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!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Doug for the follow up to your "technique trumps all" hypothesis. I thought it had a lot going for it but agree that blades (what actually cuts your hair) does play a factor. Certainly the other hardware (razor) and software (cream/soap, etc) come behind these other two.
    LeisureGuy (who wrote a book on Gourmet Shaving) often says that his recommendation is for a beginner to wet shaving is to choose a good quality blade and stick with it for a few weeks. Don't swap the blade around until you nail technique. Then you can start with another blade and use that for a few weeks (or alternate with your previous "best" blade for comparison).
    From what I gather, it seems you are both highlighting that it's a combination of BOTH blade and technique that's important. However since technique is learnt over time (experience), having a good quality blade to begin with is best. Then you will accumulate the experience (with technique) needed to be able to determine whether a blade is good for your skin.