Invented by King Camp Gillette in 1903, the safety razor is a shaving device designed to reduce the risk of cuts and nicks to the skin thanks in part to the safety bar that extends the length of the blade. While there are many different types of safety razors on the market today, they all operate on the same basic principle.
In this article, we’ll talk about the design details that set various safety razors apart from one another. We’ll also go over some of the pros and cons of each type so that you can make an informed decision about which razor is right for you.
While safety razors may look similar to one another, when comparing them side-by-side, subtle design differences impact the shave performance and how the razor feels in your hand. The two most significant factors to know about safety razors are the weight and blade gap, which affect how the razor feels with each pass.
Safety razors will have one of the following head types: closed comb, open comb, slant, or adjustable.
Here’s how they differ from one another:
The closed comb razor is the most common type of safety razor. It has a safety bar that covers the blade’s entire length, which helps protect the skin from nicks and cuts. The safety bar itself will usually have a solid or scalloped design.
The scallop design is often preferred as it feeds the hair into the blade more effectively, resulting in a closer shave.
Related: Best Safety Razors
Open comb safety razors have a rake-like design that lessens pressure the safety bar applies, allowing the hair and skin to come closer to the blade. This results in a closer shave but can also increase the risk of nicks and cuts if not used carefully.
Open comb razors tend to be a fair bit more aggressive and are best suited for those with experience using safety razors. Additionally, open combs can slice through thick, dense beards without the risk of clogging.
Slant safety razors get their name from the diagonal blade setting. This design allows the razor blade to cut the hair at an angle, like a French guillotine or scythe. The result is a close shave with reduced irritation to the skin, as the blade is less likely to tug or pull on the hair.
Slant razors are often recommended for those with sensitive skin, as they provide a more gentle shave. However, we also recommend that they be used by those experienced with using a safety razor.
Adjustable safety razors are a modification of the closed comb razor. In most instances, the adjustable razor relies on a knob at the bottom of the razor head that can be turned to raise or lower the blade. You’ll find this in the Merkur Futur, Merkur Progress, Parker Variant, or Rockwell T2.
This allows the user to control the blade’s exposure and, as a result, the aggressiveness of the shave.
Adjustable razors are a good choice for those who want more control over their shave, as well as for those who want to be able to adjust the razor to their own skin type.
Related: Best Adjustable Safety Razors
Single vs. Double Edge
You’ll find that safety razors will have either a single or double-edge cutting blade.
Here are some key things to know about the two:
Single edge safety razors come in two varieties: standard single edge or injector blades. Standard single edge razors are relatively rare, with the only brand that comes to mind is OneBlade – which heavily relies on the Feather FHS-10 blade.
On the other hand, injector blades are a bit more common and are used in razors such as the Supply SE Razor and Parker Adjustable Single Edge Injector Razor. The injector razor blade relies on a key-like mechanism that pushes the existing blade out and loads in a new one.
On most safety razors, you’ll see that they have a double edge cutting blade. However, the term “double edge” is a bit of a misnomer as the blade actually has two cutting edges on opposing sides. As a result, you can flip the blade over and use the other side once one side becomes dull.
This helps extend the blade’s life and provides a fair bit more value. Many brands, such as Merkur, Edwin Jagger, and Baili, manufacture safety razors with double-edged blades.
Common double-edged razor blades brands include Derby, Astra, Gillette, Feather, and Wilkinson Sword.
Safety razors are made from various metals, including zinc alloy, aluminum, brass, and stainless steel. Zinc alloy and brass are often used as affordable alternatives while also helping to provide some weight to the razor.
To protect the frame from rusting, chrome plating is often applied. Unfortunately, a downside to this is that the plating can chip and flake over time, especially if the razor is ever dropped.
Very few safety razors rely on aluminum, with Henson Shaving being among the few that do. Instead, stainless steel is often used in more premium safety razors and will often last longer than other materials. Most stainless steel razors are heirloom quality, with a few brands offering a lifetime warranty.
From a diamond knurling to a polygonal design, companies have come up with all sorts of ways to help you keep a firm grip on your razor while you’re shaving.
Given that your hands are often coated in shaving cream or are simply wet, it’s important to have a razor that won’t slip out of your hands while using it.
If you want greater security, look for a textured handle that extends from the base to the top. This will give you more surface area to hold onto.
When looking closely at safety razors, you’ll find they are available in one, two, or three pieces. Here’s a look at each option:
Also known as a butterfly safety razor, the one-piece razor has all the pieces (cap, base plate, and handle) welded or screwed together.
