Friday, August 18, 2017

A Quote That, With Luck, Will Provoke Thought

Men (and Women) are qualified for civil duty and civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites, — in proportion as their love for justice is above their rapacity, — in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption, — in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good in preference to the flattery of knaves.
Edmund Burke

Happy shaving (and thinking)!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A Shark, Shavette, & Sandalwood Shave

Shark Blades

I received Shark-brand half-DE blades with my Parker barber razors. I also received full-sized Shark-brand double-edge (DE) blades with my Parker Variant adjustable razor. I find them sharp and durable. 

When I use the half-sized Shark blade in my preferred Parker PTB shavette, I don't use it straight from the wrapper. I literally "cork" the blade two strokes through the cork from a wine bottle. This seasons the edge -- takes a bit of the bite from the recyclable blade, which makes it well suited for a non-safety shave in my replaceable-blade straight razor.

The blades seem fairly long lasting as well. Today I had a very satisfactory shave with a fourth-use Shark blade in the barber straight, and have dried and palm stropped the blade in preparation for a fifth use in the near future.


Parker Shavette

As I've written previously, I like the weight and size of the Parker PTB (push-type-barber razor). As I have continued to gain shaving experience with straight razors, I find my shaving stroke (with either hand) has evolved to have a pretty consistent feather-light landing at the initiation of the stroke, and a light pressure throughout.

I do have to chuckle at some video "stars" on youtube who have long-standing growths of facial hair on chin and upper lip, yet claim to be handy with a straight razor. The primary challenge of shaving with a straight are safely shaving those very areas. For me, the hairs very high on the upper lip that are essentially just within my nose are my greatest challenge. The point of my chin is the second most challenging. The highest area under my lower lip is the third-greatest challenge. How someone can not often shave those areas and yet claim proficiency with a straight is suspect. They may actually be an expert, but the proof may be in the pudding, which in this case is shaving those most challenging areas.

I really like the PTB for its full size, its metal that is all stainless steel for durability and easy care, and its moderate (not heavy) weight, which I find to be very responsive and offering great tactile and auditory feedback as I shave.

It was actually my plan this morning to shave with a DE razor, but at the last minute, heard the call of the PTB and the anticipation of another fun, challenging shave with a straight razor. My shave delivered that fun and satisfaction, though, once again, I'll remind you that the outcome of my straight-razor shaves isn't record-setting close. In fact, my straight shaves have similar results to my twin-blade-cartridge razors that I used to have before I discovered the pleasure of old-school shaving. My straight shaves are good enough for a daily shave, but hardly baby smooth.


Sandalwood Soaps

I've been doing sandalwood shaves the past few days. My prep begins with my usual splash and rub of cool tap water. Then I wash my face with sandalwood (and grapefruit) bath soap from the Sudsy Soapery.

This sandalwood soap is special in my humble opinion. In my limited olfactory experience with sandalwood-scented products, they have seemed a bit spicy -- almost like a weak bay-rum scent. Not this soap from the Sudsy folk. This stuff clearly smells like sandalWOOD. The woody scent is not overpowering, but instead is subtle and pleasant. However, I'd not mistake this for a weak bay-rum concoction, as I used to with a sandalwood shave soap from a different manufacturer-seller.

Anyway, I left the bath soap on my face as I completed setting out shaving accoutrements, and then, without rinsing, rubbed some macadamia oil on my soapy whiskers. I then completed the shave preparation by face lathering my sandalwood shave soap into a rather thin, watery lather (as opposed to thick and fluffy). I think a slightly-thin, watery lather works well with a straight razor.

Finishing Touches

After rinsing off with cool tap water and pat drying, I rubbed in a splash of generic drug-store witch hazel that has been augmented with peppermint and menthol. After that dried (as I cleaned and dried my shaving hardware), I applied Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements' (PAA) Black Bot after-shave gel, which is currently only available as a sample, but I'm awaiting general availability, when I will buy a bottle. I really like the Black Bot scent from PAA, and this particular product has the right amount of menthol to make it great.

Happy shaving!

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Meditation on Early Gillette Razors with Modern Blades

It was an eye-opening experience a few months ago, when I saw a c.1918 Gillette razor and original (three-hole, round-end) blades. The blades had a very shiny finish, were thicker than modern blades, and were also less flexible -- probably owing to their thickness.

So this morning (after my vintage straight-razor shave), while thinking about an article for today, I began to meditate on how a modern, thinner blade might affect the shave character of early Gillette razors. I've heard that their shave character is rather aggressive, when using modern blades. So that begs the question, is it the modern blade thickness or the innate character of the design that determines their shave character? Put another way -- and perhaps more accurately -- does a modern blade make these razors' shave character different than the designers intended?

I've not had the experience of shaving with one of these early razors, which were designed to shave with Gillette's early, thicker blades. (Maybe I'll ask my friend to borrow his razor.) However, let's do some ratiocination together, and see how a modern, thinner blade might affect the shave character of these early razors.

My thought-experiment analysis begins by considering the effect of razor shims in a two- or three-piece razor. The shims will mimic using a thicker blade, but the effect may simply be easier to envision.

A shim between the blade and the baseplate widens the blade-bar span (and gap, obviously) in a modern safety bar razor. This also changes the geometry of the blade angle and exposure* in relation to the shave plane formed by the top cap and baseplate. [*Note: I define blade exposure as the degree to which the blade edge is above or below the shave plane. I define blade reveal, which is not discussed in this analysis, as the amount of blade that is visible beyond the top cap.] This shim-induced geometry change increases both blade exposure and blade angle, which thereby increases razor aggressiveness of shave character.

A shim between the blade and baseplate in an open-comb razor, has the same effect. (Despite common mythology that open-comb razors are aggressive in shave character, the primary difference between open-comb and safety-guard razors of identical geometry is that the open-comb designs have an improved ability to shave hair of any length without clogging.)

A shim between the blade and top cap has a different effect. The increased distance between blade and top cap reduces the blade exposure, much like a taller person behind the wheel of a car can see a bit more pavement just beyond the front bumper. But, surprisingly, by elevating the top cap in relation to the blade increases the blade angle in relation to the shave plane.

