Thursday, July 31, 2014

Multiple-Soap-Comparison Attempt: The Red Face of the Guinea Pig

I made a bold undertaking this morning: I attempted a head-to-head comparison between four shave soaps. The plan was to make up four lathers in four separate bowls. Then divide the most sensitive real estate on my face and neck into four roughly-equivalent areas and shave them with the same razor, blade and technique. Unlike most medical experiments, I was both the experimenter and the guinea pig.

There were many challenges with this process. Regarding quality of the lather, I attempted to standardize this by, first of all, trying to use about the same wetness in the shaving brush for each soap. Then I swirled the brush on a given soap puck for about ten seconds. Then I lathered in a stainless lathering bowl for about ten seconds. Then using my fingers I transferred the resulting shave lather to a re-purposed yogurt cup, rinsed the tools and did the whole thing again for the next soap. This whole lather-making process was the first issue because I standardized the process rather than using the best process for a given soap to make lather. As a result, some of the lathers were a bit less pasty (more runny) than I might normally use.

I applied the lather from the yogurt cups to my face using my index finger, which, again, deviates from the normal process of applying lather with the brush. On a given pass, I would apply one soap on its allotted real estate, shave that area, rinse, and move on to the next area with the next soap. The finger-application method generally resulted in a more watery, more translucent application of soap; my normal brush-applied lather is opaque and creamy but not deep -- only a millimeter or so.

I did three passes during the evaluation; the usual ones: with, then across, and finally against the grain. When I was done, there was little difference, so I picked one of the soaps, took out a different razor and blade, and did a complete, full-face, three-pass shave. I was thinking that this would increase the opportunity for face abuse, and thereby highlight the differences in the areas that received six passes.

The good news is that I got a very close shave this morning!

The bad news is that the head-to-head comparison was useless. Although there are clear differences in the characteristics of the lather from different soaps when using a (more or less) standardized lathering process, the only outcome that matters is the quality of the shave.

Many wet shavers pay attention to various perceivable characteristics of a given shave lather, but in reality, given all the variables involved in just making that lather, it is very difficult to determine relative quality of the shaves.

This means that I need to give more thought to getting better, objective evaluations of shave soap outcomes. Perhaps I will write another article on this in the future.

For now, I am still the face of the guinea pig, and that face is red -- not from making too many passes, but crimson with embarrassment.

Happy shaving!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Shave Soap: Similar Recipes, Different Results

Not every shave-soap formulation is a success. In fact, it's surprising that rather small changes in ingredients can make significant differences in the functionality of the shave soap.

For example, my formulations #8 and #9 are very similar. Their main ingredient is the same. Their third ingredient is the same. All the ingredients have the same relative proportions. The only difference is the secondary ingredient is different, though on paper they should perform about the same.

Not so.

This morning I finally got around to trying SS#9, the fraternal twin formulation to SS#8. It only took one pass to be certain that SS#9 was a dead end, and the lineage of SS#8 and SS#10 was the direction to continue to pursue. The lather of SS#8 and #10 is much more lasting, creamy, moisturizing, and slick.

So the test puck of #9 goes into the refrigerated archive, while tweaks and testing continues on the best formulations.

What are your favorite shave soaps and why?

Happy shaving!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Unpretentious Shave Soap #10 Quietly Excels

For the past three days I've continued to test and evaluate my shave-soap formula #10 (SS#10). I used a previously-used Astra SP blade in the Merkur 33C, a new Personna Blue in the Merkur 37C (slant), and today I used a Lord Platinum blade (which I've already used for a shave or two and had sitting on the medicine-cabinet shelf because it's my least favorite blade of my four high-inventory blades) in the 33C. Today I did a 3-1/2 pass shave (with this slightly-harsh blade) to push the performance envelope of the soap.

Sample puck of shave soap formulation #10 with residual lather next to the inexpensive badger brush of this morning's shave. Shave soap #10 is unremarkable in most perceivable characteristics . . . except that it gives exceptional shaves both during and after.

As I've evolved the formulation of my shave soap from the original #1 to the latest, #10 (although I have not yet tested #9 [UPDATE: actually, I now have: click here to see the report on SS#9]), my shaves have generally gotten more comfortable and simpler -- though some of the formulations have been dead ends. But the evolution through soaps #4, then #6, then #8, and most recently #10 have helped me learn about soap recipes while showing a nice progression in shave quality. The soaps have been increasingly effective. I currently shave only with cold, not hot, water, and my pre-shave preparation is merely a few splashes of cool water on my beard, then wetting the brush with cool water, loading the brush from the soap puck, and face lathering. That's it. No extensive heating and wetting of my face and beard. No pre-shave oils. No protracted lather-building process.
[UPDATE: Since experimenting with reducing the number of passes in my average daily shaves, I don't currently even use the alum block.]

Similarly, my after-shave process is just a cool-water rinse, a total face-neck rub with the alum block, a clean up of the sink and my shave tools, and a final cool-water rinse to remove any alum residue. That's it; no balms, moisturizers, etc. All this simplification is a big change from my former rituals with store-bought soaps, when in those days I used pre-shave oils, and after-shave balm with added drops of oil.

What surprises me about this whole matter is that this modest little soap can make such a difference. Had I not been doing the tests myself, I probably wouldn't have believed it. Frankly, the soap itself seems kind of average in terms of look, smell, and feel. My tests have shown that you can't judge a shave soap by its look, the appearance of the lather, even the slipperiness of the lather in the fingers; no, it has to be evaluated by shaving -- and not even the shave itself; you have to complete the evaluation an hour or so after the shave. SS#10 has no pretentious look or smell, and has no particular special feel to the puck or to the lather; but when I have finished my shave, I am smooth and my skin feels good without any special after-shave procedures.

This latest soap, to minimize skin irritants and like all my formulations to date, has no added fragrance; it just has the ultra-subtle scent of real soap made with natural ingredients. Its color is simple white, the natural color of this particular soap. It lathers easily -- even in my hard water -- and works well even with cool water directly from the tap wetting the brush for just a few seconds. No elaborate lathering ritual is necessary; just load the damp brush with soap from the puck, and face lather briefly to a creamy flat layer. Yet the shave is comfortable both during and after. Even with no special added moisturizers in the current formula, the result is not drying -- even after using the alum block, which is among other things a desiccant.

This SS#10 is unlikely to be the exact formulation that I will offer to the public, but it certainly will be part of the development lineage that will continue to be tuned and tested. I certainly got a comfortable, close shave with it this morning.

Next post may delve into the details of judging a shaving soap or cream.

Happy shaving!

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Trio of Soaps and Recycling the Derby Blade

Today was the final shave with my first Derby Extra blade; today it was in the 37C slant razor. I did a three-pass shave, and for a blade with about a week's worth of shaves on it, I got a surprisingly close, comfortable shave. Afterwards, the blade went into the recycling bank (I hope you are recycling your blades -- and everything else possible), and I focused my attention on considering the characteristics of shave-soap #8, which was tested for the first time today.
Three shave-soap formulations involved in this morning's activity. SS#8 was used for the morning shave. From that experience, I made 5-gram test pucks of #9 and #10 for later trial and evaluation.
Soap #8 took some key ingredients to rather extreme proportions. It was interesting that although the resulting lather didn't seem as slick as my best formulation to date (which was SS#6), despite using a well-used blade in the slant razor and making three passes this morning, any resulting dryness and irritation was still very minimal. No after-shave balms or lotions were necessary; just rinses of cool water bracketing the usual post-shave alum-block rub. My cheeks are baby-bottom smooth, and look and feel great.

