The availability of the adjustable safety razor, once relegated to a niche’ within a niche’, has recently expanded with a number of new models available over the past couple of years. How do they work, who is making them, and how well do they perform? Is the adjustable safety razor now finally something to consider as mainstream in traditional wet shaving? This is a major update of an article originally posted a couple years ago!
How Does An Adjustable Safety Razor Work?
What does an adjustable safety razor adjust? There are a number of specifications that go into the design of a razor’s head, but two important ones are probably blade gap (the distance between the blade and base plate of the razor, between the “A” and “C” points of the image above) and blade exposure (the blade sticking out and touching the skin from the top cap of the razor, between points “A” and “B” above). Adjustable safety razor settings can vary the blade gap to some degree.
The blade gap interacts with the blade exposure to create a milder or a more aggressive shave.
Vintage Adjustable Safety Razor History – Back In The Day…
The history of the adjustable safety razor is interesting, but ultimately considered a minor aspect of the over-all market. There were very few examples of an adjustable safety razor over the years. The original Gillette adjustable safety razor, the “Toggle,” morphed into a few different models. Schick (and later PAL) had a single adjustable model for the Injector blade in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Merkur produced the Progress beginning in the 1950’s, the Futur beginning in the 1980’s (more on those two below), and the ridiculously over-engineered (and yet surprisingly fragile) Merkur Vision 2000 adjustable safety razor for a short time around the year 2000.
And that was about it.
But Now There Are Many More Continuously Adjustable Safety Razors
However, more recently there has been renewed interest in the adjustable safety razor. There are new razors with blade exposure that can be continuously adjusted within a range of settings. Let’s take a look at razors you can purchase right now (note that Amazon and West Coast Shaving links are affiliate. Geni.us links may be affiliate).
The Merkur Progress adjustable safety razor design has been around since 1955 and is largely unchanged, at least visually, though there have been a few minor internal engineering tweaks over the years. It was my first adjustable safety razor and in fact became my pry-it-out-of-my-cold-dead-hands favorite for many years. You can find many reviews with a simple query of your favorite search engine. Click/tap here to read my own Merkur Progress review.
The Progress has its quirks: the handle is too smooth for some and the look of the adjustment dial seems incongruous to many (check out the “Mergress” after-market options). But the razor’s performance far outweighed the “ugly duckling” looks many.
The Merkur Futur adjustable safety razor was launched in 1985. It boasts a sleek, modern look, and an unusual “pop off” head design. Personally, I think a lot of the Futur’s popularity comes from the fact that it is (reasonably) widely available and it looks cool. This is another razor you can find many reviews of with a simple search engine query.
I have some problems with the design, though. The un-textured handle can make holding the razor awkward. The the razor’s large(-ish) head can make getting into tight areas like under the nose a challenge. And the “window” of the adjustment range is biased a bit high for some who wish the low end of the range was even lower/milder.
However it is well built and a lot of Futur users find it gives them many years of great shaves. Click/tap here to check out my review of the Merkur Futur adjustable double edge safety razor.
Introduced in 2016, the Parker Variant adjustable safety razor addressed the ergonomic shortcomings that many (including myself) found in the Merkur Progress. Check my Parker Variant review for a complete run-down. But basically the Variant has a slightly longer (than the Progress 500), much better-textured handle, and a better-looking adjustment dial.
But more importantly the Parker adjustable safety razor may have opened the minds of other artisans and manufacturers to the possibility that the adjustable safety razor market was one worth considering.
Ming Shi 2000S (Qshave Adjustable)
A year after the Parker Variant was launched, Far-East manufacturer Ming Shi launched the Ming Shi 2000S adjustable safety razor. Qshave re-branded the 2000S as the Qshave Adjustable, making it a clone of a copy. The Ming Shi/Qshave clearly takes its inspiration from the Merkur Futur:
Although visually quite similar there are some aspects of the 2000S that set it apart from the Futur. This razor has a wider range of adjustment compared to the Futur, especially at the low end. And as you might expect at the price point, the Ming Shi/Qshave does “cut a few corners” in manufacturing. For example, the dial markings are painted on instead of etched in like the Futur. Some users report the printed dial numbers wear off after extended use.
My experience with the Qshave is actually quite positive–I think it shaves me better than the Futur! Although the handle is still smooth its smaller diameter seems to help me keep a more secure grip. And while the razor’s head is still relatively large, the wider adjustment range (vs. the Futur, especially at the mild end) gives it better performance for me. The razor’s quality control reputation is still a cause for concern to me though. Pay a bit more for the Qshave version which as gone through some additional QC checks if build quality is a concern; buy the Ming Shi version for a lower price.
This razor is also being “OEM’d” under a number of other brands including Van Der Hagen, River Lake, Shave Factory, and others.
The Qshave Parthenon, Vikings Blade Crusader, and Weishi Nostalgic razors (see the Crusader and Nostalgic sections below), all launched in 2018, appear to be based on the same basic twist-to-open (TTO) or butterfly adjustable safety razor head design. However each has their own “personality.” The initial Parthenon’s distinction was its aggressiveness. At its mildest (HA!) setting the Parthenon was quite aggressive. At the high end it was positively ludicrous.
