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Friday, October 20, 2017

Omega Syntex Brush: A Long-Term Evaluation

The ideal qualities that any brush might have include the following:
  • Moderate size: large enough to lather one's face easily without being so large that lather ends up in unwanted geography
  • Holds sufficient moisture and lather
  • Has good backbone
  • Maintains its shape
  • Made of durable materials
  • Dries quickly
  • Doesn't require much care
  • Isn't stupidly expensive
  • Is comfortable to use against one's skin
  • To be manufactured, it doesn't rely on dead animals
  • When new, there's no offensive odor to dissipate 
The Omega brand Syntex model brush is a near ideal option. I've used it for several years, and it has become the only brush that I use. The reasons correspond to those listed above.

It is one of the least expensive brushes available. Its knot has good backbone, and is just-right sized for applying lather to face while maintaining optimal control. It holds mosture and lather well. Being made of synthetic fibers, it dries quickly, never stinks of dead animals, is impervious to water damage, and you can just set it on the counter top to dry after shaving -- whether you choose to rinse or not.

     

The one caveat that I would offer is that when this brush is new, the bristle tips are a bit abrasive against skin. With use they become broken in and the abrasive issue goes the way of the dodo bird. 

I prefer the Syntex to my boar brush, which is too big. I prefer the Syntex to my badger brush, which doesn't have a lot of backbone. None of my brushes were very expensive, and the Syntex was between the others' price points, currently available for about U.S. $13.

I characterize this brush as great for traveling or at-home use. It's also great for bowl or face lathering. It's available in three plastic handle colors: green, blue and red. If you're in the market for a new brush and have the patience to use it gently until broken in, I heartily recommend this one.

Happy shaving!




Thursday, October 19, 2017

New Political & Current News Opinion Blog

Respecting the wishes of some shaving-hobby readers, who may not want to be confronted with rational, realistic, informed opinions on politics and current events -- opinions that may differ from their own --  or those who just may not be interested in such matters (how can you not be???!!!), I've started another weblog called My Opinion Portal at http://myopinionportal.blogspot.com.

If you're so inclined and not faint of heart, take a look at my initial post there.

Also, for those who are athletically inclined -- especially those who play tennis and aspire to play really good tennis -- I will be writing articles occasionally in another weblog called Seeking 5.0: Writings on Tennis Excellence. This can be found at https://seeking5-0.blogspot.com/.

UPDATE: The first tennis article has been posted on 20 October 2017. Have fun, be healthy, play tennis!

Happy shaving!



Thursday, October 5, 2017

Beware Sleepy Shaving

So a couple of days ago, I eschewed my normal couple of cups of coffee before sunrise. I had planned to allocate my caffeine ration a bit later in the morning so I would focus better while hard at work on a tedious task.

So I substituted a couple of cups of decaf and then went about my morning shave.

The plan for the shave was a close but conservative shave that was easy on the face. To accomplish this, my plan was to use a new Gillette Wilkinson Sword blade in my Parker Variant set on one for the first strokes (largely against the grain). Then I was to dial up the razor and clean up any significant lingering whiskers.

So I assembled the razor and blade -- turning the adjustment knob to one. Then I lathered up as usual and began my shave with the usual stroking processes.

However, I soon noticed a harsh sensation following my razor strokes. Then spots of blood appeared, sometimes actually running down my jaw. Finally I wondered whether this was due to more than just a new blade and some remarkably poor shaving technique.

When I cautiously double-checked my razor setting (which I never dial down with too much force lest I damage the threads of the razor), I realized that I had actiually set the razor to six (meaning that I had dialed down one rotation short of what was necessary to achieve the desired razor setting of one)!

Six! I never shave with a setting of greater than four! No wonder my shave was harsh and bloody!

Lesson learned. When not sufficiently caffeinated prior to sun up, I'll be extra careful to make sure that I've set my razor correctly.

Happy shaving!