So after pondering all this and noting my observations and conclusions in my lab book, I chose to make up two new test pucks of shave soap. SS#9, in a sense, is the fraternal twin to SS#8. They have the same general proportions of key ingredients except that the secondary of the several ingredients in the recipes differs. SS#10 is the child of SS#8 and SS#6 -- meaning that the ingredients are the same as the parent soaps, but the relative amounts are an interpolation, a intermediate mixture, of those two formulas.

It's a test of patience when I've mixed up more than one soap formula for test, because I really want to see how each shaves RIGHT AWAY.

The general plan is to test #10 tomorrow, #9 the day after, and figure it out from there.

Hope your shave this morning was a good one like mine.

Happy shaving!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Derby Extra Wrap Up -- For Now -- and SS#8 . . .

Today I put a slightly-used Personna Blue blade into my stock (factory handle) Merkur 33C Classic razor just to compare to yesterday's Derby-Extra shave. I used three passes (all oblique strokes) and the SS#6 soap formulation. The shave was similar to yesterday's -- perhaps a touch closer; but if I wanted to go for BBS everywhere, I would still need to do a bit of final touch up. To avoid unnecessary irritation, I stopped there at three passes: good enough for a generic daily shave.
The tools of today's shave -- most notably SS#6, the Merkur 33C Classic, and a Personna Blue blade.

As has become the norm with SS#6, no special prep was done; nor any after-shave treatment beyond the alum block and a cool-water splash. And regarding the soap formulation, I will be further experimenting with ingredient tuning. I am interested in pushing the formula to various ingredient extremes to achieve the very best in shave-soap performance. This means that there will definitely be SS#8 (#7 was not superior to #6) coming down the pike. Stay tuned for more information.

My summary thoughts after my first-blade trial with the Derby Extra brand is that I now understand their appeal to new wet shavers. I sense that the coating on the blade is effective in combination with their edge grind giving comfortable shaves.

To be honest, I am having a hard time discriminating between the Derbys and other moderately-priced, high-quality blades such as the Personna Blues or the Dorco ST-301s. Here's what I do know: to get a really close shave in minimum passes, I would put any of these blades in my Merkur 37C slant razor. If I use them in the Classic straight-bar razor, I will still get a good shave, but may require just a few additional finishing strokes.

That's it for today. Happy shaving!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Report Two on Derby Extra Blades Along with SS#6

The past two days I've continued to test my proprietary shave-soap #6 (SS#6) and the Derby Extra brand blades. Yesterday the blade's fifth shave was in the Merkur slant and this morning in the Merkur Classic (stock handle).
Foreground: The Derby Extra five pack. Middle: Merkur razors, 37C slant (left) and the 33C Classic (right). Background: The test puck of my proprietary shave soap, formula #6, which is proving to be a really good one.

The shaves have been largely irritation free, which is a primary goal of my various soap formulations. The lather that I make is not frothy like whipped cream, and this is done intentionally. The lather is rich, creamy, and spreads naturally in a thin layer on the face. No time is wasted making foamy lather that then has to be "painted down" to an appropriately thin layer for shaving.

Yesterday's shave with the Derby blade in the slant razor was an extremely close three-pass shave, baby-bottom smooth. Today's shave was also three passes, but with the Classic straight-bar razor. Today's shave was comfortable, but not as close as yesterday's -- even with mostly oblique passes. The conclusion is that as the Derby blades have increasing wear, they need the efficiency of the slant-bar razor. Further, the nicely-coated Derby blades seem highly compatible with the slant razor, while I find that over a week of shaving, the Classic straight-bar razor is better suited to other blades such as the Personna Blue.

The SS#6 continues to give a very good shave, and thereby allows me to streamline the ritual. No extensive beard prep required; just a couple of splashes of cool water rubbed on. After the shave, just an alum block rubbed on the rinsed face. Then, finally, a cool water rinse. That's it.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Time-Efficient Shave

Again today I put another shave on my first Derby Extra blade (this is the fourth shave, I believe), this time again using the 37C slant razor. With this combination, I used my shave soap #6, which has looked very promising in early trials.
The main components for today's shave: my propietary shave soap #6 and the awesome Merkur 37C slant equipped with a previously-used Derby Extra blade.

This morning's experience didn't disappoint. I chose to do a two-pass shave due to the used blade, which I suspect has lost much of its protective coating off the edges. The #6 soap formulation was creamy and soothing, which I applied following a cool-water splash for both passes.

As I have written earlier, I no longer make a foamy lather, having found that a moist, creamy lather brushes on flatter -- making the lather optimally protective -- giving me a better shave.

No after-shave treatment was necessary except for the usual alum-block rub then rinsed off with more cool water.

Today's shave was close, though not baby-bottom smooth like yesterday's three passes, but very comfortable and efficient from a time-use perspective.

Happy shaving!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Blade Eval: Derby Extra and Two Proprietary Shave Soap Formulations

For the past few days I've been evaluating shave soap and Derby Extra blades.
Back: re-purposed Greek-yogurt containers with proprietary shave soap formulations. Both are similar, but #6 is best.
Front: five-pack of Derby Extra blades, coated for comfort, and which seem to be highly compatible with my slant razor. 

The Derby blades are coated, and I have found my first few shaves pleasant, comfortable, using the first blade out of the box. So I now understand why many praise the Derby Extra brand. With it I have had the best shaves when putting the blade in my slant-bar razor, which (as you may know) tends to optimize the cutting efficiency of the blade. When I used the Derby in my straight-bar Merkur 33C, though I did a three-pass shave, it was not as close as I would have expected. When this morning I put that same blade back into the slant and did a three-pass shave, the outcome was extremely close everywhere -- so that even now, some seven hours later, I can still enjoy the closeness of the shave as I run my hands over my face.

Concurrently I have also been evaluating my latest two shave soap formulations, both of which are on a direct evolutionary line from my earliest soap. I started with a pretty good formula, and have continued to tune and refine so that it is optimally lubricating and non irritating.

Soaps #6 and #7 are two variations of the same formulation. Both are good enough that I have simplified my shaving ritual -- eliminating any pre-shave oils and post shave balms -- and it is now just a few splashes of cold water, lather and shave passes, with a cold-water rinse after each pass, an alum block rub, and a final cold-water rinse. Soap #6 required nothing more, while soap #7 required a bit of moisturizing lotion. So, obviously, given my objectives, soap #6 is the best yet.

I will continue to test and assess soap #6 and ponder any further tweaks to the basic formula before I consider any post-cook additives to test.

Hope your shave today was a good one; mine was.

Happy shaving!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Make Better Lather

If you make better lather with the right soap or cream (from here on referred to simply as soap), you'll have better shaves. Yet too many wet shavers have the wrong idea about what is great lather. Since I started experimenting with my own shaving-soap formulations, I have given the subject of great shaving lather much study and thought. This has lead me to question the assumptions that many make about making and using shaving soap.

