Monday, March 2, 2015

Myth Busting: The Merkur 33 & 34HD Have Different Heads

News flash: Common mythology propagated by far too many postings on Internet shaving forums is wrong again: Despite the untested, unconfirmed rumors that the Merkur 33 and 34HD razors have the same razor head design, this rumor is false. They have different shave characteristics; the 34HD has a more aggressive razor-head design than its mild-mannered cousin, the 33 Classic.

Though I have long studied the 33 Classic razor, I have not had the pleasure of measuring the 34HD to get primary data. Thus I have not compared the design specifics of the two models, which most of those who have helped to sustain this myth should have done -- and I'm sad to say, that group includes this writer. But I have seen the error of my ways and hope never to repeat this type of mistake. Still, without primary data on the 34HD, how can I now assert so confidently that it and the 33 Classic do not, in fact, have the same razor head design?

It was a close friend of mine who, unintentionally, busted the myth. Here's the rest of the story:

On the advice of a silly ass, who months ago suggested that the 34HD was an appropriate high-end razor for a DE newbie (that silly ass is this writer), my close friend purchased one. Over the next few months, despite watching the requisite videos and using appropriate shave cream, brush, and diligent due care, was unable to get a shave without blood loss.

He is not one to complain, but when I finally learned about his commitment to DE shaving and the troubled outcomes of his shaves, I was greatly dismayed to learn of his plight and his expenditure on a razor he can't fully enjoy. The very reason I had recommended the 34HD as a higher-end starter razor was due to the common misinformation (or delusion) that its razor head is essentially the same as that of the 33 Classic, and that the only significant difference is the size and weight of the handle. Therefore I had intended to recommend a razor of mild-shaving character that would encourage a new DE shaver by having an instrument that easily provides comfortable shaves.

I immediately suspected the problem was that, unlike my favored 33 Classic, the 34HD was too aggressive for his face. So without telling him my concerns, I simply ordered a Lord LP1822L and had it sent to his home.

Later, when I inquired as to which razor he preferred and why, he thanked me heartily for the Lord razor, saying that though it doesn't shave as closely in a single pass when he's in a hurry, he is consistently getting low-irritation, no-blood shaves from the Lord LP1822L, and much prefers that razor for his morning ritual.

That said, one could easily and correctly infer that generally speaking, since the Lord and the Merkur 33 Classic offer similar shaves, then the 33 and the 34HD certainly do not. And that is exactly what I am asserting. I will even go further. I have measured the Lord L.6 razor head (which is on the LP1822L razor), and it has the same blade angle and approximately the same negative blade exposure as the Merkur 33. Where they differ is in the safety bar cross-section profile, which makes the blade gap slightly larger in the L.6 -- meaning it shaves slightly more aggressively than the 33, and this has been born out not only in measurements but in evaluation shaves!

So this means that not only does the 34HD shave more aggressively than the Lord L.6, it also means that because the 33 Classic razor is a bit milder still, the difference in shave character between the 34HD and the 33 Classic is even greater than the difference between the 34HD and the Lord LP1822L!

Myth busted. The Merkur 34HD two-piece razor does not have the same head design as the Merkur 33 Classic, and the 33 offers the milder, more face-friendly shave.

Happy shaving, and continue to question everything!


  1. Hmmm... wait a minute: did you personally try the 34HD against the 33C ? Or, did you make physical measurements on the 34HD head ? If not, it's again "somebody told me".
    Or even worse, is an indirect comparison based on a third razor.

    1. No offense, but this argument seems like quite a reach. Why so determined to question this conclusion? After all, if the razor heads were really the same, why didn't Merkur just screw on a fatter, heavier handle onto the 33 and call it the 33HD? Likely because the 34HD is for tougher faces and heavier beards.

    2. If Merkur does manufacture the 34HD with different razor head specs and intend it for heavier beards, they have done a horrible job of clearly communicating that to customers.

      Personally, I the votes in this poll suggests that Merkur (and maybe EJ) has some manufacturing variances, and I think that is part of why we see differing conclusions:

  2. Have either one of you tried both the 34HD and the 33C in the same shave?

    Also, perhaps your friend could mail you his so you could post a comparative photo analysis?

    1. Not necessary. You don't shave with one razor for months, then pick up another and it is consistently different -- in this case better -- and chalk that up to shaving on different days.

    2. Regarding the photo, yeah. he actually did mail an side view, but it was centered on the handle, not the line of the edge, so it's difficult to tell anything meaningful from the incorrect angle. I might ask him to take another, but I really was reluctant to bug him; he's not really obsessed about DE shaving like I am, he just likes it. Perhaps if someone else want to email me a photo..... ?

