Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Closer Look at My Troubled Shaves with the 15C

[UPDATE 30 DEC 2015: The Merkur 15C is now my razor of choice much of the time. At the time I wrote this article, I had been regularly using the Merkur 33C Classic razor, which is a very mild shaver and tended to encourage me using too much pressure to get a close shave. Another contributing factor to my learning to really like the 15C is that I have abandoned my pursuit of the holy grail of shaving, which is the baby-smooth shave. On my face, if I get overall baby smooth, then blood shed is unavoidable. I have come to appreciate the shave that is smooth if I don't press too hard when evaluating the smoothness. With this appropriate-for-my-face approach of using the requisite light pressure and not over-striving for unrealistic smoothness, the 15C really shines for me.]

Last week, I abused my face with a couple of shaves with the Merkur 15C. Though some months ago I wrote an article nominating this razor, the 15C open comb, as the best overall compromise razor for every shaver, individuals can have issues with it. I, for one, have a hard time getting a weeper free shave (though that's true for me with almost any razor, when I take a very close shave).

Yet at face value, the 15C should be an extremely comfortable shaver. That is if one only looks at the blade exposure and blade angle as illustrated in the side-view photos below.

The blade exposure of this razor is negative: the blade edge is below the shave plane. This orientation is less likely to bite than similar razors with a positive blade exposure.

The blade angle of this razor is fairly mild, with 30 degrees (or less) being the norm for many face-friendly razors.

Part of the explanation for my occasionally rough shaves with the 15C such as that first one with it last week is that I occasionally lose my mind and do something not particularly smart. For example, I may do a two-pass shave with, then against, grain. Though I can safely do this with some other razor designs, by skipping the cross-grain pass with an open-comb razor in particular, one increases the likelihood of nicks and weepers as the rake of the hair angle when shaving against grain encourages the blade to ride down -- sometimes dangerously close -- toward the skin. Once my skin is nicked and generally irritated, no matter what I do the next day, it will likely be uncomfortable and far from perfect.

This is the view that can provoke thought. Despite the mild blade exposure and angle, when pressing the razor too firmly against skin or shaving against the grain on hairs too long and too firm, the blade can nip skin bulging slightly between the teeth. 

So here are the precautions I will take going forward with this razor:
  • I will always remove hair incrementally without short cuts -- meaning that I will always make a first pass with grain, second pass cross grain, and never do an against-grain pass before the third pass.
  • I will always keep in mind that this open-comb design, though relatively mild, still offers less protection than a similar set up with a safety bar such as the Merkur 33C Classic. This means light pressure and respect for the razor's threat.

Happy shaving!


  1. Have you tried shimming it? I can't get a BBS shave with this razor, but adding a shim will make it a bit more aggressive, which might also be a problem for your skin. I found that so far the Indian Wilkinson Swords work well for me in this razor.

    1. Thanks for the thought. You are correct, however, that shimming this razor will be too much for my delicate dermis because as it is, I just can't get a no-wound, low-irritation shave. I do keep this razor at hand, though, because for me it's an excellent trimming instrument for when I want to clean up the back of my neck and get that hair line just right.