So let's summarize what we've figured out so far regarding the effect of using shims to simulate a thicker blade in a three-piece razor:
  • More aggressive orientation of the baseplate in relation to the blade edge in both blade angle and blade exposure
  • More aggressive orientation of the top cap in relation to blade angle
  • Less aggressive orientation of the top cap in relation to blade exposure
These conditions suggest that a thicker blade will, in sum, likely make the razor shave with a more aggressive shave character owing to the increase in blade angle and somewhat of a cancellation effect in terms of blade exposure. 

Using this type of analysis, it's easy to understand, then, that a thinner blade will have the opposite effect:
  • Less aggressive orientation of baseplate -- less aggressive (smaller) blade angle and reduced blade exposure
  • Mixed impact due to orientation of the top cap -- less aggressive blade angle, more aggressive blade exposure
So it can be concluded that a thinner blade will tend to make two- and three-piece razors have, to some degree, a less-aggressive shave character.

One might therefore conclude that vintage Gillette razors that were designed to shave with the original round-ended, three-hole blades had a more aggressive  shave character that might be experience today using modern, thinner blades.

Hmmh. Imagine that. I would have guessed otherwise.

Happy shaving!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Return to a Three-Pass Shave -- Better?

Evaluating a Three-Pass Shave

As regular readers may know, I don't usually do the oft-recommended (by others, not me)  three-pass shave. Normally I do a one-lathering shave that begins with strokes largely but not perfectly against the grain of my beard.

To make a one-lathering shave work, one must conserve lather on the face rather than scraping off; so, again, regular readers will know that I normally use two shaving techniques in combination. The first technique is reciprocating strokes in which the razor tends to stay in contact with the skin for both the hair-removing and return strokes. I also tend to shave in an anti-raking stroke pattern, which involves hair-removing razor strokes that move toward rather than away from the area just shaved.

Today I deviated from my normal routine and went to a three-pass shave. (Notice that I don't call it the standard three-pass shave because I remain convinced that among the world-wide population of traditional wet shavers -- that is, using water, lather, and a single-bladed razor, a one-pass shave is far more standard. I believe that shaving hobbyists/aficionados are the exception, not the rule.)

So I took a careful three-pass shave using my Parker Variant and an eleventh-shave Personna blue blade. After three careful passes (WTG, XTG and ATG), I wasn't quite close enough in a few regions. So I added water to those areas and using just the residual soap, made some against-grain clean-up strokes. The result was a pretty close and comfortable shave. No big surprise there, but I must note that it wasn't really an improvement over my normal daily one-lathering shave in which I make my first strokes against the grain.

Tracking Blade Usage

I mentioned above that my shave today was the eleventh shave on my current DE blade. I know this because I track usage in a very easy way.

When I open a new DE blade, I retain the paper wrapper and keep it near my razors. I also have at hand a pencil and a Sharpie in the same area. The pencil is for those blade wrappers that readily accept graphite, and the Sharpie is for those wrappers not so pencil friendly.

As I use a blade for each shave, I have rows -- one for each razor -- in which I record the number of each shave.  Below is an example of what a typical wrapper might have recorded on it (and the abbreviations represent the different razors -- MS=Ming Shi 2000S, V=Parker Variant, DOC=PAA double-open comb, and GS=Gillette Slim):

MS - 1, 4, 8, 11, 
V - 2, 5, 9, 
DOC - 3, 6, 10, 
GS - 7, 

I don't really do anything with this information beyond, over time, getting a general sense of blade longevity.

Also, as I've noted before, my somewhat uncommon blade durability is due to my daily care in which I carefully dry and gently palm strop my blades.

Happy shaving!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Why I Favor Certain Razors

I've rotated through all my at-hand razors in the past week or so. If you're a regular reader, then you know that my at-hand razors -- the ones I keep in my bathroom drawer -- are six:

I have these razors at hand and no others for two fundamental reasons,on which I elaborate below.

Non-irritating Shave

First of all for me, to make the grade, a razor has to offer me a non-irritating shave. I've had many razors that can give a close shave, but those that I've rejected seem to have a shaving character that riles my skin. An example of this, and the only irritating shaver that I keep at hand, is my vintage Slim. I retain this razor as a small tribute to and reminder of my dad, who was its original owner. I had a shave with it this week for no particular reason other than to take it for a spin, and even though my objective was just a comfortable every-day shave -- not particularly close -- it was still irritating and resulted in a few unwelcome weepers.

Other fine and commonly-appreciated razors that, for me, were just a bit too irritating have included Gillette Techs, the mild Merkur 15C open comb, every one-piece razor that I've tried (including some very non-aggressive designs such as the Weishi 9306F), the Rimei RM2003, and others that don't spring to mind just now.

All my favorite razors have the key characteristic of being about as non irritating as one can expect given that they are instruments designed to repeatedly rake sharpened steel across sensitive skin.

The degree of straight razors' non-irritating quality relies, obviously, on user skill. The user's skill has two primary factors: judgement in having the blade edge be appropriately sharp, and the ability to shave safely and comfortably with the instrument. A big part of a non-irritating shave with a straight is in keeping the angle of blade to skin sufficiently small that the stroke is more slicing rather than scraping.

My preferred double-edge (DE) razors have design qualities, which I suspect (I haven't been able to empirically verify this) largely involve the angle of the blade in relation to the top cap and shaving plane, that encourage this more-slicing-and-less-scraping angle of the blade to my skin.

Closeness Capability

I do like rather mild-shaving razors. I have no interest in taking a Muhle R41 for a spin, for example. However, I don't like total-lap-cat razors either. For example, a razor that I preferred for quite a long time was the Merkur Classic, the 33C. Yet over time I found that though it offered me a relatively non-irritating shave, I felt I had to work a bit to hard to get a very close shave. So I ended up giving that one to my teen-age son as a starter DE, and he seems to be adequately satisfied so far.

