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Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Obsessive Traveling Shaver

I recently took a short over-night trip away from home, and used that to test some travel-packing ideas. These ideas included shaving practices while on the road.

(Above and below:) My main luggage of
choice is this soft-sided duffel, which has
high-quality backpack straps for easy
walking, but when the straps are stowed,
it looks and carries like a traditional suit case.
Before I go further, let me explain my traveling philosophy. I hate to lug a lot of gear when traveling -- especially when traveling by airplane. No matter how long the trip duration, I pack no more than the equivalent of international, large-airplane carry-on luggage. That means that I only take those items that can be stowed or carried in the following places:
  • A soft-sided carry-on bag suitable for international travel, which is no bigger than about 21.5 x 14 x 9 inches (that's about 55 x 36 x 23 cm). (By the way, I don't use a bag with wheels. Instead I use a carry-on duffel, which is not only very light weight (less than three pounds) but holds an amazing amount of stuff and also converts to a backpack when desired. This is my overhead-compartment bag. If curious, see the link at the end of this article for more photos, details, user reviews and an informative VIDEO.)
  • A small, light-weight backpack, briefcase, or messenger bag (all of which the airlines will consider to be a personal bag). This is the under-seat bag. [Update: By the way, my absolute favorite backpack is the Mountain Warehouse 20-liter pack-away backpack, which is incredibly light and can be folded into its own storage compartment for convenient stowing! See the link below for more information.]
  • On my person; that is, anything that can be comfortably worn or carried in my pockets
Also, I hate to travel heavy, so I not only pack for low volume, I also pack for low weight. I adhere to the old backpacking maxim that if one pays attention to the ounces, the pounds take care of themselves. (In metric terms, that might be if one pays attention to the grams, the kilograms will take care of themselves.) That means, for example, that I wouldn't use a traditional Dopp-kit bag, but would instead pack all my toiletry gear into a clear, plastic freezer bag of the appropriate size.

Three travel-razor options: Merkur 15C open comb (left), Gillette
pivoting two-blade disposable with shortened handle (middle),
or the vintage 1960s Gillette Travel Tech. The weights from left
to right are 1.8 oz, 0.1 oz, and 1.4 oz.
The photo at left shows three (of many) travel-razor options. The traditionally-sized Merkur 15C weighs 1.8 ounces (52 grams). The vintage Gillette Travel Tech, with its steel handle, weighs 1.4 ounces (41 grams). And the Gillette twin-bladed, pivoting-head disposable, with the handle cut to half size (I cut it off with a hand saw and then used a file to remove any rough edges), weighs 0.1 ounces (less than 4 grams)! 

In addition to being small and incredibly light, the disposable cartridge-style razor brings other advantages. First of all, unlike DE razor blades, you can pack these cartridge-style razors in your carry-on luggage. This means I don't have to shop at my destination for suitable DE blades (which could be hard to find), and I don't have to mail myself blades in advance of my departure. Secondly, these razors offer a low-risk shave, so it is comfortable to shave with just water and bath or hand soap as a lubricant, and the soap can be applied with one's hands, so no shaving brush is necessary. If one packs a small chunk of shave soap, it, too, can be rubbed on and "lathered" with one's hands, and the experience is enhanced by this small luxury. I do not pack styptic pencil, alum block, or even after-shave lotions and balms because the shave is so low risk and low irritation. If I want some after-shave product to smell freshly shaved, I will purchase that at my destination.

These twin-bladed disposable razors can provide an excellent shave. Despite being of mild shave character, properly used they shave great. So by applying the skills and knowledge of DE shaving to the use of my twin-blade disposable travel razor, I consistently get shaves as good as some of my best DE shaves.

The technique I've found to be great is using my previously-explained regional-shave process. This means that after you've wet your beard well and lathered up with some bath or shaving soap, shave a region of your beard using long, oblique buffing strokes with grain. Then as needed add soap from the underside of the razor and any needed water, and re-shave that same region (again with oblique buffing strokes) against grain. Continue to address that region if needed until desired closeness is achieved, then move on to the next region of your beard. Continue this process until you are clean shaven.

When the shave is done, rinse the razor thoroughly. I suggest shaking and blowing on the blades to remove clinging moisture. Then strop the exposed side of the razor's blades against one's arm or pants leg, and set to dry for the next shave.

If you think that removing half the handle to save so little weight is unnecessary, you may be right. However, if you choose to bring a second razor, by halving both handles, you are almost getting two razors for the weight of one. This makes the obsessive traveling shaver very happy indeed!

     
Happy shaving and traveling!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Wednesday's Shave Notes

I ditched my Astra Superior Platinum blade yesterday after eleven shaves. The first ten were good, but number eleven seemed to shave not as closely as easily as before. So into the recycle can it went.

This morning I used a new Lord Platinum Class double-edge razor blade in my c.1948 Gillette Tech.

The stroking technique was pretty much all oblique strokes and for the most part all buffing-style strokes as well, although they were longer and a bit slower than a buffing stroke that one might use as a final finishing technique. I use the buffing-type stroke -- that is, keeping the razor on the skin for the non-cutting return part of the stroke -- because it helps spread soap and moisture for repeat strokes in a given area.

The point of that is that I continue to use the region-oriented shaving pattern. Instead of shaving in discreet passes, each of a single direction, in this regional approach, I shave a region of my beard from whatever directions necessary until it is in its final degree of closeness, and only then do I move on to another region.

Although today's shave wasn't perfect due to a couple of minor weepers, in all it was close and comfortable. The regional shaving pattern encourages this, I believe, because it is entirely pragmatic, focused solely on the shave outcome and less on specific passes in specific directions that may or may not be needed. Using this regional approach, I shave only as little or as much as a give patch of beard requires.

