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Monday, June 30, 2014

The Green, Frugal Shaver: Free, Re-Purposed Soap and Lathering Bowls

I have mentioned this idea before, but it's worth its own article. You can save money, keep some plastic out of the landfill (or save the energy of having to sort, clean, melt, and remold it), and have an excellent combination soap bowl and lathering bowl.

The item is a single-serving, 3-1/2-inch (approximately, at the top) diameter, Greek yogurt carton.
The re-purposed Greek-yogurt cup, approximately 3-1/2 inches in diameter at its top. They make an excellent, light-weight, little lathering bowl  and puck-holding bowl for home or travel. Shown here is a small, sample test formulation of shaving soap, which is lathered in the same bowl; no separate lathering bowl is necessary.
If you have a new puck of shaving soap, just drop it into one of these little bowls. Because the bowl is rather small and tapered down from top to bottom, the new puck is unlikely to fit flat on the smaller-diameter bowl bottom. No matter; in that case use the puck-bowl combination as a soap holder, and during your shaves, load your wet brush with shaving soap from this container. Then you can build your lather in the usual places: in your hand, on your face, or, as I do, in a dedicated lathering bowl -- in this example, a second, empty yogurt bowl. When you are done with your shave and are storing your gear, you can put the lathering bowl over the puck-holding bowl like a clam shell to keep out dust and other foreign matter out of your damp soap.
Shown is the yogurt-cup clam shell: the lower bowl stores the new puck of shaving soap, from which you load your brush. The upper bowl becomes your lathering bowl. When your shave is finished, the lathering bowl becomes a cover to keep dust and other undesirable things out of your shaving soap.

UPDATE: The label is shrink wrapped onto these containers, so it can be easily removed. Simply stretch the label a bit at the bottom of the carton, cut the edge with a knife or scissors, and peel the label off.  This results in an all-white bowl as shown below:
Three repurposed yogurt cups with the factory labels removed. Obviously I've added masking-tape labels to identify the various shave-soap formulations that each cup contains.

I have mentioned before that these re-purposed cups are nice lathering bowls, but they are useful for melting soap as well. "Melting... but..." you say? Sure, you can melt pretty much any soap with impunity, despite some misinformation on the Internet. You just have to be patient. I'll explain below. First, just a bit more about the cups themselves...

They are made of number 5 plastic, which is polypropylene. This is significant because it brings additional benefit. Polypropylene has a high melting point. Hence, is useful for high-temperature work such as melting soap.

Although a new puck of shaving soap can simply be dropped into the yogurt cup and used immediately to load your wet shaving brush, if you are fussy about such things, there are two ways to mold the soap into the cup: grate or melt.

Grating soap is simple and uber intuitive. Just get a cheese grater, and use it to shred the soap into smaller bits. These are then collected and pressed into the desired container -- in this case, the re-purposed yogurt bowl.

Melting is simple too -- if you use the microwave -- but must be done with patience and care to avoid burning the soap. You use the number-five, polypropylene yogurt bowl in the microwave oven because of its heat-tolerant properties. Add a bit of water on the puck and nuke it for five to ten seconds. (Always heat the soap in short bursts to avoid burning it.) Then with a sharp knife and a cutting board, cut the puck into smaller pieces for easier softening. Then add a bit more water if appropriate, and continue heating the soap in the yogurt bowl in five- to ten-second bursts, checking for malleability after each heating cycle by seeing how willing it is to be pressed into the bottom of the yogurt bowl.

Once the soap is pressed into the bowl and conforms to its shape, you may have enough space to lather right in the soap bowl itself. When testing my own untried shaving-soap formulations, I always melt the new little soap puck -- usually only ten to 20 grams (about 1/3 to 2/3 of an ounce) -- into a yogurt cup as shown in the first picture, above. Because the amount of soap is so small, I can definitely make lather in the same bowl; no separate lathering bowl is needed.

That's it.  Be green! Be thrifty! Happy shaving!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Harshness versus Aggressiveness in Razor Design

I have a manufacturing and quality background (among other things), and as a result, I'm well aware of old-school thinking in manufacturing that production volume and quality were opposing issues, requiring that a manufacturer strike a balance between quantity of units produced and quality of product. That is, we used to believe that if you wanted high quality, you would have to produce lower volume and vice versa.

We now know that's not true. Given proper manufacturing processes, both volume and quality can spiral upward over time.

The same concept applies to razors' shaving characteristics. In the DE-shaving community, there is much discussion about mild versus aggressive razors -- the implication being that mild equals comfortable and face friendly, and aggressive equals harsh, uncomfortable, and possibly blood letting.

I've even heard some describe a blade as aggressive, which is ridiculous. A blade may be sharp or not, smooth against the skin or not, relatively stiff or not; but aggressive, really, has no objective meaning; aggressive is a term better applied to razor design.

When it comes to razors, I've outlined ten characteristics of a razor's design (click here for that article), any of which might affect subjective quality of the shave. Some of these characteristics will affect the efficiency of the razor -- that is, how easily it mows down longer stubble or tough hair. What is important for the razor user and buyer to recognize is that an aggressive (high-capability) razor isn't necessarily harsh. For example, the Merkur slant-bar razors are highly capable and efficient, but in the proper hand (using light pressure and direct, non-oblique strokes) can offer a face-friendlly shave.

On the other hand, many razors that are considered mild shavers can be on the harsh side. Lately I've been using TTO (twist-to-open) razors as an example. I have several of these including a Gillette Slim Adjustable and Weishi 9306-f -- both have limited blade reveal (the amount of blade you can see when viewed from the razor  top), and the exposure (the degree to which the blade edge is within the protective cove of the razor's safety bar and top cap) on the Weishi is mild, and, of course, the Gillette can be adjusted to have a mild blade exposure. Yet even though these do or can be set to have non-aggressive shave characteristics, I find the shaves they give to be a bit harsh as compared to UTO (unscrew-to-open -- a.k.a. two- or three-piece) razors. And this applies to a wide range of UTO razors, from the not-aggressive Wilkinson Sword Classic to the moderate Merkur shaving heads (such as the 33C or 34C) to the hyper-efficient Merkur slant-bar razors such as the 37C.

Contrast different (exaggerated) blade angles:
Left is smaller angle (less harsh), right is
larger angle (more harsh).

The reasons for this disconnect between aggressiveness  and harshness of shave, in these examples at least, is due to the razor-design characteristic of blade angle in the razor head. (Again, refer to this article [click here] for more information on blade angle as opposed to blade slant.) Those razors such as the TTOs that have a flatter, larger shaving angle in relation to the shaving plane of the head are more prone to scrape at hair and skin irrespective of blade reveal and, to some degree, exposure. The UTO razors mentioned tend to have a steeper blade angle, which will tend to slice more and scrape less. It's a small difference, but I've certainly found it to be noticeable -- to the extent that I only use my favorite two UTO razors in my daily rotation, and use the Wilkinson Sword Classic as a travel razor.

[UPDATE: I have proven my TTO-blade-angle hypothesis to be incorrect. If a TTO shaves more harshly, I now think it is related to a positive blade exposure and, perhaps, a related blade-bar gap. But I have subsequently, upon further review, had a quite pleasant shave with my Gillette Slim Adjustable TTO razor -- although it was set to its most mild setting. The article on that shave will be published in early November 2014, but hasn't yet been published, so I can't link to it as of this update publication.]

So I know I can't change the world -- not even the world of DE shavers -- but I can at least make you aware that mild shaving doesn't always mean face friendly, and aggressive doesn't always mean harsh. To re-use the examples from above, the Wilkinson Sword Classic and the Weishi 9306-f are both mild-shaving razors, having limited blade reveal and limited blade exposure; that is, they have about the same degree of aggressiveness, which is not a lot. I can get the same degree of closeness in a shave with either. Yet, all other things equal, the Wilkinson gives me a more comfortable shave, due to the relative blade angles.

