The Best Adjustable Safety Razor: Our Picks
Welcome! In this post, we'll discuss adjustable safety razors. We'll detail what they are, why they're fantastic, and why you may want to use them. Then we'll detail each of our reviews, and hopefully we'll be able to find the best adjustable safety razor for your morning shave. We'll start at the beginning:
First Things First: What Is an Adjustable Razor?
Safety razors may all seem very similar, but each one is actually very unique: you've got safety razors that are very light, and others that are very heavy; some that reveal a blade on one side of the head, and others that feature a blade on both sides of the head; and some that have detachable heads, and some where the head is permanently attached to the handle. There are dozens of features that make every safety razor interesting and one-of-a-kind.
One of the most important features, however, is how aggressive the razor is. The term "aggressive" refers to how close a shave a razor will provide. A very aggressive safety razor will provide a very close shave, whereas a more "mild" safety razor will result in a less-close shave.
For seasoned wet shavers, aggressive-ness is a good thing, because it allows them to get a super-close shave; for newer wet shavers, aggressive-ness can be a challenge, because an aggressive razor can cut you to ribbons if you don't know what you're doing. New wet shavers often do better on a milder safety razor, where they can learn how to wet shave and not get cut as much.
But here's the rub: far and away, most safety razors feature a single "aggressive-ness" setting. There's no changing it. It is what it is on the day you got it, and there's no changing it.
And that's the magic of adjustable razors. They designed so that you can change the aggressiveness of your blade. You can use the safety razor on a lower setting, and that's a great feature if you're new to wet shaving, because a milder razor will be less likely to cut you up. Then, once you've gotten the hang of wet shaving, you can adjust the safety razor to a more aggressive setting, and get a much closer shave (albeit one with a little more likelihood that you'll get nicked!).
Benefits: When are Adjustables Worthwhile?
There are a couple of reasons an adjustable makes a lot of sense:
Not Everybody Shaves Every Day. This, perhaps, is one of most advantageous things about an adjustable: it'll allow you to shave based on how long your whiskers are. A mild shave is great for shorter whiskers, and a more aggressive shave is better for longer ones. Some guys shave every single day, and their whiskers grow in at about the same rate every day, and using a mild, non-adjustable safety razor would probably make sense in that situation. But if you shave irregularly—maybe you'll shave every day for a while, and then here-and-there—it can make sense to have a razor that can attack your whiskers when they're different lengths.
Whiskers are Different on Different Parts of Your Face. Some of us unlucky souls have areas on the cheeks and jaw and chin where whiskers grow out straight (where an aggressive razor would work well) and then also have areas on our necks where the whiskers are swirled (where an aggressive razor feels torturous). For those of us who have "varied" whisker patterns, the ability to switch aggression levels can be a boon.
You Can Switch Aggression on Different Passes. Many men will use an aggressive setting for their with-the-grain pass, and then dial it down for their across-the-grain pass, and then dial it down again for their against-the-grain pass. Options! Almost always a wonderful thing.
You Can Challenge Yourself with New Settings. For beginners, we're big fans of the Merkur Solingen Double-Edge Razor—it's a nice, mild shave that's perfect for new wet shavers, and it's (relatively) easy for new users to master. After you've mastered that beginner razor, though, it's less of a challenge, because it's so (relatively) simple. Shaving with an adjustable allows you to use more aggressive settings as you gain skill and confidence.
They're Fun. Variety is the spice of life, as they say, and for whatever reason, men in the wet shaving community loooooove switching things up. It seems like the more dedicated to wet shaving you become, the more interested in different razors you become. In a sense, an adjustable is like having "multiple razors in one"—the same safety razor can be used to produce a number of different results, and that's just enjoyable.
There's One Group of Men Who May NOT Need an Adjustable... And that's men with thin facial hair. If you only need to shave every couple of days, or if you're able to get a very close shave after three passes using a mild razor, you probably don't *need* an adjustable. You may want to get one because it's enjoyable, but you probably don't require one.
Adjustables Safety Razor Reviews
Believe it or not, there aren't really too many adjustables on the market, and the ones that have been made are mostly manufactured by a company called Merkur, in Solengen, Germany. There's one other model we like—the Parker—and we'll include that in our discussion below.
Fun fact before we continue: "Merkur" is German for "Mercury," like the planet, which is actually named after the god Mercury in Roman mythology, who was the god of trade and profit. Good to know! First razor:
Best Beginner Adjustable Safety Razor: The Merkur Futur
The Merkur Futur Adjustable Safety Razor is, perhaps, one of the best-known adjustables on the market. It's got a shiny chrome finish, a solid handle with a recessed area for your index finger, and a 1-to-6 aggressive-ness setting that's easy to use. Its heft makes it feels like it's doing the cutting for you, and very little pressure needs to be used.
