Month: March 2014

Sunday: The Best Shave of the Week

As my attitude toward shaving has slowly evolved from antipathy to anticipation, weekday shaving has increasingly become an enjoyable and satisfying experience.  But, there remains one day a week which I always find myself most eager and excited to shave: Sunday.  No other day compares to it, the shave always just feels better than usual, even when it probably actually isn’t.

There may be a host of reasons for this, but I’ve narrowed it down what I think are the primary causes:

1) New razor blade- I’ve gotten in the habit of changing my razor blade on Saturday, after a week of shaving.  Thus far that means one of two things, either Sunday is a brand new brand I’ve never experienced, or it means that I’m getting a fresh crack at my face using the experience I’ve built up with a brand throughout the week.  Since DE razor blades each have their own strengths and qualities, one brand might shave quite different from another.  Sunday means I get to build on what I’ve been learning, and apply it with a new, fresh blade.

2) More time- During the week I usually make breakfast for the wife and myself, while we’re both rushing to get ready and out the door to work and school.  We budget our time well enough that it’s rarely a mad rush, but it does mean that when I’m shaving in the morning there’s a time frame that I’ve got to work in.  Not on Sundays.  On Sunday, I can take as much time as I like.  It’s quite, peaceful, and I can simply enjoy the experience.  As Sunday is a day of religious observance to me, that peace is a welcome way to start the day.

3) Stubble- Like everyone else I know, my hair grows everyday.  But since I shave most to everyday during the week, my daily shave tends to be about keeping things in check, maintenance.  My shaves are much closer since switching to safety razors, and so while I’ve got some solid scruff by the next day (and occasionally the night before) it doesn’t have a lot of time for growth between shaves.  But, with my blade dull from a week of use, Saturday has become my day off from shaving.  By the time Sunday rolls around I’ve got a couple days growth and, since stubble feels much coarser with safety razor shaves, I am looking forward to getting it cleaned up.  More work to do, more satisfaction in the result.

Sunday isn’t always the smoothest, it isn’t always the closest or most even.  I’ve had a few that were frankly just bad.  But it’s a rare day that Sunday isn’t the most enjoyable shave of my week. 

Money Down the Drain

While walking through CVS the other day I paused in the shaving aisle to see what I’ve been missing since switching to a double-edge safety razor. It seems that in my absence the situation has become even more bleak and frustrating.

I was shocked, for example, to see an eight pack of Fusion Proglide cartridges selling for nearly $40. That’s over $4 each! That’s crazy pants.  Even the more sedate Mach3 cartridges were retailing for about $3 each, which while at one time I might have thought that to be reasonable now it just seems silly.

In contrast, there’s this:

image

200, yes, two hundred blades for fifteen bucks. 7.5 cents each, and enough to last you two years even if you were using two blades a week (I used one and got by just fine).

Granted, Derby isn’t my favorite brand. But I liked them well enough, they shaved just as well as my Mach3 did and the price is a heck of a lot better.

I fault no one for using cartridges. If that’s what you like and it works for your situation, then by all means, enjoy it.  But personally, I’m glad to have found a new ship to sail on.

Marine Corps Museum

You can see the peak from the I-95 looming over the trees, it's very imposing.

You can see the peak from the I-95 looming over the trees, it’s very imposing.

My wife and I took a trip down to Quantico this last weekend to see the National Marine Corps Museum, and let me just say, if you’re ever in the DC area it’s a place worth seeing. 

My family doesn’t have ties to the Corps, we’ve always been Army and more recently Navy, and so the Marines were always the rivals.  But, I’ve got respect for what they do, they do their job well, and the museum is an amazing experience for anyone with a healthy respect for the services. 

Basically, it is a giant museum full of guns, bombs, knives, swords, tanks, boats, and aircraft.  Things every red blooded American can appreciate.

Aircraft, such as this Corsair, hang throughout the museum.

Aircraft, such as this Corsair, hang throughout the museum.

The museum starts out pretty family friendly, with costumes for the kids and a place where they can practice marine knot tying.

The Mrs. looking great in a hat.

The Mrs. looking great in a hat.

Oddly, the kid oriented exhibits drop off extremely quickly, and pretty soon you’re headed into guns, machines, and life sized depictions of some of the Marine’s defining battles.

