Monday, April 28, 2014

Confidence-Inspiring Shave-Prep Products: Old Woordward Shave Co.

Shave oil at left, and shave butter in the original tin jar and the new
packaging, the squeeze tube, in which the shave butter will be sold going forward.
I recently found a small, local company that is manufacturing a shave butter and companion shave oil that have provided me with some of my most confident, irritation-free, and well-lubricated double-edge, safety-razor shaves. The company is called Old Woodward Shave Co. Three of their offerings are pictured at right:

Developed and manufactured at the direction of a professional barber, these products are a wet-shaving alternative to traditional shaving soaps and creams, most of which are formulas that have evolved from common bath and body soap. The Old Woodward Shave Co. products are significantly different. Their primary shaving cream, called Shave Butter, is intended to replace traditional shaving lather.  It is applied directly out of the tube or jar with fingers, not brush, to a properly warmed and wetted beard. Their related product, their shave oil, can be applied just prior to the shave butter for an additional protective and easy-gliding preparatory step, or can be used alone for those with light beards. These are high-end, luxury products at moderate price points.

The shave oil is light in both color and viscosity, and is based, in part, on a relatively new (to me, anyway -- even as a registered dietitian-nutritionist!) omega-3 oil, Camelina Oil, which is also high in vitamin E.

Over this, one can rub on a thin layer of their Shave Butter, which is the consistency of a thin pudding. The product is creamy white, and can be applied thinner than pictured, at right, in my dry palm. When applied on a wet face, even when spread quite thin, the Shave Butter offers excellent glide and lubrication.

The Shave Butter feels cool against the warm, wetted beard, and the version I tested had a slight minty scent that compliments the natural feel of the product. (It is also available in clove scent.)

The shave is where the oil-&-shave-butter combination really excels. Due to the lubrication and glide that this shave-prep combination offers, it inspires extreme confidence; I had to remind myself more than once to slow my shaving strokes just in case in my cockiness I did something inappropriate.

I got a smooth, comfortable three-pass shave with adequate moisturization even in my trouble areas under the corners of my mouth and on my lower neck. Once the product is rinsed off with the usual warm then cool water, there is the same slight residual oil layer that I have when I use my normal shave oil and shaving lather.  I choose to leave this as a face protectant. (And I actually then apply an after-shave gel supplemented with a few drops of Jojoba or vitamin E oil.) If I had more oily skin, I might do a quick soap-and-water wash, or just apply Witch Hazel or other after-shave lotion.

The Old Woodward Shave Co.'s Shave Butter is also available in travel sizes. Travel is another area where these products might be particularly handy because you have no need to pack a shave brush.

The barber who developed these products is also the proprietor of The Barber Pole, a barber shop in downtown Birmingham, Michigan on Old Woodward Avenue. In addition to finding Old Woodward Shave Co. products at The Barber Pole, they can also be purchased at the following shops in Michigan:
  • Detroit Athletic Club
  • Plum Markets
  • Lark & Co. (Birmingham, MI)
  • Heart of Michigan (Howell, MI)
  • Village Saltbox (Metamora, MI)
For more information on products, ordering on line, product pricing, telephone number, a walk-in address, and a video showing a professional straight-razor shave, check out

In the spirit of full disclosure, I received the pictured products as free samples from The Old Woodward Shave Co.

Happy shaving!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Third Baby Step to Double-Edge Shaving: Do Second Pass with Your DE Razor

To return to my earlier series on easing in baby steps toward shaving like Grandad, let's recapitulate the two steps to this point. First, try out a shaving brush with some traditional shaving soaps or creams (for that blog article, click here). Second, if you are shaving with a modern 2-, 3-, 4-, or 5-bladed shaving system, instead of shaving in the common manner of lather, shave, and rinse, do a two pass shave, in which you lather, shave, rinse, and repeat. The idea being that the first shave will shave you fairly close, but will eliminate the unrealistic pressure of trying to get a really good shave in just one attempt. The second shave will allow you shave closer and address the problem areas of the first pass. (For the full 2nd-baby-step blog article, click here.)

Today we discuss the third baby step, which assumes you will or already have procured a double-edge (DE) safety razor. Some good choices include the following:

  • Merkur Classic (3-piece design), model 33C: a potential lifetime, heirloom razor
  • Merkur Heavy Classic (3-piece design), model 34C: a potential lifetime, heirloom razor
  • Merkur Long-Handled  (3-piece design), model 180: a potential lifetime, heirloom razor
  • Lord model LP1822L (formerly the model L6, a 3-piece design)
  • Weishi model 9306-f (twist-to-open design)
  • Wilkinson Classic (2-piece design)
The Merkur 33C, Lord, Weishi, and Wilkinson are mild shavers -- the Weishi and Wilkinson are especially so (and are most inexpensive), and are great for DE newbies. These latter two are very reluctant to bite, and are always great for a final-pass shave even for experienced DE users. The Merkur 34C and 180 are often praised, but I haven't used them so I can't comment on how they shave.

