REVIEW – In late 2020, I switched from disposable multi-blade razors to traditional safety razors in search of a more consistent shave and because I was tired of running out of razors. I tried razors from many well-known brands and selected a daily-driver (well, every-few-days-driver) razor that I’ve been using for the past six months. Several months ago, Henson Razor’s AL13 starting popping up in my Facebook feed and the razor looked intriguing. So when the chance to review one of these new-school safety razors came up, I volunteered. Let’s see how this next-generation safety razor works for on my beard.
What is it?
The Henson AL13 safety razor is a re-imagining of the traditional safety razor. Like traditional safety razors, it holds a single thin, double-edged razor blade which is changed every week or so. Unlike other safety razors, the AL13 is machined from aerospace grade aluminum and has a unique blade support and gap design and a unique head shape which are intended to provide a smoother shave and eliminate the learning curve associated with the transition from disposable razors to safety razors. The AL13 is a 3-part razor as opposed to a clam-shell razor. I will explain what a 3-part razor is in a later paragraph.
What’s in the box?
The Henson AL13 razor arrives in a sleek cardboard box.
Inside the box (which is entirely recyclable), one finds
- the razor
- a 5-pack of Astra double-edge razor blades
- an instruction card
The AL13 razor is approximately the same size and shape as other modern safety razors. It is shown here along with a Merkur 23C Long Handled Safety Razor (middle) and a Parker Semi-Slant Safety Razor (right) for size comparison.
Before this review began, I had been using the Merkur as my primary razor. By way of comparison, the Merkur is approximately 106 mm in length.
By benefit of its aerospace aluminum construction the AL13 is much lighter than traditional safety razors and in fact is closer in weight to a heavy disposable razor (all weights include blades).
Schick Extreme 3 disposable razor: 21.5 g
Henson AL13 safety razor: 38.5 g
Merkur 23C: 60.5 g
Design and features
Preparing the AL13 for shaving involves X steps
1. Disassembling the razor
Disassembly of the razor is a simple matter of unscrewing the handle from the two-piece head (the origin of the descriptor “three-piece”) and separating the parts of the head. Note the use of bars on the top of the head to position the blade rather than the traditional posts used in many three-piece razors.
2. Unwrapping and inserting the blade
The razor blade is unwrapped from its wax-paper carrier and carefully placed on the top part of the head with the open slot in the blade fitting down over the bars (for those new to safety razors, always handle the blades by the narrow ends).
3. Reassembling the razor
The bottom part of the head is placed on the top part with the slots in the bottom pieces aligning with the bars on the top part of the head. Finally, the handle is screwed down. Henson makes a point of instructing the user to make sure the head is firmly screwed down to ensure proper blade position.
When properly assembled, the blade will be curved sharp edge-to-sharp edge, but be flat from end-to-end along the cutting edge.
You may be able to see a small cutting edge projecting from each side of the razor’s head. This is part of the unique design of this razor. Both the slope of the sides of the razor’s head and the cutting angle of the exposed blade are 30 degrees which is intended to minimize the risk of the user cutting themselves.
Before continuing with the review, I would like to dispute two parts of Henson’s marketing hyperbole.
- Henson claims the razor to have no learning curve. This has not been my experience with any type of shaving device from electric razors to disposable razors to safety razors. I have found that the move from electric to blade and moving from one type/model of disposable razor to another and from disposable razors to different models of safety razors all require a degree of adjustment and learning new muscle memory to get the best shave possible from each razor.
- The AL13 is touted as “self-clearing” and touted as possibly never needing to be rinsed during a shave. Again, this is not entirely true, because the type shaving cream / gel / soap that is used and the texture of the hair being shaved will greatly affect the performance of the clearing channels.
- There is no way to eliminate shaving irritation for all people. Design features may minimize irritation, but everyone’s skin and hair are different.
With those points out of the way, let’s get to the meat of the review.
