merkur-razor-progress

Adjustable razors are, in a lot of ways, the stuff that dreams are made of. You have one implement that can adapt to a variety of shavers, with a whole complex of different needs and usage patterns. They are, or hope to be, the answer to the old chestnut of what razor you’d take to a desert island.

The interesting thing is – not many brands have managed to bring an adjustable razor to market, at least in a viable way. Really, Gillette has always been the name of the game in terms of adjustable razors. The Fat Boy. The Slim. The Super Adjustable. I own them all, and love them dearly. They’re absolutely wonderful devices. But they haven’t been produced since the 80’s. You can love an old ’51 Mercury as much as you want, but the world has moved on. The Gillette adjustable razors remain totally viable, but they’re a commodity that is gradually disappearing. Shaving nerds are buying them all up, and they’re getting expensive and rare.

In terms of adjustable razors that are of current manufacture, Merkur is almost the sole purveyor (other than knock-offs, copies, and the Rockwell…which is really “configurable”, rather than adjustable).

Merkur have made three adjustable models. The Futur, the Progress, and the Vision 2000. To my knowledge, the Vision is not being produced any more. I may have to find one someday, just because it’s an even bigger, even weirder razor than the Future, if you can sustain your disbelief long enough to process that bit of information.

Of the remaining two razors, the Progress is by far the more traditional in appearance, while the Futur is wholly its own animal, too complex and unusual to quickly describe here.

For this test, I chose the normal, short handled Progress, though there is a longer handled version available. This razor design is a two piece, with the beige dial at the bottom serving both as the rentention screw and the adjustment knob. (More on this later) It is a heavy razor for its size, with a thick, grooved handle and a somewhat massive baseplate.

Adjustment of the razor goes over a range from 1 to 5, with ticks in between each number. The level of aggression increases as the numbers ascend. The methodology the razor’s design uses to change the behavior is to increase the gap between the blade and the safety bar. This has been the way all adjustable razors have worked, to my knowledge. Rather than having an under-slung tray that lifts the blade away from the baseplate, Merkur designed the baseplate to have this adjustable platform inside it.

A complaint I have come across with regard to the Progress is that they can “lose center” in such a way as to have the numbers on the dial no longer accurately represent how the razor is set. I have not seen this happen, but it is important to remember that the top cap of the razor is directional. One must line up the small tick mark with the arrow on one side of the head in order for the razor to go back to where it needs to be when tightened back up.

Another concern that some have voiced is for the durability and aesthetic nature of the plastic control dial. While the beauty of the razor is up for debate, I suspect that the plastic knob should not be a pressing concern. It is of solid construction, and should be sufficiently sturdy for anyone’s use in a single lifespan, if not more. Remember that there are Bakelite razors from the 1930s that are still perfectly functional. Plastics, as they tell us, last forever. If you don’t like the looks of the plastic, or feel that a metal part would make a paradigm shift in your ability to enjoy owning the razor, there is an aftermarket channel for acquiring a modified version people call the “Mergress” that replaces the bottom dial with a stainless steel piece. I have not used one of these, so I can’t comment upon the difference the hot-rodding has on the performance. I can tell you that a razor so modified is twice as expensive as the standard version, if not more.

I was initially drawn to the Progress over the Futur, when it came to Merkur adjustables. The reason is likely rooted in the fact that the Progress looks a lot more familiar. It’s basically shaped like a Merkur 34C, and of a similar size. Because of the mechanism’s further complexity and beefier baseplate, it is much heavier, but the balance is such that this is not a problem.

For my first shave, I used the Dorco ST-301 blade, as has been my recent custom. It is a moderate blade that I would liken to the Personna Lab Blue. Of Korean manufacture, they are very inexpensive, and have proven to be consistent thus far. They have been sufficiently useful that I have left off my juvenile giggling about their brand name, even.

My test started with the Progress set on “3”, which is the same setting I tend to use on the Gillette adjustables for 3 pass shaves, and also the setting I used when testing the Merkur Futur.

The “book” on the Progress is that it is less aggressive than the Futur, setting for setting. Percieved aggression is such a complex and weird thing to gauge, however. They are very different razors with different handling charactaristics. For me, I think that the Progress felt just a bit more incisive on “3” than that Futur did. Not dangerous, not uncomfortable, but I felt a little more blade-on-face while using the same supporting equipment.

That said, it was in no way difficult to use, and I got a great shave with no blood or major irritation on the first go ’round. It felt, to me, that the Progress was asking for a sharper blade. It didn’t chatter, skate, or tug, but it didn’t cut on the first pass with the level of gusto that the Futur did under the same circumstances. Not that it failed to reduce the growth, but it seemed to have a bit of resistance. The Progress might just need a different blade to perform its best. I went on, of course, to test this theory.