For example: I have read on some shaving boards about home-made shaving soap and the large amount of thick, foamy lather that can be made, complete with photos of a shaving brush piled high with moderately-thick, foamy lather. Some readers eagerly responded with requests to try the soap -- as though deep lather was the primary characteristic of a great shaving soap.

It isn't.

Before I explain, I must address vocabulary because it's difficult to discuss shaving-foam qualities without some common understanding. Here's how I'll describe the qualities of lather:

  • Thick versus thin: this is about viscosity. Thin would be runny, watery. Thick would be viscous like yogurt or sour cream.
  • Foamy versus pasty: this is about fluffiness. Foamy means more air whipped into the lather -- a fluffier lather. Pasty means less air in the lather -- a flatter lather.
  • Wet versus dry: this is about moisture content -- and is, of course, directly related to the thickness/thinness of the lather.
  • Degree of slickness or slipperiness: better shaving soap will be slick -- especially in the layer just touching the skin, acting as a protection against abrasion and dryness from the blade scraping excessively against vulnerable patches.

Although it may be true that a really bad shaving soap can't make decent lather (see this blog article for an example), it may be equally true that a mediocre shaving soap can be whipped into a foamy, moderately-thick, whipped-cream lather. Focusing on lather quantity misses the essential point.

The point is that it's water combined with the lubricating, protective, and moisturizing (or non-drying) properties of the soap that make for a great shave. By whipping shaving soap into a thick foam, you aren't improving the ability of the soap to prep your face for your shave. You are just whipping more air into the lather, which does a few things:

  • Requires more work and time to make a foamy lather
  • Creates more work and time for you to "paint down" the lather on your face into an appropriately thin layer for the shave
  • More air in the lather may, to a degree, reduce the ability of a soap to lubricate the shave and protect your face

Because a good-to-great shaving soap has the ability to lubricate and not dry the skin, to make better lather with such a soap, consider doing the following:

  • Use sufficient water. The perfect amount will depend on the product, but moderation is probably the key concept. You don't want your lather so runny that the soap itself is diluted and therefore weak, and you don't want it so thick that there's not enough water to contribute its part to the lubrication of your shave. Also be sure to make sure your beard and skin are adequately wet just before you apply lather to your face.
  • Go for moderately-pasty, not extremely fluffy lather. [UPDATE: I'm using the word pasty as I've defined it above, although the word probably brings forth an image of lather too dry. For the right idea of consistency, think loose yogurt but with a bit of air whipped in.] A moderately-pasty [that is, creamy] lather is easier to make, and will paint on your beard in a flat, mostly-opaque layer a millimeter or so deep, with not excessive foam that you have to remove by "painting" it off with the brush.
  • To get a sufficiently wet and pasty lather, you want to be sure to load enough soap on your brush.
  • A wet brush loaded with sufficient soap doesn't have to be bowl lathered, and can be face lathered to create a creamy, low-volume, opaque lather layer -- usually with enough lather left over in the brush for a four-pass shave if necessary.
That's what I did this morning, and got a fine shave using my formula SS#6 soap. After the shave I just used my alum block and a final cool-water rinse -- nothing else: no witch hazel, no balm, no skin lotion. That is the characteristic of a fine shaving soap: great shave, with not much required after.

Happy shaving!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Seeking the Perfect Shave, Part 2

Acting on yesterday's thoughts, which were ideas to further reduce the temporary post-shave irritation that I too often get in some places, and which is not visible but rather felt for up to an hour, I simplified this morning's ritual.

Here's what I did (and didn't do):

  • A couple of splashes of cool water to wet my beard
  • (No warm water, no bath soap)
  • (No pre-shave oil)
  • Used my custom rich, slick, & creamy shave soap; made a thicker (as in not foamy) lather by not spending as much time whipping it with the brush
  • Used the Merkur 37C slant razor with a new Derby Extra blade; using the Derby brand for the first time
  • Did a two-pass shave (not three as is the common recommendation) -- pretty much with the grain, then against
  • Water rinses, then alum block after the second pass
  • (No witch hazel, no aloe juice)
  • Water rinse to remove alum so it doesn't continue to act as a dessicant on my skin
  • (No after-shave balm application; may use a moisturizer of some kind before I leave the house.)
  • Dried the razor and put the dried, palm-stropped Derby blade into the Merkur 33C for a second-use evaluation in that straight-bar razor
Results are that my shave was pretty smooth -- almost baby-bottom smooth, and quite adequate. My skin feels a bit dry, but there's no visible irritation and the transient minor-burning feeling in places is actually minimal; it's there, but minimal.

I just stopped writing and rubbed some Aveeno moisturizing lotion on my face, which now doesn't feel dry, but the lotion doesn't help to get rid of the minor burning. This usually just takes a bit of time -- up to an hour or less, usually.

In sum, it was a good, reasonably comfortable shave, and the ritual felt complete, though quicker than usual. The addition to the ritual's effectiveness by subtraction of steps seemed to work. Tomorrow will be pretty much the same process but using the above-mentioned Merkur 33C (stock, with its original, factory-supplied handle -- not the heavier Chinese handle that I had been using for a time) and largely oblique passes to maximize the efficiency of each stroke and pass.

Happy shaving!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Constantly Seeking the Perfect Shave

I usually get a very close daily shave. What eludes me with an consistency is both a close shave and one that is totally irritation free. As I wrote yesterday, I don't get actual razor burn, which is characterized by visible patches of irritation or bumps; but I do get temporary burning sensations in certain areas.

Years ago I tried different electric razor technologies, but found them noisy and generally unpleasant in terms of the shaving process and clean up. I felt as though I was using an appliance rather than proper tools for skin and hair care. Nope, electric is not for me.

So I stuck with wet shaving all these years -- mostly with multi-blade disposables, of course, until I saw the light and experienced the satisfaction of a single-blade shave using a double-edge razor.

I know that I have sensitive skin, but I also suspect that the close shave every day may be a burden on my skin that is a bit too much to bear without at least minor consequences. Not long ago, I had a barber -- that is, a professional, who shaves others as well as himself with a straight razor -- question the fact that I shave every day, clearly meaning that it's a practice he doesn't even do himself due to the toll it would take on his skin. Still, I shave every day -- and look forward to it.

My early attempts to combat skin irritation (as well as actual razor burn from early-on poor shaving technique) involved using a pre-shave oil. I recently returned to the practice as a test, applying oil just prior to every face lathering; yet I found it had little impact other than making the shave oilier and slightly messier.

I switched to cool-water shaving instead of warm or hot water. I do believe this has had a positive effect in reducing skin irritation, and I continue to use cool water as part of my daily ritual.

I am perfecting my own shaving soap, which is currently very good. It is truly rich, slick, and creamy as well as having a bit of super fatting and an added ingredient for skin soothing.

Recently I went to using the slant-bar razor every day. However, I have again pulled out the Merkur 33C with its stock handle (not the heavier Chinese handle -- I can get a fine shave with the razor as it comes from the factory) and am back to alternating razors. This is, in part, to better nail down which blades are optimally matched with which razors.

The use of the alum block has been a good addition to the ritual. It calms irritated spots and at the same time highlights (via the immediate and transitory application burn) those areas that need more TLC (tender, loving care).