Tomorrow will be the second shave with the Lord PC blade, but this time in the Merkur 15C open-comb razor.

Happy shaving!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Region-Oriented Uni-Shave

Expanding on my last article, I'd like to discuss breaking away from the constraints of one-direction passes such as with grain, then across grain, then against grain. The alternative is to shave one's beard by sections, rather than passes. This means lathering up as usual, but instead of shaving the entire beard in a pass, one starts with a section of the beard such as the lower neck, and shaves that until it achieves the desired closeness, then moves on to the next section. One moves methodically from region to region on the face until it is entirely and adequately shaved.
Shave by regions, not by passes.

To make this region-oriented process work, one needs an active non-dominant hand (the one not holding the razor). I'll call that the free hand. The free hand is constantly checking the closeness of the section being shaved. It is also used to constantly add a bit of water (which is trickling slightly from the tap) to the region being shaved since adequate hydration is key for a comfortable shave. This moisture adding is important because the regions shaved later in the shave may dry out just a bit, and, also, subsequent clean-up strokes in a given region may also benefit from added moisture to replace that removed by preceding razor strokes. The free hand also swipes lather from underneath the razor head and re-applies it to the face as necessary as an alternative to rinsing the razor during the shave.

This uni-shave approach is very pragmatic. Properly done it only requires lathering once. It is less structured, which can save time perhaps, but more importantly, is outcome oriented; it focuses on outcome (closeness of shave) rather than process (number and direction of passes).

The Merkur 15C razor head with, just for fun, a vintage
Gillette handle
I also find that the uni-shave is more skin friendly. Maybe this is just due to my nature (combined with my uber-fragile skin), but here's the effect the uni-shave has for me: because I'm focusing on the quality of shave in a given, limited region of my beard, I tend to shave more mindfully of the effect of each stroke. This is contrasted by my tendency, when making a full-beard pass in a single stroking direction, to lose a bit of focus on the effect of each stroke on my skin, and instead attend to issues of geographical coverage -- that is, how much of the given pass is completed.

This morning, for example, I used my trusty Merkur 15C open-comb razor head with a gold-toned vintage Gillette Tech ball-end handle. In that razor I had an 8th-use Astra SP blade.

I find that the mild-shaving 15C is a good compromise between closeness and skin risk. It is a good razor for my sensitive skin.

So this morning I shaved the following regions in this order:

  1. Left lower neck
  2. Right lower neck
  3. Left under jaw line
  4. Right under jaw line
  5. Chin & lower lip
  6. Left cheek
  7. Right cheek
  8. Upper lip
In each region, I shaved with grain, then against grain and then with any additional touch-up strokes necessary to get the desired finished trade off between closeness and irritation.

The result was a very good shave indeed. Happy shaving!

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Old-School, No-Fuss Shave

I had a great shave yesterday, but it wasn't long or a lot of trouble.

I began the shave by rubbing cool tap water on my beard several times. Then I rubbed my shaving-soap stick/lump directly onto my wet beard and lathered it using my hands, not a brush. This hand lathering creates a flat soapy layer that is not fluffy like when a brush is used to whip lather from shaving soap. However, this flat layer is slick and protecting as long as there is sufficient water present.


I then took my Rimei RM2003 imitation Tech razor with an Astra Superior Platinum blade and made a first pass with all-buffing, all-oblique, all-anti-raking strokes. I did NOT rinse the soap from the razor during this pass. I did not rinse my face after the pass either. I simply judiciously rubbed on more water, scooped the used soap from the underside of the razor, and, using my hands, re-applied lather to my face.

I then re-shaved from whatever direction necessary to enhance the closeness of the shave while avoiding skin damage. During this second phase, I did not use buffing strokes, but they were largely oblique. I also didn't consistently use an anti-raking pattern either, since this was an entire pass of pragmatic touch-up strokes. I also re-applied water from the tap and lather from the underside of the razor as necessary to ensure adequate skin protection.

The result was a very high-quality three-C shave: close, comfortable, and quick.

I attribute the three-C shave to the following factors:
  • The RM2003, though not terribly aggressive or threatening, is nonetheless the most aggressive razor that I keep with my in-bathroom shaving gear. This razor, compared to my other regulars, has a rather large blade reveal and shaves best with a relatively low blade angle -- that is, with the handle relatively highly angled from the skin surface.
  • The Astra SP blade is fairly compatible with my skin and beard, and was pretty new, having only two previous shaves on it.
  • I used a light touch for all my shaving strokes.
  • I was very pragmatic in the direction of my strokes, making the initial "pass" with grain, and subsequent clean-up strokes both across and against grain.
Happy shaving!

Monday, December 7, 2015

When to Use a New Blade?

If you've been reading my posts, you probably know that I've really been pushing the performance envelope of my blades. I've been routinely getting twenty or more daily shaves out of my blades, when in the distant past, I would use a new blade every Sunday morning.

So in going from seven shaves to twenty or more, I've seen some interesting changes in blade performance. My last blade, for example, the Gillette Silver Blue, gave me some pretty rough shaves for the first four days. Then the going got smoother, so to speak. Yet as I approached twenty shaves, I actually cut myself with this old blade -- and even while it was in a very mild-shaving razor, which both surprised me and got my attention.

I would attribute my wound with the old blade to several factors. I probably got very careless due to the older blade being not quite as sharp as when new. Having it in a very mild razor also doubtlessly contributed to my cavalier attitude. On top of that, because a much-used blade doesn't shave quite as efficiently, I may have been unconsciously pressing a bit harder than appropriate.