The DEs that I keep at hand, without exception (including the Slim), all have the ability to give me a close shave. The adjustables, obviously, can be dialed up in intensity. The PAA (Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements) DOC is a comfortable and mild-shaving instrument that can be made more aggressive by a slightly-less-snug tightening of the handle. This morning, for example, using this design quirk by tightening the handle to not-completely snug, I got a close, comfortable shave in a single lathering -- taking full advantage of the DOC design to maintain lather on the skin by using anti-raking and long reciprocating razor strokes.

My straight razors are a bit of the exception here. My skills with the straight are not adequate to get as close a shave as I can with my DEs, but, as I've written before, the fun and satisfaction of wielding a straight razor does compensate for the low probability of achieving a near-baby-smooth result.

 Razor Characteristics Unimportant to Me

Though razor heft (that is, weight) matters to some, it's not terribly important to me. Perhaps it is just coincidence that none of my favored DEs are lightweights. The Variant and 2000S razors are fairly heavy and the DOC ain't a lightweight, though, as a three-piece, classically-sized razor with it's unique combed top cap, it isn't a true heavyweight either.

The exception regarding razor weight involves my PTB barber straight. I find its lack of heft gives me both tactile and auditory feedback that I found preferable to the heavyweight shavette that I initially tried.

Another often-discussed characteristic is razor balance, which is immaterial to me. I think concerns with razor balance border on silly actually, but opinions vary and to each his own.

Happy shaving!

Friday, August 4, 2017

On Grooming: A Great Natural Soap that Doubles as Shampoo!

A while back I wrote an article that included mention of the Sudsy Soapery, a soap-making company in Belleville, Illinois. From them I received a full-size trial bar of their lavender & peppermint (with oatmeal) soap. I tried it, liked it, and briefly wrote about it.

Well, I put my money where my mouth is and ordered a couple of new bars. I did this despite having a large inventory of normal bath soap on hand, which was purchased in bulk from one of the warehouse/bulk-sale stores.

I ordered this premium Sudsy Soapery soap because, despite our hard water here in Metro Detroit, it lathers luxuriously. It also smells good. Most importantly, it makes for great shampoo that doesn't dry one's hair and scalp, thus eliminating the need for conditioner.

Because of my nearly-daily summer tennis habit, I pretty much shower at least once per day, and this includes washing my sweat-soaked hair. In the past on the advice of a doctor, who advocated using soap for hair washing, I tried using common department-store/grocery-store bath soap. I found that it didn't seem to get my hair clean, leaving what seemed like a waxy coating. However, using the "natural" soap from the Sudsy Soapery (instead of the detergent soap from mainstream manufacturers), I find that I get excellent results -- clean hair that is manageable and not dried out -- even washing it twice in a single day.

So I'll continue to use my large inventory of common bath soap as part of my showering routine (after all, I have a number of bars that have to be used up), but even while they're still being used, my hair will get the Sudsy Soapery treatment. After that, maybe I'll exclusively use "natural" soap.

Also, along with my order of a couple of lavender & peppermint soap, they included (as a trial, I assume) a full-sized bar of grapefruit and sandalwood soap, which I tried and enjoyed during my post-tennis shower yesterday. I used this on both skin and hair, with results similar to the lavender & peppermint soap.

So I can recommend an alternative to harsh hair shampoo and requisite post-shampoo conditioner: try some natural soap from the Sudsy Soapery*.

*I do not receive any compensation from Sudsy Soapery (unfortunately) for sales or recommendation of their products. I'm merely passing along what I hope might be useful and helpful information.

Happy shaving (and bathing)!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Will the Shaving Bubble Burst?

Students of economic history and market bubbles certainly are familiar with the market crash of 1929 in which unbridled optimism (the sky's the limit!) and the ability to buy stocks on credit led first to incredible stock-value inflation. Profit taking and market uncertainty led to increased selling. Too many sellers and insufficient buyers led to falling prices, which forced credit buyers to sell to cover their loans. Everything snowballed resulting in the spectacular market crash.

Similarly, in the 17th century there was a rampant speculation in tulip bulbs (of all things!), in which bulbs were selling for outrageously high (and eventually unsupportable) prices. When the market came to its senses and realized that these highly-priced bulbs did not have the requisite intrinsic value to support their prices, investors began selling to take their profit and get out. Like in the stock market, too many sellers and insufficient buyers led to falling prices -- dramatically falling prices. In the aftermath, many bulb buyers were left with tulip bulbs valued at much less than their purchase prices, with no market to sell for anything but a great loss.

Now traditional shaving is the thing. Shaving businesses, both physical and virtual, continue to  open and expand. Some of this expansion is certainly supported by new buyers entering the market. However, this expansion is also fueled to some degree by acquisition disorder, in which participants are buying products at a rate that exceeds their use.

If I were heavily invested in a shaving business, with inventory and perhaps store rent and staff to support, I would be warily and constantly watching for signs that the growth may begin to subside. Key questions include the following:

  • At what point will the rate of new entrants into the traditional-shaving arena begin to slow?
  • At what point will existing traditional-shaving enthusiasts realize that they have more than enough razors, blades, soap and aftershave?
  • Are there any economic analysts studying and predicting traditional-shaving-market trends?
I'm not that good at predicting the future. (If I were, I'd likely be rich, retired, and living elsewhere.) However, if I had a business dependent on selling shaving products, I'd be working very hard at improving my prediction skills.

Happy shaving!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Re-thinking My Favorite Razor: Variant Vs. Ming Shi 2000S

"Would you like a waffle with your choice of favorite DE razor, dear?"

After writing yesterday that the Parker Variant would be the one razor I'd choose if I only had to choose one.... well, today I'm reconsidering.

Oh, the Variant is a really good razor and may still be my first choice. However, there's a reason that the Ming Shi 2000S razor still has a parking spot in my razor drawer in the bathroom. After my shave this morning with the 2000S, it was such a smooth, comfortable shave that I'm reminded that I can't in good conscience abandon it as a candidate for the top dog in my small stable of regular-use double-edge razors. It's like the difficulty some have in choosing a favorite child.

Maybe I should call my choice of favorite razor a tie, and leave it at that.

