What’s the Most Aggressive Safety Razor?
When you're new to wet shaving, a mild, non-aggressive safety razor is a great place to start. It'll allow you to get a feel for wet shaving, practice your technique, and reliably get a nice, close shave.
But once you've gotten the hang of things—you've gotten your technique down, you know the products you like to use, and you're able to get a close shave without getting nicked too much—where do you go from there?
For many men, you up the ante on the razor you use, and reach for something much more aggressive than the mild safety razors you learned on.
In this post, we'll discuss the most aggressive safety razors. We'll provide a brief introduction of some terms, define the factors that actually make a razor aggressive, and then we'll discuss some of our favorite aggressive safety razors.
A (Very Quick) Look at Some Terms
We'll cover this briefly, before we move on: what does "aggressive" mean, exactly, and what is an "aggressive" safety razor?
In broad terms, safety razors are described as "mild," "medium," and "aggressive," and those terms explain how close a shave an individual safety razor will provide. A mild safety razor will provide a shave that results in fewer nicks and cuts, but it may not provide a truly close shave; an aggressive shaver will provide a very close shave, but dramatically increase your chances of getting some serious nicks and cuts; and a medium safety razor exists somewhere in the space between those two extremes, and will provide a close shave with a medium-probability of nicks.
There are a couple of factors that determine the aggressiveness of a shave (and we'll talk about those in the next section), and you may find that some shaving companies use slightly different terms—instead of using the term "mild," some companies may use the term "gentle" or "comfortable" (or something like that). It's usually pretty clear which end of the spectrum they're referring to.
What Makes a Particular Safety Razor Aggressive?
As with most things, there's some debate in the shaving community about what truly determines the "aggressive-ness" of a safety razor, and certainly the most aggressive safety razor, but the general consensus is that aggressive-ness is determined by the following:
The "Blade Gap." The blade gap is the distance between the razor blade itself and the safety bar/base plate of the safety razor. A smaller blade gap will result in a milder shave; a larger blade gap will result in a more aggressive shave. Here's why: when the blade gap is very small, only a small section of your face is exposed to the razor, and fewer whiskers can enter that space between the razor and the safety bar and be cut. A larger blade gap means more whiskers are exposed to the razor blade, and more whiskers can be cut with a single pass.
The Blade Angle. The angle of the blade as it sits in the head of the safety razor is another important aspect of aggression. A larger angle will result in a more aggressive shave, and a smaller angle will result in a milder shave. The ideal angle for shaving is about 30 degrees—that is, you want to hold the razor blade at a 30-degree angle relative to the skin on your face—and that angle will allow you to attack whiskers while also going somewhat easy on your skin. A greater angle will attack whiskers more assertively, but it will also increase the chances of your getting nicks, while a smaller angle will also attack whiskers, but it will also lessen the chances of your getting cuts.
Razor Weight. As a general rule of thumb, heavy razors are more aggressive than lighter razors (and if you've ever wondered why disposable razors are so light—and why they require so many passes to get a good shave—that's probably one of the reasons why). The balance of the weight also plays a role, and safety razors with a heavier head tend to be more aggressive, while safety razors with heavy handle tend to be a little more mild.
So, those are the three main elements of aggression. There are, of course, a couple of "wildcard" factors that are sometimes overlooked, and the most notable of those wildcards is skill. The skill of the shaver using the safety razor goes a long way in how the razor performs. A mild razor in the hands of an unskilled shaver may seem pretty aggressive, and an aggressive razor in the hands of a life-long wet shaver may seem smooth as silk. Another wildcard is the quality of the actual razor blade—some blades are themselves more aggressive, while others are more mild.
Some Features You'll See on Aggressive Safeties
There are two components that you'll find on safety razors that make them more aggressive. They are:
Open Comb. If you look at a "normal" or "regular" safety razor, you'll find a straight bar on the head of the razor, located right below the razor blade. That bar provides a little barrier between your skin and the blade, and you'll find that mild safety razors will almost always have a prominent straight bar. A safety razor with a straight bar beneath the razor blade is called a "closed comb" safety razor, and most safety razors are closed comb razors. That bar may be flat and smooth, and that's a regular straight bar, or it may be flat with little divots in the bar, and that's called a "scalloped" straight bar.
An "open comb" safety does not have a straight bar beneath the razor blade, but instead features a metal piece that looks like a little—well, it looks like a little comb (and here's a very old-school image of an old-school open comb razor; most modern open comb razors are silver and sleek and very handsome). As you can see from the photo, the piece has deep gaps in it, and as you bring the razor over your skin, the comb rakes your whiskers into the gaps in the comb. It's a great match for guys heavy facial hair and thick whiskers, because the gaps between the teeth allow your whiskers to get much closer to the blade. And, of course, that's what makes it much more aggressive—because of the gaps in the comb, your skin is much close to the edge of the blade, and the chances of you getting nicked increase a little bit.
