Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Enjoyment of the Daily Shave

A good daily shave has a meditation-like quality: mindfullness.
I find that the pleasure of the daily shave comes in three forms, but not every shave necessarily has all three. The bedrock of the shave ritual is this the quiet enjoyment of being fully present in the moment. This Zen-like quality comes from the distraction-free focus of devoting one's attention to the job at hand and only that. Buddhists know that this mindful focus is a way to turn mundane chores in life into a kind of meditation.

I find the second pleasurable aspect to my daily shave is the small challenge of trying to get the best possible shave, the ultimate shave, which is baby smooth and no defects or irritation. This fits hand in glove with the first pleasure of focus because the more I concentrate on the shave without distraction, the more likely I am to optimize the quality of the shave outcome.

The third pleasure, which conflicts a bit with my frugal nature, is the process of evaluating new products, new gear. I like comparing blades, soaps, after-shave products, adding some, subtracting some.

Tied with this is learning; I love learning. It's always fun to me to figure out some new aspect of the process, expand my knowledge and understanding as I have done with razor design and shared in previous articles.

The last aspect of testing and learning process is teaching or sharing. I get pleasure from reporting what I've learned in these mostly-daily articles.

This process goes on as I will continue to publish weekly summaries. During a given week, I will change only a variable or two and see what effect that has on my seven shaves. I will summarize any learnings as well as providing a brief report on each individual shave.

What do you like best about your shaving ritual?

Happy shaving!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Nuances Using an Arko Shave Stick

Arko shave stick is a really good shave soap. Before I tried it, I wouldn't have guessed that I would come to like it so much. Nor would I have thought that I could so happily abandon lathering in a bowl in favor of applying the soap directly to my face and then face lathering. But both have come to pass.

The beauty of rubbing the soap stick directly on one's wet beard is that it can be applied to the areas of the face that need the most protection -- that is, the most sensitive areas. This may provide just a bit of extra lubrication where most needed.

I also suspected that more soap than actually needed would be grated off the shave stick as one rubs it against the beard. That is, the frugal shaver in me wondered if the soap stick process might be more wasteful, applying too much soap on the face, and then washing the unused lather from the brush down the drain. Actually, I believe my suspicions were born out. If you initially rub too much soap on the face, it will be wasted. If you don't rub enough, your lather for the final pass can be too thin. However, I found a way to address that without having to re-apply the soap stick to my face mid shave.

I only rub the shave stick on about a third of my beard. The face lathering creates an extremely plentiful, rich, slippery lather. So as I shave, before rinsing the razor in water, I swipe some of the used lather off the underside of the baseplate, and wipe it into an empty yogurt container. I do this during the first two passes of my shave. Of course, I re-lather my face for subsequent passes from the brush, which usually contains enough lather to complete the shave. However, if I have skimped too much on the soap, I have the lather in the yogurt cup that can be applied by hand to my face for additional passes and buffing as necessary.

I also found that Arko likes water. For the initial face lathering, I get my brush just a bit wetter than I would when lathering other soaps in a bowl. On many days I will also dip the brush back into water during the lathering to add still more moisture to the lather that is building on my face.

Then when the shave is done, I do rinse all the left-over lather down the drain. I have found that, unlike some other lathers, clean, unused Arko lather does not do well when dried and re-used days later; it tends to support undesirable microbial growth.

A common objection to Arko shave soap is its fragrance, which can be a bit strong when brand new. There are two solutions to this problem:

  1. When new, unwrap the shave stick completely and let it air out. The intensity of the fragrance diminishes with a little time.
  2. Expect this shave soap to smell kind of like old-time Ivory-brand bath soap. If instead you are expecting it to smell like expensive cologne for men, you are sure to be disappointed.

In all, I  really like the Arko lather as well as the shave-stick process.

Happy shaving!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

On the Baby-Smooth Shave

Ecological awareness and the potential for less waste got me interested in shaving soap instead of canned foam or gel, and double-edge razors instead of disposables.

It was the close shave that got me hooked.
The Gillette Slim Adjustable. A twist-to-open design that has an adjustable blade-bar gap. It gave me my first close shaves, but was not face friendly enough for this writer, however, no matter what the setting.

My father's 1963 Gillette Slim Adjustable gave me those first intriguing shaves. Prior to that I had been shaving irregularly as has become the custom for many men these days. When I did shave, it was with a disposable, pivoting, twin-blade razor. I typically shaved in the shower using bath soap to lubricate my single-pass shave.
For many years this was my go-to razor and shave soap.

My results were safe, with almost no blood, but were unspectacular, looking good enough but not even remotely close by the standard of hand on face.

Then when I stumbled upon the Gillette razor in a medicine cabinet in my mother's home, everything changed. Even with generic drug-store blades, I started to experience two new sensations:

  • Truly smooth-feeling cheeks
  • Razor burn
As I used my new DE gear, my face became increasing irritated, and this irritation soon became visible -- constantly. I was using the most inexpensive shave soap, and that paired with the twist-to-open (TTO) design of the Gillette as well as the uncoated blades from the drug store, my shaves were brutal on my sensitive skin.

Eventually I learned that coated blades are, generally speaking, what my skin likes best. Also, as I've written about many times, the unscrew-to-open (UTO) two- and three-piece razors are also generally more face friendly for me. And, of course, I've found shave soaps that protect my skin much better.

These days -- and last week was a good example -- I get comfortable shaves that are rewardingly close, but not quite baby smooth. Using the best combination of gear and products for my skin, to get completely baby smooth requires more than three passes, which I'm reluctant to do on a regular basis.

I have gotten a baby-smooth shave in two passes with my slant razor. Its awesome capacity offers that kind of closeness. But the price I had to pay due to my skin contours and sensitivity was two fold:
  • Weepers with entirely too much regularity
  • Razor burn too often as well
I can also get a baby-smooth shave with straight-bar razors that have a larger blade-bar gap or larger blade exposure than my preferred Merkur razors. But the cost to my skin is the same as with the slant razor. So I made a bargain with myself -- a compromise. 

