Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Some Subtleties of Pairing Blades with Razors

Finding the right razor for your skin and beard can be done by trial and error, or, more efficiently (and perhaps less expensively), by applying the principles suggested in my earlier two-part article, Picking the Right Razor for You.

Once you have found a razor that works for you (or at least one to which you are committed), your next task is to optimize the performance of that razor by finding a good blade for both your face and that razor.

Understanding the specific design characteristics of your razor or razors can help greatly to optimize blade choice in a given razor. For example, let's look at two razors that are similar but subtly different: the Merkur 33 and the Lord L.6 (a.k.a. the LP1822L). After shaving with both of these razors, I couldn't really feel much difference in their performance owing to the myriad variables in a shave including beard prep, blade, and even one's attitude on any given day -- some days I'm just more careful, while on others I'm more care free. Yet when I studied these two razors in detail (and wrote about it here), it became clear that the Lord would shave a bit more closely and offer just a bit more risk to skin.

Continuing with this two-razor example, I then considered a blade from my inventory, the SuperMax Titanium. I have generally liked this blade, but I noticed that to get a very-close, really-ideal shave with this blade in the Merkur 33, I had to take a very fussy shave -- essentially four passes. The blade just didn't seem to be quite as sharp as some of my other options -- not nearly as effective in my preferred Merkur 33. So then I had a thought: if the SuperMax T blade is a bit mild in the 33, might it not be assisted by the slightly-more-aggressive design of the Lord L.6? (Specifically, the blade-bar gap of the L.6 is wider than the 33, which will allow the L.6's negative blade exposure take a slightly larger cut at the stubble.)

So I tried out the combination of the Lord L.6 and the SuperMax T blade, and it was outstanding! I got one of the closest three-pass shaves ever, with minimal irritation -- which is good considering my sensitive skin.

So using a similar thought process, I have a few Polsilver Iridium blades in my inventory, but I've found them just a bit too sharp to be comfortable in my Merkur 33; I seem to get too many weepers and too much irritation. But these blades might be a good match for my Weishi 9306-F or my Wilkinson Sword Classic razors, both of which are of a very mild shaving character indeed.

As I've written, it is reasonably easy to infer from reviews which razors might be in the ballpark to meet the needs of your beard and skin. (It is even easier if reviewers and sellers would show photo close-ups of the side view of the razor head with the blade in place.) However, understanding the character of blade based on reviews is more difficult. You can get some information that is useful to narrow your choices somewhat (don't just order blade samples willy-nilly; rather, try to sleuth out blades that might be most likely to be suitable for your skin, hair, and razor), but beyond that, some trial and error is required.

You may find as I did that small differences in razor design can have significant impact on the behavior of a blade on your beard. This revelation has changed the way I view my blade inventory and my stable of razors. Now, when I select a new blade from my cache, it doesn't automatically go into my generally-preferred Merkur 33. Instead I will try to choose the razor that is most likely to compliment the sharpness and smoothness of the blade. If I am not sure of the blade's specific nature, I will have the first shave with the 33, and then based on the harshness and closeness of the shave, may try to find a more complimentary razor pairing to best use the blade -- both using its strengths and compensating for its limitations.

Happy shaving!

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