I tried applying aloe-vera juice to my face after the alum block, much like one might use aloe-vera gel to calm a minor burn. However, this after-shave aloe application seemed to provide no benefit.

I also mix a couple of drops of vitamin-E or Jojoba oil with my after-shave balm, and this might be slightly helpful. [UPDATE: I now for the most part skip after shave balms, which I no longer find necessary.]

On some days a final application of Aveeno moisturizing lotion can be soothing and helpful. [UPDATE: I now for the most part skip after shave moisturizers, which I no longer find necessary.]

Things I'm going to try going forward include the following:

  • Skipping the witch hazel and just rinsing after the alum block with cool water
  • Most frequently using two-pass shaves, leaving the three-pass shaves for those occasions when I really need that extremely close, newborn-smooth shave. I keep returning to three-pass shaves because I find the smooth outcome is so rewarding, so satisfying; but I really need to get over this.

What's your experience? What do you think?

Happy shaving!

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Raw Truth about Razor Burn

I occasionally got razor burn after my early DE shaves. Razor burn is characterized by uncomfortable burning rash or bumps after shaving that can linger for a day or even three.

Although skin preparation can be a factor, the primary reasons for razor burn boil down to just three:
  • Excessive pressure of razor against skin
  • Too many swipes of razor against a given area of skin
  • A dull blade, which can directly lead to excessive pressure and too many swipes as already mentioned
If you have given yourself razor burn on a particular day, using an alum block immediately post shave can help to reduce the worst of it. Use of the alum block has become part of my daily ritual to minimize inflammation post shave. Though the alum block helps, once you've got razor burn, better to go easy on pressure and passes in subsequent shaves until it is healed.

My raw truth is that, though I don't get razor burn very often at all, I do frequently have a burning sensation on parts of my face after shaving. There are typically no visible signs of this burning sensation, and it does go away within about an hour, but it's there -- most often under my jaw line, where my skin seems to be most sensitive and also where I must shave against the grain to get close.

When I shaved with a multi-blade disposable razor, I never got razor burn; but I never got a close shave either. With the disposable, I would make one quick pass with the grain everywhere, and that was it; so there wasn't enough shaving going on to cause much irritation besides the occasional nick from carelessness.

Currently, my daily ritual includes, as I've said, the alum block immediately after the final rinse, usually followed by a splash of witch hazel to wash off the alum so it doesn't dry my skin throughout the day. Then I apply an after-shave balm to help moisturize. On days when I've shaved a little too closely, I may also apply an additional moisturizer such as Aveeno brand lotion.

[UPDATE: Since I've been using my shave soap #6 formulation and making a creamier, less-foamy lather, I have generally eliminated everything beyond the alum block. No witch hazel, no after-shave balm, and only occasionally do I use the Aveeno lotion.]

[UPDATE #2: As of this second update, my shave soap formula has continued to evolve; I'm now using formulation #10A, which is the best yet. I'm also using a minimalist morning ritual that includes a one-pass shave and usually requires nothing after a cool-water rinse: no alum block, no lotions.]

That's it for today.  Happy shaving!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Size matters? (Brushes, we're talkin' brushes.)

When I was in the throes of full-on acquisition disease, I would tour antique shops looking for vintage shaving gear. I never actually found much that I wanted to buy, but I remember seeing an old shaving brush or two. They looked pretty old and ratty, but one thing that struck me was they were a bit small.

VDH (left) and Tweezerman (right) shaving brushes shown lying on their side on the counter top. Both are nice, but the slightly-smaller and more rounded knot on the Tweezerman may be a bit better for both lathering and applying lather to face. The dark line on the bottom of the wooden-handled Tweezerman is a stick-on Velcro-loop pad. This allows me to hang the brush to dry from a corresponding Velcro-hook pad stuck under the bathroom medicine cabinet.
Today, almost everything is super sized: not only fast-food-serving sizes but also apples, bagels . . . even humans are generally taller and, unfortunately, of bigger girth than 80 or 100 years ago (often due to larger food-serving sizes). To a degree this super sizing includes shaving brushes.

I own two inexpensive shaving brushes: the Van Der Hagen (VDH), with boar bristles, and a Tweezerman-branded, inexpensive, badger brush. As I have written previously, I really like the VDH brush, with its thick, soft knot. Yet there is a difference between the two beyond type of bristle: the VDH knot of bristles is a little longer, of larger diameter, and flatter than the Tweezerman. As I pondered these differences during my morning shave yesterday, I noticed that the VDH  brush is just a little too big to be precise; with it I get a bit more lather on my ears and nose.

Is this a big problem? No, but it's worth thinking about the next time you make a shaving-brush purchase. Bigger isn't necessarily better. A smallish brush is not only adequate, but may actually be preferable -- allowing a smaller soap mug/bowl and more precision in applying the lather to one's face.

Happy shaving!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Impediments to Making Great Lather

The things that lubricate a wet shave are water, of course, and the slick, lubricating, micro-cushioning properties of the shave soap. (And when I say shave soap I mean soap or cream because shave cream is pretty much shave soap that is just creamier.) Tons of lather whipped tall is not the object because it is not air that lubricates your shave. You want to make a wet, rich, creamy lather that spreads with some density but not depth. A lather that stands tall on your face like grandad's white beard is just a waste. It is that half millimeter just on top of your skin that will make or break your shave; anything above that is just window dressing, and the thicker the foam is piled on your face, the more soap/cream you will simply scrape off and rinse down the drain -- accomplishing nothing else.

Most readers will probably think that making lather is easy; I am in that camp myself. Yet I read Internet reviews in which some will complain about the quality of lather from a given product such as Williams. With a complaint such as that, I'm sure the problem is pilot error, not supplies failure.

I have bought a local botique shaving soap (allegedly) that was made with ingredients better suited to bath soap, and which would never provide a good shaving lather. Ignoring exceptions such as these, I still maintain that mainstream complaints about poor lathering are cockpit error.

What gets in the way of great lather is, I suspect, the following:

  • Too much or too little water
  • Not enough soap/cream
  • Not enough time (we're talking seconds here, not minutes)
Those of us who use a cream and are too thrifty may be tempted to skimp on the cream. If you skimp, you can still make lots of lather, but it will be more airy, not rich and creamy. If you use a soap puck, you can skimp on the soap by not swirling the brush on the puck long enough to get sufficient soap.

If you have used too much water in making lather, pour off any (as applicable) and add more soap/cream to your brush.

If you have used too little water, dip just the very tip of your brush in water for a second and then get back to making lather.

Good lather will be rich, not foamy, moist without being drippy, and certainly not dry. It should be able to be spread thinly on the face and yet still be largely opaque.

Happy shaving!

Friday, July 11, 2014

How to Best Insert a Blade into a UTO* DE Razor

*UTO stands for unscrew to open; this includes all two- and three-piece razors, and does not include TTO (twist-to-open), butterfly-door style razors.
Two two-piece razors: Merkur 37C slant (left) and
Wilkinson Sword Classic (right). Both top caps are shown
in the proper orientation for blade insertion, although
a cloth on the counter between it and the top
cap will prevent marring a chrome finish.