A few months later Qshave released “version 2.0” of the Parthenon that was “toned down” considerably. Check out my review of the 2.0 version.
Vikings Blade Crusader
As I mentioned previously, the Vikings Blade Crusader adjustable safety razor appears to me to be based on the same general design as the Parthenon and the Nostalgic, but each has their own tweak. The Crusader’s distinction is an “asymmetrical head” with a standard safety bar on one side and a scalloped safety bar on the other. The optimist in me thinks the different head side design could provide additional, subtle variables in the shave in addition to simply adjusting the blade gap. The cynic in me thinks the design could “cover up” uneven blade alignment due to poor engineering or manufacturing.
And unlike other adjustable safety razor adjustment dials, the Crusader does not have any numeric markings. Just arrows pointing ‘this way for less gap’.
In my own use, this lack of numeric ‘signposts’ makes it more difficult for me to dial into the best settings for my shave compared to other adjustable razors. I don’t notice any difference in the shave based on the “asymmetrical head.” The low end of the adjustment razor was not low enough for my personal preference (but it is probably fine for most people).
However, despite these details I did not personally care for, I found the over-all shave experience to be good.
Weishi Nostalgic Adjustable
The Weishi Nostalgic Adjustable safety razor is the third of the triplets mentioned here and my favorite of the three. (note that there is a non-adjustable “Weishi Nostalgic” as well, so be sure to read product descriptions carefully). It seems to me that more thought was put into the design details this razor features.
While the Weishi is the same general size as the Qshave and the Viking’s, I think it is the most user friendly design, with a “grippier” handle, contrasting color scheme (for higher-visibility numbers on the adjustment dial), better balance, and a wider range of adjustment (particularly at the low end of the scale–this razor can get very mild indeed).
I have found that the Weishi’s head may clog a bit when used with a thick lather. And the razor’s long-term durability is a concern to me…time will tell. But my shaves with the Weishi have been very good–about equal that of the other adjustable razors I use regularly that cost much more.
Like the Qshave, the Weishi adjustable is available as an OEM product so you will see similar-looking models under a number of different brand names.
Viking’s Blade Emperor (And Augustus, Meiji)
According to the Vikings Blade website the Emperor is their “most technical” safety razor. It’s a relatively large, heavy razor, coming in at 134 grams and 110 mm in length.
There are two cosmetic versions, the standard Emperor in a “Frosted Chrome” color and the Emperor Augustus edition in “vintage bronze and cognac” colors (both use the relatively common brass/Zamak construction underneath). I have the Augustus edition. Viking’s Blade notes to “[t]horoughly towel-dry the razor after use to maintain the cognac plating.”
Engineering-wise, there have been a few tweaks compared to the earlier Crusader model. “Special ANTI-Misalignment mechanism which TRAPS the doors if users mis-align the blade to prevent uneven cuts. Hold razor upright while loading blade and closing razor to ensure doors won’t be trapped.“
The Crusader’s dual comb head design continues on the Emperor: one side has a scalloped safety bar, while the other side has a smooth safety bar.
I can’t help but compare the shaves I have with the Emperor razor to the shaves I have with the Crusader razor. First, it appears that the low end of the adjustment range of the Emperor is milder than the Crusader but the top end is about the same to me, so the adjustable window seems to be wider. I like mild razors (and adjustable razors in general!) so this is a good thing for me. Unlike the Crusader, the adjustment settings on the Emperor are printed (though not etched like a Merkur Futur) so it was easy for me to lock in the correct setting for each pass of my shave.
I couldn’t detect any difference between the sides of the dual head head design on the Crusader but I can definitely feel a difference with the Emperor. The smooth safety bar gives me a smoother-feeling shave with less blade feel, while I get noticeably more blade feel using the scalloped side, given the same adjustment setting. However I couldn’t tell any actual difference in the amount of stubble reduction from either side–it’s more of a feedback kind of thing to me.
The handle texturing is nicely “grippy” and I don’t have any problems with the razor slipping through my fingers.
Finally, the head design of the Emperor has been tweaked for easier rinsing and less clogging. Blade alignment has not been an issue for me.
Overall I get nice shaves from the Emperor.
Now in its second design design revision, the Rex Ambassador adjustable safety razor is a premium, artisan-made razor. Although physically a bit smaller than some other razors in this roundup, it is a high-end, stainless steel adjustable safety razor and individually serial-numbered following the old Gillette manufacturing code. The razor’s head is noticeably thinner than competing products, making detail work like shaving under the nose easier.
See my review of the Rex Ambassador on Sharpologist for more detail.
Rex is promising an adjustable slant-bar razor for early 2022!
Rockwell Model T2
After a multi-year wait from a crowdfunding campaign, the Rockwell Model T adjustable safety razor launched a couple years ago but reviews were quite mixed. In 2021 Rockwell re-designed the razor and launched the T2. The original T adjustment range was biased quite high: I am able to dial the T2 down to noticeably milder setting. One very noticeable aspect of the Rockwell T2 adjustable razor is the excellent water flow-through in the razor head.
