Looking for help with purchasing a safety razor.
December 13, 2016 12:15 PM   Subscribe

Is there a product that meets the gold standard for the safety razor? One that is durable yet practical? While there are many interesting and beautiful designs to chose from, I find many of them to be a bit vain for my taste, and I would appreciate your input. I'm looking for something practical in price, but my budget should be of no concern when it comes to your advice.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
posted by captainsohler to Shopping (26 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, the Merkur is the name-brand here. Just pick the handle you want.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 12:28 PM on December 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Sweethome has a writeup on safety razors... Merkur is their pick as well.
posted by Huck500 at 12:31 PM on December 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I bought a $12 safety razor handle from Amazon and I couldn't be happier. I looked at Merkur safety razors in a store and I don't think they're all that different from the cheap options. If money is no object, Merkur is a fine choice.

I have tried a variety of blade manufacturers and I liked Feather the best, but only because of the packaging. All the blades I tried seemed to be exactly the same.

What does matter to me is the quality of the soap brush, so spend money on real boar bristles if you can.
posted by blnkfrnk at 12:33 PM on December 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is the one I bought about 2.5 years ago, and it works fine. Merkurs are highly-rated as well.

Really, as Sara C. points out, razors are a pretty mature and stable technology (heck, you can even buy a perfectly good old Gillette razor off eBay if you want to go the retro route). Just pick a reputable brand, look for a reasonably sturdy model with the looks you like and go for it. You shouldn't have to spend over $50 unless you want to spring for, I dunno, 24k gold plating or something.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:34 PM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Merkur razors are well-regarded and popular. But comfort should be your number one concern, and is highly specific to your dexterity and your face. Because they hold blades at different angles, etc, each razor is either more or less "aggressive." I'd err on the side of keeping your budget low, and not being afraid to get a different one if there is even a little discomfort.

I used an Edwin Jagger razor for a long time. On a whim, I bought an old Gillette for $5 in an antique shop, and never used the fancier one again because the Gillette was just better for me.
posted by voiceofreason at 12:35 PM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Feather blades - they work great and in my experience last the longest. Buy them in a 100-pack and they're only 25¢ each.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:38 PM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yep! Merkur and Feather all the way - you can't go wrong. I like the long handle variation. I only ever upgraded mine to the 'adjustable' sort after a few years for dense facial forestation reasons.
posted by destructive cactus at 12:45 PM on December 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've used a Merkur Futur for about 5 years now, and highly recommend it. Very simple, no BS design, perfectly weighted, and gives a close, clean shave. I use it with Derby Extra blades, which you can get for ~7-8 cents apiece and are usually good for 2 shaves.

Graduated from a bunch of different 50s/60s Gillette razors bought in antique shops, and I prefer the heavier Futur - for me, it has equaled less nicks.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:45 PM on December 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Merkur Slant that the Sweethome article recommends had too much of a fearsome "not for beginners" reputation when I bought my razor; I got a Merkur HD 34C and like it. (OTOH, I'm male and use it for face shaving for which the stubby handle seems better; my female partner tried it for leg shaving and much preferred a long handle.)

All the blades I tried seemed to be exactly the same.

I got a sampler pack of many different blades and that has not been my experience: some seem to shave more smoothly and last well, others feel rougher and dull quickly, and some felt more prone to nicking. Haven't gotten through them all yet, but I suspect I'll probably end up with Feather blades too.

I've been buying the razor blade inserts for the Venus leg razor I bought in college, over 10 years ago. The blades are kind of expensive

...which is kind of the selling point for safety razors: double-edge blades are dirt-cheap compared to cartridges. (The whole manly-grooming-gear-fetishization of expensive brushes and soaps does counterargue against this a bit. I've found a cheap-ish brush to be good enough; and that fancy shaving cream is expensive but worth it. Smells nice, lathers well, and you need so little of it to get a good lather that it lasts forever.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:57 PM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I got my razor at a junk shop for 5 bucks (something like this but not shiny). It's a very simple machine, and older models were perhaps made when things were made to last? So I don't think there's a reason not to go cheap and/or used.
posted by rikschell at 1:04 PM on December 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh, I forgot to mention - When I switched from an electric to a manual razor years ago, I initially bought an old Gillette razor off eBay. I eventually bought a new one because the old Gillette had just a bit of looseness and play in the parts that made it tricky to get both razor edges evenly placed in the holder. But what I liked about that razor is that twisting the bottom opened the top on two hinges like a couple of bay doors to let you replace the blade; on most of the new ones it seems you actually unscrew the entire head from the handle, leaving you with 3 separate pieces to mess with (handle plus top and bottom head pieces).