  3. Most other sources are simply stating that they believe that the 34HD and 33C are the same razor head shaving geometries. They aren't saying it is a hard fact. So, I don't think they are being inappropriate in sharing their best available information.

    That said, your stating that this is a "Myth busted" does seem inappropriate to me until you have some actual evidence. Unless I'm misreading your post above, you only have suspicion worth looking into it further....

    Here are some examples of how the 33C and 34HD could still be the same razor head design:

    1. The Lord razor has a different blade gap or exposure ... and your friend is more sensitive to one of these aspects of razor aggression.

    2. Your friend's technique has improved since he started using the Lord razor. I believe you said the Merkur was a starter razor for him?

    3. Your friend finds the head/handle balance or overall weight or topcap-to-guard shaving angle (angle that the handle needs to be held at) to be more intuitive, and so it is more natural for him to use with a light touch and at a good cutting angle.

    4. One of the Merkur razors involved could be defective, varying from the manufacturer's intended design more than the norm.

    There are also other reasons that I can think of....

    I would love to see you look into this more thoroughly, but unless I'm missing something ... your conclusion seems premature.


    1. Point 1: reflects an imperfect understanding of how gap, exposure, and angle combine to influence shave character of a razor head.

      Point 2: I don't think his technique sucked for months, then within a week magically improved AT THE SAME TIME THAT HE USED A DIFFERENT RAZOR. The explanation for the improvement is razor, not technique.

      Point 3: Balance and weight are ridiculously over rated as to their influence on shave quality. Regarding the second part of this point, see my comment to point 2, above.

      Point 4: I had referred him to my articles on verifying that a new razor isn't defective, but I'll confirm that he actually performed the tests and report back.

    2. Can you elaborate on this?
      "Point 1: reflects an imperfect understanding of how gap, exposure, and angle combine to influence shave character of a razor head."

      You seem to be mostly focused on angle, but I assure you that the other two facets contribute ... most especially blade exposure, which is very difficult to measure even from a magnified photograph.

      Also, on point 4 ... I'm of the belief that differences indiscernible to the naked eye can make significant differences in the aggressiveness of a razor head.

      Here's a reference link on that:

      Dont' get me wrong. I genuinely think this is worth looking into, but one person saying that Razor A and Razor B are about the same, and another person saying that Razor B and Razor C are significantly different ... does not mean that Razor A and Razor C are significantly different. As a dietician would you make a diet recommendations based on such a singular piece of anecdotal evidence?

    3. My apologies: I knew I wasn't answering completely, but I was a bit short of time. I'll explain soon.

      I will also discuss your last paragraph, which is true for sports, not some other things like math and razors.

      I do appreciate the fact that you are adhering to my new sub-motto, which is "question everything." :-)

    4. My thought on point one was that the big three (gap, exposure, and angle) combine to provide a certain shave character that we might call aggressiveness or, from the opposite perspective perhaps, face friendliness. (It's undoubtedly true that some faces are less susceptible to this aggressiveness/face-friendliness character such as those with tough, smooth skin and contours. They might shave comfortably with a broken mirror.) However, those with opposite skin (loose, sensitive, highly contoured) can generally enjoy shaves with different razors whose big three, though specifically different, combine in such a way to provide face friendliness. I acknowledge your point that some faces are more sensitive to one factor of the big three, but in general, it will be not any one factor, but the interaction of the three that determines shave character and acceptability for any individual.

      Even allowing for nuances though, when the differences in shave character between razors are dramatic such as in my friend's case, the net evaluation must be that the shave character's of the razors are clearly different; really, it seems to me, there can be no other conclusion. Which brings us to point four:

      In mathematics (and the logic-branch of philosophy), if A>B and B>C, then A is in fact >C. This is not true in realms of tactics and statistical probability such as sports, where if team A will beat team B most of the time, and likewise team B will beat team C most of the time, though it's tempting to say that A will usually beat C, there are the confounding factors of match-ups, tactical preferences, and the resulting team strengths and weaknesses. Razor comparison is somewhere between these two, though I would submit much closer to math than sports.

      We might agree that there is a general aggressiveness-of-shave scale on which most razors can be ranked -- even allowing for some minor variation for individual preference and circumstance. However, when the differences are fairly large for even one person such as that between the 34HD and the L.6, their respective ranking is clear. Now the 33 and the L.6 are similar in character, no doubt (however, I would aver that the L.6 is clearly the slightly more aggressive shaver -- though both relatively mild). Therefore it seems to me to be an unreasonable stretch to deny that in this case and others like it that the 34HD is not only less face friendly than the L.6, but also the 33.

