Thursday, June 26, 2014

Baby Steps to Full-On DE Shaving - Complete

This one summary article completes the series I started many weeks ago, but then got sidetracked prior to the series conclusion. This article is a condensed list, simplified from my earlier attempt.

Step 1: Get some shaving soap -- either a hard puck or a tube/jar of shaving cream, a brush, and a mug or bowl. If you are interested in being both thrifty and ecologically responsible, I recommend the following products:
Above left: a repurposed Greek-yogurt container beside my
favorite razor, the Merkur 37C slant (risky for beginners, but
an excellent second razor after one becomes more skilled).

  • Williams Shaving Soap - available at many drug stores for $1. It's inexpensive, a pretty good product (not the best, but good enough to get you started -- for an upgrade in the future, see about my custom rich, slick and creamy soap for sensitive skin), and packaging can be recycled.
  • Van Der Hagen (VDH) boar-bristled shaving brush - Often available at some local drug stores for about $6. The bristles soften over time with use, and is a very cost-effective choice. Though I have another brush, I still appreciate and regularly use my VDH.
  • Use a repurposed coffee mug big enough to hold the soap puck. (For other inexpensive alternatives, check out this blog article.) Use the mug to load your wet brush with soap, then build your lather in your hand, directly on your face, or in a lathering bowl. The cheapest lathering bowl is a repurposed, used, Greek-yogurt cup shown at right.

Use your regular wet-shaving razor, which can be a multi-blade type, but start using shaving soap instead of canned goo.

Step 2: Using your usual razor, start doing two-pass shaves.  That is, lather, shave, rinse, lather, shave, rinse. The first pass should be largely with the grain of your beard, and the second (especially if you are using a multi-blade razor) should NOT be against the grain, but rather across the grain. For a good video from mantic59, the Sharpologist, on how to do a multi-pass shave, click here. Practice gripping the razor with your fingertips, which will be helpful when you switch to a double-edge (DE) razor, and you can read my article on that by clicking here. Practice not only the fingertip grip, but also intentionally making direct strokes. Oblique strokes with a multi-blade razor isn't recommended. Click here for my article on direct and oblique razor strokes.

Step 3: Obtain a DE razor. If your budget is tight, I suggest the Wilkinson Sword Classic (click here for my review). If not, I would go with the Merkur 34C Heavy Duty, which has the very nice Merkur head and extra weight, which most shavers seem to prefer. (The handle is about an inch shorter than multi-blade razors, so know that before you order.) Click here for my article on suggestions for beginner's shaving gear. (I do not recommend twist-to-open/butterfly-door razors because some shavers with sensitive skin may find the shaves harsh as compared to shaves with two- and three-piece-design razors.) For blades, consider moderately-priced but high-quality for affordable smoothness, such as the Dorco ST-301 blades. (Even if your beard is tough like wire and skin is very sensitive, the double-coated blades tend to be smooth, and the cost is low enough when you buy 100 blades that you can recycle the blade after one shave if necessary -- but I can get seven days from this blade.) 

The focus of your first DE shaves should be on making two-pass shaves (with grain and across grain of beard) using VERY LIGHT pressure of razor against skin. You will get better at this with practice. After using multi-blade razors, most shavers have a very heavy hand that doesn't go well with a DE razor. Second area of focus is continuing to make intentional strokes, either direct or oblique. Mantic59, the Sharpologist, has a recommended video on first shaves with a single-blade razor; click here to watch.

Step 4: Transition to three-pass shaves as appropriate, desired, or necessary to get that smooth shave characteristic of a single-blade razor. First pass is with the grain, second pass is cross grain, and final pass is against the grain (or, for sensitive areas, across the grain from the opposite direction). Although, in the spirit of full disclosure, my daily shave is a two-pass shave, with the second pass being a combination of across and against the grain. [UPDATE: Since this was written, I now more frequently do three-pass shaves, but on occasion also stop at two passes -- especially when using my efficient Merkur 37C slant razor.] This is usually sufficient for a very close shave. If I occasionally want an overall baby-bottom-smooth (BBS) shave, I will use three passes and touch-up buffing as needed. It's a bit hard on my skin to go for BBS every day, so I settle for very close and call it good.

After step four, it's about tuning your ritual. There are other blade options; pre-shave oils and prep variations such as cold-water shaving; different shave soaps, creams, and butters; and a variety of post-shave options including alum blocks, witch hazel, and myriad gels and lotions. 

That's it.  Happy shaving!

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