The Best Safety Razor for Beginners: A Few Great Picks
Welcome to Rough and Tumble Gentleman! On this page, you'll find our ultimate guide to the best safety razor for beginners. Below, we'll detail each of characteristics you'll want to consider if you're looking for your first safety razor, define each of the terms you're likely to come across, and review the five safety razors we've found to be a great match for new wet shavers. Wet shaving is a deeply satisfying experience, and with the right tools and equipment, it can be a life-long pleasure, so let's jump in:
A Quick Safety Razor Buying Guide
It's easy to think that all safety razors are generally the same. After all, it's a handle, a head, and a razor—how different can they get?
Believe it or not, there are dozens of different features on any given safety razor, and many of the guys who are really into wet shaving loooooooooooooove to discuss each of those specific details. It may seem like overkill, but each of the features in our "Buyer's Guide" below really does create a different style and variety of shave. Some of the features are functional and some of them are cosmetic, but luckily they're all relatively simple, and it shouldn't be too difficult to remember them.
So, to help you get a feel for what kind of safety razor you'd like, here are some of the most relevant features of safety razors:
Single-Edge vs. Double-Edge ("SE" vs "DE")
You probably know, in general, what a safety razor looks like—it's got a strong handle, a shaving head with a razor blade in it, and a satisfying weight, and it looks like one of these guys:
The safety razors in the photo above are an example of double-edge safety razors (or, as they're sometimes called, "DE razors" or "DE safety razors"). DE razors feature a prominent head that has a double-sided razor blade sticking out of both sides of the head, so you can shave with one side of it, flip it around, and then shave with the other side of it. They're pretty easy to use—you buy a safety razor and a double-sided razor blade, take the top off of the shaver head, and gently place the razor on the base of the shaving head—and they are, far and away, the most common type of safety razor. In fact, whenever you hear someone use the generic term "safety razor," they're almost always referring to a double-edge safety razor.
There are, however, single-edge safety razors (sometimes called "SE razors" or "SE safety razors") that don't have a sharp edge on each side of the head, and instead only feature a single blade coming out of one side of the head. They're a little more rare, and they take a little while longer to get a close shave—because it's only got a single cutting surface, you'll need to rinse it off twice as often—but there are a couple of models out there, and we give a critique of one of our favorite SE safety razors in our "Reviews" section below.
Two-Piece vs. Three-Piece
We'll start with three-piece safety razors, because they're the most common. A three-piece has three components: the razor head (it's usually the shiny, domed part at the top of the safety razor), the base plate (which is what you'll rest the razor blade itself on), and the handle. It's a newer design than the two-piece razor—two-piece safety razors were among the first safety razors sold—and three-piece safety razors are considered a little less "traditional" than their two-piece counterparts. Here is a three-piece razor disassembled:
On a two-piece safety razor, the base plate is attached to the handle, so the only removable part is the top of the razor head. It's pretty easy to use, and you simply lay a razor blade on the base plate, and then screw in the razor head.
...and here's an image of that same two-piece safety razor partially assembled, so you can see how it gets put together:
As far as performance goes, there isn't really any advantage of a three-piece over a two-piece, and to be honest, we're not quite sure why three-piece razors are more popular. Some guys think that a three-piece is easier to clean, because you can take the entire thing apart and rinse it underwater, but two-pieces aren't really that hard to clean, either. It's a mystery.
Butterfly Razors, aka, Twist-to-Open Razors
You may have noticed that in the last section, we discussed two-piece and three-piece safety razors, but we didn't mention any single-piece safety razors. That's because they're a little more rare, and they're not referred to ask single-piece razors—they're actually called butterfly razors (or sometimes, twist-to-open, or "TTO" razors). They're hard to find, but they've got a devoted following, and some guys love them.
Basically, the razor head on a butterfly razor is permanently attached to the handle, so instead of taking it off to insert a new razor blade, you twist the base of the handle, and the razor head parts at the center to expose the razor blade. Here's an image of a butterfly razor with its razor head open:
Once you've inserted a new razor blade, you twist the handle in the other direction to close the razor head.
These are enjoyable to use, and a lot of men have them as collection pieces—accumulating razors can become something of a hobby, and it can be enjoyable to have a selection to choose from, especially as you experience that each provides a different shave—but the only downside to butterflies is that they can be difficult to clean. Shaving cream, whisker bits, and soap can get jammed up in the shaving head, especially around the hinges, and that can get grody if you don't take care of it. Also, because there are moving parts involved (which is not the case for two-piece and three-piece safety razors), they sometimes break. They're a fun option, though, even if they do require a little bit of TLC.