      I hope this lengthy explanation makes my assertions seem much more reasonable.

      Also, I am not the lone voice in the wilderness asserting this; and there is a reason....

      BTW, I really appreciate your comments. It's fun to debate this. Thanks!

    5. Okay, so there isn't anything that I'm misunderstanding, and you've basically retracted your "Point 1: reflects an imperfect understanding of how gap, exposure, and angle combine to influence shave character of a razor head"?

      Also, razors aggressions between different shavers are simply not comparable like logical truths….

      Take this poll for example:

      4 responses said Muhle or Edwin Jagger 89 is more aggressive
      11 responses said Merkur 34/38C is more aggressive
      4 responses said similar

      Two very popular razors, and opinions differed pretty widely between the 10 respondents.

      And here's another interesting poll. Both of these razors share the same top cap, so both have the exact same _shallow_ blade angle. Both are CNC machined to very precise tolerances. The R1 is closed comb, and the M2 is open comb (which by their design is just notches cut into the same safety guard. So while the R1 has over twice the blade gap, 5 out of 17 responses still find that the M2 shaves more aggressively for them:
      5 said the M2 is more aggressive
      11 said the R1 is more aggressive
      1 said similar

      So, IMO, by labeling your single, indirect comparison with different people using different razors, and then labeling this as a “myth buster” in your article, and then defending your label ... you are breaking your own new “sub-motto”, of "question everything."

      Again, I'd love to see a more rigorous comparison.

    6. I must apologize for my thoughtless, careless comment above about "imperfect understanding...". I didn't mean to offend, and I should have been more careful with my word choice.

      For clarity on this point, I must retract and retrace a bit: Many will be sensitive to one of the big three design factors. Take exposure, for example. It's an issue for me, and, obviously, my friend with the 34HD and L.6. However, gap and angle can compensate. As examples, my favorite two razors have different edge exposures: the 33 is pretty negative, the RM2003 slightly positive. Yet it is compensating factors of different gaps and angles that render both razors pretty good on my face. Despite the fact that for most razors, positive exposure doesn't work for me; creates nicks, weepers, and irritation.

      Clearly the right combination, however, of exposure, gap, and angle can work for me. Certainly this is the case for my friend and his 34HD vs. his L.6. This is essentially, by definition, the essence of shaving character, and the 34 is more aggressive, less face friendly than the L.6.

      This isn't subject to a vote. After all, too many DE users believe that weight and balance are the alpha and omega of razor characteristics. My friend simply and innocently noticed a huge difference in the shave character of two razor heads. He had no axe to grind, no position to defend. The comparisons you cite of razor X vs. razor Y seem irrelevant for a couple of reasons, but the primary one being that these razors (generally speaking; I'm not intimately familiar with more aggressive razors, which most of these seem to be; I do know that the Jagger 89 and the Merkur 34 aren't that different) are fairly similar. Yet the 34HD is obviously pretty different than the L.6, which in turn is similar but different than the 33: 34HD>L.6>33.

      That said, part of the diversity of humans is that some are more accepting of intuitive explanations; others won't be satisfied without hard, concrete data. I accept your skepticism absent physical data on the razor heads themselves as evidence.

      I will see if I can get a good side-view photo of the 34HD, and maybe some additional benefit will come out of it. The rub in that plan is that it is very difficult to get an accurate gap measurement. It often ends up being a rather intuition-based inquiry no matter what approach is taken.

      Whew! I'm all discussed out. Thanks for your contributions!

    7. But aren't you saying that your vote and your friends vote equals truth ... and yet the truth isn't subject to a vote??

      If you had even 10 people who did side by side comparisons of the same razors ... and they all (or even 8 out of 10) agreed ... then I wouldn't need physical data to agree with your conclusion. But lacking the 10 test subjects, I only suggested hard data (ie good side photos of both the 33 and the 34HD) as evidence that they differ in their intended design.

      Keep in mind also, even that even two razors of the exact same model and design can differ. Leisureguy has a good post on this where he compared two Feather AS-D1 razors. He could not visibly tell a difference, and yet their shave was significantly different....

      This stuff isn't easily simplified into a 2 person, indirect case study....

  4. Also, perhaps your friend's Merkur 34HD needs to have it's blade straightened when he loads it?

    1. This, too, I'll look into and report back. (However, my three Merkur razors all self center beautifully, and I would be horrified to pay US$40 for a razor that doesn't.)