I decided that a really close shave every day with little to no skin irritation is better than the ultimate baby-smooth shave with irritation and weepers. 

As an outcome of this learning process, these days I regularly get a very close shave -- usually with minimal irritation. But it isn't quite baby smooth when I run my hand in all directions. Those shaves are only for the rare special occasion.

Happy shaving!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Weekly Shave Review/Summary: the Astra SP Adventures

Arko: the go-to shave soap
this week.
Going forward for a while, I'm going to provide a weekly shave summary, and during a given week, will, to some extent, limit shave variables to better be able to evaluate some shave components such as blades or shave prep on my moderately tough hair and my sensitive skin. Over time not only will I use the blades from my larger inventories, I will also be using blades from my many samples.

All shaves this week were with my minimalist beard preparation. That is, pre-shave prep was limited to splashes of cool water on my beard, cool water brush soak, and a cool-tap-water shave.

This week's blade:
Astra Superior Platinum
What I Learned this Week:
With a mild-shaving razor and an adequate blade, an unhurried three-pass shave can give a comfortable shave, while trying to cut corners with less than three passes can sometimes be harsh. The Astra SP blade can give a good shave on a tough beard and sensitive skin if used with care in an appropriate razor. Also, varying the weight and dimensions of the handle seemed to have no effect on razor performance or shave quality. I do enjoy using the heavy handle, and will continue to alternate with factory-original handles.

Merkur 33C, new Astra SP blade, Arko shave stick. Two passes (cross grain & against grain). Third pass buffing & finishing. Very smooth, comfortable outcome.

Merkur 15C, same Astra blade, Arko shave stick. Two passes (cross grain & against grain). Minor buffing after. Shave looked good, but not as close as yesterday. Also some skin irritation.

Frankenrazor II: Merkur 33C head
mated with the Maggard MR3B
"big-boy" handle. The handle alone
weighs 63 grams.
Frankenrazor II (just for variety), same Astra blade, Arko shave stick. Quick three passes (WG, CG, AG), a little careless -- nicked myself (requiring styptic) & a couple of weepers. Close, not quite baby close. Not much irritation today.

Wanted to give Frankenrazor II another try to see if I could give myself a better shave. Same gear and process as yesterday. I took just a bit more time today, and got an even closer shave and with no post-shave styptic required -- nor anything else for that matter: no alum, no balms, no irritation. A very satisfying shave.

The small blade reveal on the 15C,
most importantly combined with the
limited blade exposure makes this razor
very face friendly, while the open comb
offers almost unlimited capacity.
Today I chose to give the 15C razor head another go, but this time instead of the standard handle, I used the 63-gram Maggard heavy handle -- sort of a brother-of-Frankenrazor shave. Same blade and pre-shave as the other shaves this week. Like yesterday, I took my time with a three-pass shave (WG, CG, AG), and did get a very close, comfortable shave, but marred by a couple of small weepers. They might have disappeared with splashes of cool water, but this morning I gave them a touch of alum. After that, to off set the drying effect of the alum and to have a nice just-shaved aroma, I rubbed on some Neutrogena after shave balm. Another really good shave that both looks good and is rewarding to the hand.

The 15C with the factory handle.
With the stock handle back on the 33C head, and five shaves already on the Astra SP blade, I used my normal, minimalist cold-water prep, Arko shave stick, and a three-pass shave, which yielded a good shave. There were two weepers in the first pass, which I believe to be residual, re-opened, from yesterday. In any case, no post-shave products were used, just splashes of water. There also seemed to be no difference in razor performance with the lighter, original-equipment handle.

Final shave on the Astra SP blade of this week (into the recycle bank after) -- today in the stock Merkur 15C open comb. The usual minimal shave prep and three passes gave a comfortable shave similar to yesterday. To achieve this, I did a bit more buffing on my third pass. Could be due to the blade being a bit less sharp paired with the mild-shaving 15C. Shave still looks good and is satisfying to the hand. No post shave products used -- just splashes of water.

Happy shaving!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Naked, Cold, and Efficient -- Revisited and Updated

This is an updated, complete rewrite of an article I published on 7 August 2014.

Since the original publication of the original article, I no longer use the slant razor, but my shaves are still naked, cold, and fairly efficient.

They are naked in the sense that I don't do much beard prep for my daily shave -- certainly no pre-shave oils. Lately, after enjoying a few cups of coffee as a morning wake-up habit, I begin my shave ritual by splashing some cold tap water on my beard a few times, rubbing to ensure all the stubble is sufficiently wet. Then I'll apply some of my preferred shave stick, Arko, onto the more sensitive areas, which are below my jaw, on upper lip, around my mouth, chin, and right cheek. This amounts to less than half the area that I will shave.

My shaves are cold in that I only use cold tap water. I soak my brush in a bit of cold water before face lathering. Not only does a cold-water shave save on the water that runs down the drain while waiting for the tap water to run hot; no, more importantly to me, the cool water washes away less of the precious oils from my skin. I am convinced that this aids in keeping the shaves less irritating -- especially during the heating season. I also enjoy the feel of cool water on my beard in the morning.

The shaves tend to be efficient in beard prep and after the shave as well. Lately using either my Merkur 15C or 33C shave heads on my handle of choice -- either their stock handle or the big-boy Maggard 63-gram handle -- I have been taking full three-pass shaves. But they have been so close and comfortable that I often use nothing after the shave but cool-water rinses. Other days I may use an alum block or after-shave balm, either in combination or singly as I choose. I will also use a styptic pencil when necessary, which isn't often.

The ritual is sufficient to offer a good and satisfying shave process on most days.