Comb Design: Open-Comb vs. Closed-Comb
Many safety razors have a section on the base plate called a straight bar (or sometimes called a "safety bar"). We've added a blue line to the image below to illustrate the straight bar—it's basically the outer edge of the base plate, and it runs parallel to the blue line we've added:
The straight bar on a closed-comb safety razor provides an important measure of protection for your skin. Without it, you'd simply be dragging a bare razor blade across your face, and that would be a bad thing, because you'd cut yourself to ribbons. The bar serves as a stop-gap between the razor blade and the whiskers on your face, and provides what's called a "mild" shave—one that will effectively remove all your whiskers, but (hopefully) won't result in too many nicks or cuts.
That straight bar is common on a lot of safety razors, and a safety razor with a straight bar on the base plate is called a closed-comb safety razor (and you'll understand why in a minute).
An open comb razor, on the other hand, does not have that straight bar, and instead has a piece of metal that looks little bit like a rake (or a comb, if you will). It has little teeth in it, and those teeth move through the whiskers on your face, gather them together, and bring them toward the razor blade. Here's an example of a vintage open comb safety razor, and as you can see, it doesn't have that straight bar, and instead has a row of teeth that make up the "open comb." That model we linked to is super-vintage—most of the new open-comb razors are chrome and smooth and sleek-looking, and that one is definitely old-school.
Here's another look at a closed comb vs. an open comb razor, from below the razor head. The safety razor on the left is a closed comb model, and the safety razor on the right is an open comb model:
An open comb safety razor provides a shave that's much more "aggressive," because it allows the razor blade to get much closer to your skin to shave whiskers off. It will, indeed, provide you with a much closer shave, but it's also more likely to cut you while you're using it, so it's not a good choice for best safety razor for beginners. There's a little bit of technique to wet shaving with a safety razor, and you'll most likely get some cuts as you develop your skills. And, while you will still probably get a couple of nicks and cuts when you're learning with a mild razor, the cuts you'll get with an aggressive open-comb razor are a LOT worse than the cuts you'll get mild close-comb razor. All of the razors we review below are close comb razors.
By the way, those terms—"mild" and "aggressive"—come up a lot when discussing safety razors. If you visit wet shaving forums like The Shave Den or Badger and Blade, you'll find that forum members spend a LOT of time discussion the safety razors they like, and how mild or aggressive they are. And while we mentioned that some safety razors are mild and some are aggressive, there are actually some safety razors that can be adjusted, so that they have both a "mild" setting and an "aggressive" setting. They're known as...
Adjustables Safety Razors: Switch from Mild to Aggressive
The aggression of a particular razor is determined by a couple of different variables, but the biggest determinant is "blade gap." The blade gap is the distance between the razor blade itself and the straight bar we talked about above. A wider blade gap will expose more of your skin to the razor blade and give a closer, more cut-inducing shave, whereas a slimmer blade gap will expose less of your skin to the razor blade, and give you a milder, less cut-inducing shave.
Most safety razors are static—they've got one distinct blade gap, and that's that. If you have it for a hundred years, the blade gap will remain the same, and there will be no variation in mildness or aggressiveness. There are some safety razors, though, called adjustables, that allow you to decrease or increase the blade gap, and change your safety razor from mild to aggressive and back again, whatever your mood—or shaving needs—require.
They're pretty simple to use—you simply twist the handle of the safety razor itself to dial it up or dial it down—and they provide you with more options than a regular safety razor. They're not as popular as regular safety razors—which is kind of odd, really—but they're a lot of fun to use, and it's kind of like having many different safety razors in one.
If you're new to wet shaving, though, you may be wondering: why would anyone want to use an aggressive razor, if it's so liable to cut you? It seems like you're exposing yourself to a lot of nicks and cuts for no particular reason.
And that's a reasonable concern. Aggressive razors actually make a lot of sense, if:
You've got really thick facial hair. For guys with really thick, really fast-growing facial hair, a milder razor—even though it is an exposed razor blade—simply doesn't shave as well as an aggressive safety razor. For guys like that, an aggressive safety razor is usually more effective. If you've got truly thick facial hair, it may make sense to start out on an adjustable, because you can get the hang of things using a milder setting, and then go to a more aggressive setting once you've got your technique down.
You have an irregular shaving schedule. A lot of guys shave every day, but there are plenty of men who will shave for a couple of days in a row, then go off on a job for a week and never shave, and then come home and shave every other day. In other words, there are a lot of guys who will sometimes need an aggressive setting to hack away at longer whiskers, while at other times need a milder setting to shave off shorter whiskers. If that describes your approach to shaving, an adjustable may work well for you. Again—just start off on a milder setting, because if you don't know what you're doing, an aggressive setting may really slice you up.
Handle Length and Material
This is another one of those characteristics that seems unimportant, but actually dramatically changes the look—and more importantly, the feel—of a safety razor: the length of the handle.
