Sunday, July 31, 2016

Variety Can Add Spice to Your Shave

I had become a little bored with my shaving routine.

I had found the best razor for me. I had blades that worked well. I had a shaving process that was optimized. My other gear and products were working well. It wasn't enough to vary my shave soap for different fragrances.

There were no challenges, nothing to try -- just day after day, a really good, economical, ecologically-responsible shave.

So I decided to shake things up. Despite my proven preference for my Merkur 33C classic razor, I returned to my open-comb Merkur 15C -- just for fun. I got a typically close shave, but slightly rougher on my skin.


Then yesterday I decided, for my next shave, to use my Gillette Tech (c.1948) with the same blade as in the previous shaves. This decision caused me to look forward to this morning's shave with great anticipation. I wondered if the shave would be as safe and as comfortable. I wondered if I would have to vary from my normal routine.

The answers were yes, the shave was close and comfortable; and no, my usual shave process worked wonderfully well.

Now the fact is that if I had a new blade in the Tech, it might have been a slightly different story. But for the time being, my change-of-pace shaves added much needed spice to a routine that had become.... well.... routine.

So the old aphorism really is true: variety IS the spice of life.

Happy shaving!

Monday, July 25, 2016

My Favorite Post-Shave Equipment Maintenance

I'm a solidly middle-class guy, with solid middle-class values. That is, I don't like to unnecessarily buy the same thing twice, so I take care of my gear, my tools.

Since my favorite razor (my double-edged favorite, that is) is made of Zamak, a zinc alloy, I like to have it rather dry when storing it over night because Zamak degrades rapidly when exposed to water. Oh, I know and understand that Zamak razors are generally protected by the chrome plating. Still, what if there's a defect in the plating -- either from the factory or due to some user error? These concerns lead me to disassemble my three-piece razor and dry the components before storing.

Also, I know that even stainless and coated blades deteriorate with time due to micro-oxidation on the blade edge. So after the shave, when my razor is disassembled, I will gently pat or press dry the blade and do a single, light forearm-stropping pass on each side of each edge before reassembling the razor for storage until the next-day's shave.

When I'm on plane-travel trips, I blow out the excess moisture from my two-track disposable razor. Then I forearm-strop or otherwise give the exposed sides of the shaving edges a light stropping.

When I've used up a blade and am ready for a replacement, I pat dry the old one and slide it into my tin-can recycle bank.

In summary of my favorite things, here is a partial list of my favorite gear:

  • Merkur Classic Razor, model 33C
  • Palmolive Shave Stick
  • Any blade recycle bank -- even home made from a tin can
  • Gillette after shave gel, and also Aqua Velva Ice Blue after shave lotion
There's a whole world of products and processes to explore. I hope you find the best of them for you.

That's it!  Happy shaving!

Friday, July 22, 2016

My Favorites: My Actual Preferred Shaving Process

I've written of many process variations: the standard shave (one pass, with grain), the three-pass shave, the anti-raking pattern, the one-pass against-grain shave, the regional shave, and the strip shave. My favorite process is just a slight variation derived from my past evolution of shaving processes.

I call my daily-shave process "the patch shave." It's really just an anti-raking regional shave and a strip shave, but in a smaller region, a shorter strip.

First the basics: it's a process ideal for a double-edged razor, but can be done with any safety razor. The stroke pattern consists of shaving without removing the razor from the skin while shaving a stroke sequence in a given patch of beard. To repeat: any single shaving stroke sequence is done with razor against the skin: the shaving stroke, obviously, and the on-skin return stroke as well, which simply spreads moisture and lather back over some of the area just shaved.

The cutting and return strokes are made vertically (and initially either up or down depending on beard grain) and about 1-1/2 inches in length. The shaved patch is determined by a sequence of three or four pairs of shave-and-return strokes. The sequence of strokes are done side by side in a zig-zag pattern, so the patch shaved in any given stroke sequence is about 1-1/2 inches high by about three inches wide. The patch is rather small to minimize evaporation of precious moisture between stroke sequences in different directions. This implies a basic fact: though the patch shave is a one-lathering shave, the actual shaving process itself shaves any given patch from at least two directions: more-or-less with grain, then more-or-less against grain.

