Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Day of Rest: My One-Pass Shave, Razor Aggression and Other Stuff

My One-Pass Shave

Following through on yesterday's plan to give my skin a relative rest, today I took a one-pass, with-grain shave. I used (for the first time) a vegan soap from Dr. Jon"s Handcrafted Soap Co. (which lathered easily, offered a rich, protecting lather, and had a pleasant bouquet), a SuperMax Titanium blade with several shaves on it, and my Parker Variant razor set on 1, its least aggressive setting.

The outcome was.... well, mission accomplished in that I have a clean-shaven look and no skin insult at all. The shave was mediocre, of course, when comparing to a multi-pass shave; but I knew that would be the case before I started. The shave was "good enough for government work," as some might say.

During the shave, I applied the straight-razor technique of skin stretching to both encourage the follicles to stand more upright and to provide a flatter, firmer surface on which the edge might ride. As with a straight-razor shave, this skin stretching may have improved slightly the closeness of the shave, it's certainly no substitute for multiple passes from multiple directions.

I finished the shave with a splash of witch hazel followed by Black Bot balm from Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements,* which I mentioned yesterday.

Choosing Today's Razor

When I was deciding what setting to use on the Variant razor, I contemplated the issue of razor aggression. Today was a no-brainer because I was aiming at minimal skin insult rather than closeness of shave. In fact, when considering my choice of razor, I had five options at hand:

  • A vintage hollow-ground straight
  • A push-to-open barber straight (using a replaceable half-DE blade)
  • My Parker Variant DE
  • My Ming Shi 2000S imitation Futur
  • My Gillette Slim (code I-1: 1963)
The straight razors were immediately removed from my consideration because of their lack of the safety of a safety razor (duh!). Likewise, the Slim only crossed my mind for a minute because I've never found it to offer the lowest-of-irritation shaves even at its lowest setting; perhaps I'll save this one for another one-pass-shave day, when I've had more time with this day-of-rest process. So my options came down to the Variant or the 2000S.


With a blade in each, I examined the blade exposure (that is, the location of the blade edge in relation to the shave plane determined by the top cap and the safety bar). At the least aggressive setting, both are close to neutral, but the 2000S seems just the slightest bit positive (that is, with the edge just protruding the least little bit above the shave plane). So that  meant that the Variant got the nod.

Large Blade-to-Guard Gaps and Razor Aggression

An adjustable razor offers a variable blade-to-guard gap in the vertical direction (that is, parallel to the handle). Because the gap only adjusts vertically, this not only changes the blade-to-guard span (measured along the shave plane) but also slightly the orientation of the shaving plane, which then impacts the blade angle and blade exposure. So a small blade-guard gap means a small blade-guard span, reduced blade exposure and a smaller blade angle.

But what does this all mean in terms of shaving characteristics? Let's look at each individually, then sum it all up.
  • The more negative the blade exposure (that is, the more it lies within the protective cove of the top cap and safety guard), the less likely the razor is to nip and irritate. However, this also limits its ability to easily offer a very close shave, which will require more passes and perhaps more pressure of the razor against skin.
  • Generally speaking, the smaller the blade angle, the less it scrapes and the more it slices. A less-scraping angle usually means a less irritating razor (when all other things are the same).
  • A smaller blade-guard span means there is less opportunity for skin to bulge into the protective cove between the top cap and the safety guard, meaning, again, less opportunity for irritation or nicks.
  • A smaller blade-guard gap limits the length of hair that the razor can easily shave. Bigger gaps and open-tooth-guard designs allow for more easily shaving longer whiskers.
So, assuming a razor has a neutral blade exposure, then in simplest terms, a larger gap merely allows shaving longer whiskers. Of course, this assumes that the user has the optimal angle of razor against face. If the user is not shaving with the optimal angle, then the ability to get a close shave with a small-gap razor will also be compromised to the degree that the angle deviates from ideal.

So one conclusion that can be drawn from this examination of razor adjustments (or non-adjustable razor design) is that if one shaves every day, there's little need for aggressive razor settings since most adjustable razors -- at least the three that I own -- have a neutral-to-slightly-positive blade exposure at their least-aggressive setting. This means that if one's mastery of razor angle is solid, then a daily shaver has no compelling reason to have a large blade-guard gap.

Happy shaving!

A Few Garage-Sale Razors Remaining

If you're open to trying what may be a good value, take a look at my remaining garage-sale inventory.

Happy shopping!

*affiliate organization

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