Yesterday my wife and I checked out the Iwo Jima Marine Memorial for the first time. It’s an incredibly cool place, with a beautiful view out over the Potomac into the capital. While specifically modeled on the second flag raising over Mt. Suribachi, it is dedicated to all Marines who’ve served, with wars and battles they’ve fought in carved along the base.
It got me wondering: I’ve seen soldiers, sailors, and Marines shaving in various WWII films or tv shows (Dirty Dozen, Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan, etc), what were they actually using?
Turns out there isn’t a simple answer. From what I’ve been able to find the military issued several different brands of razors, presumably as multiple sources were needed to meet demand. The generally seemed to be of a plastic/bakelite double-edge design, such as this Gillette or the Federal Simplex.
Perhaps it’s fitting that there isn’t one source, just as the men and women who serve come from all over sometimes their equipment does too. The military no longer issues razors that I’m aware of, but they continue to serve selflessly as they always have.
To those in uniform, past of present, thank you.
It seems ironic to me that were it not for the internet, a late 20th century invention that exploded in the 21st, I would not be shaving with something designed in the 19th. English majors or Alanis Morrissette may disagree with whether I used the term right, but my point remains: even though this was probably common when my dad was growing up I’d never heard of it until my late 20’s. While I knew about straight razor shaving, I figured everything there was about shaving was what was found in a typical grocery store aisle. My how wrong I was.
While I don’t fault stores for not stocking more double-edge (DE) razors, blades, or various shaving products beyond barbersol and gels, they are in it to make a profit after all, it does help create a false belief that there isn’t anything else out there. Razor manufacturers seem happy to perpetuate perception, presumably because cartridge razors have higher profits. Case in point: Gillette manufactures a dozen types of DE razor blades, including the one that I am using now (Gillete 7 O’Clock Sharpedge). Wilkinson Sword/Schick, Gillette’s major competitor, makes a dozen of their own.
Go on their websites and try to find any mention of it. As far as I can tell they not only will not sell them in their online store, they won’t even suggest they exist.
But that’s not to say there aren’t great places to find products. Here are a few places I’ve found that carry traditional shaving products:
- The Art of Shaving- Owned by P&G, who also own Gillette, you can find these at malls or other upper scale shopping areas. When I was first getting into DE shaving they helped show me how to properly hold the razor. I’ve never seen them carry more than a couple kinds of DE blades (Merkur and Gillette), and only a few handles. Prices are a touch high, but it’s a brick and mortar store so it makes up for it with having actual people there to work with you.
- Drug stores- I’ve seen DE razor blades at about half of the CVS stores I’ve looked in, but it is usually just one or two kinds. Every CVS I’ve looked in carries a handful of older shaving products (aftershave, cream, shaving soap, basic brush). I would imagine Walgreens has similar stock. Keep your eyes open for smaller, older, independent stores that are trying to sell hit the market and products that the corporate stores are overlooking.
- Tobacconists- I don’t know about cigarette stores, but if you can find an old fashioned tobacco store (pipe, cigar) they tend to also carry some traditional shaving equipment. I guess it goes with the dapper image.
- Online- Of course, you can find anything online. Amazon, as always. Bullgoose Shaving has excellent prices and selection, and I’ve heard good things about Mama Bears Soaps (which I’ll probably be ordering from once my current soap runs low).
- Farmers Markets/Renaissance Fair- Keep your eyes open for local markets where small producers of soaps or creams would be selling their products. I have not personally looked at the Ren Fair yet, but I know of one person who stocks up on shave soap when they come to town then uses it all year.
- Barber/Shave Supply- Somewhat rare, they can still be found around.
Once you know where to look it doesn’t take a lot of effort, the trick is finding the places with good prices and selection. If any readers have any suggestions, feel free to post them!
True fact: I’ve only bought one thing from an “order now” television spot, and that was a Ray Stevens video. Perhaps being purged of such desires by that decision I’ve had no desire beyond novel curiosity.
