Saturday, May 31, 2014

Daily Shaving Required?

It is the current fashion to sport a day or more of beard growth. Young persons today might scratch their heads puzzling out the exact meaning of the old athlete's quote:

"Winning is like shaving: you do it every day, or you wind up looking like a bum."  ** [Updated reference, below]

If you are younger with a dark, fuller beard, it is considered attractive (sexy) in some circles to be clean but unshaven.

However, if you are a bit more experienced (that is, older) and have gray in your beard, that gray stubble just makes you look old, tired, and... well, somewhat like a down-on-his-luck guy. In other words, it isn't the look of success for an older man.

The good news for us more mature gents is that this gives us another excuse to go through the daily ritual.

Happy shaving!

** This winning-like-shaving quote is  commonly attributed to Jack Kemp, the late senator and former professional football player. Though he undoubtedly said it, Kemp likely borrowed it from an athlete of an earlier generation. Not long ago on the internet, a web page cited the original source of this quote, and he was a baseball pitcher from the 1940s or there about, as I recall. I can't find the reference anymore, but here are some thoughts as to why this makes sense to have been uttered by a baseball player in the 1940s or early 1950s:

  • It was common to refer to athletes who didn't perform to standards -- especially baseball players  -- as bums. Take, for example, the Brooklyn Dodgers, who were affectionately referred to by many of their fans as "dem bums."
  • Baseball, with its long season, is played nearly every day. In football you don't win every day; you try to win once a week for a shorter season.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Weighty Subject and a Cheap, Heavy Handle

I bought the cheapest three-piece DE razor a few months ago via mail order from China. It cost less than $5 including shipping. It is currently listed on as a "Silver Tone Double Edge Blade Razor Shaver w Nonslip Metal Handle," and can be purchased for less than $3 including shipping!
CORRECTION: THE CHINESE RAZOR IS CALLED "Nonslip Long Handle Stainless Steel Shaver Double Edge Safety Silver Tone Manual Razor" AND CAN BE PURCHASE FOR $6.
The Merkur 33C stock handle at lower left versus the Chinese handle at upper right.
The Chinese version is 15 grams heavier, one-half-inch longer, slightly smaller diameter, with adequate texture.
But for $3, buy the Chinese razor, discard the head, and keep the handle!

As I carefully inspected it as I do all new razors (using the information from [click here] this blog posting), I saw that the blade exposure was positive; that is, the edge of the blade was not at all protected by the top cap and the safety bar. So I never actually shaved my face with the implement -- only my arm. Then I put it in a box in my closet.

There was a silver lining to this dark cloud, however. The razor came with a weighty handle -- much heavier than the handle on my Merkur 33C classic. So I decided to make a handle swap on the 33C (creating a Frankenrazor, one could say) and give it a go this morning.

Now the 33C, without modifications, shaves fine. Yet the fact is that many DE wet shavers prefer the 33C's heavier sibling, the model 34C, which has a heavier, fatter handle. So although my heavy Chinese handle doesn't have the beautiful knurling of the German Merkur, nor does it have the larger diameter, it does have weight, a bit of extra length, and adequate texture to keep one's grip secure.
The Merkur 33C razor head with the heavier Chinese handle attached.
The stock Merkur handle is shown beside the razor.
With the new ultra-light pressure that I've been forced to use with my 37C slant, I find that the heavier handle on the 33C adds a touch of ease and quality to the morning shave.

So if you have a 33C, you might consider ordering the super-cheap Chinese 3-piece razor, discarding the head, and using the heavier handle as an option for the Merkur. If you don't have the 33C but are considering acquiring one, the 34C might be a better choice.

Merkur 33C handle: 29 grams, 3.0 inches long
Chinese handle: 44 grams, 3.5 inches long

Happy shaving!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Merkur 37C Slant Update: My light touch continues to evolve

Now into my second week of using the slant every day, we continue to become better acquainted.

Today I actually did less beard prep than previous days: I only used shave oil with the first pass after just a few splashes of cold water, and my shave soap this morning was off-the-shelf Van Der Hagen.

I did two full passes plus a partial third for some clean up -- all done with the slant and a Personna Blue blade.

Very close shave with only a couple of tiny weepers. No visible irritation.

It's interesting how we adjust to the more demanding tool. The first day that I used the 37C, I remember being actually nervous and somewhat hesitant to take the big dog out for a run. Today, though I still respect the efficiency of this razor, it is now merely my daily shaving tool, but a special one that is very efficient.

If you are an experienced DE user, you may still have to use lighter pressure than usual. If you are transitioning from a cartridge razor, this is probably not advised until you get some DE experience.

After more than a week's use, I find this razor allows a very close shave with fewer strokes, meaning a good shave with less irritation.

Using the listing from yesterday's post (read by clicking here), here's a summary of the razor's characteristics:
  • Blade angle - Varies across the blade edge as is normal for a slant-bar razor. The left end of the edge has a larger angle, which is potentially more harsh, while the right end of the edge has a shallower angle, which is less harsh.
  • Razor gap varies under the edge, compensating for the varying blade angle. At the left of the head, where the angle is larger, the gap is smaller; at the right, where the angle is  shallower, the gap is larger. This gap design tends to make the harshness/smoothness of the edge uniform despite the varying blade angle.
  • Blade reveal is the largest of the razors that I own, and I suspect few razors would have a larger reveal.
  • Blade stiffness (as determined by the razor design, not the blade itself) is difficult to evaluate, but it is likely that the slight twist of the blade by the design of the slant razor tends to add some stiffness to the cutting edge, thus offsetting to some degree the potential harshness of the large blade reveal.
  • Blade exposure is rather neutral. Unlike many mild-shaving razors that have the edge well within the protective cove of the top cap and safety bar, and unlike a few questionable razor designs that have the edge protrude above that protective cove, this razor seems to have the edge about at the level of the plane that is determined by the top cap and safety bar.
  • Edge slant is, well, slanted as one would expect from a slant-bar razor. This increases the effective sharpness of the blade, thus increasing the cutting efficiency of the razor.
  • Safety-bar design (round cross section, scalloped bar, or open comb) is a closed comb, but one that has open teeth that go way beyond the typical closed comb. This design allows longer whiskers a less-obstructed path to the blade, making this razor excellent for mowing down several day's worth of growth.
Plus the three with which most are familiar:
  • Razor weight: 76 grams / 2.7 ounces
  • Razor balance: I can't relate this to you other than to say I think it's fine.
  • Handle dimensions: Rather short [2-15/16"] and stout [approx 1/2" diam], which should be fine for anyone using the appropriate fingertip grip -- though, of course, opinions vary.  ;-)
Happy shaving!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Potential Causes of a Poor Shave, Part Four: Seven Key Aspects Razor Design

Today's article delves into the aspects of razor design as well as blade-razor combinations, the last two items on the list below:
  1. Razor-blade edge that is not straight due to razor defect
  2. Rough surfaces on the razor due to defect/damage
  3. Incorrect blade position in razor head
  4. Excess pressure of razor on skin
  5. Excess speed of shaving strokes
  6. Shaving multiple planes of the face in single strokes
  7. Shaving in the wrong direction in sensitive-skin areas
  8. Too many strokes in the same area
  9. Insufficient prep and lather
  10. Dull blade
  11. Mismatched razor design (blade angle, reveal, exposure, gap, and more) to skin sensitivity and hair toughness
  12. Mismatched combination of blade, razor, and skin
Although the preceding list mentions four major razor-design characteristics, there are at least seven to consider. In addition to the four already mentioned in the list (blade angle, reveal, exposure, and gap), I must add blade-stiffening ability of the razor, its safety bar design, and the slant of the edge -- that is, straight (edge perpendicular to the handle), or slant (and degree of slant), which is the salient aspect of a slant-bar razor. 
Each razor has ten design aspects that can affect quality of shave. Combine that with blade characteristics and skin and hair variables, and the combinations and the potential outcomes can be dizzying!
Left to right: Merkur 37C slant, Gillette adjustable, Weishi 9306-f, Wilkinson Sword Classic, and Merkur 33C.