A nock volley gun, circa Revolutionary War period.  Contrary to widely popularized belief, the founders didn't have just single shot low power guns when they wrote the 2nd amendment.  This could fire up to seven barrels at once.

A nock volley gun, circa Revolutionary War period. Contrary to widely popularized belief, the founders didn’t have just single shot low power guns when they wrote the 2nd amendment. This could fire up to seven barrels at once.

Early Browning .45 caliber pistols.

Early Browning .45 caliber pistols.

So much fun stuff!

So much fun stuff!

I’ll admit to being a kid in a candy store, except without the ability to buy anything.  Two of my favorite exhibits came late in the museum, an A-4 Skyhawk (my favorite airplane) and a M-50 Ontos, one of the most intimidating machines I’ve ever seen in person.

They project a movie about A-4s on the belly of an A-4, pretty much the best thing ever.

They project a movie about A-4s on the belly of an A-4, pretty much the best thing ever.

Not something you want to meet in a dark ally.

Not something you want to meet in a dark ally.

And, there was shaving stuff!  Marines throughout the years have had to shave in some tough conditions, and there were a couple of examples of what they used.  First, this slick straight razor from WWI with “USMC” stamped on the tang:

I can't imagine shaving with a straight razor in the trenches.

I can’t imagine shaving with a straight razor in the trenches.

Later, in the Vietnam section, a period advertisement for double-edge safety razors was playing on a television:

Cudos to Amanda, who promptly said "it's a butterfly design, I KNOW that!"

Kudos to Amanda, who promptly said “it’s a butterfly design, I KNOW that!”

The absolute best part of the experience though was meeting Frank Matthews at the Iwo Jima section.  Mr. Matthews was a PFC in the Marine 4th Division, and one of the last survivors of Iwo Jima.  He landed on the first day of the battle, due to issues with the landings his craft landed on the far left side of the beachhead when it was supposed to be on the right.  Those in his boat then had to cross laterally across the beachhead, under fire, to get to their assigned position.  After 28 days of fighting his unit was relieved.  Of the 36 men in his platoon, he was the only one who walked off the island.  The rest were either dead or medically evacuated.  He now works as a volunteer at the museum, still working and serving after seven decades.

LEGO flag raising statute on display there.

LEGO flag raising statute on display there.

Really, an incredible place to visit.  I recommend it highly.

First Impressions: That’s Brisk Baby

Proraso, Treet, Edwin Jagger, spice, and pig. One slick setup.

Proraso, Treet, Edwin Jagger, spice, and pig. One slick setup.

After learning to lather with Col. Conks, I tried a different shaving soap for the first time today: Proraso Eucalyptus and Menthol.  It came highly recommended from both friends and the internet, both for its quality and for the handy bowl that it comes in.  After some warm water to open up the pores, I loaded the brush and went to work.

As the title implies, wow.

The lather goes on much smoother and silkier than I’m used to, I think this is because Proraso is a softer soap than the hard puck that I’ve gotten used to.  After being used to bayrum scent of my previous soap this had a much sharper small to it.  Not bad, but definitely different, like the smell of barbershop disinfectant. 

Quickly I noticed something else I hadn’t experienced before: it tingles.  By the time I was fully lathered there was a distinct tingly feeling on my face, and as I shaved the spots where the lather was removed felt like a cool breeze on wet skin.  It was very refreshing, and by the time I finished the second lather and pass my face was feeling almost a bit numb and puffy.  A cold water rinse and some spice aftershave and I was feeling great. Even now, almost an hour later, I can still feel residual tingles.

The soap was accompanied with a brand new Treet brand razor blade.  I’ve never used Treet before, but the razor did a great job delivering a close, smooth, even shave on two day old stubble.  I can honestly say that this is the best feeling shave I’ve had in weeks, everything worked together for a great result.  I’m really looking forward to more of this!

Comparison: Shark Super Stainless v. Shark Super Chrome

As I said last week, any differences that exist between Shark Super Stainless and Shark Super Chrome are not apparent from the outside.  While they come in slightly different packaging, the razors themselves appear identical.  This week I went back to Super Stainless to compare them when they’re both fresh on my mind.  The two blades at issue:

Shark Super Stainless

Shark Super Stainless

Shark Super Chrome

Shark Super Chrome

Aside from obvious differences in photo effort, from the outside there isn’t much visual difference aside from one being packaged in plastic and the other not.  However, after using the Stainless this week I feel confident in saying that there is a difference in the shave the two blades give.