Monday, October 2, 2017

FINAL Final Word on Ming Shi vs Derby Extra Blades

For my shaves both yesterday and today, I used my Lord L.6 razor head that is a key component of the Lord LP1822L razor. Also on both days I deviated from my usual shaving methods and instead used a common three-pass shave process: WTG, XTG, ATG.

Yesterday's blade was a 12th-use Derby extra; today's was a 12th-use Ming Shi.

Yesterday's shave was not so good, and I gratefully deposited the Derby blade in my recycle can. Today's shave wasn't bad -- much better than yesterday's -- but I also ditched the Ming Shi into the recycle can for greener pastures, so to speak.

Bottom line, the Ming Shi blade is one I could use regularly and isn't the junk that I had previously feared it would be.

Happy shaving.



Tuesday, September 26, 2017

My Final Word on A Tale of Two Blades: Ming Shi vs. Derby Extra

I had my tenth shave yesterday with the Ming Shi DE blade that came with my Ming Shi 2000S (Merkur Futur look-alike) razor. I also use the 2000S razor for that shave. I got a close, comfortable shave.

Today I chose to use the Parker Variant razor and a sixth-shave Derby Extra blade. I also got a close shave, and the outcome was comfortable as well. But during the shave, the Derby was rough feeling.

Comparing the Derby to the Ming Shi blade, I actually prefer the Ming Shi for both comfort and longevity. (Ming Shi blades are available on eBay.)

I took two passes for both shaves -- but as you may know, my shaves are almost never the much bandied-about process of with grain, then across grain, then against grain. If I make two passes, which I often do, then the first pass will be vertical over most of my face and neck in the direction that is most against the grain. This means, for example, that on my cheeks and upper neck I shave upwards. On my lower neck I shave downwards. (On my lips and chin, my stroke direction varies according to the blade brand, how many shaves for which it's been used, the razor, and razor setting if adjustable.

For both shaves, yesterday and today, I used a razor setting of one for both first passes.

For my second of two passes, I will normally shave directly against the grain -- again excepting lips and chin, where I simply make the necessary strokes to optimize closeness. For the second passes on both days, I used a setting of two on the adjustable razors.

Today, I stopped there. On days when I'm feeling obsessive about the closeness of my shave, like yesterday, I'll make the necessary clean-up strokes to maximize smoothness.

An important note is that in these shaves, I don't believe that the choice of razor made much difference. Both of these razors are, on my skin, pretty damned smooth shavers.

Happy shaving!



Tuesday, September 12, 2017

No-Brainer Razor and Ming Shi Vs. Derby Extra

The L.6 Razor Head

I've continued to use the Lord L.6 razor head paired with a slightly-heavier, classic-length handle from my Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements' (PAA) double-open-comb razor because it's a near-ideal shaving option for me in a non-adjustable razor. It's mama-bear right, not too baby-bear mild nor too papa-bear aggressive. I get easy, close shaves with not much fuss.



The Ming Shi vs. Derby Extra Blades

After putting about a half-dozen shaves on each blade (followed by careful drying and palm stropping), I've found that the Ming Shi blade has seasoned quite nicely. So far it has settled into providing good, non-irritating shaves.

The Derby Extra blade, though giving shaves just as close without tugging, is still a bit irritating on my skin. This will not keep me from using the blades, but of the two, it's surprising to me that I actually prefer the Ming Shi blade!

I should also mention that the most recent shaves with these blades have been in the afore-mentioned L.6 razor head with the PAA handle. So I am getting a head-to-head comparison, so to speak. ;-)


            

Happy shaving!



Sunday, September 10, 2017

Zen and the Lord (brand) L.6 Razor Head

A Zen Saying

There exists a Zen truism: "Who knows what is good or bad?"

What this means is that we judge things, but often lack the perspective to understand the full implications. For example, there is the story of a farmer in an ancient culture is talking to his neighbor, relating recent events:

Farmer: "My son saved a calf from falling into a river and being swept away."

Neighbor: "That is good."

Farmer: "But in doing so, the calf fell on my son and broke his leg."

Neighbor: "That is bad."