The Progress and Futur do not share much in the way of similarities. Not in looks, not in mechanism, and not in how they feel on the face. That’s actually good. What would the point of having two different designs be, if they felt just the same?

After a shave with the Dorco, I determined that it didn’t feel like a perfect match with the Progress. I felt like it needed a sharper blade. For this, I went with a Polsilver Super Iridium. To me, this is the best blade out there. Very sharp, but very smooth. Like an Astra SP, but a little better in every category. And three times as expensive. Oh, my!

The first test was on setting 3 again, and the razor was a whole different beast with the Polsilver. Smoother, faster on the face, and cutting more efficiently. Altogether, a more comfortable and better shave. The Polsilver is a much better match. Which, basically, has always been my experience. This blade just elevates a shave. The inference, however, is that the Polsilver’s success will mean that a shave nearly as good is going to happen with an Astra or a Rapira Platinum Lux.

The next one, I had to put the pedal to the metal. With a once-used Polsilver, I went to setting 5 and did another three pass shave. Very smooth, very comfortable, and it felt quite safe. The Progress feels less harsh at full tilt with the Polsilver than it did at 3 with the Dorco. That being said, the Progress does have pretty impressive efficiency when using a sharp blade and at maximum blade gap.

In the ongoing compare/contrast cycle with the Futur, I think that the blade gap at 5 looks commensurate to the blade gap on 3 with the Futur. That’s mark-one eyeball, so I can’t attest to the accuracy of that measurement. The efficiency seems to roughly line up at those mentioned settings. A certain level of care is required at Futur 3/Progress 5, but a practiced, unhurried hand should find it easy enough.

How does the Progress compare to the old Gillette Adjustables? Hmm. I want to say that the 5 on the Progress feels like maybe 7 or so. The head shape and dynamics are different. The Progress certainly doesn’t have the blade gap that the Gilletes have on 9. My experience with that setting is that it’s fine for the “safe” directions (with the grain and the less incisive across the grain), but a little more aggressive than I need when going against the grain. I was able to use the Progress “dimed” for a full shave without any difficulty (one light weeper, didn’t even need intervention).

Doing a consecutive shave on the Progress’s top setting of 5 proved to be another great, close shave, but I believe that it might be a little more than is ideal for me for every day shaves. The end result is not a lot different than on setting 3 in terms of closeness over three passes. The main difference is that the higher setting can accumulate a bit more damage and irritation if you’re shaving frequently. I found that I needed to take a few more steps to settle my skin down after the shave. I think that, if I carried on with that trend, I’d end up getting to the point where I’d need to take several days off to allow my sking to heal up. Rather than doing that, I’m going to gear down to a lower setting for the next shave, to see how that treats me.

It is not uncommon for any implement to have a particular range of “useful” settings, and then some slop outside of that, where there are meaningless adjustments on the dial.

The Progress, however, is functional at all settings. Having found that setting 5 worked great, but was perhaps a bit more than I needed, I flipped the script and turned it down to 1, the minimum setting. I shaved with the same Polsilver blade, this its fourth outing. What does the Merkur feel like on 1?

I would say that it is similar in percieved gentleness to my Feather AS-D2. Milder than a Merkur 34C by a bit, but still capable of a really close shave, at least for me, in the context of shaving every day. Absolutely as close as the max-power setting? Hmm. Not quite, but pretty darn close. That last iota of closeness is often bought at great cost, and it really isn’t very realistic to chase if you shave daily. Your skin simply won’t have it after a certain number of consecutive shaves.

If you had five days of growth, you would likely want to turn the Progress up a bit, but if you are shaving every day, and don’t have a mutant ability to grow hair on your face, 1 or 2 may be all the blade gap that you need. I didn’t notice that the razor had any greater propensity to jam up with soap at a low setting than at a mid range or high setting. Final tidbit is that, to me, the Progress on 1 is easily as efficient as a Gillette Superspeed or an Adjustable Gillette on 3 or so.

The promise of an adjustable razor is to be all things to all people. This, of course, is an impossible mission. If it can be most things to most people, however, then we can call it a great effort. I will declare that the Merkur Progress is such an effort. All the settings are functional, and cover the range of efficiencies that a large percentage of the shavers will need. No, it can’t be geared down to “safe as milk” or up to “do you have a living will?”, but it has plenty of range to adjust to different blade choices and most skin/stubble obstacles.