Similarly, my Weishi 2003-m TTO (to name a non-adjustable TTO; but it's the same for the Gillette Slim set to a mild-moderate exposure) and my Merkur 33C UTO razors are also similar, have moderate blade reveal and exposure, but I consistently get a more comfortable shave with the UTO, even though the closeness of the shave is about the same.

The take-away message here is that, if you have sensitive skin, whether you choose a mild or aggressive razor, you may get a more comfortable shave with a UTO design rather than TTO.

That's my opinion based on experience and analysis. What's your opinion?

Happy shaving!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Baby Steps to Full-On DE Shaving - Complete

This one summary article completes the series I started many weeks ago, but then got sidetracked prior to the series conclusion. This article is a condensed list, simplified from my earlier attempt.

Step 1: Get some shaving soap -- either a hard puck or a tube/jar of shaving cream, a brush, and a mug or bowl. If you are interested in being both thrifty and ecologically responsible, I recommend the following products:
Above left: a repurposed Greek-yogurt container beside my
favorite razor, the Merkur 37C slant (risky for beginners, but
an excellent second razor after one becomes more skilled).

  • Williams Shaving Soap - available at many drug stores for $1. It's inexpensive, a pretty good product (not the best, but good enough to get you started -- for an upgrade in the future, see about my custom rich, slick and creamy soap for sensitive skin), and packaging can be recycled.
  • Van Der Hagen (VDH) boar-bristled shaving brush - Often available at some local drug stores for about $6. The bristles soften over time with use, and is a very cost-effective choice. Though I have another brush, I still appreciate and regularly use my VDH.
  • Use a repurposed coffee mug big enough to hold the soap puck. (For other inexpensive alternatives, check out this blog article.) Use the mug to load your wet brush with soap, then build your lather in your hand, directly on your face, or in a lathering bowl. The cheapest lathering bowl is a repurposed, used, Greek-yogurt cup shown at right.

Use your regular wet-shaving razor, which can be a multi-blade type, but start using shaving soap instead of canned goo.

Step 2: Using your usual razor, start doing two-pass shaves.  That is, lather, shave, rinse, lather, shave, rinse. The first pass should be largely with the grain of your beard, and the second (especially if you are using a multi-blade razor) should NOT be against the grain, but rather across the grain. For a good video from mantic59, the Sharpologist, on how to do a multi-pass shave, click here. Practice gripping the razor with your fingertips, which will be helpful when you switch to a double-edge (DE) razor, and you can read my article on that by clicking here. Practice not only the fingertip grip, but also intentionally making direct strokes. Oblique strokes with a multi-blade razor isn't recommended. Click here for my article on direct and oblique razor strokes.

Step 3: Obtain a DE razor. If your budget is tight, I suggest the Wilkinson Sword Classic (click here for my review). If not, I would go with the Merkur 34C Heavy Duty, which has the very nice Merkur head and extra weight, which most shavers seem to prefer. (The handle is about an inch shorter than multi-blade razors, so know that before you order.) Click here for my article on suggestions for beginner's shaving gear. (I do not recommend twist-to-open/butterfly-door razors because some shavers with sensitive skin may find the shaves harsh as compared to shaves with two- and three-piece-design razors.) For blades, consider moderately-priced but high-quality for affordable smoothness, such as the Dorco ST-301 blades. (Even if your beard is tough like wire and skin is very sensitive, the double-coated blades tend to be smooth, and the cost is low enough when you buy 100 blades that you can recycle the blade after one shave if necessary -- but I can get seven days from this blade.) 

The focus of your first DE shaves should be on making two-pass shaves (with grain and across grain of beard) using VERY LIGHT pressure of razor against skin. You will get better at this with practice. After using multi-blade razors, most shavers have a very heavy hand that doesn't go well with a DE razor. Second area of focus is continuing to make intentional strokes, either direct or oblique. Mantic59, the Sharpologist, has a recommended video on first shaves with a single-blade razor; click here to watch.

Step 4: Transition to three-pass shaves as appropriate, desired, or necessary to get that smooth shave characteristic of a single-blade razor. First pass is with the grain, second pass is cross grain, and final pass is against the grain (or, for sensitive areas, across the grain from the opposite direction). Although, in the spirit of full disclosure, my daily shave is a two-pass shave, with the second pass being a combination of across and against the grain. [UPDATE: Since this was written, I now more frequently do three-pass shaves, but on occasion also stop at two passes -- especially when using my efficient Merkur 37C slant razor.] This is usually sufficient for a very close shave. If I occasionally want an overall baby-bottom-smooth (BBS) shave, I will use three passes and touch-up buffing as needed. It's a bit hard on my skin to go for BBS every day, so I settle for very close and call it good.

After step four, it's about tuning your ritual. There are other blade options; pre-shave oils and prep variations such as cold-water shaving; different shave soaps, creams, and butters; and a variety of post-shave options including alum blocks, witch hazel, and myriad gels and lotions. 

That's it.  Happy shaving!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What Nearly Killed Double-Edge Shaving in the U.S.?

When the Gillette Trac II -- the first multi-blade, cartridge razor -- was introduced in 1971, it was a success. For example, I know that my father, who used a Gillette Slim Adjustable (made in 1963) up to that time, made the switch to the cartridge razor almost right away.
I received a razor just like this as a gift. The handle was a very heavy,
gold-toned metal. The cartridge head did not pivot on those early versions.

I never even tried a double-edge (DE) safety razor. I started shaving in about 1971, and the Trac II being new and "improved" must be better -- or so I thought. It never occurred to me that the double-edge razor was no longer patent protected, meaning anyone could make razors or blades, which would drive down selling prices and accompanying profits.

There were benefits. The Trac II system would tolerate large pressure against the skin. Also, the cartridge face determined the shaving angle (this was before the pivoting head was introduced), so all the user had to do was make sure the cartridge face was flat against the skin.

There were also drawbacks. The shave wasn't as close as that from a single blade. Hair and lather tended to stick in the cartridge head, reluctant to come out during rinsing. One also risked ingrown hairs if shaving against the grain of the beard. Also, we couldn't foresee the proliferation of ever-more-complex multi-blade designs, with their ever-upward-spiraling prices. Lastly, few of us gave any thought to the environmental impact of disposable shaving systems and related products such as shaving cartridges, then whole razors as well as empty metal cans that had dispensed shaving foam and, later, gel.

Eventually double-edge safety razors and their cousins, single-edge designs, were squeezed off drug-store shelves, with even the replacement blades becoming increasing rare and of lower quality (and higher price!). Commerce in these razors was only revived by Internet sellers, making the entire world a potential store from which one could order.

Why did so many men make the switch from their double-edge razors to the cartridge systems despite the cost, the inferior shave, potential ingrown hairs, and the adverse environmental impact? I don't know for certain, but here are my speculations:

  • Multi-blade-cartridge-shaving systems are quick and easy. No skill required to speak of, while DE shaving does demand skill and patience. With a multi-blade, you can stroke like a mad man and still escape with little to no blood shed. You can also shave in a single pass (that is, lather, shave, rinse, and after shave) and get a reasonable (but not the best) shave. Five minutes or so, and you are done with the morning chore before work. (Not many men approached shaving with anything close to a Zen mind set.)
  • Maybe equally important was the predominant razor design, the twist-to-open (TTO) butterfly-door design. I speculate that this design had become much more prevalent than the original unscrew-to-open (UTO) two- and three-piece razors. This is a likely factor in the success of multi-blade systems because, of the two designs: UTO versus TTO, I believe that UTO razors shave more comfortably. And they were increasingly disappearing from the mainstream North American shaving scene. Most "progressive, modern" men had long earlier "upgraded" from their UTO razors to the "easy-access" TTO type.
  • No one knew or were discussing, as compared to DE shaving, the drawbacks of the Trac II: clogged blades, in-grown hair, inferior closeness of shave.
  • Lastly, of course, was the marketing of the new systems. Men were bombarded with TV ads (as they still are today for the latest battery-operated, ever-more-blades-added, zip-zap gizmos) touting the benefits of the new shaving products. (And by the way, if the multi-blades are so good, why do the companies have to keep introducing "better, improved" models?)