What was also surprising to me, when I put in a fresh blade, was how much closer of a shave I got. My two-riffic shave was really quite close in only two passes, but with the much-used blade, I was working harder for a less-close result. In using a blade for two and three weeks, the blade doesn't pull and tug at my whiskers, and it certainly doesn't become significantly more irritating; in fact, as I've written, it can actually improve and become less irritating over a portion of its useful life span.

What I have come to observe is that over a course of a few weeks of daily shaving, the blade shaves less closely. It becomes harder to achieve that rewarding near-baby-smooth closeness that I so appreciate. The shaves still look good early in the day, when I use an older blade, but they are much less rewarding to the hand, and the five-o'clock shadow begins to show in the afternoon.

If one is a value shaver, a blade might be used for three or even four weeks if one uses appropriate daily blade maintenance and storage. However, the outcome of the latter shaves in the blade's lifespan will hardly be barber close.

If one is a quality-of-shave shaver, then as soon as one's normal shave process still feels a little rough to the hand, and an extra pass is necessary to get the accustomed result, then a new blade is probably due.

For me, that means that when I can't get a rewarding shave in two passes -- with grain then against grain -- my blade is probably ready for the recycle bank.

Going forward with my current Voskhod blade, I'm going to start tracking its effective lifespan, not its maximum lifespan. More to come on that.

Happy shaving!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

What a Difference a Blade Makes...

What a difference a day makes! Yesterday I had my 21st shave with the Gillette Silver Blue blade. Its later shaves weren't bad, although they were still a bit irritating and prone to wound. However, as the days went by, the blade continued to improve, eventually becoming light years ahead of the first four shaves with it.

After the 21st shave with the Silver Blue, there were still plenty more left. This and the improved comfort of the blade over time is owing, I believe, in part to my daily post-shave blade care, which includes pat or press drying followed by stropping the edges of the blade on my oiled palm.

Yet after three weeks with this blade, it was clear that it wasn't going to see further shave improvement. If anything, the blade was just going to become noticeably more dull. So I put the blade into my blade-recycling bank (for future delivery to the recycling company), and pulled out the next blade in my pre-determined blade rotation.

This next blade was the Teflon-coated Voskhod blade. So I put it into my trusty open-comb Merkur 15C razor, which is becoming one of my favorites. I took a with-grain, all-oblique-buffing first pass using an anti-raking pattern.

Then I transferred the Voskhod blade into my Weishi 9306-F razor, my preferred finishing razor for that against-grain second pass as part of my two-pass two-riffic shave.

The result was a close, reasonably comfortable shave. I had some lingering irritation on my neck, but in all it was a pretty good shave.

Despite the do-not-wipe warnings from Voskhod, I finished my clean up chores with the usual oiled-palm stropping of the blade. Then I put it back into the Merkur 15C for tomorrow's shave.

What a difference a blade makes! I can hardly wait until my rotation brings me around again to my favorite of all blades, the Personna Platinum Chrome blade -- the red-label blade made in Israel.

Happy shaving!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Best of Grandad.... Razor Reveiw: Lord LP1822L (formerly model L.6)

[Note: This article has been updated from its initial publication in March of 2014.]

The head on this razor is very similar to that on a German-made Merkur. I own a Merkur Classic (model 33C), and can attest that the Lord LP1822L (aka L.6) shaves like my Merkur, no doubt, BUT IN FACT, THE L.6 IS SLIGHTLY MORE AGGRESSIVE IN CHARACTER. The L.6 provides a mild shave that is not overly aggressive but is also not difficult to find the proper angle to cut whiskers well. Since my Merkur 33C cost more than twice this L.6, the L.6 is obviously a good value. There are important differences, however, that might explain the lower cost of the L.6. 
UPDATE: Side view of the LP1822L (above), when compared
to the Merkur 33C (below), shows the LP1822L has a larger
blade-bar gap, smaller blade reveal, but less blade exposure.
The sum of these factors gives a similar shave to the 33C but
not quite as mild a shaving character.
UPDATE: Side view of the Merkur 33C.

Razor-blade fit: The L.6 holds the blade firmly and edge exposure is uniform. This is a good thing.

Lord L6 (left) next to the Merkur Classic (33C)
Blade angle: The blade angle in relation to the shave plane of the razor head is about 30 degrees -- rather standard and comfortable

Blade exposure: The blade is below the shave plane -- slightly within the cove formed formed by the top cap and safety bar -- so this L.6 razor head has a rather mild shaving character.

Blade-bar span: The profile of the safety bar is such that the span is larger than the 33C from Merkur, so this razor is not as mild in shaving character as the 33C.

Handle length and grip: The L6 handle is generously long -- a full one inch longer than the Merkur 33c. Since some complain about the short handle on classic razors, this should make many double-edge (DE) users happy. Since I'm comfortable with the short handle, this longer style has no impact; I find it fine and notice no performance difference whether long or shorter. The criss-crossed diagonal cuts in the L.6 handle make a diamond pattern that, though different than classic knurling, makes for a fine grip wet or dry.



Finish: The L.6 handle is clearly aluminum and appears unplated, uncoated (it may have some clear coating/anodizing -- I just don't know), while the Merkur is chromed. The head of the L.6 appears chromed, and in comparing it to the 33C, the only difference in finish quality that I can see is that on the ends (the narrower sides) of the base and top plates, they don't have a smooth, mirror finish. But if this bothers you a lot, you may have larger issues than getting a good shave at a value price. I, personally, find this minor finish flaw to be inconsequential.

But some other, more important concerns have been raised by others that deserve attention:

1. Insufficient thread interlocking between head and handle: This appears to have been a manufacturing issue that has been resolved. Certainly there is adequate thread engagement in the razor that I received: about four turns of the handle snugs it to the razor head (not four full revolutions, but four twists of the hand). This is fewer turns to secure than is required on my Merkur 33C -- and the 33C has a steel handle, which will be more durable than the aluminum of the Lord L.6. 


