Last updated on December 5th, 2018 by Garrick Dee
In terms of versatility it is hard to beat an adjustable safety razor.
It gives you the ability to increase or decrease blade exposure.
This flexibility allows you to have a mild or aggressive shave depending on your needs or beard type.
These razors use a twisting mechanism usually located on the handle with corresponding numbers on them that signify how mild or aggressive it is.
What’s great about having an adjustable setting is the flexibility it gives you.
Use the aggressive setting while shaving with the grain and the lower setting while going against it.
You can do this with just one product.
A little history
An adjustable razor isn’t a new concept. The first adjustable manufactured was the “Fat Boy 195” by Gillette between 1958 and 1961.
It sold for $1.95 back then and it is where it got its name the 195.
In terms of variety, there isn’t really much. You’ll only have a few options and all of them come from the same brand – the Merkur. So without further ado, the best adjustable razors in the market.
If you’re looking for a no-frills razor that still maintains the classic look of a fixed head safety razor, look further than the Merkur Progress.
At first glance, it looks almost like the Edwin Jagger DE89 with the silky smooth handle but there is a glaring difference.
If you look at the bottom it has a beige colored knob that serves two purposes.
First, the knob allows you to adjust the aggressiveness and second, it provides the only grip since it is slightly wider than the handle.
The adjustment knob gives you five adjustment settings from 1 to 5 so it covers a wide range of shaving needs.
The lowest setting allows newbies to use this with the right blade of course and at the higher setting, it will help mow down a 4 or 5 day beard growth – great if you’re in a hurry.
- Simplicity makes it easy to maintain
- Loading the blade is easy thanks to the two piece design
- 5 adjustable settings
- Inconsistency from product to product in terms of the alignment of the adjustment knob
- Fairly expensive compared to other non-adjustable razors
- It does not have any knurling which makes it slippery
Keeping it simple
Plus the simplicity of the design makes this appealing because it will need less maintenance than let’s say a more complicated razor like the Vision.
But there are some quirks that you need to know before buying this – some of which can be annoying but it didn’t stop it from being a daily razor by experts like the Sharpologist.
The first quirk would be the installation of the blade.
Since this is an adjustable, you’d have to make sure that notches are on the same side when loading the blade. If you miss this step, the blades may not align properly.
If these don’t line up, the mechanism will not function properly and you will not have a good shave.
Second quirk would be holding the top of the razor when you tighten it – you need to do this to ensure that blade exposure is even on both sides.
The last quirk – the one which annoys a lot of users is the number 1 will not align with the dot when you try to set it at the lowest setting.
These are just manufacturing tolerances that does not affect shave quality.
You could align it yourself by twisting the handle itself but this could void the warranty something I would not recommend doing.
In terms of the shave quality, this razor performs. The main selling point is the flexibility which allows you to go from mild all the way to aggressive with just a few turns.
This can work for a newbie who wants to invest in an adjustable but only use the lowest setting, as you get comfortable and gain a more solid technique you can slowly amp up the aggressiveness setting.
The bottom line:
The Progress is a classic looking razor with an adjustable feature that gives it a flexibility not found in other fixed head razors. What I like about it is the simple design that’s easy to maintain.
If a classic looking razor does not fit your taste and you want something that looks flashy, the Merkur Futur is the razor for you.
It’s not like any razor out there in the market today period.
The Futur has 6 settings. One more than the Progress. So at the highest setting it is more aggressive.
If you have the balls and go to the maximum setting, it can mow down even the coarsest beard in less than 3 passes that would also depend on the blade you put in.
From head to handle, this razor screams Futur-istic but I must warn you, this razor is huge, around 4 inches long. Not only that the head is bulky weighing 90 grams.
- The clip on top make it easy to load the blade – perhaps easier than the progress
- 6 adjustment settings gives you a lot of flexibility
- Gives a very good shave
- Relatively easy to clean
- Long handle make it easier to transition from cartridge razors to de razors
- Twisting the adjustment knob can be dangerous if you are not careful
- Large head makes it hard to shave in the nose and lip area
- Slippery handle
- This is an expensive DE razor
Loading the blade also can be tricky and can be dangerous if you’re not careful.
Instead of utilizing any of the standard mechanisms that other variants here use– a two piece design and a twist to open. The Futur uses a clip on design where you can remove it by popping it out.
Another quirk would be adjusting the setting. Since it does not have any knurling, it does not provide a lot of grip. Avoid doing it with wet hands or you’d risk cutting your fingers.
Make sure you to dry your hands and hold the head on the sides when adjusting the setting.
The bottom line
The Futur is a great alternative if you want to be different from the shaving crowd. It has a large handle suitable for men with big hands. Six settings gives it a level of flexibility not found in other safety razors.
Another reason to buy this is the extra setting that makes it more aggressive than the Progress – if you’re brave enough!
If you think the Futur is futuristic looking then you haven’t see the Merkur Vision.
It’s the bigger sibling of the Futur and perhaps the most advanced DE razor right now.
Great for men with big mitts
For men you who have big mitts, this is a great option because it’s close to 5 inches long.
When I say advanced, I mean inner workings of this precision crafted shaving instrument.
Easy to load
Apart from being an adjustable razor, it also utilizes a twist to open design. This is the most complicated in terms of architecture.
The complexity of the design makes this easy to use but also hard to maintain.
Merkur recommends disassembling this expensive piece of machinery every time you unload the blade which is time consuming.
