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!