2. Aluminum handle instead of steel:  Here is where user care may make the difference. Yep, aluminum doesn't have the strength or toughness of steel. If you cross thread or over tighten, the handle will be toast. Also, the threads may not feel as silky smooth as you turn handle on and off the razor head. To address these issues, I suggest the following:
a) When you first get the razor and periodically thereafter, apply petroleum jelly with a toothpick to the threads of the handle. I do this when I change blades, which is about once per week of continuous use. (I also do this on more expensive razors that have all-steel components.)
While tightening or loosening the handle,
compress the razor head into the counter to take any
unnecessary strain off the handle threading. BEST TO PLACE
A WASHCLOTH OR OTHER CUSHION BETWEEN
THE RAZOR AND COUNTER SO AS NOT TO MAR
THE PLATING ON THE RAZOR'S TOP CAP.
b) Tighten carefully. Compress the top and base plates together with your fingers as you tighten and loosen the handle. This takes any strain off the aluminum threads. Then stop tightening as soon as the handle engages the base plate; NO ADDITIONAL FORCE IS NECESSARY!
If you do these things, you will likely get more extended use from this razor.
c) You can always use a different, tougher handle with the L.6 razor head, if you like.

3. Weight and balance of the razor is respectively less and different than other similar designs because of the aluminum handle. Yes, it's true; my Merkur 33c weighs 57 grams, while the Lord L6 comes in at 44 grams -- roughly 20% lighter. While DE aficionados insist that heavy razors shave better because "the weight does the work," not only do I find this to be untrue in my experience, but also in terms of physics it makes little sense. You shave in all directions: up, down, sideways; and in any case, it isn't gravity that holds the razor against your face -- it's the pressure (hopefully very light) that you apply! (It may be true that the mass of a heavier razor helps keep the blade from bumping over stubble when using extremely light pressure against the face, but I don't believe this comes into play for most shavers with most reasonable-quality razors including this one.)

Find the right blade for you in this razor and you should be a happy shaver. This razor gets four out of five stars because of its shaving performance and its value. The aluminum handle, though generous in length and with adequate grip, may have its threads stripped over time from careless over tightening or simply constant use. This razor is an excellent purchase as a travel razor or as an every-day razor if you are willing to accept it as something less than a lifetime razor. I feel this purchase was money well spent, and heartily recommend this as a first DE or another option to add to your collection. 

Happy shaving!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Thanksgiving Shave

Today was the 13th shave with that same Gillette Silver Blue blade that started out so harshly.

Yet despite its rocky beginnings, today's shave with that blade was actually quite good.

Starting with my c.1948 Gillette Tech, I took an all-oblique-buffing (but with rather slow strokes) first pass using my now-familiar anti-raking stroke pattern.

Then I switched the blade into my uber-mild Weishi 9306-F one-piece (TTO) razor -- my one and only true finishing razor. With it I took an against-grain pass, once again with oblique-buffing strokes and the anti-raking pattern. Then I finished with multiple clean-up strokes after re-wetting my face and re-applying, as needed, used lather from the razor's underside.


(If you're considering shopping for the Weishi 9306-F,
clicking on the graphic, above, gives you an easy path to follow.)

The result was a close shave (not quite baby smooth), with only two pin-point weepers and very little irritation as indicated by my alum block.

So my daily post-shave blade care seems to be paying off. It entails pat drying the blade and then stropping the edges on my oiled palm before inserting into the razor for the next morning shave.

Of course, despite the longevity that the blade appears to be capable of delivering, the first week of shaves is not very good on my skin and beard: too irritating and prone to wound. This means that I won't be buying any additional blades of this brand to replace those in my little sample inventory. However, it has been an interesting experiment to see if a blade that is so poorly matched to my face can be improved over time, which has been the case.

So today I'm thankful for the following:
  • My post-shave blade care, which contributes to improving my shaves over time
  • My Weishi 9306-F razor, which offers a very low-risk option, when I want to obsessively take many passes and clean-up strokes
  • My alum block, which closes tiny wounds, indicates and calms irritation, and does other good stuff too like drying oily skin (which mine is NOT, so when I use it, I apply it to my damp face, let it do its thing, then rinse off and towel dry, after which I apply my desired lotions and balms. Typically I will apply an after shave to smell nice, then a moisturizer/sealer as a finishing treatment.)


(If you're interested in alum, the graphic, above, links to what I believe is the best value
available for an alum block, and includes a nice plastic case.)

So to you I say, "Happy Thanksgiving and happy shaving!"

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Merkur Open Comb (15C) and the Gillette Silver Blue Blade

Today was my eighth shave with the Gillette Silver Blue blade. Today I used it in my Merkur 15C open-comb razor.
            The Merkur 15C open-comb, three-piece razor            

The razor is very good; the blade is definitely improving.

The first four shaves with this blade -- even in my most face-friendly razors -- were harsh: both irritating and wounding. However, I didn't quit. Every day after the shave I would perform my customary blade care as follows:
  • Dry the blade by patting, not wiping
  • Stropping the dry blade on my oiled palm
By the fifth shave, I noticed real improvement, although my face was pretty beat up from the previous shaves. It was from this shave that I began to alternate razors from day to day, alternatively using the Gillette Tech (c.1948) or my Merkur 15C. 


The 15C by Merkur is becoming one of my favorites. Originally when first acquired, I found the 15C to be fine except for third passes against grain. Now since I don't do three passes very often, the 15C has proven to be a real performer. For example, this eighth shave started with the 15C and a with-grain, all-buffing first pass. Then for my second and final pass, still with 15C, I shaved from various directions -- both across and against grain.