In addition to those seven, there are other design characteristics that many feel are important including razor weight, handle dimensions, and razor balance. Because I feel these are fairly well understood by all DE users -- and important to some, not to others (I, personally, care little about handle length or razor balance, and ultra-light razors can be an issue, but otherwise I don't much care), I will simply assume that you take them into account when considering a razor design and the quality of your shave experience.

As I often do, I would like to pause the discussion and address vocabulary so that you and I start with a common understanding. 

For the purposes of this discussion, blade angle refers to the angle measured along the line of shaving direction, in relation to the razor's top cap and safety bar. 

To elaborate on this, if you think of the edge of the top cap, which is a line, and the safety bar, which in a straight-bar DE represents a second line parallel to the edge of the cap, generally speaking these two parallel lines determine the shaving plane of the razor head. The more perpendicular the blade is to this shaving plane (when viewed along the non-cutting edge), the more more harsh the scrape of the blade edge against skin.
Contrast different (exaggerated) blade angles:
Left is smaller angle (less harsh), right is
larger angle (more harsh).

So larger blade angle would generally have the blade bent less under the cap and would be closer to the cross stroke on a letter T (when viewed in cross section, that is, from the dull edge of the blade), while a smaller blade angle would require the blade be more curved under the razor's top cap, and could be thought of as looking in cross section like a letter T that has more drooping cross stroke. All other things equal, a small blade angle would be considered less harsh, more slicing, less scraping, of the hair, and a larger blade angle less cutting, more scraping (so therefore might be more irritating to the skin).

Blade exposure describes how well the cap and safety bar protect the skin from the blade edge. A larger, positive, exposure suggests the edge is more exposed, not protected by the top cap and safety bar -- more aggressive and, therefore, potentially more harsh, more threatening; a smaller, negative, exposure implies that the edge is more retracted into the cove of the top cap and safety bar, and therefore less aggressive and less likely to bite. 

Smaller blade reveal (left) compared to larger (right).
Blade reveal describes how much of the blade is visible from the edge of the top cap irrespective of position in relation to the safety bar. Greater reveal gives more opportunity for micro-vibrations of the edge, potentially contributing to a more harsh shave.

Razor gap means the space between the blade edge and the safety bar. Larger gaps offer a more aggressive cut; smaller gaps would make a less-aggressive razor. 

A stiff blade (as influenced by razor design and not the blade itself), would be secured in the razor in such a way to offer less opportunity for edge vibration as one shaves. The razor can influence blade stiffness by limiting the blade reveal (as already mentioned), by the degree and nature of the blade curvature, by the material of the razor head (for example, plastic may damp vibration better than metal), and by how the blade is secured into shaving position (that is, the amount and location of blade-clamping contact within the shaving head). This last factor can be appreciated if one thinks in terms of extremes: a blade in solid contact with both cap and baseplate for the entire area under the top cap would be a low-vibration design. A blade that is curved by contacting only on top the long edges of the cap and underneath by a single center strip of the baseplate (this is a hypothetical design only), this would likely be a high-vibration design. Less vibration means a more comfortable, irritation-free shave.

The safety bar limits the blade contact with the skin. There are different safety-bar designs from nearly round cross section to open comb. Safety bars may have less effect on harshness and more on long-hair cutting ability. Open-comb bars tend to let many longer whiskers better direct access to the blade, and may also allow more lather on the skin while the edge is actually cutting hairs. Scalloped cuts in the safety bar also may allow lather to better cushion the shave, but, like less-grooved safety bars, may press longer whiskers down, away from the blade, making the pass less effective.

A slant-bar razor not only curves the blade from edge to edge;
it twists it too. This puts both edges on a slant
in relation to the handle.
Edge slant distinguishes a straight-bar razor, which is the vast majority of DE razors, from a slant-bar razor like the Merkur models 37 or 39 razors. With the slant bar, the edge slants in such a way that when the shaving stroke is made in the same direction as the handle, the edge is not perpendicular to stroke direction. A slanted blade is more efficient in its cut, making it cut more aggressively. 

The reason a slanted blade or an oblique slicing motion such as the so-called Gillette slide works better is less-well understood, however, by most persons. Yet the reason is simple: when a straight blade cuts obliquely, the functional angle of the cutting edge itself is essentially reduced, meaning that its effective sharpness is increased. It is simple geometry; let me explain further: 

If you picture the line that a pencil lead would trace as you cut it with any sharpened edge, a straight-on (perpendicular) cut would make a line up the blade that is perpendicular to the cutting edge. An oblique cut would make a line on the blade that is not perpendicular to the cutting edge -- it is, well, oblique. If you were to cleave the blade along those two pencil lines, you would see that the cross sections are different. The oblique-cut cross section has a longer, sharper point in comparison to the cross section cut that is perpendicular to the edge. This means that an oblique cutting angle makes any blade effectively sharper, more efficient in its work.

Another side benefit of the slant-bar design is that it may also tend to stiffen the blade, which may offset to some degree the potential harshness of its larger blade reveal. There are other subtleties to a slant-bar razor, but to cover them all would require its own article -- maybe on another day.

Let's review the more esoteric design aspects of a DE razor:
  • Blade angle in relation to the shaving plane of the razor head
  • Blade reveal describes how much of the blade is covered by the top cap of the razor.
  • Blade exposure is the degree to which the blade edge is held underneath the shaving plane of the cap and safety bar, within their protective embrace.
  • Razor gap is the distance between the blade edge and the safety bar.
  • Blade stiffness (as determined by the razor design, not the blade itself) affects blade vibration while shaving.
  • Edge slant is the degree that the blade edge deviates from square to the handle
  • Safety-bar design (round cross section, scalloped bar, or open comb) can affect how easily the blade can contact skin and how much lather remains as blade slices stubble.
Plus the three with which most are familiar:
  • Razor weight
  • Razor balance
  • Handle length & diameter
Many of these factors can compound or offset the effects of one another. For example, let's discuss generic TTO razors. I tend to believe that these razors have larger blade angles and, because of the butterfly-door design, may allow for more edge vibration than many two- and three-piece designs. Both of these factors would tend to make the TTOs offer a more harsh shave all other things equal. But when combined with smaller blade reveal and edge exposure, this would reduce the harshness of the shave. Further, if the razor gap is relatively small, this further increases the mildness of the shave. Also, most TTO razors have a stamped-metal safety bar that is not smooth along its length, but rather have a series of tiny grooves, like micro-scallops, that probably limit the likelihood of skin squeezing into the grooves and potentially nicked by the blade, but also likely allow a small amount of lubrication to remain on the skin as the safety bar slides ahead of the razor edge, and also limit the razor's ability to efficiently cut longer whiskers. In an adjustable TTO, such as my Gillette Slim, the safety bar can be adjusted to select the gap size that can compensate for the other design elements that are permanent. Therefore, to some degree, one can adjust the gap size to tune the aggressiveness (and potential harshness) of the razor to meet the user's needs.