Many shavers use UTO-design razors, but never learned to properly insert a blade. First, a bit about the razor design:

A two-piece DE razor has a top cap and a separate handle-baseplate assembly. The key characteristic of this design is that the baseplate, with its safety bars, is attached to the handle. Some examples of razors of this design are the Wilkinson Sword Classic and the Merkur 37C slant bar. The Wilkinson razor does not further disassemble, while the Merkur's handle-baseplate assembly can be further disassembled into the handle-baseplate piece, a threaded knob (that engages the threaded rod on the top cap), and a small spring ring, which retains the threaded knob in the barrel of the handle-baseplate piece.
Above: An inexpensive three-piece razor shown with
baseplate clearly a separate piece from the handle.

A three-piece DE razor has a top cap, a separate baseplate, and a separate handle. When assembled, the threaded rod on the top cap screws into the threaded handle, and these two sandwich the baseplate in between.

When inserting a blade, all UTO razors are best assembled upside down; that is, handle up, on a padded surface. The steps are as follows:
 Press the baseplate firmly down against the top cap while
tightening the handle. Do put a cushioning cloth (not shown)
between the counter and the top cap to prevent damaging
the finish on the metal.
  1. Put a towel or wash cloth on a counter. This is to prevent marring the finish of the metal top cap over time.
  2. Put the razor's top cap on the cloth, with threaded rod pointing up.
  3. Put the blade over the threaded rod and allow it to settle into the top cap. This is a key step, which allows the blade to initially self center as much as possible into the underside (which is now up) of the top cap.
  4. Put the baseplate and handle over the threaded rod of the top cap, but don't screw it tight yet.
  5. With the razor still upside down (handle up) on the counter, with your fingers press the baseplate down onto the blade and top cap. This is also a key step, which tends to maintain the blade in its self-centered position and not allow it to shift.
  6. Tighten the handle to lock the blade in position within the razor head.
  7. Verify even blade reveal by looking straight down on the top cap.
    Verify even blade reveal by looking straight
    down at the top cap of the assembled razor.
Now you're ready to shave with your UTO razor. Make it a good one.

Happy shaving!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Introducing a Teenager to Shaving

I am about to introduce a teenager in my household to shaving.

I have given some thought to the best way to do this because I know that we humans (some more than others) can react in unexpected ways to guidance, suggestion, and instruction.
Wilkinson Sword Classic two-piece razor. A good first
DE razor for a teenager.

I aim to have a light touch: making suggestions and giving options. Not only am I going to offer just one of my several DE razors (only one so as to avoid potential start of acquisition disease), I am also going to offer a pivoting, two-blade disposable. We will discuss both canned foams and gels as well as the more traditional brush and puck -- especially this since I have developed my own formulation of unscented shaving soap for sensitive skin. Of course, I will give the main reasons for using a DE razor instead of multi-blade cartridges and shaving soap instead of canned shave lubricants, and these are as follows:

  • Much less expensive (unless one develops an acquisition disease, but I won't mention that aspect)
  • More ecologically friendly: less landfill waste
I will also mention the choice of viewing the shaving process -- irrespective of tools used -- as a celebratory ritual rather than a chore; and, of course, shaving with the type of razor that Grandad and Great Grandad used always provides an interesting ancestral link in the ritual.

I think for DE razor options, I will encourage starting with the Wilkinson Sword Classic. It is inexpensive, tough, forgiving but capable of giving a good shave, and has the blade ends covered -- giving a newbie shaver one less thing to think about. 
Lots of options from which I can select to suggest a first
blade. I don't want him to start pondering hardware options
and thereby plant the seeds of acquisition disease.

Blade options are undecided. I have a large inventory of the Lord Platinum blades, which are OK for me, but not close to my favorite. They might be ideal for a newbie with a light beard to use and learn the basic skills of the process. I also have an inventory of five- and ten-blade packs of various brands, some of which I've yet to try; so this situation may encourage me to break out some blades that are new to me for trial and evaluation.

Shaving brush will likely be the Van Der Hagen boar; I have written about this several times, and, though it is inexpensive, with use the bristles soften, and its thick knot becomes a comfortable, effective tool as part of the ritual.

Regarding shaving soap, I will likely start him out with a sample puck of my rich, slick, and creamy custom formulation. I don't know if his skin is sensitive, but I do know that he sometimes dislikes certain sensory stimulation, so an unscented formulation is likely to be more acceptable. Besides, why not introduce him to a top-drawer shaving soap?

If you have any alternative thoughts on getting a teen started shaving, I'd be happy to hear them via comments or email.

Happy shaving!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Afterglow, a Thank You, and Thoughts on Lightening One's Burden (Shaving and Otherwise)

I am still basking in the warm afterglow of readership for yesterday's article on inspecting a DE razor before first use. This is due to the generous posting about this article on reddit by mantic59, the Sharpologist (click here for his web site and here for his YouTube channel -- both are enjoyable and informative). Many thanks to the Sharpologist, a.k.a. Mark H, for the link.

I have a few themes to which I often gravitate: getting the best shave possible; the joys of the shaving ritual; helping new DE (double-edge) shavers get the best initial experience and avoid, as much as reasonable, unwarranted acquisition disease (razors, blades, soaps, etc.); thrifty shaving; being more aware of environmental issues; the technical issues of shaving gear; and my latest long-term project... creating the best all-natural shaving soap for sensitive skin. (I hope to be offering low-cost samples sometime in the not-too-distant future; email me to be included on an announcement-email list.)
My two favorite razors. However, I furthered simplified and now just use the one on the right: the Merkur 37C, which really works best for me.

I think that simplification of one's life also has a place in today's busy and sometimes confusing world. What we own, in a true sense, owns us as well; we have to store and often maintain our stuff -- which has a real cost (in terms of both cash and precious personal energy), whether we recognize it or not. Some acquisition is unavoidable, but much accumulation of stuff in my life is due to plain carelessness. I'm trying to change that, make more mindful decisions. Toward that end, I had whittled my normal daily shaving tools down to two. I have now, just this week and for the time being, further simplified that to a single razor, my favorite: the Merkur 37C slant bar; the rest are now stored in a shoebox in a closet, awaiting further disposition as appropriate. Similarly, I have stored my second shaving brush, an inexpensive badger-bristled brush, and use my sole, inexpensive, boar brush, which is more than adequate.

The ultimate simplification is a newer movement that I have also been observing: tiny houses. While certainly not for everyone, if I were single and living alone, I would be tempted to more seriously consider this as a personal life-style option.

If you are a new-comer to my humble blog on DE shaving, welcome. If you have any questions or issues that are of interest to you, let me know in a comment or an email, and I'll consider them as topics for an article. It's not that my opinions are so very special, but I do carefully consider things and sometimes approach a topic with a slightly different perspective.

Hope you visit often. Happy shaving!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Safety Redux: How to Inspect a DE Safety Razor Before 1st Use

[This is an updated re-post of the article from 22 March 2014.]

Many new double-edge (DE) safety razor users will get a new, often very inexpensive DE razor from an Internet seller.  Others will get a hand-me-down razor from a relative, or even purchase a vintage razor from a garage sale, estate sale, or from an on-line auction.

If second hand, they may take the time to clean and sterilize the razor (recommended).  In any case, the next step is generally putting a blade in the unit, lathering up, and giving it a go.

This is too often a mistake.

This explains why many Internet reviews of new DE razors are so polar;  that is, some of the reviewers will praise a given razor for giving a comfortable, close shave, while others will excoriate the razor for leaving them nicked, cut, and bleeding.