With the combination of the 15C and seven previous shaves on the Silver Blue blade (each followed by the afore-mentioned blade care), I finally got a close comfortable shave from the blade. I attribute this to both the seasoned blade and the 15C, which is a clearly a more mild shaver than the c.'48 Tech.

Many months ago, I suggested in an article that the Merkur 15C may be the best all-around razor, about which I was only partially serious. However, today I'm still not uncomfortable reiterating that suggestion. Though because of its mildness it may not easily yield totally baby-smooth shaves on some faces, it brings the following benefits:

  • Mild enough for sensitive faces and to safely shave any body hair
  • Open comb design easily accommodates hair of any length, which makes it good for body hair, beards, trimming edges of wooly growth, the back of the neck, etc.
  • Can shave closely
  To order a 15C, you can click on the graphic at left.

Happy shaving!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Gillette Silver Blue Blade Today

This morning was my fourth shave with the current Gillette Silver Blue blade.

A few days ago I finally called it quits with the Bluebird blade after its 26th shave. Its last shave was comfortable, but I wasn't getting a close shave; I was working too hard for too little results. When I saw that the blade on deck was the Silver Blue, I was a little concerned.

I recalled that on my face the Silver Blue blade was harsh. So I started by putting it in my mildest first-pass razor, the Merkur 33C Classic. I then finished that first shave's second (which was also the final) pass with my Weishi 9306-F -- my usual finishing razor. That shave and the two day's shaves that followed were irritating and produced weepers, even though I was careful and continued to use mild razors: the 33C or the Lord L.6. Same results: harsh.

After each shave I have performed my usual oiled-palm stropping. My hope is that the repeated attention to the edge will make it performance more mellow on my mug.

So with renewed hope and optimism this morning, I resolved to take a standard shave with this same blade -- that is, one pass, with grain -- using my c.'48 Tech. After I completed that first pass, I had a couple of weepers on my chin, and the shave was not close enough under my jaw line. So I took a few against-grain strokes in that area, which, sadly, opened a few more weepers and fanned the flames of irritation, which I still feel as I type these words.

I really don't like this blade, and it appears it doesn't like me either. Nonetheless, after the shave I gave the blade its due care and put it back into the Tech.

I'm going to take a true standard shave tomorrow. My intention is to give this blade more time to see if it becomes more suited to my face after a break-in period. Even if it does get better with time, I will not use another one because the wounds and irritation from its early shaves are just not worth it. So I add this to the short list of blades that are currently on my don't-use list:
  • Feather
  • Derby Extra
  • Gillette Silver Blue
  • Gillette 7 O'Clock Black (India-made)
Happy shaving (better than mine, I hope)!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

My Ranking of Relative Mildness of My Preferred Razors

Due to my somewhat fragile, sensitive skin, I focus on suitable razors, which therefore tend to be of rather mild shave character.

These mild razors tend to be face friendly, but even so, can give a very good shave. Perfectly baby-smooth shaves may be out of my reach due to both 1) the angle of my my beard grain, which tends to be rather extreme in relation to the plane of my skin, and 2) the general fragility of my skin. Yet I still can get very close shaves -- nearly baby smooth -- when I choose to.

My razors that I keep close at hand have stabilized to six, which are listed immediately below:

  • Weishi 9306-F
  • Merkur 33C Classic
  • Lord LP1822L
  • Merkur 15C Open Comb
  • Gillette Tech c.1948
  • Rimei RM2003

These razors are listed above in order from most mild to relatively most aggressive. I emphasize the word relatively because all these razors are on the mild side when compared to some of the double-edge options that are available.

All of the razors in the list above are three-piece razors except for the Weishi, which is a one-piece design (with butterfly-type doors). So for several of these razors, I actually keep only the razor heads in my bathroom shaving drawer. The two handles that I keep in the drawer are the ball-end Gillette Tech handle and the classic handle from my Merkur razors (the handles from the Merkur 33C and 15C razors are essentially the same: chromed, well knurled for good grip, classic diameter, and relatively short at about 3 inches.)

I will now briefly explain the shave character and my use of these razors.

Weishi 9306-F

This is my final-pass finishing razor, when I want a very close shave. I tend to use it for against-grain passes and touch-up strokes. I may use it (rarely) when I choose to use a remaining Feather blade, which tends to irritate and wound my skin.

Merkur 33C Classic

I would typically use this with a new blade for passes before my final against-grain pass. The Merkur Classic razor has a negative blade exposure (blade edge is within the protective cove of the top cap and safety guard/bar -- that is, it's below the shave plane) and a modest blade-bar span (the distance between the blade edge and the safety bar/guard). 

Lord L.6 Razor Head

The L.6 razor head comes with the Lord model LP1822L razor. Often misidentified in shaving forums (and in my early blog articles) as being a clone for the Merkur 33C razor head, it is in reality a touch more aggressive owing to its safety-bar cross-section profile. This profile provides a larger blade-bar span, which accounts for the slight difference in shave character from the 33C. I use this razor head infrequently, but when I do it's because I want a razor of shave character between the 33C and my Merkur 15C open comb.

Merkur 15C Open Comb

I use this razor often as a first-pass razor when I take my two-rrific two-pass shave. The zero-span design of the open comb combined with its negative blade exposure and moderate blade angle (which is about the same as the 33C and L.6 designs) makes it work on my face for with-grain and across-grain strokes. It has never worked well on my face for against-grain passes, where it tends to be a bit irritating and prone to wound.

It is also an excellent razor for shaving body hair such as the back of one's neck. I use it for this regularly, without a single hitch. The open-comb baseplate accommodates hair of pretty much any length. (But you're still going to have to clear away accumulated shaved hair from the razor as you shave longer hair.)