I got the idea for cold-water shaves from a shaving-forum discussion about a book entitled Shaving Made Easy: What the Man Who Shaves Ought to Know. Published by the 20th Century Correspondence School in New York, it was copyrighted in 1905. Some of the information in the book is clearly dated as well as largely oriented toward straight-razor rather than DE shaving. Other information in it is just nonsense -- such as the claim about residual alkalai in the soap stiffening the hair. However, regarding cold-water shaves, I think he was onto something....

Happy shaving!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Badger Vs. Boar, Premium Vs. Economy

Being a frugal shaver, I would not pay a great deal for a shaving brush.  I have relatively inexpensive brushes: one Van Der Hagen boar and one Tweezerman badger. I find they are both very economical and are completely adequate to the task though they could both be disparagingly labeled as economy or "beginner" brushes. In fact, either is all that is necessary.
Tweezerman badger (left) and Van Der Hagen boar (right). The knot of the VDH boar is normally more fan shaped. This one has been stored recently within a cardboard tube for protection, which has given it that narrow, just-out-of-the box shape.

The four characteristics that I look for in a shaving brush are as follows:

  • Softness
  • Backbone
  • Size
  • Durability
When new, badger is much softer than boar. However, boar bristles split over time, which makes them soften as they are "broken in." This is normal and desirable. 

All other things equal, badger has less backbone (but thicker knots may mitigate this). Backbone becomes slightly more important (perhaps) when one face lathers as I have been doing since using shave sticks. I find my badger brush, with weaker backbone, is still adequate for the task, but the face-lathering process does seem to lay the bristles down every morning. (Perhaps a much thicker, denser knot of a much more expensive brush wouldn't do this; I don't know, but I wouldn't pay for that privilege.)

Often, more expensive means bigger. But my boar brush, which is the larger of my two, is as large as I would want to go. I'm lathering my face, not my bathroom walls, so I think too large of a brush just becomes awkward -- cumbersome both in a lathering bowl or on my face.

Durability is an issue. I do occasionally lose a bristle or two from my badger. And initially, I lost a few bristles from my boar as well, but that seems to have stopped for the most part. But with the money I didn't spend, after some years, when these brushes may be nearing the end of their useful life, I can happily re-enter the market and find another brush that's a good value.

Happy shaving!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

My Favorite Razor at the Moment

You may laugh at me; that's okay. I recently nominated the Merkur 15C open-comb razor as the best in the world (maybe). Yet, actually, it's not quite even my favorite razor at the present time.

[UPDATE 29 DEC 2015: The moment has passed. I have long stopped using this 33C razor with any regularity. Actually, I have returned to the Merkur 15C as my most-favored instrument, with a vintage c.1948 Gillette Tech as my second choice. I don't expect that my preferences will change going forward. That said, read on to see my thoughts at the time this was first written.]

Now, to be fair to myself, I did advise right up front in that article that the 15C may not be the razor any one individual might like best. The 15C, as the best razor in the world (maybe), is a compromise choice; it's a one-razor-fits-all selection. The reality is that any one-size-fits-all anything is likely to be truly a great fit for relatively few. No exception with razors. And so after giving it more consideration, my personal preference actually leans ever so slightly toward the 15C's cousin, the Merkur 33C Classic.
This blogger's favorite razor (at the moment): the Merkur 33C Classic.
It can get complicated; my shaving experience varies according to which blade I use from my inventory of regular-rotation blades. With a SuperMax Titanium blade that I used last week, for example, the 15C is a real contender. (It was in the heady glow of those shaves that I wrote the best-razor-in-world article.) With the Astra Superior Platinum blade that I'm using this week, the 33C seems to clearly be the better performer giving me a less harsh, yet closer shave.

[UPDATE: Actually, the harsher shave of the 15C with the Astra blade may be cockpit error. Subsequent, more-careful shaves were better. See the weekly summary posted on Saturday, 27 Sept. 2014.]

I have also written of the irony surrounding the 33C: it happens to be the first new DE razor that I purchased. My only DE razor prior to the 33C was the Gillette Slim Adjustable that was my father's DE razor. It took the acquisition of ten additional razors [actually, nine, I believe] after the 33C, culminating with the 15C, to make me realize that I had perhaps the best instrument for my face in my bathroom cabinet all along.

The 33C, about which I have often written, is a great daily shaver for those like me with sensitive skin, a fairly tough beard, and a face with lots of dips, curves, angles, and ridges -- not to mention hair that grows in various directions in patches. The 33C's less-expensive equivalent, the Lord LP1822L, is my designated travel razor primarily because of its similarity to the Merkur 33C.

For my skin, when paired with a sharp and coated blade, the 33C gives consistently good shaves in two or three passes. I can get a good-enough shave in a single pass. Just as when using the 15C, however, one does have to have a good repertoire of shaving skills, however.  I often use oblique strokes (also known as the Gillette slide) over much of my face and neck. I also use buffing and J-hooking (see Mantic59's video for more info) on a regular basis.

To summarize: though the 15C often comes close, the Merkur 33C Classic, my favorite razor, suits my daily-shaving routine, my sensitive and irregular shaving surface (skin), and my desire for a close but low-irritation shave.

What's your favorite razor, and more importantly, why?

Happy shaving!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

My Travel Razor: Updated Thoughts

The other day I narrowed the number of razors in my bathroom cabinet for daily shaves to two. But what about travel?

A couple of months ago, I had declared and used the Wilkinson Sword Classic as my designated travel instrument. But no longer.

The jury is in and the verdict read. Though the Wilkinson is a very good value, it is a bit too much on the mild side. Instead I have chosen a lighter-weight, lower-cost equivalent of the Merkur 33C for my luggage when I travel: the Lord LP1822L.

For beard prep with this razor, I will likely use a shave stick -- either my favored Arko for quality of lather, or Palmolive, which still gives a good shave and, in terms of size and weight as compared to Arko, is also a bit smaller and lighter -- a few less ounces to lug. Although these sticks can be lathered with wet hands, I will likely pack a brush so I get a less-compromised shaving experience.

