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Saturday, December 31, 2016

A New Slant on the Morning Shave

Consistent with my revitalized commitment to re-examine everything including my entire razor inventory, I once again pulled my Merkur 37C slant-bar razor out of moth balls and have included it in my active razor rotation.

The most intimidating view of the Merkur 37C slant-bar razor.

I used it this morning paired with a fourth-use SuperMax Titanium blade. The results were instructive.

After feeling some new-razor infatuation, I previously, finally (I thought) rejected the 37C for the following reasons:

  • Always seemed to get the after-the-shave burning-skin sensation more than with other razors
  • Always seemed to get nicks/weepers
  • Didn't seem to get a significantly closer shave -- at least not one that was worth the weepers and irritation
But after a very mediocre shave yesterday with the SuperMax T in my Merkur 15C open-comb razor, I had a hankering for a much-closer outcome. (I think the 15C and the SuperMax blade may just be too mild of a combination -- which tends to support my previous contention that if one is going to use a mild razor, he'd better use a blade on the sharper end of the spectrum.)

So this morning I took pretty much a one-pass, against-grain shave with the Merkur slant. The exception to the against-grain direction was on my upper lip, which got strokes that were both with grain and across grain. (I can get away with this approach combined with a one-lathering shave because I use anti-raking strokes, which tend to spread lather and moisture over just-shaved areas rather than raking the lubrication off the face. I also use longish buffing strokes, which basically means that the return, non-cutting stroke stays on the skin, thus pushing lather and moisture back onto the just-shaved area.)

What went right in this morning's shave:
  • Close shave on the planes of my cheeks, where it can be most rewarding
  • No weepers on my neck (especially my lower neck, which is very vulnerable and sensitive)
  • Very light pressure of razor against skin worked rather well (duh!)
What can be improved in future shaves:
  • I got a couple of weepers on my chin, which should probably not be shaved against grain using the slant. In the future I will probably approach that area as I do my upper lip: with grain, then across grain.
  • Under my jaw line was not particularly close though this is always a challenge. The differernce today was that I didn't really take many additional clean-up strokes; I just wanted to see the outcome of taking a rather minimal number of strokes in the upward direction, which is almost against the grain.
What may not improve in future shaves:
  • Though my skin looked good, there was still the post-shave-burning sensation, which was not calmed much by lotions. It's not a huge problem and is now almost gone as I write this (and is probably persisting more than necessary because I keep evaluating the closeness of the shave with my hand).
What I learned this morning in addition to the above:
  • Probably rather than just mindlessly day after day going through the rotation of my razors at hand in the bathroom, I may be more attentive to skipping or choosing certain razors based on the blade I'm currently using and the number of shaves on the blade.
The bottom line is that I've once again raised the 37C slant-bar razor from the dead, and it now resides once again at hand and available for use as appropriate.


A Brief Rant

I was reading some shaving information on line recently and saw persons who should know better referring to a straight-bar razor as a closed-comb razor

AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH! This is just soooooooo wrong!

There is no such thing as a closed comb! A closed comb is just a bar or a strip. Can you imagine someone saying, "I combed my hair this morning with a closed comb."????  That would be stupid. It amounts to saying, "I combed my hair with a butter knife."

Don't let this happen to you! Don't sound like an idiot! Refer to non-open-comb razors by terms that actually make sense like straight-bar razor, safety-bar razor, slant-bar razor, or even simply as safety razor.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

Happy shaving!





Thursday, December 29, 2016

Back from Europe

For the last week I've been in London and Helsinki. My intention was to peruse some local shops and see what kind of shaving gear was available.

However, sometimes life intervenes and changes our plans. In my case, my daughter had a serious medical emergency. We managed to tour London and see a show (The Book of Mormon), but after that we became rather focused on getting medical help.

We spent most of our second night in London in the emergency department of a local hospital. Then upon arriving in Helsinki, where my daughter lives, we spent most of our second night there once again in the emergency department of a local hospital.

From that point, most of my time was dedicated to keeping my daughter company and supporting her in her recovery. When I left yesterday, she was receiving home medical support three times per day and was clearly out of the woods and on the mend.

I was so distracted by the health emergency, that it never even occurred to me to check out shaving supplies as I shopped in local Helsinki stores. Sorry about that, but I'm sure you can understand my situation.

I'll have more articles forthcoming in the immediate future.

Happy shaving, and take care of your health, too!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Big Ingrown-Hair Problem?

The other day I was awaiting the fulfillment of a family member's prescription at my local drug store. Having a few minutes to kill, I was browsing the shaving supplies, and, long story short, ended up having a conversation with another local guy who had a problem with ingrown hairs after shaving.

I gave him my business card and left. As a day or two went by, I ruminated on his problem and came up with what I think is a solution. I thought it was so good that I was prepared to loan him a sanitized razor and provide some (new, unused -- obviously) blades to try.

But he hasn't called. And I'm disappointed because I thought I had both an excellent solution as well as one that was ecologically responsible and economical to boot! I had initially thought of the three-piece Merkur 33C classic as an option for him, but because of the severity of his problem and his focus on an ingrown-free shave rather than a close shave, it became clear that I had a better suggestion.

My solution was the Weishi 9306-F razor. This particular model is the mildest double-edge razor that I have used. It has both a negative blade exposure (the blade edge lies below the shave plane formed by the top cap and the safety bar) and a very small blade-bar span (the distance between the blade edge and the safety bar). With a very light touch and a reasonably-sharp blade, this razor may be one of his best options.

The Weishi 9306-F is visually identical with some other razors including the Dorco Prime, the Van Der Hagen, and the Microtouch One, but is likely the mildest shaver of the bunch.  It's a high-quality Chinese version of a Superspeed.

I would have provided a couple of Dorco ST-301 blades, which I think are nice, sharp, durable, and very-reasonably-priced blades. I might have also included a couple of Derby Extra blades, which I, personally, don't like much, but who knows -- maybe they would have been a good option for him.

With a blade exposure that is just slightly negative and a small blade-bar span,
the Weishi 9306-F is a very well-behaved instrument.


So I'm writing this article for your information, but also for his if he happens to give this blog site a look. If he's reading, contact me and I'll be happy to let you try out my suggestion.

Happy ingrown-free shaving!




