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What do you know about safety razors? If you’re like me, not much. Up until recently, I had never even touched one. In my mind, they seemed like obsolete relics a grandpa might tell stories about, like black and white TV or cars without seatbelts.
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I was intrigued, then, when an ad for Henson Shaving showed up in my Instagram feed last year. Henson is a Canadian company with a background in machining aerospace parts — its components are in satellites currently orbiting our planet. But in recent years, the outfit has turned to more terrestrial pursuits, and the ad showcased the brand’s latest venture: The Henson AL 13 aluminum safety razor. Shiny, precision-engineered and free of plastic, the AL13 was the polar opposite of the flimsy, annoyingly expensive cartridge razors I’ve been using since I first started shaving. I bookmarked the ad—this was a razor I wanted to try.
In the years since its launch, Henson Shaving has racked up lots of positive coverage, including glowing reviews from razor nerds on Reddit. The AL13 has earned praise for its excellent build quality, streamlined design, and its ease of use, even for safety razor novices like me. Better yet, the AL13 uses simple double edge stainless steel razor blades, so there’s no plastic waste at all (the metal blades are fully recyclable). This fall, I had the opportunity to try it myself. Mens grooming brand Dr. Squatch partnered with Henson Shaving to release a limited-edition AL13, and I eagerly responded to the PR pitch with an offer for a sample. After two months of testing, I can confidently say I’ve seen the light, the hype is real, and I can’t imagine shaving any other way.
Design and Materials
The Henson AL13 is made in Canada from CNC machined and anodized aluminum, and it consists of three main parts: A textured handle and two plates that form the head of the razor. The handle screws into a threaded post that’s connected to the top plate and passes through a tungsten bushing embedded in the bottom plate; the razor blade sits between the two plates. Raised bumps on the top plate keep the blade aligned, and screwing down the handle tightens the whole assembly together.
A few key design elements give the AL13 its superior performance. First, the aforementioned bumps take any guesswork out of aligning the blade: They keep it perfectly straight within the head of the razor, so you get a consistent feel with each pass of the blade over your face. Second, when tightened down, the AL13 leaves just 33 microns of blade exposed—about half the width of a human hair. This minute blade exposure keeps the blade from flexing as you shave and prevents your skin from getting caught in it, so you’re less likely to get nicks and cuts. Finally, the top plate presses the blade into a 30-degree angle. Combined with the small exposure, this sets the blade up to cut your whiskers where they emerge from your skin, leaving a smooth, even shave.
I’ve had my razor for about two months, and I’ve shaved with it weekly (my usual cadence) since I received it.
What We Like:
Simple Setup: The AL13 arrives with everything you need to shave, including a pack of five razor blades, and setting it up is a snap. Just unscrew the handle to disassemble the razor, gently insert a fresh razor blade into the top plate, and screw the handle back on; the bushing embedded in the bottom plate gives you a good feel for when it’s securely tightened. It is possible to install the top plate upside-down, but handy illustrations on the box help you orient everything correctly. Do it once, and it all makes sense.
Easy to Use: As a safety razor novice, I was expecting a steep learning curve with the AL13. For my first shave, I wet my face, applied a light coat of shaving cream, and slowly, carefully took a pass with the razor. I expected it to peel my skin off with the faintest slip, but after a few strokes, I realized I had no reason to worry: The AL13 glides easily and cuts without pulling. I only had to use light pressure on my face to get a smooth, close shave. In two months of use, I’ve only nicked myself twice, and they were barely noticeable. I’ve had much worse hack jobs with cartridge blades.
In addition, the AL13 is super easy to keep clean. In my experience, multi-blade cartridges gum up quickly with shaving cream and hair, and I often spend more time rinsing the blades, tapping them against the sink, or dislodging gunk with my thumb than actually shaving. The AL13 has cutouts on its top and bottom plates, and a quick swipe under the faucet rinsed out any residue.
Effective: Reading the fine print about the design of the AL13, with all its references to tolerances and microns, might make your eyes glaze over. But it works: The razor is quick and efficient. Even when I fell behind on my shaving schedule, the AL13 scythed through my week-and-a-half-old beard without a hiccup. I found the stiff blade to be surprisingly maneuverable, and it easily dispatched whiskers hiding under my jawline or nose. The single blade was also ideal for trimming my sideburns: I could get an even cut across longer hairs with just one pass. The blade never pulled at my hairs or irritated my skin, and even though I made around two to three passes in each area, shaving with the AL13 felt surprisingly natural and quick.
Minimal Waste: The AL13 is designed to last forever. In addition, it’s available in several eye-catching colors, and it has a sleek, handsome design—it’s an heirloom piece you’ll want to keep for a long time. (Try saying that about your drugstore razor.) The only consumable you need to concern yourself with is double edge razor blades, which have two major benefits over plastic-hulled cartridges: They’re exceedingly cheap (Henson sells ‘em for ten cents per blade), and they’re fully recyclable, though you’ll need to collect them in a container and check your local recycling guidelines for proper disposal. That means more money in your pocket and less plastic waste in landfills.
What We Don’t:
- Swapping Blades: If the old school method does have a drawback, it’s dealing with double edge razor blades. As you’d expect, they are quite sharp, and you’ll need a steady hand when swapping them in and out of the AL13. It’s not as easy as clicking the handle into a new multi-blade cartridge.
Henson AL13 Safety Razor: Should You Buy It?
The short answer: Yes. I have a hard time imagining a scenario where the AL13 is a worse choice than a plastic razor. It’s well made, a joy to use, cheap to own, takes up very little space, and it cuts down on discarded plastic. In this case, going the old school route isn’t just giving into nostalgia—it’s actually a better choice. Maybe grandpa had it right after all.
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