Lord LP1822L: a fine-shaving and great-value razor. The minor imperfections in the chrome finish are visible in the baseplate corner nearest the camera and also on the side of both the topcap and baseplate.
The shaving head on the LP1822 is very similar to that on the Merkur 33C. Both are chrome over cast metal with about the same general design characteristics. The only significant differences are the handle, which on the LP1822 is longer but lighter due to its aluminum construction, and the chrome plating on the Lord has some imperfections. So the LP1822 and the 33C shave about the same, but the Lord razor is almost half the purchase price. This means that if my Lord razor is lost in the vagaries of travel, the financial impact is diminished.

So going forward it will be the Lord LP1822L that I pack.

Happy shaving!

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Best Double Edge Razor in the World! (Maybe)

I do think there is a best double-edge razor. (Photos near the end of this article.) This does not mean, however, that it will be the one that you love best.  [UPDATE: Actually, this razor is my second favorite. I wrote a separate article about my actual, personal-favorite razor. UPDATE #2, 29 DEC 2015: With time, we evolve. This Merkur15C is, actually, now my favorite razor. These days I rarely shave with the Merkur 33C, and more likely, when I'm not using this 15C open comb, I might be using a vintage c.1948 Gillette Tech. I also use other razors from time to time, but actually, I keep coming back to the 15C.]

I repeat: I am not suggesting that you will love this razor the best. But it might be a razor that almost anyone could learn to love -- or at least like and regularly use with satisfactory results. You can't say that about many razors.

What being the best means is that this razor is very reasonably priced as well as being the most versatile, arguably able to give the greatest number of users a very good shave under the following, varied, commonly-limiting conditions:
  • Those with sensitive skin will find it can give a close, comfortable shave. (This was the factor that was most heavily weighted in the decision matrix.)
  • Daily shavers can get a consistently close, comfortable shave.
  • Persons who don't shave every day and therefore shave longer hair will find that this razor will handle longer hair. Heck, you could remove a full-grown beard with this razor!
  • Combined with the right blade, this razor should handle both thick, wiry hair as well as fine, sparse hair.
Things that the user must be able to do to take full advantage of this razor include the following:
The key characteristics that make this razor fairly unique and suitable for most to use are these:
  • The small blade angle in relation to the shaving plane of the razor is more slicing rather than scraping, thus supporting a face-friendly shave
  • The blade exposure is slightly negative, which still allows a close shave, but limits shave harshness
  • The blade reveal is small, which will minimize microvibrations of the blade edge, and thereby limit harshness of the shave
  • The baseplate is an open-comb design, not a safety bar. The open comb allows virtually unlimited hair length without significantly compromising shave closeness. It also removes relatively little lather prior to the blade cutting hair, thus maximizing the protection of your shave lubrication.
Before I identify this best double-edge razor, I can almost hear some readers grumbling that I haven't used all razors available including those in current production as well as those vintage razors now no longer in production. So how could I possibly nominate a best DE razor?

Of course, it is true that I haven't tried all the DE razor designs available in the world. But as I've explained in the last week or so, picking shaving gear isn't all about trial and error. It's about understanding different skin and hair characteristics and, to those, matching the razor-design aspects (and blade-design aspects) that singly or in combination can likely provide a satisfying shave experience.

And the winner is (drum roll)....
The Merkur 15C open-comb razor:
The best DE razor.

The Merkur 15C (and 25C*) razor. (Tah-dah!)

*Of course, the key to this choice is the shaving head, so the family of Merkur open-comb razors could be included in this selection. However, the 15C and the slightly-more-expensive, long-handled 25C are specifically identified because of the excellent no-slip knurling on the handle.

The reasons should be fairly obvious by now. 
  • Its capacity to shave long hair is virtually unlimited, so it can handle the daily shave or if you only shave once a week or less.
  • It is a mild-shaving razor that should be comfortable for those with sensitive skin or those new to double-edge shaving.
  • Yet it is capable of shaving close enough that those with tougher skin should still be able to get a good, close shave (although I acknowledge that these gents would probably prefer a more aggressive razor, which would make it easier to get a very close shave).
  • [UPDATE: Shave plane drawn in, showing blade exposure, which is slightly negative -- contributing to the mild shave.] If you're not used to an open-comb razor, the blade gap between blade and baseplate may look hopelessly small. But keep in mind that the side view of the comb that you see here isn't solid; it is non-existent in the large gaps between the teeth. So the comb largely doesn't force the hairs to lie down under a safety bar just before the cutting edge arrives. This makes this particular razor, though a mild shaver, more capable than it might first appear in a side view as shown above.
This view clearly shows the limited blade reveal for diminished harshness, and also how, for about 2/3 of the blade edge, there is no obstacle (such as a safety bar) between hair and blade.
Okay, now I offer some validation and counterpoint for the skeptics.
  • Yes the 15C handle is the shorter, classic length and smaller diameter. Some will stubbornly insist that it's too small for their hands -- despite the reasonable suggestion that a fingertip grip is probably the most suitable for any DE razor. If you don't like this handle, then choose the 25C.
  • Its weight is only moderate, not heavy, and some really like a heavy razor. Okay, that's true, but the shaving character of this instrument is mild and can be more forgiving in terms of pressure of razor against face. So, then, who cares about its weight?
  • If you have relatively tougher, less-sensitive skin, with smooth, round contours, you may label this razor as one for wimps and beginners. That's your prerogative. However, preferences aside, even someone with tough skin can get a good shave with this razor, and if you're in a hurry, the shave can be really quick without much risk of blood loss.
For this writer, personally, this razor may be not only the last model that I buy, but it also some day may be the last razor remaining in my bathroom medicine cabinet. I don't need razors of higher capacity because this one can handle almost anything. I don't need a more skin-friendly razor because this one is really good on sensitive skin while still providing a near baby-smooth shave in two or three passes -- and a pretty fair shave in just a single, well-chosen pass.