The lowest setting is reasonably mild and that's a wonderful thing—especially if you're a newbie—so this gets our vote as best adjustable safety razor in the "Best for Beginners" category. That said, it's a great model to graduate to more aggressive settings, and the highest setting is vastly different—and vastly more aggressive—than the lowest setting (so be sure to take it easy if you're working your way up the aggressive-ness settings; there's no need to rush things).
It's easy to use, fun to shave with, and it's a handsome addition to your cabinet. Even down to the iconic packaging—that's the Roman god Mercury by the "Merkur" emblem—it's a beauty, and we think it's a great choice if you're new to adjustables.
Mostly the Same, But Different
If you like the Merkur Futur but don't like the chrome finish and instead would prefer a satin finish, the Merkur Adjustable Razor with Satin Finish can be a good option. It's got a great heft to it (it weighs in at 4.25 ounces), it's got the same six-setting option set, and it's got a really unique look at to it—ever notice how most steel home goods are chrome? This is a nice change.
Best GOLD Option: Merkur Adjustable Futur Gold Plated
For those of you who truly like throw-back products from days of yore, the Merkur Adjustable Gold Plated Adjustable may be the best adjustable safety razor for you.
For time immemorial, gold was the metal of note. Dating back thousands of years, it has been the international sign of wealthy and royalty, and it's universally understood as rare, and beautiful, and valuable. From religion (the Magi bringing gold to Jesus at his birth), to mythology (dragons hording and sitting on mountains of gold), and to the history of just about any country (including the United States' controversial decision to get off the gold standard in 1933). To put it simply, gold is a big deal.
Then, about ten to fifteen years ago, gold somehow became a little less popular, and silver and platinum and titanium became all the rage. This may be anecdotal evidence, but of all of the Rough and Tumble Gentleman contributors who have gotten married, not a single one of them has a gold wedding ring. All of them have silver or platinum rings, as do their wives. Somehow, gold has become a little "passe."
That's fascinating, but it's a shame, because there's truly something "classic" and eternal about gold. And that's why we love the Merkur Adjustable Gold-Plated razor. It's universal, it's gorgeous, and it's truly unique. How many GOLDEN SHAVING ITEMS do you have? Chances are, you own none. None golden shaving items.
Aside from being an item of weirdness and beauty, we think it's a really fantastic razor. It's got a heavy weight—meaning you need to use very little pressure when shaving with it—and it's got a wide range of adjust-ability: from 1 (the least aggressive) up to 6 (the most aggressive). That's a wide range, which is exactly what we're looking for in an adjustable. Our only complaint is the razor head itself is on the large side, but that's something you can learn to navigate.
So, you probably didn't come here for a rant about gold, but here we are, and here's one more fun fact before we move on: according to Forbes Magazine, all of the gold in the world—that is, all the gold we've mined ever since the Egyptians started mining it somewhere around 2000 BC—would fit into 3.26 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Mind = BLOWN.
Best Two-Piece: Merkur Progress Adjustable Safety Razor
The last of our Merkurs—the Merkur Progress Long-Handle Adjustable—is another unique item. It's got a two-piece design, a smooth handle, and a yellow "bulb"-like knob at the base of the handle that will allow you to change the razor's aggressiveness. It's got a unique feel to it, and it looks a lot different than Merkur's other offerings.
The setting structure is a little different, too: it's got a 1-to-5 setting option instead of the Futur's 1-to-6 setting option, but the range available is still pretty decent, and it offers a full variety of mild-to-aggressive that should suit most shavers.
One last note: If you're not feeling the long-handle version, there's also the regular Merkur Progress Adjustable Safety Razor. Basically the same model, but a little smaller: according to our estimates, the long-handle version is about 3.4 inches long, and the long-handled version is about 4.1 inches long. Handle length is a matter of personal preference: some guys like the longer version; other guys feel like it's holding a baton.
Last but Not Least: The Parker Variant Adjustable
Our last model, and the only non-Merkur on our list, is the Parker Variant Adjustable Double-Edge Razor. Merkur may have a better-known reputation, but Parker has been around for almost half-a-century, and they've got some products we truly enjoy.
The Variant adjustable is a beauty: it's got a dented, black grip, a chrome head, and an exaggerated base for more security. Aggressiveness is changed at the bottom of the handle, with a 1-to-5 aggressiveness range, and this is another razor that has some favorable mild settings, so if you're concerned about getting a razor that's too aggressive, this may be a good choice for you.
There's only one minor qualm we have with the model, and it's that head can get a little hot if you run it under high-temperature water for too long. Not a big deal, really, but something to mention. All in all, a great model, and one we recommend.
One More Item: Merkur Futur 4-Piece Shaving Set
A lot of wet shavers like to collect items piecemeal—a razor here, a brush there, a bowl there. That would describe most of us, and it's a lot of fun.
If, however, you're the kind of guy who wants matching items and doesn't want to go searching high and low for those items, the Merkur Futur Shaving Set might be a good option. It's got the Futur razor that we reviewed above, a silver tip badger shaving brush, a frosted shaving bowl with the "Merkur" emblem on it, and a stand to keep it all together. It's a handsome collection and a good option if you want the whole kit-and-caboodle.