Is this single gap adjustment adequate adequate to manage harshness and quality of shave? It depends. If one needs a more aggressive cut, this can be achieved by opening the gap, but one then is left to deal with, most notably, whatever is the inherent blade vibration of the design and the fixed blade angle, which may be more harsh than the user's skin needs; this can be a problem for those with more fragile skin. If the user is unaffected by a higher degree of blade scraping and edge vibration, then the TTO's adjustment feature is completely acceptable.

Blades, too, vary in their characteristics, which are primarily two: sharpness and durability. (Technically, we could add third and fourth characteristics of smoothness and innate stiffness of the edge, but these are heavily influenced by razor characteristics, and utterly impossible for the average person to evaluate without being influenced by razor characteristics.) A sharp blade may be ground and coated (or not) in such a way as to be more sharp or less so, and to be smoother or less so on a given face and hair type, and in a given razor. Durability is probably the result of blade material, microscopic details of the edge grind, type of hair being cut, and the care of the blade between shaves.

If your head isn't spinning too much, then you might appreciate why the DE shaving experience is so subjective. Take the seven primary characteristics of a razor, add the three others (weight, balance, and handle length), then include the blade characteristics, and finally factor in skin and hair differences -- this explains how easy it may be for a shave to be less than optimal (and we haven't even considered shave prep and product variables).

Yet as one balances the design factors, the shave can be close, comfortable, and rewarding for those moments in the day that he completes the shave ritual. And this is how I hope it goes for you.  Happy shaving!

Abbreviations:  DE = double edge;  TTO = twist to open

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Razor-Review Journal: 37C Slant, Post #5, Final

This is the summary article on my experience with my new Merkur 37C slant DE razor. Though the fifth article of this series on the 37C, this was actually my seventh day using this implement. The following are links to the previous articles in this series:

This morning I did some out-of-the-box thinking, and realized that it has been my second pass, XTG, that has been giving me some problems due to my thin skin and direction of hair growth combined with my rather angular and uneven face-and-neck terrain. So the plan I followed today was 1st pass WTG using the slant, 2nd pass XTG with the mild-shaving Merkur 33c, and 3rd pass mostly ATG with the slant once again.
Business-end view of the 37C.  Don't let first impressions
mislead; it's not so intimidating once you get better acquainted.

Results were very good: extremely close shave, BBS for the most part, with no nicks, no cuts. By the way, the prep for today's shave was unremarkable, down right pedestrian: cold-water face wash, additional cold-water splash, apply home-blended shave oil prior to each lathering, lather with unmodified Williams shave soap and a boar brush.

So in all, the Merkur 37C slant can be used pretty much like other razors except that because of the efficiency of the slanted edge, the lightest pressure can and should be used. Also, of course, as noted above, if your skin offers opportunity for the razor's edge to catch at all, be circumspect; choose your shaving direction appropriately to best take advantage of the slant's strengths, and avoid those shaving tactics where it's likely to nip at you. In my case, this meant using the slant to shave in up-down and down-up directions, leaving the more-or-less side-to-side swipes to a less-efficient (that is, less-likely-to-bite) razor.

At this time it looks as though the 37C will be my daily shaving implement partnered with a milder blade.

That's the story. Happy shaving!

Abbreviations:  DE = double edge;  WTG = with the grain;  XTG = cross grain;  ATG = against the grain;  BBS = baby-bottom smooth

Monday, May 19, 2014

Razor-Review-Journal: Merkur 37C Slant, Entry 4

Although this is officially day four of the journal entries tracking my use of this new slant razor, I'm guilty of deviating from the plan and using it all weekend as well, when I had intended to put it down for a couple of days.

Today I used the Old Woodward brand shave oil and shaving butter after a prep of a cold-water face wash and cold-water splash and massage. I did a WTG* first pass with the slant, and got a PDG* shave there. Then a second pass with the Merkur 33C using combinations of XTG*, ATG*, and diagonal XTG-ATG* combination strokes.
The dynamic duo of this day's shave, both Merkur razors: the 37C slant (left),
and the 33C classic, (right). Notice how the head of the slant seems so much
bigger, heavier, aggressive. (Maybe it just frightens the whiskers off the face.)

Then a cold-water rinse, and a splash of witch hazel. Cleaned up my gear and sink area while that dried, then some alcohol-free after-shave lotion with added jojoba oil.

Net result in two passes was not quite entirely BBS*, but nearly so. Close, comfortable, easy. In all, a pleasant experience to start the morning.

Bottom line, after six day's use of the 37C slant, I'm completely at ease with this razor. I'm going to keep experimenting with it, although at this point I'm not sure I'll ever use it for three consecutive passes against my somewhat fragile skin, which may be overkill anyway. [UPDATE: I was again a poor prognosticator; I now regularly use this razor for daily three-pass shaves. My normal routine is to shave one day with the 37C slant, then the next day with the 33C Classic, then back to the slant, and so on.]

That's it for today. Happy Shaving!

* WTG = with the grain; ATG = against the grain; XTG = cross grain; PDG = pretty darn good; XTG-ATG = diagonal strokes that are not quit fully ATG and not completely XTG;  BBS = baby-bottom smooth

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Razor Review: Wilkinson Sword Classic - A Two-Piece Razor

The Wilkinson Sword Classic is a two-piece design, having a separate top
cap and a unified baseplate and handle. Made of plastic, it is a surprisingly
high-quality instrument, and an excellent value.
Wilkinson Sword Classic DE Razor:
  • Manufacturer: Wilkinson Sword
  • Razor design: Two piece, non adjustable
  • Materials: Various plastics, metal (aluminum?)
  • Weight:  43 grams
  • Handle length: approx. 3-3/4"
  • Purchase price:  about $10 (US) including shipping from Great Britain
  • Order-to-delivery time from Britain to Michigan, USA: 2-3 weeks
  • Typically comes with a package of five Wilkinson Sword Blades
The blade is well positioned in the top cap by the center post and centering
tab. Unlike most DE razors, the end tabs of the blade are covered in this razor,
thus preventing accidental nicks that DE newbies occasionally get. To insert
blades in any 2- or 3-piece razor, position top cap as shown above. Then lay blade
over center post as shown. Finally, put baseplate & handle down over the center
post, and, holding top cap and blade by the short sides, tighten the handle.
Don't be fooled by the plastic composition of this razor; it is surprisingly well made and offers a forgiving, albeit very mild, shave when in the hand of an experienced DE user.