Though I would likely have made a few small alterations to the razor’s design, had I been in charge (standard handle knurling, bottom dial made of a different material, nickel plated brass construction), it still works well. I’ve had no sense of a learning curve. It shaves as one would expect a short handled safety razor to shave. The registration of the settings has not changed or wandered thus far. Grip has not been a problem. Maintenance and cleaning has been no more difficult than any two or three piece in my stable. I have not had a sub-par shave, and the only negative issue has been brought about by my own inability to take a day off to let my skin heal.

I don’t know if the Progress is the razor to rule them all, but it is really good. If you like the idea of a new-made adjustable, but the Merkur Futur is simply too unconventional for you, (or if you just like a more compact razor), it is one of the few games in town.

Cheers, and happy shaving!

Postscript: I’ve become aware over the last few days that there are a few new adjustables on the market, or about to come out. Parker has basically created a close copy of the Progress, just instituting the changes…well the ones I indicated that I would make in my comments above. Rockwell, a new company that is known for their stainless steel razor that comes with 6 baseplate configurations, is about to come to market with a modern interpretation of the Gillette-style adjustable, featuring a twist-to-open mechanism. I can’t give you any hands-on information on these razors, but they may prove to be viable alternatives or even preferred options to the Merkurs.

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1) Sharpness: Fair
2) Comfort: Good
3) Value: Fair
4) Availability: Good
5) Country of Origin: Germany
6) Passes “First Shave Test?: …sort of
7) Longevity (# of shaves): ?
8) Notes: I’ve already gone through a fairly large cross section of the popular blades out there in the market. Not all of them, of course, but many, and most of the blades that receive accolades from reviewers. At this point, I’ll come across a blade here or there I haven’t tried. Having already found plenty of blades I like, testing these “bits and drabs” is just something I do for fun. Oh, and for GREAT SCIENCE, which can never rest.

One of the blades I became aware of was the Croma Diamant. They are made in Germany, and you would think that such a country of origin might bode well for the blade’s chances. Solingen steel is well lauded. I have some Boker and Puma knives made there, and they have always taken a beautiful edge. It’s the home to Dovo, Boker, and other straight razor brands. It’s where Merkurs are made. ‘Nuff said.

However, my other German DE blade experience was with the Merkur blades, and they didn’t exactly win my heart over with stellar performance. They were sort of mid-pack blades, but with a big price tag attached. Nothing I really got excited about.

Well, the Croma Diamants are…not quite as good as the Merkurs. I tried one in my ’58 Superspeed for the first shave, and it was kind of hopeless. These blades are not recommended AT ALL for mild razors. They simply don’t have the sharpness or cutting power to make a mild razor work. It’ll slow, skate, and chatter. I loaded a Polsilver Super Iridium and finished the shave, only getting through one half of my first pass with the Croma blade. The difference in the old Gillette was night and day. Chalk and cheese.

Not wanting to give the blade the out-and-out bum’s rush, I tried a second shave, this time in the PAA Bakelite Slant. This razor is an altogether different beast from the Superspeed, with a pronounced slant and an open comb design. Lots and lots of blade exposure.

The blade…did work in the PAA, but it was a long, slow, slog. I had to really shift down into granny gear to get through the stubble. It was safe enough, ending without a great deal of irritation, but it was work. Not super fun. The type of hesitation and difficulty would typically be a signal to me that a blade was ready to be replaced. When a blade’s initial sharpness has been altogether expended, this is the sort of shave you get. Not what I expect in the first shave or two on a blade.

I’m calling it. The Croma’s are not to my taste. Too dull. Unless you have a very light beard, or a wickedly aggressive razor, I don’t think I’d recommend this blade. There are way too many products out there that perform better and cost less. It’s not even in my top twenty. Sorry, Germany.

Cheers, and happy shaving.

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Ease of Lathering: Easy. Mostly.

The first shave I had with this creme, I seriously missed the water content requirements (brush too wet), and ended up with a sub-par lather. That was my fault. I wondered, though, what was up with the Proraso cream, and went with a very dry brush, working up for the second lather. All was well, with a very good production of lather and excellent quality in that case. Because the Proraso soaps in the tub are so easy to lather, I don’t know if there’s any great advantage in the cream, if any. I believe that bowl lathering, as I always do with creams, tends to take a bit longer than face lathering. Since I like to work the lather on my face in any case, the big advantage is that you can keep some in the bowl for later passes. Thus, you can have absurd amounts of suds, without dropping it all over the shave den. I would say that the lather of the Blue is very similar to the White soap. To my way of thinking, the White might have a bit of an advantage in yogurt-style thickness. This cream, to me, is not as easy to lather as Taylor’s. Perhaps not quite as easy as the Derby I’ve tested. Still, not difficult at all, provided you have some control over the amount of water going in.

Protection: Proraso soaps, for a mass produced product, tend to have good protection. The Blue is no exception. Once well lathered, there is a lot of thick, creamy lather to be had. There are soaps that protect a bit more, but there is more than sufficient protection provided.