Gillette Tech c.1948

This version of the Tech (and, to my knowledge, all that came later) is slightly more mild that the pre-WWII Techs. Yet it's no lap cat of an instrument. Mild, yes, but capable as an all purpose shaver. Slightly more aggressive in nature than the 15C, I would most often use this for shaves with a slightly-used blade that were going to be a single with-grain pass or that might stop with a second across-grain pass. Occasionally with it I'll do a with-grain first pass, and against-grain touch-up strokes and stop there.

Rimei RM2003

This is a fine razor head that may be ideal for those who think the c.'48 Tech is a touch too mild. This razor may have a slightly larger blade blade exposure or span than the '48 Tech. I am unable to measure this, but after long use, I'm clear that the RM2003 shaves slightly more aggressively than the '48 Tech. I will use this as a first-pass or only-pass razor. Even with a well-used blade, I can get tiny weepers from a cross-grain pass with this razor. So this one I tend to use with grain only, and it makes for a good standard shave when I'm pressed for time. If I choose to take a second pass after the RM2003, I will typically switch to the Weishi 9306-F. 

These are my six go-to razors. Of these, I find myself using the 15C open comb or the '48 Tech most often for solitary or preliminary passes, and if I want a close, safe finish, I'll usually transfer the blade into the 9306-F for that final against-grain pass and subsequent touch-up strokes.

To purchase any of the currently-manufactured razors discussed above, you can click on the links below:

                 
L to R: Wiesh 9306-F, Merkur 33C Classic, Lord LP1822L (L.6 razor head)

                      
L to R: Merkur 15C Open Comb, Rimei RM2003

Happy shaving!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Case for Multiple Razors....

My previous article on the 23rd shave with a Bluebird blade raised a point that I don't believe I've mentioned for a long time: reasons for owning multiple double-edge (DE) razors.

Too many of us own many DE razors because of the trial-and-error process in our first couple of years DE shaving.

Yet there are reasons to acquire and keep some razors with different shaving characteristics. These include shaving longer hair, using different razors for different passes in the same shave, and matching razors to the characteristics of a given blade at a given point in its life cycle.

To some degree, these multiple-razor arguments also fit for owning adjustable razors such as the Progress, Future, and Vision models from Merkur, or the vintage Fat Boy and Slim adjustables from Gillette.

          

For shaving long hair such as removing or trimming a beard or mustache, or cleaning up the back of one's neck between haircuts, or removing long neglected body hair, an open-comb baseplate can do the trick. Regular readers of my blog know that my favored open-comb razor is the Merkur 15C. I like this one because it's a mild shaver, not too likely to bite, but completely adequate as both a long-hair shaver and a regular shaver if one likes a mild razor.


Merkur 15C Open-Comb Razor

Other razors that are good for shaving longer hair are the slant razors such as the Merkur 37C. These types of razors have large capacity -- in part owing to their toothed safety-guard design, which are essentially very deep, square-topped scallops -- but may be more harsh on sensitive skin than a mild open-comb razor. Also potentially adequate for shaving longer hair are the razors with a large blade-bar span. These, however, are potentially even more likely to bite than the slant designs. Of course, any adjustable razor on its more aggressive settings are likely to be equivalent to non-adjustables with large blade-bar spans. The only difference is that most adjustables on an aggressive setting will also have a rather positive blade exposure, which are more likely to wound; while non-adjustable razors with a large blade-bar span may or may not have a positive blade exposure. This means that a non-adjustable with a large blade-bar span but a less-positive blade exposure may be desirable for those who want large capacity (such as those who shave infrequently) but have skin that is easily wounded.

                            
Left: 37C slant, Right: 39C slant (longer handle but less expensive -- go figure!)

Another argument for owning razors of different shave character (or adjustables) is matching the shaving character of a razor to a given brand of razor blade. Notoriously sharp and unforgiving blades such as Feather brand might work best in a very mild razor, in which the blade is less likely to nip.

Perhaps even more compelling is matching the razor's shaving character to the point of a given blade's life cycle. For example, my preferred blade, the Personna Platinum Chrome, when fresh out of the wrapper may give me the best shave in my mildest three-piece razor, my Merkur 33C Classic. Yet on its fourth shave, it may perform best in my Lord L.6 razor head, which has the same blade angle as the 33C and a larger blade-bar span, but still has a negative blade exposure. The eighth shave on this blade may be best in my Merkur 15C open-comb razor, and the fifteenth shave may be optimal for my face in a Gillette Tech or Rimei RM2003.

                    
Left: Merkur 33C Classic. Center: Lord LP1822L w/L.6 razor head. Right: Rimei RM2003

Similarly, using a Gillette Slim adjustable, the first shaves might be set to one or two, the fourth shave to three or four, the eighth shave to five, and so on.

The final argument for multiple razors is using different instruments (or different adjustable settings) for different phases of a single shave. When using non-adjustables, I may still select a given razor on a given day according to blade-life-cycle considerations. However, for the final pass of a shave, I frequently choose my mildest-character razor, the Weishi 9306-F as a finishing razor that is the least likely to bite (but still will, if one gets cavalier and careless). Some even use three razors for a given shave, using a progressively milder razor for each successive pass.


Weishi 9306-F

The adjustable razors fall slightly short in this matching-razor-to-phase-of-shave approach, only in this respect: adjustable razors may not adjust mild enough to match the character of the 9306-F for use as a finishing razor.

Happy shaving!

Monday, November 9, 2015

The 23rd Shave on a Bluebird Blade

This morning was my 23rd shave with a Bluebird blade. TWENTY-THIRD SHAVE!!!  :-D


Above: The only currently-available 
Bluebird offering on Amazon.