While surfing a shaving blog on Monday I saw someone mention that Rick Harrison, the owner of the pawn shop on the TV show “Pawn Stars,” is selling a razor on television: the Micro Touch One. Intrigued I checked out the website, then moved on with my day. Later that afternoon what did I see in the window of the As Seen on TV Store?
Didn’t see that coming. A few thoughts:
First, he suggests in the ad that he uses it (or a similar double edge safety razor) to shave his head. The thought of trying to shave my own head with a safety razor kinda freaks me out, so if he actually does it then good on him.
Second, I have no idea whether it’s a good razor or not (if the company wants to send me one I’ll happily try it out,hint hint!). But, I’ll admit that at first I was a bit snobbish.
Thinking more about it though, and after talking with someone who pointed out that you can do a lot in this hobby for cheap, I realize that was a mistake. It seems kinda silly to scoff at a perceived “cheaper” razor when if anything this hobby ought to be teaching me that value is not always reflected in cost. Great blades can be found for pennies, bowls and mugs found for a dollar at thrift stores can work great for shaving mugs, shaving cream can found for much cheaper than aerosol, etc.
And if it sells a bunch of razors and helps make double edge wet shaving more popular then maybe stores will start expanding their inventories, which would be great for me.
So keep selling those razors, maybe I’ll pick one up myself someday.
Tried Gillette Sharp Edge for the first time this morning, really enjoyed it. Saturday doesn’t normally get a shave, so there was a two day growth going on making things thicker than usual. But with two passes I’ve now got what might be my best shave thus far, and my face feels great.
We’ll see how the next couple weeks go, but I think Shark Stainless just got taken down a notch.
One other thing I tried different today was that I went heavier on the shaving foam than usual, loading up slightly for the second application to make sure that I had enough for both to be extra thick. I think that helped a lot as well, it lasted longer, the shave felt smoother, and things were a lot cleaner when I rinsed. Definitely going to be doing that again.
Made of Swedish steel and manufactured in Israeli, perhaps it’s fitting that during the Olympics I’d get to try out the Personna Platinum Chrome blades (in my British razor, no less!).
First things first, these things take an effort to track down. For the sake of this review (and the blog) I’ll just call them Personnas or Personna Reds, but you’ve got to be careful when looking around online. Personna is the brand, and they seem to be related to the brand Crystal, I think it’s sort of a Chevy/GMC thing. And different Personna blades are sold under very similar names, depending on what country they are made and/or sold in.
And boy, these things are sharp. Even with a couple days growth they cut clean with minimal effort. About the only time I noticed any pulling or catching was around the front edge of my chin, and that was quickly resolved with a touch of extra shaving cream. Otherwise it cut nice and smooth, especially with the mustache and side-burn areas.
Not only are they sharp, they are fun to shave with. After the rough two weeks that the Astra blades gave me I was feeling a bit burned out on shaving, but these guys got me back in the spirit. I found myself quickly looking forward to shaving again, though I did find myself wanting to get an extra day’s growth every so often just so I’d have more to do in the morning.
There was however a downside. It felt like the Personna blades seemed to either dull more quickly than other blades, or that they didn’t quite perform as well with daily shaving as what other blades have. While a two day scruff seemed to shave off smooth and easily, a day to day shave seemed to have spots that were a little rough or scratchy. And they did give me my first significant bleeder, though that might have just been my nerves since it was a big day. I don’t know if this was a result of bad blades, poor technique, observer bias, or just how they are, but I’ll be looking closely at it when I revisit them later.
Price wise they are a bit more expensive than the other blades I’ve been using. But the difference when spread out over the weeks amounts to a difference of dimes, so nothing that’s going to be breaking the bank. While they can be difficult to track down they can be bought in bulk from Bullgoose, who I’m already a fan of, so availability and supply shouldn’t be an issue.