Residual Slickness: I wouldn’t say that residual slickness is the foremost attribute of the Proraso formula, but it’s not a weakness, either. Face feel after the shave is not as good as Taylor’s, nor is it as good as the high-fat soaps. A moisturizing preshave or a bit of aftershave balm might be a smart idea, but that will depend on your skin and the weather in your area. With the price of this creme, you may as well do yourself a favor and simply lather up plenty for the number of passes you like to do. In wet shaving, scrimping on the soap is typically a mistake, whether it’s Arko or Aqua di Parma. Load the living daylights out of it. Unless, I suppose, you’re waiting out nuclear winter in a bunker somewhere, and have to make your soap last until it’s safe to go outside. In which case, carry on scrimping, and peace be with you.

Scent: Of the Proraso types I’ve used, the Blue has, far and away, the least attractive scent. This is, I should say, to my nose. I can’t smell with other people’s noses. They won’t let me, and getting their olfactory bulbs wired up to my brain constitutes not only a hurdle that medical science isn’t capable of, but also a human rights violation.

Okay, back to the soap. Frankly, it’s a little chemical in nature, and has no real positive aspect that I can highlight. It isn’t a potent scent, by any means, but it doesn’t really have anything that I can really hook into. A lot of other people have lauded the way the Blue smells. Just not me. Whatever that means. I might have rabies or something.

Production/Value: As with all Proraso products, this is a good value for the money. For a reasonable price, Proraso gives you a big tube of cream, and that cream is of good quality. Not as cheap as some, but probably less than half the cost of, say, Taylor of Old Bond Street. I got my tube for about $6 American money at the end of 2016, for reference.

Notes: There are many glowing reviews of this product online. By and large, it gets very high marks, and many shavers prefer the Blue product to the other Proraso soaps and creams. For me, this is not the case. I would put it last in line among the Proraso soaps, and by a large margin. I don’t like the scent, and the aloe and vitamin E formula doesn’t seem to give me any perceivable advantage. That said, there’s a hat for every head, and it might be just the thing for you. I ended up gifting my tube to a friend, because I simply collect too much product to let something I’m not absolutely in love with hang around. It’s better to put quality products into hands that appreciate them better.

Cheers, and happy shaving.

Safety Razor Review: Merkur Futur

Posted: January 16, 2017 in Shaving Articles
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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.

mitchells_wool_fat_shaving_soap_dish__27524__00572-1375572050-1280-1280Ease of Lathering: Slightly challenging.

Anyone who has done any research into Mitchell’s soap knows that the stories of difficult lathering abound. Some would have you believe that “The Fat” as it is sometimes called, is nearly impossible to load and lather. This has not been my experience. I have not found that it is necessary to bloom the soap, although it wouldn’t be the worst idea, if you’re having a problem yourself.

What I found is this: being a hard soap puck, you need to work the brush for a bit longer than with a soft soap or a cream. I found that the way to do it was this: I loaded for perhaps a minute, then did a preliminary tour across my face to lay down some soap there. I then went back to the puck for another fifteen seconds or so, getting just a bit more soap into the brush. From there, I added water and lathered until I got the consistency I like. This is a soap that requires a little bit of patience, but even with a badger brush, you should be able to get the lather you want after a bit of trial and error. As with all the soaps I’ve worked with, the newest synthetic brushes with the Plissoft/Plisson fibers tend to facilitate lathering and make it one category easier.

Protection: Once the lather has been created, it is a beautiful thing. Thick, rich, and creamy. Even using a very aggressive razor proved to be safe. Is the tallow and lanolin going to be a whole order of magnitude more protective than another good soap? To me, no, not really. There are a ton of great soaps out there, and whether they are based in coconut oil, glycerin, or tallow, they can protect your face as they should. The differences are not so much between soap bases, but between the philosophies of the soap makers. If you want to make a very rich soap that carries nutrient-rich oils and butters, you can do so. Both tallow and vegan soap bases are capable performers. Both can be bungled. Mitchell’s, being a soap that dates from the 1800s, has clearly found the way. On the other hand, it has a slightly steeper learning curve than some formulations you’ll see today.

Residual Slickness: With a tallow base and lanolin added in, the soap is slick. For me, the primary issue in residual slickness is making sure that there’s some water left on your face. No matter what you have going on, if the water dries up, the razor will still judder or slow down. As I’ve warned in the past, it’s always smarter to re-wet and re-lather if you’re going over your face again. If you wonder how to tell if your soap gives you residual slickness, just take a bit of water and swirl it across your skin after a pass. Take a gentle pass with your razor. If you find that the razor glides easily and comfortably, that means the slickness is there for you.

