Thursday, February 5, 2015

Optimizing the Slim for a Finishing Pass

My two-razor shaving process has given me a new perspective on my vintage Gillette Slim razor. Though for my skin it remains undesirable as a total-shave instrument due to the irritation it creates during a multiple-pass shave of any closeness, as a final-pass finishing razor, it seems fairly well suited.

The issue that arises at this point is whether an optimal blade can be identified that, when paired with the Slim, will create minimal irritation on my sensitive skin.

And by the way, what are the contributing factors that make my skin so $%^&*#@ sensistive, you ask? Well here are the reasons:

  • Not tough; skin easily irritated by sharp steel
  • Skin tends to be dry
  • Skin tends to have very small bumps or irregularities that can get nipped by the blade
  • Varied directions of beard grain
  • Beard grain is extreme; that is, tends to grow rather flat in sensitive areas such as cheeks, upper lip, under jaw line, and on neck
  • Little subcutaneous fat makes the skin thin, and, in places, a bit loose
  • Lots of sharp contours: dips, hollows, protruding chin
So I know that my preferred Merkur 33 razor head works well on my beard. It just doesn't shave quite close enough in three passes for the perfect shave: smooth in all directions with no skin damage. With a more aggressive blade configuration, I can get just a bit closer; but the question remains: can I get closer without diminishing the quality of the shave through increased irritation and wounds?

I already know that the Slim works for me as a finishing razor with settings of 3, 4, or 5. These are moderate settings on this razor, but they work for me because the Slim has a positive blade exposure on all settings, despite the variable blade gap that can be set quite narrow as well as the small blade reveal. This positive blade exposure makes the Slim a nice compliment to my 33, which has a negative blade exposure and overall a mild shaving character that is kind to my face and neck.

To optimize the shave character of the Slim, I need to find not only the right setting of the razor (already done, of course), but also the best blade for that final pass that will get me completely smooth with the absolute minimum of irritation and wounds.

My thought is that instead of transferring my weekly blade back and forth between the 33 and the Slim, I would keep the weekly blade in the 33 and use whatever best blade I find as a finishing blade in the Slim. So far I've tried the Astra SP and a Derby Extra as finishing blades, and I'm still hoping for better.

So in my weekly shave summaries going forward, one major question to be explored will be finding the blade that is just sharp enough to get that perfect smoothness, but also comfortable enough that I can both minimize irritation and skin wounds on my pathetic skin. Stay tuned.

By the way, going forward I will be using my new shave-quality-classification method, which was introduced in my guest article on the Sharpologist blog. I encourage you to read it; and if you are keeping your own score for publication or your personal use, I encourage you to use it. An abbreviated summary of that method follows here:

Three shave aspects are each rated separately on a 1-5 scale: closeness, irritation, and wounds.

Closeness -- a separate evaluation is done for each of these five areas: a) upper lip, b) cheeks, c) chin, d) under jaw line, and e) neck; then these five are averaged together for a single closeness rating. The following are the scale criteria:
5 – Smooth when rubbed against grain & other directions
4 – Smooth across grain but not against grain
3 – Smooth with grain only
2 – Not smooth to touch, but appears adequately clean shaven
1 – Not smooth to touch, and stubble apparent

5 – No perceivable irritation
4 – Minor irritation just after the shave, disappears quickly with time or applied balm
3 – Minor irritation that lingers for more than an hour but less than six
2 – Irritation that is perceived throughout the day
1 – Visible razor burn

5 – Absence of any wounds
4 – Pinpoint weepers only
3 – A total of three or less nicks, small cuts, and larger-than-pinpoint weepers
2 – A total of four to six  nicks, cuts, and larger-than-pinpoint weepers
1 – Worse than 2, above (first aid, quick!)

Happy shaving!

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