So for a given patch of beard, the first zig-zag stroke sequence is done in the vertical direction most closely aligned with the grain of the beard: shave-return-shave-return-shave-return. Then without hesitating, the other side of the double-edge razor is used to shave, a bit more slowly, in the opposite direction: shave-return-shave-return-shave-return. Some areas of my beard (jaw line, upper neck) need clean up strokes within a given patch from a third direction -- usually directly against the grain. These are ad hoc strokes and need not be zig-zag or even made with the razor against skin for the return stroke.

Once a given patch is shaved to desired closeness, move on to the next. After about half my beard is shaved, the other half may sometimes benefit from some additional water rubbed into the lather to ensure adequate moisture for optimal shave quality.

Regions of my beard that require deviation from the up-and-down shaving directions include the point of my chin and my upper lip. Generally speaking, I shave those areas first with a downward stroke sequence (generally with grain), but then follow with an across-grain sequence, and with usually a third direction on my chin.

That's it. This process is quick, taking about ten minutes all tolled. The quality of shave is very good, resulting in little insult to my skin, and, generally, a pretty close shave.

Happy shaving!

Monday, July 18, 2016

The My-Preferences Series: Beard Preparation

Normally, my daily schedule makes bathing more appropriate later in the day rather than first thing in the morning. However, because of gray in my beard, the unshaven look isn't too flattering to me, so I shave every morning.

Because my skin is likely just a bit more sensitive than the average, I have spent some energy assessing beard preparation. I have found that the road less traveled is a much better path for me. In this case, the road less traveled means avoiding the ubiquitous recommendation for extensive beard prep using hot water, hot showers, hot towels, etc.

I have found that hot and warm beard prep makes for a more uncomfortable post-shave experience. Just the other day, due to a schedule anomaly (the rare early-morning workout, which is usually later in the day), I took a hot shower prior to my morning shave. Although I got my normal shave closeness using a shave process and equipment that is completely within my normal routine, my post-shave skin sensation was not exactly razor burn, but rather a minor but noticeable irritated feeling. Yet using the same gear and process in daily shaves preceding and following the one at issue, I had normal results: no irritation.

I have long attributed the hot-water beard prep for the additional removal of precious skin oils that are somewhat protective when dragging sharpened steel across one's dermis. That afore-mentioned shave the other day was a reminder of that conclusion that I had formed long ago.

Although I have previously described my pre-shave beard prep as using cold water, that may not be quite accurate. Actually I take the drizzle of cool tap water into my hands and rub them a bit to warm the water slightly, then rub the remaining moisture into my beard. I will typically do that two to four times prior to applying soap and lathering with a brush repeatedly dipped (just the bristle tips, not the entire knot) in a small cup of cool tap water.

That's the extend of my beard preparation prior to a shave. No hot water, no face wash. (I believe that the face wash also does more harm than good by removing skin oils. My skin isn't that dirty to need a pre-shave wash.)

That's my process. If yours is different, more power to you. However, I will go out on a limb and state the obvious, which is that virtually all barbers and most of the wet shaving world has the prep process a little wrong: the hot-water wash and prep is not the best process for everyone. For some of us less really is more -- especially keeping cool rather than hot.

Happy shaving!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

My Favorite Shaving Soaps

I regularly use three shave-soap sticks. I have tried other creams from cans, jars, and tubes, but I return to my three regulars for the following reasons:

  • No overpowering, flowery, or feminine scents
  • Effective face-protection qualities
  • Economical, not stupidly expensive
These days my favorite shave soap is the humble Palmolive shave-soap stick. Purchased via the Internet from Europe, it is economical, although it does cost more than my other commercial shave soap. I find it's functional qualities more than adequate, but I value it for its scent, which is masculine and mellow.


My other two shave soaps are also functionally very good. The other commercial soap is Arko. Yes, Arko. I know, I know, I said the scent is not overpowering, and many find Arko to be down right offensive with its bouquet. And it's smell is very strong when it's right out of the wrapper. However, if one removes and discards the wrapper and lets Arko sit in the open air for a couple of weeks and longer, its bouquet attenuates becoming merely clean-smelling and pleasant.

Arko is a great value, and I like it a lot -- though I love the smell of Palmolive.

My third soap is that of my own making. Unscented, it actually has the slight smell of plain soap. Formulated for sensitive and reactive skin, it has no unnecessary ingredients.

Happy lathering!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

My Favorite Brushes

Okay, personally, I believe that brush choices are over rated. While I do agree that the lowest quality of brush is probably going to be a disappointment from the start, I also know (for a fact) that the ridiculously expensive brushes are often unnecessarily large and always unnecessary and over priced. Oh, it's a value judgement, I know, I know.... just like buying the Porche SUV is deemed appropriate and necessary by those who can afford it and who are perhaps a bit over focused on the image that they project to the world.


