We’ve long thought that open comb safety razors are the “next level” for new wet shavers: you start out with a nice, mild straight-bar safety razor, and once you get the hang of it and want something more aggressive, you move on to open combs. They’re fantastic tools that offer an incredibly close shave, but even aside from that, the “row of metal teeth” you see on open combs looks pretty darn masculine.
So, here we’ll discuss why you may (or may not) want to use an open comb razor, and then we’ll review our favorite open comb razors. Hopefully by the end, we’ll help you determine what may be the best open comb razor for your shaving routine.
Pros and Cons of Open Combs
So, we need to come clean: we write a lot about wet shaving. A whole lot. We’re big fans, so in our minds, there aren’t really too many “cons” to open combs. They’re fantastic, and we think they’re great, so the list below is mostly “pros.” We’ll come up with a few cons, though, just to be fair. We’ll start with the easy part:
Pros of Open Comb Safety Razors
They Truly are Aggressive. You’re going to hear that term, “aggressive,” a lot when you read about open comb razors, so let’s define it before we move on: an aggressive safety razor is one that has more blade exposure than other razors, and that blade exposure results in 1) a closer shave than you’ll get with a “normal” or “mild” safety razor, and 2) a higher chance of you getting nicked and cut. An aggressive safety razor will provide a seriously close shave, and it’s a lot more likely to cut you while doing so. Open comb razors tend to be very aggressive, and here’s why:
Most safety razors have a straight bar, as you can see here (and we’ve added a blue line parallel to the straight bar, to show you where it is):
That straight bar—sometimes called a safety bar—provides a little bit of a barrier between the blade and the skin on your face. It limits how much of the blade is exposed to your skin, and provides you some protection from nicks and cuts. The result, though, is a shave that isn’t as close as it could be.
Open comb razors, however, don’t have that safety bar, and instead have a comb, that looks like a rake, or a row of little sharp teeth:
Those are some vintage models that need to be cleaned up a bit, but they’re a great example because you can see the teeth in the comb. In the spaces between those teeth, you’ll find the cutting edge of the razor blade, so as you bring the safety razor over your face, the razor blade can get MUCH closer to your skin. There’s no safety bar keeping your skin at a safe distance, so that razor blade can really connect with the whiskers on your face, and remove them effectively. It also bunches the whiskers together, so that when you brush that safety razor over your face, the teeth gather your whiskers and guide them towards the blade.
There are other factors that make a safety razor aggressive—and we talk about them in our “Most Aggressive Safety Razor” post—but the open comb makes a safety razor very aggressive.
They’re Great for Guys with Thick Facial Hair. If you’re the kind of guy who’s got a 5 o’clock shadow by 1pm, an open comb safety razor may be a great option for you.
For guys with thick facial hair, it can take multiple passes over the same stretch of facial hair to even make a dent, and that’s why a lot of guys get into wet shaving: the disposable and cartridge razors used to remove facial hair are woefully inadequate. Even some milder safety razors don’t get the job done. But because open comb razors tend to be more aggressive, and because aggressive safety razors bring the razor blade a lot closer to the skin, open comb safety razors get a lot closer to the root of facial hairs. That means a single pass with an open comb razor can be much more effective than a number of passes with a normal safety razor, which saves you time—and a LOT of facial irritation. For a lot of guys, more passes = ingrown hairs, razor burn, and so on.
If you’ve got crazy-thick facial hair and you’re new to wet shaving and unimpressed with it, try and open comb razor. It truly does provide a closer shave, and gets right up close to the root of your whiskers. That means it’s more likely to cut you to ribbons, too, but we’ll talk about that in a second.