Earlier versions of the Pearl Flexi adjustable razor had design and build issues, particularly with blade gap and alignment. These appear to have been solved.
The Flexi seems to be positioning itself as a mid-point razor–offering more design details like a serial number and upgraded metallurgy–but not quite into the “premium” category.
Unlike the Progress and Variant (where the bottom dial also adjusts the razor) the Flexi has a second dial under the head for adjustment. I find the adjustment dial easy to use even with hands during a shave and the adjustment range quite wide. If you are a shaver who likes to adjust a razor “on the fly” you shouldn’t have any trouble with the Flexi.
The Tatara Muramasa adjustable razor from Portugal represents some really interesting design and engineering aspects. At US $400 it is also one of the most expensive adjustable razors on this list.
The adjustment dial adjustment marking window is very small but the adjustment range of the razor is reasonably wide (biased slightly toward the mild side). The handle of the Muramasa continues the “golf ball dimples” design of Tatara razors that distinguish it from others. It looks like it wouldn’t provide a decent grasp but I find it works quite well.
Baili/Italian Barber/Stirling Adjustable
The razor’s larger head made detail areas like under the nose a bit more of a challenge, there’s a little rattle from the internal mechanics, and I noticed the “sweet spot” for the best blade angle may be just a bit narrower than other razors. But after a little while I was able to figure it all out. Nothing here is a deal-breaker, especially for the low price.
The Rocnel Sailor Series Adjustable razor traces its origins back to the collaboration between Murat of Rocnel razors and Hasan Kose of Barbaros razors in 2016. It was the first machined stainless steel adjustable razor on the market.
Murat further refined the Sailor Series adjustable razor. The 2022 Limited Edition Sailor Series Razor (available through Bullgoose Shaving) sports a polished brass ring and comes with an 80mm handle. The adjustment mechanism is a continuous adjustment (no set clicks): it is marked with an M and an A (for ‘mild’ and ‘aggressive’) so that you can get your bearings but in reality, you can actually go two full turns past A.
Yaqi Adjustable Safety Razor “The Final Cut”
Another adjustable razor I know about but have not tried yet is “The Final Cut” razor from Yaqi, available shipped from China via Aliexpress.
Parker Adjustable Injector
Launched in December, 2020 is the Parker Adjustable Injector. Using “Injector” single-edge blades rather than the double edge blades in the razors listed above, Parker was inspired by the vintage Schick Injector. The actual adjustment is lateral instead of vertical like the double edge razors listed above. For more information click/tap here to read about the Parker Adjustable Injector Razor.
Shaving With An Adjustable Safety Razor
Versatility distinguishes an adjustable safety razor vs non adjustable models. They can be used to not only tailor a shave to your specific circumstances, they can also 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. See: How To Use An Adjustable Razor Most Effectively
Other Safety Razors That Are Adjustable In Some Fashion
All of the razors above are fully adjustable safety razor designs. They are continuously variable within a wide range. There are also some razors that may offer adjustable elements without a continuously variable design or to a narrower degree.
The Feather Adjustable safety razor is relatively new to the market (and may be difficult to find, though I bought one from Amazon. It is a relatively inexpensive razor with two settings, “1” and “2.” Setting “1” is extremely mild while setting “2” is more middle-of-the-road. Like the Feather Popular and Feather AS-D2 razors, I find that the Feather Adjustable pairs very well with a Feather blade: the very mild setting needs a high-efficiency blade to perform well.
Multi Base Plate Razors
Rockwell started the multi base plate razor trend with a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign in 2014 by offering a set of base plates, each with a different blade gap design. The 6S is stainless steel while the 6C is the more common and lower-cost “chrome” (pot metal). Here is my review of the Rockwell 6S adjustable stainless steel safety razor I wrote for Sharpologist a few years ago.
Other razor producers have applied Rockwell’s multi-plate concept by offering additional base plates to their razors. Above The Tie has offered different plates for many of their razors. The Karve Christopher Bradley razor can be purchased with one or more plates made for that razor (check out my article about the Christopher Bradley razor for more detail). I’m sure there are more examples extant!
What Is The Best Adjustable Double Edge Safety Razor?
Of course everyone has their preferences, but I’ve used quite a few razors in my time and I definitely have some favorites for “best” adjustable safety razor.
For pure performance, regardless of price, I have to go with the Rex Ambassador. As you should expect from an artisan-made, premium-priced razor the Ambassador is exceptionally well engineered, well-built, and well-balanced.
For a lower-cost adjustable safety razor that still gives good performance I would consider the Weishi Nostalgic Adjustable or the Baili/Stirling/RazoRock the ones to look at.
The best “semi adjustable” for me is going to be the Rockwell 6S.
There is now no longer a real reason not to try an adjustable razor: they are available with a variety of handles, head styles, and price points.
What do you think about adjustable razors? Be sure to share this article and leave a comment below!