Products We Have Not Yet Reviewed
There are a few products on the market we don't have any experience with; for the longest time, Merkur was really the only game in town, but over the last couple of months we've seen a few new adjustables for sale here and there. We'll keep our eyes open, and if any of them are around a few months from now—new companies go out of business all the time, especially in the men's grooming/shaving industry—we'll inspect them and update this review.
If This is Your First Adjustable, Here's a Word of Advice
Start from the least-aggressive settings and work your way up. Some of us tend to—how should we say this?—"have more confidence than is needed." If you've been shaving for a while, here's our best advice: take it easy when dialing up the aggressiveness. Each setting does take a little while to get used to. Aggressiveness is determined by three things:
1) The angle of the blade as it rests in the head of the safety razor (which in turn is the angle of the blade as is travels over your skin when you're shaving);
2) The distance between the safety bar and the edge of the razor itself (and the wider that gap, the more aggressive the razor); and
3) How much of the actual razor blade is exposed (if more of a blade is exposed, the safety razor will be more aggressive).
When you go from setting to setting, each of those variables change, and even though you may be able to initially adjust your angle of attack after switching settings, your old "muscle memory" will most likely set in, and you'll experience a few weepers.
Speaking of weepers...
For When You Get Nicked: Some Suggestions
It's pretty common for new users of adjustable razors to get their fair share of cuts. Aggressive razors really can cut you up if you're not used to them, and cuts are a drag. Here are two products you may want to consider if you're getting a lot of cuts:
Alum Blocks. Alum is a natural mineral that men have been using for centuries. It's an astringent, which is a substance that constricts body tissues, so when you rub it over your skin, any small cuts you've gotten will close up a little. It's not a miracle cure, and some cuts may continue to bleed a bit, but it's still pretty impressive. Oh, and it's a pretty "vibrant" experience—in other words, it smarts.
To use alum block, shave as you regularly would, rinse your face with warm water to remove any left-over lather or whiskers, and then rinse using cold water to close your pores a little bit. Take the alum—it's usually manufactured in flat blocks that last a long, long time—and drag it over the areas of your face that you've just shaved. As far as products go, we like Gentleman Jon, but there are plenty of other blocks available.
Let it sit for a minute or two, and then wash it off with some warm water and then some cold water, and then do whatever you normally do—use an aftershave splash or balm, cologne, whatever. Good to go!
If you've gotten a more serious cut using an adjustable razor—and, those are very likely to occur—then you may want to use a...
Styptic Pencil / Roll-On. If alum block is for smaller, less-noticeable cuts, styptics are for deeper cuts. If you've got a weeper that won't stop bleeding even after you've run an alum block over it, you may want to try a styptic. They're sold in both pencil form and roll-on form (and we like the Pacific Shaving Company Nick Stick, which doesn't really leave a residue, as pencils often do). They can be a useful tool if you're venturing into higher settings on your adjustable. Again, they're not miracle cures, but they do provide an impressive bit of cut-sealing properties.
A Piece of History: The Gillette Fatboy
We know there are a lot of you out there who are love with the traditional-slash-historical aspect of wet shaving, so there's one last product we should mention before we wrap up, even though it's not made anymore: the Gillette Fatboy.
There are a lot of wet shavers who simply love the luxurious aspect of wet shaving, and we'd count ourselves among them. There are also plenty of wet shavers who love the "collectibles" aspect of wet shaving, and actually collect different safety razors and straight razors from different eras in history (and even from different parts of the world—Japanese kamisori razors are an interesting counter-point to most Western-style razors). Sometimes wet shaving collectors actually use these razors to shave; other times, they're simply part of a collection.
Among wet shave enthusiasts, the Fatboy is a special item. It was only manufactured for a couple of years (between 1958 and 1961), and it promised to revolutionize shaving. It had nine settings—which is a lot, if you think about it—and a textured handle that was, of course, wider than most safety razor handles (and that's where, presumably, we get the name "Fatboy"). It was a unique product offering, and because it's no longer sold, collectors all over the world keep an eye out for it. There are various online locations you can find it, and there's often bidding that goes along with each find. If you'd like to read more about it, you can do so at this site, which is a really fantastic resource if you're interested in the history of various razors.
There you go! If you ever hear the term "Fatboy," or see the abbreviated term "FB," on your favorite shaving forum, that's what they're talking about.
Adjustables: Our Final Word
There you have it! We're big fans of adjustables, and we've found them to be a great addition to our tools collection. It's kind of fascinating that these aren't more popular—they offer a way to enjoy very different types of shaves, while only needing a single safety razor. They're the ultimate "many-in-one" tool, and we're hoping that more men find out about them. Hopefully the reviews above provide a little insight about what might be the best option for you. Happy shaving, and be good!