Once you've got your DE razor, and assuming you've started doing two-pass shaves with your multi-blade cartridge-system razor, now start doing your second pass with the DE. Remember that, unlike the multi blades, a single edge against skin works best with almost no pressure of razor against face. 

After the first pass, feel for areas of longer stubble. The first pass should be with the grain of your hair. The second pass should be, not against the grain, but rather across the grain. Use slow, short strokes and let the sharp blade do the work. Be very aware of the difference in pressure you must apply as you switch between the multi-blade and your DE razor. Again, the DE requires, what feels by contrast to the multi blade, like virtually no pressure at all. As you become more experienced, the light touch needed by the DE becomes second nature.

You will probably notice after a few shaves that your second pass with the DE razor gives a closer shave than the second pass with the multi blade. Do this for a few weeks or more. Then you'll likely be ready for the full monte by casting off the shackles of the disposable multi-bladed cartridge shaver and only using the classic DE like Grandad.

Happy shaving!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Rethinking the Three-Pass Shave

Double-edge (DE) safety-razor shavers often speak of the traditional three-pass shave.  This means three separate lather-shave-rinse cycles. The first pass, one shaves with the grain (WTG) of the beard. Second pass, across the grain (XTG). Final pass is against the grain (ATG). Using this process, one can get a very close -- often baby-bottom smooth (BBS) -- shave.

I have a problem with this process, however. Almost no matter what pre-shave preparation I do, almost no matter what shave soap, oil, cream, or butter (or any combination thereof) I use, no matter what post-shave preparation I put on my face, I too often end up with dry, irritated skin below the corners of my mouth.

[UPDATE:  Since I have changed my daily ritual to a cool-water shave using my own formulation of shave soap, this irritation and dryness problem is no longer an issue. With a normal straight-bar DE razor, I will now often do a three- or three-and-a-half-pass shave. With my Merkur 37C slant bar, I often get a very close shave in just two passes.]

I have become convinced that it is the combination of two factors. The first is me being less hydrated (despite fluid intake) as I get older. These days I have dry eyes, dry mouth in the morning when I wake, and dry skin after shaving. The second factor is the effect of a sharp steel blade, acting almost like a squeegee, passing over sensitive skin.

So when I shave -- especially the most sensitive areas of my face (lower neck and below corners of the mouth) -- I am especially careful to avoid repeated strokes in the same geography. I do make sure my razor angle is right to get the maximum whisker removal per stroke in the most sensitive areas. The final tweak to my shaving process is to do a two-pass shave on a typical day rather than a three-pass shave.

My two-pass process is 1) WTG, then 2) generally and more or less ATG, with the exception of upper lip and below corners of the mouth.  In those areas I definitely shave only XTG on the second pass.

For a daily shave (and I do shave every day), this two-pass process is adequate to get a fine shave. For those times when I want BBS, then a third pass is necessary ATG, with the second pass XTG.

What is your experience?

Happy shaving!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Recognizable Look of a Double-Edge Shave

A day or so ago on my HD TV, I caught part of an old Kristofferson-Hackman movie from 1972, entitled Cisco Pike, and which has become something of a current-day cult classic. The movie may not be remarkable, but I noticed something interesting about the faces of the two stars of this film. Clearly, they had shaved, or been shaved, with either a straight razor or a double-edge (DE) safety razor.
Kristofferson, with a look similar to that in Cisco Pike.

The look of a close DE shave is different from most multi-blade-system shaves. The DE shave is close, yes, but more characteristic is the shiny, ultra-exfoliated smoothness that seems to only come from a single blade against the skin.

In the year 1972, the Gillette Trac II, the first multi-blade cartridge shaving system, was about one year on the market. (That was the razor with which I learned to shave.) DE razors and blades were still common and readily available. Men's grooming fashions included long, shaggy hair (but older men still kept their hair more trimmed). Long, bushy sideburns were the norm and mustaches were often worn.

In Cisco Pike, Kristofferson was clean shaven and shaggy haired; Hackman had a mustache with a neatly-trimmed coiffure -- after all, he was playing a policeman. What was so obvious to me, today a regular DE shaver, was that characteristic shiny smoothness to their faces. In close up after close up, they had that baby-bottom-smooth look to the planes of their cheeks and chin. In fact, their shaves were so smooth that, once I noticed them, the movie lost a bit of credibility because nobody would typically maintain that close of a shave throughout the day -- especially Kristofferson's character, who probably wouldn't have shaved that often or that closely to begin with.