Yet today, DE shaving is making a comeback. The reasons are several as follows:

  • DE shaving can be far less expensive over time as compared to multi-blade systems.
  • DE shaving promises a far better shaving result if done with appropriate skill and patience.
  • DE shaving has a lower environmental impact due to fewer routine disposable items (and more recyclable material).
  • DE shaving products (razors, blades, related supplies) are readily available via Internet sellers.
  • DE shaving information is readily available via Internet blogs and videos.
  • DE shaving offers a regular ritual that can celebrate one's manhood, rather than viewing the shave as an onerous chore.
  • DE shaving can be satisfying and fun.
What do you think?

Happy shaving!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Travel-Shaving Gear, Part Two

Yesterday, I decided that my travel razor will be the Wilkinson Sword Classic (additional photos and review here). I chose it because, primarily, it is very mild shaving, meaning very low risk of irritation, nicks or cuts, which means not a lot of post-shave products to be packed. A secondary benefit is that although the razor shaves very well, it is pretty inexpensive, and if it is lost in transit, the out-of-pocket replacement expense is minimal.
The Wilkinson Sword Classic razor (above) is a two-piece
design that, for the quality of the razor and the shave it
delivers, is remarkably inexpensive. (Available from Europe
only.) Don't be put off by the black plastic materials; this
razor is a keeper as a traveler, a beginner's razor, a finishing
razor for final buff ups, or just every-day shaving.

The second question to be answered from yesterday was regarding choice of shave soap or cream.

After giving this some thought, I decided to bring my tube of the Old Woodward Shave Co. brand of shave butter (additional photos and review here). My reasoning is that the Old Woodward shave butter gives a smooth, confidence-inspiring shave and has the following additional benefits for the traveler:
The Old Woodward brand family of products. The tube of shave
butter comes in both regular size (as shown) and also a travel size
(not shown). The bottle on the left is a pre-shave oil.
The tin-jar packaging on the right is no longer available.
  • Available in regular- or travel-sized tubes for easy packing and storage on the go
  • Applied with the fingers, so I don't have to pack a shaving brush
  • Has an oil component, which is definitely not drying on the skin and leaves a slightly moisturizing residue if one merely rinses after the shave
Therefore, because of my choice of razor and the Old Woodward shave butter, I can skip styptic pencil, alum block, and even any post-shave oils, balms, lotions, etc.

So with a couple of good decisions regarding razor and shave-prep choices, I've also answered the third question about additional pre- and post-shave products to be packed; and the answer is none.

Happy shaving -- even when traveling!  

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Quest for Travel-Shaving Gear, Part One: Which Razor?

Once a year or so I travel via airplane on a short trip out of town. I like to pack light, so yesterday I started to give some thought to what shaving gear I would haul, and this morning's shave began the at-home tests of some prospective travel-shaving hardware.

I will pack two new, coated blades -- probably the Dorco ST-301. So several basic questions remain:

  • What razor to pack?
  • What shave soap or cream to use?
  • What pre- and post-shave products are needed?
Today my main focus was on razor choice.
My initial travel-razor options: left - Lord LP1822L; center - Weishi 9306-f TTO; right - the Wilkinson Sword Classic.

Since I always expect the unexpected, I figure that I won't travel with my favorite razors. This means that the Merkur 37C slant and my modified 33C will stay home.

Despite my poor shave on Father's Day with my father's heirloom Gillette Slim Adjustable, which is a twist-to-open (TTO) design -- and I've documented many times that I don't prefer TTO razors, my first thought was to revisit the Weishi 9306-f TTO and see how I like the shave these days. I hoped that the mild blade reveal and exposure might prove sufficient to offset the larger, more scraping, blade angle that TTO razors seem to have.

I was mistaken. Despite my normal shave prep including using my slickest shave soap, the first pass (with the grain using oblique strokes) with the Weishi was noticeably harsh. So harsh, in fact, that after that first pass I transferred the blade to the Lord LP1822L, which is an unscrew-to-open/disassemble (UTO) design. The Weishi TTO was out of contention as my travel razor.

I have long believed that the Lord shaves very much like my Merkur 33C, which I like a great deal. But today's first pass with the TTO razor may have sufficiently irritated my skin that any razor for today's second pass (across the grain) may have felt harsh. Anyway, the Lord razor certainly did feel harsh on this day, much to my surprise. 

Not needing or wanting to risk more harshness, I then put the blade into my Wilkinson Sword Classic, another UTO design known for its mild shaving characteristics. Using oblique strokes against the grain, this third pass was more comfortable. Though it's difficult to know just how much the moments delays between passes helped to let my skin calm down as I went back and forth to the closet to get alternative razors, the Wilkinson's mildness and comfort after two irritating passes has made me rethink the use of this razor both as a travel razor (probably) and also as a beginner's first double-edged razor.

Today's three-pass shave ended up to be a good, close shave -- not baby-bottom smooth, but good enough for every-day shaving, especially when traveling.

So the Wilkinson Classic will be my travel razor for the next trip. To be determined is what pre- and post-shave products will make the cut. Check back for upcoming articles.

Happy shaving!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Big Success with a New Shaving-Soap Formula

I took an intuitive leap this morning. No, not from bed, but with a new shave-soap formulation.

I keep a soap-making journal, exactly as a chemist or other scientist would keep a lab notebook. In this, I not only record what has been done -- processes, notes, outcomes, evaluations, etc. -- but also what I plan to do. So I have notes on formulations that I would like to try as I go forward.
The small test puck of SS#4 shave soap along with left-over lather from this mornings initial test in a re-purposed yogurt container. This morning's razor, the Merkur 37C slant with a new Personna Blue blade, is shown as well.

I have basic formulations, designated by number, and then variations on those basics using post-cook additives, designated by capital letters. I had been most pleased with my SS#1E, which I recently wrote about. I did not like SS#2 or its variation as much, so I had SS#3 and SS#4 recipes waiting in my soap journal to be cooked into reality for testing.

On a hunch, I skipped SS#3 and made up SS#4 -- the basic formula, with no additives -- for preliminary testing.
An after-shave shot of today's lathering bowl and brush with the residual lather from the initial test of SS#4. For this trial I loaded the wet brush with soap from its yogurt cup, then made lather in the stainless bowl that you see here. The lather is dense, slick, and creamy. Its volume is not too much, not too little -- just right for lubricating a terrific shave.

My goal with all of this chemistry and related planning and work is to make a shave soap that has no harsh additives, that is, all natural like you might get in a soap of c.1900, with the following characteristics:
  • Slick and lubricating
  • Creamy smooth
  • No scent to irritate the skin, offend the olfactory, or compete with the scent of other pre- or post-shave products
  • A tight, dense lather that is substantial, durable, and lathers on the face just thick enough to give a great shave but not be excessively foamy
  • Not drying on the skin
When I started to load the wet brush with soap from the yogurt cup, I thought, uh-oh... no initial lather; it's a dud -- D.O.A. (That's dead on arrival -- a phrase no one wants to hear in any context.)

But wait! Then I took another 15 seconds or so and massaged the brush a bit more on the little 20-gram test puck. Things started to look up, producing a first hint of a promising lather.

Then I transferred my brush to the stainless bowl and tended the lather a bit. With a bit more swirling and drops of water, the soap began to yield a thick, creamy lather, which was very slick in my fingers.