Slant Bar. Remember above, when we talked about the straight bar on a safety razor? On a slant bar safety razor, the safety bar is angled ever-so-slightly in a way that allows it to attack whiskers more aggressively. It's a little bit like a snow plow clearing snow off a street—the plow itself is slanted, allowing it to move snow in a side-to-side fashion. If the plow itself were straight, it would push the snow in front of it, and get stuck. The same concept applies to a slant bar safety razor—the angled bar allows the razor to travel over your skin and provide a more effective angle of attack when removing whiskers. Slant bar safety razors are a little more rare than regular safety razors, but there are some fantastic products out there.
In our reviews, we have a few open-comb razors, as well as a few slant-bar razors. And, keep in mind, a safety razor doesn't need either of these features to be an aggressive razor—and in fact, you'll find many super-aggressive razors that don't have them—but those two features definitely notch up the aggressive-factor on a safety razor.
Who Should Use Aggressive Razors?
Aggressive double edge safety razors are a great option for a specific group of guys: guys with very thick, very fast-growing facial hair.
As we mentioned, a thin blade gap will only let a small portion of your facial whiskers through to the cutting edge. When a guy with thick facial hair completes a single stroke, there are going to be a LOT of whiskers in that thin blade gap, and they're going to clog that blade gap when they're cut. A guy with thinner whiskers or less facial hair will be able to make a smooth pass and not clog the safety razor, but that's not the case for guys with thick facial hair.
When all that clogging happens, the shaver will have to work on the same area a number of times in order to remove the whiskers. All that extra effort kind of defeats the whole point of wet shaving, which is to get an extremely close shave, in as few strokes as possible. So by allowing a larger portion of your facial whiskers into the blade gap, a well-made aggressive safety razor can allow you to cut whiskers more quickly and more effectively.
Should Beginners Use Aggressive Safety Razors?
It's probably best for beginners to stay away from aggressive double-edge safety razors. Wet shaving is one of those activities that seems really simple—and it is, truly—but it does take a little while to get the hang of it, and as you build your skills, you're going to get some weepers (aka, some facial cuts). Even men who have used disposables or cartridge razors for years seem to need a little time to acclimate to safety razors, and that's true even for mild or medium-aggressive safety razors.
And, keep in mind: it's probably best for beginners to shy away from aggressive razors, even if they have thick facial hair. A heavy beard growth may be tough to shave through, but it doesn't mean you won't cut yourself shaving. It's usually best to learn wet shaving technique before stepping up and using aggressive razors.
If You're a Beginner but You REALLY Want an Aggressive Shave, Consider an Adjustable
Adjustables are fantastic items, and we don't think they get their fair share of praise. An adjustable razor is one that allows you to change the width of the blade gap, so if you need a mild razor, you adjust the settings so that the blade gap is very thin, and if you want an aggressive shave—let's say you've got a lot of stubble, or you missed a week of shaving because you were camping—you can adjust it so that the blade gap is wider, and more aggressive. It's a gorgeous device, and it's still an old-school razor—there's no electronic device that changes the settings; on most adjustables, you turn the handle (or the base of the handle) to adjust the settings—but it gives you a lot of options when you're shaving.
There's actually another reason adjustables makes sense for a lot of guys: some men find there are areas where they want an aggressive razor (like above the top lip or along the jaw), and other places where an aggressive razor can seem like too much (like on the neck or around the Adam's Apple). If you like options, an adjustable can be a fantastic choice.
Should Guys with Sensitive Skin Use Aggressive Razors?
As a general rule of thumb, wet shaving—that is, using a safety razor or a straight razor, along with specially-made shaving creams and soaps—is a lot easier on the skin than using a disposable or a cartridge razor and whatever canned shaving cream you find at your local store. A lot of guys have great luck with it.
That said, aggressive razors may not be a great match for guys with sensitive skin. Not only is the risk of getting nicked a bit higher, but the heavier weight of aggressive blades can cause some irritation. Razor burn and those invisible types of cuts that you can't see but you know are there can be common, so if you've got sensitive skin, a mild razor may make more sense.
That said—you can still experiment with an adjustable, if you really want to branch out into aggressive razors. You may find that you get razor burn with an aggressive razor of certain areas of your face, but not on others. Your mileage may vary, as they say!
Aggressive Safety Razor Reviews
Here are our picks for "most aggressive safety razor." We'll start with...
Our Pick for "Most Aggressive" Aggressive Safety Razor
The Muhle R41 Open Comb Safety Razor gets our vote as one of the most aggressive double-edge safety razors. It's got an open-comb design, great for men with very thick whiskers or facial hair that's grown in over many days. The open comb is such an intriguing feature, because it actually looks aggressive—it looks like a set of steel teeth, and that's a little scary. And, as far as razors go, as you get used it, you may notice a little bite!
We've found it to be very effective, but it's also, in our opinion, a beautiful model. It's got a reasonably-sized 3.5-inch handle with wavy knurling ("knurling" is the three-dimensional surface of a material) and a gracefully domed shaving head. The base of the handle features the manufacturer's logo, and it's usually manufactured in a warm rose gold color, or bright "shiny and chrome" model. A really attractive model.
