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
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!