Thursday, February 12, 2015

The X-Pass Shaving Pattern

If you were expecting eerie music, suggestions of other-worldly incidents, and a mis-matched pair of FBI agents attempting to unravel a mystery -- all like a spin off of the old TV series, The X-Files -- sorry, I hope you're not disappointed. The term, X-passes, actually refers to a concept for an efficient, two-pass wet shave. No ghosts or aliens involved.

The Promise of Saving Strokes, Time

Consider the accepted three-pass shave: with grain (WG), cross grain (XG), and against grain (AG). Of course, this is a proven process. However, there may be days when you may want to save some time or simply make fewer strokes with sharpened steel against sensitive skin, and yet still get a closer shave than you might in a single WG pass or a two-pass shave WG and XG. In that circumstance, the X-pass shave, in theory, may be the answer for you.

For discussion purposes, imagine a beard with a simple, consistent downward-growing grain. The first pass of an X-pass shave would be a downward-diagonal stroke, simultaneously shaving both WG and XG. This is the mild, beard-trimming knock-down pass. The second pass would be an upward-diagonal stroke, this time simultaneously splitting the difference between the XG and AG strokes in a single pass. This would be the finishing pass.

An X-pass, in effect, shaves between the lines of a standard three-pass shave, and, thereby, saves strokes, reducing the toll on your skin, and, through elimination of an entire lather-shave pass, buys you some extra time as well.

Obviously, an X-pass shave may not achieve the closeness of a fussy three-pass shave, but it might be acceptably similar.

Razor and Technique Factors

If you use a high-capacity razor such as an open-comb or slant-bar, an X-pass shave might possibly be comfortably done whether you shave every day or only once a week. If you shave every day, even a very mild-shaving razor may be completely adequate. This is expecially true if you combine the X-pass shaving pattern with oblique razor strokes (a.k.a. the Gillette slide).

As any wood worker who uses old-school hand tools (such as hand planes) knows, oblique strokes have the effect of increasing the effective sharpness of the blade's edge, thus allowing it to slice through hair more easily. Oblique strokes also increase the effective size of the blade-bar gap, thus increasing the capacity of any razor with a safety bar (as opposed to open-comb designs).

Regarding beard grain, of course it might be simpler to use the X-pass concept if one's beard grain is consistent. But for those of us, like this writer, who have less uniform grain patterns, varying beard grain might not diminish shave outcome. It may not be necessary to make your X-pass strokes strictly on the diagonal (in relation to the grain) to achieve good results. As long as that first beard-reduction pass is more or less somewhere within the WG to XG range, it will likely do the job sufficiently to allow a comfortable, safe finishing pass that's in the XG to AG spectrum.

Does an X-Pass Shave Deliver the Goods?

After trying this process with high hopes for two days, I would have to say, for me, no. The shaves weren't particularly close and they weren't particularly face friendly. In fact, this process for me, with my highly-angled grain, sucked the joy out of my shaves. I suppose if my hair grew more upright, more perpendicularly to my skin surface and didn't lay down so extremely, it might work better.

Maybe some of you more adventurous souls could give it a try and see if if works for you and report to the rest of in as a comment to this article.

Question everything, and happy shaving!


  1. This actually how I shave and get great results. Most of my facial hair grows diagonally so I get close enough to a BBS and I am usually done in 10 minutes or so.

    1. Mark, thanks for your input. A key aspect to the X-pass pattern is that both passes are diagonal to the *grain*, not diagonal to one's face. So, perhaps I'm mistaken, but it actually sounds like you are really using a with-grain, then cross-grain shaving pattern, not the X-pass pattern as described here. But whatever, I'm happy to hear you are getting good shaves from your process. Why mess with success, eh? Best regards!