In addition to slickness, the composition of this soap tends to leave your skin feeling hydrated and nourished. Provided that you are ideologically okay with lanolin, and don’t react to it (some do), its inclusion will often create that soft, smooth finish that will allow you to be less stringent about using moisturizer after the shave.

Scent: Mitchell’s really doesn’t have much of a scent. It is a gentle, soapy smell, and nothing else. If you have a bad time with sensitivity to fragrances and the like, this might be a good try for you. If, on the other hand, your big draw is the aroma, you’ll find it lacking here. This is probably the least fragrant soap I’ve tried. You could, of course put a drop of essential oil or cologne on top of the puck, if you wish, but I think that there are so many scented soaps out there that it might simply be easier to try one of those. Mitchell’s will certainly not interfere with your aftershave in terms of scent.

Production/Value: Wool Fat soap is not the cheapest to buy. The refill puck that has no packaging is the better deal, falling into the mid-priced category. Because it is a hard puck, it should provide a lot of shaves per ounce. I don’t know if I could realistically say that it is one of the best bargains out there. Among both classic and artisan soaps, there are so many great deals to be had. So much great soap. As a shave enthusiast, I am glad that I have Mitchell’s in my collection, but it wouldn’t be my first recommendation to a new shaver. Both in difficulty and in economics, there are other soap brands out there that spring to mind as good starters.

Notes: Mitchell’s is one of the oldest shaving soap formulations out there. It’s a classic. It works, provided you exhibit a little patience. I don’t know that it works better than Cella or Tabac, however. Cella is almost as old, just as classic, and certainly less expensive. It has a wonderful smell. It’s way easier to lather. It has great protection, slickness, and post shave feel. Where does that leave us? It leaves us with a soap that, to some degree, must be viewed through the lens of history to be fully appreciated. It isn’t perfect, but it deserves your attention. Mitchell’s storied formula stands as one of the foundation stones of how to make a shaving soap. Is it amazing to think that some modern soaps have improved upon it over the years? No. If they hadn’t, that would be the saddest fact in the business. The Fat remains a great soap, one that could easily be your daily companion at the shaving mirror. So could soaps from dozens of other manufacturers. It’s a great time to be a wet shaver.

Postscript: I found that, if one puts the soap into a container where it can be bloomed – that is, soaked in warm water for a few minutes, the process of lathering it is far easier. While there has been bloody religious warfare about blooming on the shaving forums, I have typically not had an ideological stand. With most soaps, I don’t find it necessary or useful. I’m not, on the other hand, opposed to trying it if lathering has proved difficult. As with other hard soaps, a brush with a good amount of backbone will make things easier for you. My recommendation is to get the replacement puck, put it into a wide-mouth mug, and use it out of there. As with all things, your results will vary, and this is just one man’s opinion and anecdotal experience. Void where prohibited, some restrictions apply, and so forth.

Okay, I’m done with the blather for the moment. Back to what you were doing.

Cheers, and happy shaving.

As one explores a hobby, you’ll find that there are some purchased items that are pretty complex and difficult to replicate by yourself. Unless you’re a machinist and engineer by trade, it’s probably not going to be easy to build yourself a safety razor. Making your own blades, well, that seems like it would be a lot more work and expense than would be warranted. Although an enthusiastic hobbyist can certainly make soap, and multiple artisans started out making soap for themselves, it’s still a good deal of work to do so. It’s my impression that those first few batches of soap would be rather expensive, too.

There are some things, however, that are easy enough to experiment with, even if you have no specific skill set to bring to bear. For instance, I tried Original Listerine as an astringent aftershave, and found that it worked great. It didn’t replace my fragrance-laden aftershaves, but it allowed me to inexpensively and lavishly use a toning aftershave splash that would leave no real smell in its wake.

Recently, I’ve looked into preshave oils and preparations. For the most part, they’re quite expensive for what you get. Often, over twenty dollars for two ounces of oil. Wowzers. That’s a lot. I recognize that you don’t have to use much of them, but I looked at the ingredients involved, and none of them are super costly. Beyond that, the process for mixing and trying them didn’t require a kiln, a Bunsen Burner, or a five axis CNC machine.

My first attempt at creating a DIY preshave/beard oil was just some olive oil and lemon essential oil. It works. It’s good. It nourished the skin and established a base layer of slickness before the shave. The consistency of olive oil, however, is a little high on the viscosity front. It does produce a bit of an oily sheen on your face, if you are leaving it on or using it as a post shave. Without some other scent added in, olive oil does have a bit of a scent of its own. Still and all, great success. And the cost? Basically free, since I already had all the ingredients in-house.