Friday, December 16, 2016

The Guy Who Came In from the Cold

Though I've known for a while now that cool water shaves can be comfortable and adequate, I'm also now convinced that warm-water prep and warm lather can take the shave comfort and quality and kick it up a notch.

But if one showers at a different time of day from the appointed shaving time (or skips showering altogether on a given day), getting a warm shave can have its challenges. For example, my home is a ranch style, with the water supply entering the house at one end, where the hot-water heater is located. My shaving area is at the other end of the house, and even in summer it can take a while for my shaving faucet to run with warm water. In the winter, even longer. It keeps going and going like the Energizer bunny -- only in a bad way.

I've found an easy, responsible way to solve this problem, to come in from the cold like a suspect British spy in the 1960s, while still being ecologically astute. I adapted the idea from the 19th-century, pre-indoor-plumbing practice of having a pitcher and bowl on hand, and not relying on the bathroom faucet (much).

My gear to get an ecologically-responsible warm-water shave:
insulated carafe for the warm water, the re-purposed Greek
yogurt container for wetting the brush while face lathering and for
dipping fingers as necessary to moisten the face while shaving,
and the wash cloth to apply warm water as part of the shave prep.
My warm shave begins when I make my morning coffee. At that time, I take an insulated coffee carafe and fill it about half full with warm/hot water from the spigot closest to the hot water heater. This wastes almost no water at all. The insulated carafe keeps the water warm until I'm ready to shave. Then I take it with me into the lavatory for my shave.

I prep for my shave with (as usual) two or three splash-and-rubs on my beard using cool tap water drizzling out of the faucet. Then I shut that off and pour warm water from the carafe about a half-inch deep into a re-purposed Greek-yogurt container. Then I saturate a wash cloth with more water from the carafe. I then apply the warm, wet wash cloth to my beard. I end the pre-lathering process with pouring from the carafe a small amount of warm water into my palm, with which I dampen the clean, whispy dried lather on my shave brush from previous shaves.

I apply dry shave soap to my wet beard, dip the brush into the yogurt bowl containing warm water, and face lather -- re-dipping my brush into the warm water as needed.

I take my usual patch-and-anti-raking shave, without rinsing used lather from my razor until the shave is completed. After shaving, I pour the warm water remaining in the carafe into my hand and rinse remaining soap residue from my face and neck. Voila!

   

Do be a do-bee and don't be a don't-bee: consider being more ecologically responsible in all actions (and stop denying the problem, like some dumb-ass politician-elects, who assert that global warming and related climate changes are a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese -- idiotic, uninformed!). Recycle; drive smaller vehicles and drive as little as you can; use everything up and don't discard when things are still usable. Don't waste, period. Eat less animal protein (watch the movie, Cowspiracy, on Netflix if you don't understand the less-animal-protein thing).

Happy ecologically-aware shaving!




Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Today's Topics: Hot vs. Cool, Palm Stropping & Travel Shaves

Hot versus Cool Shave Prep

For a long time now, I've been prepping my shaves with cool tap water. I do this because my normal daily schedule works better when I shower in the evening but shave in the morning. I use cool water for my shave to eliminate the lengthy wait time (and water wasted) for my tap water to get warm.

I have been getting good shaves using the three or so splashes of cool water to prepare my beard and then the cool water used to make lather.

However, this morning I had reason to take a shower before shaving, and the shower not only prepped my beard, but allowed the tap water to be immediately warm for making lather.

I must admit that though my cool-water shaves were completely adequate, the warm-water prep and shave was noticeably better. Despite using a 14th-use blade, I got a close, comfortable shave using my Merkur "Bakelite" model 030/045 razor head on the classic metal handle of the Merkur 33C and Merkur 15C razors.

Palm Stropping

Speaking of the 14th shave with this morning's blade, I continue to do a daily clean up of my blades. For a time, I was palm stropping and oiling the blade daily. Then for several months I went to arm stropping only. More recently, I have been doing only light palm stropping -- two light strokes on each side of each edge.

I believe that the stropping -- particularly when care is taken to ensure that hands and blade are dry prior to the stropping -- is responsible for greater blade longevity simply due primarily to reducing any micro oxidation of the blade between uses. Of course, it's always possible that there is also some micro straightening of the edge as well.

For whatever the reason, however, today's shave with a hot-water prep, an old blade and a slightly-aggressive razor (the Merkur "Bakelite" 030) cut through my whiskers like butter, and left a truly superior result -- a rare near-baby-smooth surface on my cheeks.

What Makes a Great Travel Razor?

Using the "Bakelite" razor reminded me of the frequent suggestion that this 15-gram, all-plastic razor is a good travel razor.

But is lightness the only characteristic that matters when shaving away from home? I certainly don't think so.

Lightness can be important, of course. But there are other factors. 

One factor is having blades on hand for your double-edge (DE) razor. I think this is an issue, especially when traveling by air. As I've written before, one must either find (typically) generic blades at one's destination, or put them in one's checked baggage (but I never check baggage), or mail them to the destination ahead of time. None of these alternatives work for me.

Even if they did, using a slightly aggressive razor like the "Bakelite" suggests other potential challenges. I will want to make good lather, so I need a brush. I'm also likely to get minor nicks, so now I need to pack styptic pencil. All in all, this adds up to too much gear, too much trouble.

Instead, I use all-plastic two-blade (various brands) or one-blade (Bic Sensitive) disposables.  They're light, and I lighten them further by removing half the length of the handle. They're very low risk even using hand soap as shave soap. This eliminates the need for brush, styptic, and, of course, all worry about having DE blades on hand.

And so, practicing what I preach, during my up-coming trip to northern Europe, I'll be taking a disposable razor and a small chunk of shave soap. That's it for my shaving needs.

Happy shaving!





Friday, December 2, 2016

They're Ba-ack.... Variety Can Keep Your Skills as Sharp as Your Blades

In a recent article, I described cleaning out my bathroom shaving drawer, putting most of my razors in storage and limiting my daily easy access to just three. At that time, though it seemed like a good idea, still, I wondered how long this resolution to simplify and rationalize my razor options would last.

Now I know: it lasted just a couple of weeks. After giving the matter more thought, I decided to re-evaluate several razors. I'm glad I did. Not only did I give the Dorco Prime TTO another go, but this morning I shaved with my Lord LP1822L, and got a positively terrific shave! I had long ago dismissed the Lord LP1822L, with its L.6 razor head as being similar in design to my Merkur 33C Classic, but with the L.6 having a larger blade-bar span, which increased its tendency to nip if one wasn't too careful.