Applying onto my face, the lather was rich and creamy, with just enough foamy quality to spread the perfect layer for shaving, with not a lot of painting to thin away any excess. Like all my shave soaps to date, it has essentially no scent save the faintest hint of the neutral smell of a natural, unscented soap -- probably not perceptible to any but the most sensitive of noses.

I did a two-pass shave with my 37C slant and a new Personna Blue blade, and got the closest two-pass shave I've ever had -- essentially baby-bottom smooth on my cheeks and lower neck, and very close elsewhere.

As for the five target qualities I listed above, SS#4 has them all. Now the next objective is to tweak this formulation with post-cook, natural additives to enhance its moisturizing qualities as well as coaxing out even more of the other properties.

I'll keep you informed as I progress.

Happy shaving!


Friday, June 20, 2014

Lots of Shave Variables Including Shave Prep

I got a harsh shave on Father's Day, and have been reacting to that ever since. I continue to ruminate on why that shave kicked off a less-than-ideal shave or two on subsequent days.

The bowl with my custom shave soap, SS#1E, pictured about an hour after
my morning shave. This left-over lather stays with the puck in its bowl and
isn't relegated to the generic left-overs bowl.
The last two days, yesterday and today, the shaves have been good. I continued to use the Dorco ST-301 blade -- yesterday in my Merkur 33C straight bar, and today in my 37C slant. As I have written, with the 33 I tend to make mostly oblique strokes, and with the 37 slant, the only stroke that makes sense is a direct stroke, strictly square to the shaving head and parallel to the handle.

My shave preparation has varied though throughout the week. On Father's Day and the following couple of shaves, I was washing my face with bath soap (always with cool water) prior to lathering. The last two shaves, yesterday and today, I skipped the bath soap and simply wetted my beard with cool water. During the dry-heated-air winter, I have been going with cool-water shaves and generally skipping the bath-soap face wash because both tend to remove precious oil from my dry, sensitive skin. On a whim this spring, I have started using bath soap occasionally as part of my shave prep. Father's Day, however, may have been a perfect storm of factors: uncoated Lord-brand blade, TTO razor, bath-soap-pre-shave wash, and the shave soap used, which is what I want to discuss today.

For several weeks, off and on, I've been using my own shave soap. After doing much research, I came pretty close with my first formulation. Then I took that recipe and tweaked it with all-natural after-cook additives to enhance its shave and skin-care properties. My first formulation, SS#1 (that's Shave Soap #1) was used in its basic form and had five variations, identified as SS#1A through SS#1E. I also adjusted the basic soap to create SS#2, which currently has one derivative, SS#2A. I have also created recipes for SS#3 and SS#4, but haven't made those yet. Of the custom shaving soaps that I've made so far, I prefer SS#1E, which I used for the shaves yesterday and today.

My SS#1E lathers quickly, but initially is a bit frothy. Then with a bit more swirling of the brush, the lather becomes thicker and more creamy. I have experimented with varying amounts of water, and too much will definitely ruin the lather, rendering it thin and foamy again. But if just a wet, slightly-shaken brush is used, the lather tends to be slick and creamy. It goes on the face rather thin and economically, unlike canned foam, but creates a slick, creamy layer that doesn't dry out quickly, and lubricates and cushions rather well, IMHO.

So the last two day's shaves have been very nice. Yesterday a three pass (with the straight bar), and this morning a two-pass (with the slant bar), both very close. When compared to earlier shaves this week, the difference, in addition to the hardware, was skipping the pre-shave face wash, and using my own SS#1E shave-soap formulation.

My Father's Day shave was done using left-over lather from my left-overs bowl. Now, when I use a soap that I like, I put the left overs back in that soap's bowl, rather than the generic left-overs bowl. So lately, my left-overs bowl has become a combination, a hodge podge, of the various custom and commercial soaps I've been using but weren't my favorites. So it's a small factor, but just using a better shave soap like SS#1E probably helped a bit to improve the quality of the morning shave.

Happy shaving.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Blade versus Razor: Results Part Two

To summarize this multi-day experiment to this point:

My conclusions from those shaves are as follows:
  • My main premise remains that technique is the largest factor in getting a good shave as long as one is using a sharp and appropriately smooth blade. This is why I suggest new wet shavers start, not with a sampler pack, but instead with a moderately-priced but high-quality, coated blade such as the Dorco ST-301, which is both platinum and PTFE (Teflon) coated.
  • The uncoated Lord blade was a significant contributor to the harshness of the Father's Day shave. [UPDATE: It's not clear what, if any, coating is actually on the Lord Platinum. One Internet seller suggests a chromium coating; a shaving-forum poster suggests double-coated teflon. The packaging of the blade is silent on the issue. !?!]
So the question remains, how much did the Gillette TTO razor contribute to the harshness of the Sunday and Tuesday shaves?


So today, as promised, I put the once-used Dorco ST-301 blade into my Merkur 37C slant.

The shave was close and about as user-friendly as my shaves get. I actually only did two passes, WTG and a combination XTG/ATG, but got a close, comfortable result.

So, perhaps predictably, there are factors of both technique and choice of hardware that contribute to a good shave. However, given good equipment, technique is what will make or break a shave. So I continue to stand by my new-DE-shaver recommendations:

  1. Start with a good razor and you may never have deal with razor-acquisition disease. I think the best razors have a smaller blade angle and a well-textured handle to resist slipping when wet. This means Merkur-like two- and three-piece UTO razors such as the Lord LP1822L, or Merkur models 33C, 34C, or equivalents with similar shaving heads.
  2. Start with a high-quality, coated blade, but one that isn't terribly expensive. I continue to be increasingly impressed with the Dorco ST-301 blade, which is double coated as indicated above.
  3. Use this gear to learn intentional direct and oblique shaving strokes with the appropriately light touch. Shave in multiple passes. Perfect your technique. Learn about the quirks of your skin and beard. Become an expert in shaving your face, relying on skill with the equipment you have chosen.
  4. Then after months of practice, if you want to branch out and experiment with different blades or styles of razor, have at it. But after paying your dues perfecting your skill, you will have the experience to evaluate different gear more accurately, and will probably have less inclination to keep changing equipment in search of a good shave.
That's my opinion. What's yours?

Happy shaving!

Abbreviations:
ATG - against the grain
DE - double edge
TTO - twist to open, or turn to open
UTO - unscrew to open (and disassemble)
WTG - with the grain
XTG - across the grain

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Blade versus Razor: Results

Today I answered the bell to address yesterday's question: was the harsh Father's Day shave due to the TTO DE razor, the uncoated Lord-brand blade, or, to some degree, both?

With the same Gillette Slim Adjustable razor and the same setting, 4, but a new platinum-and-PTFE-coated Dorco ST-301 blade, today I got the same close shave, but with less irritation. So clearly the blade makes a difference.

And yes, I did about the same three-pass shave, using largely oblique strokes.

Yet today's shave wasn't up to par. Still harsh to a degree -- close, but a bit harsh.

So once again, the answer is that though shaving technique matters, blade grind and coatings can also matter for those of us with rather sensitive skin. Also, razor design matters. Although the Gillette adjustable can have the blade gap varied according to preference, the blade angle is fixed by the design of the razor head. As I've said before, I believe that most TTO razors have an inherent characteristic of a relatively large blade angle, which is literally inclined to scrape a little more and cut a little less than razors with a shallower blade angle.

So tomorrow I complete the trial by putting the once-used Dorco blade into my Merkur 37C slant razor and having a go with that, confirming (I predict) that the harshness will be further reduced using this UTO razor.

By the way, my shaving ritual includes care for my shaving tools: the razor and blade. After every shave, in addition to rinsing and drying my razor (and, periodically, I lubricate them as well with either mineral oil for TTOs or petroleum jelly for three-piece razors), I dry and palm strop the blades. I think the palm stropping minimizes any potential micro oxidation and may slightly improve the sharpness on the finest part of the razor edge that must become exposed and degraded, despite any blade coatings, during the shaving process.