It might possibly be that the old "open the pod bay doors, Hal" mechanism contributed to the looseness I mentioned, in which case the new models are simpler and more secure. But I miss having the all-in-one-piece razor when swapping out blades.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:08 PM on December 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Merkur Futur user here. Feather blades when I have two or more days' beard, Dorco when shorter. (The Feather blades are wicked sharp.)
posted by spacewrench at 1:26 PM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Merkur HD. It feels good in the hand, the short handle works well for shaving your face, and the ergonomics of the blade are such that it's safe enough for a beginner but still great for an experienced user. Like many others, I wouldn't use anything other than the Feather blades. I buy them in bulk once every 5 years or so.
posted by tim_in_oz at 1:27 PM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Until I quite shaving about 2 years ago, I used a Merkur, but the one I loved best was the Classic 1904 model. I also have a fancy Futur, but I found it less precise and harder to work with, so I kept using the 1904 until it broke, and bought a 34C which seems to be pretty much the same.

Let me add, though, that while some folks LOVE the Feather blades, I didn't -- they tended to nick me much more than Merkur blades, and the price is about the same, so I stayed with an all-Merkur plan. They're more expensive, but still WAY cheaper than modern disposables, and lasted longer for me to boot.

When I was still shaving, I discovered a vintage "pod door" Gillette in an old box of my dad's stuff, and cleaned it up to use. It really, really sucked compared to the Merkur -- weight and balance were off, plus it was loose, etc. Get the Merkur.

People are talking about Merkur like it's insanely expensive ("if money is no object"), but a 34C is $40 at West Coast Shaving. You'll spend that on Mach III blades inside a year. On my not especially thick beard, I rarely could use a MachIII blade more than a week or so, and they're $2-5 each, which means $100 annually at a minimum.

You could go hog wild on a razor ($100? $200?) and still end up spending less in the long run than you would with a modern disposable system -- the blades are almost free; Amazon has 50 Feathers for $15 right now.
posted by uberchet at 1:40 PM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm not a fan of the Feathers either. I've been wet shaving for over 8 years and I still can't get a comfortable shave with a Feather. For me it's the blue box Personas that work best and the Astras.
posted by cazoo at 1:46 PM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Another vote for junk sale/ estate sale/ flea market etc.

Consider it a form of reliability testing. Razors that someone kept around for decades are razors that are good, by some estimation. Also at those prices, you can try a dozen for the same cost as one new.
posted by SaltySalticid at 1:50 PM on December 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

If it makes you feel better, any bloodborne pathogens on a used junk shop razor are likely to have been inactive for decades by now.

If you prefer a new cheap entry point, go for eBay and buy one from India (Parker, et al), and a pack of blades. I am still working through a big box of Derbys I bought for like $10 in 2002.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 2:35 PM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I also love my Merkur handle (I think I bought their cheapest one - short handle and non-adjustable blade angle). I did have one break on me, though; I dropped it on the tile floor and I think it had corroded inside a bit, and the whole thing snapped in half.

As for the blades, my experience (and people I know who use surgical tools in their professions have corroborated this) is that German steel tends to be much sharper but does not last very long. Japanese or Korean blades tend to be a bit sturdier and will last longer, but aren't quite as sharp. Blades really tend to be a matter of preference, though - I have Feather blades now only because I found a deal on Amazon for a huge pile of them, but you can get sampler packs also and try them all if you want.
posted by backseatpilot at 3:11 PM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I adore my Merkur 34c. It's billed as one for beginners and I see their point, once I've really got the hang of it I'll probably want a more aggressive one for a closer shave. Cost me about £27 and genuinely will last for life though!
posted by welovelife at 3:33 PM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I use an old Gillette adjustable I bought on eBay a few years ago, and have been very happy with it. Prices are up since then but it appears you can get a decent-looking razor for $40 or $50, while a nicely restored & re-plated one will set you back $100 or so. I like the "bomb bay doors" and the adjustable blade angle, but mostly I like that it looks exactly like the one my father used to use.
posted by mr vino at 3:40 PM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Edwin Jagger DE89Lbl with Bic Chrome Platinum blades is the winner for me. The Edwin Jagger razors are a fair lot heavier than the Merkurs. I've tried Derby, Feather, various Gillette blades, Nacets, Astras and CVS house brands (and others I don't recall). Nacet is the only brand where I would say "never again".

For me, preference order is: Bic Chrome Platinum, Astra Platinum, Derby, Feather. Feathers are a bit stiffer than I like, though they do seem to remain consistent through the largest number of shaves.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 4:24 PM on December 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I also love my Merkur handle (I think I bought their cheapest one - short handle and non-adjustable blade angle). I did have one break on me, though; I dropped it on the tile floor and I think it had corroded inside a bit, and the whole thing snapped in half.