What I've found is that this well-used blade doesn't cut less effectively, when used appropriately, but rather it is less dangerous. I seem to get less skin irritation, and I can use techniques such as buffing strokes that might be ill advised with a new blade.

Take this morning, for example. I used my open-comb Merkur 15C razor for most of the shave. I lathered well with my own, proprietary soap, and made the first pass with slow oblique buffing and an anti-raking stroke pattern. I did not rinse the razor for the entire pass, which left more than ample lather on my face and under the razor to eliminate the need for more brush-to-face lathering. I simply re-wet my face with water and used my hand to spread the used lather uniformly again.


Above: Link to buy a
Merkur 15c open comb razor

Second pass was largely across grain above my jaw line, and against grain below my jawline. Again this was with slow oblique buffing strokes and anti-raking stroke pattern. Also once again I didn't rinse my razor, merely re-wet my face, and again spread the residual lather from face and razor uniformly over my face.

Then I took a third pass against grain with the 15C.

Not quite satisfied, I transferred the blade into my finishing razor, the Weishi 9306-F, and, after again wetting and spreading the now-thinning residual lather (having sufficient water is the key), did a fourth pass, once again against grain.


The Wieshi 9306-F is a 
terrific finishing razor.

The result was an extremely close, surprisingly comfortable shave. A post-shave alum rub revealed surprisingly little latent irritation. I rinsed the alum off with a witch hazel rub, dried my face, and applied the last of my Nivea balm for sensitive skin. Then some unscented moisturizer over my entire face (except for my nose).

Had I done this process with any new blade, you can bet that I'd have likely had weepers and skin irritation galore. I think that the old blade plays a key role -- but not just because it's old.

I must reiterate that I groom the blade after each shave by first rinsing and drying it, then oiling my palm and stropping the blade on that oiled area. Also, the open-comb Merkur razor, though having infinite shaving capacity due to its open-comb baseplate, is obviously a mild shaver. Paired with a fresh blade it is far from my favorite razor as a final-pass instrument, but I find it excellent for with-grain and across-grain passes. Yet, with a well-used, well-seasoned blade like today's Bluebird, it was comfortable but not dangerous even on my against-grain pass.

And for the ultimate in safe finishing razors, the Weishi 9306-F is unparalleled. Though I don't like this for most early passes in a shave, I might be tempted to give it a try when using a new blade ill suited to my face such as a Feather brand.

Tomorrow I'll be using this same Bluebird blade in my vintage Gillette Tech razor. It's unlikely that I'll take four passes, but I do expect the shave to be face friendly. We'll see....

Happy shaving!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Flirting with the Dark Side

This morning I shaved with a disposable razor. I wanted to compare the two-track, more-modern-style razor with the double-edge (DE) razors of which I have become so fond.

Today's disposable was a pivoting, two-bladed cartridge-style razor with a lubricating strip and a four-inch handle, manufactured by Gillette. I would estimate that the per-razor cost when bought in a package of ten is about 40 cents (US).


I pretty much shaved in my usual way. The difference between how I used this razor today and how I might have used it years a go is that I probably used a much lighter pressure this morning. Oh, and I also used a buffing stroke for the initial pass and an anti-raking stroke pattern, both of which I would certainly not have done in by-gone days.

I started with a standard shave; that is, one pass, with grain. In the past I would have stopped here. So after I took my standard shave, I gave it a feel with my hand. It was not better than a standard shave with my DE razors; I don't think it was even as good.

I then took a second pass after re-wetting my beard but not re-lathering; there was more than enough residual lather on my face from my buffing-stroke first pass -- in which I didn't rinse my razor. Ever aware of the possibility of in-grown hairs with these cartridge razors, I took my second pass across grain.

Still not quite close enough to suit my mood this morning, I again re-wet my beard (there was still enough lather) and made some touch-up strokes on chin, upper lip, under jaw line, and on my neck.

After that I considered the shave acceptable and cleaned up my gear after applying to my face some witch hazel, then some Gillette after-shave gel (blue bottle).

On the positive side, this razor probably shaved a bit closer than the DE in my most troublesome area, which is under the jaw line. It also was a very low risk shave as cartridge razors tend to be -- yielding low irritation and absolutely zero wounds.

On the negative side, for all the work I did, the shave wasn't all that close on my cheeks, upper lip, and neck. I'm assuming that the lack of an against-grain pass in those areas is a significant limiting factor -- but the risk of in-grown hairs makes the against-grain pass not worth the closer shave. [UPDATE: Since writing this article, I have shaved against grain with this type of razor, and had good results. For me, at least, the risk of in-grown hairs was less than anticipated.Further, this razor is about twice as costly as my preferred blade, the Personna Platinum Chrome (the red-label blade), and about four times as costly as my various second-tier blades: Astra SP, Personna Super (lab blue), Dorco ST-301, SuperMax Titanium, Lord Platinum Class, etc. Also, the ecological load is higher, with all the non-recyclable plastic to discard. Additionally, the blades of the cartridge razor are much harder to maintain for longevity. I don't know how many good shaves I can get from this disposable twin-bladed razor, but I wonder with some doubt if it can match the twenty-plus quality shaves that I'm currently getting from my favorite DE blades.


        

To maintain today's disposable, I first rinsed and then shook and blew out the moisture from the twin blades. I then arm stropped the razor head, which, of course, only manicures one side of each blade edge. I then dunked the razor head in mineral oil for a few seconds, and set it in a reused Greek-yogurt cup to drain prior to long-term storage for my next use (if ever).

In sum, I was somewhat surprised by the poor standard shave that I formerly considered completely acceptable. Ignorance is bliss, as they say.

