Top positive review
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Brilliantly executed and unjustly maligned
on December 11, 2015
This review differs from many of the other reviews here in that it directly addresses the two primary concerns (some quibbles and some vehement complaints) expressed about the Feather AS-D2: (a) that because it is so mild it allegedly “CANNOT” shave a beard closely, and (b) that it is too expensive.
This reviewer, for more than fifty years, has been “wet” shaving, using a brush (initially, a boar brush from the corner drugstore, then, for a quarter-century, a Vulfix 2234s “Super Badger”, and — for the past two years — a Mühle 33K252 “Silver Tip Fibre”synthetic) to generate lather from specialty soaps. The Feather AS-D2 razor that I bought in October 2015 was not my first Double Edge (DE) razor; it joined two other (quite different) DE razors that I already had been using for some time for my seven-days-a-week shave; were I to purchase new same-brand, same-model, replacements for those razors today, they would cost me $125 and $69, respectively. Because I already had two excellent DE razors in my possession and thus had no pressing NEED to add another, I did not approach the purchase of a Feather AS-D2, at its substantial price, lightly. I first read many of the reviews of the Feather AS-D2 under this Amazon listing — as well as many more reviews on shaving enthusiast sites like shavenook.com and Badger & Blade — and I added the Feather AS-D2 razor with my eyes wide open to the possibility that I could suffer an expensive disappointment.
Let us start, first, with the “too mild to cut” claim. In the context of shaving instruments, “mild” means that a razor is designed to minimize the occurrence of serious cuts, and of less-serious nicks, during a shave. When King Gillette designed and patented the first DE razor, and brought it to market in 1904, “cutthroat” straight razors were the dominant configuration for shaving both by barbers and at home. Gillette’s design was conceived as a “safety” razor — what today would be called “mild” — and its main selling point was that a man was less likely to cut himself badly with Gillette’s innovative DE razor than he was using any of the commercial razors available at that time.
Yes, like the original Gillette DE razor, the Feather AS-D2 is a “mild” razor — but that does not mean that an AS-D2 cuts whiskers any less efficiently or any less closely than an “aggressive” (the opposite of “mild”) razor does. At the end of the day, razor BLADES are what cut whiskers. Stripped to its essentials, every DE razor is merely a holder for its razor blade; it is the blade — specifically, the edge of the blade — that cuts. If the blade holder (razor) can deliver the edge of the blade to the place where a whisker emerges from the skin, then the blade can slice off the whisker right there. And a razor blade in even a “mild” razor can cut a man's beard every bit as closely and cleanly and smoothly as the same blade would cut the beard when mounted in any other DE razor.
The design of any three-piece DE razor starts with a disposable thin and springy razor blade that has edges on two sides that can be ground wickedly sharp; the blade sits atop a baseplate the top of which is convex-curved or convex-angled; and a top cap that has a concave underside clamps the blade down onto the baseplate: the clamping action bends the blade slightly around the convex center of the baseplate, and imparts additional resistance against flexing along the edge of the blade. The boundary of the top cap above the blade, together with the bar or comb that forms the leading edge of the baseplate beneath the blade, define a slot through which the edge of the blade protrudes. Two dimensions: (1) the distance that the blade’s edge protrudes beyond the slot (called the “exposure” of the razor) that limits the ultimate depth to which the blade’s edge can penetrate into the thicket of whiskers (or into the flesh), and (2) the breadth of the slot between the underside of the blade and the top of the baseplate (called the “gap” of the razor), together limit the range of angles within which the razor can be rotated around a fulcrum of either the top cap, or the front side of the baseplate, before the edge of the blade gets lifted off the skin. While a specific DE razor’s manufacturing tolerances must be precise, the underlying geometry “ain’t rocket science,” as they say. The performance of a razor that has a relatively small gap and relatively small exposure will cause it to be categorized as “mild,” and the performance of a razor that has a larger gap and larger exposure will cause it to be categorized as “aggressive.”