Well, since opening my mind to razors of slightly more aggressive shave character than my 33C, I've lightened my touch and opened my eyes to see several of my razors in a different light. Yep, some require more care while shaving, but the variety is not only kind of fun and has re-kindled my enjoyment of the process, but there are also the practical aspects.

For example, after back-to-back daily shaves with my c.1948 Gillette Tech and my Dorco Prime TTO -- both having a slightly positive blade exposure -- my skin needed a slight rest. But instead of retreating to the familiar safety of my Merkur 33, I chose the Lord LP1822L and made a mental note to use the same care that I would have with the Tech or the Dorco.

Bam! Top-drawer shave! I'm reminded that the Lord LP1822L may be another candidate for the best value in double-edge razors.



So another reason to keep razors on hand that offer a variety of shave aggression is to occasionally dip one's toe into the waters where more-aggressive razors be (aahhrrrr -- think pirate speak, matey).

Developing the flexibility to shave with razors of varying shave character can tweak one's skills to more often draw the best performance from one's shaving gear.

Happy shaving!




Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Shave Quality: In Your Head is Your DE a Straight or a Cartridge?

As you might guess if you're a regular reader of my blog, I'm a fairly analytical guy. So true to form, lately I've been pondering a new question:

Why am I so fond of mild razors when so many others like much more aggressive shaving instruments?

One obvious answer is that my skin is not overly tight because I don't have a lot of subcutaneous fat (unlike much of America). Another obvious answer is that because the lower layers of my facial and neck skin are not padded with much fat, they do not have gentle convex curves, but instead have a lot of sharp corners, tight radii, and many concavities that are all difficult to shave closely without insult to skin.

But as you might guess, I like to go beyond the obvious, and I think there's something out there. I think that one's quality of shave with an aggressive double-edged razor (DE) depends on where one's head is at: do you unconsciously think of your DE as a safety razor similar to a modern multi-blade, or do you think of your DE as more like a (non-safety) straight razor?

I have to admit that I have historically lacked the respect for DEs that they probably require. So I probably tend to like mild DEs because I can pretty much shave with a certain amount of a carefree spirit. Oh, I do take more care when I'm making my first strokes against grain, which is much of the time. But still, I have to admit that I take nowhere near the care that I would take if I were shaving with a straight.

On the other hand, I can easily imagine that if I thought of my more aggressive DEs as though they were straights with a handle, I would likely get a close shave with minimal skin insult more consistently. Actually, recently I have been getting good shaves with my more aggressive razors up to a point.  That point is usually somewhere near the end of the shave when I'm cocky with overconfidence and I let down my guard. Then, whoops!, a last-minute nick or minor cut as I'm making final clean-up strokes.

Yet I know that if I can maintain for an entire shave that healthy respect for the razor as though I were shaving with a straight, those last-minute lapses would be much fewer and far between.

Now that doesn't mean that I'm going to start participating in the uber-macho arms race of shaving -- bragging that I shave with virtual chain saws unlike you wimps out there. No. I consider any razor more-than-adequately aggressive if the blade exposure is slightly positive like my post-WWII Gillette Tech. Other razors that are more aggressive but not ridiculously so include my Rimei RM2003, Merkur "Bakelite", Merkur 37C slant, and Gillette Slim Adjustable on moderate settings. [UPDATE: Also the Dorco Prime one-piece (TTO) razor (I can't forget that one) is a quality Super-Speed knock off and a visual twin the the Weishi one-piece (TTO) razors but has a more aggressive shave character.]



In my opinion and based solely on my beard and facial characteristics, there is very much a case of diminishing marginal returns as I use razors that are more aggressive. There comes a point where the shave only gets closer at the cost of increasing irritation and blood letting. So you won't see me getting near a Muhle R41 or even Feather blades -- uh, no thanks.

Yet if I can keep in mind throughout the shave that I'm shaving with a near cousin of a straight, then I can manage quite nicely with my assortment of slightly aggressive (that is, positive blade exposure) razors.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Maybe it's the same for you: in your unspoken (perhaps unrecognized) thoughts is your DE more a straight or a modern, multi-bladed razor? How you answer that may have a huge impact on your shaving technique and your shave outcomes especially with more aggressive razors that have a positive blade exposure.

Happy shaving!




Monday, November 28, 2016

IMPORTANT: Error Correction Re Blade Exposure of the "Bakelite" Razor

I made an error in today's article on the shave character of the Merkur "Bakelite" razor.

Though I stated the blade exposure is negative (which would yield a mild shave) but that the razor also has large spans between the blade edge and both the top cap and the safety bar. My article suggested that the shave character seems a bit aggressive because of the large spans despite the negative blade exposure.

Actually the shave with this razor seems a bit aggressive because.... well.... it is. It has a slightly positive blade exposure and the large spans.

So shave carefully with this one or it will nip.

Happy shaving!




Shave-Performance Review on the Merkur "Bakelite" Razor

I reviewed the physical characteristics of this razor in an earlier article. Today, I'm going to discuss my impressions of the shaving character of this instrument.

The "Bakelite" Merkur model 030 or 045 (some versions come with a plastic case and pack of Merkur blades, while others just provide razor and a single Merkur blade).
The most salient characteristic of this razor is its appearance and light weight -- both due to its largely plastic substrate. Another superficial characteristic is the greater-than-normal curvature of the top cap and the blade itself. However, these characteristics are relatively unimportant to the character of its shave.

What is most important is the spans of the razor head. Specifically, these relevant spans are distance from the blade edge to both the "theoretical" line on the safety bar that contacts the skin and the "theoretical" line on the top cap that contacts the skin when shaving. (The word theoretical is in quotation marks because the skin deforms and becomes more of a contact patch. However, it is these idealized lines that determine the shave plane of the razor.)

The blade exposure is positive (that is, the blade edge lies above the shave plane) and that tends to make a razor on the aggressive side. When you further consider the large spans between blade edge and both top cap and safety bar, this razor has the capability to be used quite aggressively. One must use light pressure of razor against skin and some care for its shave to wound free and unlikely to bite.

So if the user has good control of razor pressure and is judicious in choice of shaving directions (that is, with grain/cross grain/against grain), this razor can be adequately safe and also aggressive -- capable of shaving quite closely.