This series of favorites articles contains my opinions, so here's mine on the subject of brushes.

I only have three brushes at the present time, though many years ago I used the cheapest of those available at the local drug store. That old brush was not terribly good, though it actually worked acceptably. Of my current stable of three brushes, my second runner up is....

The Van Der Hagen (VDH) boar brush. Available at retail stores for under US$10, it's just a little bigger than necessary but works fine. A good value. The bristles soften with time and are dense and have good backbone.

My second-place preference is the Omega Syntex. More appropriately sized than the VDH (the Omega is smaller), it doesn't use any animal-based components, and works fine. It has a tight, rather vertical knot, and the synthetic bristles don't soften with use. It dries quickly. It cost me around US$10 (I don't remember exactly), but is another good value.

My favorite brush is my Tweezerman badger, for which I overpaid at about US$18. It can currently be purchase for less than US$15 under both the Tweezerman, Escali, and (sometimes) other brands. It's soft, appropriately compact without being too small, and lacks great backbone for face lathering. However, since I stopped rinsing this brush after my shaves -- just letting the lather dry in it -- the backbone has improved a bit due to the accumulated dried soap. This brush is soft and gentle, and works just fine, as do all my brushes.


Do I like this brush a lot more than the others? No. I have three brushes because I wanted to try them. All work just fine. If I were an animal-rights zealot (no judgement is implied in this characterization), then I would have bought the Syntex and happily used that. If I were on a tight budget, I would have bought the VDH and happily used that. If my skin were terribly sensitive (it's not that sensitive), I would have gotten the Tweezerman/Escali/other and happily used that.

On the subject of brushes (yawn), well.... whatever. If you love throwing money around and it makes you feel good to pay stupid prices for "luxury" items, then spend $50, $60, or more and enjoy. I'm happy with my value brushes.

Happy shaving!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Raindrops on Roses... Er... My Favorite Things -- in Shaving

I'm not going to break into a Julie Andrews song from "The Sound of Music," but I am going to start a series of articles about my favorite things in shaving including hardware, accessories, and processes.

Today I start with the most basic issue: choice of razor.

To prolong the drama just a minute more, I need to acknowledge that my choice of preferred razor has shifted over time. However, I doubt very much that my favorites will change going forward.

I use the plural, favorites, because there are two classes of razor choices in my opinion: routine shaving and travel-by-air shaving.

For routine shaving, I use a double-edge (DE) razor for several reasons. It's kind of fun to shave old school and still have the advantage of a safety razor. Given my temperment, going fully old school with a straight razor would be unwise owing to likely excessive blood shed on a daily basis. However, the DE equipment offers both the pleasure of shaving like grandad did, with the near safety of a modern cartridge design.

From an economic perspective, the DE hardware is hard to beat. Once a gent has settled on the right razor, the cost of Internet-purchased blades is so economical that the razor-and-blade combination, over time, will likely yield the lowest cost per shave. Although a straight razor is a one-time investment, the initial cost is pretty steep, and when one factors in the cost of sharpening stones, strop, or alternative maintenance, I'm not sure the straight is as economical as the DE.

Ecological considerations make the straight the razor of choice, but the DE is a close second, with only the blade to be routinely replaced -- and that is recyclable. All the cartridge designs involve more non-recyclable processes and are therefore less desirable.

The Merkur Classic, the 33C. 
My favorite DE razor is now one that I now use every day. It's shave character is well suited to my sharply-contoured and sensitive face and neck. It isn't worth going to other razors because they either increase my risk of nicks and cuts, or they don't offer as close a shave.

My favorite DE razor is the Merkur Classic, the model 33C. Given the shave process that I also now use every day (the subject of a different article), this razor is far and away the best choice -- although, really, no matter what process I use, this razor is still the best for me.

The Merkur Classic razor has a negative blade exposure, with the edge of the blade slightly below the shave plane, safely within the protective cove of the top cap and the safety bar. However, it has a moderate blade-bar span (from points A to B in the photo), which allows the razor to still shave closely without being much of a hazard.

