Angle of the Dangle
July 1, 2005
Perhaps it’s fitting that opinions on Merkur’s Slant Bar DE safety razor have always been, well, slightly askew. The Slant’s tilted shave-head, unique among all razors, was designed to cut the whiskers on your face with a slicing motion rather than a straight-on cut, which is said to make for a closer, smoother shave. The tilt also opens up the blade exposure at one end of the edge, making the Slant the most aggressive of any fixed-head DE razor I’ve come across. While almost all other fixed-head razors range from so-mild-you-can-shave-drunk-in-the-dark (old Gillettes) to moderately aggressive (Merkur’s fixed-head family: the HD, Classic, Long-Handled, and “1904”-style DEs), the Slant Bar is actually one of the most aggressive DEs available, moreso than even many adjustables.
The Slant is loved and loathed in equal measure. Most of the major online wetshaving vendors don’t even carry it, because, in the words of one such gentleman, “This isn’t a razor for a jackass.” I second that emotion — I thought the open-comb (or “rake”) style DEs were too aggressive for my face, but the Slant Bar is even moreso.
Still, the Slant Bar has its charms. It shares the Merkur HD’s heavy weight and thick, grabby handle, the best of any razor I own. It’s wacky looking, which is always a plus in my book. It’s rare. At 35 bucks or so, it’s cheap. And if you can learn to shave properly with it, it might even shave a few minutes off your shave, since its shave is designed to be closer for each pass than the regular fixed-head Merkurs.
So this morning I lathered up with Proraso and gave the Slant a second chance.
I will say this for the Slant Bar — I definitely get the closest shave with it out of any other DE razor. On the first pass, that is. If all you do is shave your face with a single, downward, with-the-grain pass, the Slant shaves so close that most guys, I bet, would be perfectly happy with this kind of shave, as it’s closer and more comfortable than going with and then against the grain with modern multi-blade razors like the Mach3.
That said, the Slant is far less of a good thing on the upstroke as it is on the down. The same over-aggressive blade exposure that makes for such a close with-the-grain pass is just too much for my skin when shaving against-the-grain. I reeeealy lightened up on the pressure for the upward pass, but I still felt more fire than I know my skin can take on a daily basis.
With Merkur’s HD, or any adjustable DE used at a sensible setting, I can shave against-the-grain for two or more passes without irritation. With the Slant, even once is too much. In this sense, the Slant reminds me of a straight razor — the with-the-grain shave is almost close enough to stop right there, but I can’t for the life of me shave against-the-grain without scoring some burn. It’s hours later and I still feel it under my chin, which has always been my bellwether for shaving irritation.
And here’s the clincher, for me at least — no matter how much closer the Slant Bar shaved me on the initial pass, at the end of the entire shave (one down, one up, and one “cleanup” pass targeting the stubborn billy goat’s gruff on my neck and underchin), I didn’t get any better of a shave than I routinely do with the kinder, gentler HD. The HD may not cut quite as close as the Slant does, but it cuts pretty damn close, and does it in such a way that doesn’t irritate my skin at all, so I can shave in any direction I need to, as many times as I need to, and wind up with a baby’s butt shave every time without a hint of irritation. That’s what I’m after, and that’s why I still strongly prefer the HD over the Slant.
If you want a DE razor that can give you a much better shave with but a single downward pass than anything else short of a straight razor, the Slant’s your best bet. You won’t get baby’s butt smooth, but your face will feel and look a lot better than if you used something like a Mach3.
Fair warning: if you are new to DE shaving, you really shouldn’t mess with the Slant Bar. It is by far the least forgiving safety razor I’ve tried, and at this point I’ve pretty much tried them all. I don’t care how cool or tough or “kick-ass” you are — the Slant Bar, in the hands of a newbie, equals buckets of blood.