I don't expect that other manufacturers and other models of razors will disappear because of the mass appeal of this razor. No, there is always room for variety of choice, and there will always be individual user preferences that will over ride the mass appeal of a really good one-size-fits-all model. I also suspect that the open comb baseplate tends to discourage many DE shavers from giving a razor like this a try; they might either be frightened off thinking it's too aggressive, or that the less-ancient safety-bar razors -- especially the TTO, butterfly-top razors -- are a design improvement, which in terms of shaving character is certainly not necessarily true.

If you're one of the lucky ones with skin that can tolerate more abuse, you have many options including a raft of razors with more harsh design characteristics such as TTOs, slant bars, and straight bars of a more aggressive character. But if you have sensitive skin and shave daily, the really good options rapidly narrow, and the 15C begins to really stand out. Even more limiting are those with sensitive skin and who also shave irregularly: sometimes in daily streaks and sometimes taking several days off; for those, this razor becomes even more salient as an optimal choice for the owner who only chooses to own one DE razor.

So there you have it: the Merkur 15C (or 25C) open-comb razor is my nominee for the best one-size-fits-all DE razor in the world! It's one that every shaver should be able to use with very good results.

I hope you enjoyed my little foray off the deep end into the realm of hyperbolic claims. I also hope it piqued your interest and your thinking about why a given razor works for you.

What do you think? What would you nominate for the best DE razor in the world?

Happy shaving!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

My Newly-Revised Stable of Primary Razors

Merkur 33C Classic
In the past few weeks, the light bulb has gone on over my head. I finally saw clearly the full picture of double-edge razor design and how that applies to various faces.

I have smirked and shaken my head over the irony that the first and last new razors that I have purchased this year (the Merkur 33C and 15C, respectively) suit my needs the best of the many I have acquired. The first was merely a lucky buy based on reading someone's blog article; the last was based on understanding and ratiocination*.

Merkur 15C open comb
As a result, some days ago, I wrote of the banishment of my slant razor from my bathroom cabinet. I have never really needed the awesome capacity of the razor, and though it did provide a close shave, even on my best days the shave was a bit too close, often leaving weepers and some irritation in its wake.

Maggard MR3B: banished to the
closet shoe box.
My Maggard razor, the MR3B, with its standard Maggard razor head and appealing black-accented, heavy-weight handle, is reputed to have the same blade-bar gap as an Edwin Jagger design. In any case, I find its lack of consistent blade self centering (when using proper blade-insertion technique) to be an annoyance, which discourages me from using the razor. It also appears to have a slightly larger blade reveal and blade exposure than the Merkur 33C, which, by comparison makes it a bit larger capacity and potentially more harsh on my sensitive skin. (This has been born out by actually shaving.) These factors render it less than a first choice when compared to either of my Merkurs on essentially any day. So the Maggard is now banished to the closet shoe box as well.

[UPDATE: But I have retained the MR3B handle for use with the Merkurs according to my whim.]

That leaves only two in my regular rotation of daily-shaving razors, both Merkurs: the 33C Classic and the 15C open comb. For my daily shaves, either one is fine.

That's it: two razors [plus the MR3B handle] in the medicine cabinet. And, frankly, the 33C and the 15C are largely redundant; the 33C may shave just the slightest bit closer, but, of course, the open comb has the unlimited capacity for those unusual days when I have a multi-day beard. The rest of my menagerie will be stored, sold, or given away as appropriate.

Happy shaving!

*ratiocination (from
  1. Reasoningconscious deliberate inference; the activity or process of reasoning.
  2. Thought or reasoning that is exactvalid and rational.
  3. proposition arrived at by such thought.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Merkur 15C and a Two-Day Growth

This morning I completed the experiment of shaving a two-day growth with the open-comb 15C razor.

I used a minimalist shave with my Arko shave stick, and a five-shave-old SuperMax Titanium blade in the Merkur 15C open-comb razor, of course.
The Merkur 15c open-comb razor. High capacity despite a face-friendly shave.

Using the shave stick after wetting my beard with cool tap water, I rubbed the soap on my more sensitive real estate: upper lip, chin and lower lip, below the jaw line, and my right cheek. With a fairly wet brush (the Arko soap likes water) I face lathered to the familiar rich, creamy, luxurious lather over my entire face and neck (my beard grows quite low on my neck).

I did a two-pass shave (cross grain and against grain) with some additional buffing and finishing strokes that nearly amounted to a full third pass. The net result was a close and comfortable shave. If I were in a hurry, I could have stopped with the first pass, which looked good. The second pass made it much more rewarding to the hand. The third, buffing pass was to get closer to the perfect shave; the 15C didn't quite get there today, but it got close, and certainly close enough.


This razor, because of its mild character, allows quite a bit of pressure on the buffing pass without any negative consequences. In fact, I would now suggest that this razor gives a slightly milder shave than the Merkur 33C, its bathroom-cabinet companion. [UPDATE: Upon further consideration, no, the 33 is a milder, more face-friendly shave than the 15C.] This idea of the 15C being milder may be due to today's well-used blade, which was deposited in the recycle bank during post-shave clean up.

This razor continues to shine as a capable yet comfortable instrument -- nearly ideal for those with sensitive skin, beard of almost any character, and who shave daily, infrequently, or anything in between.

Happy shaving!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Another Great 15C Shave, and an Experiment Tomorrow

I continue to shave with my latest (and likely final) razor acquisition: the Merkur 15C open comb. I truly suspect that in this razor I've found my holy grail of shaving.
The Merkur 15C. A great daily shaver of open-comb design.

I shave most every day. Therefore I don't need huge capacity in a razor, which has made my other preferred shaving instrument, my Merkur 33C Classic razor, a wonderful choice; it's face friendly, and has enough capacity to allow a truly fine shave every day.
The Merkur 33C Classic. Another excellent daily shaver of straight-bar design. The straight bar may limit razor capacity when shaving much longer hair.

