by Garrick Dee
Updated April 10th, 2019
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.
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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.
The Best Adjustable Razor: Merkur Progress
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
- Relatively 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 Merkur 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 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.
The 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 do 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 robust technique you can slowly ramp up the aggressiveness setting.
Lifetime Warranty: Rockwell 6C Adjustable
Rarely does a new brand make a splash in the tight, specialized market such as this.
It’s the only brand I can think of that kind of coverage.
Unlike all the razors in this list that use a knob to bend the blade, Rockwell utilizes different base plates to adjust the level of aggressiveness.
The simple design makes this simpler to use and clean. And the simpler the design, the longer it will last.
The Rockwell 6C is, in my opinion, provides the best value because of its price and level of adjustability.
Look at this diagram to see how Rockwell founders, Morgan Nordstrom, and Gareth Everard designed it.
The 6C comes with three base plates with a flippable system that gives it a total of six levels of adjustability.
In essence, this is a three-piece razor with two additional base plates. Take note that the 6C and 6S are the same products in terms of design.
The difference would be that the 6C has a chrome finish while the 6S is stainless steel.
Wet shavers love how the Rockwell 6C cuts their facial hair.
Pair this with a sharp razor like Feather, and you’ll be able to cut multi-day beard growth down to a baby butt smooth finish in three passes.
- The three-piece design makes it easy to clean
- Solid workmanship
- Lifetime-guarantee offers lots of peace of mind
- It has six levels of adjustability that gives you a wide range of options
- There are some complaints about sub-standard quality
Its adjustability (up to six levels) is another strong point with the extra base plates. You can go aggressive or mild depending on your skill level and preference.
The beauty of the three-piece design is that it is easy to clean which bodes well for its longevity.
Parker Variant Adjustable
If you’re shopping for an adjustable razor prior to 2016, you’ll probably be limited to a single brand – the Merkur. Fortunately, other brands have stepped up their game and have provided us with options.
The Parker Variant Adjustable is one good example of a great Merkur Progress alternative that’s cheaper.
It also has features that address several issues that the Merkur Progress had.
- Excellent weight and balance
- Has an all-metal finish and that includes the knob
- The handle has a crisscross knurling that provides great grip
- Steeper learning curve compared to a standard two or three-piece razor
- Fairly expensive for a safety razor
One of which is the handle that has lots of knurling – even the knob has it.
In terms of design, the Parker Variant and Merkur Progress are similar – two-piece adjustable razors with a knob at the bottom.
There are five levels of aggressiveness (1 to 5) which makes it very versatile.
Weight and balance point is another strong points as this razor has an all-metal construction – even the knob.
You don’t have to put a lot of pressure since this razor has a lot of it.
If you read the reviews, men say that this is Parker’s best product to date in terms of quality.
The actual shaving is also top-notched and the adjustability gives you a lot more options.
Futur-istic: Merkur Futur
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 Futuristic, but I must warn you, this razor is enormous, around 4 inches long. Not only that the head is bulky weighing 90 grams.
- The clip on top makes it easy to load the blade – perhaps easier than the progress
- 6 adjustment settings give you a lot of flexibility
- Gives an excellent shave
- Relatively easy to clean
- The long handle makes 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.
Most High Tech: Merkur Vision
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 double-edged razor right now.
Great for men with big mitts
For men you who have big hands, this is an excellent 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 enormous, and you can have trouble shaving tight spots
- Adjustment settings do 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 just 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.
Unfortunately, Merkur pretty much dominates the market for adjustable razors and indeed 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 the man behind the Mergress – perhaps the most popular “modified” Merkur Progress.
Eric uses a 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, then 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 status 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 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 every day, of course, you will 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 other brands came that joined the fray.
A few of them include Parker, QShave, Rockwell and Vikings Blade to name a few.
There are some 3 essential 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’s easy to load.
Aligning the blade isn’t hard because of the guideposts 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 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 bigger. If you’re looking for something different or need something more substantial – 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 the time to ensure quality and expect to pay a premium for this vintage razor.
The Vision was discontinued by Merkur because it’s too complicated and expensive to produce. You could get a similar product for less with the Futur.