You too can have that remarkable, recognizable close shave, which your most intimate friends might appreciate for its kissably-close smoothness. The daily DE shave can also be both a fun and relaxing zen-like ritual.

Happy shaving!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Razor Review: Weishi 9306-f TTO

The 9306-f comes with a nice travel/storage case that
has a small mirror inside if you have to shave in a closet
or in the woods. Also included with my razor was a little
cleaning brush and ten blades (Dorco and Ying JiLi).
Weishi 9306-f DE Razor:
  • Manufacturer: Weishi (China)
  • Razor design: Twist to open (TTO), non adjustable
  • Materials: Chrome-plated brass
  • Weight: 57 grams
  • Handle length: 3-1/8"
  • Purchase price:  about $13 (US) including shipping from China
  • Order-to-delivery time from China to Michigan: 10 days (vendor: Wonderlife)
This 9306-f weighs the same as my Merkur Classic (33C). It has nice heft, and the texture on the classic 3-1/8" handle (7/8" shorter than a typical multi-blade disposable shaving system, and 1/8" longer than the Merkur) provides excellent traction for a secure grip. 

The blade sits in the razor without any slop, and with straight edges that are parallel to the safety bar -- providing a smooth shave from both cutting sides. With 24 hours of stubble (I tend to shave every day) and a
L to R: Shaving Factory TTO, Weishi 9306-f, Gillette Slim Adj.
The right-most two are plated-over brass (not sure what's under the
SF's chrome). TTO mechanisms work about the same, chrome
on the 9306 is superior to the vintage Gillette's nickel plating.
Knurling on the Weishi provides good grip.
normal 3-pass wet shave, I get a comfortable shave that can be as close as I want to make it. (Despite my wiry beard, I have uber-sensitive skin in places (low neck, chin under the corners of the mouth, & upper lip), so I like a non-aggressive razor, especially for my final pass when I'm buffing out any slightly rough areas.) 

[UPDATE: Since I wrote this article, I have become convinced that TTO razors, in general, have a slightly flatter blade curvature than UTO (unscrew-to-open) razors (or, more precisely, a larger blade angle in relation to the shaving plane), and this makes the shave slightly more harsh. So if you have sensitive skin, you might consider a UTO (2- or 3-piece design) such as the Wilkinson Sword Classic, Lord LP1822L, or the Merkurs 15C or 33C instead of TTO.] 

[UPDATE #2: Further research has proved my blade-angle hypothesis incorrect. In fact, the blade angle of this 9306 measures slightly less than my favored UTO razors. Relative harshness of TTO razors may not be universal, and, when present, may be due to a combination of factors including blade exposure, functional gap size (as measured along the shave plane), blade angle (but, obviously, not for this Weishi 9306 razor), etc.]
UPDATE: This photo shows the very modest blade reveal,
which contributes to its very mild shave.

Because this razor has that mild blade exposure, I choose a fairly sharp blade (Personna Blue or Astra Platinum for example). Also due to the mild blade exposure, angle against face matters to find the shaving sweet spot where the 9306-f cuts best. 

A couple of quirks: One reviewer on Amazon mentioned that the b-fly doors close asymmetrically. I was puzzled by this, but once I received the razor, I understood. When closed up for shaving, one door positions JUST SLIGHTLY higher at the center of the razor top. Also, one shaving edge of this DE razor is perhaps SLIGHTLY less mild than the other (but neither are remotely aggressive) -- and this difference might be due, perhaps, to the slight asymmetry of the door closure. 
UPDATE: This view shows both the door-closure asymetry
and the VERY SMALL blade exposure between the top cap
and the safety bar, which provides for the extremely mild
shaving characteristics of this razor.

Also, the TTO mechanism closes on the blade fine, but when brand new seemed to loosen slightly while shaving, which may have been due to my care in not tightening the mechanism excessively, thus avoiding potential gorilla-force damage. So for the first few shaves, as I rinsed the cut stubble and shaving soap/cream after a few strokes, I would give the TTO mechanism a gentle snug-up twist to ensure the blade is secure in the proper shaving orientation within the razor head. 

