Kyrle Nelson: Reviews, Parker Variant
The Parker Variant is the best and most interesting razor I have ever used. To be fair though, it is the first safty razor I have ever used as well. The term "safty razor" isnt quite what it seems. When you compare it to a regular cartridge or disposable razor, you would think the opposite is true, and it kind of is. Using a safty razor well requires some technique and practice to get it right without looking like you were attacked by a lawn mower, however, I am not here to talk about how to use a safty razor. I am here to tell you about this specific safty razor.
I did extensive research when deciding which safty razor to use and settled on the Parker Variant for a number of reasons. First, its from a reputable brand. Parker comes very highly recommend by many. Second Parker also has good quality replacement blades, not that it is a huge concern, almost all safty razor blades can be used with almost all safty razors. Third, the Variant is adjustable (the agressiveness of the angle of the blade), which makes it easier to learn proper technique without torturing your face (or other areas) too much in the process. And finally, its price tag wont cut into your wallet much.
Parker is a mid to high quality brand for safty razors. They have been in business since 1973. They are far from the oldest safty razor manufacturer, but have been around long enough to definitly know their stuff. Many people recommend them as a great razor that wont break the bank. I can't compare Parker to other safty razor brands, since I havn't used any others, I can say that that this razor beats ANY cartridge or disposable razor without any doubt (once you learn how to use it properly). For me, the best razor I had found previously was the Gillette Mach 3. Lets say the Variant is a perfect 10, that would put the Mach 3 at no more than a 6 at best (being generous). Thats not to say the Mach 3 is a bad razor, but more saying how good the Variant is (and Parker).
While researching and first-hand learning, I found that there are a number of factors (for the actual razor, not technique) that help get the best shave from a safty razor: razor weight, handle length, blade angle, and blade quality.
The weight matters because if it is too heavy, it can be hard to control and in extreme cases cause nicks and cuts. If it is too light, it will allow the blade slide over the hair rather than cut it (you dont apply pressure with a safty razor, the weight does the work). The Parker has a great weight for me at 110 grams.
The handle length matters for control. Too long and it gets in the way and/or makes it harder to control the razor. Too short and you dont have enough area to adjust your grip when you change how you need to hold it for the many different directions you should be moving it. The Variant is a good balance on length at 4 inches. I've never needed more length or had any trouble with the unused length getting in the way.
The angle of the blade basically controls how close the shave is and how much technique and care you need to apply. A shallower, less agressive angle is 'safer' and easier to shave with, at the cost of a less close shave. A more agressive angle will give you that closer shave, but will require better technique and care (or a willingness to accept lawn mower face). Since the Variant is adjustable, you can set it however you like with a dial on the bottom.
Obviously the blade itself matters a great deal as well. A sharp blade will cut hairs better than a dull blade and a dull blade will cut your face better. Beyond sharpness, overall quality matters too, a low quality blade will not stay sharp. Even if your lucky enough to get one that starts sharp, it likely wont last a full shave. A high quality blade may last several shaves before it becomes to dull. Additionally, many high quality blades are coated, usually with platinum. I am not exactly sure what this coating is supposed to be doing, but I have noticed that I cut myself a lot more with un-coated blades.
I also chose the Parker Variant because Parker makes high quality blades as well and not having to initially purchase different blades is a welcome bonus. At the time, my research had revealed that parker just has good blades. After having tested over a dozen different blades, I can confidently say they are much more than just good blades, they are great. In fact, the only blades I have found that I like better are Feather blades (yellow packaging, not gray), which are regarded as the best blades you can get by most people (and I agree).
The Parker blades start sharp, and stay sharp. I have used a single blade for three shaves, however, you do start to notice a little hair tugging and need a little more care on the second shave. On the third shave, you can tell you definatly need a new blade, but you can get by. I would never use them past three shaves, and I personally only use each blade for one shave (they are cheap enough for one-and-done usage).
Remember I mentioned that there is a dial on the bottom to adjust the blade? That dial is labeled 1 through 5, however, you are not locked into 5 settings. Want to go just a little over 1? Just turn it a bit past 1. Half way between 3 and 4? It's got you covered there too. The adjustment is 100% fluid and smooth (no clicks) and doesnt need to be set directly on a number. The numbers really dont seem to have any direct meaning; its more of an arbitrary number range where 1 (or about 1/2 really) is the least agressive and 5 (or 5 1/5 really) is the most agressive.
When you have it set at the lowest setting, the blade is almost tucked into the bottom section of the razor head (relativly 'safe'). When you have it set on the highest, the blade almost sticks strait out perpendicular to the handle (shave with care).
The last factor for choosing the Parker Variant was the price. Brace yourself. The Parker Variant will set you back about $60 but that's only a mid range price for most safty razors, which usually go for somewhere between $10 (stay far away) up to a few hundred (too rich for me, but supposedly worth it). Before you cut and run though, the trade-off is that you'll only spend about ten cents on each blade, where cartridges for regular razors cost MUCH more. Lets do some quick math. A 4 pack of Gillette Mach 3 Cartridges will cost you about $12. That 4 pack would last me about a month (one cartridge a week, give or take). Swapping blades daily, and assuming I shave every day, lets say I use 30 safty razor blades a month. At ten cents a blade, thats only $3 a month in blades!
Lets take that math a bit further. Every month, I'll save $9 on blades alone. Assuming the Mach 3 handle is free (its not, but lets go with it), in 6-7 months the Parker Variant has paid for itself with the savings on blades. When you consider that a safty razor will last a lifetime or more (not so with a cartridge razor handle), that $60 initial investment starts to look very reasonable, maybe even good!
If it wasn't obvious already, the verdict is clear. The Parker Variant is a definite winner. If you are looking for a closer shave (than a cartridge/disposable razor) and have an extra $70 (the extra $10 is for 3+ months worth of extra blades), I highly recommend the Parker Variant. One minor caveat though, make sure you learn how to use a safty razor before you give it a try and give it a few tries to get some practice before you give up on it. If you don't and don't already know how to use a safty razor, it will likely be a painful and disapointing experience.