Last updated on December 5th, 2018 by Garrick Dee
In this long guide (over 5,000 words! phew), I’ll be talking about the best safety razors, features to look out for, tips on getting a great shave and much more!
Beared or not, there’s no way around it, every man needs to shave.
The problem is finding the right razor.
A multi-blade razor may cut close but these can be expensive over the long haul.
These multi-blade shavers is also a source or irritation, razor burn and ingrown hair.
A good safety razor like the Merkur 34C may be the solution to that constant irritation and I’ll show you 7 of the best options available right now.
If you’re planning on buying a double edged razor for the first time and don’t want to spend a lot, I have a separate section for budget safety razors.
The biggest stumbling block for anyone would be the steeper learning curve versus a cartridge razor.
Over the past few decades cartridge razors have dominated the shaving market because frankly these products are very easy to use.
It started with the 2-blade then it slowly progressed to a 3-blade, 4-blade, 5-blade and now even a 6-blade razor (from Dorco).
A little history…
William S. Henson invented the safety razor in 1847. But it isn’t anything remotely close to modern DE razors we have today.
King Camp Gillette conceived disposable razor blade on spring morning in 1895. In 1899 he filed the first patent calling it “new in the art of razor manufacture and use”. This was a precursor to the modern safety razors we have today.
Fast forward to the 20th century, Gillette no longer manufactures safety razors and instead have focused their efforts on the more lucrative disposable and cartridge market.
But still there is demand for this tool that our ancestors used.
To help you get a better understanding of what the best safety razor is for you, let’s first look at the different types of DE razors. I’ll discuss each in detail plus the pros and cons of each type.
This razor is basically a one piece razor with two doors with a knob at the bottom to open it.
A twist to open razor is a one piece razor with two doors that open like a butterfly when you twist a knob at the bottom.
Mechanically this razor is the most complicated of all the double edged razors because it has a lot of moving parts.
But it is the easiest to load because you don’t have to disassemble anything. Just twist the knob at the bottom to open the butterfly doors, drop the blade in and you’re ready to rock and roll.
However cleaning it will be difficult because of all the tight spots.
One of the biggest weak points of any butterfly (another term for the twist to open) would be the hinges.
Depending on how thick or thin the metal is, this part could easily rust.
Like the name implies, a two-piece razor has two main pieces – a top can and base cap that’s attached to a handle.
Mechanically, this razor has a simpler design than a twist to open shaver. And this simplicity makes it one of the most durable because there are less moving parts.
Next to the butterfly razor, this is easiest to load. All you need to do is line up the DE blade with the posts, attach the handle then twist a knob at the bottom to tighten.
The two-piece design makes it one of the easier razors to load the blade with after the twist to open design.
The three piece razor is similar to the two piece razor except for one small detail – instead of the base plate and handle being one piece, these parts are separate which makes it a tad more difficult to load a blade with.
The good news is since you can take everything apart, it is easier to clean than a two piece razor.
Relatively speaking, these razors are the cheapest in the market because it is easy to manufacture and mass produce compared to other types.
These razors get the name slant because of the angle of which the blade is twisted.
Instead of having a flat angle, the blade comes down at an angle that will give it more slicing power than conventional razors.
To give you an idea how it works, think of a guillotine – an ancient tool for executing convicted felons.
The sharp end of a guillotine isn’t straight but has a slight angle. This is by design because if it were straight, it wouldn’t be as efficient.
The same principle works of this razor, the angled blade slices facial hair instead of chopping making it more efficient giving you a close shave with less passes.
The downside to a slant bar razor is that blades get dull faster and you will need to replace it more often.
Another downside is the learning curve involved, since this razor is more aggressive (others like to use the term efficient) you have to focus more, use the wrong technique and you’ll end up a bloody mess.
The typical safety razor has a closed comb that protects skin from direct blade contact.
An open comb razor has a slightly different design. Instead of a full safety bar it uses an open comb design where the ends are open.
This design looks like a comb hence the term “open comb”.
The tweak exposes more of the blade to give a more aggressive shave.
Experts would not recommend this as an everyday razor but you can add it to your shaving tool kit for those days where you need to shave a week’s growth of facial hair in less than 3 passes.
An adjustable razor gives you the ability to adjust the aggressiveness by increase or decreasing blade exposure.
This gives you a lot of flexibility.
