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.