Farmer: "But the army came by shortly after that seeking to conscript young men into service, and because of his leg, the army did not take him."

Neighbor: "That is good."

And so on....

An Unsold Garage-Sale Razor

So consistent with the Zen truism, after the dust settled from my on-line garage sale, I was left with a couple of unsold razors including my Lord (brand) LP1822L, with its L.6 razor head. (That is bad?) I thought of this instrument after reading a post or comment somewhere online about how someone's favorite razor is this L.6 razor head in combination with some other heavier handle.

So just for grins I fished out the LP1822L from my garage-sale shoe box and gave it a spin this morning. With it I used a 6th-use Ming Shi blade and the handle from my Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements' (PAA) double-open-comb razor.

A Surprisingly Good Razor Head

I got a very good shave this morning using that L.6-based combination of hardware. So good, in fact, that this razor head has won a place back in my bathroom shaving drawer. (That is good. ;-)

This Lord LP1822L razor is certainly unpretentious. It's a basic three-piece design. It's inexpensive. It comes with a long, light aluminum handle. Its chrome finish is hardly the highest quality. Its blade exposure (the degree to which the blade edge lies above or below the shave plane, which is formed by the top cap and safety bar) is a bit negative -- meaning that its shave character would seem to be a bit mild, perhaps too mild for many experienced DE (that is, double-edge) users.

However, the negative blade exposure is counterbalanced to some degree by the unique cross-section contours of its safety bar. At first glance, the blade-bar gap and span seem small, which would also suggest a mild shaving character. Upon closer inspection, the safety bar has a contour that actually provides a rather broad blade-bar span. 

Now, if one is a beginning DE shaver and, as is typical, tends to press razor too firmly against face, then the generous blade-bar span will tend to promote wounds. However, with the correct amount of pressure, the negative blade exposure combined with the generous blade-bar span offers a shave that is safe and close. I'm embarrassed to say that, once again, I've had a razor in my possession that is worthy of appreciation and regular use, but I've overlooked it for too long, and made many unnecessary razor purchases.


This is not a razor that will make shaving-product promoters or sellers rich, but it is an excellent instrument for getting an easy, no-fuss, reliably-good shave.

Good for DE Beginners

I heartily recommend this razor for those new to DE shaving. The only warning to new DE shavers is that you must learn an appropriately-light pressure right away to use this otherwise safe and effective razor head. You can also use the L.6 head with its long aluminum handle because it's not necessary to use a heavier one

Good for Experienced DE Shavers

I actually get a very good shave with this razor in two passes (both largely against grain). I'm a bit embarrassed to say that this razor is likely to become my no-fuss, every-day instrument replacing even my venerable (and more expensive) adjustables.

Today's No-Fuss Shave

I prepped my beard with a simple cool-water lathering using a sandalwood-scented soap from PAA. I let the moisture from that initial lathering "soak in" while I set out my other shaving gear. Then I re-wetted my brush and re-lathered.

Then I took my two-pass shave. Both passes were largely against the grain except on my lips and chin, where I wasn't as aggressive with my stroke direction. I rinsed with cool water between passes, and re-lathered prior to my second pass.

Despite the Ming Shi blade, which has, admittedly, seasoned nicely with several shaves and my usual post-shave palm stropping, I got a close, comfortable shave. I did not even use after-shave balm. I simply rinsed with cool water, applied a splash of unpretentious drug-store witch hazel (that I, myself had previously scented with menthol and peppermint), and then after that dried, applied a sandalwood-scented after-shave lotion from PAA.

My New Focus

As my concerns about shaving hardware have been largely addressed, my new focus is on soaps, lotions, balms, and fragrances. I dislike flowery scents, so most of these types of products on the market don't appeal much to me. But that's just me.

I tend to like more musky or barber-shoppy scents -- though, frankly, I'm so poorly educated on the subject that I find it difficult to even discuss it.