However, I don't think this remains an issue; I have oiled the TTO mechanism with 3-in-One oil (and will continue to do so periodically, but with mineral oil, as I now do with all my TTO razors) [
UPDATE #3: I no longer oil TTO razors, especially with mineral oil, because I'm concerned about possible oil drying and build up], and it now feels much like the TTO of my 1963 Gillete Slim Adjustable. So now I'm more comfortable applying just a bit more force to ensure the blade stays locked in without any extra fussing.

Anyway, I prefer to view these characteristics as quirks, rather than significant defects -- especially when we're talking about a very reasonably-priced razor that gives such a nice shave.

If the razor had no quirks, then the manufacturer could double the selling price. So, in that light, I still give the razor five stars for shave quality and value, and will happily use it quirks and all.

My experience with Weishi razors in general has been inconsistent.  This 9306 seems a nice razor of acceptable quality, both in workmanship and, certainly, in materials. But I have a sample size of one. As I wrote in a different review on another Weishi razor, the 2003m (click here to see that one), I actually received two of those and neither was acceptable out of the box. Though the design of the 2003m and 9306-f are similar, they are clearly not made with the same tooling because the handle of the 9306 is a bit longer, the 9306 butterfly doors open wider, and the materials, aluminum vs. brass, are radically different. Further, I would suggest that the 2003m has a bit more aggressive blade position. All tolled, the 9306-f seems head-and-shoulders better in every respect -- including weight unless, of course, you're going to backpack the Appalachian trail, which is the only time the heavier weight of the 9306 might be a disadvantage.  However, you probably wouldn't bring a razor along anyway. Or if you do, bring the 9306-f, leave it in the vehicle, and use it to shave your Grizzly-Adams beard when the hike is completed.

Happy shaving!

Friday, April 11, 2014

On Razor-Handle Lengths and Grips

Left to right:  Merkur 33C (3"), Weishi 9306-f (3-1/8"), Gillette
Slim Adjustable (3-1/8"), Shaving Factory (3-1/2"), Lord L6 (4").
The Weishi appears slightly shorter than the Slim
because of the differing head designs.
I buy most of my shaving hardware, that is, double-edge (DE) razors and blades, online. Part of the on-line-shopping experience is the availability of customer-written reviews.

Comparing two classic TTO DE razors to a modern, 2-blade
 disposable.  Left to right: Weishi 9306-f, Gillette Slim, and
Gillette Custom Plus Pivot
One aspect of DE-razor design (and any wet-shaving-razor design for that matter) is length of handle.  The classic handle length for DE razors is about 3" or slightly shorter for the earliest 3-piece types, and about 3-1/4" for the twist-to-open (TTO) designs. Yet because most North American men that wet save have never used a DE razor, they tend to be familiar with the common 4" handle length of many disposable razors.

One result of this is that there are surprisingly frequent complaints in these razor reviews from customers unhappy with the slightly shorter, more classic handle lengths of 3 to 3-1/4 inches. Frequently the specific comment relates to a customer saying he has large hands and therefore the shorter, more-classic handle lengths are hard for him to hold.

"Forehand" or "down-stroke" grip.
I have to admit that I have a hard time relating to these complaints.  I have what I would describe as average-sized hands -- not particularly large nor small.  I have used hand tools of all kinds that have handles such as hammers, scrapers, paint rollers, tennis racquets, saws, screwdrivers, and on and on. Virtually all of these tools I grasp with my full hand EXCEPT wet-shaving razors, which I've always held with the pads of my fingers and thumb. These are RAZORS, for the love of Mike! I'm using a sharp implement on the skin of my face and neck, not scraping paint off an old boat. I don't see that any other grip beside a gentile, sensitive, finger-tip grip is appropriate -- much like a surgeon delicately holds a scalpel as he operates, not like someone gutting a deer with a hunting knife.

In the pictures at left, you will see two ways of holding any wet-shaving safety razor, whether DE or a modern multi-bladed disposable.  These grips or variations on these themes should work no matter what size your hands.

Happy shaving!
"Backhand" or "up-stroke" grip.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Thoughts on Razor-Acquisition Disease (RAD)

Many new double-edge (DE) safety razor shavers, soon develop a collection disorder known within the wet-shaving community as RAD:  razor-acquisition disease. We fall in love with the process, the ritual, of wet shaving and in our quest for new variations and, perhaps, the perfect shave, we keep trying out new products -- including acquiring a collection of DE razors old and new.
Just part of my DE-razor collection; an obvious sign of budding RAD.

Although, philosophically, I find being a collector of anything to be somewhat inefficient -- spending money on items not really needed, requiring storage/display space, complicating daily-ritual choices/options, etc. -- at least collecting DE razors is relatively inexpensive and the entire collection can be stored in a shoebox. Much worse, obviously, are collections of automobiles, railroad locomotives, china, porcelain dolls, etc. (none of which have any appeal to me). Still, I question my RAD impulses.

