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!

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