On days that you’re in a hurry, you can turn up the dial to a higher number and get a close shave with just one or two passes.
Or if you’re just a newbie, you can use the lowest setting and master the technique first before going to higher settings without having to buy a new razor.
Let’s say your neck is more sensitive than your face, you could dial it down to a lower setting when you shave your neck and use a higher setting for the other parts of your face.
The downside is only one brand manufactures adjustable razors as we speak – the Merkur. And there aren’t a lot of options though you could go old school a bid for a Gillette Fat Boy on Ebay.
The Merkur 34C may not be the most versatile or the most aggressive. But in terms of overall performance, price and build quality it is hard to beat.
Experienced and those new to wet shaving will appreciate the Merkur 34C because it isn’t too aggressive.
Great for beginners
In the aggressiveness scale, it should provide around 5 or 6. Aggressive enough to give you a close shave in 3 passes or less depending on the blade you use.
Merkur was able to tether that fine balancing act of aggressiveness and smoothness and this is a big reason why experienced wet shavers like Nick Shaves highly recommend this product.
I must warn you though that this razor is not for everybody. If you have a really tough beard, you may want to opt for a more aggressive razor like the Merkur 39C or an adjustable like the Merkur Progress.
- Not overly aggressive or mild – it has the great balance of both
- This is a great option for a newbie wet shaver
- Priced just right
- Two piece design makes it easier to load
- May not work for men with really tough beards
- Short handle may not be suitable for men with big hands, if you’re looking for a similar product with a longer handle try the Merkurs 38C with a barber pole style handle
This isn’t the cheapest razor per se in the market but when you talk about the quality, shave and price, it’s hard to beat the value for money proposition this product brings to the table.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Edwin Jagger DE89 would be the smooth chrome finish. Every millimeter of this beauty is coated with chrome even non-visible parts.
Cheaper than a Merkur
In terms of aggressiveness, the DE89 is middle of the road which make it a good option for newbies.
- Very good value for money
- Not overly aggressive which make it another great option for noobs
- Fantastic finish
- Not too much knurling – the handle is slippery
- Some concerns about the fit and finish
No two beards are alike.
Some men will have fine soft facial hair while others have wiry, tough facial hair that will need a scalpel to shave off.
We have that scalpel for you in the Merkur 37C Slant.
For example if you’re African American most likely your beard is hard to cut.
If a standard flat bar razor doesn’t cut it because you get irritation – this is were a slant bar comes in.
What is a Slant razor?
Slant bars razors are unique in one aspect. The top and bottom plate twists the blade.
This twisting motion forces the blade to sit an angle similar to a guillotine.
It allows the blade to slice through hair instead of chopping allow for a closer shave.
To see this in action why not try cutting a cucumber and compare how easy it is to cut it with the knife at an angle versus cutting it straight down.
This same principle applies with a slant bar and this also gives it a more efficient cut (others call it aggressive).
Another feature that makes this aggressive is the open comb safety bar that exposes more blade.
Got a four or five day growth?
The 37C can mow it down and give you a close shave it just 2 passes.
But I must warn you to be careful not to put a very sharp blade in there if you’re using this for the first time.
You can try a less aggressive blade (but still sharp I may add) like the Personna or an Astra.
- Very efficient in terms of cutting facial hair
- A good option for men with tough beards or sensitive skin
- Not a great option for beginners because it doesn’t give you a lot of room for error
- Blades will dull quicker
This razor has an open comb design and many wet shavers say that it is perhaps the most aggressive safety razor in the market so much so that it got the nickname “The Beast”.
The R41 in the market right now is a less aggressive version of the original R41 that came out in 2011 so if you’re buying this second hand make sure to ask which version it is.
What makes this razor aggressive is the open comb design that has a lot of blade exposure.
More blade exposure means closer shave but at the cost of irritation.
Despite the terrifying reputation of the R41, this should not deter you from buying this product, especially if your facial hair type is on the coarser side.
But I must warn you that you should have your wet shaving technique ironed out before even trying this as it requires focus and a steady hand.
- Great for men with really tough beards
- Gives you a really close shave
- Not for beginners because it gives you little room for error
- Blades get dull faster because of the open comb design
Most safety razors have a fixed blade exposure. It’s either mild or aggressive, you have no way of adjusting the aggressiveness.
This next razor is different in that you can adjust aggressiveness to suite your needs. Let’s have a close look at the Merkur Progress.
