Thursday, December 4, 2014

Optimizing an Unsuitable DE Razor Blade

In my series of weekly shaving reviews, I have recently tried two blades that seem not well suited for my face and beard. Both of these blades, the Derby Extra and the Merkur Super, seem to be not quite sharp enough for my whiskers but at the same time a bit harsh, irritating (not excessively, just a bit more than I would prefer to bear). Both of these blades are coated for reduced irritation. The Derby has a multi-chemical coating and the Merkur has platinum. I only use coated blades whenever possible, because I've found that the bare stainless blades tend to rough up my skin too much.

The Ri,Mei razor has been tuned to be more aggressive in shaving character than my unsual Merkur 33 Classic, but the Ri,Mei has a smaller blade angle, which, the idea is, might help a blade not quite sharp enough for a given beard. We'll see....

One might intuitively think that a coated blade might pull if not sufficiently sharp, but irritate? But the Merkur blade did both pull and irritate. So what's going on with these blades that makes them irritating even when used in my mild-shaving Merkur 33 razor head?

I begin with an assumption: the coated blades are sufficiently coated to give a comfortable shave when appropriately matched against not-so-tough hair. If my assumption is incorrect, then these blades not only are not quite sharp enough, they also have a second-rate coating. I prefer not to start there.

Instead I tend to blame pilot error -- that is, my compensating for the insufficient sharpness by perhaps pressing the razor against skin a bit harder and by taking extra shaving strokes as well. So I thought an experiment would be appropriate to test this idea.

Last week I did a couple of passes in the Wednesday-morning shave using the Derby blade in my slightly-more-aggressive (but not much-more) razor head, the Lord L.6. That combination still provided a less-than-ideal shave, and I took the third pass of that shave using an Astra blade. So that little test, though hardly conclusive, certainly didn't confirm that a lighter touch with a more aggressive razor design can help to reduce the irritation from an ill-suited blade. You can read the article about that shave by clicking here.

So yesterday morning, after Tuesday's spontaneous shave with the modified Ri,Mei razor, instead of taking a third shave with the Merkur blade in the 33 razor head, I put the questionable blade in the Ri,Mei razor and gave that a go with a mindful shave focused on not pressing too hard and using oblique strokes as much as possible to optimize the effective blade sharpness (although I actually have already been doing that in the first two shaves with this blade in the 33 razor head; but perhaps the different shaving characteristics of the modified Ri,Mei will make it easier to get a pretty close shave without much irritation).

The shave with the Ri,Mei razor and the Merkur blade did not noticeably tug. The razor did leave weepers in its wake, but after three non-fussy passes, I got an acceptably close shave with no irritation -- aside from the weepers, that is. The weepers tend to occur on the third pass against grain.

So this test of a more-aggressive-but-smaller-blade-angle razor paired with a not-quite-sharp-enough blade suggests that the smaller, more-slicing, less-scraping blade angle can help with a blade that's just a touch duller than needed. However, there is also a suggestion that a smaller blade angle may contribute to weeper creation. Perhaps with a small-blade-angle razor head, one should make the third pass across grain, and either stop with that, or take a fourth against-grain pass.

For the next step, I put the Merkur blade in the Lord L.6 razor head. This razor has the same blade angle as the Merkur 33, but is otherwise slightly more aggressive, with its larger blade gap. A two-pass shave was good-enough close, but tugged just a bit and again opened a couple of weepers on my neck, where the hair is highly directional and the skin thin and a little loose.

The bottom line is that a too-sharp blade can be put in a razor of milder shaving character to compensate. A slightly too-dull blade is going to pull in almost any razor (a smaller blade angle will mitigate this), but will tend to leave weepers in its wake as one gets further from with-grain strokes -- especially on more delicate skin. The practical option with a blade like that is to settle for a less-close shave and do perhaps only two passes and go for good enough.

Happy shaving.

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