It's true that part of my shaving hobby is to try new stuff and share what I've learned.  So I can justify my RAD on that basis.  However, the genesis of this minor affliction has other roots.

There is a common piece of advice to new wet shavers to experiment.  This is summed up in the ubiquitous Internet discussion-board abbreviation, YMMV (which I have come to loathe -- it's so f***ing obvious and worse, overused; by now it should be taken for granted, commonly understood).  It stands for Your Mileage May Vary -- meaning that any opinion on shaving gear or products is potentially irrelevant to another shaver due to differences in skin, beard, and other sensibilities.

I believe that this unending encouragement for new wet shavers (NWS) to experiment to "find what works best for you," though well intentioned and, arguably, good advice (eventually), sows a seed in the mind of the NWS, and that seed blooms into the belief that although technique is important, it is ultimately gear and product that will make my shave great.

Whether this idea is completely true or not -- and it certainly is to some extent for most shavers because, at the very least, blade choice will usually affect the quality of one's shave -- it focuses the NWS on gear as being of significant importance. Yet the fact remains that pre-shave preparation can be a make-or-break issue for some men, and, most critically, shaving technique is supremely important. You can have the best gear for your face and beard as well as a perfect pre-shave routine, and still get a poor shave, irredeemable razor burn, nicks, and some gashes if you are pressing the DE too firmly against your face, using an ineffective razor angle, stroking across multiple planes of your face in a given stroke, stroking too fast, and so on.

The best advice I'd give to a NWS is 1) first ensure that your first DE razor is a straight-bar, not a slant-bar design. (Slant-bar razors cut much more aggressively, and are for a subset of experienced wet shavers who have very tough, thick beards and somewhat tougher skin.) 2) Be sure to check out your DE razor of choice to make sure that the blade edges are straight and properly exposed. The steps to do this are covered in my blog post found here. 3) Pick a reasonably non-aggressive razor (read the reviews, and keep in mind that often the brief, negative reviews on a product are written by someone with insufficient information and experience to be influential), choose a sharp blade (but not Feather brand, which has a reputation for being ultra-sharp but not the smoothest or longest lasting -- although some men swear by them) and perhaps one with a platinum or iridium coating for additional smoothness in a quantity of five to ten blades, and learn to use that razor-blade combination until the blades are gone.  [UPDATE: Especially learn to make both direct and oblique strokes, which can optimize the efficiency of your gear.] Most DE shavers get more than one or two shaves from a blade (the average is about five or six shaves, I've read), so on average a five pack of blades will give you about 25 shaves more or less. In that time, you can be perfecting your technique and deciding where you want to go for your next blade purchase.  Some will get lucky and find their first choice is ideal; most will want to go sharper, less sharp, or some other subjective-quality change that can only be evaluated by testing. After this initial 25-shave learning period, it may then and only then be appropriate to purchase a sampler package of various blade brands and types to determine what is more desirable for you.

It has been suggested, and supported with only anecdotal evidence, that NWS who start with the idea of learn to shave with what you have, tend to be less prone to RAD. This makes a great deal of sense to me, and I probably would only have one or two DE razors today if I had started with this less popular approach for NWS.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Most Important Factors for a Good Shave

I'm a thrifty guy, and initially got interested in old-school shaving because it was economical as well as earth friendly. I quickly discovered it's also interesting, with the myriad razors, blades, and skin products to try. Most importantly, I've continued to find it fun -- looking forward every day to my next shave, which in the past I considered a necessary chore.

As I've written in previous posts, I have very sensitive, delicate skin and a rather tough beard, so getting a good and still comfortable shave is something of a challenge.

Three free shave-cream samples and one of my thrifty shave bowls
purchased at Target, two bowls for 99 cents.
In the double-edge (DE) safety-razor universe, much is made about choice of razor and blade. It is true that this is very important. If you buy a poorly-made razor, with inappropriately excessive, uneven, or curved blade exposure, it's difficult to get a rewarding shave. My combination of skin and beard has taught me a few things about equipment (though your preferences may differ): I want a sharp blade that cuts hair easily. I also want a coated blade, which will reduce the harshness of the shave. Finally, I want a razor with a mild blade exposure, which when paired with a sharp blade will give me a close shave, but not one that will easily nick and cut my pathetically-delicate (in some areas) skin. So I like adustable razors (I have a 1963 Gillette Slim Adjustable, my dad's old razor), and I keep the setting mild. I also like mild non-adjustable razors such as the Merkur 33c Classic, the Lord L6, the Wilkinson Sword Classic, and, probably, the Weishi 9306, which has a reputation for being mild, and which will arrive at my doorstep soon. [Update: the 9306-f arrived, and I like it a lot. Review coming soon.] I'll post a review of this razor in the near future, so keep checking this blog site if you're interested.  (I also do lengthy reviews on using my initials, DNH, and these reviews are intended to be thorough and, ultimately, helpful.)