With a sharp razor, the Muhle R41 can really give you a close shave, and if you want to scale down the aggression a little bit, you can use a mild razor blade and shave with a light touch. That said, the Muhle R41 really is an aggressive model, and as we mentioned, it's not a good starter model—this is one of those razors that beginners should avoid!
Our Favorite Slant Bar Safety
We mentioned above that the slant bar is one of those features you'll find on some aggressive safety razors, and our pick for best slant bar safety razor is the Merkur 2-Piece Double Edge Safety Razor. This is another one that just looks aggressive: it's got a stout 3-inch handle, a prominent shaving head, and one particular detail we really appreciate: the scalloping above the dome of the razor. It's an aesthetic touch—usually you only see scalloping on milder safety razors that feature a base plate—so it's nice to see that design included on a slant-cut razor.
As for the shave, we've found it to be very assertive. The combo of open comb and slant-cut is designed to attack whiskers more closely and more effectively, and the weight of the model adds to the aggression. In other words, the weight of the piece should do much of the work for you, so if you're used to shaving with a milder blade, take it easy. You may actually find that you need to refine your technique a little bit, in order to acclimate to the new angle of the blade. Another great option.
A "Deluxe" Aggressive Option
Above the Tie, as a company, doesn't seem to get the same attention that Muhle and Merkur get, and that's a shame. Above the Tie offers a range of high-end products, including stainless steel, copper, and mixed metal safety razors, but they also sell parts for those products, like base plates, handles, and razor heads. That's a nice feature, as a lot of shaving companies sell models as-is, without the option of decorating or personalizing them. They've got a storefront in Kingsport, Tennessee—hopefully we'll make it down there some day!
We think their Above the Tie Kronos H2 Open Comb Safety Razor is a great option. It's another open-comb model, and it's a good-looking piece: it's got a medium-sized handle (about 3.5 inches), aggressive knurling on the handle (and that tactile feeling of the texture on the handle is one of our favorite aspects of this piece), and an aggressive blade gap. This is one of the lesser-known models, but it's a solid, assertive option, and it's got a very nice weight to it.
Our Choice for Old-School Aggressive Razor
In our more honest moments, we have to admit that the "throw-back" aspect of wet shaving is sometimes just as satisfying as an extremely close shave. It's enjoyable to use shavers that look like they've survived from past eras, and if that's one of the features of wet shaving that does it for you, the Fatip Grande Double Edge Safety Razor might be a great option.
It looks to us like something Don Draper on Mad Men might use: instead of dimpled knurling (and by the way, that might be the only time a human has typed the phrase "dimpled knurling"), the handle features long vertical groves, which you don't see too much of anymore; two bolts underneath the shaving head that run horizontal to the handle, that give it a more "dated" look; and finally, it's on the short, stubby side, and that kind of makes it feel like a Gillette Fatboy, which is a very sought-after vintage razor. It's not the shortest razor we've come across, but it's definitely on the short side at 3.2 inches, and that adds to the "old-school" feel of the piece.
It's another open-comb—we're realizing that almost all of our picks are open-comb!—but that is, of course, a good thing: it keeps the razor from getting clogged, and it'll allow the blade to graze over more of your skin. It's designed to provide an efficient shave, and one that won't require pass after pass after pass. A fantastically aggressive razor.
We Promised a Few Adjustables, And…
here they are. We discussed adjustables above—they're the razors that allow you to increase or decrease the piece's aggression, and we like:
The Parker Variant. This is probably one of the most well-known adjustable razors, and we're big fans. It's got a striking black handle (very film noir), a knurled grip and base, and setting range of 1 to 5. That means, basically, that there are five different blade gaps you can choose from, and that makes it a great option for beginners: you can get used to wet shaving using the mildest setting, and as you gain skill, work your way up to the more aggressive settings. Parker is a very well-known name in the shaving industry, and they've got some fantastic products.
The Merkur Futur Adjustable Safety Razor is our other recommendation for adjustable razor. The Futur is a very unique-looking razor—we're guessing the "Futur" is German for "Future"—and it does kind of have an industrial, space-age feel to it: the chrome handle, with its smooth handle and indented grip, look unlike pretty much every other safety razor we've ever seen. The settings on the Futur go from 1 (a very mild setting) all the way up to 6 (the most aggressive), so there's a LOT of space between your most gentle option and your most assertive option. If you're looking for a reliable adjustable, it can be a solid choice. If you go to any of your favorite shaving forums (like Badger and Blade or The Shave Den) there are a bunch of men opining about it—another safety razor we really like.
We actually wrote an entire post about adjustables, so check that out if you want to dive into the nitty-gritty of adjustable double edge safety razors.
Always and Again: YMMV
As our wise brothers in the shaving forums say, "YMMV." Your mileage may vary. You may find that a mild safety razor does wonders for you, while your friend finds it ineffective, and your friend may find an aggressive razor that works perfectly for him, but slices you to ribbons. Even though there are some numbers involved (that is, the width of the blade gap), people's opinions on what's aggressive and what's mild vary considerably. As with all things, find what works for you, and enjoy the research!