So as of today, at least, my recommendation to new DE shavers is unchanged: get a Merkur 33C, 34C, or a  less-expensive facsimile such as the Lord LP1822L, and a good-but-not-expensive blade such as the Dorco ST-301, and shave for weeks and months with just that gear, perfecting your shaving ability. Then and only then, think about toying with gear to further tune your shave.

Happy shaving!

Abbreviations:
DE - double edge
PTFE - polytetrafluoroethylene; better known by its original brand name: Teflon
TTO - twist to open, or turn to open
UTO - unscrew to open (and disassemble); this design is implicit whenever one indicates a two- or three-piece DE razor.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Blade versus Razor: Righting a Wrong and Another Experiment for Tomorrow

In yesterday's post, I blamed the Gillette TTO razor for a harsh shave. I was probably being unfair to the razor. Upon further reflection, of the three major elements of a shave -- razor, blade, and technique -- it was probably the blade that was the issue. UPDATE: Or even more probably, the combination of the slighty-more-harsh TTO razor coupled with the uncoated Lord brand blade.

I got a close shave yesterday, but it wasn't pleasurable due to the irritation during the shave, and a bit of burn after.
An open five-pack of Lord Platinum-Class blades. Despite the name, they are NOT platinum coated. They are probably best for those with light beards and skin that is less-easily irritated.

Daily readers of my posts probably know that I use four blades in my shaving rotation: Personna Blue, Astra Super Platinum, Dorco 301, and Lord Platinum Class. Of these four, three have a coating for additional comfort and smoothness of shave. It is the Lord blade that is not coated; the moniker, Platinum Class, is merely marketing hype. At the time I was considering the purchase, had I realized that this blade was uncoated, I wouldn't have made the buy.

So tomorrow, I will again pull the Gillette Adjustable out of the shoe box in my closet, again set the razor to 4, put in a new Dorco ST-301, and repeat my Father's Day shave process -- the only difference being the blade. The Dorco 301s are definitely coated (both platinum and PTFE), and my current hypothesis is that the shave will be less harsh, despite using the TTO design, which I believe is not quite as face-friendly for me as my Merkur two- and three-piece razors (the 33C with the heavier Chinese handle, and the 37C slant).

If the shave goes as anticipated, I will try to find a home for the Lord blades with someone who has a thinner, less-tough beard, and skin not so sensitive.

See you tomorrow for the results.  Happy shaving!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Father's Day Rememberance

I wasn't going to write a blog article today, Father's Day, and I wasn't going to shave with a twist-to-open (TTO) razor. If you've been reading my blogs, you know that I prefer the older style two- and three-piece razors because they tend to give me a more comfortable shave than a TTO, all other things equal. Today's shave was to be with the 37C slant, the next up in my two-razor rotation -- and with a new blade.

Yet I woke with the strange impulse to shave with my Weishi 9306-f, a TTO. After considering this for a moment, I decided to shave with my vintage Gillette Slim Adjustable, another TTO, and also my father's razor. Then I remembered it was Father's Day.

My father's razor: Gillette Slim Adjustable made in 1963.
As a young child, I didn't often watch him shave. Although my one memory of him shaving -- probably a composite -- was with this old Gillette. I never saw him use soap and brush; he was a canned-foam guy. And like so many other activities, he never gave me any instruction on shaving that I can recall, but he did let me watch, and then left it to me to figure out my own path.

I inserted the blade, set the razor on four, and wondered for a moment what his setting would have been. He had this adjustable DE and no others, so I assume he was not satisfied with the shave of non adjustables. He also switched to the new dual-blade Gillette Trac II cartridge razors about as soon as they came out, so I also assume that, like me, he didn't get the most comfortable shave from a TTO DE -- especially if he was using canned foam. And unlike me, he wasn't the type to give such a minor issue much thought and analysis, although he was a very smart guy in many ways.

So I lathered from the left-overs bowl this morning, and made thick and creamy lather, much smoother, I assume, than the foam from his can. He shaved almost every day -- certainly every work day -- because he was a white collar worker, an executive, for a Fortune 500 corporation. He was born in 1923 and started working for that corporation in about 1950, after serving as a waist gunner and radio operator on a B-24 in the Army Air Corps in the Pacific Theater in WWII, and, after, getting a degree in business administration on the GI Bill.


My first pass was uneventful and done with mostly oblique strokes, his old razor feeling substantial in my finger tips. My father had confided to me that he started smoking cigarettes when he was about 11 years of age, and, as a youth, spent much of his free time in the pool hall in his small Ohio home town. (He escaped that town by enlisting in the army after Pearl Harbor.) Later, when I was grown, we spent some man-to-man bonding time shooting pool in the basement of his last home. Our pool-shooting period was before he had the heart-bypass surgery and before he was diagnosed with lung cancer -- both maladies attributable to his smoking habit, even though he had quit earlier, at about age 60.


My second pass was cross grain, this time all oblique strokes, and often a bit against the grain to accomodate the contours of my face. Despite the excellent lather this morning, the shave was beginning to feel a bit harsh, and which I would attribute to the inherent blade angle of the TTO razor.


We never fully understood each other, I think. Though we were alike in some ways, our emotional landscape was very different, and he was not prone to self revelation, or, perhaps, even to much introspection and self analysis. He was a seat-of-the-pants, forge-ahead kind of guy. He was 69 when he had the heart surgery, and about a year later, age 70, found out about the cancer.

He put me through college, without much interference, and certainly not much advice; he let me choose my fate. (His only suggestion that I recall was that I should get an MBA, which I did not.) His own father was killed while working for the railroad, when my dad was only three years old. He said to me more than one time that he never had a father, and he always said that as kind of an apology, as though he felt he wasn't properly trained for the job, and knew that he wasn't up to the task.

Yet we played many a game of catch in those early years, when baseball was my main interest. I remember once in his home town during a visit to his mother, my grandmother, in the back yard near the garden I nearly broke his handsome nose with a wild pitch in the dirt. His nose bled and bled, and he never said a cross word that I can recall.


My third pass, largely against the grain and again entirely with oblique strokes, was once again a bit harsh, but fairly close. I can still picture how my father would contort his face while shaving with that Gillette adjustable, though I don't think he ever did much more than a single-pass shave -- at least I never witnessed him lathering for a second time. That's probably one reason he abandoned the DE razor and made the switch to the Trac II.

I was living out of town when he was diagnosed with cancer. So I missed the ordeal of the chemo treatments, though I did see the resulting hair loss as well as the physical wasting as he resisted in that final struggle. I was on my way to visit him, knowing it would likely be the last time, when he slipped away. He was 71. I never got to say an official, final good-bye, although I would like to think that our last meeting in a hospital room accomplished that in an understated way.

His old razor, now open and drying on my bathroom counter, will soon be put back in the shaving shoe box and stored back on the closet shelf. There it will be safe and ready the next time I want to experience in a small way how things used to be.

Happy Father's Day.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Shaving Technique: Different Strokes for Different Folks

Above is the basic shaving stroke:
a direct stroke, where the shaving direction is
perpendicular to the razor head.
The basic shaving stroke -- irrespective of direction: up, down, sideways, or anything in between -- is moving the razor in the direction of the handle; that is, stroking with the razor so that the razor head is perpendicular (square) to the stroke direction. This is diagrammed in the first drawing at right.

A more advanced shaving technique is the oblique stroke, which is also known to some as the Gillette slide. (This term, Gillette slide, comes from the fact that back in the day, Gillette razors sometimes came with instructions on how to use the razor, which included a suggestion and an accompanying drawing on performing what I'm calling the oblique stroke.) As shown in the second drawing, the oblique stroke moves the razor in a direction not quite square to the razor.

