As you embark on the epic journey of wet shaving, you soon realize that you need your very first double edge (DE) safety razor.
So where does one begin? Like shopping for a new car or television, there are many different makes and models. They come in a variety of styles and price range. You can spend a little or a lot. Even some of the most economic razors, deliver a great shave. Perhaps you found your grandfather's razor? Some of the best shaves I've had are with vintage razors. So ultimately, one might consider 3 things when buying their first DE safety razor: style, quality and of course price.
As with all things, some razors are good, some are bad, some with neat features, some with gimmicks, some that are better suited for an expert and those suited for a novice. In this blog I'll share some facts and insights to help you find the right razor, or at least help with the decision making. Everyone's experience is different.
So before we go shopping- let's talk style or perhaps, more specifically, the anatomy of a DE razor.
All DE safety razors have common parts. These are generally in 1, 2 or 3 pieces. The components normally include the handle, a bottom plate and a top plate. Sometimes these parts are completely separate, or perhaps 2 of the components are fused or moulded together. In some cases, some razors are moulded in one piece, but include a hinged component to add the blade. A common example of a separate three piece DE safety razor is the Merkur 23. The top plate has a bolt in the centre, the bolt fits through the bottom plate and screws into the handle. There are pins that align the plates to ensure they are held in the correct position. A blade is held between the two plates with the pins and bolt. We'll talk more about these plates....so hold that thought. We'll also talk more about blades in subsequent blogs. I like this razor as it was my first DE razor- so I am biased. It was recommended to me because the long handle makes for an easy transition from a typical cartridge razor of similar dimension. So if you're replacing your cartridge razor, this would be a great razor to start with.
So let's talk handles. Handles come in many shapes and sizes and ultimately the user has to find the right one. Those transitioning from a cartridge razor might enjoy the transition to a long handle. These long handle razors may sound odd but are in fact virtually the same dimensions as a conventional disposable razor- approximately 3 3/4 inches to 4 inches in length. Short handles are also quite popular and frequently mimic vintage razors or traditional safety razors. The Merkur 33 is a popular example measuring only 3 inches in length. There are many different opinions about the handle length. I find that I have mostly used or gravitated towards the long handle razors. With that being said, some feel a handle like the Merkur 33 offers the user a more precise shave as the hand guiding the razor is slightly closer to the face thus offering better control. A good analogy is writing with a pen. Most people grip the pen closest to the tip where the ink comes out. Try writing holding the pen at the opposite end. While you might be able to write something, precision control of the writing is more difficult.
Some razor handles have an etched or knurled surface to minimize slipping. An all chrome or stainless steel design will mean that this type of razor will not rust. Some handles are made of wood, while others are resin or some other material. Wood handles are a beautiful addition to any shaving den and we've introduced several such as our De Vries collection. Even though these handles are sealed to prevent issues with moisture, I still recommend leaving them in a dry space and avoid keeping them in the shower. If you're going to shower shave I would lean towards a razor with a metal handle.
From the handle we move to the plates that hold the blade in place. Earlier we explained how the plates hold the blade in place, but there's a lot more going on.
This is where all the magic happens. Most razors have fixed plates. That is, you add the blade and the plates hold the blade in place, the distance or gap between the plates and the blade are not adjustable. Razors with large gaps between the blade and the plates are often termed "aggressive". This simply means that the blade is more exposed. Another way that razors are made to be more aggressive is with an open comb versus closed comb design. Most razor plates are closed comb. Open comb plates have a bottom piece that looks like a comb or has teeth. Again, this type of razor is considered more aggressive.
More and more wet shaving enthusiasts are looking for a customized razor that they can customize each shave with. This is where adjustable razors come in. These might be adjusted using a mechanism in the handle which adjusts the space between the plate and blade. The Parker Variant is a good example of this. With a simple turn of the handle, the space can be adjusted from 1 to 5- where 5 offers the greatest gap. Most wet shavers will tell you to begin on the lowest number and work your way up till you find the right number that works for you. Hair growth, hair type, technique, skill and type of blades will influence the setting. Another style of razor comes with different plates that are interchangeable. The Rockwell 6C or 6S is gaining in popularity. This well made razor comes with 6 different size plates (gap size) that you interchange. The heads are the same size but the gap size is different. Finding the right one for you is the key. You might find that once you've found that "sweet spot" you never go back. I typically will use a Rockwell 6S/C with the 5 plate.
While these adjustable razors might intimidate you, there's nothing wrong with trying an adjustable razor as a novice. However, be prepared, the cost is a little more than a typical razor. Even more important, you need to take your time and get to know your razor. They often will have more weight than basic DE safety razors. I've learned that one way to get to know your razor is to do a "faux" shave. That is- WITHOUT a blade, simply to a test shave. Feel the weight in your hand, feel the weight of the razor on your skin. The key is to always let the razor's weight do the work. Practice holding it at 30 degrees.
Of course cost is a major factor with any purchase. You're investing in a razor that you want to have a rond for a long time..... of course I have 6 in my regular rotation...but the point is, yes, cost can be a factor. If you're on a tight budget, or perhaps you're not sure about this hobby, you may want to try a good quality razor for less. I generally recommend Rockwell R1 Rookie is the perfect razor for someone new to wet shaving.
Remember that DE safety razors ARE allowed in checked or carry on baggage. However, for carry on bags, they must be WITHOUT a blade. DE blades are not currently permitted in carry on bags.
As always, I'm just a quick email or phone call away and I'd be more than happy to help you.