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From Progress to Variant and Back Again

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I started my use of an adjustable razor with the venerable Merkur Progress. I loved that thing. It shaved me comfortably and well. Was it perfect? No. No razor is. Then along came the Parker Variant and given the rave reviews I read by folks who were also Progress users, I jumped on the band wagon and got a Variant (black handle). I found it easier to hold/control which I attributed to the knurled handle. It was a more aggressive razor, but I was willing to accept that. Even dialed down to 1, it was more aggressive than my Progress at 1. Nonetheless, I sold off the Progress and was content with the Variant.

I only have a few DE razors. My first DE was the Merkur 34c which I keep because it was my first and because on the occasion that I run into someone interested in trying DE shaving, I think it a perfect loaner for them to try. However, I found I preferred a longer handle once I tried the Merkur Barber Pole. I progressed from the Barber Pole (selling it off) and fell in love with my new Merkur Sledgehammer slant. What a close comfortable shave I got with it. I know it’s described as tending to be a more aggressive razor, but I found it gave me a slightly closer shave with little to no feeling of additional aggressiveness compared to my Barber Pole. Go figure.

Then I went through my Progress to Variant shift and settled on mostly shaving with my Sledgehammer with occasional forays with the Variant. I recently asked myself why I was hanging onto the Variant when clearly it wasn’t as comfortable to use as the Sledgehammer. So I stopped and thought more deeply about the Progress vs Variant issue. I came to the suspicion that I might prefer the Progress over the Variant if I’d gone to the long handled version. I decided to give it a try.

I recently got the long handled Progress and found the handle change made all the difference for me. I loved the feeling of how it handled. To me, it was much more secure than my short handled Progress had been. I did head to head comparisons with the Variant. First, I shaved on alternate days with one then the other razor with the same blade. Then I did a same day comparison shaving one half my face with the Progress and the other half with the Variant.

I think I get a slightly better shave with the Progress, but would not put money on my confidence in that statement ? By the way, my technique involves a 2 pass shave starting on setting 1 and then using setting 3. Both razors did a fine job and I think do a marginally better job compared to my Sledgehammer. The difference is that the Progress (and Sledgehammer) feel like much smoother shaves as I did them than the more aggressive Variant provided. I’ll be sticking with my long handled Progress.

I think this experience shows the importance of considering the multiple factors that can affect of a razor’s performance. In my case, I was willing to give up my comfortable Progress (short handle) shave for the more secure feeling of the Variant knurled handle. What I initially failed to consider was that the handling of the Variant was not just due to the knurled handle, but also it’s additional length, which I’d found I preferred in my earlier shift from the Merkur Classic to its big brother, the Barber Pole.

I now have a long handled Progress (Amazon affiliate link) that for me solved what was admittedly a minor handling issue I’d felt with the short handled version. I’d given up a shave that for me was smoother (in execution) with a Progress for a slightly more aggressive feeling shave with the Variant without considering I could have solved the problem with a long handled Progress and its more comfortable shave. I finally got there with this experience and am again finding my Progress to be my favorite razor.

The point of this is recognizing the importance of keeping all the factors important to you in mind when judging the performance of a particular razor. With all the long-short handle versions of the same razors available, don’t overlook that factor as one that can take your shave experience up a notch without having to give up anything.

Author Profile: I’m a reformed electric razor user who started wet shaving with a DE razor in early 2014. I’ve progressed through cutthroat and Rolls straight razors but my favorite tools are my Long Handled Merkur Progress and Merkur Slant (Sledgehammer).  Once I’ve achieved a clean shave, I go on to enjoy photography, astronomy, woodturning, and a number of other fun pastimes.

Steve Berté

Steve Berté

6 thoughts on “From Progress to Variant and Back Again”

  1. Everyone says the heads on both these razors are the same. Not true. The Progress head is slimmer and easier for me to find the proper angle to shave with. I found the balance of the Progress, (both short and long handle versions) to be much better and more natural feeling. The Progress feels like an extension of my hand while the Variant feels awkward and clumsy to me.

    1. Interesting observation! I’m just the opposite: I think the Progress is more awkward than the Variant. 🙂

  2. My problem with the Merkur Progress and practically any Merkur razor I ever bought was that the plating on the head started to chip after a very short time. Has Merkur ever fixed this?

  3. Completely agree! Had mostly short handle Merkur razors and thought I loved short handles. When I got the Variant, I fell in love at first. It does check all the boxes, good weight, had the knurling the progress didnt have, nice audible shave, didnt mind the length either but something was off.
    Months went by and I noticed I never had a “perfect” shave. There was either too much neck irritation, razor burn, nicks etc. I thought it was and tried everything to make it work, multiple types of razor blades, starting on a high setting and ending low, reversed it, all combos of aggressiveness, changed directions, nothing.
    Then my Variant broke, so I decided to go back to the brand that never let me down. Got the Progress a few days ago and already had two perfect shaves. Turns out long handles were the way to go for me too. As much as I wanted to love the Variant, it breaking was the best thing for me and my face!

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