- Easy to load the blade
- Excellent fit and finish
- Adjustable setting make this versatile
- Very expensive
- This razor is huge and you can have trouble shaving tight spots
- Adjustment settings does not have a number instead it uses the word V I S I O N
- Hard to clean
- Slippery – no knurling
But when it comes to the nitty gritty, the Vision will shave very well on a one day or five day growth. It can tackle it without any problem.
Get it while supplies last
If you want to get your hands to one of these, you better act now because it won’t be in the market for long.
Merkur has discontinued production probably due to the complexity in terms of production cost and price.
It’s simply too expensive and with cheaper options like the Futur and Vision. It’s really hard spending $150 for that’s hard to clean. This isn’t an everyday razor by any means.
The bottom line
The twist-to-open mechanism makes this the easiest to load adjustable. But that very thing that makes it easy to use has a very complex architecture that makes it difficult to clean.
Unfortunately, Merkur pretty much dominates the market for adjustable razors and really you have two options – the Futur and the Progress.
The first alternative is actually a Merkur Progress with a modified knob at the bottom.
One of the biggest complaints by Progress owners is the plastic knob that doesn’t turn as smoothly as they’d like. It also ruins the classic look of an otherwise good looking shaver.
So artisans took advantage of this, and modified it and sold it for a profit. Many of them have come and gone but there are a few who flourished.
One of the most popular of these artisans is Eric Maier who’s man behind the Mergress – perhaps the most popular “modified” Merkur Progress.
Eric uses stainless steel knob with colored adjustable dots while re-calibrating the internals to smoothen it out.
All of his products are available in Bullgoose Shaving but for a premium price.
Going Retro: Gillette Fat Boy
If you don’t mind buying something second-hand, the have a long look at the Gillette Fat Boy.
I’ve already shared this earlier in this article about the Gillette Fat Boy and I’ll talk about it more in detail here.
The Fat Boy (or FB) had a very short production cycle between 1959 and 1961. Only 3 short years but it remains popular now perhaps because of the rarity.
The best place to buy these beauties is on ebay for as cheap as $20++ to as much as $180++.
Remember that condition will vary and you’ll have to do due diligence by checking the condition with the seller before buying.
Always ask the seller if returns are possible just in case you don’t like the product.
You can also buy refurbished units in sites like Executive Shaving and have the security of it being in good condition.
Let’s go to the features. The Fat Boy has 9 adjustable settings but this isn’t as aggressive as the Futur.
If you put it in the same setting, let’s say a 5 on the Fat Boy and Futur, the Futur will reveal more of the blade. This means it will provide a more aggressive shave.
The bottom line
If you’re a collector and don’t mind scouring through Ebay looking for a pristine-conditioned Fat Boy then by all means go for it.
This product is all about nostalgia. It is still a good product but not as aggressive as other adjustable razors here.
The beauty of adjustable razors is that it will handle any type of beard from very coarse to normal because it gives you the ability to adjust the aggressiveness.
Set it on the lowest setting you’ll have a mild razor that is suitable for beginners. But when you crank it up to the middle settings and above. That’s where the fun begins for experienced wet shavers.
If you shave everyday of course you’d leave it in the lower settings but if you’re very busy and don’t have the time to shave every day, you can use the higher settings to mow down facial hair in 3 passes or less.
The key here is finding the right blade to go with your adjustable.
The first time I published this review a couple of years back, only Merkur made adjustable DE razors.
But right now there are a other brands that came that joined the fray.
A few of them include Parker, QShave, Rockwell and Vikings Blade to name a few.
There are some 3 important things to look at when choosing one.
1. Blade loading
Different models offer different ways to load the blade. The Merkur Progress and Parker Variant are two piece safety razors that loads quite safety.
Aligning the blade isn’t hard because of the guide posts on the top bar where that line up with the double edged blade.
Others like the Merkur Vision and the Vikings Blade Crusader use butterfly doors to load the blade. This feature is the easiest to load because you don’t have to disassemble anything. But it has the most moving parts so it may not last as long as a simpler two piece design.
And there are others that use a clip-on cover on top to hold the blade in place. The Merkur Futur and QShave adjustable have this type of loading mechanism. It’s not hard to load the blade but if for some reason you drop the razor, the top can pop off along with the blade which can be hard to retrieve off the floor.
2. Level of adjustability
The number of adjustment points will tell you how aggressive or mild the razor can be. In most cases you will not use the highest setting because there’s too much blade exposure.
Some brands do not have fixed settings (e.g. setting 1, 2, 3 and so forth) but use a progressive adjustable design. These razors are a harder to use because you’ll have to guess what setting is aggressive and vice versa.
The price of a reputable adjustable will range between $20 and $150. So choose something that’s close to what you’re willing to spend.
In my opinion you have only two options here – the Futur or Progress.
The Merkur Progress is great for men looking for a classing looking adjustable without enough settings to shave mild or aggressive.
The Futur is a different beast. It’s slightly more aggressive than the Progress and larger. If you’re looking for something different or need something bigger – this would be a good option.
The other two options are pretty redundant when you look at the features. A Gillette Fat Boy is similar to the Progress, only it is less aggressive and harder to find.
You can look for one at EBay but you’ll need to spend time to ensure quality and expect to pay a premium for this vintage razor.
The Vision was discontinued by Merkur because it’s too complex and expensive to produce. You could get a similar product for less with the Futur.
Garrick spends his days researching and writing about grooming. When he’s not in front of his computer, you can find him hanging around with his wife and son.