Paired with the right equipment for your face is the proper technique. If I were using a multi-bladed disposable razor, I would do a two-pass shave. That is, lather and shave with the grain of my beard (WTG), then re-lather and shave across the grain (XTG). Pressure and speed of the shaving stroke are less of an issue with these expensive, high-waste-generating shaving systems. With my DE razor, I use the required light pressure and a variation on the traditional three-pass shave. This traditional approach is WTG, XTG, and a final pass against the grain (ATG).  My deviation eliminates the AGT pass for the impossibly-sensitive areas of my face (lower neck, chin below the corners of the mouth, and upper lip). In these areas, my final two passes are XTG from different directions and also just slightly ATG. In my opinion, technique trumps equipment.

That said, it seems to me that perhaps the most important factor for a comfortable shave is shave preparation. This includes proper wetting of the beard with water, using a pre-shave oil if necessary (in my case, definitely necessary), and choosing the right shaving soap or cream. Post-shave choices are also important, but I consistently find that if my shave itself is irritating, there is no amount of post-shave oil and balm that will undo the damage of a harsh shave.

In another post, I have written about doctoring Williams shaving soap (see that by clicking here) to make it more sensitive-skin friendly. If you don't want to take the time and trouble to doctor generic shaving soaps, consider using a good cream. I have recently started to test shave creams, and initial results are very good. I had my first shave with a Sienna shave cream from Crabtree and Evelyn, and found that when I combined it with my usual wetting and shave-oil-application routine, got a smooth, comfortable shave -- even better than with my highly-doctored shave soap! Though creams can be more expensive than pucks of shave soap, the creams are generally used very sparingly, and thus can offer much mileage from a given jar or tube. (And if you choose to buy a cream, to reduce the ecological impact, consider the ones that come in a recyclable jar, rather than a plastic tube.)

Before you go out and buy some shave creams, which can be a little pricey, see if you can find a local shopping mall in your area that might offer samples of their product. This week I took a stroll though a nearby mall and got shave-cream samples from both Crabtree & Evelyn and The Body Shop. Following up with some on-line browsing, I saw many reviews for the shave cream offered by The Body Shop, and the vast majority were not just good, they were raving about the product (which is available in a more-Earth-friendly jar). I will be trying my sample tomorrow, and am looking forward to it. The shave creams are used so sparingly that each of these little samples should provide enough product for three to five shaves.

I should offer some closing words on canned shave foams and gels. They not only generate land-fill refuse, but are known for offering arguably less shaving protection and more skin-drying qualities than more traditional lathering methods such as shaving soaps and creams used with a shaving brush. Now, of course, opinions will vary, but, personally, I have come to enjoy the lathering ritual of brush and bowl, and would not want to return to the lather-in-a-can approach.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tips for a Low-Cost, Pleasant Shave on Dry, Sensitive Skin

If you, like me, have ultra-sensitive skin (also almost paper thin in the lower neck, which is very easily nicked while shaving) and a tough beard, then having the best pre-shave preparation, lubricating and moisturizing shave lather, and good technique is every bit as important (probably more so) that what kind of after-shave balm you choose.

[UPDATE 8/5/2014: All this below is well and good. However, since I wrote this blog, I now use cold tap water, not hot, because I believe that warm/hot water removes more natural oils from the skin, thus encouraging irritation and dryness -- and the cold water in no way compromises the comfort or quality of the shave. I no longer use a pre-shave oil because I use a good shave soap (my own formula and manufacture). I often use a slant-bar razor, which allows me to get a close shave in two passes. Finally, the combination of fewer passes and better lather allows me to finish the ritual with a cool-water rinse, an alum-block rub, and a final cool water rinse; no balms, lotions, or moisturizers are necessary. That said, below is what I recommended in April:]

Pre-shave Preparation:

Pre-shave preparation is always important.  This ensures that your whiskers are as soft as possible and well lubricated for a pleasant shave.  This usually involves using warmth and water.  A pre-shave shower and leaving the face wet as you go to shave is one possibility.  A warm, wet towel against the face is another.  Washing your face with a moisturizing soap prior to shaving is often part of the process.  A pre-shave oil is often helpful as well.

