First Things: What Is an Adjustable Razor?

Safety razors may all seem very similar, but each one is actually very unique: you've got safety razors that are very light, and others that are very heavy; some that reveal a blade on one side of the head, and others that feature a blade on both sides of the head; and some that have detachable heads, and some where the head is permanently attached to the handle. There are dozens of features that make every safety razor interesting and one-of-a-kind.

One of the most important features, however, is how aggressive the razor is. The term "aggressive" refers to how close a shave a razor will provide. A very aggressive safety razor will provide a very close shave, whereas a more "mild" safety razor will result in a less-close shave.

For seasoned wet shavers, aggressive-ness is a good thing, because it allows them to get a super-close shave; for newer wet shavers, aggressive-ness can be a challenge, because an aggressive razor can cut you to ribbons if you don't know what you're doing. New wet shavers often do better on a milder safety razor, where they can learn how to wet shave and not get cut as much.

​But here's the rub: far and away, most safety razors feature a single "aggressive-ness" setting. There's no changing it. It is what it is on the day you got it, and there's no changing it.

And that's the magic of adjustable razors. They designed so that you can change the aggressiveness of your blade. You can use the safety razor on a lower setting, and that's a great feature if you're new to wet shaving, because a milder razor will be less likely to cut you up. Then, once you've gotten the hang of wet shaving, you can adjust the safety razor to a more aggressive setting, and get a much closer shave (albeit one with a little more likelihood that you'll get nicked!).

Benefits: When are Adjustables Worthwhile?

There are a couple of reasons an adjustable makes a lot of sense:

Not Everybody Shaves Every Day. This, perhaps, is one of most advantageous things about an adjustable: it'll allow you to shave based on how long your whiskers are. A mild shave is great for shorter whiskers, and a more aggressive shave is better for longer ones. Some guys shave every single day, and their whiskers grow in at about the same rate every day, and using a mild, non-adjustable safety razor would probably make sense in that situation. But if you shave irregularly—maybe you'll shave every day for a while, and then here-and-there—it can make sense to have a razor that can attack your whiskers when they're different lengths.

Whiskers are Different on Different Parts of Your Face. Some of us unlucky souls have areas on the cheeks and jaw and chin where whiskers grow out straight (where an aggressive razor would work well) and then also have areas on our necks where the whiskers are swirled (where an aggressive razor feels torturous). For those of us who have "varied" whisker patterns, the ability to switch aggression levels can be a boon.

You Can Switch Aggression on Different Passes. Many men will use an aggressive setting for their with-the-grain pass, and then dial it down for their across-the-grain pass, and then dial it down again for their against-the-grain pass. Options! Almost always a wonderful thing.  

You Can Challenge Yourself with New Settings. For beginners, we're big fans of the Merkur Solingen Double-Edge Razor—it's a nice, mild shave that's perfect for new wet shavers, and it's (relatively) easy for new users to master. After you've mastered that beginner razor, though, it's less of a challenge, because it's so (relatively) simple. Shaving with an adjustable allows you to use more aggressive settings as you gain skill and confidence.

They're Fun. Variety is the spice of life, as they say, and for whatever reason, men in the wet shaving community loooooove switching things up. It seems like the more dedicated to wet shaving you become, the more interested in different razors you become. In a sense, an adjustable is like having "multiple razors in one"—the same safety razor can be used to produce a number of different results, and that's just enjoyable.

There's One Group of Men Who May NOT Need an Adjustable... And that's men with thin facial hair. If you only need to shave every couple of days, or if you're able to get a very close shave after three passes using a mild razor, you probably don't *need* an adjustable. You may want to get one because it's enjoyable, but you probably don't require one.

Adjustables Safety Razor Reviews

Believe it or not, there aren't really too many adjustables on the market, and the ones that have been made are mostly manufactured by a company called Merkur, in Solengen, Germany. There's one other model we like—the Parker—and we'll include that in our discussion below.

Fun fact before we continue: "Merkur" is German for "Mercury," like the planet, which is actually named after the god Mercury in Roman mythology, who was the god of trade and profit. Good to know! First razor:  

​Best Beginner Adjustable Safety Razor: The Merkur Futur

The Merkur Futur Adjustable Safety Razor is, perhaps, one of the best-known adjustables on the market. It's got a shiny chrome finish, a solid handle with a recessed area for your index finger, and a 1-to-6 aggressive-ness setting that's easy to use. Its heft makes it feels like it's doing the cutting for you, and very little pressure needs to be used.

The lowest setting is reasonably mild and that's a wonderful thing—especially if you're a newbie—so this gets our vote as best adjustable safety razor in the "Best for Beginners" category. That said, it's a great model to graduate to more aggressive settings, and the highest setting is vastly different—and vastly more aggressive—than the lowest setting (so be sure to take it easy if you're working your way up the aggressive-ness settings; there's no need to rush things).

It's easy to use, fun to shave with, and it's a handsome addition to your cabinet. Even down to the iconic packaging—that's the Roman god Mercury by the "Merkur" emblem—it's a beauty, and we think it's a great choice if you're new to adjustables.

​Mostly the Same, But Different

If you like the Merkur Futur but don't like the chrome finish and instead would prefer a satin finish, the Merkur Adjustable Razor with Satin Finish can be a good option. It's got a great heft to it (it weighs in at 4.25 ounces), it's got the same six-setting option set, and it's got a really unique look at to it—ever notice how most steel home goods are chrome? This is a nice change.

​Best GOLD Option: Merkur Adjustable Futur Gold Plated

For those of you who truly like throw-back products from days of yore, the Merkur Adjustable Gold Plated Adjustable may be the best adjustable safety razor for you.