The 15C has some similar characteristics. Specifically, it's a joy to use for my daily shave. Yesterday, with a sharp and coated blade, I took 2 passes (cross grain, then against grain) and a bit of extra buffing to get a near-baby-smooth shave. It looked great and felt good to the hand. It's the kind of shave that stays good for the entire day.

If a person has sensitive skin as I do, there's no need to have a razor of more aggressive design. Yet because of its baseplate, this one has capacity that is way more than enough to do the job, and is designed to still provide a smooth, close, comfortable shave.

In a move unusual for me, today I skipped my daily shave -- as part of an experiment. Tomorrow, with a two-day growth, I'll shave again with the 15C open comb to begin to explore its theoretically-unlimited beard-mowing capacity -- owing, of course, to its comb baseplate instead of the more common safety bar.

To restate from earlier posts, although many DE users think of an open-comb design as being very aggressive and potentially harsh, this is not necessarily true. (Though anyone who has read and understood my explanation of razor characteristics would already know that.) This Merkur 15C proves it. The razor is mild shaving owing to its moderately-low blade exposure and reveal, combined with its face-friendly blade angle. Yet it has large capacity because of the open comb, which unlike a safety bar, can be designed to offer good skin protection without limiting its ability to cope with longer hair.
The 15C allows the blade close to the skin for a smooth outcome, but the tooth gaps in the comb tend to channel hair of any length to the blade, thus not limiting the capacity of the razor.

So tomorrow is my first 15C shave with more than a day's growth. Stay tuned.

Happy shaving!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

How to Evaluate a Razor for Purchase

You see a razor advertised on line or you read about it in a shaving forum. You think it might be right for you, or you're tempted to try it. Here are the general steps to decide if such a purchase might be a good idea or a bone-headed move:

1) First you must know your needs or desires. Do you have sensitive skin? Do you shave daily, on alternate days, less frequently, or all three on occasion? Are you looking for an all-purpose razor, or just for a specialty use such as a third-pass finishing razor, or a first-pass mow-the-lawn type razor?

If you know these things, you will have an idea of the razor capacity that you need, the versatility you will expect of the razor, and the degree of harshness that you can tolerate.

2) Then you have to sleuth out the qualities of the razor in question to see if its design will actually meet your needs (and if you don't review this article [by clicking here] and burn into your mind these qualities and why they're important, then your quest will be determined by luck). You do this through the following processes:
  • Reading various seller descriptions of the razor. Some sellers (unfortunately few) provide some objective data such as an accurately-measured blade-bar gap. Others will occasionally compare shave-head characteristics of one razor to those of a more-commonly-known razor. Weight and handle length will often be published (though these are relatively less important to the primary characteristics of capacity and harshness).
  • Studying pictures of the razor, particularly those with blades installed. Close-up photos of razor heads with blades mounted can give you important visual clues about blade reveal, blade exposure, and blade-bar gap (if a straight-bar razor). These in combination will help you understand the two key characteristics of a given razor, which are shaving capacity and harshness of shave. (It's sad when otherwise excellent close ups are printed but with no blade in the razor!)
  • Read user/purchaser reviews. They may be contradictory, illogical, even silly, but the more you are able to read, the more you may get a sense of the actual design characteristics, and thereby, the true character of the razor in question.
Strangely enough, it has taken me most of the time writing these shavelikegrandad blogs -- that is, about six months -- to ruminate and eventually come to these simple, obvious, and extremely-useful conclusions.

Ironically, with the first new razor that I bought after finding my father's old DE Gillette, I got extremely lucky and blundered into the purchase of a razor that was nearly perfect for me. But I didn't know it, and subsequently further blundered through the purchase of eight additional razors, all of which were not nearly as right for me as that first buy. The tenth razor that I bought, consciously, using this general process, may be the only razor that is better for me than that first blind-luck acquisition. This last razor is also likely to be the final one that I buy.

I hope you can use these steps and other (selected) information in this blog to have the same ideal results with your next razor purchase.

Happy shaving!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Debunking YMMV (Somewhat)

YMMV: Your Mileage May Vary -- it is the ubiquitous abbreviation of shaving forums. The first time it was used, it was clever and amusing. The first time I saw it used, I found it entertaining. Every time it's repeated since that first use, it becomes more and more cliche, tired, not clever, and down right embarrassing. Every time I see it, it makes the copy-cat user seem more dull, more the mindless lemming. Monkey see, monkey do. (YMMV? D'oh!)

I would suggest it isn't even completely true. Where it is true, it applies to inadequate shaving technique or varying pre-shave preparation. Right, if you don't know what you're doing, or are using some third-rate shave soap, then you are likely to get worse results than someone who does know what he's doing or who is actually using a quality, protecting soap. Sure. OK. YMMV. Good enough.

However, where it isn't true are those cases where we aren't talking about skill or cheezy beard prep. The implied subjectivity of the desirability of a given shaving component is sometimes (often) due to misunderstanding of or overlooking of other variables; it's not always about technique or prep. It would be like a size XXL person trying on a size small sweatshirt and saying it sucks, while a size small person puts the shirt on and loves it. YMMV? No, the little guy is correctly applying the use of the shirt, the big guy just has the wrong size. Mileage doesn't vary, but intelligence does.

A simple shaving example would be Person 1 writes that blade XYZ give a close, comfortable shave. But Person 2 says blade XYZ sucks, is harsh and dull. Ah but YMMV, right? Not necessarily. What if Person 1 has tough, fleshy skin like a hard salami, a moderately-tough beard, and shaves every other day with a slant-bar razor, while Person 2 has sensitive skin, a tough beard, and shaves daily with a moderately-mild straight-bar razor? It isn't that their opinions about the blade are so disparate because of subjective experience, it's that their objective circumstances are so different, they're comparing one variable (blade) out of six or more, which include skin characteristics, beard characteristics, shaving frequency, razor design characteristics, blade, and unspecified pre-shave preparation. The blade probably "fits" one of those guys, and is totally the wrong choice for the other.