    2. Actually and for the record, I think any manufacturer that is selling a DE razor that doesn't self center the blade is selling a low-quality product -- and I don't care if it's made of solid gold, it's still low quality if it doesn't self center. Even the junk Chinese razors self center; the only razor I've got that doesn't is the Maggard with their standard shave head. I don't like the razor head, and it's perma-stored in my closet, but if I did like it, I'd be pissed that I have to fuss with blade adjustment every time I loosen the head. Inexcusable to not self center.

    3. I see your point, and each to his own ... but once you get the hang of it, centering to magnified precision takes about 5 seconds....

    4. True, but I'm one of those obsessives that rinses and dries (by gently pressing, not wiping) the blade after every morning shave. To have to adjust the blade every shave is just more that I'm happy doing given the rest of my daily ritual. You're right, of course, it takes only a few seconds, but it's just me. I truly think this is lazy/careless manufacturing if a blade doesn't self center -- a subject on which I published a best-practice article:

      Best regards.

  5. For the ATT razors, the top cap automatically and precisely centers the blade to the top cap ... but there is a little play between the top cap and the baseplate.

    I'm pretty sure this is a trade off in their design though, not lazy/careless manufacturing.

    I believe their design helps maximizes audible feedback from the razor/blade, but I think it requires that the holes in the baseplate be slightly larger than the pins in the top cap to prevent capillary effect from holding water and promoting rust.

    So, a trade off ... and only 5 seconds of extra work....

    1. I just did a quick search for Above the Tie razors, and it looks like they cost about US$185. And they need to have the blade manually adjusted to be properly aligned. Is this generally known prior to purchase, I wonder.

      I don't understand your description of the play between top cap and base plate. If you could elaborate, that would help in my grasping your point and perhaps being more accepting of a very expensive razor that doesn't self center the blade.

      Secondly, do you assemble your razors upside down? That is, top cap inverted on counter, blade on that, then baseplate on that and pressed down with fingers while things are snugged up? This is the method Merkur has recommended to allow their razors to self center. I always use it. Maybe that would work with the ATT razor.

      Thanks and best regards.

  6. This is the best thread that I know of on the subject ... and it includes photos:

    Yes, I assemble my razor upside down, and this helps it to self center.


  7. I agree with you, Doug, that there needs to be a much higher standard of quality of evidence in the wet shaving community. There is a huge lack of empirical data and accurate measurements that would support (or not support) people's experiences. While I know wet shaving has many variables that contribute to a good or poor shave, I think a lot of variables are quantitative as opposed to the popular opinion that they are qualitative. Doug, I appreciate your efforts to bring this issue to light within the wet-shaving community.
    Although I suspect you may be correct about the differences between the 33c and 34c, you do need a some more evidence. I was looking this same issue up a few weeks ago because I considering purchasing a Merkur safety razor. There are other people who believe that there is a difference between the 33c and 34c as well. I've found some of those discussions and will link you to them.
    In this discussion some use this page as a source
    Although this seems like good, empirical data I suspect it's not the most accurate. It has the warning that "This page is only a (likely imperfect) listing/ranking of blade gaps." Also it lists the Merkur Classic (33c) and the Merkur 23c as having different blade gaps. While I don't have any empirical evidence of this, I suspect that the 23c and 33c have the same head, as they are both Merkur solid bar, 3 piece razors.
    There is also this discussion:
    It contains a lot of the same topics as the other reddit discussion. Another thing I have noticed which isn't empirical evidence, is that when many compare the Merkur 33c/23c (which I'm assuming are the same) to the Edwin Jagger DE89, they will say that the Merkur is the milder, but when comparing the 34c to EJ DE89, the EJ is said to be the milder. I own both the 23c and the DE89 and for what my opinion is worth (I haven't done any measurements) the 23c seems milder, although I don't count this as proof that it is.
    Overall, I wholeheartedly agree with Doug in that the safety razor manufacturers need to list more data (blade exposure, gap, and angle) on their websites. I don't know what their aversion to doing this is caused by. I'm a part of the reddit Wicked_Edge community and recently implored Joe of to post these specifications (also length and weight) for the new Razorock Baby Smooth safety razor he designed. He never responded to my reddit comment but little while later, the specs of weight and handle length were up on the site, but not the blade gap, exposure, and angle. It bugs me.
    Thanks Doug for making this blog and standing up for empiricism.

    1. I greatly appreciate your input. Thanks.