I also had a Merkur break when screwing the handle back on after replacing the blade—it the threaded section that screws in just sheared right off. It was pretty surprising since I don't really expect steel to just fail like that. I'm sure there was some corrosion. Still, I did get five or so years out of it. And I replaced it with another Merkur.
posted by enn at 5:21 PM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Contrarian advice incoming. I've been wet shaving for 8 years and have most of the Merkurs mentioned up thread in my collection (HD, slant, futur), that is what I started on. Most are made from pot metal; as you move up the quality scale, it will be aluminum and then stainless steel. In 2016, there are just a ton of choices that cost the same, or even less, than the Merkurs. Are you buying as a gift, or buying for yourself as a new wet shaver?

If gift for an experienced shaver: get an Ikon ShaveCraft X3 slant with a Bulldog handle (source from Maggard's or Italian Barber). It is pretty inexpensive as DE razors go, I think I paid $30 for the head and handle, but has gotten a lot of great press on the shaving forums this year. I bought one when it first came out and it has become a regular in my rotation; it is amazingly mild for a slant.

If buying for yourself: your shaving technique, razor blade choice, and ability to make a slick lather with soap or cream are going to matter just as much as the razor, maybe more. There are some good FAQs, including "beginner's kit" recommendations on the Reddit wicked_edge subreddit (https://www.reddit.com/r/wicked_edge). Everyone's face is different, and everyone's beard is different, so the main advice you get if you are new is to experiment with a lot of different things, especially blades. So whatever you get as a razor, buy a blade sampler pack and try them all to see what works best for you.

Saving money? Not so much in my experience. I would have saved money if I stopped at the first razor/brush combo I bought. Part of the appeal of wet shaving is the ability to mix and match the experience: razor, blade, shaving brush, soap, aftershave. It is pretty easy to end up with five or ten razors, a handful of brushes, and a dozen different artisan soaps, and a couple of aftershaves. You can have a different shaving experience every day of the year, but end up with a big sunk cost is gear and soap.
posted by kovacs at 6:22 PM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I went from a $2 razor I'd had for years to a Merkur (maybe A$50-60?), and (after some adjustment) it's definitely worth the dosh.

That said, the cheapo one was fine for me for years - though a touch aggressive, leading to a some blood. First couple of shaves with the Merkur were weird because I was so used to the old one, but once I worked out that I couldn't really cut myself even if trying, and adjusted technique accordingly, it's all good.

Thing I found hard about shopping for a new razor was that the fancy ones all seem so short. My cheapo one has a (slippery, plastic) handle of about 150mm, and I'd got used to it.
posted by pompomtom at 7:05 PM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've collected quite a few safety razors over the years. Get an old Gillette three piece from ebay or a antique shop. I've seen them go pretty inexpensively, and they work fine. I find old Gillettes tend to be very gentle shavers, compared to more unusual types like Schick or Gem single edge razors (which have their own charms). The double edge blades are still easy and cheap to find. Local 99 Cent store sells them five for a buck, Personna, perfectly good blades.

Most common Gillettes seem to be the closed-comb three-piece versions (often called Tech) sold from about the 1940s to I'm guessing the 1970s. The twist opening Gillettes are nice objects to behold. The adjustable Gillettes even moreso, but I found neither offer any significant advantage. Older Gillettes with an open comb design I think are a little better if you are shaving longer whiskers, or as I do every now and then, shave my arm pits. They just seem better suited to shaving longer hairs. I find the Tech suits me fine. The heads of the Tech models are pretty much identical, but the handles can vary, mostly cosmetically, depending on age, and country of origin. Gillette curiously produced these razors in the US, Germany, England, Mexico, and beyond.

Some people like razors with characteristics involving heft or balance or aesthetics. This can be an expensive rabbit hole, but if that's your thing, go for it. Knowing what I know now, I could easily stick with a three piece Gillette without any regrets or any real desire for an alternative other than for curiosity sake.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:49 PM on December 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have 3 different Merkurs and use all of them. I don't know what models they are, but the one I use daily has a long handle (!). I bought an Edwin Jagger one once and quickly replaced it with another Merkur. All of which proves, whatever suits you is best. Just to complete the set: Feather blades bought 200 at a time from Amazon; Cyril Salter French Vetiver soap (also from Amazon), and a crappy old no-badgers-were-harmed brush from The Body Shop, which works perfectly.
All of which might or might not suit you, but it works for me.
posted by Logophiliac at 7:12 AM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

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