Difference between Open Comb and Closed Bar Razor?
September 12, 2010 9:04 AM   Subscribe

I'm considering switching to a Safety Razor. What's the difference between Open Comb and Closed Bar? I've never seen these and scouring the internet has yielded no real usable explanation.

Originally, I taught myself to shave with an electric. A few years later, I switched to a Mach 3 (again self taught) to see if I could get a nice close shave and have used it a long long time.

From some Youtube tutorials, I recently discovered other razors (double edge, single edge, safety) so I'm thinking of switching from the Mach 3 to some sort of double edge safety razor for cheaper replacement blades, but while researching around the internet, I haven't been able to get a decent definition of the difference between an Open Comb or Closed Bar razor. In particular, I'm talking about the Merkur 34C vs (I think?) 11C.

Am I correct with these two razor models? What is the difference? Which brand and type do you prefer and why? What is your favorite? Where is best to buy online or retail (I'm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA)?

If possible, I'm interested in hearing from people who have tried several brands or types.
posted by rwheindl to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The way I understand it, open comb is for heavier growth and beard maintenance. I use a 34C.

The choice of blade and shave prep is also important. Get a bunch of Feather blades while you're at it, and Proraso Sensitive Pre Shave, and also Proraso Soap. If you live in a hard water area, get the soap in a tube so that it won't just turn to insoluble scum.
posted by scruss at 9:24 AM on September 12, 2010

The guys over at Badger and Blade know. I've never used an open comb, but I've used several different closed bar razors, both double edged and single. The standard Gilette double edged safety razors, either adjustable or not, are fine. I couldn't detect a lot of difference between any of the standard type models.

What I actually use is a "Schick Eversharp Hydromagic 500." It takes a special single-edged blade that not every corner store carries, but isn't hard to track down. I settled on this one on my own and later found out that it's somewhat sought after not for its rarity, but for its shave. And it does seem to stay sharp longer than a regular double edged blade, but then I don't have a heavy beard or anything.
posted by cmoj at 9:31 AM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

This thread does the job well. Also, Badger and Blade is your friend, though perhaps in more detail than you'd ever need.

I think you'd be best starting with something like the Merkur HD (34C) or a cleaned-up 1960s Gillette adjustable from eBay, and a blade sampler from West Coast Shaving. I've used (and sold) open comb razors: they're very aggressive, and are meant for heavy beards.
posted by holgate at 9:38 AM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I guess open comb razors make it theoretically easier to mow down heavy growth. But general differences across the board can be hard to make. Open combs are often reputed to be more aggressive than closed safety bar razors. Except when they are not.

With Merkur razors, open comb seem for many to be less aggressive than their closed comb counterparts. On close inspection, the blade seems to rest on the comb, leaving no gap at all, and small swaths of skin that get missed on each pass. Yet somehow they work OK.

As far as buying Merkur razors, The Superior Shave has good prices and service. Unfortunately, new open comb razors are a fairly thin herd. Merkur gets little competition in that area these days.

IMO, open comb vs closed isn't really of importance. Just pick a good razor and enjoy. Merkurs have a good rep. Edwin Jaggers have a better rep. If you don't want to spend too much, get an Egyptian made Lord, preferably with the "Merkur-like head" new on ebay. Great shavers for little money. After you get this down, then you can delve into vintage stuff to see what grampa favored (or ditched).
posted by 2N2222 at 10:30 AM on September 12, 2010

I've been using a Merkur HD for about 4 years now. It has a nice weight to it and safety razor blades are cheap. When my 2nd job is slow I tend to go weeks between shaves so I first clean up with my electric clippers before tackling it with the Merkur.

To be honest, I find the shave of the Mach3 is much much much better and much faster, but I can't swallow the per/blade cost of those. It is straight-up robbery, is what it is.
posted by tmt at 11:05 AM on September 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Nth'ing the Merkur HD (34c) and holgate's advice about picking up a blade sampler. I used an HD as my daily choice for several years and still use it when I travel (if checking a bag -- I use a Mach 3 if I am just doing carry-on). Shaving with a DE is a learning curve if you are coming off of a Mach 3 -- you have to learn to apply less pressure, almost holding the DE razor between thumb and forefinger and just letting the weight of the razor do the shaving. The blade sampler will give you a chance to try different blades to see what works best for your face (some blades are sharper/more aggressive than others). My current daily setup is a Feather blade and a Merkur HD slant bar (37c). All of my purchases have been mail-order, from either West Coast Shaving or Classic Shaving; I've had nothing but a positive experience with both companies.
posted by kovacs at 11:16 AM on September 12, 2010