However, if the user is undisciplined, in a hurry, or simply uses excessive pressure of razor against face, this razor can nip leaving weepers and nicks in its wake.

The blade exposure (the position of the blade edge, with respect to the shave plane formed by the top cap and safety bar) is a bit positive, which should give a moderately aggressive shave. In addition, because of the large edge-to-safety-bar and edge-to-top-cap spans, this razor will shave quite closely -- especially if one is prone to pressing razor against skin with too much force.

This morning just prior to writing this article, I had my most recent shave with this razor using a Dorco ST-301 blade that was not brand new. I got a very good shave that was about as close as I can get without inflicting damage to my skin.

I did change my routine to accommodate this razor's unique design characteristics. Although I did take my customary one-lathering, anti-raking shave, I did not start with my usual largely-against-grain first strokes. Instead, my first strokes were largely cross grain, which I then followed by shaving against grain. While making final touch-up strokes, I did apply some extra water and even some used lather from under the baseplate. (I don't usually rinse the lather from my razor until I've completed my shave.)

The blade reveal in this razor is large, which may allow more micro-vibration, micro-flexing of the edge while shaving, which could add a touch of irritation to the shave -- but probably not much if any. However, the blade-bar span is very large, which is one reason why this razor is not quite the lap cat one might think; so while not terribly aggressive, this razor deserves respect.
In all, this razor can provide a very good shave as it did this morning for me.

Some will object to it's light weight. I don't mind it, although I admit that I'm one who appreciates razors of all weights, not just heavy weights.

Some have called this an excellent travel razor. I suppose so when traveling by air; it is light weight, which is a good thing if one is a one-bag, carry-on-only type of flyer as I am. However, I don't use double-edge razors while traveling by air because of the extra gear I require such as brush, styptic (just in case), balm, etc -- not to mention the problem of blade acquisition or transportation. Instead, when I'm traveling, I bring a mild, shortened-handle disposable or two such as a Gillette pivoting two-blade design or a Bic single-blade sensitive along with a small wedge of shaving soap, which I face lather with hands, not brush.

Do I like this razor? Yes, I do. It's likely not going to last forever and become a family heirloom, but for those days when I will take my time and enjoy a careful, mindful shave, this is a nice option to have in the shave drawer.

Happy shaving!!




Friday, November 25, 2016

Best of Grandad: On Handle Sizes and Grips

Left to right:  Merkur 33C (3"), Weishi 9306-f (3-1/8"),
Gillette Slim Adjustable (3-1/8"), Shaving Factory (3-1/2"),
Lord L6 (4"). The Weishi appears slightly shorter 
than the Slim because of the differing head designs.
I buy most of my shaving hardware, that is, double-edge (DE) razors and blades, online. Part of the on-line-shopping experience is the availability of customer-written reviews.

Comparing two classic TTO DE razors to a modern, 2-blade
 disposable.  Left to right: Weishi 9306-f, Gillette Slim, and
Gillette Custom Plus Pivot
One aspect of DE-razor design (and any wet-shaving-razor design for that matter) is length of handle.  The classic handle length for DE razors is about 3" or slightly shorter for the earliest 3-piece types, and about 3-1/4" for the twist-to-open (TTO) designs. Yet because most North American men that wet save have never used a DE razor, they tend to be familiar with the common 4" handle length of many disposable razors.

One result of this is that there are surprisingly frequent complaints in these razor reviews from customers unhappy with the slightly shorter, more classic handle lengths of 3 to 3-1/4 inches. Frequently the specific comment relates to a customer saying he has large hands and therefore the shorter, more-classic handle lengths are hard for him to hold.

"Forehand" or "down-stroke" grip.    
   "Backhand" or "up-stroke" grip.
I have to admit that I have a hard time relating to these complaints.  I have what I would describe as average-sized hands -- not particularly large nor small.  I have used hand tools of all kinds that have handles such as hammers, scrapers, paint rollers, tennis racquets, saws, screwdrivers, and on and on. Virtually all of these tools I grasp with my full hand EXCEPT wet-shaving razors, which I've always held with the pads of my fingers and thumb. These are RAZORS, for the love of Mike! I'm using a sharp implement on the skin of my face and neck, not scraping paint off an old boat. I don't see that any other grip beside a gentile, sensitive, finger-tip grip is appropriate -- much like a surgeon delicately holds a scalpel as he operates, not like someone gutting a deer with a hunting knife.

In the pictures at left (above, actually), you will see two ways of holding any wet-shaving safety razor, whether DE or a modern multi-bladed disposable.  These grips or variations on these themes should work no matter what size your hands.

Happy shaving!




Thursday, November 24, 2016

Simulating the WWII-Era Simplex Military Razor

The Simplex Military Razor that I discussed in an earlier article had a shaving head reminiscent of a pre-WWII Gillette Tech razor -- the one with the triangular lather slots. The metal top cap and baseplate had a black finish, and the Bakelite handle was black, too, but it also had (I believe) a brass threaded insert.



Because the pre-war Tech was a bit more aggressive than the post-war Techs, I decided to simulate a Simplex-military-razor shave by combining my Rimei RM2003 razor head with my Merkur 030 faux-Bakelite handle. I have found the Rimei razor head to be just a bit more aggressive in shave character than the post-war Techs, similar to how the pre-war Techs were also a bit more aggressive than their later incarnations. I used that Rimei-"Bakelite" combination for a shave earlier this week -- before I removed these razors and others from my bathroom razor drawer.

Although looking significantly different than the all-black military razor, I imagine the Simplex's shave would have been similar to my modern mock-up version.

My simulated "military" razor. Not black, but arguably similar
to the Simplex in shave character, weight, and balance.
I used a Lord Platinum Class blade that was near the end of its useful life, and that may have been a mistake. Though I shaved with grain initially, the lightness of the razor (more specifically its low mass), with its faux-Bakelite handle, caused it to bump a bit as it reluctantly cut whiskers on my first couple of strokes. I adjusted by using just a bit more pressure, which worked well enough -- except that a one-pass, with-grain shave doesn't cut closely enough to be satisfying. So against my better judgement I just had to shave from multiple directions, and a final few of those got me into a bit of trouble by opening a few weepers.