When eyeballed and compared to a Merkur 33C (which is itself not a very aggressive razor), the Wilkinson appears to have a less aggressive blade angle, about the same gap between blade edge and safety bar, and less blade exposure (that is, the blade is more shielded by the safety bar). These three design factors offer a safe shave for the new DE user, allowing one to learn best angle, stroking technique, and probably allowing more pressure of razor against face without producing nicks. This razor, therefore, is about as forgiving and easy to use as any DE available.

The handle has a plastic exterior enclosing a central metal bar, which adds
mass to the razor. The handle holes, which reveal the central bar, provide
excellent grip, and the handle is a generous length that some will appreciate.
At about $10 (US) including the cost of shipping from across the Atlantic as well as a package of five blades, it offers what may be the best value in DE razors.

Some users may be put off by the plastic, which to many minds is an indication of low quality. It's not. By choosing appropriate plastics, this razor combines a good design and cost efficiency.

This view shows not only the generous handle length of the Wilkinson Sword
Classic razor as compared to the classic, vintage length of the Merkur 33C, but
also notice the contour of the top caps. Both razors offer a non-aggressive
shave, but the Wilkinson Classic is milder still and has a unique, more-pointed
cap, which may make it easier to find the best shaving angle to maximize the
efficiency of this very forgiving (that is unaggressive) design. Recommended
for DE newbies, light beards, and for use by all as a final-pass and
buffing-and-polishing razor.
Because of the mild characteristics of its shave, this isn't the razor to hack down a week's worth of stubble. However if you are a daily shaver, as I am, this is likely to be adequate to the task. Of course, a daily DE shave with such a mild razor will consist of two or, more commonly, three passes (that is, lather, shave, re-lather, shave, re-lather shave). Given that regimen, this razor will be sufficient for most.

I should mention, however, that the Wilkinson Sword blades may not be a great choice for some. I haven't tried them at this point, having the pack of Wilkinson Sword blades that came with this razor still stashed in my to-be-tried blade cache. Some others have found them harsh and uncomfortable in other razors. As is the case with nearly every razor, it is the right combination of razor and blade that will give the best shave for a given face.

UPDATE: This photo shows the well-protected edge
exposure, which provides a very mild shave. But also, notice what appears
to be a curvature in the blade edge. but this is just camera-lens-induced
distortion from the extreme close up view.
I, personally, have on occasion used this Wilkinson Sword Classic as a final-pass razor. For example, the morning that I wrote the first draft of this article, I made my first, with-the-grain pass with a very efficient razor, the Merkur 37C slant-bar model. 

Second pass was cross grain, with the Merkur 33C Classic. Then the final clean-up pass was made against the grain with this black beauty, the Wilkinson Sword Classic.  [UPDATE: I now happily use it as a travel razor. [[LATER UPDATE: Upon further review, the Wilkinson is banished to the shoe box, and my Lord LP1822L is my travel razor.]]  However, I no longer take the time or trouble to use multiple razors on a given day.]

UPDATE: This photo shows the moderate blade
reveal, which contributes to the mild shave.

Whether you are new to DE shaving or an experienced old hand, the Wilkinson Sword Classic razor may find a welcome home in your medicine cabinet.

Happy shaving!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Potential Causes of a Poor Shave, Part Three: poor prep, lather, blade sharpness, and hoeing

Rounding the last corner toward the home stretch of razor design, today's article briefly focuses on points eight through ten below, volume of daily shaving strokes, beard preparation, lather, and blade sharpness:
  1. Razor-blade edge that is not straight due to razor defect
  2. Rough surfaces on the razor due to defect/damage
  3. Incorrect blade position in razor head
  4. Excess pressure of razor on skin
  5. Excess speed of shaving strokes
  6. Shaving multiple planes of the face in single strokes
  7. Shaving in the wrong direction in sensitive-skin areas
  8. Too many strokes in the same area
  9. Insufficient prep and lather
  10. Dull blade
  11. Mismatched razor design (blade angle, exposure, and gap) to skin sensitivity and hair toughness
  12. Hey! When you shave, you're not
    clearing unwanted grass!
  13. Mismatched combination of blade, razor, and skin
Your skin isn't tanned leather, so no matter whether yours is tough or sensitive, if you run a sharp edge across it enough times, it's going to get irritated. Therefore, shaving isn't like using a hoe in the garden; the more strokes you take is not necessarily better. For those like me, with sensitive skin, it doesn't take but a few passes before the skin shows red irritation splotches and may feel injured, burning. So my daily shave goals include making each stroke count by using light pressure and the proper angle of razor against face to mazimize the cutting efficiency of the blade.

This minimal-stroke, high-efficiency approach led to me to try the Merkur slant-bar razor, about which I have been posting accounts of my daily exploits for the first week of use.

Regarding skin preparation, hot water is the normal recommendation. Yet there is the contrarian perspective that hot water rinses more of the valuable natural oils from the skin than does cold water -- thus making the skin more sensitive, susceptible to razor burn, and post-shave dry skin. And cold water may cause the hair follicles to stand up more for better cutting. I personally am in the cold-water camp. That said, to each his own.

Preparation also usually involves washing the face. Because my daily schedule typically involves showering later in the day, my morning shave sometimes includes a face washing, sometimes not. If I do wash, I use cold water. If not, I just splash and massage cold water into my whiskers. Then some recommend a shave oil prior to lathering. I do use oil, but not every day. If I'm using an aggressive razor like the Merkur slant or my face feels dry or otherwise irritated, then I'll massage in some shave oil. I have both store-bought and home-blended shave oil. If I'm not using the slant or my Gillette adjustable set above five, my use of oil or not may vary according to my whim and the general condition of my skin that morning.

After that it's time for a rich, creamy shave butter or creamy, durable lather from a shave soap or cream. Again, most will lather with warm water; I use cold.

If you use a blade not sufficiently sharp, there are several possible bad outcomes. One, you may compensate for the dull blade and press too hard, causing skin irritation. The blade may pull at your whiskers, which can be uncomfortable, rather than cutting them cleanly and efficiently. Lastly, a dull blade may snag and jump whiskers, causing cuts. The trick is to use a blade adequately sharp with an edge or coating that isn't too irritating as it passes along your skin.

And that it for these three points. The next installment of this series is, to me, the most interesting. In that, I will discuss the aspects of razor design. This discussion should explain, among other things, why some (like me) seem to generally prefer two- and three-piece-design razors instead of TTO* designs.

*TTO = twist to open

Happy shaving!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Razor-Review Journal: Merkur 37C Slant, Day 3

Today is the third shave with the Merkur slant-bar razor, but today I've put in a new Astra SP blade. Maybe a different blade will give a less-harsh shave.
The Merkur 37C slant (right) flanked by the Wilkinson Sword
Classic razor. The Wilkinson is a beautiful shaver, and
inexpensive, offering a mild blade exposure with high
rigidity, meaning a comfortable shave.
With that said, I must repeat that I'm not blessed with tough, thick skin over plump, rounded contours of face, chin, and neck, which are a wet-shaver's dream. To the contrary, my skin is thin, not particularly tight on my neck, and tends to get dry and irritated in various places. Making matters worse, my features are somewhat angular rather than round. On the flip side, my facial and neck hair is tough, moderately thick, and grows in various directions. So the challenge with this slant razor isn't just to get a close shave; I can do that with most DE razors. Avoiding irritation is the real challenge here, and that's the reason I'm exploring shaving with a slant-bar razor.

