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.

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