Each razor has its relative strengths. Let me walk you through them:

  • Physical characteristics:
    The Variant has to get the nod here due to its smaller head and excellent handle knurling. The smaller head makes it easier to shave the whiskers highest up under the nose, and the handle texture gives one a secure grip even with wet and soapy hands. However, the 2000S head design does have a benefit in that it covers the end tabs of the blade, which eliminates that occasional tab nick from a careless stroke. Also, since I've been shaving with straight razors, I've developed the habit of keeping my hands dry. This has carried over to my use of my DE razors, so I no longer find the smooth-handled Futur imitator 2000S to be a grip challenge. The weights are about the same, with the Variant being slightly heavier. Both have good heft.
  • Ease of blade changing:
    The 2000S gets the nod here, but it's really a non issue. Both are easy to use. The Variant top cap has the threaded center post, while the top cap of the 2000S has the twin posts that snap easily into the handle-baseplate assembly. (I recommend that both are assembled and disassembled inverted over a wash cloth or small towel.)
  • Adjustability:
    I guess the Variant has a small advantage in that its one-to-five-plus adjustability is really a one-to-eleven option, but I never use that second-rotation adjustment range, which strikes me as crazily aggressive. Usually a setting of four is about as aggressive as I get on both the Variant and the 2000S.
  • Smoothness of shave:
    Smoothness is largely about the angle of the blade edge in relation to the shave plane determined by the top cap and safety bar. I think that both of these razors are pretty damned smooth shavers. However, after this morning's 2000S shave with a fifth-use Personna blue blade as compared to yesterday's Variant shave with the same blade in its fourth use, I'm tempted to say the 2000S is just a hair smoother. This is hardly a conclusive opinion, and may vary according to blade wear, blade model, and even razor adjustment setting. It's just that every time I declare the Variant to be my favorite razor, the 2000S' smoothness of shave seems to whisper its reminder in my ear.
  • Price:
    The 2000S is the clear winner here. The Variant is currently (and has been) $57. The 2000S can be had for less than $20.

My conclusion is that if you are on a tight budget and can keep your hands dry during a shave, the 2000S is the razor to buy. If you're not on a budget and price is no object, either or both are the way to go.

The Variant is available on Amazon as is (was?) the Ming Shi 2000S, though the 2000S required a bit more searching to find it. (I couldn't find it on Amazon today. It may or may not be the same razor as the look-alike Q-Shave razor, which is much easier to find on Amazon. For a sure thing, Maggard razors had an inventory of 2000S razors.)

Happy shaving!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Contemplating RAD: Razor-Acquisition Disorder

I happened to catch a YouTube video recently on TheShaveBusta channel in which TheShaveBusta discusses his five or six traditional straight razors, as well as how he intends to acquire more.

This video got me to ruminating on acquisition disorder, which is a common shaving-hobbyist malady -- certainly one that I've dealt with. I decided I'd share some of my thoughts with you today.

When I was wrestling with my double-edge (DE) RAD, I took a hard look in the mirror and tried to be brutally honest with myself about what was underlying this compulsion to acquire new razors.

For me personally, I think that my RAD always had its roots in my fundamental lack of complete satisfaction with my shaves. I enjoyed the DE-shaving process and I enjoyed the fundamental economy of the DE hardware and making lather from soap. I also came to really enjoy a quality shave outcome -- especially a close shave. But my compulsion to acquire ever more DE razors was really about trying find that better mouse trap. Similar to Goldilocks' search for porridge that was just right, most of the razors that I acquired over time were either too baby-bear mild or too papa-bear aggressive. I never could find my just-right DE razor. The outcome was a burgeoning stable of razors, many of which I liked but didn't love.

Oh, I do understand the variety-is-the-spice-of-life and I'm-a-collector arguments supporting acquisition disorders, but in my case, that didn't really apply. At least it wasn't really the primary reason for my razor procurements.

Further complicating my RAD was my underlying, conflicting interest in simplifying my life by reducing the burden of having, storing, or working around unnecessary things. Also, the thrifty part of me recognized the absurdity of having double-digit quantities of razors, when I actually only need one good one. After all, where's the economy in having (and paying for) over a dozen redundant shaving instruments?

Okay, okay, I know; I'm a shaving hobbyist, so I might get a little leeway in having variety in my shaving gear, but there is a reasonable limit.

And I think I've found that limit with my DE razors -- and all my razors, actually. As far as DE razors go, my Parker Variant is the razor I'd have if I could only have one. I acquired my Ming Shi 2000S just to see if it was any good and to explore the Merkur Futur design without laying out big bucks. However, that one turned out to be a very nice option, so I decided to keep that close at hand as well. The Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements' double-open-comb razor, I acquired unintentionally, but it's interesting and functional enough that it's the third leg supporting my DE-shaving platform. Three DE razors are more than enough variety to keep me interested.

Parker Variant ADJUSTABLE Double Edge Safety Razor and 5 Shark Super Chrome Blades - (Satin Chrome)  (Amazon link)

I do also have a fourth DE razor that is essentially a keepsake: my father's Gillette Slim Adjustable. I shave with it on special days in homage to dear departed dad, despite the fact that I really don't love its shave character. Ironically, this razor was my first DE and the one that set me on my quest to find the optimal DE razor, which the Slim clearly wasn't, and which led me down the RAD rabbit hole.

But then I tried the straight-razor experiment. This began with a barbers' razor, then another -- all in the academic interest of exploring the straight-shaving discipline and the two major barber-razor designs (sliding push type and pivoting clasp type). This did not lead to RAD. Instead I kept the barbers' razor that I liked best and allowed someone else to acquire the other. I have zero inclination to get other barbers' razors; the one I have is just fine: my Parker PTB, which I've mentioned many times in previous articles.

I finally came to the point that triggered my interest in traditional wet shaving many, many years ago: the traditional straight razor. This, too, has been a successful experiment. I'm now shaving (part of the time) with the shaving implement that is the most ancient (that is, ignoring stone-fragment blades) and the most ecologically responsible.