So how do they stack up? Right now they are sitting second in my personal ranking, just behind Shark Super Stainless. I liked substantially more than Astra, and while I enjoyed Derby quite a bit and perhaps felt a touch better, the Personna shaved closer and more even. But Sharks still seem to have given me a shave that was as close or closer, and my face just felt fresher and smoother afterward.
I’ve still got eight Personna blades though so I’ll definitely be revisiting them later in the year. I look forward to comparing them more directly with Shark and any other rising challengers. I haven’t worked out exactly how that’ll be done, but I suspect that Personna will be a strong competitor.
While there was a couple of issues, these blades are slick, sharp, and smooth.
It’s been a good run, but after three months I finally found myself with my first bleeder. While I’ve seen spots of blood before, I decided that I wouldn’t count anything that stopped with or before a cold water wash and aftershave. Today’s nick survived two cold water washes and aftershave, so while it actually isn’t too bad it technically makes the cut (har-har):
It should be of no surprise that this occurred on the morning of my first interview for post-graduate work, because when else would be better? Luckily it’s not actually that bad, and by the time breakfast was over it had closed up. A wipe with water and you can’t even tell it was there. No where near as bad as the one and only time I cut myself with a Mach3, which left three parallel lines along my cheek for the next few days.
But, rest assured this will be noted in the razor blade review (due this weekend, while the shave is actually better than it looks in that picture the quality of shave from these will also be addressed). I’m sure that the company will be disappointed to know this, as they were doing really well so far, and an obscure blog will likely have significant impact on their Q1 earnings.
A good double edge (DE) razor is a fine tool, and I have no desire to go back to cartridge razors. But I believe in giving credit where credit is due, and so I’ll note one notable advantage cartridge razors have over DE: I’ve never had a problem taking them in a carry-on bag on an airplane. Since a DE blade by design can easily be removed from the razor, for the time being they can only be brought on a plane in checked baggage. That’s no problem if you’re bringing a suitcase along, but if you’re like me then you prefer to travel with just a backpack or small carry on bag. Assuming you intend on obeying the rules, that means you’ve either got to skip shaving for the trip duration or find an alternative solution. For Christmas we went back west to visit family, so I ran into that very problem. I figured that I had a few options, among them:
- I could bring my old Mach 3. It would work just fine, but I kinda liked DE shaving so I wanted to avoid that option if possible.
- There are internet forums to connect volunteers that help out fellow DE shavers who are traveling by meeting up with them somewhere and giving them a blade to use during their trip. This seemed strange, weird, and a bit creepy to me, so while I applaud the generosity of those who do it I didn’t feel like doing so myself.
- Of course, there are drug stores all over the place so I could just but a blade once I got there. This would mean though that I would have a bunch left over that couldn’t be brought back on the plane, thus being costly and wasteful.
Finally I settled on a simple solution: I’d just mail myself one. While this wouldn’t have worked if I was staying in a hotel (unless they accepted mail for upcoming guests), staying with family allowed me to do some advance work. I just took an old plastic razor package, taped the end so the blade wouldn’t slide out, then dropped it in a letter with a stamp about a week before I left. Just be sure if you do this that you mail the blade safely. Razors ship by mail all the time so it’s not inherently unsafe, but you don’t want the razor cutting its way through the envelope or injuring a postal worker. That’s why I used the plastic package that the razor had shipped in, kept the blade from getting lost, broken, or hurting anyone.
It worked out great. Before I left I took the blade out of my razor, making it both safe and acceptable to fly with, and by the time I landed in SLC there was a new blade waiting for me. Once the trip was over I just threw the blade away and flew back. Everyone was happy, I got a great shave while on the road, and no one had to worry that Mountain Man McGee was sitting next to them on the airplane.
True story: Once a year my school does an externship fair, where all sorts of law offices come in seeking externs (like an intern, but less coffee fetching). Hundreds of students print up their resumes, dress up in their most lawerly looking clothes, and go out there to try and win themselves some work. While wandering through the hallway during one I saw an interesting situation: one student had apparently either tied his tie wrong, or had it come undone and he didn’t know how to re-tie it, so one kindhearted faculty member was hurriedly trying to fix it for him.
