Safety Razor Review: Merkur Futur

Posted: January 16, 2017 in Shaving Articles
Tags:

xhhhh3o

Most double edged safety razors have a great deal of commonality in their design. There are certain archetypes in regard to how they’re constructed and shaped are so common that, to the outside observer, many of them probably looked almost identical.

Let’s go over the primary archetypes. I’ll tell you why later. Seriously. No, please, don’t run away. I promise this isn’t another of my hopeless digressions. I hope. Maybe.

1) Curved blade open comb. These, for the most part, are based upon the oldest safety razors, like the Gillette “Old” open comb, “New”, etc. Thee piece, low profile head. Simple and efficient design. Perhaps not the easiest to use. Current examples include the Merkur 1904, the Fattip Grande, and many more.

2) Gillette Tech. The classic, curved blade, safety bar design. Mild. Safe. Easy to use. Taken, perhaps, to its point of perfection by the current Feather AS-D2. Similar designs abound, and are available from any number of companies.

3) Gillette Twist-To-Open. The differences between the archetypal Gillette designs used in the Superspeed, Knack, and Adjustable razors and the ones sold today by Weishi, Parker, and others is fairly trivial. Larger blade gaps can make them a bit more aggressive, as can heavy handles, but they are usually mild to moderate shavers, and are perhaps the least complex for a new shaver to understand. More complex to build, perhaps a little bit more prone to getting knocked out of adjustment if you drop them on the floor, but there’s nothing to lose, nothing daunting about loading a blade. For many of us, this is what we think of, when we think “safety razor”.

4) Slants. Yes, there are several slant designs, with varying degrees of blade bias and head shape. They are, however, rare enough and similar enough in theoretical purpose that I’ll group them together. Leading examples include the Ikon X3 and the Merkur 37C. They are typically high efficiency razors that require a practiced hand to use to best effect. These are typically favored by people with heavy beards, or those who let their stubble get longer in between shaves. They are the field and brush mowers of the wet shaving world. Not always the best on finesse, but certainly good and scything through anything your face might grow.

5) Flat baseplate safety bar. The most copied design in the current era is the Edwin Jagger DE89/Muhle R89/Merkur 34C. Every “house brand” company seems to be making a clone of these razors, which do not bend the blade (much), and have a flat baseplate. They’re moderate shavers, and ones that seem to get along well with most everyone. Good, common and garden stuff.

Now, why have I bored you with the lesson? (Other than my charactaristic penchant for cruelty.)

Because, of everything out there on the market, one of the vanishing few double edge razors that is wholly its own thing is the Merkur Futur. It’s big. It’s weird. It doesn’t owe much to any of the other razor designs. It has a completely novel head shape, disassembly, and adjustable blade gap. The shape of the baseplate and the design of the area behind the blade gap is altogether specific to this design (though Merkur’s own Progress does share some similarities). Its handle is not shared with any razor I know of. In a world of slight differences, evolutionary tweaks and outright copy cats, this is sort of amazing. Hats off, Merkur.

I elected to get the Merkur in the gold plate. Why? Because, when a razor is this big and this wild looking, you may as well abandon any efforts to camouflage it. You have to embrace it and go full bling.

If I could compare the Merkur Futur to anything in the world, I’d compare it to the Desert Eagle handgun. Yeah, the giant one you see in the action movies. Why? It’s bigger, flashier, and heavier than everything else. Just like the Desert Eagle. It’s also elected to do its own thing and work in a totally different way. Just like the Desert Eagle, which is a rotating bolt, gas operated pistol in a world composed of short lock, recoil operated pistols. (Not to nerd out.)

But mainly, it’s the size and glitz. This thing is the heaviest razor I’ve ever used. Even heavier than the Parker 99R and the Merkur 39C. Its handle looks like it should have a cigar inside it. Its head is freaking gigantic.

So what did I do, first thing? Shaved the back of my neck with it. Like all the smart kids would tell you not to. There is a reason that the word “caveman” is in the title of this site. From time to time, I must shout, “Hold my beer and watch this!” I typically come up with a story of some kind in the immediate aftermath of such an exclamation, provided that I don’t lose consciousness and need to be carried away by the paramedics.

Did it go fine? Yeah. Completely without drama. But more on this later. How does this thing work? What makes it tick? (Trick question. It doesn’t tick at all. There are no ticking mechanisms included.)

The Futur has fully enclosed razor end tabs, so you can’t cut yourself on the sides. This is, as I mentioned, a very wide razor head, and pretty massive. It could be an issue maneuvering into the nooks and crannies, depending on the shape of your face. I have yet to find it a problem. It only took me a moment or two to figure out where the business part of the razor started, inboard of the outside edges.