But to take us back to where this article began, with TheShaveBusta's professed interest in acquiring even more traditional straight razors.... well, whatever dude. Yet I don't get it. Even the variety-is-the-spice-of-life thing seems to wear thin when contemplating acquiring more than a half dozen straights. After all, the shave character of a straight is largely dependent on the user, not the design of the blade -- although I do acknowledge some design differences that can offer a slightly different performance experience.

I, personally, have no desire to acquire more razors than I have. For me, it's the just-right quantity. Three nice-shaving DEs for variety -- two adjustable and one unique open-comb design (the PAA DOC, double open comb, that in its way is a bit adjustable as well. As for my straights, I've a very pleasant-to-use vintage traditional straight and a much-enjoyed shavette for when the vintage straight needs honing or just for a change of pace. The Gillette adjustable, as I said, is merely still at hand for sentimental reasons.

When I try to fully understand both my own previous DE RAD and others' RAD -- particularly when it comes to straight razors of the same general design (that is, barber or traditional), I tend to suspect that the acquisition compulsion is a type of not-quite-healthy psychological stimulation. It is kind of like a constant Christmas season as one contemplates, then orders, then anticipates, then uses, then becomes bored with new gear and accessories -- at which point the cycle repeats. When I meditate on my own and others' shopping impulses, I get a glimpse into those poor souls whose homes fill up with unnecessary stuff because of their compulsive buying on TV shopping channels and via Internet sellers.

Maybe our psychological stimulation is another characteristic of our time: many choices, disposable income, and, just maybe, a bit of boredom in our daily lives. I'm not here to judge, so to each his own. It's a relatively harmless compulsion, this RAD -- as long as you have the income to buy, the space to store, and a spouse who tolerates your disorder.

So what do you think? Have you contemplated your own RAD with complete honesty? Is it just variety and experimentation that fuels it, or in part is it something else that we may not want to fully recognize? I'm interested to hear any thoughts on the issue. Comments are most welcome.

Happy shaving!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

SOTD: Best Straight-Razor Shave to Date!

As the headline suggests, today I got my best straight-razor shave in memory. It was a two-pass shave that was close and low insult. That doesn't mean perfect, however. I did have about five pin-point weepers that disappeared with the application of alum (not styptic).

Here are the details of today's shave:

  • Face prep: 
    • Splash and light rub with cool tap water
    • Application of Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements' (PAA) Scentsless pre-shave soap, which was then lathered with wet hands
    • Application of vitamin E skin oil directly over the Scentsless lather; (then I set out the remaining accessories for the shave, towels, TP [on which to wipe used lather from the razor], shave soap and brush)
    • Application (by rubbing) of shave-soap puck rubbed directly on pre-lathered, oiled beard
    • Face lathering with cool tap water using my Omega Syntex brush
  • The shave:
    • First shaving pass in the downward direction irrespective of beard grain
    • Second pass sideways (ear to nose or nose to ear) on cheeks, lower lip and chin; downward on upper lip and lower neck; upward on upper neck and below jawline
  • Post shave:
A really rewarding shave! Hope yours was as good.

Happy shaving!

Friday, July 28, 2017

SOTD and Adding Menthol to Balms/Lotions

How to Add Menthol

A  touch of menthol can take an aftershave lotion or balm from good to great. Here's how I add menthol to my post-shave liquids, gels and balms.

Menthol crystals under mint leaves.
The gear that I use is as follows:
  • Menthol crystals -- I bought two ounces via eBay for just a few dollars including shipping (from China)
  • A small plastic container in which to dissolve the menthol. I use a re-purposed yogurt container. Because the menthol is dissolved using heat (generated in a microwave oven), the plastic should be designated as recycle code #5, which is very heat tolerant.
  • The liquid/lotion to which the menthol will be added
A key point to keep in mind is that adding menthol to products is like adding salt to food: add gradually because once you've put it in, you can't take it out.

So here's the method:
  1. Put a few menthol crystals in the dissolving container.
  2. Add a small quantity of the liquid/lotion to which you desire to add menthol.
  3. Nuke in your microwave oven for about four seconds.
  4. Check to see that the crystals have dissolved; if not, nuke for just a few seconds more.
  5. Add a bit more liquid/lotion to mentholated sample in the cup and mix.
  6. Return the mentholated sample into the main container of liquid/lotion. Mix thoroughly (I generally shake the container).
  7. Check for sufficient mentholation in the end product. If not enough, then repeat this process until you are satisfied with the degree of mentholation.


After two daily shaves with my straight razors, I thought I'd go for an open-comb shave. So I used my double-open-comb razor (DOC) from Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements (PAA). I really like this razor for a one-lather shave that uses on any given patch of beard razor strokes from virtually every direction to help ensure a close shave.

The double-open-comb razor with its unique combed top cap, which retains lather and moiture,
and re-spreads it when reciprocating (buffing type) strokes are used while shaving.
Link to PAA here.

I had a cool-water shave, but prepped my face with a pre-lathering of PAA's Scentsless pre-shave soap. I left the wet lather on rather than rinsing off, and rubbed on my Bay Rum shave puck for face lathering with my Omega Syntex brush. I've found that though the Syntex brush is rather stiff initially, over time it has softened nicely. It's a nice brush for everyday use or for travel.

I find this DOC to be both face friendly and a capable shaver. Today I paired it with a third-use Personna blue blade, and snugged the razor slightly less than completely snug. This makes it a touch more aggressive, while still retaining its basic low-irritation character, and, of course, the lather-conserving nature of the open-comb top cap.

The PAA double-open-comb razor. The combed top cap retains lather and moisture,
which facilitates reciprocating (buffing-type) razor strokes.

After I finished the primary shave, I wetted my hands and checked for satisfactory closeness. In those areas I wanted to improve with some finishing strokes, the added moisture combined with the residual lather on my face to enable comfortable and effective final clean-up strokes with the razor.

The result lived up to pre-shave expectations being both close and comfortable.

