Friday, June 13, 2014

Shaving Technique: Different Strokes for Different Folks

Above is the basic shaving stroke:
a direct stroke, where the shaving direction is
perpendicular to the razor head.
The basic shaving stroke -- irrespective of direction: up, down, sideways, or anything in between -- is moving the razor in the direction of the handle; that is, stroking with the razor so that the razor head is perpendicular (square) to the stroke direction. This is diagrammed in the first drawing at right.

A more advanced shaving technique is the oblique stroke, which is also known to some as the Gillette slide. (This term, Gillette slide, comes from the fact that back in the day, Gillette razors sometimes came with instructions on how to use the razor, which included a suggestion and an accompanying drawing on performing what I'm calling the oblique stroke.) As shown in the second drawing, the oblique stroke moves the razor in a direction not quite square to the razor.

Above is an advanced shaving stroke:
an oblique stroke, where the shaving direction is
not square to the razor head.
The oblique stroke does three things:

  • Primarily, it increases the effective sharpness of the cutting edge (as is well understood by most experienced wood workers who frequently use skew chisels or hand planes). 
  • Secondarily, it reduces the effective width of the razor head, allowing you to shave a narrower patch of skin with the full blade width.
  • It also makes the razor blade-bar gap effectively larger, thus increasing the capability of the razor to take in more/larger stubble.

Many shavers perform oblique strokes accidentally; that is, they aren't doing it with the idea of making an oblique stroke, and may in fact not recognize that they are doing it at all. This is not necessarily a problem. However, it may become an issue if one starts getting nicks and cuts as an oblique pass is unintentionally used. Also, if one tries a slant razor (in which the blade is slanted in the razor head by design), unintended oblique strokes will either nullify the benefit of the slanted blade resulting in less-efficient cutting, or will magnify the slant, which can often quickly lead to blood loss.

Advanced DE shavers will often intentionally combine these two strokes in the normal course of a shave. If a blade is on its last legs and ready for the blade-recycling bank, oblique strokes may allow one to finish the shave and still get good results. Also, as suggested above, if one is using a mild-shaving razor, oblique strokes can make the effective blade-bar gap slightly bigger, and that, combined with the increased effective sharpness of the blade, can unleash a little more of the tiger in what is normally a lap cat of a razor.

The oblique stroke is to be respected. As many discover, if you carelessly stroke in a direction too far from square to the razor head, you can quickly cut yourself. However, if the stroke is used mindfully and with not too great a deviation from the direct stroke, it can be an effective technique for getting a great shave.

So going forward, pay close attention to whether you are making direct or oblique strokes. Begin to focus on making them mindfully, intentionally. If you do so, your shaves are likely to become closer, more comfortable, and more consistent.

Happy shaving.

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