Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How Grandad Shaved

Grandad didn't spend a lot of money on shaving.  He invested a modest amount in some basic tools of the endeavor, and then spent pennies after that for the remainder of his days.

When Grandad shaved, he didn't create a lot of waste to be thrown away.

When Grandad shaved, he initially took a few weeks to learn the skills to get a good, quick shave when he was rushed, and a great, baby-bottom-smooth shave when he could take his time.

The basic tools of DE safety-razor shaving.
Those old-school shavers (from our perspective today) used a then-new device called a double-edge (DE) safety razor. The first DE razors (c. 1903) [UPDATE: the first, modern, Gillette DE razors] had three pieces: a handle that screwed on and off the head, which itself was in two pieces:  the top and the base plate.  The fourth essential component was the slim, double-edged, disposable blade, which was sandwiched between the top and the base plate, then the handle was screwed onto the head.  The year 1934 saw the introduction of the first so-called butterfly-opening top, also known as the twist-to-open (TTO) design, which used the same disposable blades, but didn't need to be disassembled into its major pieces to change blades.

Grandad's father (prior to c. 1903) had no choice but to 1) go unshaven, 2) get his shave from a barber, or 3) use his own straight razor, which was (and still is) an exposed, scalpel-sharp blade with a pivoting, attached handle that could cover the razor's edge when not in use.  [UPDATE: He also had a fourth choice: use an early safety razor, which had their own set of problems that were mostly solved with King Gillette's game-changing innovation just after the turn of the century.] In the early 1900s, if your Grandad was something of an anachronist, he may have passed on the new-fangled safety razor and continued to use his straight edge, with its requisite leather strop to polish the edge between uses.  Using a straight razor is a real skill that many men never mastered (though most professional barbers are required to), which accounted for the popularity of the Gillette safety razor with disposable blades, when that was finally introduced.

Today, though unrecognized by most in the west, the majority of men in the world still shave with a DE safety razor.  However, in the more affluent countries since 1971 (when the first two-bladed-cartridge razor was introduced), the major companies that produce razors and blades have worked assiduously to displace Grandad's shaving tools on store shelves with patentable, highly-profitable, expensive, fully-disposable products, which offer no better shaves than Grandad got.  They have also succeeded in making many men (and women, who use razors to remove body hair) ridiculously afraid of the simple DE safety razor.  (The safety razor does need a lighter touch and initially a slower stroke, which can be mastered in a couple of weeks.  There are many good how-to videos on YouTube;  some of the most recommended are by mantic59, who has his own YouTube channel.)

When Grandad lathered his face in preparation for shaving, he didn't use foam or gel from a can.  (The first cans of pressurized shaving foam were available in 1949.)  No, Grandad had a shaving brush made of some natural animal hair (today, synthetic bristles are available too), a puck of shaving soap, a bowl or a mug, and water.  He would wet the brush, swirl it on the soap puck, and then swirl directly on his face, in his hand, or in a bowl to make a rich lather.  When applied to a wet face, this lather helps hold water, the primary lubricant for a wet shave, against the skin as one shaves.

Many converts to DE shaving find the ritual of shaving like Grandad to be a rewarding one.  It can save you money in the long run.  In fact, the initial cost of getting started, razor, blades, brush, bowl, and soap, can be less that a package of the latest multi-blade gizmos on the rack.  The activity is Earth friendly as well.  Blades are steel, and though disposable, may be recyclable in your area.  (I slide mine into a tin can with a slot, which can then be recycled, if possible, when it is full, which may take five to ten years!)  There is no plastic cartridge, razor or empty foam/gel can to dump into the landfill forever.  The paper and cardboard packaging from my blades and shaving soap is recyclable.  Unlike multi-blade systems, DE razors almost never clog which hair and lather.  Most importantly, it's a simple skill that is fun to learn and practice. Since getting back to DE shaving, I actually look forward to my morning shave!

If you don't want to get started full bore right away, maybe you can take a small step toward lower cost, lower waste shaving.  More to come on that one.  Happy shaving!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Doug,

    I have my granddad's Gillette Tech Razor and a Badger brush and a pack of Swedish made SCHICK Super Stainless Steel Krona
    Comfort Edge blades (how's that for a mouthful)

    Best Regards,