorco PL602, and Fatip Grande—and over several days shave with them, using the same brand of blade in each. Since in your view the razor is irrelevant to the quality of the shave, you would expect the experience of the shave to be the same for all of those, but I think most would agree that the shave experience is definitely not, even though they are all using the same brand of blade.
It is somewhat puzzling, especially since the same razor can feel and perform very differently with different brands of blades. And what works for one may or may not work for another. It’s very much as if it’s a three-element system.
More blade info in this post (and, of course, in the Guide).
Victor Marks says
Let me try and help shed some light.
DE razor blades are all sharp – if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be very good at shaving.
They are not all identical. They are produced in different factories, sharpened differently, made from different materials (carbon steel vs stainless steel) and have different coatings (titanium, platinum, teflon, among others.)
The DE blade gains its strength from being clamped in a curve. You can see this effect by holding a piece of paper in a curve and bringing your finger or a pencil to its edge as if it were a hair. The edge is stronger when the blade is curved.
The razor that holds the blade in a curve is what you’re calling the vehicle. Here, geometry makes a difference. How much curve? This changes the angle of the sharp edge in relation to the skin, something I’m sure you’re familiar with as a straight razor shaver. How much of the sharp edge of the blade is exposed across the invisible tangent drawn between the guard and the top cap? More exposure means a more dangerous razor, or one that can be potentially more irritating to the skin. Different safety razors approach this geometry a little differently, some preferring more blade exposure, some more, some twisting the blade to create a slant razor (where the blade is slanted in relation to the handle), and other variations.
The DE shaver tries several of the razors (vehicle) and finds a blade that works best in that razor for him. They aren’t all the same. There are several good ones (the purpose of this post) and several good DE blades. Blade recommendations are hard to give, only because they vary from person to person and from razor to razor. Experimentation is required. The advice I usually give is to get a sampler pack composed of blades from different manufacturers (sampling from the same manufacturer is not a wide sample.)
Tryablade.com is one place to get good sample packs. Once you find the blade you like in the razor you prefer, it’s safe to order a 100 pack elsewhere.
I have been using a double edge razor for the last two years, switching from cartridge.
One comment or possibly issue that I don’t see brought up is how your face gets accustom to the razor and blade which for me has altered the shaving experience both for the good and maybe bad.
I use ATT razor with a regular head and Feather blades. I like the feel of a heavy razor with what I believe are the sharpest blades. Been using the same water and about a year or more ago switched soaps to Tabac Original from Henry Cavendish – Himalaya.
When I first started I got quite a few light nicks and my face felt like I lost a a couple of layers of skin; a burn. The resultant skin was very smooth and the smooth feeling lasted well into the next day.
Now I rarely get nicked (good – been practicing), but while the face still feels smooth, the burn is gone (good) but the smoothness does not last as long as it did before (bad). If I shave early in the morning, I will feel light growth later by early evening. Additionally, I find that the hair on parts of my face, along the jaw line, has become harder to cut, requiring extra work and repeated lathering/shaving to clear up the area (also bad).
I think my skin and facial hair has grown used to the blade and has compensated for the “brutal” attack of the shave. I shave using a double and sometimes triple pass around every third day as I don’t need to shave daily.
Now I am contemplating getting ATT’s more aggressive head to see if that makes any difference and possibly change soaps.
On a side but related noted, when traveling I use ATT’s milder head and Arco’s shaving soap since I normally would shave every day and don’t want to risk the burn or cutting. I apply the Arco soap directly onto my face and whip up a good lather with just my fingers on the face which also massages it. This eliminates the need to carry a brush when traveling. I get a good close shave, no burn, no cuts and quite happy with the results (for traveling).
I’ve never been able to decide whether one’s face changes when he switches from cartridge to DE razor, or whether the changes noted are the result of gradually learning to use light pressure (many cartridge-razor shavers bear down to extend cartridge life), finding the optimal blade angle (totally not an issue with cartridge razors), and finding the brand of blade that works best for him in the razor he’s using. I suspect it’s the latter.
Razor burn generally results from using too much pressure and/or a bad blade angle and/or using a brand of blade that doesn’t work for you in the razor you’re using. But certainly some razors can be harsh and tend toward burn.
Feather blades work well for me in some razors, not so well in others. Interestingly, Feather blades work great for me with the Rockwell 6S in all baseplates, R1 through R6.I probably would not have tried a Feather blade in R5 or R6 but I forgot that the blade in the razor was a Feather when I used those baseplates, and it worked fine: very comfortable and very efficient.
For me, the ATT R1 is not so comfortable as those in the list, but the S1 is. The S2 was too harsh for me.