To change the blade, you simply twist the handle, and the cap will split open, allowing you to take out or insert a new blade. With the added mechanics built into the cap, some bulk is added, making the razor a bit tougher to work around the tighter spots on your face.
As the name suggests, the two-piece safety razor has the handle and base plate welded together. The cap is then attached to the top of the base plate via a screw.
To change the blade, you simply unscrew the cap and take it out or insert the new blade. The two-piece is fairly easy to clean, and the lack of moving parts means that there’s less to break or wear down over time.
The three-piece safety razor is the most traditional type. It consists of the handle, base plate, and cap that are screwed together.
To change the blade, you unscrew the handle and cap from the base plate and then take out or insert the new blade. Wet shaving enthusiasts prefer the three-piece for a few reasons.
For one, it’s very easy to clean as you can disassemble it completely. Additionally, suppose a piece is ever broken, cracked, etc.. In that case, you may be able to visit a specialty shave shop and order a replacement rather than having to purchase an entirely new razor.
Ranging anywhere from 3 to 4.5″, the length of your razor’s handle will greatly impact how easy it is to grip and maneuver.
Here’s a chart of several safety razor lengths compared:
Shorter handles provide better control, thanks to the reduced leverage. Additionally, smaller to average hand sizes find that short handles are much more comfortable to hold.
On the flip side, longer handles provide more leverage and are often preferred by those with larger hands. The increased leverage makes cleaning up the neck and jawline easier without contorting your hand into an uncomfortable position.
Ultimately, finding the right length for you may take some trial-and-error.
Safety razors run the gamut in terms of weight, with some being as light as 1.30 ounces (Henson AL13) while others weigh in at 6 ounces or more (West Coast Shaving 175BL).
Here’s a chart with the weights of several different safety razors:
The weight of the razor will have a big impact on the shaving experience. Heavier razors provide more stability and are often preferred by those who want more control over their shave. Additionally, heavier razors require less (if any) pressure to be applied, which can help to reduce the risk of nicks and cuts.
On the other hand, lighter razors cause less fatigue thanks to reduced weight. Additionally, lighter razors are often more agile and easier to maneuver around tight spots on the face.
Aside from shave performance and ergonomics, it’s always important to consider your facial hair type in tandem with the weight of the razor.
Coarse and thick beards will require more pressure to be cut, which a heavier razor can provide. On the other hand, those with thinner beards may find that a lighter razor provides a more comfortable shave.
Safety Razor Lingo
When you learn about safety razors, you’ll come across a few terms you might not be familiar with. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the more common terms:
- Aggressiveness: This term is used to describe how close of a shave a razor can provide. The more aggressive the razor, the closer the shave will be. Generally, those with experience wet shaving should use more aggressive razors.
- BBS: Simply means baby butt smooth or a very close shave with no grit or stubble feel.
- Blade Exposure: Blade exposure is the distance that the blade protrudes from the razor head. The more a blade is exposed, the less pressure is required.
- Blade Gap: The blade gap is the distance between the blade and the safety bar. A larger blade gap results in a more aggressive shave, while a smaller blade gap will provide a more mild shave.
- Chatter: Chatter refers to the noise produced when the blade vibrates against the safety bar. It can often be caused by a dull blade or a razor that is not properly tensioned.
- Grain: The grain of your beard is the direction in which your hair grows. Shaving against the grain will provide a closer shave but can also increase the risk of irritation. Always shave in the following order: with the grain, across the grain, and against the grain.
- Pass: A pass is a single stroke of the razor. Usually, short overlapping passes are required to get a close shave.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do safety razors require special shaving cream to work properly?
Not necessarily. While a safety razor can work with a canned gel or foam, we recommend a traditional shaving cream or soap as it provides a more lubricating barrier between the skin and the blade. This will help to reduce irritation, razor burn, and nicks.
What type of safety razors do wet shavers prefer?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The type of razor you prefer will depend on your shaving habits, facial hair, and skin type. That said, many wet shavers prefer a double edge safety razor with a closed comb head.
Do I need to replace the blade after every shave?
No, you don’t need to replace the blade after every shave. However, we recommend replacing the blade when it starts to feel dull or tug on your hair. A good rule of thumb is to replace your blade once every five to seven shaves.
Aren’t cartridge and disposable razors also safety razors?
Technically yes. To be considered a safety razor, the blade must be paired with a bar that flattens the skin before the blade making contact. When the original safety razor was introduced, it was a significant departure from the straight razors which were popular at the time.