The root of the mistake mentioned above (and the contradictory reviews) is in one of three likely sources:

1)  The inexpensive razors sometimes come with a poor-quality blade.  Often, if the brand is not readily recognizable from the copious discussion on the Internet, the blade should probably be ignored and one should shave with a known name brand.  Even the generic drug-store DE blades are usually better. (Remember, however, blade preference is very personal.  The very best shaves with a given razor will be with a blade you have to find through trial and error.)

2)  The user has no DE shaving experience, and approaches his first DE shave as though he were using a multi-bladed-system razor.  (Though expensive and often giving just a mediocre shave, they are zip-zap fast: no skill or prior knowledge necessary.  For a DE shave, better is to first watch some DE how-to videos;  mantic59, the Sharpologist, has some good ones on YouTube as do several others.)

3) The razor is defective -- either from poor manufacturing quality control, or because it is damaged from being dropped or otherwise mishandled.  This third root issue is the subject of this article.

A DE razor that is new to you should be carefully inspected before use.  Here's the how and why (and all this assumes that you bought a straight-bar, not a slant-bar DE safety razor):

Cheap new razors may be durable over time or not;  that's a risk of buying cheap.  A bigger risk is to your skin in that the razor's blade edges are not straight, the safety bars (between the blade and the handle) are not parallel to the blade edges, or both.  It's also crucial to ensure that the blade edge is within the protective envelope of the safety bar.  Without such proper orientations, it can be pretty much guaranteed that the razor will give a harsh, uncomfortable shave at best, and may make you much more susceptible to unnecessary nicks an cuts -- even with good shaving technique and practices.

Two quick stories on this score:
My '63 Gillette Slim Adjustable (the same model with which
James Bond shaved in the movie, Goldfinger)

1) I acquired my dad's 1963 (year of manufacture -- from the date code, I-1, stamped under the head) Gillette Slim Adjustable DE -- acknowledged by most to be a fine razor. It's made of brass with nickel plating, and has the ability to adjust closeness of shave with a twist of the handle (not an essential feature, but a nice one), and it's the TTO (twist to open), butterfly-door design.  Yet apparently at some time in the past, someone probably dropped the razor, because the safety bar had a subtle bend under one of the blade corners, which can result in uneven performance including harshness and nicks.

2) I bought an inexpensive, all-aluminum, TTO  razor from China (not adjustable) -- just to try it out for recommendation to others or to use as a travel razor because it's light and cheap. This one was a generic look-alike for the vintage Gillette Super Speed razors. At a glance, the razor looked beautiful, and the TTO mechanism seemed to work fine.  Closer inspection (a much closer inspection!) revealed that the butterfly doors on the razor were made and assembled imperfectly such that they caused the razor-blade edges to be warped out of shape when the razor was closed up for shaving.  Both edges had an undesirable curve (they are supposed to be straight!);  one edge was higher (farther from the safety bar) in the middle, and lower on the ends;  the other edge of the blade was low in the middle and high on the ends!  A guaranteed harsh, uncomfortable shave at best.  (Fortunately, the seller is reputable, and I'm waiting for the replacement razor to arrive, and will give this one another close inspection!  Update:  it arrived and was better, but one edge still had a slight curve. See my review here.)

To check a DE safety razor for safety, you need to check a few details up close, so if your near vision isn't clear, pull out the magnifying glass, your reading glasses, or the magnifying goggles you use for work or hobbies.  Now here are the details to inspect:

1) Before you put a blade in the razor, assemble (for a two- or three-piece razor) or close it (TTO design) and inspect by eye and by feel the shaving surfaces.  These shaving surfaces are the safety bar and the straight, outside edges of the top -- that is, the surfaces that will rub against your face while shaving -- for any roughness or sharp burrs.  If present, these might be smoothed with a kitchen scouring pad, fine sandpaper, or a fine file or emery board, depending on what is actually needed.  This corrective action is likely to affect the finish, so choose your actions carefully.
Pic 1.  Lord brand, model L6, 3-piece design (not TTO),
with no blade.

Pic 2.  The Lord L6 again, no blade.
2) Inspect the gaps between the safety bars and the razor top/butterfly-doors.  (Pic 1)  The gap should be even and the same on both sides.  You can also check this gap (and the straightness of the top and safety bars) by sighting down the side of the razor. (Pic 2) If the gap is uniform, this means that the outside edges of the top or butterfly doors are straight, the safety bars are straight as well, and both top and safety bars are parallel to each other.

3) Mount a blade (any blade, quality doesn't matter; you won't be shaving now) in the razor.  Before you close it up, check to see if the blade wobbles on the center posts or center tab [UPDATE: For two- or three-piece razors, hold the razor upside down so the blade settles into the top cap. Then check for blade movement; generally, this design of razor is best assembled in this orientation to help the blade self center.]  It should fit with little movement prior to being closed up for shaving.  Too much movement means that the razor could be closed with the blade edges not parallel to the safety bars, and you would have to eyeball the alignment to try to get the blade aligned properly every time you open and close the razor.  Or worse, it might misalign and you don't notice, which could give you an ugly shave.  So obviously too much play in the blade alignment prior to buttoning it up for shaving is not a good thing.

Pic 3.  The Merkur 33C, with blade.
Then close up the razor with the blade in and repeat step 2 above.  (Pics 3 & 4.)  In addition to those simple tests, you should hold the razor in front of you, handle down, a cutting edge facing you.  Then rotate the handle toward you, tipping the razor back a little. (Pic 5.) This will visually close the gap between the safety bar and the cutting edge of the blade. You should reach a point where the safety bar and the blade align with no visible gap.  If this occurs on both sides of the razor, you can be fairly confident that the blade edges are straight and parallel with the safety bar, which will help ensure a comfortable shave as long as there is no pilot error.  Do this inspection for both cutting edges of the razor.
Pic 4.  Merkur again, with blade, sighting along blade edge.

4) Finally, inspect the razor by looking straight at the top (no pic shown);  the handle should be pointing away from you, hidden from view by the top of the razor.  Look at both blade edges for exposure in relation to the top and safety bars.  Both blade edges should have the same, uniform, parallel reveal in relation to the top and safety bars.

Pic 5.  Merkur again.
Checking blade edge alignment with safety bar.
If you find defects, there are possible remedies.  A new razor should probably be returned to the seller for replacement or refund.  (A new razor with a defect doesn't mean that they all will be flawed, so you might consider at least one replacement try.)  A used razor can sometimes be repaired.  Search the Internet for solutions.  My family-heirloom razor, the Gillette Slim Adjustable, had a slightly-bent, slightly-out-of-alignment safety bar, as I said.  I found the repair procedure for that at this URL.

It actually took longer to find the procedure and find the best tool (a flat screwdriver, actually) than to complete the repair.

So good luck with your new razor.  If you follow these inspection steps before use, you are much more likely to enjoy that first shave.

Happy, safe shaving!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Ahhhhh... Back to the Familiar Ritual

My first post-traveling shave was terrific -- near perfect.