Happy shaving!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Shave of the Day x 2

Today's Shave

Just moments prior to writing this, I took a fresh Shark half-DE blade, corked it with two strokes in a real cork, and took a 1-1/2 pass shave with my barber-straight razor, my Parker PTB. The PTB is Parker's push-type design, which is used by many barbers. The push-type design can be a bit tricky to load the half-DE blade until you get proficient from practice, and I suppose that discourages many hobbyists, who may not be patient enough with the instrument to become comfortable with it. However, I love my push-type razor. Parker makes this design with both black or white scales. Other manufacturers also make push-type barber straights.

If you may lack the patience to load push-type barber straights, there is always the fan-loading design, which Parker and many other manufacturers offer. I've included some Amazon links below for the Parker razors, but you can use those to navigate to Amazon and then search for any product that you like including other barber straights.


I, personally, like the lightness and resulting excellent feedback of the push-type designs: the PTB (black scales) and the PTW (white scales). Preferences vary, of course, and some may like the heft of the heavy, all-stainless, fan/clasp design of the Parker SRX. Lighter clasp-type designs from Parker are the SR1 and SRB, which have plastic scales.


Deviating from my normal routine, today I started with my left hand shaving the left side of my beard -- as opposed to my normal habit of starting with right hand doing right side. I started on the left today just to ensure extra caution with my left hand; normally when I start with my right hand I can sometimes get excessively confident and then make some stupid error.

I used all downward strokes today, and the half pass was primarly on my under-jaw, upper neck, and chin areas.

Baby-smooth outcome? Ha ha, hardly. But a comfortable shave good enough for the day ahead, and rewarding in the technical accomplishment of another straight-razor shave without incident. I capped the shave with just a splash of common witch hazel that had peppermint and menthol added. I may add a splash of after shave for some pleasant man scent.

Yesterday's Shave -- Beware Hungry Shaving

Yesterday I used my vintage straight razor and had a similar shave to today's. I did make a couple of minor errors creating very subtle linear cuts, which disappeared with application of styptic and remained invisible throughout the day and after.

(For those of you who are interested in a premium, American-made, traditional straight razor, I've put a link, above, to one of several offerings from Parker. Their traditional straights all have the same high-quality blade but vary in the type of scales. And by the way, the seller offering Parker products on Amazon has an excellent reputation for customer service and customer satisfaction. I know this because I've dealt with them several times, and they've always been extremely responsive to my questions and issues.)

I did have an excuse however, for my mediocre shaving technique. I was extremely hungry during yesterday's shave -- so much so, in fact, that the hunger hormones circulating through my system created a bit of a tremor in my hand. This is not the ideal circumstance when shaving from the high wire without a net.

Because of that situation, I ended my shave after only one pass. I was relieved to get through without serious incident. There is a lesson in this, which is don't shave when extremely hungry.

Back from Europe

I didn't announce it, but I've been MIA from this blog for a couple of weeks due to my visit to several northern-European capitals: Helsinki, Stockholm, and Copenhagen.

Because this included plane travel between all the cities, and I only fly with carry-on luggage, so therefore I could not bring any removable blades or vintage straights, so I used disposables with either one or two blades in the razor head. (I find that more than two blades in a disposable razor is overkill.)

Also consistent with my light-packing travel philosophy, I only brought a small piece of shave soap, which I face lathered with my wet hands; I did not bring a shave brush.

Despite my Spartan shave kit, I was not the ugly American because I was never scruffy and unshaven.

Happy shaving!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Razor Rotation

I rotate through my stable of at-hand razors because each one offers me some type of enjoyment, but each provides a slightly different type of pleasure.

Close Shaves

When I want the pleasure of really close shaves, the nod goes to my double-edge instruments. In particular, my two adjustable razors, the Parker Variant and the Ming Shi 2000S (the imitation Merkur Futur) are my choice. They are favored because they have the ability to start conservatively, but I can dial up the aggression as needed to shave as close as I dare.


Comfortable Shave

I like the original Double Open Comb (DOC) razor from Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements (PAA) for those days when I want a good shave but am not obsessed with ultra closeness. The DOC can provide a very close shave -- especially if one takes advantage of its responsiveness to a little less snugness of the handle to make it slightly more aggressive. However, its most salient feature, the combed top cap, combined with its basic mild shave character makes it easy to get a comfortable, face-friendly shave.

(For those who want the lubrication benefit of the DOC design in a more aggressive razor, you might look to PAA's premium, stainless-steel Evolution DOC razor. For those with a more modest budget but who still like a medium aggressive razor with some of the benefits of a DOC, there is always PAA's Prismatic Safety razor, which has a scalloped top cap rather than a comb top cap.)

Technical Challenges

Though my two straight razors don't quite provide the technical challenge of free-climbing El Capitan, they do provide the challenge and satisfaction of shaving like great, great grandad. I've written many times that I don't get a baby-smooth shave with my straights, the vintage 5/8" or the modern Parker PTB, but I get a good-enough shave. More importantly to me, I also get the lingering satisfaction of using the most manly of shaving implements. Even as I'm performing the shave, the proficient use of the straight razor gives a significant degree of in-the-moment pleasure.


Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Do modern hair shampoos still have directions to lather, rinse, repeat? Long ago, shampoo sellers figured out that by instructing their customers to shampoo twice at each use, they might sell twice as much shampoo.

On a related note, I've become fond of PAA's pre-shave soaps. (Just this morning during my vintage-straight shave, I prepped with the unscented pre-shave soap, Scentsless!) How pre-shave soap relates to vintage shampoo directions is that the instructions for pre-shave soaps often suggest using the soap to wash the beard, then rinse, then re-apply the soap prior to lathering with one's choice of shave soap. This struck me as pretty much being lather, rinse, repeat.

So I started skipping the rinse and repeat part. I simply wet my beard, then apply the pre-shave soap and lather with wet hands, adding plenty of water to hydrate my whiskers. Then instead of rinsing, I finish setting out my shaving implements, which gives a bit more time for the soap and moisture to soften my whiskers. Then I shave-soap lather directly over the pre-shave-soap lather. This process is similar to old canned-shave-foam instructions, which suggested washing the face with regular soap, but then simply applying the canned lather directly over the soapy beard.

Using this modified approach, my pre-shave prep hasn't suffered a bit.