So not only are open comb razors a great option for guys with fast-growing, thick facial hair, they’re also a great match for guys with regular-growth facial hair, because they…
Work Well If You’ve Missed a Couple Days of Shaving. Because open comb safety razors are a good match for gnarlier facial hair, they’re a great option if you have an “on-again, off-again” approach to shaving. If you do blue-collar work during the week and shave on weekends, or find yourself working jobs on remote locations where daily grooming is a silly notion, an open-comb safety razor can be a worthwhile tool to have when you return to civilization and need to spruce yourself up. We have a friend who’s a wilderness guide—he takes people on five-day and six-day hiking trips through the mountains, where shaving is the last thing on his mind—and when he returns home, an open comb razor is the perfect tool for him to get a close shave.
And that’s how a lot of guys use an open comb safety razor—they keep an open comb razor handy if their schedule has gotten busy and they’ve forgotten to shave, or if they shaved on Friday morning, had a wild weekend, and found themselves with three days of stubble growth on Monday morning. But you can think of it the opposite way, too: if you want to START missing a couple days of shaving—that is, if you actually plan on missing shaves—it can be a good razor to have. If you want to get into the stubble-then-no-stubble-then-stubble-again look, or if you lead a lifestyle where you’re not going to be able to routine maintenance on your face, an open comb razor is a great option.
You’re Going to Feel That Aggression. For a lot of us, wet shaving is a sensory experience, and that’s one of the primary joys of it. The smell of the shaving cream, the feeling of the shaving brush on your cheeks, the sound of the blade scraping away whiskers. It’s a satisfying routine, and when you’re using a mild safety razor, it can all be pretty relaxing.
The first time you use an open comb safety razor, however, you’ll most likely be a little more alert. Most of the time, those suckers are sharp, and they’ve got bite. The added exposure to the razor blade is something your skin picks up on quite quickly, and it requires a little extra attention. So if you’re a long-time wet shaver and you’ve grown a little bored of your routine, an open comb safety is a great way to kick it up a notch.
OK, so those are the big pros. Now let’s look at:
The Cons of Open Comb Safety Razors
There Will Be Blood. So we promised a couple of different cons, but we lied: there’s only one real “con” to open comb razors, and it’s that they will cut you up like you did something wrong. Seriously—nicks and weepers galore. Your first couple of times you use an open comb, the chances of you getting a pretty impressive bleeder are really, really high, and that’s why we never recommend them to guys who are just getting started with wet shaving (and why we recommend these “starter” safety razors instead).
And, not only are you very likely to get nicked—you’re likely to get nicked deep. For real—the nicks you get with a mild safety razor are irritating, but the nicks you get with an open comb razor (or any more aggressive razor, for that matter) actually hurt. It’s not a reason for avoid them; after you get the hang of open comb safety razors, you can get a very close shave and not experience any nicks or cuts—but for many men, there IS a transition period, and that transition period includes some cuts.
There are tools you can use—we’re big fans of Gentleman Jon Alum Block for smaller cuts, and Pinaud Clubman Styptic Pencils for more serious cuts—and they can be a wise investment. But, you know—be forewarned! There’s a learning curve, and on the near-side of that learning curve are some nicks.
OK! Now that we’ve given you proper warning and scared you a bit, onto those reviews!
Open Comb Safety Razor Reviews
There are four open comb razors we really like. We’ll start with our pick for the best “intro” open comb safety:
The Best Open Comb Razor for Beginners
Our humble opinion, the Muhle R41 Open Tooth Comb Double Edged Safety Razor is a darn fine open-comb safety, and a great option if you’re new to open comb razors. It’s aggressive and it’s got bite—so it should be a good match for men with thick facial hair and beards—but it’s not so insanely aggressive that it’s too much to handle. It’s a good “transitional” model—this was our first open comb razor, and while we do have one or two nicks to prove it, it’s a good intro to the world of open-comb razors. It’s got:
A smooth, reflected razor head that’s corrosion-resistant, and holds a general-use double-edged razor;
An easy-to-disassemble and re-assemble three-piece design, and an about-average handle length;
Wavy knurling that provides some anti-slip properties, but also makes it look pretty darn handsome;
A detailed base, with the name “MUHLE” etched into the chrome; and
Big old gnarly teeth in the comb.