With a new Astra Superior Platinum blade in my Merkur 37C slant, I chose my most recent rich, slick, and creamy shave-soap formulation, and, after splashing cool water on my beard a few times, lathered up with my Van Der Hagen (VDH) boar-bristled brush.
The main tools of my back-to-home shave: the Merkur 37C slant-bar razor, called a two-piece razor, but here completely disassembled into its actual three main components; a test puck of my rich, slick, and creamy shave soap formulation in a re-purposed yogurt cup; and the still-damp Van Der Hagen boar-bristled brush.

And just a small aside on the brush:
Many may scoff or roll their eyes at the inexpensive, non-boutique brand, with its common-man plastic handle. Yet with use, the bristles have softened, and the knot of the brush is still dense with boar hairs. With a mind to simplify my life, I have stored my badger brush in the shaving box up in my closet to wait until needed. This is because the VDH brush continues to be a good shaving accessory, rendering other choices unnecessary.

After two passes, I had a very close shave. A final half-pass touch up, and I was clean and slick.

After an alum-block rub, I used a splash of witch hazel, and finished with a tea-tree-oil after-shave lotion.

The ritual always ends with clean up: rinsing and shaking out the brush, rinsing and drying the razor and lathering bowl, drying and palm stropping the blade, putting the blade in the 33C for tomorrow's shave, drying off the counter, and putting everything in its place.

Happy shaving! (Mine was.)

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Travel Shaves

I've been traveling. Will be home in just a few hours. The Wilkinson Sword Classic razor (equipped with a Dorco ST-301 blade) and the Old Woodward Shave Butter have performed well.

Did I need the additional pre- and post-shave accessories that I left behind? No, but I missed them -- in part due to my tendency to rush the morning travel shaves, when I am not performing the full daily ritual, without my customary gear.

These abbreviated travel shaves lead me to be a bit careless. Using the mild Wilkinson razor also encourages less care. As a result, my two-pass shaves have had strokes too quick and too long, leaving a few weepers in their wake. They were reasonably close shaves, but marred by my haste.

Normally, with my alum block treatment after the shave, these minor flaws in my shave would be a non issue and would quickly disappear as the alum does its trick. On this trip, sans alum, there have been a few days where I had to spend a few post-shave minutes dabbing with toilet paper.

This morning, however, I took a breath, forced myself to slow down and savor the shave -- even though I was without the brush and soap that I really enjoy the most as well as being without either of my two favorite razors. Today using the limited travel gear that I had, I took a three-pass shave that was close and comfortable.

In all, the only serious problem with the travel-shaving gear was my own mind set. When I got my mind right, my shave followed in kind. Life, too, is usually like that.

Happy shaving!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Return to DE Shaving, Change the World?

One thing leads to another: cause and effect. That is certainly a pattern we see every day.

A different pattern I see every day is scruffy, unshaven faces. But what is the cause of this effect? I often wonder if this fashion trend is simply due to the high cost of using the latest in patent-protected, multi-bladed, (and most recently) vibrating, battery-operated gizmos for our morning shaves. Is the common man simply economically discouraged, priced out of the daily shave; or does the ubiquitous scarcity of well-shaven men reflect a larger malaise, a lack of balance in the human psyche?

In generations passed, men were often motivated by their women to shave. The women often preferred the look and feel of smooth faces. And the men often responded to that feminine influence, reflecting a certain balance between masculine and feminine inclinations, between aggression and nurturing, testosterone and estrogen -- the blade and the chalice, for you DaVinci Code fans.

Yet today, men sport various stages of beard growth. Women no longer complain about coarse faces? Doubt it; more likely their protests are unheeded or are stifled. Imbalance.

Further imbalance: in the U.S., corporation money is what buys politicians' loyalties, their hearts and minds, while the politicians still mouth platitudes to appeal to the masses. The Democrats and the Republicans argue publicly about their differences, yet act according to the unseen masters who fund their elections and tenures in their posts.

Further imbalance: we pay lip service to preserving spaceship Earth, while driving more and more, using more energy, buying more throw-away products (like cartridge multi-blade shaving systems and cans of goo), every day dumping more carbon and other wastes into our only home. We act as though some solar panels, a few community windmills, our curbside-recycle bins that are one third the size of our trash cans -- these largely symbolic and inadequate acts -- will solve a problem that can only be solved by recognizing the fundamental issue: balance.

We are out of balance with nature. On PBS TV last night, I happened to see how we have decimated the salmon population in the U.S.' northwest by our short-sighted choices in deference to our unslaked desire for hydro-electric power, and then the idiotic and expensive non-solutions that only compound the problem. In essence, most of us still don't recognize that we need to learn to live with Nature, not try to control it.

And news flash: the problem with the salmon isn't disappearing salmon. The problem is that as the salmon are diminished, the whole ecosystem is weakened including our own support system.

The urban sprawl of our cities made possible by the automobile is poisoning the planet with green-house gasses. And instead of seriously reversing the trend, we are exporting it to every corner of the globe, most notably India and China, where the problem will be worse due to more lax emissions regulation and the enormous population. Our quest for oil leads to the highly-questionable practice of fracking, which is poisoning the water supply of whole communities.


We are an arrogant species -- not smart enough to meet Nature on Her terms, and too smart for our own good. We solve our perceived problems wearing blinders to the bigger picture. When we seek true balance over dominance, we have recognized enlightened self interest.

So if more men made the switch to daily DE shaving, would that begin to shift things, bring about more balance in the world: masculine-feminine, yin-yang, etc.?

No, I don't seriously believe that. However, if we started paying attention to details, things might start to change. If we think about where our trash goes and the ultimate consequences of that path we are on, we will begin to recognize the big picture. When we see that our fossil fuel problems are not solved by increased supply but instead are exacerbated by them, we have begun to understand. When politicians begin to think of the welfare of our great grandchildren instead of the next election or their corporate patrons, we may be on the right path.

DE shaving using natural, bio-degradable products and recyclable materials is just a small step toward balance in the world. Having a metal blade bank in which you store used DE blades and then recycle them, that is a small shift in consciousness. Using shaving soap packaged in recyclable paper or cardboard is another. Some persons can envision a universe in studying a molecule. Perhaps we can begin to pursue balance in our world by seeking balance in small steps. Maybe taking up DE shaving for the right reasons is a tiny turn for the better in the big picture.

If you get that, you may begin to comprehend it all.

Happy shaving!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

My Shaving Ritual

My daily shave routine is geared toward getting a close, comfortable shave despite my sensitive, sometimes dry, and fragile-in-places skin. This is what I do:

Shave prep: Because my daily routine tends to lead to showers later in the day, I don't shower prior to my morning shave. Because of my somewhat easily-dried-out skin, I usually don't even wash my face and neck with soap or hot water. I splash on cool water from the cold-water tap. I don't even massage the water into my beard because all that rubbing on the stubble is irritating.
My slick 'n creamy custom shave soap (specially formulated for sensitive skin), with an inexpensive Tweezerman badger brush in the background.

With my beard wet, I use one of two rather inexpensive brushes on a given day. (I don't rotate these; I just choose based on my daily impulse; I really have no preference because either one is completely adequate for the task.) One brush is the Van Der Hagen boar, which has longer bristles bound in a thick knot, and which has softened and become quite pleasant to use. The other is a Tweezerman badger, with its shorter, slightly-less-dense, softer bristles. I wet the chosen brush with more cool water and, when I'm not testing a new soap formulation, use my own puck of custom shaving soap. It has no artificial-chemistry-set-type additives, and is specially formulated to be non-irritating and a bit moisturizing. It provides a slick, creamy, natural lather that gives a good shave and has no added fragrances or essential oils to offend the olfactory or chafe the cheeks.