I'll get on with the shave and return to the keyboard to give you my report on this morning's shave....

When I put in a new Astra SP blade, I took the twice-used Dorco 301 and put it into my Wilkinson Sword Classic razor, which I had shipped over from Europe a couple of months ago.
Both the Merkur 37C and the Wilkinson Classic are two-piece razors. The Wilkinson has an all-plastic exterior with a metal bar inside the handle (to add mass, I assume). The Wilkinson is surprisingly high quality despite its plastic composition, and is very inexpensive. To clamp a blade in a two-piece razor, leave the top cap and blade as shown, then slide the baseplate-handle assembly down onto the threaded rod and tighten in place, with handle up.

Okay, so I must be a slow learner: I used the 37C to make a first pass with the grain (WTG), no problems. But then, deviating from the plan, I decided to use it to make my second pass against the grain (ATG) on my lower neck, thinking that the Astra SP blade would be up to the task and achieve ultra smooth without a third pass.

Not a complete success. Even though my pressure with this razor is getting very light, I still managed a couple of low-neck weepers, which I think are the same patches getting scraped repeatedly day after day. So I finished the second pass cross grain (XTG).
Hard to see from this picture (sorry), but the Wilkinson top cap completely covers the end tabs of the blade. It captures the blade firmly with surprisingly uniform exposure. It gives a good shave in general if you shave every day or have a light beard. It really excels as a final-pass finishing and buffing razor.

Then further deviating from the plan, I used the Wilkinson Classic, a very nice and mild shaver, to perform the third pass ATG.

All in all, a nice shave: close, comfortable, but marred by the weepers. I rinsed with cold water, then witch hazel as usual. Applied after-shave balm with a couple of drops of Jojoba oil this time. No razor burn; very little visible irritation and limited to lower neck, where I foolishly got a bit aggressive with my choice of shave direction.

For the next couple of days, I will not go for the perfect shave, but will simply make two passes, first WTG and then XTG, with a less aggressive razor -- probably my Merkur 33C classic. This will give my lower-neck skin a break to heal completely, and then after that I'll resume the 37C evaluation, day four.

Happy shaving!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Razor-Review Journal: Merkur Slant 37C, Day 2

This is the second day of a new-razor trial using the Merkur Slant-Bar Razor, model 37C. To see the first day's post click here.

Today I decided to put a second shave on the Dorco 301 blade I used yesterday, still mounted in the 37C. (However, due to a life-long habit of taking care of my tools, I do disassemble, clean, and dry the razor each day.) I didn't emphasize yesterday that a slant-bar razor (or just a slant for short), is designed to mount a standard DE blade in its head such that the blade is twisted, giving the cutting edges a slight diagonal slant, similar in concept to the radically-slanted blade of a guillotine. In theory and in practice, a slanted blade cuts more efficiently. I proved that much yesterday, when I got a close shave in two passes (the second going against the grain of my beard) and minor touch ups.

The price I paid for that close, smooth shave was a bit of temporary razor burn and some minor weepers on my lower neck.

The question going forward is how long will it take me to refine my shaving technique to the point where I continue to get close, efficient shaves but without any resulting irritation? (Or will I be able to do it at all?)

I'm giving the learning curve a week, and this is day two.
It doesn't growl, but it can bite. This is the toothy, maniacal grin of the 37C slant-bar razor, sans blade. However, the idea is that with appropriate care, one can get a smooth, efficient, comfortable shave. Notice how both the top cap and safety bar slant, and, yes, the safety bar actually slants more that the top cap. This is intentional and compensates for the varying cut aggressiveness of the blade due to the razor's designed intentional twist of the blade -- unlike most straight-bar DEs, in which the blade is uniformly curved along its length.
Yesterday's maiden shave with this bad boy, the 37C, gave me some confidence that I'm not taking my life in my hands by using it. So today, day two of my personal slant challenge, I used an old stand-by product, Williams shave soap, and a shaving brush to make and apply the lather. Williams is much maligned in the oft-snobbish wet-shaving community, and I don't quite get it. Some don't like its fragrance. Others say it doesn't lather well. On both counts, I disagree. I'm not saying it's the best shave soap in the world, but it's inexpensive (down right cheap!), readily available at many drug stores in the U.S.A. (some priced better than others), it easily makes lots of creamy, long-lasting lather even in our area's hard water, and doesn't give a bad shave. I do find it drying of the skin when paired with hot water -- especially in the winter. The smell of a new puck is unpleasantly strong to my sniffer, but even so, the lather made from a new puck smells fine. And with use, the puck itself becomes mild smelling and pleasant. So with a new puck, I don't stick my nose in the shaving bowl, and merely enjoy the scent of the lather.

As I did yesterday, I chose to use cold, rather than hot, water for today's shave because I'm convinced that cold water is less drying on my skin, and may help to reduce post-shave irritation. Also like yesterday, I've used a shave oil as part of my pre-shave preparation, and also re-applied the oil prior to re-lathering between passes.

Same view as above but with blade mounted. The slant is more obvious with the blade present. This guy can easily mow down several day's growth without even breathing hard. But can I consistently get that great, efficient, baby-bottom-smooth shave without this big dog nipping at my neck? We'll see....
First pass WTG was uneventful other than the unusually close shave that this slant razor provides. I used a  very light touch and tried to keep my shaving strokes to about an inch long. Second pass was XTG (cross the grain), unlike yesterday, and was, for the most part, very close. I got three small weepers in this pass. Third pass was mostly ATG (against the grain), except for my most sensitive patches, which are upper lip and under the mouth, where I shave XTG from the opposite direction to the second pass.

No sensation of irritation or discomfort while shaving.

Cold water splash several times, then witch hazel. No styptic or alum applied; none needed -- the weepers were very minor. I let my face and neck air dry while I cleaned up my razor, the sink, and the counter area. Then I rubbed on a different (than yesterday's) after-shave balm mixed with a couple of drops of vitamin-E oil.

No razor burn today. There was slight visible irritation in a couple of spots on my neck, but after an hour or two, were largely gone. The resulting shave was very smooth -- pretty much baby-bottom smooth nearly everywhere, and without any additional touch-up strokes after the third pass.

So the Merkur slant and I are starting to develop a friendship. We're still getting acquainted, but my technique is quickly adapting to the requirements of the tool. Still some learning and technique adjusting to do.

That said, I'm starting to really like this razor for the following reasons:

  • The slant of the blade makes for an efficient cut without being harsh. (The reason for this is that by slanting any cutting blade and cutting on the diagonal, the angle of the point is effectively reduced, making the cutting edge effectively sharper.)
  • The twist of the blade makes the blade edge more rigid, making it less prone to micro vibrations, which probably offers a more comfortable shave.
Even though the 37C looks a bit intimidating, when used with a very light touch offers a premium shave. Because of the touch required, the 37C is probably a poor transition razor if one is going from a multi-bladed cartridge razor. However, if one uses a Merkur 33C, it's inexpensive knock off, the Lord LP1822L, or, better, the Merkur 34C (the heavy, fat-handled version of the 33C), these would be excellent transition razors to use before stepping up the big dog, the 37C.

