Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Shave Quality: In Your Head is Your DE a Straight or a Cartridge?

As you might guess if you're a regular reader of my blog, I'm a fairly analytical guy. So true to form, lately I've been pondering a new question:

Why am I so fond of mild razors when so many others like much more aggressive shaving instruments?

One obvious answer is that my skin is not overly tight because I don't have a lot of subcutaneous fat (unlike much of America). Another obvious answer is that because the lower layers of my facial and neck skin are not padded with much fat, they do not have gentle convex curves, but instead have a lot of sharp corners, tight radii, and many concavities that are all difficult to shave closely without insult to skin.

But as you might guess, I like to go beyond the obvious, and I think there's something out there. I think that one's quality of shave with an aggressive double-edged razor (DE) depends on where one's head is at: do you unconsciously think of your DE as a safety razor similar to a modern multi-blade, or do you think of your DE as more like a (non-safety) straight razor?

I have to admit that I have historically lacked the respect for DEs that they probably require. So I probably tend to like mild DEs because I can pretty much shave with a certain amount of a carefree spirit. Oh, I do take more care when I'm making my first strokes against grain, which is much of the time. But still, I have to admit that I take nowhere near the care that I would take if I were shaving with a straight.

On the other hand, I can easily imagine that if I thought of my more aggressive DEs as though they were straights with a handle, I would likely get a close shave with minimal skin insult more consistently. Actually, recently I have been getting good shaves with my more aggressive razors up to a point.  That point is usually somewhere near the end of the shave when I'm cocky with overconfidence and I let down my guard. Then, whoops!, a last-minute nick or minor cut as I'm making final clean-up strokes.

Yet I know that if I can maintain for an entire shave that healthy respect for the razor as though I were shaving with a straight, those last-minute lapses would be much fewer and far between.

Now that doesn't mean that I'm going to start participating in the uber-macho arms race of shaving -- bragging that I shave with virtual chain saws unlike you wimps out there. No. I consider any razor more-than-adequately aggressive if the blade exposure is slightly positive like my post-WWII Gillette Tech. Other razors that are more aggressive but not ridiculously so include my Rimei RM2003, Merkur "Bakelite", Merkur 37C slant, and Gillette Slim Adjustable on moderate settings. [UPDATE: Also the Dorco Prime one-piece (TTO) razor (I can't forget that one) is a quality Super-Speed knock off and a visual twin the the Weishi one-piece (TTO) razors but has a more aggressive shave character.]

In my opinion and based solely on my beard and facial characteristics, there is very much a case of diminishing marginal returns as I use razors that are more aggressive. There comes a point where the shave only gets closer at the cost of increasing irritation and blood letting. So you won't see me getting near a Muhle R41 or even Feather blades -- uh, no thanks.

Yet if I can keep in mind throughout the shave that I'm shaving with a near cousin of a straight, then I can manage quite nicely with my assortment of slightly aggressive (that is, positive blade exposure) razors.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Maybe it's the same for you: in your unspoken (perhaps unrecognized) thoughts is your DE more a straight or a modern, multi-bladed razor? How you answer that may have a huge impact on your shaving technique and your shave outcomes especially with more aggressive razors that have a positive blade exposure.

Happy shaving!


  1. Interesting question. I think a mild DE might be more like a cartridge than a straight, in terms of ease of use, etc.

    I'd suggest that a more aggressive DE is more like a shavette. I haven't used a shavette, but they say it's a bit different than using a straight.

  2. You are so right! Having made my rounds through mild to aggressive razors, I have come to the conclusion that a mild razor with a sharp blade works best for me. With that said, the Merkur classic with a Personna Red or Gillette Silver Blue are great combinations. My DE89 is to aggressive with these blades, but it seems to come into line with a Voskhod but not quite as good as the Merkur.

    Soaps and creams also play a good part. With the Merkur, I can get by with just about anything, but the DE89 I have to be choosy with what soaps I use. Bottom line is, the Merkur Classic just makes shaving more enjoyable as I can expand my inventory of soaps.

  3. DE is superior to both, but my slant is near cartridge, while the new Baili BD191 is near straight. The difference has mostly to do with the effective pitch, and the skin tension called for as a result. They're all unique, I guess.

    Particularly backpedaling from the slant=cartridge idea, the torsion of the slant's blade, prying each hair from the follicle, is exactly opposite to the modern razor's flaw, the flexible hinge, which pitches the blade up when it encounters any resistance.