As I've written before, it is ironic that this razor is the first DE design that I purchased after finding my father's 1963 Gillette Slim Adjustable and giving DE shaving a go. Unfortunately, I didn't have the experience to realize what a gem the 33 truly was for me, and I needed to shave with many more DE razors and use various shaving techniques before I understood that this was truly the best razor in my stable. Ah well, live and learn.

I get consistently good shaves with a variety of blades. I truly value this DE razor above all others for my daily shaves.

My favorite travel razor: the twin-blade, pivoting head
offering from Gillette.
When traveling by air, DE blades are not allowed in carry-on luggage, of course. And since carry-on luggage is all that I bring on flights, my DE-shaving options become limited. I can take my chances and buy blades from stores at my destination, but they are always waaaaaaaay overpriced, and the selection is severely limited as well. I can mail my preferred blades to my destination ahead of time, but that is usually impractical and just too much trouble for my taste, thanks very much. So I use a plastic disposable for air-travel trips.

My favorite disposable is the two-track, pivoting head product from Gillette. It isn't expensive, gives great shaves, and is allowed in carry-on luggage. I buy this razor in a ten pack, and find that it's also reasonably durable.

I believe that I've correctly pictured this disposable razor in its packaging. It's called the Gillette Custom Plus razor. There are other acceptable options for my face when traveling by air, but this one -- of those that I've tried -- gives a great shave, is inexpensive, durable, and comfortable.

So that's it: the Merkur 33C Classic for my normal DE shaves, and the Gillette Custom Plus for my airline-travel shaves.

Happy shaving!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Shaving Technique: The Strip Shave

If you have days (maybe every day) when you don't have time for an elaborate shaving ritual with multiple passes and multiple latherings, you might give the strip-shave technique a try. With it you can get a close shave in a short time.

No!!! Not this kind of strip!!
And no, this shaving technique has nothing to do with the removal of anyone's clothing, sorry.

First, a bit of history: The strip-shave process has its roots in the idea of a regional-shave process as well as a single-lathering, not multiple-latherings, approach. It also makes use of longer, slow buffing strokes throughout the entire shave. Lastly, it makes use of the double-edged razor's unique design.

A little more like this
kind of strip, only smaller.
Here are some of the reasons why the strip shave can save time and trouble:

  • You only lather your face once
  • You usually don't have to take and re-apply lather from the underside of your razor or extra water for additional moisture
  • In many shaves, you won't even have to rinse your razor during the shave
  • You will automatically get approximately even wear on the two edges of your blade
Here's the process:
  1. Prep and lather your beard as usual. (I, personally, use cool tap water throughout my shave, only wet my beard pre-shave by two or three times rubbing cool water into the whiskers, and I face lather using an inexpensive badger brush that is never rinsed in preceding shaves.)
  2. Pick a shave-starting point that makes sense, and shave using vertical strokes up or down the beard  using long, slow buffing strokes (that is, don't lift the razor for the return, non-cutting stroke). This first pass in a given strip should be in the most with-grain direction you can achieve with a vertical stroke. Shave only a small strip from a given region of your beard. That is, the shaved strip should only be a single, short razor stroke tall (about an inch and a half or two inches tall), and only as wide as four or five overlapping strokes. For example, when shaving my neck, I only shave  a strip half across my neck, from below an ear to about a vertical line centered on my Adams apple. On the lower half of my neck, the most with-grain vertical stroke is upward. On the rest of my beard and neck the most with-grain vertical stroke is downward.
         The reason I suggest buffing strokes is that the on-face return stroke spreads lather and moisture back across the area just shaved. The reason for only shaving a single strip at a time is because you are going to give that strip a second shave, and by only shaving a short strip of beard, you're not giving time for the just-shaved area to dry out.
  3. Use the other edge of the razor and re-shave that strip using slow buffing strokes and in the direction opposite the pass just completed. If you initially made and applied lather that was of sufficient quality and moisture content, there should be enough lather and moisture in the just-shaved strip to successfully and comfortably complete this second pass.
  4. Move to an adjacent unshaved area and repeat the double-pass shave on another strip of beard.
  5. My process for shaving the regions of my beard one strip at a time is as follows:
    1. One side of neck up to jaw line
    2. The other side of neck up to jaw line
    3. Jaw line and cheek on one side of face
    4. Jaw line and cheek on the other side of face
    5. Chin and lower lip
    6. Upper lip
  6. The only exception to the process of the preceding steps is when I finish with my upper lip. Because I don't shave this against grain, I will shave that with grain, then cross grain.
That's it! Happy strip shaving!