When it comes to traditional shaving in today's world, people typically are drawn to either Double Edge (DE) razors or Straight Blade razors. Both are excellent workers and have their fans; however, there is a small niche market in the Straight Blade category that deals with Straight Blade razors that have disposable blades.
Unlike the relatively cheap razors known as Shavettes which use a DE blade, these are a special side product that use their own blades which are incompatible with other systems. Two makers have representatives in this market and one is the clear dominator in the market. KAI is the lesser of the two, while Feather is the name that comes to mind when most people think of disposable blade straights. I will be dealing with KAI at a later time, so today I focus on the leader in the market and one of my favorite shavers of all time: The Feather Artist Club DX.
A quick disclaimer on the Feather AC line: there are a few different types to get your head around. Ignoring the special editions (Teakwood, Midnight, etc.) there are four different types of AC razors, DX Folding & Non-Folding (Japanese style) and RG Folding & Non-Folding (Japanese Style). Since I will not be reviewing it, the RG type is made out of brass and has a slightly different weight. Otherwise both RG and DX work the same way. The DX on the other hand is made out of solid Stainless Steel and carries a higher price tag.
Before I get into the minor details of the Japanese style, the AC razor line works something like this: An injector-style blade storage device is placed on the end of the razor; you squeeze the blade holder open and inject a blade into the slot. It is really as simple as that, and from there you shave. When the blade starts to lose its punch, you squeeze the holder once more and the blade comes out. You then decide if you want to clean the slot (the razor comes apart for this purpose) or you simply reload and continue on your merry way. For those that never got the hang of stropping or sharpening, it is truly a simple and care-free system to get a REALLY good shave. So what else do you need to know? Read on.
The differences between a standard straight and the disposable straight come in two forms, the blade choices and the shaving angle. Feather and KAI both have about 10 blade choices between them from caged blades for "protection" to Super Pro blades, which are so sharp you most likely can perform minor surgery with them (Warning: DO NOT perform minor surgery with them). This is where Feather's reputation for sharp blades goes one step further than its normal DE blade reputation. Feather straight blades are sharper than sharp. In fact most traditional straight blade users will agree that a Feather blade is sharper than a normal straight blade, which is amazing in itself. Extreme care must be taken with one of these guys or you WILL be cut. There are no mincing words on this fact and that brings us to angle.
The Feather AC series requires a slightly different angle than traditional straight blade razors. Feather claims that you only need to lay the razor on your face flat and shave due to the angle being built into the blade holder. While this is partially true the user must test it out on his face to see how much more angle is required. The point I am trying to make is that you do NOT want to start with a "normal" straight shave approach with a Feather AC. Start with razor flat and make you adjustments from there and you will find your comfort zone with a lot less blood.
When it comes to actual performance, this is a razor built to offer you a SUPER close shave if you treat it with respect. One pass will bring you to about 85-90% shaved and for most of us that is enough to get you through day to day. A cleanup pass and you will be as close as you need to be for those formal occasions. In short if you get the proper angle down you are able to have an amazing shave with little effort, which is the main goal for all of us. For me (thick/coarse hair type) a blade will last 3-4 full shaves, which I cannot ask any more of.
Going back to the Japanese Style vs. Folding Style, there is not a huge amount of difference. I own the Japanese style and like the curves and shape of it and find it very easy to manoeuvre. It weighs in at 46g or 1 5/8th ounces so it is not a heavy guy, but the build quality is wonderful. Feather put a lot of effort into it and it shows. Another great feature is that for those of us that are scared about contamination and cleanliness, a Feather AC razor is able to go into an industrial autoclave for sterilization if needed, very nice indeed for those that require razors to be sterile.
When it comes to price, the Feather AC DX version is up there. Both Japanese & Folding versions retail for about $199 USD at your favorite online retailer. A pack of 20 blades range from $10.99 to $13.99 depending on the type you choose.
Is it worth the money? I have to go with a complete YES on this one. I love my Feather AC DX and will never part with it. When I want that super close shave and a more relaxed/slow paced shave, I want to pull out a straight. However, I really never enjoyed the stropping and honing processes so the Feather system is exactly what I want. Is it better than a traditional straight? I can't really say that, but I sure can't say it is any worse. They are on par with each other in just about every way, and using one is a joy once you get over the fear factor of not using an unguarded blade. Especially an unguarded blade that is darn near surgery worthy.