Ultimately it was a shave nearly as close as my daily shave with my Merkur 33C razor head, but with a couple of weepers that accepted a touch of styptic. In all, not a memorable shave -- at least not in a good way.

Though this head-handle combination required perhaps a bit more pressure than if I had paired a heavier handle, still, when the dust settled, the shave wasn't really much different than shaving with a stock Rimei RM2003 or with a pre-war Tech. Neither of these razors are ideal for my beard. But it was fun to imagine lathering up in my olive drab underwear and peering into the barracks mirror for my morning shave, with maybe the Andrews Sisters singing on some distant radio: "...He's the boogie-woogie bugle boy from company B..."

Semper Fi (for you jar heads), and happy shaving!

And happy Thanksgiving, too.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Irony of Mild Razors on My Mug

On this date: Fifty-three years ago today John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas: November 22, 1963.

****

I have recently come to accept some rather ironic facts:

  • On average, I get my best shaves (close, comfortable, minimal skin insult, easy to perform, and easy on the psyche) with my mild-tempered Merkur 33C Classic razor head.
  • When I use less-aggressive razors (which are few) such as my Weishi 9306F I don't get as close a shave and it's more irritating.
  • When I use more-aggressive (many still consider these mild) razors such as my post-WWII Gillette Techs (1965 Travel Tech and c.1948 standard, gold-toned, brass-substrate Techs), my Rimei RM2003, or my Merkur "Bakelite", I might (occasionally) get as close a shave as with my Merkur 33C, but usually not quite as close and usually with more skin insult than with my 33C.
  • So the bottom-line irony is that no matter how aggressive the alternative razor I choose including my Gillette Slim Adjustable on aggressive settings and my Merkur 37C slant, when I really want a close, comfortable, insult-free shave, I should reach for my Merkur 33C Classic razor.
This begs the question: why have more aggressive razors in the drawer?

Well, there's always the variety-is-the-spice-of-life argument (which I would prefer to apply to close women friends ;-).

On a more practical note, for those rare occasions when I want to do a quick standard shave (that is, one pass, with grain), a slightly more aggressive razor might just be the ticket for me. But the reality is that most times, when I resolve to do a standard shave, I usually am dissatisfied with the result and end up taking more strokes to improve the quality, and that's often when my trouble starts with more aggressive razors.

So this morning in a fit of good sense, I cleaned out my razor drawer in the bathroom, leaving only the Merkur 33C as my go-to instrument, and keeping the c.1948 Tech on hand for variety, and the Merkur 15C open-comb razor for shaving the back of my neck and cleaning up other hair lines as necessary.

My intention is to sell off, donate, or throw away my other "extra" razors as their value and my available time dictate. We'll see how long this resolution lasts.

Happy shaving!




Friday, November 18, 2016

Mini Update on Bakelite Handle Engagement

I have been experimenting with different razor head-handle combinations. I've been using my fat, heavy Maggard-brand handle on my Merkur 33C Classic razor head for example, which is a combination that seems to suit me rather well.

Maggard MR3B razor, with its fat, heavy handle, which I like in
combination with my Merkur 33C razor head.
It is also my plan to go the other direction, which is putting my lightest handle on the Merkur 33C razor head; and that handle is the all-plastic handle from the Merkur "Bakelite" razor.

The point of today's article, however, is additional insight into the nature of the "Bakelite" razor -- specifically the way that it fastens together. In my previous article, I described how the "Bakelite" razor seems to screw together less positively; that is, as I tighten the handle onto the razor head, from the point where the handle touches the compressed (with my fingers) razor head to the point that the handle is securely snug against the razor head, there seems to be a bit more turning required that with my metal razors.

This begs the question: why? Is it the spring force of the extra blade curvature of the "Bakelite" razor head? Is it the extra plastic "give" of the center post in the razor top cap? Is it the extra plastic "give" of the threads in the "Bakelite" handle? Some combination?

Well, for starters, I don't believe that the separation force of the extra curvature of the blade has anything to do with the issue. I say this because as I tighten the inverted plastic razor together on my bathroom counter top, I apply more than sufficient force with my free hand to completely cancel the separation force of the blade-as-spring, and fully compress the top-cap-blade-baseplate sandwich.

Here's what I know from screwing metal handles onto the "Bakelite" razor head, and from screwing the "Bakelite" handle onto metal razor heads:  it's subtle but I think that, not surprisingly, both the plastic handle threading and the center post mounting in the plastic head each have the slightest additional "give" when tightening up the razor -- not a lot; just a bit. When both are mated together, however, the combination becomes more obvious. It's still not a lot, but it is discernible.

So what does this mean?

I guess it means that one would expect the life of the "Bakelite" razor to be, as I surmised in my previous article, a shorter life than a metal razor, when all other things are equal. Not a shocking conclusion, I guess, but it means that over time the continual micro flexing of the plastic parts will lead to failure. How quickly this happens depends on both frequency of use, how the razor is stored (tight, with blade or not), and how tightly the user actually tightens up the razor prior to use.

Nothing is forever, of course -- and that's certainly true of the "Bakelite" razor. So if you have one or plan to get one, then enjoy it while it's working, with the knowledge that it may be a bit more temporary than your other razors.

Happy shaving!



Monday, November 14, 2016

Tightrope Walking? The Merkur "Bakelite" 030... Longevity vs. Comfort?

After my nice maiden shave with the Merkur "Bakelite," I had a couple of rough shaves with it. This puzzled me. I thought my initial blade went bad, so I put in a different new blade in from a different manufacturer. Same outcome, worse actually.

The Merkur 030 "Bakelite" razor


After thinking about it, I realized that I was trying to walk a tightrope and may have been falling off. Let me explain....

I'm very aware of the fragility of this plastic double-edge (DE) razor as compared to one made of metal. The plastic is most vulnerable where it holds the center post, and the threads of the handle, with the center-post connection probably being the most likely point of first failure. And after my initial shave, which was good, I wrote my article on the razor's design. This made me more focused on not over tightening the handle to avoid excess strain on center post and handle threads.

So after my maiden shave I was heeding my own advice about avoiding premature failure of the razor; prior to my shaves I was making sure to tightly press closed the blade sandwich of the top cap, blade, and baseplate as I tightened the handle just enough to hold the sandwich closed.

But there's an issue here. In any DE razor, the blade acts as a spring trying to separate the top cap from the baseplate, and in this razor because of the additional blade curvature, the blade-as-spring exerts more separation force.