Currently some of the scents that I have found preferable include those of the following products/companies/categories:
  • PAA's Black Bot scent 
  • Sandalwood (some are more spicy than I would prefer)
  • Palmolive (classic) shave soap
  • Arko (yep, though it's better when left out unwrapped  for a few weeks so that the fragrance attenuates; it's not my favorite fragrance, but neither are some others that I like and use regularly)
  • Pyrate Cove Soap Works Menthol shave soap (really like this one -- and inexpensive too!)
  • Aqua Velva blue aftershave (I hope to try the European version, imported and sold by PAA, which is reputed to be more like the old, classic version of the product sold years ago in its original glass, not plastic, bottles)

           

Anyway, that's it for now. Happy shaving!




Friday, September 8, 2017

Straight Shaving: Learnings and a Left-Handed Compliment

I pulled out my straight razors for my two most recent shaves. Yesterday it was a first pass with the hollow-ground traditional straight (finished with a second pass using my Variant set on two).  Today it was a two-pass shave with my Parker PTB equipped with a sixth-use Shark blade. In terms of closeness of shave, today's shave was the closest I've achieved with a straight razor.

         

I probably average using a straight razor once to twice per week. I continue to be patient with my developing straight-razor skills. This approach seems to be paying off as my skills evolve.

I've also found that as my skills improve, I'm able to use a blade for more shaves before relegating it to the blade-recycle can. Six shaves is the most I've gotten so far with a half-DE blade, and I expect to use this one further before I declare its useful life terminated.

For the first use with a fresh half-DE blade, I do "season" the edge by corking it in an old wine-bottle cork. This makes that first-use shave a little safer, less likely to bite.

Regarding blade longevity, do keep in mind, though, that I am fastidious with my blades -- carefully rinsing them, pressing them dry with a square of toilet tissue after the shave and then palm-stropping a couple of strokes on each side of the edge. This palm stropping with a half blade is a bit trickier than with a whole DE blade, but isn't really much of a challenge.

For those who have safety concerns about palm stropping, I've been doing the palm-stropping routine for years and haven't been injured. I suspect that most who are able to cut up their own steak will have the same experience. If your mom is still cutting up your dinner, however, better leave palm stropping to the grown ups.  ;-)

Beard Prep

Today (and yesterday), recalling a recommendation in one of Lynn Abrams' videos, I made my lather rather thin and watery. I prepped with a first lathering (made with cool water, of course), then went about setting out all the other shaving accoutrements, then re-lathered and took my first pass. In between passes I re-applied the same, watery lather.

Uneventful First Passes

I'm getting pretty good using either hand and the basic "forehand" grip, in which one shaves downward using the right hand on the right side of the face and neck, and the left hand on the left side.

My basic "forehand" grip on a straight razor.
(This particular razor is the Parker SRX clasp-type design.)


My exception to this right-right, left-left process is that I pretty much shave my upper lip, lower lip and chin using my dominant (that is, right) hand. 

Both yesterday's and today's first passes with the straight were pretty much problem free: no cuts, no irritation, and one tiny weeper per shave.

Interesting Second Pass

My "backhand" grip with the PTB.
Today's second pass with the barber straight was upward on my cheeks, upper neck and under my jaw line. I shaved across my chin and upper and lower lips. On my lower neck I used downward strokes as I did in the first pass, which, in that region is largely against the grain.

For upward strokes I use the "backhand" grip using my left hand on right side of beard, right hand on left side of beard.

My second pass was uneventful until I got to shaving under my jaw line on the right side of my face. This means using the left hand, a "backhand" grip, and upward strokes (largely against grain). Although my left hand is much improved in its straight-razor skill, making upward strokes with a backhand grip is still somewhat of an uncertain proposition. My second pass on my right cheek and upper neck went fine. Under my jawline, however, opened some wounds that closed quickly with a bit of alum dampened with witch hazel.

Playing the Angles

Over time I've learned the importance of the angle of a straight razor against skin. I've consistently stated that a small angle is desirable, and I still hold to that. However, too small an angle can be problematic -- especially when using a barber straight (which requires a replaceable blade). Too small an angle can cause the razor to drag, which then requires a bit more stroking force, which in turn greatly increases the chances of an errant stroke. Of course, the consequences of errant strokes is almost always a nick or cut.