On the short end of things, safety razor handles are about 3 inches or so, and lengthier handles are around 4.5 inches (or thereabouts). Shorter handles may make a safety razor a little more maneuverable, but they can be a little difficult to hold; longer handles are easier to hold, but can make it a little more difficult to get to those "tough-to-reach" areas like under the nose and around the Adam's Apple.
If you're very tall or have very long hands, a longer-handled razor is probably the better option, but mostly, it comes down to what feels natural. Some guys feel like a shorter-handled razor is going to slip out of their hands; other guys think that using a long-handled razor is like shaving with a baton. And, of course, other guys like the variety, and have a range of different lengths.
(By the way, if you think you'd like a longer-handled safety razor, the Merkur Long-Handle is a great option, and it's on the mild side, so it's great for beginners).
As for materials, handles are usually made from stainless steel, but there are copper, rose gold, and chrome-plated metal handles, as well as handles made from different types of wood.
Knurling: Yes, Knurling
Unless you're an engineer or work at a manufacturing plant, you've probably never heard that word before. "Knurling" is the process of rolling a three-dimensional pattern onto a surface, and it's actually one of the really interesting details of a safety razor. If you take a close look at the two razors below, you'll see that they have slightly different knurling on the handles—one has a knurling of wavy vertical lines, while the other has a series of parallel lines traveling upward and downward at a 75-degree angle:
There's no "best" type of knurling—it's another one of those "personal taste" features—and plenty of different knurling patterns out there (a diamond pattern is very popular). Each has a slightly different tactile feel and a different look, and each adds a unique element to the overall sensory experience of using a safety razor.
Safety Razors: Now You Know!
There you have it! A crash course in the basics of safety razors. That all seems like a lot, but shaving enthusiasts really get into these features, and the deeper you go into shaving, chances are pretty strong that you'll have opinions about all these options.
Now that you're fairly well-versed in the language and features of safeties, let's take a look at...
The Best Safety Razor for Beginners
Here are our picks for the best beginner safety razors. Some are our "finds," while others—notably, the Merkur, the Edwin Jagger, and the Parker—have a broad and widely-agreed-upon reputation as being fantastic safety razors for new wet shavers. We'll start with the...
Best All-Around Safety Shaver for Beginners: The Merkur 34c
This was one of our first safety razors, and it's a fantastic place to start: the Merkur 34c. Right off the bat, it's got some great features: it's got a got a heavy head, so you need to apply very little pressure to get close to the root of your whiskers; it's got a relaxed angle blade ("mild," in other words), which means it's designed to effectively chop away facial hair, but with a much smaller chance of getting nicks and cuts; and it uses standard double edge razors, so finding replacement blades isn't too difficult.
And, perhaps more importantly (and this is in our opinion, of course), it simply feels smooth. There are a number of safety razors where every new pass gets more and more painful, and by the time you've completed your with-the-grain pass, and then finished your across-the-grain-pass, you're dreading your against-the-grain pass. We've found multiple passes to be fairly pleasant, with very few nicks. It's a closed-comb model, so it's designed to be a little more forgiving.
If you're new to wet shaving, we think it's a really fantastic first product, and one we highly recommend. The wet shaving community is a pretty picky bunch, and they seem to have a criticism of... just about everything. And we're not trying to be jerks about that; it's just the way things are. We have criticism of pretty much everything, too. But we've found that it's almost hard to find a person who has a negative thing to say about the Merkur 34c. It's not the fanciest safety shaver out there, or the most high-end, but for an all-around, quality shave that is less likely to cut you to ribbons, it's a fantastic option. Highly recommended.
(One quick note: the Merkur 34c is a short-handled model; some guys like that, others seem to hate it. If you'd like a long-handled version [which, again, is a great option for tall guys or guys with big hands or long fingers], Merkur makes the Merkur Long-Handled Safety Razor, a long-handle version of the Merkur 34c. It's got all the same features as the regular 34c—heavy head, even feel, smooth delivery—but it's got an extended handle.)
Best "You've Got Tons of Options" Option: The Edwin Jagger
This is another great option for beginners: the Edwin Jagger Double-Edge Safety Razor. It's a three-piece razor (a handle and a two-piece head), and just like the Merkur 34c, it has a relaxed blade angle that provides a mild shave, which should give you some protection from nicks and cuts. It's got a nice balance—heavy, but not too heavy—and it's a closed-combed model, so it should offer a bit more protection than an open-comb model. It's a great option if you want to get into wet shaving, but you've got sensitive skin—very often, that more relaxed blade angle translates to less razor burn and fewer bumps (although, of course, your mileage may vary).
