Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Some Thoughts on DE Blades and Shaving Technique

Much ado is made about the choice of razor blades used in a double-edged (DE) razor.

When I was about to purchase my first DE razor, I had not done a lot of research on the subject -- some, but not excessive. As a result, I was most influenced at that time by a blogger who wrote an article on the best razor to use. In sum, he concluded that it wasn't all that complex, and you couldn't go wrong with the Merkur 33C and Personna Blue (US made) blades. So I acquired the 33C razor, and as a temporary stop-gap measure, I bought some generic drug store blades, while I waited for the 100 Personna Blue blades to arrive.

Initially, I was getting some rough shaves -- not a lot of nicks and cuts (some, but not a lot), but I was having lots of visible post-shave irritation and razor burn. This was especially true of the generic blades, but also the case with the Personnas. As I continued to  read shaving information and opinions on the 'net, I became concerned that I had bought the wrong razor, and, most significantly, the wrong blades -- a lot of the wrong blades!

Reading the common recommendation to try many blades and choose the best one, as a frugal shaver, I was disappointed that I had a huge supply of blades that were going to give me a harsh shave for the forseeable future. I bought some other blades: Astra SP, Lord Platinum Class, Dorco 301 -- these three also in quantities of 100 blades each because it was almost the same cost as buying fewer -- and then later I acquired a wide variety of other blades in 5- and 10-blade packs.

As I've written once before, the common recommendation to try many blades as well as the constant discussion of the benefits and drawbacks of various razors, leads new DE shavers to believe that it is gear that makes all the difference.

However, as one who has now used a wide variety of gear -- most notably going from extremely mild-shaving razors such as the Weishi 9306-f to the fearsome-looking Merkur 37C slant -- I am now of the strong opinion that despite much focus on razors, blades, skin type, beard type, shaving prep, choice of soap/cream/butter, post-shave skin care, etc, the most important three factors in DE shaving (given reasonably-good equipment) are technique, technique, and, of course, technique. (And the next most important might be a good lubricating lather.)

[UPDATE: I have since revised my opinion. Technique and prep are important, but matching razor and blade characteristics to one's beard and skin will get you in the ball park of a good shave. Then technique and prep will make all the difference.]

Yes, razor design makes a difference; blade reveal, exposure, and angle being the most important design factors IMHO. Yet, as I've written previously, my current favorites, the Merkur 33C and 37C, have different blade reveal and exposure, varied blade angles, and demand vastly different shaving techniques; but both can give excellent shaves when used properly. And more to the point of today's post, although the blades that I routinely include in my shaving rotation (Personna Blues, Lord Platinum, Astra SP, and Dorco 301 -- all are used regularly because these are the blades I bought in quantities of 100) are made by different manufacturers in different countries with different grinds and coatings, I can get a close comfortable shave with them all. At this point, the only significant difference in the blades being how many shaves I can get from each one.

To further test my hypothesis, starting tomorrow I am going to go back to some blades I initially REALLY DID NOT like: the generic stainless drug-store variety. These blades initially took me into the interesting realm of experimenting with corking blades (with cork and polystyrene foam) to try to tune the blade edge to get a comfortable shave. But tomorrow I will use one straight from the dispenser.

So I would suggest that the following technique factors make the most difference in your quality of shave:

  • Pressure of blade against skin
  • Angle of razor handle in relation to the face
  • Angle of stroke in relation to razor handle
  • Angle of stroke in relation to beard grain and face contour 
I am still of the opinion that if every new DE shaver simply picked a reasonable-quality razor and blade, and for the first 90 shaves focused on perfecting technique as described in the four preceding bullets, there would be less money wasted on purchasing redundant razors and blades.

What do you think?

Happy shaving!

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