I might splash a bit more water onto my face to ensure it's well wetted, then load my brush with soap from the puck, make lather in the soap bowl, and then face lather for a minute.

Razor and blade: When I'm at home and not traveling, I alternate daily between the two razors I've often written about: both Merkur brand, the 37C slant and the 33C straight-bar head on a heavier Chinese handle.
My two regular razors: The razor at right with the knurled handle is the two-piece Merkur 37C slant bar; at left is the Merkur 33C head with an inexpensive, but heavy Chinese handle.
I choose a fairly sharp, coated blade: coated for smoothness, sharp for a close shave without pulling or dragging. As I've written, my main inventory of daily blades includes Personna Blues (USA), Astra SP (Russia), and Dorco ST-301 (S. Korea).

Shaving techniques: With a straight-bar DE such as the Merkur 33 (or the Wilkinson Sword Classic, when I'm traveling), I tend to use oblique strokes. This opens the blade-bar gap a bit for a better bite at the stubble, and increases the cutting efficiency of the blade edge. I usually do a three-pass shave, unless I have some skin irritation, in which case I limit the passes to two. With the slant razor, I normally get a close shave in two passes, and I keep the strokes direct; that is, strictly square to the shave head, so as to use the slant of blade in the head exactly as designed by the manufacturer.

I do quick rinses of the face between passes, which helps keep stubble out of my brush and soap. It also gives me a chance to feel the progress of the shave to know areas that need special attention.
Some (mostly) post-shave products: Foreground: RazoRock alum block.
Second row: Gillette after-shave gel (left) and home-made pre-shave oil.
Third row: Nivea, Neutrogena, and Gillette sensitive-skin balms.
Back row: Jojoba oil and an irritation-reduction after-shave liquid.

After shave: I do a last rinse with cool water after the final pass. Then I use my alum block on the damp skin to head off any post-shave irritation and to close any minor weepers that I might have caused through occasional carelessness due to any long, quick, cavalier strokes. The alum stays on my face as I rinse and dry my razor, palm strop the blade, and put it in the other razor for tomorrow's shave. Then I'll typically use a splash of witch hazel -- the inexpensive stuff from the drug store -- and while that dries, will clean up and store the soap bowl, brush, and related items no longed needed for this shave.

[UPDATE: Since I started using my shave soap formulation #6 as well as making better lather (less foamy), generally my ritual now ends with the alum block, then a final water rinse. No witch hazel; no after-shave balm. Only occasionally will I finish with a bit of Aveeno moisturizing lotion.]

When the witch hazel is largely dry, I will use one of several post-shave balms, sometimes adding a few drops of Jojoba oil to the dab of balm in my hand prior to application.

That's it. Happy shaving.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Argument Against Experimenting with Many Razors and Blades

It took me a while to settle on which razors were to be my daily shaving gear. My first DE (double-edge) razor was the 1963 Gillette Slim Adjustable that had been sitting neglected for about 40 years in a cabinet in my parents' home. I experimented with this razor and some generic drug-store blades while I waited for my Merkur 33C razor and Personna Blue blades to arrive from my Internet-based seller.
Five razors from my small inventory of nine. Left to right: Merkur 37 slant, Gillette Slim Adjustable, Weishi 9306-f, Wilkinson Sword Classic, and Merkur 33C. (Not shown is a Weishi 2003-m, Shaving Factory TTO, Lord LP1822L (L6), and Chinese 3-piece razor.) I could have stopped with my first purchase, the Merkur 33C, recommended by an Internet article. (Better, though, might have been the 34C, the heavy duty version.)  I do not regret the purchase of the 37C slant; but all my razors are now packed in a closet save for the 37C, the 33C with a heavier handle, and, when traveling, the Wilkinson Sword Classic.

It was a recommendation from an Internet article on DE shaving that led me to order the 33C and the Personna blades. That writer suggested skipping the angst and cogitation that comes with many DE-gear-purchase decisions, and, instead, "just order the best," by which, of course, he meant the best in his experience and opinion -- and which, of course, I didn't fully comprehend.

After I impulsively placed an order based on that solitary writer's opinion, I did much more Internet research, and began to doubt my rash purchase. Then after I got harsh shaves from the Gillette with generic blades, I eagerly tried my newly arrived razor and blades, and, as a newbie, still got imperfect shaves. So with a typical newbie thought process, I began to focus on gear as the cause of less-than-ideal shaves. And so I acquired more gear -- primarily razors and blades, but also a different brush and several brands of shaving soap, cream, oil, and butter.
The various blades that I've acquired in the madness of gear acquisition. Several of these I've never yet used, but will in due time. This over abundance of blade brands could have been avoided if I'd had the foresight, or better advisement, to just by a single, moderately-priced, sharp, coated blade.

The problem with this try-lots-of-gear approach, which is encouraged by far too many posts on the Internet, is that a new DE shaver lacks the experience to even begin to sort out the many variables that contribute to the quality of one's shave. The variables always begin with one's technique. Then there are the ten variables of any given razor design. Add to that the variables of blade engineering, which include edge sharpness, details of edge grind, blade alloy, relative blade thickness and stiffness, and coatings if any. The combinations of variables is dizzying -- and I haven't even considered pre-shave prep and post-shave skin care! This means these variables are also impossible to sort out if one hasn't established a solid baseline of shave quality by gaining some significant experience over several months using a single, adequate-quality razor-and-blade combination along with a standardized daily shave process.

Today, I can clearly feel differences in the shave from one razor to another [UPDATE: that is, within reason; sometimes I can, sometimes not, depending on any pre-existing face irritation, number of shaves on a given blade, and blade-razor combination]. The same with blades, when there is a discernable difference to perceive; for example, there are clear differences between generic blades and the Lord Platinum blades that I chose early on. Yet there are also clear differences between the Lord blades and, say, the Personna Blues. Early in my DE-shaving experience, I could not perceive these differences, [UPDATE: and I still can't perceive a meaningful difference between many blades].

So what is the point of all this discussion? you might ask. Good question. I am emphasizing the point to newer DE shavers to initially buy a quality razor, which doesn't have to be expensive. At the low end, I would recommend the Wilkinson Sword Classic -- though I think its bite is a bit mild and may require an extra pass -- but it's so inexpensive that you will be able to upgrade later if you choose [UPDATE: and if you think it's a bit mild, learn to shave using oblique strokes]. If your budget is more generous, I stay with my recommendation that you can't go wrong with the Merkur 34C Heavy Duty razor, which is the heavier sibling to the 33C that I bought on one writer's opinion. Then put in a good-but-not-high-priced blade, which is both sharp and coated [UPDATE: such as the Dorco ST-301]. Then put many DE shaves under your belt with your chosen razor-and-blade combination before you start to experiment with other blades in small quantities as seems appropriate.

If you started with the 34C as your first razor, you could stop there with razor purchases -- though I don't regret getting the 37C slant, which typically allows me one less pass to achieve a very close daily shave.

Those are my thoughts this morning.  Happy shaving!