But was it awful? Actually, now that I know what a good shave is and isn't, it was still a bit of a challenge to use effectively, which was fun. However, I wouldn't go back to this razor for regular use. I would use it on trips where I was traveling by air and was only using carry-on luggage.

In all, the close shave, economy and ecological friendliness of the old-school DE razor has me hooked. Just for fun though, I may some time pick up a small quantity of disposable single-blade, non-pivoting razors to give those another test shave and see how they compare to the DE design.

Happy shaving!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

My Ideal Shave: Not Perfect, But....

If a perfect shave is one that is truly baby smooth with no skin wounds or irritation, then I'll never have a perfect shave. My skin is too damage prone, my topology is too angular and curvy,  and my beard is too grainy to achieve the perfect shave as defined in the preceding sentence.

Instead of obsessing about the ideal of the perfect shave, I've made peace with my shaving obsession by focusing on the concept of my ideal shave.

My ideal shave is nearly smooth in all directions, when I don't press too firmly -- especially against the grain of the beard. Also my ideal shave is wound free and with minimal irritation that quickly fades after the shave.

I had a nearly ideal shave this morning, marred by a single pin-point weeper, but which disappeared quickly with rinsing. I then applied my favorite after-shave lotion -- a citrusy-smelling tea-tree potion -- and some inexpensive (dollar store) fragrance-free moisturizer for men.

The way I achieve my ideal shave has been documented, but I'll run through it quickly one more time:

In a mild but not mildest razor, I put a blade compatible with my skin and beard. My favorite blade is the Personna Platinum Chrome (the Israeli-made red-label blade). However, this morning, I used a Bluebird blade with 18 shaves already on it (18!!!). This morning's razor was my c.1948 Gillette Tech, but other razors work as well. The list includes the Rimei RM2003 and the Merkur 15C open-comb razor.

                   
Left: Merkur 15C open comb razor. Right: Rimei RM2003 razor

The Merkur open comb and the Rimei RM2003 both work well for me when I do with-grain or across-grain strokes. Both can open the occasional weeper if I'm not extremely careful when shaving against grain.

I always make the first pass largely with grain, which on my face and neck means strokes that are vertical -- that is, downward on most of my beard, and upward on my lower neck.

Then for my second pass, I transfer the blade to my one-piece Weishi 9306-F razor, which is the mildest shaver that I own and a terrific finishing razor. With this razor I make a second pass on my re-lathered face using strokes generally in the opposite direction from the first pass. Since this is largely against grain, I make the strokes rather slowly so as to not nip skin. Also, for the record, I make all my strokes oblique, and I also generally use an anti-raking stroke pattern.

                   
Weishi 9306-F options from Amazon.

I will generally complete the shave without re-lathering, but will re-wet and shave as needed in my problem areas under my jaw, mid neck, point of chin, etc.

Happy shaving!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Lathering Without a Brush

On Mondays I have a rather long day, ending with an university class that I teach in the early evening. So I like to get a close shave on Monday mornings so I have little shadow in my class.

Today I decided to take my close Monday shave without a shaving brush. I simply wet and washed my face, rinsed off the bath soap, then rubbed on shave soap and "lathered" with wet hands. The word lathered is in quotation marks because, when I don't use a brush to make shaving lather, the so-called lather is more like a creamy film, and not really much like lather at all.

However, it is wet, and it is slick. Using my 17th-use Bluebird blade in my c.1948 Gillette Tech razor, I took a with-grain pass. That pass consisted of my usual oblique strokes in an anti-raking pattern. I did not rinse the soap off my razor, and merely kept shaving on throughout the pass.

For the second pass, which was a combination of across and against grain, I just re-wetted my face using the soap still present.

Then I finished by rinsing with cool tap water, applying more soap from my soap stick to my now-smooth face, "lathering" that soap with wet hands, and doing a final clean-up pass against grain.

The result was a close shave with three tiny pin-point weepers. The outcome wasn't especially close, however, and was about the same as those days when I skip the cross-grain pass and limit the shave to just with grain and against grain. The benefit of those days is typically fewer wounds.

In all not a bad shave despite the absence of thick lather. Tomorrow I may again forego the brush and take a standard shave or my more common two-pass shave.

Happy shaving!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Two Blades at Once?

Based on a reader's comment, I gave some thought to shaving with two DE blades mounted in a three-piece DE razor.

This was purported to have been tried by soldiers -- sort of a do-it-yourself Trac II razor.

My initial thoughts were as follows:
  • Similar to shimming a razor, it will change the geometry of the razor head making it a more aggressive shave.
  • The two stacked blade edges are likely too close together to create beneficial hysteresis, and may in fact inhibit the effectiveness of the blades.
So yesterday I stacked a couple of slightly-used blades in my mildest three-piece razor, the Merkur 33C  Classic.



An examination down the edge confirmed two things:
  • The razor geometry was made more aggressive due to the lower blade having a more positive blade exposure.
  • The blade edges were so close together that it was difficult to even distinguish them; they appeared as one blade.
As an initial experiment, I took this two-blade set up and shaved the hair on the back of my neck, which has always been rather insensitive and not susceptible to being easily wounded.

The outcome was no skin damage, but not a particularly close shave -- certainly not an improvement over my usual back-of-neck shave with my Merkur 15C open-comb razor and a single blade.


The Merkur 15C open-comb razor.

But this morning I went ahead and tried a standard shave with the two-blade set up. Bottom line, it wasn't an improvement. After about a 1/3 first pass, I went back to my Tech with a 16th-shave Bluebird blade.

Using that standard set up, I finished the shave with oblique, slow buffing strokes in an anti-raking pattern for two full passes. First pass was with grain; second pass was against grain. Then I took a few touch-up strokes and wound up with a very close, comfortable shave.

Happy shaving!