So it appears that this razor, because of its unique materials and degree of blade curvature, snugs up during assembly a bit differently that my other two- and three-piece razors. My metal razors, when I press the inverted blade sandwich together on my bathroom counter top and screw the handle down to secure the blade sandwich, they snug up rather positively. That is, once the handle contacts the baseplate (while I'm compressing the top-cap-blade-and baseplate assembly down into the countertop with my fingers) the amount of further tightening to get from "contact" to "snug" is rather small. Yet with the plastic razor -- even when I'm compressing the sandwich completely and quite firmly with my fingers -- the "snugging" of the blade sandwich is less positive; that is, as I tighten the handle it makes contact with the baseplate but then allows a bit more turning of the handle than would a metal razor before the razor feels firmly and positively assembled. I would attribute this less-positive closure feel to the more flexible nature of the plastic as compared to metal. Perhaps both the center-post anchor point as well as the threads of the handle flex ever so slightly, and thus allow a bit more turning of the handle to achieve a positive connection between all the separate parts of the razor.

In both shaves after my maiden shave with the plastic razor, I was trying to walk that tightrope, trying to snug up the handle just enough but no more than absolutely necessary, balancing between unnecessary excessive tightening and under tightening. To over tighten would be to create razor-life-shortening strain, and under tightening perhaps allows the blade angle to slightly increase in the razor, bringing with it a more aggressive and more harsh shave.

So it's possible that in my trying to preserve the razor by using only as much tightening force as necessary that I was under tightening the razor. This would explain the more aggressive and irritating second and third shaves.

So now I'm going forward with the rest of my evaluation aware of the possibility that I may have to use slightly more force when "buttoning up" the razor before my shaves. My goal, of course, is to avoid the unacceptable comfort of my last two shaves with the instrument. I'm now aware that that comfort may come with an unavoidable price, which is that the "Bakelite" razor, unlike most metal razors, may have a finite life span. It may well be that this razor is a long-lived disposable, but with its life measured not in days but rather in months (up to a few years).

Of course, time will tell. I'll offer more observations when I publish my shave review of the instrument.

Happy shaving!



Thursday, November 10, 2016

Merkur 030 "Bakelite" Razor Review, Part 1

Yesterday I received my Merkur 030 "Bakelite" razor. I unpacked it with great enthusiasm -- very interested to view and use this unusual razor.

I was not disappointed. I will review this razor in two parts. Today's review focuses primarily on the design and physical characteristics of the instrument. The subsequent review, which will not follow immediately, but instead will be done after I've given the razor a more thorough shaving evaluation.

Let's not waste another moment; let's get on with the design review of the razor:

Material

Bakelite was one of the first plastics made from synthetic components, and found its way into many industrial, military and commercial products. In my recollection (and according to Wikipedia) it was prone to degradation over time including brittleness, which led to cracking. However, Bakelite is still used today in some products such as wire insulation, brake parts, other automotive parts, and industrial-electrical applications. My personal recollection of Bakelite is that it was often a uniform black color. Despite my lack of awareness of two-toned Bakelite, the two-toned red-black color of this razor certainly suggests vintage, and perhaps there actually were many such Bakelite products with this appearance.

However, I don't believe this razor is really made of Bakelite. I believe that it's a more modern plastic with a vintage look. This is a good thing. Modern plastics exist because earlier formulas had flaws that make them inferior to newer developments -- at least for some applications.

Also, this razor is quite light, weighing about 15 grams. My sense is that Bakelite was a rather dense plastic, and I believe that this razor would weigh a bit more if it were actually made of Bakelite.

I like that this razor has a vintage look but is likely made of a modern plastic. In my opinion this offers the best of both worlds: the improved performance of a more advanced plastic than Bakelite, but with a retro look.

Design

After thinking about it, it's clear that the contours and thicknesses of the razor are significantly influenced by the manufacturer's choice of material -- that is, plastic rather than metal.

Top Cap

The top cap is thicker in its center than the usual metal top cap. This is not just a stylistic whim. The thickness of the top-cap center is obviously related to the embedded center post, which is the only metal part of the razor. The threaded center post is brass, and must be well anchored in the top cap (by having sufficient -- that is, additional -- plastic in the cap center) to be sufficiently strong and durable to serve as the anchor that will hold the top cap to the baseplate, while standing fast against the resistance of the installed blade.

The top cap has a more visually salient curve to its outer/upper/top contour than the typical metal three-piece razor due to the thicker center of the top cap, which then tapers toward the blade edges.

However, the top-cap-and-baseplate combination also causes the installed blade to curve a bit more than normal, and this, too, is not a style-driven decision. It is instead a direct result of the use of plastic rather than metal to make the top cap.

The top cap is thicker in the center, meaning its upper contour slopes more dramatically toward the blade edge. This steeper slope of the top cap then requires more bending of the blade to avoid an excessive scraping angle (that is, too large an angle between blade and face) while shaving. This is the reason for the larger curve of the blade when installed in the razor.

Baseplate

The edge-to-edge curvature of the baseplate is also more pronounced than the typical razor. This is visually emphasized not only by the greater curvature of the blade, but also by the location of the safety bars. The safety bars offer what looks to be not a small blade-bar span. This somewhat generous span combines with the bar location being a bit closer to the handle than the normal metal razor, which then determines a shave plane (formed by the top cap and safety bar) that is closer to parallel to the razor handle than is normal.

This shave-plane angle, to recap, is not style driven, but rather functionally driven. The thicker top cap creates a cascade of design decisions -- greater blade curvature, greater baseplate curvature, and lower, closer safety bars -- that are all required to get an appropriate blade-edge-to-shave-plane angle that will deliver a comfortable, efficient shaving character.

Handle

The handle appears to be made of the same plastic as the rest of the razor, and has no metal parts. This means that the female threads of the handle are made of plastic, and deserve careful attention to preserve them as the razor is assembled and reassembled over time. However, it should be noted that the threads are standard as in most other razors, and therefore other handles can be substituted as desired to achieve different razor lengths, weights, and degrees of durability.

