Friday, February 27, 2015

The Challenges of Beard Grain

I would guess that the most commonly recognized challenge of beard grain is direction. Not only do many beards have a grain that doesn't run downward like shingles on a roof, many beards also have grain that grows in several directions -- not just up, sideways or down, but also up, down, sideways, and in swirls simultaneously.

Grain. Okay, it's not beard grain, but unfortunately some beards do grow with varied
grain direction and lean angle, which can make shaving more interesting.

This multi-directional grain transforms the three-pass shave distinctly away from the simple down, across, and up passes. Not only do the individual passes become other directional, they can also become multi directional. In addition, for multi-directional grain, the strokes of each pass cannot always be precisely with, across, or against grain as the basic three-pass shave pattern would suggest.

Obviously, as most know, there is some compromise required, some adjustment away from the ideal in order to cope with troublesome grain-direction patterns.

Less commonly discussed is grain angle. That is the the amount of lean of the hair shafts in relation to the plane of the skin, irrespective of lean direction.

Grain lean angle is a mixed bag. No-lean hairs are growing straight out of the skin. In my experience they can be shaved closely, but as time elapses after the shave, these tend to be the first hairs that I feel as I rub my face. Of course, these hairs have no particular need to be shaved in any order of shaving-stroke direction; the more important factor is not order of pass direction, but rather that one simply shaves each pass from a different direction -- ideally from something approximating three of the four cardinal points.

At the opposite end of the range, hairs with an extreme lean behave quite differently in my experience. Extreme lean is best managed with the with-, across-, and against-grain passes. Unfortunately, the lean also minimizes the effectiveness of each pass -- tending to leave more hair on the face after each pass. Also, in the final against-grain pass, because the hairs might be just a tad longer that those with less lean angle, the razor's edge might tend to get grabbed by the remaining hair shaft, causing the blade to ride down a bit toward the skin, making irritation, nicks, and weepers more likely.

However, this tendency for the large-lean hairs to encourage the blade to ride closer to the skin also makes for a potentially-closer shave. On this facial real estate, the final against-grain pass should be taken with extra care -- especially when one has sensitive skin -- to appropriately balance between a close shave and a close shave with irritation and blood shed.

To summarize lean-angle realities, low- or no-angle hairs may be easier to shave comfortably and closely in three passes but may tend to be the first to be felt a few hours after the shave. While large-lean-angle hair is likely more difficult to shave comfortably and closely, but because of the larger lean, will not be perceived as quickly as post-shave growth when one rubs his beard.

It's something on which to ruminate as one takes his shave. Hope it's a good one.

Happy shaving!

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