This shaver perhaps is the best adjustable razor in the market right now thanks to the simple design and price.
Why buy an adjustable?
Biggest reason would be versatility.
You could shave aggressive or mild depending on the need.
Let’s say you have a 4 day growth and want a close shave in two passes, you could dial up the aggressiveness and do a 2 pass shave.
And if your neck is sensitive, dial it down to avoid irritation.
The beauty of this is you don’t need two separate razors for this.
When you compare it side by side to the Futur (another Merkur product), it does not have the fancy looks but it makes up for it with old school functionality.
In essence this razor is a two piece razor with an adjustable head. This means when you load the blade, it stays locked in unlike the Futur that uses a clip on mechanism that may not last as long.
The biggest downside would be the smooth handle that lacks grip. This issue is solved with the right technique…
Another downside would be the quirks to using this adjustable.
First and perhaps the biggest would be the inconsistencies of the adjustment knob not lining up with the numbers.
This does not affect the shaving quality and performance but you’re O.C. this could be an issue.
The second quirk would be holding the top of the razor as you tighten it – this ensures even blade exposure.
But these are just minor when you compare to the performance you’ll get from this product.
Yes, experienced wet shavers like the Sharpologist use the Progress as their everyday razor and absolutely love it.
- 5 adjustable settings –give you unparalleled flexibility
- Simple design ensures that it will last for years
- Slippery handle
- Manufacturing inconsistencies in terms of the alignment of the adjustment knob
Earlier in this article I talked about a classic Gillette razor called the Fat Boy and finding one of these in pristine condition can be tough and possibly costly.
Here’s an alternative, the Parker 99R from an India based manufacturer Parker.
It looks like the Gillette Fat Boy and it’s heavier thanks to the solid brass frame.
Easy to use
Both the Gillette and Parker use a twist to open mechanism to load and secure the blade in place but unlike the Fat Boy, the 99R isn’t an adjustable.
Parker has come a long way and has improved their razors.
In 2010 they re-engineered the twist to open head and used thicker metal – particularly on the hinges, the weakest link of any TTO razor.
This ensures better quality and longevity. In terms of aggressiveness, this razor is considered a mild so men who are looking for a starter razor can opt for this Indian made product.
- This is a mild razor suited for noobs
- Thicker metal on the hinges ensure longevity
- Long handle make this suitable for men with big hands
- Barber pole design looks pretty
- Quality control still an issue but less than before
Most safety razors in the market have some sort of plating for its outer coating.
The majority use chrome to give it a layer of protection from the elements and if you use proper techniques to take good care of it, it will last for a very long time.
However there will also be a risk of the chrome plate chipping off and that could be the beginning of the end if that happens.
Let me introduce to you the Feather AS-D2, one of the very few razors the market that has a stainless steel finish.
This Japanese made product is all about precision.
Quality is as you’d expect from a Japanese made product is great.
Look under the top cap and you’ll see why – it has four posts on all four corners that hold the blade in place. This helps align the blade when you tighten it.
Look at the handle and you’ll see more precision engineering. The knurling at first glances looks like a Merkur but when you look closely, the grooves are deeper and it goes all the way down to the base so grip is excellent.
This is precision engineering at its best.
Not very aggressive
In terms of aggressiveness, you will not mistake this for a slant razor anytime soon because it has minimal blade gap which make it a mild razor but combine this with a sharp razor like a Feather and it still can give you a very close shave.
I wouldn’t recommend this to men with tough beards but for the rest, this is a great investment that will not corrode and something that you can pass on to the next generation.
- Stainless finish will not corrode
- Superb build quality and craftsmanship
- Four posts on the top cap ensure blade alignment every time you load it
- Knurling is deep and runs all the way down to the base
- Very expensive
- May not be suitable for men with wiry facial hair
Not everybody can afford a $150 stainless steel razor on even a $50 adjustable razor so in this section we’ll talk about budget razors. And no I’m not talking about cheap knockoffs but quality products that will give you at least decent shave.
I’ll enumerate some of the options you have below the $20 range.
Feather Popular DE Razor
The Feather Popular DE razor may be the best of the budget options available right now. This Japanese-made razor comes from the same manufacturer as the popular Feather AS-D2 stainless steel razor.
The butterfly doors make loading blades easy. Feather says that aggressiveness at the middle and when you combine this with the sharp Feather blades, you can get a really close shave.