My pre-shave routine is as follows:
I will gently apply warm water to my beard (which includes face and neck). I don't rub too much, because this can be irritating.  Sometimes I will use a small, warm, wet towel as part of this warming and softening process.  Then I will gently wash my face and neck with a moisturizing soap, which is currently Dove for sensitive skin. (It is the most gentle bath soap we have in the house.) Then I will splash on more warm water and leave my face wet.

Currently I follow this with an application of home-made shaving oil directly onto my beard. (This oil is a little less than half refined olive oil [the cheap stuff -- no need to by virgin grade for shaving], same amount of castor oil, and a splash of vitamin E oil -- maybe about 10%;  this isn't rocket science.) About a quarter to a half teaspoon in the palm of my hand, rub the hands together, and massage gently into my beard.

I then make my shaving lather.  Because I'm frugal, I buy the least expensive shaving soap, which is Williams brand, often available at local drug stores for 99 cents, but some stores charge more.  I always pay 99 cents.

Williams is readily available, inexpensive, and lathers well even with our local hard water.  However, like most soaps in general, it tends to have a drying effect on my skin.  So I am experimenting with different additives to make the lather richer and more moisturizing.  I add a few drops of glycerin, about a half teaspoon of my shaving oil, and a pinch of oatmeal that has been ground to a powder in a coffee-bean grinder.  Then with the right amount of warm water, I use my shaving brush to whip up a rich, creamy lather in my five-inch-diameter shaving bowl that also serves to hold the puck of shaving soap.  I have both boar and badger brushes, and although the boar works as well in terms of lathering, the badger is a bit softer and more gentle as I work the lather into my beard, so I've come to prefer the badger.

The Shave:

After gently massaging the lather into my beard with the brush to ensure thorough moistening of the whiskers, I paint the lather to a thin opaque coating and use my double-edge (DE) safety razor to make my first, low-pressure pass with the grain of the hairs. The theory is that each pass reduces the beard; I'm not trying to get a smooth shave on the first pass. I also try not to repeatedly draw the razor over the same area twice, which helps minimize irritation on my sensitive skin.  Then I rinse with warm water, and apply a bit more shaving oil. I re-lather and make my second pass -- this time across the grain (XTG).

Then I repeat the process a third and final time:  re-lather and shave.  The final pass is theoretically against the grain (ATG), but there are areas of my beard (lower neck, chin below the corners of my mouth, and upper lip) that are just too sensitive for a final ATG pass.  So in those areas, I sacrifice the baby-bottom smooth (BBS) shave and again shave XTG -- this time from the opposite direction as the second pass.  On this third and final pass, I will often use buffing and J-hooking techniques (see the YouTube video by mantic59 for explanation and demonstration) in those pesky areas where I can still feel or hear stubble.

Post Shave:

After that it's a rinse with warm water, then a rinse with cold water to tighten up blood vessels and close pores. Then a splash of witch hazel on my wet face, which I leave to air dry. (Yeah, I know, witch hazel is about 14% alcohol, which is, of course, drying.  But my face is already wet, which further mitigates the effect of the already-low alcohol content.  Also, the shaving oil has left my face protected to a degree, so I welcome the witch hazel for its mild cleansing and disinfecting effects.) 

At this point, I leave my face wet and tend for a moment to my razor and blade.  I blow moisture off the razor and blade, and then after drying my hands, I palm strop the blade.  This probably helps to minimize oxidation on the blade overnight, thus giving more smooth shaves before a change is necessary.  I then re-assemble the blade into the razor, and put it up to dry thoroughly.

I then put into my palm an appropriate amount of my after-shave balm of choice (alcohol free), add a few drops of Jojoba oil, rub palms together and apply to my face.  

Where to Obtain Oils:

I have a local Vitamin Shoppe store that sells Jojoba, Vitamin E, and Castor oils at reasonable prices. I purchase Glycerin at a drug store, which also sells the Williams Shave Soap as well as Castor oil, though perhaps at a higher price that at the vitamin store.  I buy the least expensive grade of olive oil from my local grocer. (Save the pricey virgin and extra-virgin olive oil for your salads!) The oatmeal powder is just dry, common oatmeal that has been ground in a coffee grinder.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Razor Review: Weishi 2003m All-Aluminum TTO

Weishi 2300m TTO Razor (China)
Slight finish blemishes are visible on the near door due
to my use of jewelry pliers to correct blade-alignment defect.
  • Weight: 21 g
  • 3-inch handle length
  • Twist-to-open (TTO) configuration
  • Copy (in aluminum) of Gillette Super Speed razor
Summary: Attractive appearance, very light weight (21g), 3-inch-handle length (shorter, classic length), but manufacturing-quality issues with blade-edge positioning such that cutting edges of blade may not be straight - resulting in harsh shave at best. If you get a good one out of the box, or if you can correct the defects as I did, this light little gem (with the right blade, as always) allows a fine shave. Comes in a nice, triangular plastic travel case with mirror and space for a few blades.