Overall Design

Although difficult to measure quantitatively, I would suggest that though the shave plane is slightly more parallel to the handle than in most metal DE razors, the angle of the blade to the shave plane is pretty normal. I think it is a misunderstanding of design factors along with the visual impression of the razor that leads many reviewers to think that the curvature of the blade has a significant effect on the shave character of the razor. While it is true that the blade curvature causes the angle of razor to face to be flatter (that is, the handle slightly closer to face) than in a common metal razor, the angle of the blade edge to the face within the usual range of usable razor orientations is probably pretty standard.

Assembly with Blade

There are two primary weak spots in this razor: the connection of the center post with the top cap plastic, and the (plastic) threads within the handle. Of those two, I believe that the most vulnerable is the former: the center post connection to the top cap. Because of these vulnerabilities, the assembly of the razor is of crucial importance to long-term razor survival.

So the way essentially all of the video reviewers assemble blade into razor is not optimal. I firmly believe that to minimize the strain on the center-post-to-top-cap connection, the blade should be inserted into the razor on a counter top as described in my old article on how to insert a blade into a two- or three-piece DE razor.

Yet even this process needs some special care and attention.

  1. When the top cap is inverted and resting on a wash cloth on the counter and the blade and baseplate are added, you must ensure to apply sufficient pressure on the underside of the baseplate with two fingers to fully compress the blade into the top cap so that there's not the slightest gap between topcap, blade, and baseplate.
  2. As you screw the handle on to secure the blade sandwich of the razor head, only secure the handle with just enough force to prevent a gap in the razor sandwich. Any additional force will put unnecessary strain on the top-cap-center-post connection, and may contribute to a future premature failure of that junction. If you always do this (follow my recommendation), you will never twist the handle enough to damage its threads either. However, this recommendation applies to metal handles on this razor head as well. Any more turning force than necessary on the handle will not threaten damage to a metal handle, but may still emperil the integrity of the top-cap-center-post connection.

Post-Shave Care and Storage

For the reasons outlined in the preceding section, when the razor is stored post shave -- either with blade or without -- I suggest leaving the handle off entirely or loosely screwed onto the center post thus minimizing pressure on the center-post junction with the top cap.

My "Bakelite's" Maiden Shave

My first shave with the 030 was very good. Aside from serious cockpit error leading to a minor cut under my jaw (never move the razor sideways when against skin!), the shave was close, comfortable, and weeper/nick free, even with a new blade.

I used my normal process: a one-lather shave, first pass largely against grain, and touch-up strokes as necessary. The outcome was, overall (and ignoring my literal faux pas), slightly better than with my preferred instrument, the Merkur 33C Classic. This "Bakelite" razor is fairly mild in shave character, but with its blade-bar span being a bit roomy, still has the ability to shave closely, and also deserves respect -- so don't get too cocky or careless (as I did).

The light weight is a non issue for me. In fact, I actually like a light razor in that it seems to provide a better feel for the blade against skin. I believe that I am able to modulate the pressure of the razor better when it's on the light side. Of course, preferences do vary, and I suppose that the mass of most DE hobbyists still believe in the false mythology of "letting the weight of the razor do the work."

In all, I look forward to my next shaves with this razor. Tomorrow, just for fun, I'm putting the old steel "shorty" handle on the razor from my '65 Gillette Travel Tech. More reportage to come. Stay tuned.

Happy shaving!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Typical Shaving-Review Video: A Time-Saving General Summary

In considering my latest purchase, the plastic Merkur 030, the red-and-black so-called bakelite razor, I reviewed many video reviews on line -- as well as videos on other razors. Some videos were as short as a half minute -- usually showing the razor without blade installed as though it were an automobile or other object of beauty to be admired; others ran 20 minutes or more showing the reviewer (or worse, adolescents) shaving. Below is a generic summary of most videos.

Introduction: "Today I'm showing (blah, blah, blah....)

Show the razor: Usually quick, moving images. Often without blade installed. When blade is installed, the few views that actually could be helpful to help understand how the razor will shave, they come and go so quickly that the video is not helpful at all.

[Same-day update] When the blade is installed, it is done in the reviewer's hands in a rather unsafe, fumbling way, which also stupidly doesn't optimize the likelihood that the blade will self center. (See my old article on the best way to insert a blade into a two- or three-piece razor.)

Lather and shave: This is the see,-it's-really-a-razor-that-can-shave-whiskers part. Painfully long in duration and idiotically short on meaningful information. Different reviewers will make radically contradictory comments ON THE SAME RAZOR such as "a rather mild razor" and "quite aggressive, really". So anyway, most demonstrate that the razor shaves (and shaves and shaves and shaves....) -- duh! They also discuss the razor's weight: "A nice heft" or "a bit light." Razor-handle length is frequently mentioned. (Most reviewers lack design knowledge beyond weight and length.) Also, their shaving methodology is often rather random, careless, redundant or some combination, with no explanation of the thought behind their method (likely because there is no thought behind their method beyond doing what others have said to do or what they are accustomed to doing).

Summary comments: "You just saw I shaved with blah-blah razor, blah-blah soap, and blah-blah brush. I got a surprisingly close shave.... blah, blah, blah..." These comments are about the same whether shaving with a Muhle R41 or a Weishi 9306. Yet whether they liked the shave or hated it, who cares? This has nothing to do with your experience, which, most importantly, depends on you, your shaving habits and technique, the blade you choose, etc.

There. I just saved you potentially hours of wasted time watching silly shaving-demo videos.

A meaningful video or review would have the following:

  • Protracted close-up views of the razor with blade installed 1) looking down on the top cap to show blade reveal, and 2) from the side looking down along the shaving edge to show blade exposure (that is, where the blade edge lies in relation to the shaving plane formed by the top cap and the safety bar/comb) as well as blade-bar span (the distance from the blade edge to the line along the bar/comb that touches the face) and the curvature of the blade in the razor head. Other views may be helpful for a given razor design. 
  • Brief, yet thoughtful comments on the design and shave character. (Unfortunately, most reviewers lack sufficient knowledge to do this meaningfully.)
  • If the reviewer is going to shave, it should be accelerated fast motion unless they have something interesting, useful, or novel to discuss and demonstrate in their methodology.
Now you have my thoughts. Thanks for the opportunity to rant.

Happy shaving!


Monday, November 7, 2016

Vintage WWII Razor Triggers RAD

The old military razor from World War II, which I saw at my friend's private history collection, got me to musing about bakelite razors and alternative shaving products and technologies. Sure enough, one thing led to another -- and that another was me ordering a new razor: the Merkur Bakelite razor, a.k.a. the red and black, the model 030.

