Cartridge razors are generally engineered to provide a “one-size-fits-all” shave, making the product a ubiquitous solution for the masses of shavers out there. In doing so, disposable cartridge razors decrease the potential margin for error across the board for various skin and hair types. That means nicks, cuts, weepers, razor bumps and other shaving malfunctions are avoided–for the most part–with a standard cartridge razor.
While the lack of customize-able options is a good solution for the masses, it does not work well for every shaver, particularly those with the most sensitive skin. In addition, some shavers prefer the option of maintaining more control over their shaving tools and technique. One of the areas that provides the greatest customized options for wet shavers is the safety razor head. Six general types of safety razor heads exist, some with varying degrees of sophistication and accommodation for how you might like to customize your shave. Here we discuss each and provide some detailed pros and cons to help you determine which type of safety razor head will best work for your individual needs.
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Closed comb razors are likely some of the more common razors, particularly for the beginning, novus wet shaver. Open comb safety razors typically provide a bit more “safe” to the “safety” component of the shave by reducing both the blade gap and the blade exposure–perhaps the two most critical components to gauging a customized shave with a safety razor.
Today’s closed comb razors are often even less aggressive than those in years past and the shave you receive from one open comb razor can differ greatly depending on the brand and head type. Fortunately, for the beginning wet shaver, most of the standard closed comb razors are fairly forgiving for those looking to just get started in the process.
The biggest benefit to the closed comb razor is its lack of aggression. However, as you become more proficient at your shaving craft, this very feature could be considered one of the closed comb’s greatest weaknesses as well. You may want to expand out and try a razor head with greater aggression.
Unlike the closed comb razor head, the open comb is a more aggressive shave. Because the teeth are “open” and there is a larger blade gap and more blade exposure, shavers will quickly see the teeth on the head both allow more lather to remain on the face as the blade cuts. In addition, the comb does a better job of lifting the hair away from the face, thus providing a much closer overall shave. In typical fashion most open comb safety razors also have a larger blade gap and blade exposure.
For your typical wet shaver, using an open comb razor typically requires a bit more understanding and skill. The added aggression can cause more irritation and blood than what one may be accustomed to from a typical closed comb razor, especially as the shaver advances to his/her second and third passes.
For me personally, the open comb, while great for the once a week shave or for slicing through a long beard, it is not as helpful for use as a daily shaver.
It is also important to note and keep in mind that while traditionally open comb razors have been more aggressive, the aggressiveness is not due to the comb itself, but is a byproduct of the fact that most open comb razors have a larger blade gap and more blade exposure than closed comb razors. As a result there are open comb razors that are actually less aggressive than some closed comb razors.
Combination — Open/Closed
The combo head is just as it sounds–it is simply a double-edge head wherein one side includes an open comb and the other side of the blade is closed comb. Such a scenario can be great for the shaver who may shave less frequently. When a wet shaver shaves less frequently, it is typical that the open comb edge be used in the first pass, combing through and cutting the longer hairs. Subsequent passes are then taken with the closed comb where less aggression is typically needed.
The upside of comb heads is the ability to experience the pros of both types of shaves without having to swap the blade, head or move to another razor mid-shave, if you want to adjust your technique. The downside is that you less likely to evenly distribute the wear of your blade between both sides of the razor if you’re using them for very different activities (hedging a beard vs. second and third passes on the remaining stubble).
The slant razor sits in a different world altogether. The slant takes the typical double edge safety razor and sets the blade at a slanted angle. Things like blade gap and exposure are still considered, but they become secondary to how the blade itself puts pressure against the skin. Because the blade comes in contact against both the skin and stubble in an indirect way, there is less pressure against both the skin and hair. As such, the slant razor can be extremely less forceful and provide an even better shave for those with more sensitive skin. The slant is usually considered the razor of choice for typical trouble areas like the neck, gobbler and under-girdle of the chin.
For these reasons many wet shavers would advise the slant razor to be a shaver’s second razor purchase.
Unlike the fixed gap razor types mentioned above, adjustable safety razors allow the user to adjust the blade exposure and blade gap typically by twisting a knob. In some cases, a single razor handle may also come with several heads that provide a similar difference, but without the ability to manually adjust “on-the-fly” without having to remove the head and swap the blade.
The great pro of the adjustable blade is the quick and easy ability to adjust aggression on the fly. You may wish for different blade exposure and aggression based on where you are on your face, which pass you are taking and how long your facial hair is. This is true whether you are using different heads and swapping them our or simply have a reliable adjustable double edge safety razor.
A single edge safety razor can include any of the featured referenced above, but with a couple of important caveats. Because the single edge blade only has one side, they either 1) use a snapped half of a typical double-edged safety razor or 2) you have to purchase blades made specific for the style of the razor. In scenario one, you can at least use the same blades by simply snapping them into two pieces. In the second scenario, you will be forced to purchase some type of proprietary blade likely from the same group manufacturing the razor and its head. This presents a number of problems you can likely surmise on your own, the greatest of which is lack of choice when it comes to find the the right razor blade.
Other than those two differences, the single blade safety razor can take on any of the characteristics of those blades already listed. Some advanced, newer versions may also include pivoting heads and lubricating strips–usually seen as features more typical of disposable cartridge razors. The last decade has seen the emergence of numerous types of new designs in this arena, including
Safety Razor Head Mount Types
Safety razors come in various styles and flavors, from the safety razor heads, to the handles, to the materials that comprise them. How a razor blade is designed is not only up to personal preferences, but the razor blade design can also impact things like blade gap or the adjustability of the razor itself.
The Butterfly Double Edge Safety Razor
Considered perhaps the easiest safety razor to load, the butterfly safety razor is a single-piece, top-loading razor. Today’s top-loading butterfly safety razors are reminiscent of yesteryear’s classic Gillette razors. Using the base of the handle, unscrew the head of the razor and place the double-edge (DE) blade into the head of the razor.
Here is an example of a butterfly safety razor in our shave store.
The Two Piece Double Edge Safety Razor
The two piece double edge safety razor typically includes a screw-bottom that releases the head from the razor handle. The head includes a threaded rod that typically inserts into the handle between 25% and 50% down the shaft. The head is made of a single piece that looks like this (Merkur 38c):
The Three Piece Double Edge Safety Razor
With three-piece double edge safety razors, the head is comprised of two separate pieces that stack one on top of the other, with the blade resting in between. The screw threading resides at the top of the razor blade handle and screws into the top piece of the head.
Determining whether you use a single piece, butterfly safety razor, a two piece safety razor or a three-piece razor is more based on personal preference than any other factor. All three types of razors can provide the superior shave over their cartridge counterparts, but have some differing nuances that you may not be familiar with.
But how will you determine which version is the best for you? Do you borrow one version of each from a friend? Do you buy an inexpensive version of each and run a test? Your call.
Truly getting accustomed to customizing your shave requires a great deal of experimentation. It is also wise to remember–as we have only lightly touched on above–that your razor blade of choice also plays a critical role in the quality and output of your shave. Some prefer the sharpest blades while others are more comfortable with something “middle of the road.” The same typically holds true for the razor head itself. Aggression may appear more manly, but most men are fine with a good quality shave that comes from even the most basic open comb safety razor.
In the end, my advice for the newly-minted wet shaver: start with a less aggressive closed-comb safety razor, get accustomed to it and then move out from there.