There’s only one thing we find mildly irritating about the Muhle R41, and about safety razors in general, and it’s that they don’t always state what model they are on the actual device, or even on the box itself. Muhle makes incredible razors—they’ve been around for more than a half-century, so they’re doing something right—but we wish they’d be a little bit clearer about this sort of thing. Our Muhle R41 came only with a sticker on the box, and it would be nice if there were some spot on the safety razor—perhaps on the underside of the razor head?—where the shaver’s name and number were listed.
That’s a small complaint, though—we think the R41, just like all the other razors on our list—is a fantastic model, and great at its main purpose, which is separating your whiskers from your face, and it may just be the best open comb razor on our entire list.
Our Pick for Best “All-Around” Option
For a mid-range open comb razor, we don’t think you’ll find a better option than the Parker 24C. It’s an aggressive, open comb razor that has some really fantastic properties:
It’s made of solid, shiny brass with a less-domed-than-usual razor head that gives it a unique, “flat-top” look;
Features a three-piece design that’s easy to use and easy to clean;
A four-inch grip, which makes it a little longer than usual, and a great match for guys who don’t like shorter-handled razors;
A conservatively knurled handle with two smooth sections and an hour-glass shape at the base; and
Of course, a row of teeth that make up the open comb.
This is a great mid-range option that, in our experience, provides a very close shave. A fantastic option.
If you’re looking for a similar razor but with a different grip, you might want to check out the Parker 26C. It’s the same razor as the Parker 24C, but it’s got a sleek black grip without the two mid-handle slick spots. Another great option, and one we like a great deal.
Our Pick for “Old School” Open Comb
As we’ve mentioned elsewhere, the Fatip Piccolo is a gorgeous old-school safety razor that evokes the golden era of safety razors, before disposables and cartridge razors made shaving a cheap and chintzy affair. It’s a gorgeous model that looks like it’s from a different time, and it’s got some wonderful features:
A three-piece design with a polished nickel razor head and handle;
A broader head-to-handle ratio, designed so that you can use less force than you might with other razors, and still get a very close shave;
A shorter handle, so if you don’t like the longer Parker models we discussed above, this may be a nice fit; and
Vertical knurling on the handle, for a nice “streamlined” look.
That vertical knurling may seem like just a detail, but it’s actually one of our favorite features of this safety razor (aside from its shaving capability, of course): it provides for a very unique handling experience, and gives the piece a very “old world” look.
The Piccolo has a lot of fans all over the world, and this is one of our more favorite models. Recommended.
Last But Not Least: A Merkur
What would a list of our favorite safety razors be without a Merkur on the list? It would be incomplete, and that’s why the Merkur 25C is our last review: just like most Merkur safety razors, it’s fantastic. It’s got:
A four-inch handle—longer than most shavers—which makes it a great option for guys with long hands (or guys who simply don’t like shorter-handled options);
Three-piece design, created to lead to fewer nicks and cuts (three-piece safety razors usually keep the blade snug, so it can’t shift at all during a shave);
Diamond-knurling up the entire handle, with a three-part barrel-style base;
A chrome dome-shaped shaving head, characteristic of most German safety razors; and
Some seriously long teeth. Seriously—those things look like monster jaws.
Those teeth might be the most pertinent feature of the Merkur 25C—long teeth do a great job of gathering longer whiskers to be cut, and that makes it a great option for guys with thick facial hair, or guys who go a little while between shaves. Merkur has been making high-quality safety razors for decades, and we think the 25C is a worthwhile addition to any man’s shaving repertoire—it’s another great model we’ve enjoyed a lot.
There It Is! Our Favorite Open Combs
We’re often tempted to write more reviews than we need, but there are really only four (or five, if you count both of the Parker models) that we really like. If there’s one you think we missed, please let us know. Have fun, and happy shaving!
Michael Morris is the head writer here at Rough and Tumble Gentleman. He's got a ducktail beard and loves Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He's married to the woman of his dreams and lives in Brooklyn, NY.