You might at some point try the iKon 102 and see what you think. It seems to me that it might extend the smoothness of my shaves a bit.
Correction, I use both the M1 for traveling and the R1 for home.
Perhaps you are right that over time, I have developed better skills and a lighter touch when shaving, but overall I think the face has adapted to the shaving equipment. Also being in my late 50’s my face is getting older at a faster rate. Things will be changing dramatically within the next 10 years. The grey hairs are definitely coarser and thicker in diameter than black hair and there are more of them now then two years ago.
In terms of the S1, are you referring to single blade base plate SE1 or the slant? Their aggressive plate is R1/R2.
Meant to say their aggressive plates are H1/H2
I meant their S1 slant head. My focus is purely on double-edge razors. I did try the H1, which was harsh for me.
Tom Bolt says
How about giving a straight razor a go. Yikes! It expensive to get started with one, the razor $100+ (I buy mine from antique dealers), next are the sharpending hones, then the strop, and oil, and the list goes on. I have somewhere near 40+ SRs and it is relaxing to keep them all in top shave sharpness.
I’ll stick to exercising my sharpening skills on my kitchen knives and pocket knives. I have no real interest in getting started with straight razors, though I do think they are often much more beautiful than double-edge razors. But double-edge razors are much more economical all round, particularly if you have your straight razor(s) professionally sharpened.
I’ve been wet shaving with DE/SE razors for a few years now with my daily driver being the single edge Mongoose II in stainless, which uses Feather Artist Club “shavette” blades.
I think within the next year or so, I’m going to take the plunge and learn how to use a straight razor.
But I wouldn’t buy a traditional straight razor in the beginning and instead would opt for a shavette with disposable blades, also known as a “straight razor with training wheels” such as the Feather shavette that uses the Artist Club blades, which are the very same blades that my Mongoose II requires.
I don’t know the first thing about honing and stropping a traditional straight razor and I don’t want to pay through the nose for a quality straight razor before I learn how to use it properly.
Thanks for the comment. In this round-up I focused solely on DE razors, so SE razors went unmentioned.
Thomas B. Goodman says
Are One Blade Core and Supply injector razors not included because they are single edge?
Thanks for all you do. Great blog!
Yes, the list is focused on double-edge safety razors (as is the Guide). I have used the One Blade (the original, not the core), and I had at one time two Mongoose razors as well. I finally decided that I definitely preferred the double-edge format for various reasons (greater selection of blades, more lather capacity by being able to flip the razor to the other edge when I moved from one side of my face to the other). I do recognize that some prefer a single-edge razor, but I decided to stick with double-edge.
The Edwin Jagger not comfortable, really?
The Fatip Grande uncomfortable?
Somebody needs to work on their technique…
I’m sorry I was unclear: the Edwin Jagger is indeed comfortable, and noticeably more comfortable than the Merkur 34C (as noted in this post), which makes sense: the Edwin Jagger used a Merkur head until they replaced the Merkur head with the new (now current) design they developed in cooperation with Mühle: naturally enough, one obvious design goal would be to have an improved head (in terms of both comfort and efficiency).
However—and I’m sure you understand this—”comfort” represents a range (thus the axis). Rather than a there being only two possibilities—comfortable or uncomfortable—the range allows for a razor to be more comfortable than some and less comfortable than others, which most will notice if they use a variety of razors. Thus, for me, the Edwin Jagger is noticeably more comfortable than the Merkur 34C and (as I said) “not quite so comfortable as those in the list.”
You seem to have read that statement as saying that the Edwin Jagger is actually uncomfortable, which it is not (and I did not say it was).
Yes, for me the Fatip Grande is substantially less comfortable than the Fatip Testina Gentile. And, as I mentioned in the article, men whose technique is impeccable may like the Fatip Grande. I don’t, but I truly love the Fatip Testina Gentile, which is also extremely efficient. In fact, I gave each of my son’s three boys a Testina Gentile for when they begin to shave (and it’s nice that the razor is available in three finishes: chrome, black chrome, and gold).
Great write-up! I know I’ve said it before, but the Parker 24C has been my go-to for a solid two years now. I was fortunate to get it while it was still $24.
I also like the 24C (and Maggard V2OC). You might give the RazoRock Old Type a try sometime and see what you think of that.
I may have to check out that Old Type. Thanks for the suggestion.
Note the “head alone option.” In fact, you could order the Baili BR171, sold by Italian Barber as “DE 1” for $7: link.
Then for $8 you can get the RazoRock Old Type head by itself.
So for $15, TWO excellent new razors, since I think the Old Type head could be used with the Baili handle.
Good tip! Thanks.
Very informative and accurate article.
Thank you. Hope it’s useful in pointing out some razors that might be otherwise overlooked.