And here is where the difference among DE razors lies: the range of gaps and exposures within which the edge of the blade can address the whiskers to cut them efficiently is fairly narrow. If, within those tight parameters, the razor design allows for a relatively wide range of cutting angles, the razor demands less motor coordination from the man holding the razor, and less skill in manipulating the angle of the razor’s handle to his face, to shave the whiskers CLOSE to the skin; but that design choice brings with it a concomitant higher risk that he will cut INTO his skin. Conversely, a design that allows only a relatively narrow range of handle angles and a smaller blade exposure (that is, mild) requires the shaver to accumulate some experience, learning how to manipulate the razor handle frequently while pulling the razor across his face, to adjust the blade to the different cutting angles that are efficient to cut the whiskers for each of the various locations on his cheeks and jaw and neck; but a mild design provides better safety (less risk of drawing blood). The designer of a DE razor makes decisions relating to the razor head’s geometry that directly affect where on the scale between aggressive (angle-tolerant but risky) or technique-sensitive but safe (no bloodshed) — mild — the razor will fall.
Among current models of DE razors, the Mühle Open Comb Double Edge Safety Razor, R41, which can hold the edge of a razor blade against the skin over a relatively wide range of angles, is an example of a razor near the “aggressive” extreme (search the web for an article, “2011 Mühle R41: My Attempts to Cage ‘The Beast’” if you are interested), while the Feather AS-D2 falls well on the safe, but technique-sensitive, “mild” side of the continuum.
If you ever have cleaned a window or a glass door with a squeegee like the Ettore 60010 ProGrip Squeegee, you know that it works very efficiently on flat, vertical glass surfaces roughly between your waist level and your shoulder level, but when you have to squeegee a window over your head or down by your knees, you have a harder time keeping its rubber blade edge from skipping. The squeegee does not change; the glass is the same; but the different angle of holding the edge of the squeegee makes a big difference as to how well it works. A mild DE razor, like the Feather AS-D2, behaves like the squeegee; the geometry of our wrists, when our elbows are bent to hold a razor to our faces, will tend to alter the angle of the razor as we pull a blade across our face. Just as a squeegee needs to be held at a proper angle to clean glass effectively, so a DE razor needs to be held at a proper angle to cut whiskers effectively.
A cartridge razor that has multiple blades in a pivoting head works differently than a squeegee does: it self-adjusts the angle of the cartridge relative to the position of the handle as the razor moves across the face. A man who is accustomed to using such a razor may mistakenly think that the Feather AS-D2, the head of which is rigidly fixed atop its handle, “cannot” cut his “coarse” beard; he falsely attributes to the density of his beard the blame for a condition resulting from his failure to adjust the angle at which he holds his wrist as he moves the razor head from one part of his face to another. Similarly, an aggressive Mühle R41 style of DE razor permits great laxity of discipline as to cutting angle, and when a man who is accustomed to shaving with such a razor shaves with the Feather AS-D2, he may hold the AS-D2 razor handle at the same virtually invariant angle that he found comfortable during his habitual shaving with the aggressive razor; but, at one or another place in the topology of his beard, that angle may not be an effective angle for the narrow gap of the AS-D2’s head geometry — in places, that angle may roll the cutting edge of the blade up away from where the hair follicle emerges, and therefore the blade does not cut the whisker close to the skin. Then the man may arrive at a false conclusion: when he holds the Feather AS-D2 at his invariant habitual angle and it DOES not cut closely, he concludes that it CAN not cut closely were he to hold at another angle — the correct angle for the AS-D2 — that he has not yet tried.
Here is the reality: a sharp blade loaded in a Feather AS-D2, held at the proper angle, can cut ANY human whiskers, even wiry whiskers that are densely grouped. Blades cut whiskers. If that blade were mounted in, for instance, a Mühle R41 razor, it could cut the whiskers; when that same blade is in a Feather AS-D2 razor, and the AS-D2 is held properly, then the blade CAN and WILL slice off the whisker just as efficiently and thoroughly, and just as close to the skin, as it would in the R41. The Feather AS-D2 needs no modification to make it efficient; all that is needed is sufficient repetition of the practice of holding the handle of the razor at the proper angle, which varies as one shaves around the curves and corners of one’s face: repeated practice at making the adjustments creates muscle memory in one’s hand to the point where one need not think about the handle’s angle any more. The process is really no different from learning to play a musical instrument: Jimmy Page no longer needs to check his fingers’ position on the frets when he plays Stairway to Heaven.