Above is an advanced shaving stroke:
an oblique stroke, where the shaving direction is
not square to the razor head.
The oblique stroke does three things:

  • Primarily, it increases the effective sharpness of the cutting edge (as is well understood by most experienced wood workers who frequently use skew chisels or hand planes). 
  • Secondarily, it reduces the effective width of the razor head, allowing you to shave a narrower patch of skin with the full blade width.
  • It also makes the razor blade-bar gap effectively larger, thus increasing the capability of the razor to take in more/larger stubble.

Many shavers perform oblique strokes accidentally; that is, they aren't doing it with the idea of making an oblique stroke, and may in fact not recognize that they are doing it at all. This is not necessarily a problem. However, it may become an issue if one starts getting nicks and cuts as an oblique pass is unintentionally used. Also, if one tries a slant razor (in which the blade is slanted in the razor head by design), unintended oblique strokes will either nullify the benefit of the slanted blade resulting in less-efficient cutting, or will magnify the slant, which can often quickly lead to blood loss.

Advanced DE shavers will often intentionally combine these two strokes in the normal course of a shave. If a blade is on its last legs and ready for the blade-recycling bank, oblique strokes may allow one to finish the shave and still get good results. Also, as suggested above, if one is using a mild-shaving razor, oblique strokes can make the effective blade-bar gap slightly bigger, and that, combined with the increased effective sharpness of the blade, can unleash a little more of the tiger in what is normally a lap cat of a razor.

The oblique stroke is to be respected. As many discover, if you carelessly stroke in a direction too far from square to the razor head, you can quickly cut yourself. However, if the stroke is used mindfully and with not too great a deviation from the direct stroke, it can be an effective technique for getting a great shave.

So going forward, pay close attention to whether you are making direct or oblique strokes. Begin to focus on making them mindfully, intentionally. If you do so, your shaves are likely to become closer, more comfortable, and more consistent.

Happy shaving.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

For Beginning DE Shavers: Suggestions on Shaving Gear and Supplies

What I would do if I could start DE shaving again for the first time:

Razor:
Low-cost option: If I were unwilling to invest a lot, I would buy the Lord LP1822L (formerly L6) razor for about $14 and shave with that. The L6 has a shaving head like but slightly more aggressive than the Merkur 33C Classic razor, which is mild shaving but aggressive enough to get a close shave. Upgrade option: In addition to the Lord razor, consider ordering the "Nonslip Long Handle Stainless Steel Shaver Double Edge Safety Silver Tone Manual Razor" for about $6, throw away the two-piece shaving head, and put the heavy handle on the Lord shaving head for an even better shaving experience.

[UPDATE ON THE LOW-COST OPTION: Consider a Rimei RM2003, which can be purchased for anywhere between $4 and $10. It is a mild-shaving razor, if you can get one that is defect free.]

More expensive, deluxe option: I would order the Merkur 33C Classic razor for about $33.
Reasoning: Both of these razors (Lord & Merkur) have about the same blade reveal, exposure, and angle. In other words, the razor heads shave about the same. The Lord is lighter and has a longer handle made of aluminium, which may be less durable than steel. (See this article [click here] on handles and gripping a razor.) The Merkur is heavier and, properly cared for, may become an heirloom. It is a mild shaver, though, and many will like it, but many will complain it's too wimpy. There are many other fine razors, but I think obsession with gear leads to razor-acquisition disease. I have not recommended twist-to-open razors because I, personally, find they tend to give me a slightly harsher shave (of course, opinions vary). I did not recommend other highly-regarded razors such as Edwin Jagger because their handles all appear to be smooth, meaning potentially slippery when wet.

Blade:
I would order a quantity of coated blades such as Personna Blue, Astra Super Platinum -- even Dorco 301 -- and learn to shave well with those. After several months, when my technique was better and I could get a close, comfortable shave with my start-off blade, I would then decide if I needed sharper blades or if I could get away with less-expensive or less-sharp blades such as uncoated stainless or other, known-milder brands.

[UPDATE: I would recommend keeping things simple: consider ordering 100 Dorco ST-301 blades, which are both Teflon and platinum coated. They're a good blade that can be a good one to learn on.]

I would not buy a sample pack of blades or the equivalent for at least the first 90-120 days. Put your trust in developing technique, which will improve over time if you pay attention to what you are doing and could be doing. Then later tune the quality of your shave with blade choice using sampler packs.

Brush:
I would begin with a boar brush such as a Van Der Hagen brand for about $6. Yes, boar is a bit stiff at first, but over time will soften. Yes, an inexpensive brush will lose some bristles. However, learn to make great lather and shave for a while. See if you enjoy the process and the results (I do). Then when that first brush finally wears out, you can decide what kind of brush you would next like to try -- but remember that more expensive isn't always a good value; diminishing marginal returns often come into play.

Shave soap/cream:

[UPDATE: In a more recent post (click here) I have revisited this issue of Williams soap after having used my own rich, slick, and creamy formulations. I just couldn't use the Williams anymore. If you're learning to shave with shave soap, you might as well use a good one; and remember that quality isn't always reflected by price. Today after a first trial of the product, I would instead suggest the Arko brand shave stick. That said, I originally wrote the following in this article:]

Start with Williams brand -- especially if you can buy it locally for about $1 -- or Van Der Hagen brand if you can buy it for less than $2. Then learn to use them. I find that with little effort they can make a fine shaving lather. Don't directly sniff a new Williams puck, however, which many find has too strong a bouquet. Instead, make the lather and enjoy the scent of that; the puck smell mellows over time. If those aren't available or are too expensive, consider other often-recommended, low-cost options such as Arko or Palmolive shave sticks, but learn via the Internet how to use them correctly (I haven't used these, but they are often highly recommended, as are Proraso products).

Over time, when your first puck/stick/tube is gone, you can experiment with other products as you desire -- maybe a fine, all-natural, thick-slick-&-creamy shaving soap. (I'm fine tuning my formula; check back for more information.)

Shaving mug/bowl:
If you are using a soap puck, I would recommend a 5-inch-diameter (approximately), plastic bowl about two inches deep. Target sells these as cereal bowls for 99 cents for two; also check your local dollar stores for similar bowls. Rough up the center of the bottom with sand paper so the water-softened, pressed-down puck can grab the bowl and won't swirl around after first use as you make lather.

If you are using a cream, you can go with the plastic bowl, or you can go to a local pet shop and buy a stainless steel bowl for about $3 or so.

[UPDATE: Or you can just use a re-purposed greek-yogurt container, which is about 3-1/2 inches in diameter at the top. If you get the right brand, you can cut and peel off the label and have for free a simple, white cup in which to make lather.]

If you are using a shave soap in stick form, you don't need a bowl at all. Just rub the stick on your wet face, and use your brush to make lather there.

Post-Shave Products:
Styptic: Buy a small, inexpensive styptic pencil for less than $2. At first you may need it to treat nicks and cuts. It's much better than dabs of toilet paper on your face and neck.

Alum block: An alum block rubbed over a damp face can seal small nicks, has anti-bacterial properties, and more importantly, will soothe irritated skin if you, as a newbie, are pressing too hard (usually due to a dull blade), making too many passes over the same real estate (usually due to sub-optimal razor angles), or just have sensitive skin (as I do). Initially applied, alum has a little burn to it if your skin is irritated at all, but that quickly passes as it works its magic. I like RazoRock brand, which I find to be a great value.

After-shave balm: Generally, most recommend a balm without alcohol. Least expensive in my area is Gillette brand for sensitive skin (white container) for about $3.50. If you add a drop or two of oil to your balm (I add Jojoba oil), you can get away with the $2.50 Gillette balm with alcohol (blue container).