Let's see if tomorrow I can put all the pieces together and get the paramount shave. Tune in then.

Happy shaving!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Razor-Review Journal: Merkur Slant 37C, Day 1

I received my Merkur 37C slant DE razor last night (the 37 indicates it is a short-handled, heavy-weight, slant razor; the C indicates a chrome finish). The uneven, toothed, gaping jaws of the safety bars and top cap were a bit intimidating as I examined my newest razor (and determinedly my last -- unless one of the favorites breaks).
The two main pieces of the Merkur 37C plus the blade. The handle-baseplate assembly (right) can be
further broken down by pulling out the twist knob (far upper right), which is held in place by a snap ring.

I tried to remove the top cap, but the screw threads were very tight. I applied more torque and the knob turned, but the entire threaded assembly had a large amount of friction. Once the top cap was removed, I put some mineral oil on the threads and tightened and loosened the cap-handle assembly several times to work in the oil. The friction diminished slightly, but not enough to satisfy me.

The business end of the 37C. Don't be intimidated by the yawning, tooth-rimmed exposure,
but do give it appropriate respect.
I disassembled it again and, with a toothpick, applied petroleum jelly to the threads and once again tightened and loosed the razor to try to "break in" the threads.

UPDATE: Blade reveal in the 37C is generous, which
normally might lead to micro-vibrations of the edge, but
in the slant design is likely offset by the twist in the blade,
which probably stiffens it, and is clearly visible in this view.
Satisfied that the improvement was adequate for the present, I considered what blade to use for my first shave in the morning. I selected a Dorco 301 for its moderate sharpness, avoiding Feather, Polsilver Iridium, Personna Blue, Astra SP, and the like, sensing that this razor may be more than capable even without the sharpest blade. I inserted the blade, checked and toyed with the alignment a bit to become familiar with how this implement buttons up, and then put the razor on the cabinet shelf until shave time.

This morning, blade choice already handled, I still had to choose shave prep. I decided on my customary cold water to minimize dryness and perhaps irritation as well. Instead of shave soap, I chose the Old Woodward brand of shave oil and shave butter, which always provides me with confidence for a smooth shave.
The 37C has a stout, short handle at 2-15/16", but which is easy to hold and maneuver.
The total weight of the instrument is a hefty 76 grams.

I washed with soap and cold water, then massaged more cold water into my stubble. I applied the shave oil and then spread a thin layer of the shave butter on my beard.

UPDATE: This is the blade exposure and angle at the right
side of the blade; small angle shears and neutral exposure
are fairly face friendly, but the blade-bar gap (not visible) is
large at this end, which make the capability
large and aggressive.
The first pass with the grain was smooth and uneventful. I was careful to use very light pressure. No nicks, cuts, or weepers. Encouraged and more confident, I rinsed, spread more shave butter, and went right away for an against-the-grain (ATG) pass thinking to minimize irritation from too many strokes on my uber-sensitive skin, and trusting that the efficiency of the slant design was up to the challenge.

Started the second pass with my lower neck, always a challenge there. No pulling, pain, or apparent harshness, so I went on to my face. Continued with the ATG, but as I progressed, I noticed emerging weepers on my neck. Redoubling my efforts to maintain a light touch, I finished the shave with cross-the-grain strokes on my upper lip and below the corners of my mouth, where I always avoid ATG strokes.
UPDATE: Blade angle at this end of the blade is larger, more
harsh, but is offset to some degree by the smaller blade-bar gap
(not visible). The blade exposure is neutral at this end as well.

I rinsed, checking for any areas not smooth. I applied more shave butter and did some touch up strokes.

Then a rinse with cold water, and some witch hazel. Then a quick swipe or two on the weepers with a wet styptic pencil. The face air dries as I clean up the tools and sink area, then apply a little after-shave balm with added drops of vitamin-e oil.

The net result, you wonder? A very smooth, close shave. Initially very comfortable as well. Then for about two hours after the shave, I did experience some razor burn and minor visible irritation on my neck.

So the slant isn't a face eater and shouldn't be feared, despite its menacing, toothed, maniacal grin. However, it does require a very light touch if one has sensitive skin. Tomorrow I will focus on even lighter pressure, shorter strokes, and will not shave ATG in the second pass. I can tell that this beast will be tamed when we get better acquainted.

So there's more to come... Until then, happy shaving!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Potential Causes of a Poor Shave, Part Two: Aspects of Technique

In a previous post (click here to view), I began discussing the reasons for a poor shave. This article takes a deeper look at causes four through seven of the list below, which is reprinted from part one of this series:
  1. Razor-blade edge that is not straight due to razor defect
  2. Rough surfaces on the razor due to defect/damage
  3. Incorrect blade position in razor head
  4. Excess pressure of razor on skin
  5. Excess speed of shaving strokes
  6. Shaving multiple planes of the face in single strokes
  7. Shaving in the wrong direction in sensitive-skin areas
  8. Too many strokes in the same area
  9. Insufficient prep and lather
  10. Dull blade
  11. Mismatched razor design (blade angle, exposure, and gap) to skin sensitivity and hair toughness
  12. Mismatched combination of blade, razor, and skin
Generally speaking, more pressure of razor on skin is more likely to create razor burn, nicks, cuts, etc. Less pressure usually offers a more skin-friendly shave. (Yeah, I know, most DE users know this.)

Quicker strokes can make for careless shaving technique including excessive pressure, wrong angles, inappropriately long strokes, etc. This, too, increases risk for a less-rewarding shave.

If one has an angular face with more sharply-defined planes, the intersection of those planes may be potential trouble spots. Shaving across plane boundaries in long strokes can obviously lead to nicks and cuts. For those with plump, smooth, round contours of the face, chin, and neck, long shaving strokes are less likely to lead to a rough shave.

Lastly, choice of stroke direction can make or break a shave. Some shavers have sensitive areas that will not tolerate against-the-grain strokes. For example, on the the upper lip, this is often the case. Also, generally speaking, it is difficult to get a close shave -- even with multiple passes -- if appropriated stroke direction isn't used. (This may be obvious too; I'm just being thorough.)

So to summarize, a good shave will usually, for most who shave with a DE, include light pressure of razor against skin, slower strokes, limiting a given stroke to one plane of the face, and choosing stroke direction appropriate to several factors including which pass (1st, 2nd, 3rd), direction of hair growth, and skin sensitivity.

That's it for this one. Next time will be number of strokes, shave prep, lather, and blade sharpness. Then after that, the home stretch including the most interesting topic of this series (to me), which is razor design.

Happy shaving.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Potential Causes of a Poor Shave, Part One: Blade Position

I often read reviews on DE* razors. These reviews, in particular, give a good cross section of the population trying DE wet shaving. This includes the aficionados, the initiated but less passionate, and those unfamiliar with the special skills that DE razors require as compared to the multi-blade-system razors.

