Classic Shaving, the Wet Shave

January 26

On Christmas I received a very unique set of gifts that I asked for. What are they? An old fashioned double edged safety razor, badger hair shaving brush, and glycerin (rum scented, no less) shaving soap. Why did I want this? Two reasons, I am sick of paying 4 bucks a cartridge for my Mach 3 and I wanted a shaving experience that was more than just get the hairs off as quickly as possible with a from the can shaving cream followed by a douse with burning alcohol.

Shaving with a safety razor brings us back to a time around 100 years ago when the safety razor first came out. Why are they called safety razors? Because they are a lot safer to use than the traditional strait edged razor. The strait edged razor can give you a wonderful shave, but they take a bit of practice to learn, and hey, holding a 4 inch long razor sharp blade to your neck is not the most comforting thing. Before the modern safety razor, most people relied on other family members or a barber to shave them. Talk about trust. Well, as time marched on, Gillette discovered too much competition in the blade market and created the replaceable cartridge razor (proprietary, locked in to one maker.) Also, the disposable razor came along as well and the skill of using a traditional, double edge safety razor for a wet shave was not passed onto the next generation in the US. In other parts of the world, double edged safety razors are still very common, due to low costs and reliability. So, now we are left with expensive, but easy to use razors.

In their defense, modern razors usually do an excellent job, in fact, too good for some. It turns out with African Americans (and people with really curly hair) that the modern, multi-blade design causes ingrown hairs aka razor bumps. The blades actually pull up the hair, cut it, then the hair goes back beneath the surface of the skin, curls around, and causes an ingrown hair. It can happen with people of all descents, especially with the crazy number of blades out there. But, if you have pretty tough skin and don’t get ingrown hairs, they make a lot of sense to use. They are fast, give a long lasting shave, and can be purchased anywhere. In contrast, I wanted to just slow down a little bit and actually enjoy and even look forward to my shave. Think about it, looking forward to a shave!

The equipment:

The razor handle:

This is an inexpensive, Parker of India double blade razor handle. You can pick it up off Amazon for about $28. There are many styles, shaped, weights, etc. It is all down to personal preference, but most websites out there recommend getting a longer handled model, since they are easier to control. You can pick up a nice German made model in the $50 to $150 range. Considering this will probably be the last razor you buy, the cost really is very reasonable.

The Blades:

I have been using Shark super chrome blades, and have had good luck so far. Even “good” blades come in at a whopping 15 to 20 cents each. You can see where some of my motivation came from. You can buy 100 packs of blades for $16.99, so just under 17 cents a blade. This should also provide you enough blades for two years. You do go through about a blade a week. But, for the price of a 3 pack of Mach 3 replacement heads, you get 2 years worth of shaves.

The Brush:

A Tweezerman badger hair brush. Wait? Badger? Yep, the best brushes out there are made from silver badger hair. No, I don’t know how they are harvested, but I don’t belong to PETA either. All I know is that is works great. Apparently badger hair can hold a lot of water in it after being soaked just a few seconds. I can attest to this, even after shaving for 10 minutes (newbie jitters) there is still enough water in there to make a nice lather. Cost, about $15 for an basic brush, you can pay more if you want. Again, this may be a once or twice in a lifetime purchase.

The Soap:

I have been using Col Conk’s World’s Famous Shaving Soap. By the name alone, you know it works. I have the Bay Rum version and it smells awesome. A three pack will set you back less than $8.00. It should last you about 2 to 3 years. You can get away with saving cream, but the combination of brush and soap is a much more enjoyable experience.

The Mug:

60 cents at a thrift store. Or, you can use a mug you don’t care about anymore. Wide mouth and fairly heavy works best.

The Aftershave:

Do yourself a favor, throw out the burning, stinging, skin drying aftershave. It may smell pretty, but it is just brutal on your face. Get a good quality aftershave moisturizing cream for your face. $5.00 at Target. I don’t know how long it will last, I am still on my first container.

The actual wet shaving process:

To be honest, I was just not sure when I first started. I nicked the crap out of my face after using a Mach 3 for many years. The problem is too much pressure. You need a very light touch. There are many websites describing what you should do (with videos) but this is my routine:

  • Lay out everything you will need, razor, mug with soap, brush, and aftershave before you begin
  • Wash your face with warm, almost hot water. It open up your pores and help soften the bristles.
  • Leave your face wet, this is why it is called a wet shave.
  • Fill the sink bowl with warm, almost hot water.
  • Soak your brush bristles in the water for about 2 seconds
  • Remove from the bowl and a wait until the bristles stop dripping
  • Quickly wisk the shaving brush over the soap, applying almost no downward pressure until the tips of the bristles have soap on them.
  • Paint your face with light brush strokes with the brush until a nice lather is formed. This takes about a minute. Follow the natural pattern of your bristles in an up and down motion. Again, this is with very little pressure. Some recommend a circular motion, but I prefer up and down. This raises the hairs to allow for a better shave. This also gently ex-foliates and feels shockingly enjoyable.
  • Hold the handle such that you maintain a 30 degree angle relative to your skin. This is the hard part and the hardest part to explain. With short, LIGHT, strokes, follow the natural growth of your hairs. DO NOT GO AGAINST THE GRAIN on the first pass of your shave. It hurts like hell. You won’t nick yourself, but it pulls the hairs and will give you some nasty razor burn. Use a very, very light touch, with NO DOWNWARD PRESSURE. The weight of the razor handle is more than enough. If you are doing it right, you can hear each hair as it is being cut. If you can’t you will be bleeding shortly and are pushing too hard.
  • Use short strokes to begin. Remember, this not a race!
  • After the first pass, re-wet your face and re-lather
  • Now, shave ACROSS not AGAINST the grain.
  • Problem areas are: Mustache, chin, and lower neck/Adam’s apple. I don’t have a good hint for these, just practice.
  • Repeat until you have a shave that suits you. This can take 3 or 4 passes. Yes, 3 or 4 passes. Again, this is not a race.
  • Wash any remaining soap with COLD water. This closes up your pores and helps stop any bleeding.
  • Apply something to stop the bleeding. Some recommend alum, but after my first few shaves, this is really not much of an issue.
  • Pat, don’t rub dry your face.
  • Apply a good quality aftershave cream. Traditional alcohol based aftershaves hurt and dry out your skin.

After you are all done, you will notice a few things. You will have a really nice, comfortable shave and it takes a lot more time than you are used to. With my Mach 3, I was done in about a minute. With the double edged razor, it takes about 5 to 10 minutes. This may seem like an eternity, but this is your face we are talking about. After you stop cutting yourself, you will find you are looking forward to the process of shaving. It is a pleasure, not a chore. For those who just want a quick shave in the morning, this is not for you. For people who want a good, affordable shave that will take care of even the toughest beards, this may be for you. Personally, I look forward to my little respite of the day, with a patient shave and quality tools. My favorite analogy for the difference between modern cartridge or disposable razors and a quality double edged razor wet shave is the difference between a manual or automatic transmission car. They both do the same thing, but one requires much more attention from the driver. It is not for everyone, but I like it.


Posted by on January 26, 2010 in Hardware

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