Total costs (low end):
$9 - razor (Wilkinson)
$10 - blades, quantity 100 (might as well; cheaper than buying four packs of five blades)
$6 - brush
$2 - soap puck
$1 - plastic bowl
$2 - styptic pencil
$7 - RazoRock alum block
$4 - after-shave balm
        $43- total cost

UPDATE: Total costs (high end):
$43 - razor (Merkur 34C Heavy Duty)
$10 - blades, quantity 100 (might as well; cheaper than buying four packs of five blades)
$6 - brush
$2 - soap puck
$1 - plastic bowl
$2 - styptic pencil
$7 - RazoRock alum block
$4 - after-shave balm
        $75 - total cost

Of course, opinions vary. This is mine. What do you think?

Happy shaving!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Blade Versus Technique: A One-Shave Trial

As I planned yesterday, this morning's shave was done with a generic drug-store DE blade -- one that I had strongly disliked when I first started DE shaving.

The blade I used this morning was purchased at the national drug-store chain, Rite Aid. The blade packaging is identified as a stainless-steel blade labeled with the Rite-Aid brand. On the blade itself, the country of manufacture is listed as U.S.A.

I installed this blade in my three-piece, favorite-straight-bar razor, the Merkur 33C with the heavier Chinese handle.

I approached today's shave with confidence, thinking that my improved shaving technique will be the difference between the harsh shaves of those early days and the more comfortable shaves that I now tend to produce.

First pass was rather uneventful, though I felt the blade wasn't as sharp as the name-brand blades I commonly use. I felt a bit more pulling than I am accustomed to feel. (There is no way for me to know if this is due to the relative grinds on the edges, the coatings used, or some combination of both.) For this pass, I used straight strokes, perpendicular to the blade edge, near my side burns and on my cheeks. For the rest of this pass, I used oblique strokes to maximize the effective sharpness of the blade and thereby minimize unnecessary scraping on the more sensitive geography of my face and neck.

The second pass, generally across the grain and with oblique strokes was just a bit harsh on my skin -- especially under the entire jaw line and lower neck.

My third pass was mostly against the grain except on my upper and lower lips and my chin, where I went cross grain opposite to my second-pass strokes.

By the way, I do a quick splash rinse of my face between passes, which gives me a chance to feel the closeness of the shave, skip areas sufficiently smooth, and address the terrain needing more attention. These between-pass rinses also keep stubble out of my lathering brush, making it much more appealing for me, the frugal shaver, to save left-over lather for another shave.

After the third pass, I was not quite smooth below the jaw and mid neck, so I did a partial fourth pass.

Net result: a smooth shave but a bit harsh. When I rinsed and applied the alum block (which is now part of my daily routine, and does a wonderful job of calming any irritated skin), I experienced more burning than usual, and felt a bit of razor burn even after completing my normal ritual with the jojoba-oil-enhanced after-shave balm. This razor burn went away within an hour, but is still not normal for me.

To summarize my small-sample (one-shave) re-trial of the generic DE blade, I would call it adequate but inferior to the name-brand (though not expensive) blades I normally use (Personna Blue, Astra Super Platinum, Lord Platinum Class, and Dorco 301).

But the real question to be answered is, after all, about blade versus technique. As in so many things in life, it is a combination of the two. I would suggest that these generic blades will not ever give a great and totally-comfortable shave to those with more sensitive skin and tough beard hair like mine. However, the shave isn't miserable either, as I would have thought in my first weeks as a DE shaver.

With a light pressure on the razor and careful attention to the various angles of stroke and razor, I still believe my hypothesis is correct: that it is largely technique that creates a good shave. However, I cannot deny that choice of blade will affect the quality of the shaving experience.

So does this mean that I would stick with the ubiquitous recommendation to new DE shavers to try many blades?

No. I would recommend that those new to DE shaving buy a quality, coated, but not expensive blade -- and any of the three I use (Personna Blue, Astra SP, and Dorco ST-301) would likely be adequate -- in a quantity of 20 or 30 blades (the actual amount depends, of course, on the number of shaves you will get from each blade). Use these in a single, quality razor until the blades are gone, and in that time, focus on perfecting your shaving technique. After that, and only after that, decide whether you need a sharper blade or one with a different edge coating, and begin trying other brands in small quantities to tune the quality of your shave.

What are your thoughts?

Happy shaving!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Some Thoughts on DE Blades and Shaving Technique

Much ado is made about the choice of razor blades used in a double-edged (DE) razor.

When I was about to purchase my first DE razor, I had not done a lot of research on the subject -- some, but not excessive. As a result, I was most influenced at that time by a blogger who wrote an article on the best razor to use. In sum, he concluded that it wasn't all that complex, and you couldn't go wrong with the Merkur 33C and Personna Blue (US made) blades. So I acquired the 33C razor, and as a temporary stop-gap measure, I bought some generic drug store blades, while I waited for the 100 Personna Blue blades to arrive.

Initially, I was getting some rough shaves -- not a lot of nicks and cuts (some, but not a lot), but I was having lots of visible post-shave irritation and razor burn. This was especially true of the generic blades, but also the case with the Personnas. As I continued to  read shaving information and opinions on the 'net, I became concerned that I had bought the wrong razor, and, most significantly, the wrong blades -- a lot of the wrong blades!

Reading the common recommendation to try many blades and choose the best one, as a frugal shaver, I was disappointed that I had a huge supply of blades that were going to give me a harsh shave for the forseeable future. I bought some other blades: Astra SP, Lord Platinum Class, Dorco 301 -- these three also in quantities of 100 blades each because it was almost the same cost as buying fewer -- and then later I acquired a wide variety of other blades in 5- and 10-blade packs.

As I've written once before, the common recommendation to try many blades as well as the constant discussion of the benefits and drawbacks of various razors, leads new DE shavers to believe that it is gear that makes all the difference.

However, as one who has now used a wide variety of gear -- most notably going from extremely mild-shaving razors such as the Weishi 9306-f to the fearsome-looking Merkur 37C slant -- I am now of the strong opinion that despite much focus on razors, blades, skin type, beard type, shaving prep, choice of soap/cream/butter, post-shave skin care, etc, the most important three factors in DE shaving (given reasonably-good equipment) are technique, technique, and, of course, technique. (And the next most important might be a good lubricating lather.)

[UPDATE: I have since revised my opinion. Technique and prep are important, but matching razor and blade characteristics to one's beard and skin will get you in the ball park of a good shave. Then technique and prep will make all the difference.]

Yes, razor design makes a difference; blade reveal, exposure, and angle being the most important design factors IMHO. Yet, as I've written previously, my current favorites, the Merkur 33C and 37C, have different blade reveal and exposure, varied blade angles, and demand vastly different shaving techniques; but both can give excellent shaves when used properly. And more to the point of today's post, although the blades that I routinely include in my shaving rotation (Personna Blues, Lord Platinum, Astra SP, and Dorco 301 -- all are used regularly because these are the blades I bought in quantities of 100) are made by different manufacturers in different countries with different grinds and coatings, I can get a close comfortable shave with them all. At this point, the only significant difference in the blades being how many shaves I can get from each one.

To further test my hypothesis, starting tomorrow I am going to go back to some blades I initially REALLY DID NOT like: the generic stainless drug-store variety. These blades initially took me into the interesting realm of experimenting with corking blades (with cork and polystyrene foam) to try to tune the blade edge to get a comfortable shave. But tomorrow I will use one straight from the dispenser.

So I would suggest that the following technique factors make the most difference in your quality of shave:

  • Pressure of blade against skin
  • Angle of razor handle in relation to the face
  • Angle of stroke in relation to razor handle
  • Angle of stroke in relation to beard grain and face contour 
I am still of the opinion that if every new DE shaver simply picked a reasonable-quality razor and blade, and for the first 90 shaves focused on perfecting technique as described in the four preceding bullets, there would be less money wasted on purchasing redundant razors and blades.