The poor reviews of otherwise fine-shaving razors led me to identify the following potential causes of a poor shave from a razor that should produce an adequate to good shaving experience:
  1. Razor-blade edge that is not straight due to razor defect
  2. Rough surfaces on the razor due to defect/damage
  3. Incorrect blade position in razor head
  4. Excess pressure of razor on skin
  5. Excess speed of shaving strokes
  6. Shaving multiple planes of the face in single strokes
  7. Shaving in the wrong direction in sensitive-skin areas
  8. Too many strokes in the same area
  9. Insufficient prep and lather
  10. Dull blade
  11. Mismatched razor design (blade angle, exposure, and gap) to skin sensitivity and hair toughness
  12. Mismatched combination of blade, razor, and skin
In the next few blog articles, I will cover those preceding topics not already discussed.

Topics one and two, crooked blade edge problem, rough razor, and remedies were discussed in a previous post (click here to view).

The third potential cause is positioning of the blade in the razor. This is the topic for today.

Blade positioning can be a problem in any DE razor that allows blade wiggle as the blade is being clamped into place. It is a more frequent problem in two- and three-piece designs.

Before we get into the details, let's agree on some vocabulary for better clarity. In a three-piece razor, the pieces are called the cap, the baseplate, and the handle. To identify these parts, if you hold the razor upright -- that is, with the handle down and the head up -- the cap is the part that is above the blade. The baseplate lies directly below the blade, and the baseplate has the safety bars that are normally below and slightly outside the blade edges. The handle is below the baseplate. (In a two-piece razor, the handle and baseplate are permanently joined. Further, the blade is called the blade (the blade is not called a razor) and the whole device that holds the blade is called the razor.

Inspect from above the cap to check for
even exposure of the blade edges. Always
compare to the edges of the cap.
In every razor, whether TTO**, two piece, three piece, or flip top (which is far less common and won't be discussed here), the blade edge should have an even exposure beyond the long sides of the cap. This is true for a normal three piece, for a slant-bar razor, or for a TTO, where the cap is split and opens like butterfly wings. If uneven blade exposure in relation to the cap is a problem, there are several methods to resolve the issue.

For a TTO razor, when inserting the blade, the handle should obviously be pointed downward to ensure that the blade has every opportunity to center itself on the tongue that bisects the razor head. If this is insufficient, then you will have to manually center the blade while closing the butterfly doors. This is done using the tabs on the short sides of the blade while fastening the blade into its final shaving position.

For two- and three-piece razors, the underside of the cap has a threaded center post and two additional posts flanking the center post. Many razors of this design -- even some quite good ones -- allow the blade to wiggle a bit on these posts. It does vary though. My Lord brand L6 does not allow the blade any play and it cinches down well centered every time. My Merkur 33C, on the other hand, can be assembled with the blade uneven if you don't follow this procedure:

Lay the razor's cap on the counter (on a towel to protect the finish, if you want) with the threaded post pointing up. Lay your blade over the posts and onto the cap. Lay the baseplate (properly oriented, of course) over the threaded post and on top of the blade. Press down on the baseplate as shown and screw on the handle.

In many cases, this procedure is enough to cause the blade to self center in the razor head. If not, then before snugging the handle up against the baseplate, you should visually check the blade alignment and adjust as necessary (using the side tabs) as you snug the blade into its final shaving orientation.

And there you have it. Next post will cover causes four through seven in the introductory list at the beginning of this article.

Happy shaving!

*DE = double edge
**TTO = twist to open, which has the two-piece butterfly-door top (there is also a vintage toggle design, which I guess could be called toggle to open its butterfly doors)

Friday, May 9, 2014

A New Old Idea: Cold-Water Shaving; and a 1905 Shaving Book

So I was surfing the 'net, reading various shaving forums, and I stumbled across several references to a public-domain book called Shaving Made Easy: What the Man Who Shaves Ought to Know. Published by the 20th Century Correspondence School in New York, it was copyrighted in 1905.

In one particular forum, there was much discussion of this book in a couple of threads, and I read the entire book with both interest and amusement. According to all-knowing Wikipedia, the term, safety razor, was first used in an 1880 patent, and King Gillette introduced his game-changing DE safety razor in 1901, so this book was written when the straight razor still generally ruled in the shaving world -- especially among traditionalists.

Now I don't shave with a straight razor, and know only a little about that particular activity. However, the author of this little book, apparently an anonymous "expert" in the employ of the 20th Century Correspondence School in New York, clearly comes down in the traditionalist camp, suggesting safety razors are a passing fad with the statement, "probably a hundred thousand safety razors have been sold in the United States within the past few years and it is extremely doubtful if ten per cent. (sic) of them are still in use." Earlier in the same chapter, the author throws a bone to the new-fangled safety razor saying, "... if a man uses one he is less likely to cut himself [as compared to a straight razor]..." but then goes on to say:

"On the other hand, most of the safety razors are difficult to keep clean and dry, and therefore free from rust; and owing to the difficulty of stropping them, it is almost, if not quite impossible to keep them sharp. It is also difficult to make the correct stroke with them." (Obviously the author wasn't familiar with Gillette's concept.)

Okay, so with more than a hundred years of hindsight, this guy doesn't look too prophetic since even today in 2014, more men (world wide) shave with safety razors than any other method -- and most of those use a DE.

He also got some other details wrong. There was some contemporary discussion in the forum of the author's recommendation of a 4/8 straight blade for beginners, and several questioned this. (I have no opinion, myself.) I did, however, personally identify misinformation in his statements about soap that was apparently lost on others. His argument is that shaving soap isn't to soften the beard but rather to stiffen it to make it easier to be cleaved by the blade. I don't know if this is true, but when he says that soap stiffens the hairs by having residual alkalai (potash or soda -- ancient names for potassium hydroxide and sodium hydroxide) react with the natural oils in the hair to saponify them (that is, turn them to soap), well, that is just wrong -- today, anyway. A properly made soap will not have any residual alkalai, which could cause discomfort, if not outright chemical burns, on the skin!

So I do know that in addition to being a poor prophet, the author is no genius chemist either. (Although to be fair, in 1905, it is possible that some soaps may have had some residual alkalai. Yikes!)

So, yes, his recommendations are not gospel. But that doesn't mean he is all wrong. (Actually, his instruction on the use of a straight razor piqued my interest (but, no, I'm not going there; I'm not! I've just about got my RAD* under control, promising myself that the slant-bar DE that I just ordered is my last razor.  [UPDATE: Well, what I thought was my last razor. :-D ])  He did say something that added fuel to quite a lengthy commotion on the forum. He recommended a shave prep of washing the face, rinsing, and towel drying. Then lathering the face and massaging the lather into the beard with one's fingers. Then without rinsing, lather again with the brush, and shave. What he never mentions is to use hot or even warm water. In fact, on page 51 he says, "it becomes even more difficult [to shave] if the beard is made still softer by the application of hot water." (I can hear you gasp at the herecy!) NO HOT WATER!?!? OMG!!!! The very foundations of our civilization are being weakened!!

A few other ancient writers (19th century) were quoted on the benefits of a cold-water shave. So a bunch of guys on the forum then started posting about considering and actually doing cold-water shaves, with mostly straights and some DEs.