But…true science never rests. I did more research. I filled up my wish list on Amazon. Plots and schemes. Schemes and plots. Wheels within wheels, hamsters running each and every one. Then, of course, I found a container of grape seed oil at the local grocery store. Hmm. What to do? Ten seconds later, the oil was in my cart, and I was headed toward the check-out line, a suspicious grin alight upon my features.

My house rule is that if it’s good enough to go IN your face, it’s good enough to go ON your face. Though…melted cheese is probably no good as a shave product. Mustard…probably also a no-go.

In any case, I’d read a lot about grapeseed oil, and thought I’d give it a go. Ten bucks for a liter. Shrug. If it doesn’t work, we can always use it for cooking, right? And if it is a shave product, it’s basically going to last forever in that volume. That was my thought process.

Grapeseed oil gets a lot of love by the cosmetologists online. It is a very light oil, with no smell, and it is high in antioxidents and so forth. It isn’t supposed to clog pores, and it’s said to nourish the skin. So that’s a win. I’m told that it has the highest natural incidence of vitamin E of the commonly-used soaps, as well.

I put some of the oil into a small spray bottle I had kicking around. I think I’d had rubbing alcohol in it in times past. For some reason. Probably nerdy in nature. Possibly nefarious. I can’t remember all my expired shenanigans, and it wouldn’t be good for my mental state to do so, anyway.

In any case, I tried it. As a preshave, as a beard oil, and as a moisturizer. I even used it as a hair conditioner. The full gamut.

My thoughts? It’s pretty rad. It works so well that a lot of my plans for a more complex oil treatment (with castor oil, glycerin, and so on…) are currently on hold. Why? Because that complexity may not be necessary. The essential oils I was going to purchase have been expunged from my wishlist, as well. At this point, I think the scent may not be useful. I have other stuff, like aftershave and so forth, that already has a scent that’s been created by professional perfumers (one would suspect). Why do I need to engage in amateur hour, when I can just use something that’ll stay out of the way?

The grape seed oil has no scent signature that I can detect. It’s light. It sinks into the skin and leaves it supple, but not sticky or tacky. It works into the old beard hairs (and head hairs) very easily, and doesn’t leave them feeling gunky or funky. You can put it on your lips as a lip moisturizer, and it doesn’t have a gross taste. It doesn’t have any weird chemicals in it. It’s sort of hippy approved, I guess. If that’s something you care about.

The problem I have with moisturizers, even the ones I like, is that they’re so short-lived. I am not in the habit of constantly using moisturizer. When my skin is dry, I put some on. Or if it’s a little irritated from dry conditions and cold. Whatever. The thing I find is that I often have to apply it on successive days to get the appropriate level of moisture back in. That means a bit of a hassle, as well as using a lot of the product. With an oil, it creates sort of a boundary layer on your skin, keeping the water in there. It also sticks around longer, and is highly concentrated, rather than being mostly water that cooks off in moments. Anyway…

I’ve found that grape seed oil is a fantastic all-purpose addition to my skin care regimen (as it were, if it could even be ennobled by such a title). My favorite way to do it is to use it at least a half hour and as much as several hours before the shave, allowing it to really condition the skin. It works fine even if you only put it on a few minutes in advance, however. More of it will just wash off when you wet your face. If you finish your shave, and find, after your aftershave dries down, that you’re feeling a little tight, dry, or hot on your skin, just a few drops of the grape seed oil will calm it right down.

If you have dry, chalky elbows, knees, or skin anywhere on your body (leave other people alone unless you’ve gotten their permission first), you can throw some on there, and it’ll settle the dryness for a day or two.

As a beard oil, it works just fine. As I said before, it doesn’t create a gunky feeling in your beard, and seems to result in good levels of moisture and conditioning. It doesn’t fight hard against the soap when it comes time to wash up, either. Some products for facial hair that contain wax or petrolatum can make it tough to soap up properly, at least in my experience. No issues like that with grapeseed oil.

Over all, it’s a hell of a product, considering that you find it in the cooking aisle, and that it costs less for a litre than they’d charge you for two ounces if they slap a brand logo on it. Highly recommended. It may even be good for cooking, for all I know.

Cheers, and happy shaving!

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Here, we have the last stop on my tour into plastic razors. The (admittedly wild name to follow) Phoenix Artisan Accouterments Bakelite Open Comb Slant razor. (Deep breath!)

I’ve shaved with open comb razors. I’ve shaved with slants. I’ve never shaved with one that is BOTH. Until now. Let’s dig into it.

Bakelite is, as I’ve discussed in the past, a plastic from the days of yore. It is a phenolic resin that uses wood pulp as a base. It is a light weight, hard plastic that is rigid and inflexible. Bakelite is a bit of a darling with the retro set.