My left hand technique has improved but when stroking upward with a backhand grip, it still feels awkward, wooden, and it's difficult to find the proper combination of blade angle and pressure against skin -- especially under my jaw line. If I were to estimate the optimal angle of blade to skin, I would guess that it's somewhere between 20 and 25 degrees -- but that's just a guess. For sure, by feel, it should be more of a slicing than scraping stroke, but the edge should move freely across the skin requiring little pressure.

Tomorrow I'll take a much deserved break from the straights and use one of my face-friendly DE razors -- perhaps the imitation Futur Ming Shi 2000S and fourth-use Ming Shi blade (just to see if it's becoming more seasoned and suitable due to a few uses and the accompanying palm stropping).

Happy shaving!




Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Chinese Blade Update, Over-Exuberant Product Promotion

Ming Shi Blade Update

I've had three shaves so far with a Ming Shi blade that accompanied my much-appreciated Ming Shi 2000S adjustable razor -- a razor based on the original Merkur Futur design.



Although I wrote previously that the Ming Shi blade shave unremarkably -- that is, without incident -- I would suggest that for my skin it is one of the more irritating edges that I've used. 

This doesn't mean that it's terrible. It just may not be the best option for me. For example, the Derby Extra blade is one that some users prefer. For me it is a bit irritating, although after some use and daily palm stropping, it becomes more mellow and quite acceptable to me.

I will continue to put more shaves on the freebie Ming Shi blade and will report out how it behaves as it ages.

Questionable Marketing Practices, Reformation, and Forgiveness

I was listening to a radio interview with John LeCarre, the spy-novel writer, who is now in his eighties. He explained that over the course of his life, he has been many persons, some not so nice. But he explained that he has evolved, changed for the better. 

I would guess that the same can be said for many of us -- certainly me. There are many things I've done or not done, to which I would really like to have a Mulligan, a do-over. But life isn't like that. We do the best we can for the reasons that we have at the time, but later perhaps we learn, grow, and would do things differently. We can't go back so we try not to make the same mistakes a second time.

I have recently become aware of a shaving marketer against whom some hold a grudge for questionable marketing practices. Some grudge holders will never forgive and forget. This strikes me as being akin to an attitude described in an old, best-selling pop-psychology book by Eric Berne called Games People Play.  One game he describes is "now I've got you, you son of a bitch." This is when we catch someone in an error and it gives us license to vent our full fury on the transgressor. 


Okay, a shaving-product-company representative or principal performed some questionable marketing tactics to get prospective customers' attention. Certainly less than ideal for building credibility. But on the other hand, were the products bad, harmful, attributed with characteristics they didn't have? No. 

So a guy tries, using less-than-honest sales puffery, to call your attention to products that are largely and basically good, worth looking into. Is this sales practice ideal? No. But is it worthy of damnation? No.

Don't get me wrong; I'm NOT a proponent of the philosophical position of the end justifies the means. But I do think one has to put situations into context. In the instance of a businessman trying to get your attention by crossing an ethical line is a case of an error in judgement, which essentially all of us have made at one time or another. To my thinking, the real questions are, 1) has the error been corrected; have the deceptive practices ceased? and 2) was the deception harmful to anyone, or was it merely to try to cut through inattention or unjustified resistance? If the answers are yes, the practices have stopped, and no, the deception wasn't harmful but merely to capture your (likely justified) interest,  then it's time to move forward, stop holding grudges, forgive and forget. 

Also, you may be doing yourself a couple of favors if you let go of your grudge. After all, 1) holding anger is harmful to you, and 2) the products you've been angrily avoiding may actually be something from which you will benefit. 

Just my two cents, but you may want to give it some thought (and stop playing the now-I've-got-you,-you-son-of-a-bitch game).

Happy shaving (and forgiving)!