Another vote for the Merkur HD. There's also a lot of talk in shaving circles (not that I've joined a shaving circle) about the qualities of different blades. The Merkur blades seem to me to require slow, careful shaving; I find they draw blood a little too often. Someone recommended unbranded Israeli-made blades (which I tracked down on eBay) and they're absolutely perfect, no matter how hurriedly I hack and slash in the morning.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:18 AM on September 12, 2010

le morte de bea arthur: That is probably why I still prefer the Mach3! I will look into the Israeli blades.
posted by tmt at 11:34 AM on September 12, 2010

Just to add that I bought the Merkur travel razor a couple of years ago, intending only to use it when travelling, but like it so much I use it all the time. Blades last me forever - shaving daily I rarely use a blade a month...
posted by prentiz at 11:40 AM on September 12, 2010

I like the Merkur 33C, which is my stand-by for when I'm in a hurry. Normally I use the Dovo Shavette, which is a whole other thing entirely.

I've never been able to use a cartridge razor without either giving myself a big cut on the chin or giving myself nasty razor burn. The Merkur doesn't do that to me. Don't get discouraged if you cut yourself a lot with the safety razor at first - you shave differently than with a cartridge razor, and it takes a little experimentation.
posted by ctmf at 12:28 PM on September 12, 2010

I went from using the Merkur 34c to the 11c. Sometimes I like to grow out some facial hair and try new things. The open comb is supposedly better for shaving hairier faces. To be honest, there was no difference between bar and comb. I also owned the Merkur 1904 open comb. I think you really just have to try them out and see which one is right for your face. Same goes with razor blades, shaving cream, shaving brushes, after shave. It's a long process but once you get the combination that works well for your face you will never go back to cartridge blades ever again.
posted by cazoo at 12:57 PM on September 12, 2010

I was able to get a Weishi with like a year's supply of blades for around $15 shipped. It's often dogged on, and it's really not as nice as a Merkur or old Gillette, but it's still capable of delivering a Damn Fine Shave if you're willing to put the time into it. I don't believe for a second that with proper use a Mach 3 can come close to any safety razor in terms of shave and price per use.
posted by piedmont at 1:01 PM on September 12, 2010

Open combs were the first safety razors, and some suggest that the movement away from them was really about cost cutting rather than anything else. I've recently bought a 30s Gillette New open comb and I'm very happy with it and currently use it in preference to my 60s Gillette adjustable (Fatboy) and Merkur progress. Perhaps start with a closed comb though since that is the common advice.

For what it's worth I don't know that I'd get a Merkur open comb no matter what, for some reason they copied the very early Gillette design, rather than the improved design on the New. Here is the Merkur head, here is the head on the Gillette New.

Then again I don't really think all that much of Merkur razors, although I know they are widely recommended. For mine a Fatboy is the perfect first DE.
posted by markr at 7:01 PM on September 12, 2010

"I used an HD as my daily choice for several years and still use it when I travel (if checking a bag -- I use a Mach 3 if I am just doing carry-on)."
I very specifically remember that, at least as late as fall of last year, safety razors/blades were explicitly allowed by TSA in carry-on baggage. But I just checked the TSA site and I see that the policy has changed to now explicitly prohibit them. Any idea when this changed?

Even when they were allowed, I had two occasions when TSA agents confiscated the blade out of my razor in spite of my appeal to their published policies. It got to the point where I printed out the policy from their website and wrapped it around my Merkur with a rubber band when I was travelling.
posted by BurntHombre at 7:39 AM on September 13, 2010

In general, open comb razors tend to be more aggressive. That is, they slide along the face and neck at a sharper angle and or let more of the blade come in contact with the skin, cutting the hair a bit closer to the skin (and sometimes irritating the face a bit). My understanding is that this is not quite the case with the Merkur 11c. But if you're looking for that more aggressive feel from a Merkur razor, look at the Slant (37c).

I use the HD for my everyday shaving needs, switching to an old, open-comb (non-Merkur) model when I have a few days' worth of stubble to mow down. The HD is a great first safety razor and could be the only one you'll ever need.
posted by bluejayway at 2:08 PM on September 13, 2010

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