What do you think?

Happy shaving!

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Frugal Shaver: Thrifty Lathering-Bowl Options

Most persons who think of making shaving lather with a brush, tend to think of the soap in a mug. I certainly did years ago, when I first experimented with a puck of Williams shaving soap, a shaving brush of the lowest quality, and an old coffee mug.

In those days, I never achieved a good lather from my gear, but that was my fault; I just didn't know how. Today, with the miracle of the Internet, there are high-quality videos on shaving (not to mention a few blogs as well) that can help the beginner have better results. I still have a puck of Williams on hand in addition to other shaving soaps including my own slick-'n-creamy custom recipe, and now -- unlike those many years ago -- I am able to make a fine lather using Williams as well as the other shaving soaps.
Three thrifty shaving-bowl options: 4-1/2"-dia. stainless pet-food bowl (lower center), 5"-dia. Target cereal bowl (upper left), and 5-1/2"-dia dollar-store cereal bowl (upper right). All these bowls are about 2" deep.

I could still use a mug -- though I don't -- but if I did, I'd use it only as a container in which to load my brush with soap, not a place to make lather. (And I'd use an inexpensive coffee mug, not a high-priced specialty-shaving mug.) Better places to make lather include one's hand (which I don't do either), a lathering bowl, and one's face. My routine includes making lather in a bowl, then finishing that process with some face lathering. Oh, and I also use cool, not hot, water to shave because I am convinced that unheated water from the tap helps to reduce shaving-related skin irritation -- and I still get a consistently fine, comfortable shave.

[UPDATE x2: 1) If you really desire a cheap lathering bowl, try a re-purposed Greek-yogurt container. 2) With my latest shave soap formulation for sensitive skin, SS#10A, I no longer lather in a bowl at all. Load the brush from the puck and face lather to a flat, slick, creamy layer that does a superior job.]

A happy side benefit of using unheated water is that it closes the door on the idea of purchasing a scuttle, which are very pricey.

Plain shaving bowls and mugs can be quite expensive as well. Being thrifty, I balk at paying inflated prices for unnecessary items. Instead, I have had terrific luck with inexpensive shaving-bowl substitutes.

For lathering only, such as those cases when one stores the used puck of soap in a mug or when using shaving cream from a tube, I found a stainless-steel bowl at the local pet store for less than three dollars. It makes a fine lathering bowl: clean, durable, effective.

For bowls that will both hold the soap puck and be used to make lather, I prefer plastic. The center of the plastic bowl bottom, when first purchased, can easily be roughed up with a bit of sand paper, which gives the bowl bottom some texture, which the wet puck can grip and dry in place overnight; and thereby not dance around as you attempt to make lather in the morning.

I went to a local dollar store and bought a set of three plastic cereal bowls for a buck. I also found a set of two plastic cereal bowls at my local Targets store for 99 cents. They all work very well, and are highly recommended if, like me, you are more into function than image.

Happy shaving!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Tale of Two Razors

Having sorted through my stable of shaving hardware, I have been now only alternating between two razors. This is because these two I most prefer, though they require very different shaving technique. These two razors are the Merkur 33C, the so-named Classic, but with the heavier Chinese handle (as described in this previous post: click here) and the Merkur 37C, the slant (as discussed in this previous post).

My two best and favorite shavers: on the left is the Merkur 33C Classic head on a heavier, inexpensive, Chinese-made handle; on the right is the Merkur 37C slant-bar razor.
The commonalities of these razors are as follows:

  • Cosmetically, they are both chrome plated
  • They are reasonably heavy
  • They are both not twist-to-open designs, and instead are unscrew-to-disassemble types
  • They offer very close, clean shaves when used with appropriate technique
  • Both have adequate texture on the handle to make them secure in the fingers when wet and soapy
  • Both razors offer comfortable three-pass shaves when used with a high-quality shaving soap such as my custom-made "Thick, Slick, and Creamy" shaving soap -- and optimal lather.
The significant differences in these razors are explained below:
  • Straight- versus slant-bar design
  • The 33C has a smaller blade reveal; the 37C has a larger reveal. (The blade-reveal characteristic -- among others -- is explained in this article -- click here.) 
  • The 37C slant calls for shaving strokes that are strictly parallel to the handle, which then takes best advantage of the designed blade slant -- neither increasing nor decreasing the effective slant angle.
  • The 33C, by contrast, being a more mild shaver with a straight bar design and a limited blade exposure (meaning that the blade edge is well protected by the top cap and safety bar), lends itself to oblique shaving strokes (such as the so-called Gillette slide), where the stroke direction is not perpendicular to the cutting blade. (This oblique stroke makes the blade effectively sharper, partially simulating the cutting edge of a slant-razor design.)
Regarding these last two bullets, above, because the 37C slant is a much more efficient-shaving design, extra care and a good lather is the rule of the day to eliminate nicks/weepers as well as to closely shave the minor depressions and irregular contours of the face. This latter issue requires extra attention because the slant design, which (as already mentioned) calls for handle-parallel shaving strokes, means one shouldn't slant the razor head to accommodate small depressions and valleys in the skin surface.

With the 33C, on the other hand, it is not only natural to slant the head in relation to stroke direction to make the blade edge effectively shorter to handle depressions in the skin, but the mild having characteristics are, in general, much enhanced by making oblique shaving strokes for the entire shave. This I now do with every 33C shave. I get a close comfortable shave most effectively by always using the equivalent of the Gillette slide with every stroke.

That's my story for today. Happy shaving!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Frugal Shaver: Left Overs Aren't Just For Dinner Anymore

[UPDATE:  I no longer save left-over lather. When using the same puck of soap in a lather bowl every day, it seemed to work fine; no problems.  However, with little-used shave-stick leftover lather or sporadic use of certain soap pucks, interesting micro fauna seem to spring up such as the most visible one, which displays a pinkish-fucia color. No thanks.]

 I originally started shaving with a double-edge razor (DE) and shaving soap for two reasons:
  • To further reduce my environmental impact
  • To save money
(I quickly discovered that I also get a better shave, and enjoy the process of DE shaving with brush and bowl more than using cartridge razors and goo from a can.)

Since frugality was one of my two initial objectives, it soon began to bother me that every morning as part of my clean-up process, I would rinse mounds of lovely, unused shave-soap lather down the drain. So it didn't take long for me to begin to squeeze the unused lather from the brush back into the bowl with the soap puck. It also didn't take any significant additional effort, when I used a separate bowl to make lather, to use my finger to squeegee the unused lather from the bowl, and add that back to the soap puck as well.

The process became automatic: squeeze and squeegee left-over lather into the source bowl, pour out any accumulated standing water, leave open to dry, and when dry, cover to keep out dust and any water that may be splashed from activities around the sink.
This has become my left-over-lather bowl, which I use any morning that I'm
not using a specific soap or cream.
There are tangible benefits to this process. I found that re-lathered lather is as good or perhaps slightly better than lather from the hard puck. It is certainly a bit quicker to make lather from left overs. Also, my soap pucks last twice as long, and, daily, I'm rinsing fewer chemicals (albeit it's only soap) into the waste water.

As I began to try different soap pucks and creams, I would lather creams and samples in my stainless bowl, but since there was no puck semi-permanently stored in a mug or bowl, I started to put all left-over lather in the bowl with my Van Der Hagen puck, shown above. This has become my left-over bowl, which I go to any time I am not evaluating a new soap or cream, or using a shave butter. (Shave butter doesn't lather, is a cream product similar to a thin ladies' cold cream, and is usually applied with the fingers, not a brush. Shave butter is also chemically very different from shaving soaps and creams that are lathered with a brush. So left over shave butter goes down the drain, not into the left-overs bowl.)

So what do you think? Is this something you do or would try? I'd love to hear your opinions and experiences.

Happy shaving!