Monday, September 4, 2017

Safety of Sneaking Up on Baby Smooth, a Chinese Blade, and Futur Tips

Today's theme is safety. In the past week or so, I've tried some new things -- a new shaving process and a Chinese-made blade. I'm also elaborating on safe handling of Futur-style razors including the original Merkur Futur as well as imitators like the Ming Shi 2000S (one of my favorite razors) and the Q-Shave. Let's begin....

Sneaking Up On Baby Smooth with an Adjustable

Deviating from my usual daily one-lathering shave, today I tried a multi-lathering, increasing-aggression shave with my Ming Shi 2000S adjustable. I also included a shave-prep change -- a simplification.

The No-Fuss Shave Prep

I used an inexpensive sandalwood soap for my shave this morning. It's hardly a premium soap, but it's adequate. Consistent with my pre-conceived concept, I believe that even mediocre soaps are not only up to the task, but don't require extensive pre-shave preparation as some would suggest -- even with our hard Metro-Detroit water.

So this morning I even skipped my usual initial splash and rub with cool tap water. Instead, I first pulled out the soap puck and brush ahead of all other shaving gear. Using cool tap water, I loaded the brush with soap and face lathered to a wet, not-super-thick foam. Leaving that sit on my beard, I then pulled out the remaining gear for today's shave.

Then I re-wet the brush and again face lathered right over the existing lather already on my beard. The concept underlying this process is that it is time rather than temperature that is key in prepping a beard for shaving.

The Shave

Then I put a Derby Extra blade (with one previous shave on it) into my 2000S, set it to one (its lowest setting) and did a first pass with vertical (largely against-grain strokes). I then rinsed and felt for closeness of shave. No wounds were present  but definitely could've used more aggression.

So I reset the 2000S to two (out of six) and repeated the process: re-lathering and shaving largely against grain, with some directly-against-grain strokes on my upper neck and under jaw line. Still no skin injury, but also not close enough.

Long story short, I repeated this rinse-lather-shave process with subsequent settings of three and then five. I did ultimately get a few weepers on my neck, and though the shave was close, it wasn't baby smooth (which is very difficult for me to achieve without extensive insult to my skin).

What did I learn? Well, I confirmed that extensive prep processes aren't necessary. Ditto for warm/hot water. In the future I might start with the 2000S on two (of six) and then simply jump to a setting of four -- thus taking a two-pass shave for a good, but not perfect, daily shave.

Using a Ming Shi Blade

When I received my Ming Shi 2000S razor from Maggard Razors (a dependable vendor) it came with a packet of five Ming Shi blades. In the past up until last week, any time I received Chinese blades, I set them aside and did not use them. But last week I thought I'd start a leisurely rotation through my freebie Chinese blades to see if they're trash, treasure, or something in between.

Bottom line on the Ming Shi blade is that it was an uneventful shave. Bear in mind that I'm not a blade aficionado. I don't obsess about blades despite much ballyhoo in DE-shaving writings and videos. The fact is that it was perfectly fine and NOT the horror show that I thought it might be.

Safety Tips for Futur-Style Razors

I've mentioned these before, but many haven't seen them or didn't take them seriously. So pay attention!

Changing the Blade in a Futur-Style Razor

Removing the Blade:
  1. Put a wash cloth or other protective pad on the counter (to protect the razor's finish).
  2. Set the inverted razor (top cap down) onto the wash cloth.
  3. While holding the ends (that cover the short blade tabs) of the top cap with one hand, pull the handle upward to separate it from the top cap.
  4. If the blade is stuck in the top cap, simply turn it over (so that the blade is facing the counter and the convex surface of the top cap is closer to the ceiling) and, from a few inches above the wash cloth on the counter, simply drop the top cap onto the wash cloth. This will usually cause the blade to release from the top cap without you having to try to pry it out and thereby damaging either the blade edge or your fingers.
Inserting a Blade:
  1. Place the top cap, with pins upward, onto the wash cloth on the counter.
  2. Lay the blade onto the top cap.
  3. Press the handle assembly onto the inverted top cap (and blade).