 

This hasn't arrived yet, but my primary reason for ordering wasn't its material (likely modern plastic, probably not really Bakelite), but actually the geometry of the razor head. What little meaningful information I could gather from the on-line reviews (typically pretty meaningless, idiotic, or both) seemed to suggest that it has a fairly wide blade-bar span (distance from the blade edge to the safety bar), certainly a healthy blade reveal (the amount of blade that is exposed when looking down on the razor's top cap), and a greater-than-usual curvature of the blade when installed in the razor. The blade exposure (how high the blade edge is in relation to the shave plane, which is formed by the top cap and the safety bar) is uniformly ignored, not mentioned; and ALL photos of the razor are taken WITHOUT a blade installed, which is completely stupid!

Everyone seemed to mention that the razor is light (duh!) and too damned many repeated the phrase that "the weight of the razor does the work", which is inaccurate (sorry, but it is more appropriate to say that the weight of the razor influences some persons as to how firmly they press the razor against the face -- that is, unless you shave while lying down; in that case the weight of the razor may directly influence the shave).

I ordered the razor to see the curvature of the blade that it creates and the effect on the shave. The idea being that the smaller the angle of blade to face while shaving, the less scraping and, presumably, the less irritating the shave. We'll see.

This also prompted me to pull out some razors that I don't normally use anymore such as my Rimei RM2003, which I still believe is the best value in DE shaving. With it this morning I got a very close shave though with a few minor weepers despite my focus on using very light pressure (must be the weight of the razor doing some of the work against my will -- ah hahahahahahahahahaha.)

Rimei RM2003 with blade installed.

Happy shaving!





Friday, November 4, 2016

A Vintage Military Razor

I was visiting a friend of mine, who is both a long-time, highly-successful tennis coach and a history buff -- especially interested in military history. In his Michigan residence (he also lives in Florida part of the year), he has a little museum in his basement. He was walking me through his collection, when I spied his only shaving artifact: A Simplex Military Razor, complete with its original box.


This is a three-piece design with a bakelite handle. The baseplate's shape is a ringer for a pre-WWII Gillette Tech. The packaging suggests that the razor was manufactured by the Federal Razor Blade Co, in New York.

Though the head is heavily covered with a whitish substance (old soap?) and the baseplate is also partially coated, I suspect both have a black finish underneath. The substrate from which they are made is unknown to me.

I am not tempted to ask if I can clean it up and shave with it, because if it is a pre-war Tech copy, then the shave would be just a bit too aggressive for me. Still it was a fun surprise to find this shaving artifact in my buddy's private museum.

Happy shaving!



Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Any Which Way You Can....

I have a few challenging areas to shave: upper lip, chin, lower neck and under jaw line. The reasons these areas are challenging to shave differ by area.

My chin is sharply contoured, which makes it difficult to shave smoothly. My upper lip is sensitive, with grain that grows downward and a little laterally (toward the corners of my mouth). Under the jaw line it's just difficult to get a close shave -- likely because there are areas that are always concave. My lower neck has sharply-angled grain (almost lies flat) and the skin is very susceptible to weepers.

Keep in mind that for months my shaves have been single lathered, and I make lather right on my face rather than in a bowl. Also for months I haven't rinsed my little badger-bristled brush -- instead just hanging it to dry still full of clean lather.

I get away with the single lathering by making most of my razor strokes reciprocating strokes; that is, the razor usually stays in contact with my skin for both the shaving and return strokes. I also tend to shave in an anti-raking pattern -- that is, the shaving stroke of the razor tends to run away from the lathered area, and this tends to leave a fair amount of lather/moisture on the skin after initial shaving strokes. This combination of reciprocating action and anti-raking pattern tends to spread lather and moisture allowing multiple strokes in various directions as needed in any given location.

So even though for most of my beard I shave first against grain and then make other clean-up strokes as needed, yet for my upper lip I will either start with grain or cross grain, and then make other strokes from other directions. For my chin like my upper lip, I generally start using with-grain or cross-grain strokes. The difference is that on my chin I may actually end up shaving from all directions, with grain, cross grain (both ways), and against grain.

Under my jaw line, I usually start against grain, then will stroke in the direction of ear to chin. For my lower neck, I will typically shave downward, which is mostly an against-grain direction, and then repeat that a second time.

Bottom line, for my difficult-to-shave areas, I'm really not committed to any particular methodology -- other than minimalism. Instead I do whatever works best without any unnecessary fuss, work, or preparation.

Happy shaving!



Sunday, September 25, 2016

Dorco Prime Revisited -- Happily

I continue to use and tinker with my single-pass, mostly-against-grain shaves, which is my shaving method of choice -- especially when I've got the right equipment in my fingers. Bear in mind that I use light pressure and always use long, slow buffing strokes; that is, the razor stays in contact with my face during both the shaving and return strokes. This constant-contact technique helps to re-spread moisture and lather as I shave. After the solitary main pass, I always make touch-up strokes, often with some additional added moisture, to complete those patches not already sufficiently smooth.

Yesterday I had the brainstorm to pull out my Dorco Prime one-piece (that is, twist-to-open) razor. This razor is a high-quality instrument. It's a visual twin to the Weishi 9306-F, but it's not an identical twin. The razors (Weishi vs. Dorco) have slightly different weights, and I'm now convinced (as I suspected months ago) that the razors have different shaving characters. The Dorco Prime razor is slightly more aggressive, which is a good thing. Its shave character is such that it is still mild, but it's just aggressive enough to provide a good shave to guys like me without much risk of injury.

Not only is the Dorco Prime razor of good quality, when one acquires the starter set, which is a terriffic value, it includes a cache of Dorco ST-301 blades, which I find to be of high quality and utility, while still being priced very reasonably.

   

Another nice aspect of the Dorco Prime starter set is the nice case for the razor. It is a cut above the typical plastic case that comes with some razors.

I'm going to continue to use the Dorco Prime razor, which has now been awarded a place in my in-bathroom shaving drawer. This, in addition to my favorite Merkur 33C, will be one of the razors that I go to for daily use. So if you are one who likes the convenience and general performance of a one-piece razor, and also likes a relatively mild shave character, I would suggest that you give the Dorco Prime marque another look.

Happy shaving!