I have worn a beard for the last 20+ years and on-and-off for 10 years before that, so I don’t use fluffy shaving creams that hide where the contours of my beard are (I have enough issues with keeping it in the desired shape, as it is). For the past 25 years, I have used Colonel Ichabod Conk’s Amber Glycerine Shave Soap with a brush and mug for about 95% of my shaving. For other 5% of the time, I use Edge Sensitive Skin Shave Gel. During the review period, I shaved using a brush and mug about three times as often as I used the gel (this threw off my running ratio <grin>).
During the review, I also shaved both in the shower (80%) and at the sink (20%) which mirrors my normal shaving pattern, and I have exclusively used the AL13 razor and Astra blades (which I was also using in my other razors prior to evaluating the AL13). I gave myself 2 weeks to get used to AL13 so I could hopefully get past the “learning new muscle memory” stage.
My initial impression of the AL13 is that is lighter than any razor that I’ve used in the past year. This took some getting used to after using heavier razors. My second impression is that the Henson razor requires much closer attention to the angle at which I held the razor because of the flat sides of the head and the constant angle of both the head and the blade. This design is intended to reduce the learning curve, but I still haven’t mastered it (I’m used to the curved head of traditional safety razors) and this still results in a few shaving accidents a week. This is a user issue, not a design issue. I also still haven’t gotten used to the lightness of the razor.
As far as performance, the AL13 (when I use it properly) provides as good a shave as any of my roster of safety razors (and better than a few of them). Because of my beard’s growth pattern, I can’t just shave in one direction like the depictions of shaving in movies, television shows, and commercials. I have to use an up-down-across-across shaving pattern (often repeating each direction) similar to the pattern that is recommended for shaving with a straight razor. This shaving pattern is why I had trouble with muscle memory and the positioning of the razor during my evaluation.
Lather / gel / shaving cream and whisker build up during shaving was also similar to my other razors. The thinner lather and glycerin in my shaving soap helped keep the razor cleaner than when I used shaving gel–which often required not just rinsing, but disassembly and a bit of scrubbing with an old toothbrush to fully clear. This is the nature of the shaving gel. Whether or not I was shaving after 24 hours or 72 hours, the clearing of the razor was consistent to that of my other razors when using the same soap / gel.
I have not been able to retrain myself to hold the razor in the correct way to maintain the level of shaving performance that I have with my other razors. I think part of my problem is the extreme lightness and balance of the AL13 which is so different than my other razors.
What I like
- Aluminum razor, so there is little to worry about on the corrosion front
- Made in Canada
- Shaving edge of blade is well supported
- Good technical design (see Henson Razor’s website)
What could be improved
- I would prefer a slightly longer handle
- I would also prefer a bit more weight at the bottom of the handle to act as a counterweight
While the Henson Razor AL13 is a fine razor and performed well, it will not become my new daily-driver razor. I have not been able to retrain myself to effectively use the AL13 on my face and neck. All of the problems that I have had with using the AL13 for the past month are technique issues. The AL13 is a good razor, just not the razor for me (it isn’t the only one in my cadre of razors to fall into this category). I believe that if you are making the transition from light disposable razors to safety razors, you will have much more success than I did. Choosing a safety razor is very much a personal choice, I recommend that you give the Henson AL13 a try. It may be “your razor,” and you will never know until you try it.
Price: US $69.99
Where to buy: Henson Shaving
Source: The sample of this product was provided by Henson Shaving.
11 thoughts on “Henson Shaving AL13 Mild Safety Razor review”
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Man I used to swear by these. I used to have to be clean shaven, and dressed up every single day. Then I moved into engineering and no longer interacted with non-engineers. The bar went from full clean shaven, dress shirt, slacks, and tie, to “some form of pants”, and “any shirt that doesn’t crunch or kill anyone nearby”
Tho Covid has further dropped that Bar with video conferencing.