But aside from being a great shave, perhaps the thing we like most of all about the Edwin Jagger is absolutely incredible range of styles it's manufactured in. This is a fantastic marketing decision on Edwin Jagger's part, because most safety razors are offered in a single style, without any variations. Edwin Jagger, however, does a great job providing a selection for that broad range of tastes. They manufacture their signature blade with different handles (short, regular, and long), different handle textures (smooth, diamond knurling, black-rubber grips, and more), different color materials (gold, rose gold, chrome), different color handles (black, lilac, ivory, maroon), and each with different knobs and patterns at the base. We absolutely love that. Our culture would have us believe that men are pretty much all the same, but that's absurd—most men have incredibly unique tastes and preferences, and have an understanding of the value of interesting and unique items. Kudos to Edwin Jagger for recognizing that—here's hoping other shaving companies do the same.
A Fantastic Old-School Option: The Muhle R89
We think the Muhle R89 is a fantastic option for a new wet shaver. Muhle, as a company, has been making high-end wet shaving equipment for more than seven decades, and they sell a broad array of high-end products ranging from wood-handled razors to soft shaving brushes to shiny chrome bowls to luxurious waffle-print towels. They've spent years developing their products, and they're a big name in the wet shaving industry.
The R89 can be a great option for new wet shavers: it's got a hefty weight that's designed to effectively cut whiskers; it's got helical knurling on the handle for added grip; and it has a prominent safety bar—great for beginners—with little divots in it (known as "scallops"). It doesn't have some of the "bite" that Muhle can be known for (and we'll talk about that in a second), and in our experience, it provides a gentle, mild shave. And, true to its "classic" form, it's manufactured in silver chrome and gold. If you're interested in wet shaving as an old-school pursuit, the R89 is a fantastic old-school safety razor.
Perhaps our favorite thing about the Muhle R89, though, is that it's kind of unique among Muhle equipment. Muhle is known for their aggressive razors, and their open-comb safety razor (which we review in our "Favorite Open Combs" post), is a pretty gnarly model. If you don't know what you're doing with it, it'll cut you to ribbons. So Muhle isn't known for making products for new wet shavers, and that's why we think this is such a great option: it allows beginners to use a product from a storied shaving company that really only sells products for experienced wet shavers. This is a more "classic" model, and one we like a lot.
A Great Three-Piece Model: The Parker 91R
Parker is another old-school company—they're been around for more than four decades—and the Parker 91R is one of their original models. It's another old-school device, but it's been updated to include modern materials (it's manufactured with all-brass and a nickel/chrome finish) and features a streamlined handle with prominent knurling and a double-ringed base. It's a nice mix of old and new, and in our experience, provides a close shave without an elevated risk of cuts.
It's usually advertised as a "heavyweight" model, and that's not quite correct—most of the best safety razors for beginners we've listed here are similar in weight—but it's definitely within the correct weight range, where it can provide a close shave without too much force. Also, it's a three-piece model, and that can be an advantage: three-piece models are said to be a little more "precise" that two-piece and single-piece models, because each part of the razor head holds the blade firmly in place.
Another great razor, and one worth considering.
Our Pick for "High-End" Shaver: The Feather Safety Razor
Safety razors range from "just the basics" to "super-duper deluxe," and the Feather All Stainless Steel Double-Edge Razor would be considered among the "super-duper deluxe" models. It's a beauty.
We'll start with Feather as an entity: they are the first Japanese company to start making replaceable-blade razors, and that's kind of fascinating, when you think about it. Japan has a long and storied history with steel and blades, and the "kamisori"—the traditional Japanese straight razor—is famous world-wide for its incredible sharpness. It's a surprise that Japanese companies waited so long to get into the Western shaving market, but it's not a surprise that their first venture into Western-style razors is so valued (and Feather is actually well-known for creating incredibly high-quality blades to be placed in the safety razors themselves—a distinction not every manufacturer of safety razors enjoys).
And their safety razor is a stand-out. It's got very aggressive diamond knurling, deep divots along the handle, and a solid safety (which, as we mentioned above, makes it a good option for beginners). In some parts of the razor, the silver is muted (like on the razor head), while on other parts it's shinier (like on the neck between the handle and the head). It's a unique-looking option, but...
In our experience, the Feather Safety Razor provides an extremely close shave. While the specs on the model are somewhat "normal"—the handle is about 3.5 inches, which is about average, and the weight is mid-range, as well—when used with Feather razors, we've found that it provides excellent results. If you're the kind of guy who wants to begin using a safety razor but doesn't want—or does not have the time—to complete the three passes included in traditional wet shaving—this can be a great option.
Welcome the World of Wet Shaving!
If you're trying to find the right safety razor, chances are you're new to wet shaving. If that's the case, welcome to the community! Traditional wet shaving is a deeply satisfying process, and we've written extensive posts about how to do it, what products you may want to use, and websites you can visit. If you have any questions, feel free to jump over to our "Contact Us" page, and we'll get back to you. Have fun, and happy shaving!