Instead of having a cap that is removed by unscrewing it or opened via butterfly doors, the Futur’s cap is spring loaded, with lugs that are retained with said spring tension. Without disassembling it to be sure, my visual understanding of this mechanism is that there are two captive straight springs, each in a “U” shape. These create a retention point above two ports in the assembly, with diamond-shaped lugs that must be forced through the spring with a small amount of pressure in either direction. Because the position of the springs is essentially at rest when assembled or disassembled, loss of spring tension should not be a pressing concern. If the springs needed to be replaced, I’m not sure how difficult a proposition it would be. I’ve read no reports of this being a common problem. The top cap clips into place securely, provided you are paying attention. Careless shavers could, under a rare circumstance, leave one side unlatched, but even a cursory examination of the tool will reveal this error on the part of the user.

The adjustment functions via holding the head and spinning the whole handle around. The level of blade gap increases as the numbers go up, from 1 to 6. The blade gap is not inconsiderable, even on the lowest settings. At 6, it’s kind of astounding. It appears you could slide the corner of a term paper for a college course between the bar and the blade when it’s at setting 6.

I started at 3 in terms of setting. As I mentioned before, I shaved the nape of my neck, demonstrating hubris and a total absence of reason. I mean, great courage and the spirit of adventure. Yeah, that’s it.

The shave turned out just fine.

Because the Futur is so different than most razors in weight, handle design, and head geometry, initially lowering it onto your skin can seem pretty perilous. It doesn’t prove to be that alien, however, once put into practice.

The first blade I tried in the Future was the Dorco ST-301, which is a good, middle of the road blade. After my impatient neck shave of the first night, I performed a few full, three pass shaves to get a handle on how the razor functioned in normal usage.

The results? No cuts, one small weeper, and two great shaves. The Future is quite efficient on 3, but feels strangely smooth. I did not wrestle with it at all. Even the handle, which I worried a lot about in terms of slickness, gave me no difficulty at all.

Some have complained about the perceived danger of the disassembly procedure, but I found that it was easy to lay a wash cloth down, pop the cap, and have the razor blade fall right out on the cloth. I found it to be no more dangerous than any other razor in this regard. I have never found the handling of double (or single) edged razors to be particularly difficult or dangerous. The Futur is no exception. If, however, you are extraordinarily accident prone, I suppose that extra care should be taken during assembly and disassembly. Or, you could wear a thin leather glove. If all else fails, there are always band-aids.

Early results indicate that setting 3 is probably as much aggression as I need for most circumstances. On 3, the Future is easily as efficient as the slants I’ve tried, while feeling a bit less perilous. The Dorco blade has not seemed to be an impediment thus far.

If we include the neck shave, the Dorco put in four great shaves, with no sense of additional roughness or any decrease in cutting power as the last pass of the last shave went by. It does not appear to require the sharpest of blades to perform well.

The next evaluation blade was a Personna Red. I did a full three pass, as well as a neck shave again (my neck hair seems to be growing at an accelerated rate – I have no sense of why this might be). The results? Again, fantastic shaves. Shaves of distinction. Shaves you write home about, using up half the single lined page they give you at Sleep Away Camp. Or something. The Pesonna Red may have made it just a tiny bit more efficient, but the general feel remained the same. No additional sense of “bite” like you sometimes get as you go up to a sharper blade. Hmm.

The second shave with the Personna Red was just slightly rough. This is probably a combination of the fact that the blade in question isn’t quite my favorite and that I’ve been doing a bunch of consecutive three pass shaves with a fairly aggressive razor. In any case, it was still a great shave, just requiring a bit more post shave conditioning than I usually do.

Next in line, the Derby Extra test. I found that the razor still cut just fine with the Derby. It may have not slammed through the stubble with quite the same verve, but the difference was small, and the end result was still a close shave. Two tiny weepers that did not sting or require a styptic to close did happen, but I believe that this was a reflection of the fact that I need to take a day off, or at least do a few maintenance shaves to allow my skin to heal up. I have, as I’ve done in the past, become a bit too enthusiastic in terms of shaving to a baby smooth result. It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially if you’re testing a lot of razors. The next day, I found that the stubble did come back faster after the Derby shave than with the Dorco and the Personna Red. I’m going to say that, at least for me, the Derby is a slightly sub-optimal choice. Perhaps, if you’re feeling brave and have turned the Futur way up to the highest settings, having a slightly less incisive blade might be a good idea. That’s why I have Derby blades around – for a slight margin of safety when I’m doing an otherwise foolish test.