Changing the Razor Adjustment When Blade is Installed

Picture that you're mid shave as I was this morning and you want to change the setting of your Futur-style razor. Don't grab the razor head as you turn the handle! This is just begging for a nasty cut due to slippery wet or soapy surfaces.

Instead, while holding the razor handle, with the adjustment indicator upward so it can be viewed, press the safety bar of the razor onto the counter -- ideally onto a wash cloth pad on top of the counter -- with the handle of the razor near parallel to the horizontal counter surface. Then simply turn the handle to the desired setting. 

Happy (safe) shaving!



Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Shave Across Time

Think 1963 Hardware....

With thoughts of my article the other day on the standard shave and some options, this morning I used my venerable Gillette Slim adjustable for today's shave. Though the Slim is far from my favorite razor, it is an adjustable, and I thought I'd use the mindset of an early 1960s gent, and see what kind of a shave I could get with just a standard shave.

My thinking was (and still is) that the Gillette adjustables were designed with the standard shave in mind; that is, one (pass) and done. So I took my Derby Extra blade with seven previous shaves on it, set the Slim on its mid-point setting of five, and mounted up for today's shave.

19th-Century Beginnings

My prep this morning was far from 1960 though. It started with my usual splash of unheated water -- an idea that I first got from a 19th-century text on shaving. The idea of the cool-water shave was put forth as eliminating the need for servants to have to heat water. And so it came to pass: no servants heated my shaving water this morning.  ;-)

Early 20th-Century Pre Shave

To clean my skin and help to soften my whiskers by saturation with moisture, I took out my jar of classic Noxzema cream. Noxzema was first sold in 1914 as a no-exzema skin cleanser.

Using generous amounts of cool water and a small scoop of Noxzema, I washed my face. I added a second application of water, but not really with the intention of rinsing. I merely wanted to ensure that my whiskers were adequately wet.

21st-Century Shave Cream

Today was a no-brush shave. I pulled out my tube of Cremo shave cream and, as I did with the Noxzema, rubbed it into my whiskers with my wet hands.



Cremo shave cream was trade marked in 2011.

Although I do generally prefer to use a shave brush, I also appreciate the cooling menthol of Cremo (which is also available in several scents and formulations) -- as well as its lubricating qualities. I also like no-brush shaving creams for traveling when I don't want to pack a brush. Wasting no time, I picked up the Slim and began my standard shave.

The Shave Process

I made my pass with vertical strokes -- largely with grain. The setting may have been just a touch aggressive; I got about four small weepers. Next time I try this, I'll use a setting of four.

The outcome of my standard shave was satisfactory, but not rewarding. So I rinsed and applied more Cremo. Then I dialed the Slim back to a setting of one and took a second pass, also with vertical strokes, but this time in the opposite direction from the first pass -- largely against grain. The exception to this was on my upper lip, on which I shaved with horizontal strokes.

Still not quite satisfied, I just added a bit of water to the residual cream on my neck and took several clean-up strokes directly against the grain on and under my jaw line.

The result was a pretty good shave. The weepers were a disappointment, and I applied alum to shut them down.

A Modern Post Shave

After I cleaned, dried and stowed my shaving hardware, I rubbed on a splash of common drugstore witch hazel to which I had added both peppermint and menthol. I went and enjoyed another cup of coffee for a few minutes while that dried.

Then I returned to the bathroom and applied a splash of Shea Nation citrus after-shave lotion, which is a nice summer option. After that dried I decided that my skin needed a bit of pampering so I took one final step.

Some time ago, on the suggestion of one of my readers, I stopped at a dollar store and bought a bottle of lotion intended both as an after-shave and general moisturizer. Without any fragrance to speak of, one of its salient features is that it dries leaving skin smooth and not sticky. I've used this on and off for quite some time, but recently improved it by adding menthol.

So I used this menthol-augmented lotion as a final application to my beard and around my eyes as well.