I tried it too.

Actually, I don't think it's a bad idea. Going forward, I'll probably be using cold water for my shaves. I found the experience less drying on my pathetically dry and sensitive skin, and all other aspects of the shave were no worse. (I actually like cool water on my face in the morning.) So I'll save a little household energy each day by using water at whatever is the tap temperature, and will save a little more on needing fewer balms and moisturizers after the shave.

[UPDATE 24Sept2014: I have done cool-water shaves since the publication of this article. It is now a part of my normal shaving ritual, which I happily perform.]

Maybe you will try it too. If you do, comment back to let me know your experience. And in any case...

Happy shaving!
*RAD = Razor-Acquisition Disease

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A First DE Razor Option

I was surfing the net and stumbled upon the Maggard brand of DE razors.

Although I have not used one, they look to be of reasonable quality and price, with shaving characteristics that might be welcome to a first-time DE shaver.

If I were to pick one up, I would be temped to get the MR3 for about $20, which has a short, fat handle and is described to have a shaving aggressiveness compared to a Gillette Slim Adjustable set on four (out of nine), which is light-moderate.

[UPDATE 9/12/2014: I did purchase one, a Maggard MR3B. As to whether this is an appropriate razor for you, you may want to first read my two-part article, "Picking the Right Razor for You," part one of which was published on 9/10/2014.]

Another option might be the MR6 ($16), which has a longer but thinner handle with the same shaving head.

Interested? You can find out more starting at

Happy shaving!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Shaving Soap Review: Hand Crafted Is Not Always Superior

Farmington Soap Works (FSW) shaving soap puck in
my red bowl (right), and its plastic wrapper and label (left)
There are two mass-produced shaving soaps that I consider touchstones; that is, they are the standard by which other shaving creams and soaps are judged. These touchstone products are not the best, but they are good, readily available, and inexpensive. These two products are Van Der Hagen (VDH) shave soap and Williams shave soap. The prices that I pay locally for these two soaps are $1.69 and $.99 respectively. I do not love these products, but I like them; they do the job at a very reasonable cost.

[UPDATE: As you can see in this article on my re-visiting Williams shave soap, the prolonged use of a superior shave soap has dampened my enthusiasm for the Williams brand despite its low cost. It's worth it to pay a bit more for a better shave. I haven't returned to VDH yet, but I suspect I would downgrade my opinions of both of these touchstone soaps to mediocre rather than good.]

Both lather readily and well -- even in the hard water of metro Detroit. Williams is a bit drying on my skin, so when I use it, I always doctor it with some added shaving oil, glycerin, and, sometimes, a pinch of colloidal (powdered) oatmeal. I also, as often as not, doctor the VDH for my shaves.

So having these basic soaps in mind, when I see a shave-soap puck that is obviously hand crafted by a small, local soap company, at a $5 price, I have expectations that the soap will be an improvement over the standard brands. So I put down my five-dollar bill, took home the Farmington Soap Works (FSW) shaving soap, and lathered up the next morning.

'Farmington Soap Works (FSW) lather in red bowl & brush at right, compared to lather from unmodified
Van Der Hagen (VDH) brand shaving soap at left. Both lathers freshly made.
The VDH lather is thick and more creamy, FSW lather is thinner and frothy.  

The soap lathered quickly, but took some time to build a sufficient foam. It had a neutral fragrance, neither particularly feminine nor manly. That was OK with me; no problem. After I applied it to my face, however, while I was distracted for a moment, it rather quickly dried out to a sickly thin layer. So I lathered again and shaved.

The soap is sufficiently slippery, having benonite clay in the formula. But the lather was not only thin but also drying on my skin. My first-shave impression was that I had spent five times the price of Williams or three times the price of VDH, but got an inferior product. My sense was that this FSW shaving soap was too similar to a bath soap merely with added clay for better slip.

Undaunted, I gave it another go the next morning. This time, I tried doctoring the soap with added shave oil and glycerin as I do with the Williams to get a creamier, more moisturizing shave. But it didn't work with the FSW soap. The lather was still thin and left my skin still dry, even though I made a careful two-pass shave to minimize damage to my skin.

After sitting for about 15 minutes, the difference in lather quality becomes
even more apparent. Normal, un-doctored VDH on left, FSW on right.
After the disappointing second shave, I returned to my shaving gear several times that day to experiment with FSW soap. Maybe, I thought, this is a case of cockpit error, where it is my fault that I can't get an acceptable lather. So I tried some tricks of the trade. I filled the bowl with hot water and let it stand for a few minutes. Then I poured off the water and made more lather. No appreciable difference.

I tried again, this time loading my brush even more with the FSW soap before trying to make lather in a separate bowl.  I was careful about adding water, trying less water, then adding more to try and find the lathering sweet spot. But no luck.

Because I have been thinking of making my own shaving soap, I have been doing extensive study on the subject for a while now. (I have my first formula ready for test, and am accumulating the final bits of gear and supplies to give it a go.) So with my prior knowledge in hand, I checked out the ingredients list for FSW shaving soap. To tell the short version, the four oils used by FSW are coconut, olive, palm, and castor; these are not rich in the fatty acids that develop creamy, stable foam. Also, unlike a bath soap, shaving soap often benefits from moisturizers added late in the process after the main fatty acids have been saponified (turned to soap). This FSW soap seems to have none of that and only a degree of super fatting; that is, it was likely processed so that a small proportion of the fatty acids were not turned to soap. The intention of that usually is to ensure the soap is not chemically caustic and to leave some oil remnants as moisturizers. This can be effective for a bath soap, but shaving soap often needs more help -- starting with, of course, the right combination of fatty acids.

To show the difference in lather between the FSW soap (red bowl) and unadulterated VDH soap (that is, no custom additives), I did a side-by-side lather comparison summarized in the photos above. Initial FSW lather was frothy but present in some quantity. The VDH lather was more abundant and richer, more creamy, thicker. After letting the two lathers sit for a while as I shaved with a third shave product, both lathers diminished but the FSW much more so, becoming thin, feeble as shown.

What the pictures don't show was when I squeezed and rinsed the brushes, the FSW brush had no appreciable lather and basically released soapy water when rinsed. The VDH brush, on the other hand, when squeezed, released a mound of rich, creamy lather from deep within the bristles of the brush. (This is normal shaving-soap behavior.) When rinsed, the VDH brush released lather in the water.

Also, by the way, I gave the FSW soap every advantage. I used a badger brush to make lather, while I used a boar brush for the VDH. I also lathered the VDH soap first, meaning that it actually sat a little longer than the FSW foam, and therefore had more time to decline in quality. Yet the VDH lather remained far superior throughout the trial.

In sum, I can't recommend the Farmington Soap Works shaving soap. There seem to be many more products that might offer better performance and value.

Prior to writing this review, I did contact Farmington Soap Works via email, which their web site says is their preferred contact method. I wanted to meet with them and discuss my observations and suggestions before publishing my view. I was also curious about how they arrived at their shaving-soap formula, how it was tested, and specifically how they intended it to be used for greatest effectiveness. I received no response.

Happy shaving!