I could empathize, while I learned a while ago how to tie one properly (double Windsor, FTW) I’m currently going through a similar experience: finding out that I don’t know much about shaving cream. For a brief moment where I thought I’d figured out how to properly lather. I was creating a good amount of rich foam, it spread well, and protected great. That lasted two or three days, and then for the two weeks following I found myself getting a lesson in humility.
I think a lot of it had to do with that I still haven’t worked out a process that works well for me, and that I don’t know much about the steps involved. So, I went back to school (so to speak) and turned to the internet for help. The last few days have shown a marked improvement, and while I think I have a long way to go I do think I’m on the right path now. So, without further ado, here is the method I’ve worked out for lathering (using shave soap):
- I start by soaking my brush in warm water for a couple minutes, placing it bristle down in a mug and filling to about the handle. I also drip some water onto the top of the shave soap bar, just enough to get it wet, to help warm and soften it.
- After soaking I shake out my brush, trying to leave enough water in the bristles for it to be wet but not much that it is dripping of soaked. Basically, getting the water out that’s easy to get out. Two or three shakes.
- I then “load” the brush with soap. I was previously doing this by wiping the brush on the shave soap like a paint brush, but I am now doing moderate pressure circular motions, primarily in the middle of the bristles but occasionally rotating the brush to get the edges. If it starts getting bubbles on the soap block then I try to remove a bit of the water, rather I try to get a thicker goo.
- I don’t have a lather bowl, so I first apply directly to the face. Usually a pretty light coat if I’m doing a two pass shave, as the first pass will be with the grain and that doesn’t need a whole lot of foam to keep the skin happy.
- For the second lather I use my hand to mix up a thicker foam, using circular motions and occasionally squeezing out the brush between my thumb and for finger. This pulls thick lather from the middle, which is then applied to the face with the brush. While the lather directly on the face method feels good for it’s light abrasiveness, applying already lathered foam makes for a soft and slick conclusion.
Is this how you’re supposed to do it? Darned if I know, but it works for me. You can spend a year researching every possible method, but at the end of the day you’ve just got to dive in and start trying stuff out. Besides, it’s not like it’s anything that can’t be undone with the run of a tap.
Unexpected consequences sometimes result in important discoveries, like penicillin, chocolate chip cookies, or Miracle Whip.
My goal in switching to safety razors was to find a cheaper, better way to shave. In that regard: mission accomplished. There has emerged an interesting but wholly unexpected consequence though: a better gruff.
Now, I’m a man who is not unfamiliar with the ways of the facial hair. True fact: for about a year prior to my starting this Amanda used to be able to tell what day of the week it was by the amount of growth I was sporting. That’s because unless I had work I would shave on Sundays for church and then just let it go during the week. While I’m not the hairiest guy around, I’ve got a respectable amount and it comes in fairly quick.
Most guys have heard the stories that shaving makes your hair grow in thicker and darker. I don’t buy that, not because of any actual biological proof but because it just doesn’t make any kind of sense to me. But, DE shaving has given me an appreciation at least for why some people might think that because shaving properly does do one important thing: it makes your hair feel like it’s growing in better.
I don’t know why it is, but here’s my theory: the closer, better shave results in hair that’s more evenly and more cleanly cut than from cartridges. Rather than sharply cut, uneven hair that grows in like gravel landscaping, a good DE shave results in scruff that grows in like a good medium grit sand paper. Rough, but with an even smoothness quality. That’s a man’s shadow.
Anyone who’s ever tried to grow grass knows that a good lawn starts with good preparation (or sod), and that good maintenance means that it’ll keep growing healthy. The better you cut the grass, the better it’ll look for days afterward as it starts growing back. Do yourself a favor, give your face the same attention. I’m not saying it’s as good as penicillin, but you’ll hopefully be using it on a more regular basis.