But I am writing this to tell you that there is another way — a hardware shortcut — to address the “too mild” complaint sometimes made against the Feather AS-D2. A competing maker of stainless steel razors, iKon Razors, makes the iKon B1 Open Comb Deluxe Razor (also known as the “iKon Deluxe OC”), each of the three component parts of which is directly interchangeable with the corresponding part of the Feather AS-D2. Sporadically, iKon Razors offers the baseplate of the iKon Deluxe OC for purchase independently of the rest of the razor, although Amazon currently does not offer the baseplate separately. (*Hint: use your favorite search engine to search the phrase, “Blem DLC Open Comb Base Plate"; the corresponding unblemished product is called “B1 Open Comb Deluxe Base Plate”.) When an iKon Deluxe OC baseplate is swapped into the Feather AS-D2 in place of the Feather AS-D2’s native baseplate, the Feather AS-D2 effectively becomes a clone of an iKon Deluxe OC razor, and it will shear whiskers over a broader range of angles of holding the razor; the mild-mannered Clark Kent Feather AS-D2 transforms with the iKon baseplate into Superman with a bit of an attitude. With two alternate baseplates available, one has what amounts to two razors that differ greatly as to aggressiveness. No, the Feather AS-D2 with the iKon Deluxe OC baseplate installed still will not be the barely tamed beast that the Mühle R41 is, but it does move to the aggressive side of neutral.
In the months that I have owned the Feather AS-D2, I have shaved every day with it while my other two DE razors sat, unused, in the cabinet above the sink; I have used it both with the native (solid bar) Feather baseplate and with an iKon Deluxe OC baseplate, and there is a BIG difference between the two configurations. With care and attention, I can get — and have achieved — EVERY BIT AS CLOSE a shave with the native baseplate installed in the Feather AS-D2 as I ever get with the iKon Deluxe OC baseplate installed; the iKon baseplate does not add any close-shave capability to the Feather AS-D2; what the iKon baseplate does is trade off some safety against nicks and cuts to make the razor more tolerant of “wrong” technique in holding the razor at the optimal cutting angle. To get a close shave with the native Feather baseplate requires continual adjustment throughout the shave of the angle at which one holds the handle; when one has trained muscle memory to do it automatically, the end result is the same.
Closeness of the shave, however, is only one consideration determining the enjoyment of using a razor: for me, the FEEL of the solid safety bar of the Feather AS-D2 baseplate moving across my face as I am shaving is more pleasant than the FEEL of the open comb of the iKon Deluxe OC baseplate on my face. (Imagine how a Hercules Sagemann Hair Styling Comb being raked across your beard might feel, and you can conjure an idea of what the open comb iKon baseplate feels like.) I continue to work on educating my muscle memory with the Feather baseplate installed, and as I am getting better at using it, the time required to complete a close shave with the native Feather AS-D2 is getting shorter, approaching the time it takes to knock off an efficient shave with one of my other two DE razors. Eventually, I shall have trained my wrist sufficiently to retire the iKon baseplate entirely. In the meantime — today — I can get as close a shave as I ever have achieved with ANY DE razor when I have the native Feather baseplate installed, but I can get as close a shave in LESS TIME with the iKon baseplate installed.
The Feather AS-D2 ships with a pack of five Feather Hi-Stainless DE blades; not surprisingly, the Feather blades work symbiotically with the Feather razor in its stock solid bar baseplate configuration. The Feather blades are very sharp — famously so — but the Feather blades have been fashioned to be more flexible than most other blades; if a Feather blade is not firmly supported on its under (baseplate) side, it can ripple like a flag in a hurricane when the edge of the blade faces resistance during a shaving stroke. The underside of the top cap of the Feather AS-D2 razor has a square “post” at each of its four corners that corresponds to a matching cutout at each of the four corners of a standard DE blade; the top cap’s posts mate snugly into depressions or “sockets” at the corners of the standard AS-D2 baseplate, allowing the top cap and baseplate together to clamp the blade very firmly on both sides along the full length of the blade near to the cutting edge; this is an unusual design feature of the AS-D2, and, not incidentally, it ensures that the blade will be perfectly aligned between the top cap and baseplate when the pieces of the razor are tightened. When the alternative iKon Deluxe OC baseplate is swapped into the AS-D2, the top cap’s posts still stabilize the *sides* of the blade at the corners, ensuring excellent blade alignment, but the iKon baseplate curves down and away from the blade at the front edge, and there are no corresponding baseplate sockets for the posts to fit into; the blade is not as tightly clamped, and a thin blade like the Feather can flex along its edge in that configuration.