A Few Garage-Sale Razors Remaining

If you're open to trying what may be a good value, take a look at my remaining garage-sale inventory.

Happy shopping!

*All links in today's article are to affiliate organizations.

Friday, July 7, 2017

One Nutrient that Will Likely Benefit Your Skin

Our skin takes a beating. In addition to wind and sun, we take things up another notch with our daily scraping with sharpened steel.

Moisturizers and balms are fine as far as they go, but they are limited in the benefits that they offer.

It's always good advice to stay out of the sun. If you can't, then wear sun protective clothing and sunblock as appropriate. Sun damage isn't reversed or prevented by the application of mere sun oils or butters, for example.

A little-known fact is that many people get plenty of omega-six essential fatty acid (EFA) but not enough omega-three EFA. In the USA, our primary source of more-than-enough omega-six EFA comes from all the soybean oil and other inexpensive vegetable oils such as corn oil that we consume in commercial foods such as restaurant meals and processed foods such as salad dressings.

Our sources of omega-three EFA is much more limited. Most do not get enough to offset and balance their intake of omega-six EFA. Our omega-three-EFA deficiency does have many effects, and one of those is in our skin. Folk with an omega-three deficiency will have skin that feels rather papery -- a bit dry and smooth -- while those with adequate omega-three intake will have skin that feels more velvety.

This velvety feeling is lubrication that comes from within rather than topical applications like moisturizers or balms.

Common sources of both EFAs include Canola oil, which would be fine if that was our only source of EFAs. Other less-known balanced EFA sources include hemp oil and a proprietary blend of oils known as Udo's oil. However, most of us need more omega three to counterbalance our excessive omega six intake, not a balance of both EFAs.

Walnuts are a good source of omega-three EFA. The best source, in my opinion, is ground flax seeds. They are rich in omega-three EFA, are relatively tasteless so they can be added to almost any dish (especially hot soups, stews, and cereals -- but after cooking is the best time to add), and make an excellent thickener when desired. I recommend ground flax seeds rather than whole flax seeds because the whole seeds are difficult to break up by chewing, and, unbroken, are likely to pass right through you without yielding their precious omega-three oils.

I add ground flax seeds to my breakfast oatmeal every morning -- along with a lot of other stuff including cinnamon, some cooked legumes (for extra protein, soluble fiber and other good stuff), raisins, various berries, blackstrap molasses (for iron and calcium), unflavored gelatin (for the amino acid, glycine), raw sunflower seeds, chia seeds, sometimes other nut pieces such as raw cashews or pecans, oat milk, and kefir (a fermented diary beverage rich in healthy bacteria to benefit the gut microbiome).

If you get in the habit of a daily dose of a couple of heaping tablespoons of ground flax seeds, you may eventually see an improvement in the texture and health of your skin.

Happy shaving!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

So Many Samples, So Little Time

The fallout from the Maggard Meet in May (2017) continues as I enjoy the products and samples that I've received as a consequence of my attendance.

Lately, of course, my attention has been drawn to the fine products from Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements (PAA).* (In fact, I was so impressed with their range and quality of offerings that they are now an affiliate vendor to Shave Like Grandad.) I have some updates on a couple of their products.

The Black Bot Aftershave Balm continues to be one that I both purchased and use regularly. I really like the fragrance and the moisturizing qualities of this product. However, I've become aware of a regular reaction from this and some other moisturizing products (from other manufacturers/vendors) that I have applied after my shaves. It's likely just me and my particular skin chemistry, but with these types of products, when used after my shaves, cause the areas receiving the moisturizer to temporarily (for a minute or two) flush reddish and produce a mild "warm-sting"* sensation that is different from the sting that one might get from applying a dilute alcohol treatment or a mentholated product. *[UPDATE: I originally described the warm-sting sensation as "hot burn." After my morning shave, I decided this was an overstatement, and I didn't want to mislead.]

Thinking that I might have an unusual sensitivity to glycerin, I did a little half-baked experiment in which I washed and dried my face with hand soap, and then applied pure glycerin to an area of my cheek. Although I did get a mild sensation (which could be only in my imagination), there was not the temporary flush or mild "warm-sting" that I get from some other applications. So I would tend to rule out glycerin as the culprit ingredient.

I've sought expert input on this issue and will report out any findings. In the meantime, I found a related product via a product sample that I really like. Not surprisingly, it's another Black Bot product from PAA.

Black Bot After-shave Jelly (mentholated) from PAA

Having the same fragrance as its sibling balm, this jelly has an added menthol ingredient. I have used this for a couple of shaves, and went to order a bottle. I couldn't find it on the PAA web site, and have inquired about its availability. As soon as I'm able, I'm going to order some.

This product provides the additional temporary coolness of mentholation and doesn't give me the temporary and mild "warm sting" of some other balms or moisturizers. [UPDATE: It gives the familiar cool sting common to mentholated products.]

I'll report out on what I learn about its availability as well. [UPDATE: Looks like this Black Bot Aftershave Jelly will be available in the fall of 2017.]

That's it for today. I'm going to have a shave now.

Happy shaving!

*affiliate organization

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Risk and Rewards of Mentholation

If you've read my recent posts, you know that I like mentholated shaving products. This includes pre-shave products, shave soaps and creams, and post shave products as well.

I've gone so far as to order some menthol crystals to experiment adding them to my generic witch hazel -- perhaps with menthol alone and perhaps in combination with peppermint oil.

Why do I love menthol? Let me count the ways:
  1. It has a pleasant cooling sensation.
  2. It has an interesting, pleasant scent.
  3. It has a slight anesthetizing, soothing effect.

So what's not to love?

Well, let's get real: though menthol has the preceding rewards, it doesn't work miracles. If you are using a razor, blade or shaving technique that is going to be rough on your skin, then menthol might mitigate the sensation of the skin insult for a time, but it won't eliminate it.

For example, after my week of shaves with the Gillette Slim and despite my use of mentholated products, I was happy to switch to back-to-back shaves with razors that are much more comfortable on my skin. I still happily used mentholated products for these recuperation shaves, but the outcome was ultimately more skin friendly because I was using shave hardware that was more suited to my needs.