Much of the nonsense of YMMV would be eliminated if DE users could become more disciplined and informed in their analyses of various products. But this will never happen, of course. It's like saying, we could end war and have peace on Earth if mankind would just acquire a higher level of consciousness, higher awareness. Sure that's true, but that's never going to happen either.

So anyway, silly me, I've already attempted to start to set some objective standards and how they apply to different persons. Razor characteristics that determine capacity and harshness are described in my article entitled "Picking the Right Razor for You, Part Two of Two".

If you really understand what determines razor capacity, harshness, and how that matches to a given face, then you should not get into as many disagreements about which razor is good or not. There isn't really any right answer to those questions. (Well, actually, there may be, but that's a subject for a future article in this blog -- stay tuned! ;-) But most often it's like arguing whether a size medium sweatshirt is good or not. It's not a question of YMMV, it's a question of what fits!

If you have sensitive skin, you need a low-harshness razor. If you have a need for high capacity shaving, you need greater capacity in your razor. Then these must be paired with an appropriate blade to suit the user. If you have sensitive skin and need for high capacity, you need to find that razor that gives a mild shave but can also handle multi-days of growth (yep, that razor's out there :-).

If you have a tough or thick beard, it's usually not a question of which razor at all; it's a question of blade choice: you need a sharp blade. If you have a tough beard and sensitive skin, you need a sharp blade with a good coating for smoothness combined with a face-friendly razor that has the capacity that you need based on your frequency of shaves.

Again, it's not YMMV, and you don't have to keep trying products any more than you need to try every sweat shirt to find one that fits. No, you figure out your size, and then buy the appropriately-sized shirt. Same with shaving gear: figure out what you need, then find the gear that fits you and your needs. This isn't a mysterious process that is exclusively trial and error. No, you can narrow down the field using knowledge and appropriate ratiocination. You can be a Sherlock Holmes of DE shaving, and sleuth out the gear you will like best (or at least get in the general ballpark) with knowledge and careful research.

Get it? No? Well, YMMV!  ;-D

Happy shaving!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Slant Bar Banished! And Then There Were Three....

Today I put my Merkur 37C slant-bar razor in the shoe box in my closet. It is no longer in my bathroom cabinet, leaving behind its three former companions: the Merkurs 15C and 37C and the Maggard MR3B.

The 37C slant, in the foreground on the left, has lost its place in my
bathroom cabinet, and is now banished to the closet shoe box.
On Saturday, I had a blade on its last legs and so I pulled out the 37C, correctly knowing that the slant of its edge would make the blade virtually sharper, thus perhaps giving me a better shave than if I had used one of my other non-slanted razors.

I was wrong. This was partly due to cockpit-judgement error; I only used the slant for the first pass (which wasn't an error), but I made that pass against the grain of my beard, which irritated a patch of skin on my cheek. I finished the shave by transferring the blade from the slant into my 33C Classic, which is very face friendly. But the truth was, I wasn't shaving a multi-day beard; I usually shave every day. So I didn't need the capacity for that first pass that the slant razor offers -- I almost never do! Yes, the blade was ready for the recycle bank, but I didn't need a slant razor to improve the effective blade sharpness; I could have done that just by using oblique strokes. D'oh! (Slaps forehead.)

And I certainly didn't need the variable blade angle of the slant, which is more face friendly where the blade gap is wider, but more harsh and scraping in the areas where the blade gap narrows. (The varying blade angle is due to the twist of the blade, not the blade gap; but it's easier to identify where the angle varies in face friendliness by referring to the the gap size.)

With huge capacity, a slight multiplier effect on blade sharpness, and, due to
the twist of the blade, a varying blade angle, which has more of a slicing effect
toward the right of the edge (where the blade gap is wider), and more scraping
toward the left of the edge (where the blade gap is narrower).
Bottom line, there's no reason for me to continue to struggle to get a comfortable shave with this razor; I just don't have any need for its high capacity. If I have a two-day beard, I'll just use the Maggard straight bar razor, which has adequate capacity for that task. I'm also going to experiment with the face-friendly Merkur 15C open comb on a two-day (and more) beard because it should be up to the task with it's open-comb, (therefore no-limits) baseplate.

The Merkur 15C razor is shown in a shaving orientation. The open comb allows
most hair to be cut by the blade edge without being bent as it might be by the
typical safety bar. This suggests that even though the Merkur 15C can provide a
very face-friendly shave, it should also be able to handle multi-day growths
with no problem.
But in any case, for most daily shaves, as long as I put the right blade for my beard and skin (sharp and coated for smoothness) into either the Merkur 33C or 15C, I'm absolutely assured of a comfortable shave that can be as close as I desire.

I bought the slant razor at a time when I didn't fully understand the factors affect razor capacity, harshness, and how those two aspects are both related and separate. But now, for my needs,  I understand that the slant's capacity is overkill, the blade exposure is more aggressive than I need, and the scraping quality of the blade angle on one end of the edge is unnecessarily harsh. Therefore I will see if I can find a better home for this instrument. It has no place in my bathroom.

And then there were three (but maybe not for long)....

Happy shaving!

Monday, September 15, 2014

General Thoughts on Blade Choices and Related Issues

Let's start today by trying to dispel a common myth about DE blades.

News flash: There's no such thing as an aggressive blade -- 
despite the fact that blade reviewers often apply that adjective. 

I would respectfully suggest that there are, instead, degrees of 1) sharpness, 2) longevity/durability, and 3) smoothness.

If a person has tough skin with smooth, round contours and uses good technique, then almost any of the sharper blades can work, regardless of beard type. Though if one's beard isn't particularly thick or the hairs not too wiry, an extremely sharp blade may be overkill.