Flipping things around, I turned the Futur down to 1 and loaded in a new Feather blade. I wanted to see if the Futur could do a creditable job as a gentle but effective daily shaver.

Verdict: the Futur can gear down to a very gentle shaver. Even with a Feather loaded in, I felt that I was able to shave with a certain level of relaxation. I just picked up the razor and shaved with it. It felt safe. It felt like I would have to really act the fool to hurt myself. Did it cut right to the edge of injury? No. It gave a good shave, but wasn’t as close as it had been on 3. The substitute for ultimate closeness is the ability to shave every day without facial carnage. So, even with the Feather – the sharpest of the sharp, it can be made to provide an easy shave.

I think that, on balance, a sharp razor with decent smoothness is probably best for this razor. I’ve done much of my testing on setting “3”, which is not out of control, but still quite a potent shave in terms of efficiency. For my shaving habits, any more than 3 would probably be unnecessary. If I let the stubble really get long, skipping several days between shaves, it’s possible that the higher settings could be beneficial, at least for the first pass. I can see how people who only shave once or twice a week might be all about this razor, as it would cope with that usage pattern easily. At the same time, if you have to do consecutive shaves, turning down to 2 or 1 will allow you to have a more relaxed and forgiving shave.

In terms of blade choice, I’ve used both the Feather and the Derby. I would say that this razor can work with either one, and most in between. With the Feather, 1 is a perfectly useful daily shave setting. With a moderate blade, 2 would probably achieve a similar nexus, while 3 or higher will start getting a little incisive for every day shaving. With a Derby, you can probably get away with 2.5 or 3 in that same usage case.

Even at settings that are extremely efficient (in my experience), the Futur feels pretty smooth to me. I imagine that it is pretty wild on 6, but other than scraping a week or more’s stubble off yourself in one go, it would simply be overkill. This is at some variance to the Merkur Progress, which could be used at its full power setting, provided you shaved every few days, rather than every one (or if you’re a real leatherfaced roughneck). Still, you don’t get the Futur to be normal, or average. It certianly is anything but that.

In Summation:

To be honest, I wasn’t sure that I’d like the Futur. I wanted to try it, to test it, and to fully understand what it was all about, but I had several preconceptions about how razors should be, and the Futur flew in the face of some of the conventions I’ve found myself clinging to.

No traction plan is present on the handle. It’s a bit longer than I prefer. Before you use it in a shave, it feels clumsy and overweight. Like a walrus in the water, though, everything seems to make sense once it’s in its element. I was a skeptic, but I get it now. I don’t know that I’ve used any razor that has the kind of efficiency the Futur has, while at the same time being as comfortable and affording superb, irritation-free shaves.

Typically, the razors that I can shave a full three passes day in and day out are pretty mild. Models like the AS-D2 or Superspeed. With the Futur mowing through stubble with all the vigor of the grim reaper on an angel dust binge, it has still proven to be safe enough for several consecutive days. This is new, this ability to go safely against the grain with a razor that best resembles a pair of laser nunchucks.

Auditory feedback during the shave is quite pronounced. Not the absolute loudest, but there is no mystery when you’re cutting through stubble. The Futur has its own timbre of rasping sound, due to its mass and the bulk of the head.

I have found that the attack angle is easy to find, and despite the unusual dimensions of the razor, I’ve never had any difficulty getting a thorough shave. No little remainders have lingered at the corners of my face afterward. Not even in the old, familiar spots that are easy to miss. I do keep a Van Dyke style chin beard, so I can’t tell you about a few of the difficult spots on the chin and below the nose.

Most safety razors are pretty good at keeping the blade clear of excess hair and soap. The Futur seems damned near impossible to clog, and its flow-through design makes it child’s play to get any soapy globs of stubble right out of there.

Though I briefly alluded to the finish, I should point out that the gold (I assume it isn’t actual gold, but some gold-tint chrome) finish is flawless, and the fit and finish is as good as anything I’ve got in my stable of razors.

Yep, I was an unbeliever. I thought, at best, the Futur would be an acquired taste, a razor with a steep and unforgiving learning curve.

Yeah, no.

I wouldn’t recommend it to a brand new wet shaver. Having a trained, gentle hand is key. It could really mess you up if you engage in he-man maneuvers or try to use it like a cartridge razor. That said, for me, it appears that it’s going to force me to reevaluate all my preconcieved notions. I wasn’t really chasing anything, trying to find a new level in my hardware. I was simply indulging my curiosity. That said, this darned thing has really shown me something.

Cheers, and happy shaving.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s