I hear you. We don’t even video conference, just audio, so it is usually my stubble dragging on my t-shirt collar that drives me to shave. 🙂
“cow licks” are the bane of many a man’s shaving experience
my mom had spent some years as a surgical nurse and actually taught me how to shave after my dad’s lessons in diy bloodletting
disregard the long stroke and perform short overlapping strokes in whatever direction you have to go to remove your hair with the added benefit of no cuts, scrapes or nicks
though why anyone would retreat to “old tech” for a shave is beyond me…and yes i’ve shaved with cutthroat razors, “safety razors”, injector razors, a bowie knife and even an axe (don’t ask)…multi-blade razors are amazing tools and just continue to improve
I like the nostalgia of the safety razor. It goes well with my use of a brush and bowl.
I also wear a manual-wind mechanical wristwatch built around a 1940s watch movement designed for aircraft navigation.
i get it
i used a railroad hamilton for a while but my swiss quartz wakes up on its own every day for two to three years at a time and my casio solar is five or six years old, it hasn’t missed a beat
i have a couple of bamboo fly rods but fish with modern graphite rods
and so it goes
maybe i’m just too old for nostalgia
I also use a Casio Solar Atomic watch. Has served me well for many years. (I am a retired airline pilot). I have been fly fishing for about 30 years and about 13 years ago switched to bamboo. Loved them enough that I now build my own. Try it, you might just like it.
Thanks for your review. I’ve been having their ads pop up in all my feeds for months now and I was curious, but all the reviews said similar to you in that the weight of this thing kept throwing off people that previously used safety razors. Sounds like it might not work well for me, either.
I’ve currently got an Edwin Jagger safety razor with Feather blades that does quite well for me when i have 4+ day beards that would always previously clog up a disposable multi-blade cartridge from schick/gillette. I use Edge Sensitive Skin Gel mixed with “Art of Shaving” shaving cream (about 50:50, make a lather with cup and brush) and I normally fill a sink and swish the blade clean while I’m shaving – I haven’t had the clogging issues you mentioned, sometimes a couple swishes didn’t get it and I have to swish again but I’ve never had to disassemble to get to the blade.
Unfortunately, I purchased a Henson AL13. They sent me one that appeared to have been used, given that part of the head had finish issues.
It didn’t affect performance, but for $70 when money is tight, I expect a razor that doesn’t have obvious finish issues. Call me crazy.
I used it anyway, and found it was nice to use on my face, but left much to be desired for shaving my head. I found myself having to make pass after pass after pass, since it just wasn’t doing its job.
I gave up after about 20 minutes and used my electric on my head. I ended up with razor burn for my trouble.
I’d say the AL13 is great if you’re just shaving your face, but it’s terrible if you shave anything else.
Also, the company is terrible: Not ONCE could I get them to reply to my inquiries. I ended up having to dispute the credit card charge.
Henson is a lot of hype…no razor burn? Sure. If you keep going over the same spot to get a close shave you will get razor burn. I should have bought the Merkur 34C. Half the price and tried and true. German product, ya?
BTW, I know how to shave with a straight also…22 plus years experience.
Furthermore, 10 cent blades are crap as you will still need Feather Japan for a proper shave and where I’m from they’re 85 cents CDN. or 67 cents US.
Caveat Emptor….if it sounds good to be true it’s bullshit….
AND: A fool and his money are easily parted.
AS WC Fields said ‘there’s a suck a born every minute.
Sucker. Not suck.
There maybe a suck born on occasion.
See you later suck.
Thanks for the thoughtful and helpful review. I’ve been using a safety razor for years (with Feather blades and Neutrogena soap) to cut down on single-use plastic. My wife has been considering one for the same reason. When and intriguing ad for this razor popped up somewhere I found your review. It looks like I’m in an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” situation but I’ll suggest this to my wife if she doesn’t want to get one like mine. FWIW, the three-piece design sounds like a pain compared to my two-piece.