Experienced DE shavers have usually stumbled upon a few blade brands that work for them. It is often newer DE shavers that are flummoxed by the multiplicity of options as well as contradictory and misleading reviews of blades on the Internet.

The first step that a newbie should take is to get the right razor or close to it. To help in that regard, I strongly recommend a careful review of my two-part article, "Picking the Right Razor for You."

Once you have a razor that is in the ballpark for you in terms of shaving capability and gentleness (degree of potential harshness), then you can start to narrow your blade options, but it will eventually come down to trial and error. However, by intelligently analyzing your skin and hair, you can save yourself time and money by eliminating unlikely options right from the jump.

If you find your skin to be sensitive (as mine is), a combination of factors will contribute to potential skin irritation:
  • How frequently you shave; that is, daily or less frequently?
  • The shave characteristics of the razor itself (again, consult "Picking the Right Razor for You")
  • Pressure of razor against skin (very light pressure is best; more pressure leads to razor burn, nicks, weepers, etc.)
  • Is your blade sharp enough to easily cut your whiskers? (If not, you may have to press too hard or make too many strokes.)
  • Is your blade too sharp? (For those with sensitive skin, too sharp might be irritating, particularly in the wrong razor or with less-than-ideal shaving technique.)
  • Type of coating, if any, on the blade (coatings can make the blade less irritating)
  • Skin protection offered by your shave prep
  • The average number of passes (strokes, really) that you make during your shaves
I'm going to approach recommendations as though you are a clean-slate newbie, and I'll be making suggestions that are likely to be compatible with the most sensitive of skin.

That said, once you have a razor that is fairly suitable (again, be sure to consult my picking-a-razor articles), resolve to make your initial shaves reasonably close, but not baby smooth. This will allow you to shave in one or two passes, thus helping to minimize skin irritation while you perfect your shaving process and gear.

Also, if you're in doubt about good shave-prep protection for sensitive skin, I've become fond of shave sticks, and in particular, Arko brand. Onto a wet beard, one can rub the shave stick directly on the most sensitive areas such as upper lip, lower lip and chin, below the jawline, or any area with lingering irritation from a previous shave. Then with a damp brush, this layer of soap can be face lathered and spread over the entire beard. The soap itself with sufficient water is slick and protecting, and the initial application of the waxy soap on sensitive areas may offer a bit of extra protection.

Now as to blades, for all shavers, one should get a blade sharp enough to handle one's beard. If you have sensitive skin, however, the idea is to get a blade just sharp enough. It should also have a coating for additional smoothness. The exact coating and the durability will be up to you to choose and determine. Implementing these suggestions can prevent unwise or silly blade choices.

For example, let's say you shave every other day, have sensitive skin, and for a first razor bought an Edwin Jagger razor, which has sufficient blade gap to comfortably shave a two-day growth (and also often comes with a potentially-slippery smooth handle, but that's another issue). But your beard hair is rather fine and thin. To buy an ultra-sharp blade such as a Feather would be asking for unnecessary risk of weepers, nicks, and general skin irritation. Better to go with a less-sharp blade with a good coating for smoothness.

Another example: You have sensitive skin but still prefer to shave daily. You wisely bought a Merkur 33C, a Lord LP1822L (L6), or equivalent because those razors are great daily shavers even on sensitive skin. However, you have a thick, wiry beard. You heard good things about Derby Extra blades and are about to try them. But this may not be an optimal choice. The chosen razor head is a face-friendly razor, but your beard is tough, so you need to pair your razor with a sharp, coated blade that will both be able to slice through your tough beard hairs without simultaneously irritating your face. Look for sharp, but smooth blades. Several options might be better such as perhaps Polsilver Iridium Coated, Personna Blue, Astra Superior Platinum, SuperMax Titanium, and other coated blades that are near the sharper end of the sharpness spectrum.

Happy shaving!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Free, Eco-Friendly, Re-Purposed Shaving Accessories

It's amazing what you can do with the lowly Greek-yogurt container, a tin can, a plastic prescription vial, or an unused specimen cup.

The Single-Serving Greek-Yogurt Container

I use one clean yogurt cup to hold the four razors that I keep handy in the
medicine cabinet for regular use. (My used-blade bank is in the background.)

Another yogurt cup does double duty. In preparation for lathering, I soak the brush
bristles in cool tap water as I set my gear out on the bathroom counter. When I'm
ready for making lather, on those rare mornings when I need a separate lathering
bowl, the same yogurt cup does the trick.

Yet another yogurt cup holds shave soap that has been pressed or melted in,
and in which I can then make lather from that particular puck.

New or Re-Used Prescription Vials

My Palmolive shave stick as it's stored in the 16-dram vial (no cap
necessary). Palmolive provides the green ring as a base for the stick.

Here's how the Palmolive shave stick looks when out of the re-purposed
vial, as when being used during a shave.

I drilled ventilation holes in this 40-dram vial -- both in the bottom and the
twist-off top. When the vial top is on, the brand-new Arko stick length just fits. 

This 30-dram vial holds overflow blade inventory (in the medicine cabinet),
which will eventually be filed into the blade-on-deck cup, which is shown below.
(My large reserves of blade inventory are in a shoe box in my closet.)

New, Unused Specimen Cup

During my recent surgery, the hospital stored my wedding ring in this clean
specimen cup, which now holds my five primary blade brands, pre-sorted in a
repeating order. When I recycle an old blade, from this container I just take the next
one on deck, which in this case is the SuperMax Titanium closest to the camera.

Tin Can

I hope you don't throw used blades in the trash, but instead recycle them.
I put mine in a tin-can blade bank made from a tomato soup container. The slot
is difficult to see, but it's just below the lip of the can nearest the camera. After years,
when the can is full, I'll just tap down with a hammer on the top lip above the slot
to close it up, then recycle the can -- blades and all. I found the 19th-century-style
label somewhere on the Internet, printed it, and glued it on the bare can.

That's it for today! Happy eco-friendly shaving!