Then today I had a straight-razor shave using my Parker PTB barber razor and a second-use Derby Extra half-DE blade. My objective was to get merely a good-enough shave for the day, while enjoying the pleasure of shaving with a straight razor. So I took a one-pass shave.

Here's the rest of the story:

The mentholated pre-shave soap and the mentholated shave soap did in fact have a soothing, anesthetizing effect. My technique was pretty good; I didn't have a single what I would call nick or cut. I did, however, have a few minor wounds, weepers: small scrapes that ultimately leaked a bit of blood -- even though I didn't even feel them when they occurred.

All four weepers were small. two went away with a touch of alum. Two required a touch of styptic pencil (which is not the same as alum, though many seem to not understand that fact).

My point is that the risk of using mentholated products may be that they reduce the sensory feedback just a bit. It's possible that I could have felt my blade shaving just a bit too closely and perhaps avoided the weepers had I reserved my use of mentholated products for after the shave.

So the next time I pull out a straight razor for a shave, I'll use non-mentholated products for pre-shave treatment and the shave soap itself. After the shave, I'll happily apply products containing menthol. For my DE shaves, I'll continue to freely use mentholated products before, during and after the shave according to my whim.

Happy shaving!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Pre-Lathering-Product Feedback -- My Last Six Shaves

Shave Software

For all my shaves during this prep-product evaluation period, I've used the same soap, which is a non-mentholated, no-mint-content, no-aloe-content, rather generic but adequate product that has a sandalwood scent. The only products that have varied has been the pre-shave, pre-lathering products from Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements (PAA),* which are as follows:
Also, for the record, I've gone back to cool-water shaves. I simply repeatedly wet my beard with cool tap water prior to using shave-prep products.

After the shave I applied peppermint witch hazel (~14% alcohol), then after-shave balm, PAA's Black Bot balm.

Shave Hardware

Today was my sixth shave with the SuperMax Titanium blade, all shaves paired with my Gillette Slim adjustable razor. All shaves were pretty much one lathering, with the equivalent of two against-grain passes followed by touch-up strokes as necessary. The settings on the Slim were 1 (mildest) for the first against-grain strokes and 4 (moderate) for the remainder except on my upper lip, on which I used the setting of 1 for all strokes.

Bear in mind that I've chosen to use the Slim for all these shaves because it is not well suited to my skin. No matter the setting, it gives me a rather harsh, irritating shave. Therefore it may be the ideal razor with which to evaluate the effect of shave-preparation products. When I compare this razor to the other DE razors at hand in my bathroom, all the others provide a much more comfortable shave. My other at-hand DE razors -- that is, those that I choose to keep in the bathroom for regular use -- are as follows:
  • Parker Variant (adjustable)
  • Ming Shi 2000S (adjustable)
  • PAA Double Open Comb
I only keep the Slim around for sentimental reasons because it was my father's last DE razor.

Product-Use Processes

For every shave I've wetted my beard adequately. After that, the process varies according to pre-lathering product: soap or gel.

For the pre-lathering soaps, I rub the puck on my wet beard and wash my face per the usage instructions. I let the soap stay for a few extra seconds while I set out some shaving gear, then rinse with cool water. After that, and again according to the usage instructions, I rub the pre-lathering-soap puck on my beard in against-grain strokes. Then similarly, I rub the sandalwood shave-soap puck on my beard and face lather with a wet brush.

For the pre-lathering gel, with my fingers I spread a thin layer of the gel over my entire wetted beard. That too I let stand for a few seconds as I set out shaving gear. Then I bowl lather the sandalwood shave soap. (I bowl lather because I don't want to remove the gel layer from my skin by wiping the sandalwood soap on my beard to face lather.) Then I apply the shave-soap lather to my beard on top of the gel layer.

For all products I let the pre-lathering product sit on my beard a few extra seconds to accomplish the following objectives:
  • The lather or gel can help ensure adequate moisture in the hair prior to the shave -- meaning the hairs are adequately softened.
  • The key ingredients such as menthol and aloe have extra time to sit on the skin, which may help to maximize their efficacy. In particular this is noticeable with the mentholated products. As the first few seconds went by after their application to my beard, I could feel the increasing sensation of coolness, which brings with it a slight anesthetizing effect.

Blade Usage

I went through two cycles of pre-lathering-product rotation because my blades tend to mellow with usage. This is particularly evident in the Slim adjustable. The first shaves with a fresh, sharp blade can be the most irritating. As I use the blade for more shaves, which I always complete with rinsing, pressing dry, and palm stropping, the blade seems to get conditioned, providing the smoother shaves during the middle and latter parts of its life cycle.

Though each shave therefore has a blade in a slightly different phase of its evolution from sharp and harsh (in the Slim, that is) to more seasoned and therefore less harsh, the transition is subtle enough that I can get a sense of the effect of each pre-lathering product.

Conclusions to Date

The most obvious conclusion is that, for me, products with menthol have a calming effect on shave outcome. Prior to this trial, I was well aware that one of my favorite shave soaps (and a good value, too!) is a mentholated soap from Pyrate Cove Soap Works. So it isn't surprising that I had my greatest affinity to the two mentholated pre-lathering products, Ice and the Prickly Pear Gel.

Of those two mentholated products, I prefer the Ice pre-lathering soap primarily for the following reason:  I can face lather without concern of diminishing the pre-lathering-product's effect. I much prefer the greater simplicity of face lathering -- including when using hard-soap pucks, which are surprisingly well suited to the face-lathering process.

That said, if one is comfortable with bowl lathering, then the gel can be a good pre-lathering product to use. It is available with or without menthol to suit one's personal preferences.

The Scentsless pre-lathering soap may be a good option for those who prefer non-mentholated products. 

I will continue to use these and other products, but going forward will use shaving instruments that are more comfortable for me including the afore-mentioned DE razors, but also with my straight razors. The usage with the straights may be the more interesting of the long-term trials because my DEs are such comfortable shavers. I'll let you know at some point how future shaves go.

Happy shaving!

*affiliate organization