This razor is based upon an old design, somewhat based upon a razor called the Fasan. That razor was of German design. Collectors have been known to pay a significant amoung for these old razors. They are hard to find, and more the stuff of campfire story than a piece most people have seen, let alone shaved with. The tales say that they are really great razors. Having never seen one in person, I can’t attest to any of those fish tales. I certainly won’t be paying hundreds of dollars for the opportunity to “see one with my hands.” I believe that there was another Bakelite razor that also served as an exemplar, from the language used on the PAA website. In any case, the PAA owes some significant design queues to razors from the heyday of safety razor shaving.

An open comb design is typically thought to increase the efficiency of a razor. A slanted blade presentation does the same. When combining the two design elements, a razor design is clearly looking for maximum cutting power. In addition to these two features, the PAA Bakelite features a lot of blade exposure.

A lot.

Perhaps the most of any double edge safety razor I’ve used. That said, the blade gap is quite small, much akin to an old Gillette open comb. Because of the large blade reveal, the thin material of the DE blade can pick up a resonance as it cuts. This gives rise to fairly loud audio feedback during the shave, and also a very present blade-on-face feel.

So, how does it shave?

The PAA Slant is very efficient. Very. Efficient as a Gillette Slim on “9”. Yeah. Efficient as a Merkur 39C? Yeah, and then some. The PAA don’t play no games. It ain’t got no time for that. (I want to point out that I am from Maine. “Ain’t” is a birthright for me. I don’t need to appropriate it. I have access to it by natural law. Says me.)

My first shave was a two pass with a few pickups, using a Dorco ST-301 blade (new), lathered with TOBS Peppermint. About as close as it could possibly be, given the mechanics of the shave.

Is it more efficient than the Fine Ultralight Slant? Yes. Just a bit more efficient. I think that you have a bit more blade feel with the PAA, but as long as you’re well prepped and you keep your wits about you, there’s no reason to think you’ll be gravely disfigured.

The PAA is not, I repeat, NOT a beginner’s razor, however. If you tried to jump right in with a razor this efficient, you’d likely have some wicked rough shaves. It isn’t mean or terribly likely to bite, but anything with this much blade reveal is not a first safety razor. Very light razors, as this one is, also tempt you to press. Don’t get me wrong, you have to keep the razor on your face with the PAA. There is a very light amount of tension you supply, as the razor weighs about what a turkey feather would. But you don’t actually force the blade into your face. Which, I suppose, should be self apparant.

Glide across the skin with the open comb is easy and slick. The correct cutting angle is not hard to find. If you are prone to irritation going against or hard across the grain, this razor may not be a good one to do wild experiments with in that capacity. That said, because of its efficiency, it should give you quite a good shave without going in those directions. Safe two passes should be possible and comfortable.

If you have a bump, protuberance, or old welt from an eariler misadventure, the amount of blade exposure on this razor will make it more prone to grabbing onto those prominent spots.

The grip – always something I look into – is just fine. As with all the plastics, the handles don’t seem to be as slippery as with some chromed razors. No issues there. The shape and texture of the PAA slant’s handle is nearly identical to the Merkur 45’s. The PAA, however, has a brass inset, so that there’s no metal-on-plastic issue to be concerned with. That is an advantage over the Merkur.

I have used enough light razors now that I have no problem with them. If you’re jumping from a real heavyweight, though, it might take some time to adjust. For veteran shavers, who are the only ones with any business tackling a razor this efficient, the technique should be easy enough to grasp.

A word about the blade loading. The PAA torques the blade, as many slants do. The PAA, however, requires quite a bit of force as you cinch it closed. It is good that the retaining bolt and the threaded carrier are made of brass, because I don’t think a purely plastic mechanism would survive long in such a stressed roll.

The second shave was a sort of two-pass with pickups. Very good, very nice, and I found that, even just with the second shave into the run, I was already getting used to the razor enough to experiment a bit with angles and little “extra” scuffs across the skin. I didn’t hurt myself, and I walked away with a shave I was highly impressed with.

For the third shave, I loaded in a Personna Red blade. I got perhaps the best shave I’ve had with that particular blade, as it seems to suit the PAA razor nicely. It did not increase the percieved aggressiveness, but it did cut just a bit closeer than the Dorco.

A final test saw me using a Derby Extra with one shave already on it for a full three pass. I was coming off of several shaves with a Merkur Futur, which is perhaps the diametrical opposite of the PAA. The Merkur didn’t seem to love the Derby. It played along with me, but it wasn’t the best shave. The PAA, however, worked just fine with it. Much like the Merkur 39C, the PAA was perfectly happy to cut stubble with a less-sharp blade choice.