I prefer the quality of the shaves that I get when I have loaded the Feather AS-D2 with KAI Stainless Steel Double Edge Razor Blades, which are made in the same small city, Seki, in Gifu Prefecture, where the Feather AS-D2 razor is made, and are (to my perception) just as sharp as the Feather blades; the KAI blades are stiffer — more resistant to deformation — than the Feather blades are, and consequently less susceptible to the judder that Feather blades sometimes exhibit. The KAI blades make at least as excellent a match with the Feather AS-D2 razor using the stock Feather baseplate as the Feather blades do, but the KAI blades are superior to the Feather blades when the iKon Deluxe OC baseplate is substituted. As a bonus, I have found that I get an extra shave or two on a KAI blade, compared to a Feather blade, before reaching the point of having to replace the blade.
Both Feather blades and KAI blades are made in Japan; some other excellent DE razor blades are made in Russia. Having found success with Polsilver Super Iridium (SI) Double Edge Razor Blades (made in a factory in St. Petersburg partially owned by Gillette) and Rapira Swedish Supersteel (SS) Double Edge Blades (made in a factory in Moscow) in my other DE razors, I gave a couple dozen of each of those blades a fair try in the Feather AS-D2; both of the Russian blades gave me a pretty good shave; but the Japanese KAI blades and Feather blades give me a better shave in the Feather AS-D2 than the Russian blades do; “your mileage may vary,” as they say.
Now as to price. Several reviewers here on Amazon have opined that the Feather AS-D2 is not “worth” upwards of $150, or that it is “over-priced.” SUBJECTIVE value to an individual is, of course, indisputable. But, on an OBJECTIVE basis, the Feather AS-D2 has a mark-up from the cost of manufacturing it that is commensurate with the mark-up of cheaper, lesser, razors. One legitimately may argue that the molybdenum enhanced and highly corrosion-resistant “marine grade” 316 stainless steel (also known as “surgical stainless steel”) that Feather selected for use in the AS-D2 is overkill, that for razors that are not exposed to saltwater, 316 affords no discernible advantage in the short term over the fairly corrosion-resistant 304 stainless steel that other manufacturers of stainless steel razors use. One legitimately may argue, further, that, having chosen to make the Feather AS-D2 with such high grade stainless steel, it was overkill to plate the steel in chrome; and that it was further overkill to take the extra step to give the chrome a matte finish. Those are valid points, because Feather could have brought a very similar razor to market at a lower price point had it not taken those extra steps. But — relative to its COST to produce — the Feather AS-D2 is very much worth the PRICE for which it sells. Whether such quality is realized subjectively when standing in front of the shaving sink, or whether there is worth to you in knowing that the Feather AS-D2 can be passed down as an heirloom to future generations after lesser DE razors will have bit the dust, are value judgements that each individual must make for himself.
Personally, I find the Feather AS-D2 to be worth its price.
The first (from left) two photos below show the gaps and exposures of the Feather AS-D2 razor when it is fitted with the stock solid-bar baseplate vs. when fitted with the alternative open comb baseplate discussed in the review above. The fourth photo (when I posted this review it was the third photo) shows the underside of the top cap, with four square posts at the extreme corners of the cap. The third (originally, the fourth) photo shows a (KAI) razor blade lightly resting atop the inverted top cap. showing how the cap’s posts will protrude through the cut-outs at the four corners of the blade after the baseplate has been laid (convex side down) atop the blade, with the handle then screwed onto the threaded post of the top cap to tighten the pieces together. The last (rightmost) photo shows the convex top of the Feather baseplate, with sockets at each corner that accept the protruding posts of the top cap, constraining blade rotation between the baseplate and top cap, and assuring perfect alignment of the blade in the razor every time. From the first and last photos, one may discern that the underside (baseplate side) of the blade is tightly supported from the center out all the way to the edge of the three wide oblong slots on each side of the baseplate that allow an exit path for lather scrubbed from the beard.