This ultra-light razor causes one to challenge the mythology that it takes a heavy razor to get a good, easy shave.  The knurling on the handle provides a secure grip, and the razor gives a good tactile and auditory feedback as one shaves.

More detail:
The 2003m and the pliers used to correct the manufacturing
defects that caused blade-edge curvature.

I have received two of these razors. The first had serious functional defects in that it repeatedly curved one edge of the double-edge (DE) blade in a slight U shape (high on the ends, low in the middle). The other edge was the opposite - a hump shape (low on the ends, high in the middle). This is a formula for an extremely harsh shave with many nicks and minor cuts.  Also in this razor, the blade did not fit snugly and had to be manually adjusted as the TTO was closed to get even blade exposure on both sides. 

The doors, when open as shown, required careful blade
insertion to avoid damage to blade edges.
I notified the seller in China, Wonderlife (via about the curved blade exposure, and their customer service was very good. They promptly apologized for the defective razor and without question or delay shipped out a second razor at my request. Unfortunately, the second razor, was only better (not fully correct), seating the blade with one edge straight (as appropriate), but the other blade edge was slightly humped. Despite its ultra low weight and counter to much DE mythology, this razor still gave a pleasant, acceptable shave with the edge that was straight; but, predictably, a harsh shave from the curved edge.
2003m in foreground, comparing handle length to Gillette
Slim Adjustable (middle), and Merkur Classic 33C (rear).
The 2003m and the Merkur have the same handle length.
The Gillette is slightly longer.

This razor has potential as a super-light travel razor if Weishi can get their process under control and consistently make 2003m razors that hold the blade edges dead straight.

UPDATE: This view shows the modest blade exposure and
the blade-bar gap, which gives this razor its moderate
shaving character.
The TTO mechanism works smoothly, although doesn't have quite the heavy duty feel of an old Gillette TTO or even some of heavier new brass Chinese razors.  Yet handled carefully, not over tightened, lubricated occasionally with a light oil (like 3-in-One [UPDATE: better is mineral oil]) it may operate a long time.  The butterfly doors don't open quite as wide as they might, so getting a blade into the razor should be done carefully so as to not damage the cutting edges on the razor doors. For the second razor -- the better one, I was able to eventually borrow some jewelry pliers: small, flat, wide jaws with no teeth. Carefully using these I was able to correct the blade-holding flaws by bending the butterfly doors near the cutting edges as needed (subtly and gently!). Despite the toothless pliers, this adjustment did leave some small marks on the butterfly doors in a few places, but this doesn't affect the quality of the shave. Now with straight blade edges, the razor is working fine. (The first razor, because it didn't hold the blade snugly, I put in the recycle bin to potentially re-use the aluminum.)
UPDATE: You can see the modest blade reveal of the
upper edge, and the marks near the lower edge are scratches
in the butterfly door from the jeweler's pliers used to correct
the manufacturing defect.

The aggressiveness of the blade exposure and angle is moderate.  It is more aggressive than my Merkur Classic or Lord L6, which are both mild and smooth, but the 2003m is not so aggressive that it would be a serious hazard to inexperienced users.  (When I get my on-order Weishi 9306-f, I will update this post and compare the aggressiveness of the two models.)
**UPDATE: As suspected, while the 2003m is moderate in the aggressiveness of its blade orientation, the Weishi 9306-f provides a very mild-cutting blade position -- very difficult to cut or nick yourself, even with a very sharp blade. I'll post a complete review of the 9306-f in the near future after I've had more time to become well acquainted.**

I am still doing business with the seller, Wonderlife, and have obviously not written Weishi off either, having received that chromed-brass model on order (the 9306-f)  -- but certainly be prepared for potential quality issues with this particular 2003m model. Therefore, only because of the quality-control issues, I cannot whole-heartily recommend this 2003m at this time. Since the most basic and safe function of a DE safety razor is to hold the blade edges dead straight and uniformly within the protective perimeter of the safety bar, I give this razor only three stars (at best) out of five. If you order it and get one that is 100% right (I'm 0 for 2), you'll get an attractive razor made from an uncommon material, ultra light, with a nice case, and which gives a good shave. If it is not right, either exchange it, get a refund, or tune it up yourself (if you can), and things may still work out well.