With the PAA slant, I find that going against or hard across the grain requires concentration and a very light hand. I got a really great shave, but my skin was beginning to warn me a little here and there. No blood, no razor burn, but it would have been easy to overshave and see red.

The Derby test, to my mind, is always an interesting one, as you never know exactly how a razor will behave. Some that you think will take right to the blade will poop their pants, while others work just fine. It’s one of the corners of the strike zone, for me, so I like to include it. The PAA? Totally passed.

Into overtime, I used the razor with the Polsilver Super Iridium. This blade, to my mind, is just killer. It worked fabulously in the PAA for 2.5 shaves (Shaves 3, 3.5, and 4 on the blade.) These were 2 pass shaves as I recuperated from an adventure with the Muhle R41 (article to follow), and they saw me having to shave over some irritated skin. No problems. All was well.

Summing up:

It occurs to me that razors, as with a lot of other things, are tools where there are many ways to go about doing what needs to be done. I have used and contrasted the PAA with the Merkur Futur, the Gillette Slim Adjustable, and the other “plastics” in current production. Namely, the Fine and the Merkur 45. The two adjustbles are among my favorites, and both can provide an aggressive shave if the dial is beyond a certain number. Contrasting them with the PAA, they could hardly be more different. Adjustable versus fixed. One is a twist to open, one snaps open, and the PAA is a three piece. Nickle plated brass, gold plated zinc alloy, and, of course, Bakelite. Heavy versus light. The Slim and the Merkur become more aggressive by increasing the blade gap, but have a fairly typical exposure, even at it their highest setting. The PAA, on the other hand, exposes huge amounts of blade, but doesn’t have much blade gap to speak of. Two methodologies, but both useful. It’s not really fair to compare the two. Which one will work better for you? I can’t say. Too many variables are unknown, and I can’t solve that equation.

If we compare the PAA slant with the Merkur 45 and the Fine Ultralight Slant, what we see is that all of these light razors are somewhat above the midpoint of efficiency. I would say that the Merkur is the closest to moderate, with the “teeth” increasing with the Fine, and then the PAA.

The PAA seems to be the most agnostic in terms of blade choice, though I’d think carefully before putting a Feather in there, as that could be just a bit much for a lot of faces. I didn’t see the old “smoother as blades got sharper” trend in the PAA that I did with the Fine.

The PAA is the least expensive razor of the three, but has no quality control or fit and finish issues. I don’t think it’s quite as neat looking as the Merkur, but it’s almost half the price. The Fine, while distinctive, isn’t a real looker in my eyes. The ABS plastic holds it back a bit.

Could they be daily shavers? Yes, with caveats. All of them, to some degree, would be a little bit aggressive for daily, full-tilt shaves. Even the Merkur 45. Especially the two slants. With the correct blade choice, the Fine can…CAN go against the grain. With care, so can the PAA. If you’re going to shave every day, though, that’s going to put some strain on your skin. If you shave, say, twice a week? Totally do-able. If you’re okay doing maintenance shaves that don’t use as many passes? Also fine.

What is the usage case for these razors, anyway? Well, they’re just something different, for one thing. Different feel, different looks. Being so light, they’d all make excellent choices for travel razors. The Merkur even comes with a travel case. Being potent cutters, both the Fine and the PAA should be nice for abbreviated shaves, or for people with coarse beards to manage. If you prefer a light razor, they are about as light as you get.

None of these are expensive razors, ranging from $20 to $35 or so. They each give a novel and effective experience during the shave. They are all viable options that can give you a great shave. The Merkur is probably the only one I’d hand to a beginning shaver. It’s the one among them that doesn’t need any prior warnings.

Which one is my favorite? Sigh. Tough call. Maybe the PAA? Maybe? I’m bad at favorites.

If you find you really like or need high efficiency razors, and you want one for the road, I believe that the PAA might be the top choice. Most omniverous in terms of blades that’ll work, and pretty high voltage in terms of cutting power.

So, here’s the final tally for “The Plastics”:

Merkur 45: Prettiest, most expensive, least aggressive, likes middle of the road blades.

Fine Slant: Probably the sturdiest, needs a sharper blade, super-slanted blade presentation, perilous against the grain, but efficient.

PAA: Any blade will do, value and efficiency champ, best face glide (open comb), keep your wits about you.

Well, I hope that little series proved to be entertaining and educational. I certainly enjoyed it. I will hold onto all three razors, at least for now. I’ll let you know if I decide to trim them out of my collection, and my rationale for doing so.

Cheers, and happy shaving!

Razor Review: Merkur 45 Bakelite

Razor Review: Fine Superlight Slant Razor

Next up: The battle of the Merkur Adjustables!