One downside would be the plastic handle which makes this razor light. But the silver components are made from metal with a chrome finish.
For men looking to transition from a cartridge to a safety razor, this would be a great option because it’s light, not too aggressive and cheap.
QShave Double Edged Razor
QShave is a relative newcomer but this brand caught my eye thanks to the good reviews it got.
They’re the same guys who made the QShave adjustable which basically a Merkur Futur knockoff.
Based on what I’ve read, quality is pretty good but the double edged blades that come along with it suck. If you’re considering getting this razor, might as well get a blade sampler pack so pick something that will suite you best.
The black finish of this razor is a thing of beauty. QShave says that they used a black chrome finish that’ll resist corrosion.
The twist to open mechanism makes loading a blade easy. This razor is lightweight so if you prefer something heavier, opt for something else.
One concern for a butterfly razor would be the hinges that can possibly rust if inferior metal is used. So far I’ve not read any issues about this.
Lastly this razor is mild so it will not do well if you have thick, wiry facial hair.
Bevel Safety Razor
Bevel is founded by Tristan Walker, a Wall Street Stock trader turned entrepreneur. Like a lot of African-American men, Tristan struggled with ingrown hair and irritation from using multi-blade razors so he decided to create his own safety razor.
When it first came out, this razor costs $50 which is more than more popular safety razors like the Merkur 34C and Edwin Jagger DE89. But now prices have gone down to around $19 which is why I added it to this list.
The sleek design of the safety razor is unique to say the least. This three piece razor feels heavy with slightly different balance point than other brands with more traditional design.
That may be due to the long handle but if you’re transitioning from another safety razor there will be a slight learning curve.
Packaging is excellent and would make it a great gift idea.
Weishi Safety Razor
Design wise it looks very similar to the One Touch razor endorsed by Rick Harrison of the Pawn Stars and the Dorco Razor so I’m guessing all of these comes from the same factory. Between the three , I’d get this.
Don’t use the blades that come along with this because it’s absolute crap. Get a DE blade that’s decent like a Feather or Personna.
In terms of aggressiveness, this razor is very mild which makes it a great safety razor for beginners looking for something cheap to try out.
I’ll be honest with you guys, using a safety razor will require a level of skill that takes a little practice to master.
It isn’t the same as using a cartridge or a disposable razor.
You may experience some nicks but trust me, it’ll be well worth it.
Using a double edged razor will give you some of the best and closest shaves without the razor burn.
Let’s go through the process one by one.
1. Prep is king!
What you do before shaving is perhaps the most important step. Shaving on an oily skin full of contaminants won’t be a pleasant experience.
It’s best to shave after a hot shower. This step removes any contaminants on the skin and hot water hydrates hair follicles making it easier to cut.
If you cannot take a hot shower then wash your face with a facial soap then soak the area you’ll be shaving with a hot towel for a minute or so to soften the whiskers.
2. Shaving cream is a must
Dragging a blade on the skin without any sort of lubrication is a blood recipe for disaster. Shaving cream will add that layer of protect that allows the blade to glide smoothly.
If you use a shaving brush for application, it doubles as an exfoliator that rids your skin of dead skin cells. Women can only dream of type of exfoliation that a shaving brush brings to the table.
Just in case using a shaving brush isn’t your thing, there are latherless creams available like the Cremo Cream that does not require such.
3. Use a sharp blade
It’s simple, sharp blade equates to a great shave, period. Dull blades will pull and tug, very uncomfortable.
The beauty of using a safety razor is the ability to pick and choose what type of blade you put in.
4. Don’t put too much pressure
One of the bad habits you develop using a disposable razor is putting too much. With a safety razor you don’t need to put any weight at all.
The metal base of these shavers makes it heavy so there’s no reason to put any weight at all. Just glide the razor and let the blade do the work for you. Trust me it’s that good.
5. Shave with the grain (if you have sensitive skin)
The best way to get a close shave is shaving with the grain. If you don’t know the term “shaving with the grain” means, it’s simply shaving with the direction of your hair growth.
One the cheeks and lip area, that’s usually going down. One the neck it can go in different directions.
However, this may not be applicable to men with sensitive skin. So it’s best just to shave with the grain.
If you want to get a close shave then shave across the grain. On the cheek area that would be from side to side.