For time immemorial, gold was the metal of note. Dating back thousands of years, it has been the international sign of wealthy and royalty, and it's universally understood as rare, and beautiful, and valuable. From religion (the Magi bringing gold to Jesus at his birth), to mythology (dragons hording and sitting on mountains of gold), and to the history of just about any country (including the United States' controversial decision to get off the gold standard in 1933). To put it simply, gold is a big deal.

Then, about ten to fifteen years ago, gold somehow became a little less popular, and silver and platinum and titanium became all the rage. This may be anecdotal evidence, but of all of the Rough and Tumble Gentleman contributors who have gotten married, not a single one of them has a gold wedding ring. All of them have silver or platinum rings, as do their wives. Somehow, gold has become a little "passe."

That's fascinating, but it's a shame, because there's truly something "classic" and eternal about gold. And that's why we love the Merkur Adjustable Gold-Plated razor. It's universal, it's gorgeous, and it's truly unique. How many GOLDEN SHAVING ITEMS do you have? Chances are, you own none. None golden shaving items.

Aside from being an item of weirdness and beauty, we think it's a really fantastic razor. It's got a heavy weight—meaning you need to use very little pressure when shaving with it—and it's got a wide range of adjust-ability: from 1 (the least aggressive) up to 6 (the most aggressive). That's a wide range, which is exactly what we're looking for in an adjustable. Our only complaint is the razor head itself is on the large side, but that's something you can learn to navigate.

Merkur Progress

The Merkur Progress adjustable safety razor design has been around since 1955 and is largely unchanged, at least visually, though there have been a few minor internal engineering tweaks over the years.  It was my first adjustable safety razor and in fact became my pry-it-out-of-my-cold-dead-hands favorite for many years.  You can find many reviews with a simple query of your favorite search engine.

The Progress has its quirks: the handle is too smooth for my preference and the look of the adjustment dial seems incongruous to many.  But the razor’s performance far outweighed the ugly duckling looks for me.

Rex Ambassador Adjustable Razor

The handle is about the same size as the standard Progress (shorter than the long-handle Progress or the Variant) but it’s deeply knurled handle provides an excellent grip.  I find the weight and balance likewise excellent: the “heft” is there without getting cumbersome.
The “adjustability” range is quite wide, going from very mild to veryaggressive, unlike some other adjustable razor’s whose range may start higher at the low end (the Merkur Futur for example).  The adjustment mechanics have been smooth and reliable.  The only “complaint” i’s admittedly a nit-pick–is that the dial marker is a bit small for my less-than-20/20-eyesight.

I found the DE angle “sweet spot” quickly and the shave effort is, well, effortless.  🙂  The Ambassador’s thinner head makes getting into tight spots like under the nose much easier for me to deal with.

 The razor rinses easily and I have not had any lather clogging problems.
My usual shave routine with an adjustable razor is to perform my first pass at a low setting, raising it up for the rest of my reduction passes, then bringing it back down again for touch-ups.  I have found that some adjustable razors (coughProgresscough) have a “Goldilocks” setting on the higher end: a very small setting range (or even a single point) produces the most favorable results without nicks or irritation.  The Ambassador adjustable razor seems to be more flexible and has given me more confidence to experiment at the higher end without giving me problems.

The Parker Variant Adjustable

The Parker Variant Adjustable Double-Edge Razor. Merkur may have a better-known reputation, but Parker has been around for almost half-a-century, and they've got some products we truly enjoy.

The Variant adjustable is a beauty: it's got a dented, black grip, a chrome head, and an exaggerated base for more security. Aggressiveness is changed at the bottom of the handle, with a 1-to-5 aggressiveness range, and this is another razor that has some favorable mild settings, so if you're concerned about getting a razor that's too aggressive, this may be a good choice for you.

There's only one minor qualm we have with the model, and it's that head can get a little hot if you run it under high-temperature water for too long. Not a big deal, really, but something to mention. All in all, a great model, and one we recommend.

Rockwell Razors 6S

The 6S is Rockwell’s flagship safety razor and their most expensive.


It’s their only product in their lineup with a stainless steel finish. Thus it has the “S.”

And the 6 stands for the six adjustable settings that allow you to shave aggressive or mild depending on the need.

Unlike the Merkur Progress, this razor does not have a knob that adjusts blade exposure and angle.

The 6S and the other Rockwell razors that are adjustable make this possible by merely changing the bottom plate.

Yes, you guessed right, this is a three piece razor that has a total of 3 bottom plates – both sides of which are usable.

One advantage that this design has over the traditional adjustable razor is simplicity. You don’t have to worry about the adjustment knob wearing out.

If you need an aggressive shave, use the base plates with a higher number. For a light shave, use the base plate with the lower number.

Being a three piece razor means it will be easier to clean and these razors are typically cheaper to manufacture.

If This is Your First Adjustable, Here's a Word of Advice

Start from the least-aggressive settings and work your way up. Some of us tend to—how should we say this?—"have more confidence than is needed." If you've been shaving for a while, here's our best advice: take it easy when dialing up the aggressiveness. Each setting does take a little while to get used to. Aggressiveness is determined by three things:

1) The angle of the blade as it rests in the head of the safety razor (which in turn is the angle of the blade as is travels over your skin when you're shaving);

2) The distance between the safety bar and the edge of the razor itself (and the wider that gap, the more aggressive the razor); and

3) How much of the actual razor blade is exposed (if more of a blade is exposed, the safety razor will be more aggressive).

When you go from setting to setting, each of those variables change, and even though you may be able to initially adjust your angle of attack after switching settings, your old "muscle memory" will most likely set in, and you'll experience a few weepers.

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