Closing Thoughts

I think that the old Gillette double-edge adjustables were designed to allow users to dial in the setting that could optimize their daily standard shave. Bear in mind that these were pre-shaving-hobbyist days, in which shaving was merely a requisite daily utilitarian chore. Of course, they also offered the additional benefit that if a closer shave were desired, the user could adjust the razor as needed for subsequent passes beyond the standard shave.

Modern adjustables obviously offer the same option but with the added benefit of having a slightly smoother shave character. Also, as hobbyists have experimented, many including me will often dial up the aggression of the razor setting as the shave progresses beyond the initial pass.

That said, on those days when I simply want the best good-enough shave that I can get in a single pass, I would certainly reach for one of my adjustables and dial in a fairly aggressive setting.

Happy shaving!



Monday, August 21, 2017

Variations on the Standard Shave

The Standard Shave

As I've written several times, I define a standard shave as the DE shave taken by most non-hobbyist shavers using DE-shaving gear. That is a one-pass shave taken, for the most part, in the with-grain direction.

This standard shave is a good-enough shave from a visual perspective -- especially when taken with a fairly aggressive razor. However, a standard shave is not at all rewarding to the hand even just after the shave, offering stubble resistance in anything but the with-grain direction. It also begins to look untidy rather quickly -- often showing a five-o'-clock shadow well before five in the evening.

A Fragile-Skin Variation

When my sensitive and rather fragile skin needs a break from my obsessively-close shaves, I typically take advantage of the adjustability of my preferred DE razors at hand. This includes my DOC (double-open comb) razor from PAA (Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements), which is technically a non-adjustable three-piece design. This razor responds well to a slight de-snugging of the handle, which makes it shave more efficiently than the mild shave character it displays when fully snugged.



When I'm using my adjustable razors, the Parker Variant or the Ming Shi 2000S (both excellent razors in my opinion), I set either on a setting of about four for my first pass that is largely with grain. For this first pass with the DOC, I do slightly loosen the handle to give the razor a bit more bite. My so-called with-grain first pass is not obsessively with grain, but rather in a vertical direction -- downward for most of my beard and upward on my lower neck.


                                  


[Shopping note: When considering a purchase of the Variant, I suggest using the link provided above, which allows you to deal directly with Parker USA (via Amazon, an affiliate company to Shave Like Grandad); Parker USA has an excellent reputation for customer service. To get the Ming Shi 2000S, I recommend dealing with Maggard Razors (not an affiliate company), who are also known for their top-drawer customer service.]

Then depending on my mood and the overall condition of my skin, I may then do a second partial pass under my jaw line and on upper neck using the same razor setting using mostly against-grain strokes. If I want a better shave, I'll do a full second pass against grain, but with my razor dialed (or snugged) back to a maximally-mild setting.

Prep Variations

I've been enjoying various pre-lathering options. This morning after a face wash with sandalwood soap from the Sudsy Soapery (and subsequent rinse), I did a second "wash" with classic Noxzema cream, but did not rinse that off. Then I loaded my brush with menthol shave soap and face lathered. The resulting watery lather was effective and comfortable.

Some days I'll skip the initial face wash and will pre-lather with either dedicated pre-lather-and-lather-enhancing soap from PAA, or will sometimes do a pre-lathering "wash" with my shave soap of the day and wet hands.

I personally find that the hobbyist obsession with "rich, thick" lather is a mistake. Remember that this is wet shaving (emphasis on wet), and water plays a crucial role in combining with the soap or cream to make a slippery concoction. If I make any errors at all, I occasionally make lather that is too soap rich (not enough water). The proof in this pudding of effective water-rich lather is when one is to do final clean-up strokes to a face that has been just shaved, and adds moisture to the clean skin that merely has the smallest residual of shave soap. The result is still a slippery surface that allows final strokes for a close (and safe, comfortable) shave.

SOTD

My shave today with the PAA DOC razor, a sixth-use Derby Extra blade used the two pass variation, but with an extra half pass of clean-up strokes below my jaw line and on my upper neck. It was a satisfying shave even though not quite baby-bottom close. Both the process and the outcome were very rewarding. Who could ask for more?

Happy shaving!



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!