6. Find the correct angle
Most safety razors have a fixed angle of around 30 degrees. Using the anything above or below this may result in nick and cuts.
7. Stretch the skin
Razors work best on an even surface so use your free hand to stretch the area you’re shaving.
8. Rinse blades often
Once both side of the double edge razor is filled with shave cream and gunk, rinse it in the sink or running water. This will help keep the blades clean and free of hair.
9. Don’t over shave
The principle of “less is more” is very applicable in shaving. Don’t shave more than what’s needed. For most men a two or three pass shave would suffice plus clean up passes on some spots.
10. Trick for slippery fingers
One trick that expert wet shavers use when they feel their hands are slipper is rubbing alum on the finger tips. This hack gives you a better grip for holding the razor or stretching skin. You can use an alum block or stick.
11. Shaving the head
If you’ve decided to go bald, here are some practical tips you can use to shave your head. The process is pretty similar to shaving the face but with some minor tweaks. Tools that you use may also vary so choose one accordingly.
My biggest beef with disposable razors is the price, especially if you use Gillette.
Refill packs of 8 could easily set you back close to $30 (if you buy the 4 blade razor). More so if you buy it retail.
The high cost of cartridges offset the initial low cost and you’ll spend more on refills than DE blades over the long haul.
Now compare this to the prices of the de blades…
If you do the math let’s say you replace the cartridge once a month – that’s roughly $35 on mostly dull blades.
Contrast that to the price of double edged blades, even if you load up a fresh blade every day you’d spend the same amount. And you’ll be using a sharp blade.
If you change twice a month, you’ll double what you’re currently spending.
Men with sensitive skin will have to replace cartridges more often and it will cost a lot.
So the difference is really night and day literally.
The main selling point of multi-blade cartridge razors is convenience and speed.
You can buy this at just about any convenient store and use it without having to learn proper technique.
More blades = more irritation
With the multi-bladed design, companies like Gillette claim that you will get a close shave with just one pass.
But in reality shaving with a multi-blade razor isn’t really good for your face.
Shaving with more blades will result in more irritation. Having a 2 pass shave on a 4-blade Gillete Fusion equates to an 8 pass have in a safety razor.
Do you see where I’m getting at?
Another disadvantage of a cartridge would be clogging. Any razor with more than 3 blades is prone to clogging up.
Try it on your 4 day beard growth and see how it looks like.
The most likely scenario would be a razor like the one in the photo above.
A clogged razor is bad for your skin. It will pull, tug and spread bacteria around and a potential source of infection.
If you have sensitive skin this is a big no-no and a likely source of more irritation.
These blades are hard to clean. Trust me I’ve tried and it’s almost impossible after several uses.
Depending on how fast your facial hair grows, you’d have to replace these cartridges at least once every week.
And once the blades dull out, you have no choice but to throw them out.
A single blade double edge razor solves all these issues.
You can replace the blades as often as you want without blowing the budget.
Second, since you’re using only a single blade there is much irritation in each stroke.
Third, you have to learn proper technique.
Proper technique equates to a better shave.
Fourth, with only one blade and the ability to disassemble the razor you can easily clean it. This reduces the risk of irritation and infection.
These products have a double edged design which I think is superior to the single edge design because you can use the blades a lot longer so it saves you in the long run.
Why the Merkur?
For men looking to wet shave for the first time, the obvious choice would be the Merkur 34C. It is actually one of the cheaper options of the seven DE razors but the quality is one of the best.
It doesn’t have the stainless steel finish a Feather but it won’t cost you $160. The 34C provides the right balance of aggressiveness and smoothness that wouldn’t require you to do a 4 shave pass just to get a decent shave.
Load a sharp blade like a Feather and you’ll get a fairly aggressive razor that will shave close.
A less aggressive blade would yield a more relaxing shave so it is quite versatile.
Speaking of versatility – the Merkur Progress is the most versatile safety razor with 5 settings to work with. It is a good second safety razor for men looking for some flexibility with their shaving to go from aggressive to mild and vice-versa.
The Merkur Progress would cost almost twice as a 34C and Edwin Jagger DE89 but it is essentially multiple razors in one.
These are not for newbies
The only reason for men to buy these two is if they have really tough facial hair and want a tool to shave close efficiently.
Now back to you, what safety razors do you use? I’d like to hear from you in the comments section below. If you’ve used any of the brands above please share your experience.
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.