The Chrome blade, as I said last week, is extremely easy to shave with.  You almost have to try and cut yourself with it, it’s that forgiving.  Afterward, my skin always felt great, and on the first few shaves it kept things nice and close.  However, it never got quite as close and smooth as what the other blades seemed to be able to give, and by the end of the week the blade was noticeably struggling.

The Stainless feels sharper, and throughout the week it gives a closer shave.  By the end of the week, when the Chrome would be struggling, the Stainless both shaves closer and with less effort.  However, it is a bit tougher on the skin, and while I never noticed any blood with a Chrome with the Stainless it was not uncommon to see spots where a little blood had appeared.  It always washed off with cold water though, never to return.

Personally, I like the Stainless much more.  While the Chrome is a perfectly fine blade, I like the Stainless’ sharpness and quality of shave.  For a new shaver, I would recommend trying the Chrome first and then moving on to Stainless, while the later is in my opinion better I think the former would be a great blade for someone who is just building their skills and confidence. 

On a final note, I got my first nick today.  I was just wrapping up, last couple swipes, and in a moment of inattention I clipped my nose.  It’s not bad, but it stings just a touch.  The picture isn’t great, but due to the location it’s tough to take one without giving the world a most unwanted view up my nose:

Darn.

Darn.

But, I will survive!

 

Nerves of Steel

The double-edge safety razor.  A fine blend of form and function.

The double-edge safety razor. A fine blend of form and function.

The first time I handled a double-edge safety razor blade you’d think I was trying to pick up a porcupine soaked in nitroglycerin.  I’m like that with a lot of delicate things, or at least with things I think are delicate.  The first time I built a computer I was convinced if I touched anything on the circuit board it would surely meltdown, or if I applied the slightest amount of pressure more than needed something would snap and my money would be gone.  It’s as though my brain thinks that any part of my finger other than the slightest edge of the fingertip is just waiting to shatter, snap, or incinerate anything it touches.
 
Now obviously I didn’t think that I was going to destroy the razor blade by touching it wrong.  That’s silly.  I apparently thought the slightest mishandling would result in a slice to the bone and massive blood loss.  Gingerly I would unwrap the blades, and carefully load them into the razor with the skill, focus, and delicate determination of a bomb technician.  It was a JOB.
 
As time and exposure has passed I now find myself much more comfortable.  I still am wary of them, and that’s probably good.  When you stop respecting something that’s when it’s most likely to hurt you.  But it’s becoming increasingly normal, part of my regular shaving routine.  Normality is funny like that.
 
The other night a fellow student mentioned he’d read my blog, and said that he was nervous to try it because he was worried about having a blade so exposed near his face.  Now, I make plenty of jokes about how one day I’m going to cut my face off or cause some other serious harm, and it comes from a genuine understanding that there is a greater risk of injury shaving like this than with some alternative methods.  
 
But at the same time it made me realize how far I’ve moved.  My first time shaving with a safety razor I was nervous, and my hands might even have been shaking just a bit (an uncomfortable situation when you’re trying not to cut yourself).  Now, while I remain cautious and careful, the normality is increasingly setting in.  My old fears increasingly seem silly or overwrought.  Perhaps now, if I’m moving beyond my initial jitters, is the time when I can really start building skills.  When I’m starting to know enough to have an idea about what I’m doing, but before long term habits have set in.
 
So if you’re thinking about trying out traditional shaving, do it.  Will you cut yourself?  Maybe.  Will it be serious?  Probably not.  You’ll quickly realize that if a hundred million other people did it, you can too.
And it’s a lot of fun.  There’s always that.

Crisp, Clean , Smooth

New razor blade this morning, a Shark Super Stainless, one of my favorites.  To get excess water off the bristles I brushed the warmth right onto the whiskers, then went heavy on the loading so the lather would be thick, warm, and rich.  Two passes and I’ve got a wonderful feeling BBS shave (roughly the pinnacle of shaving).  Cold wash followed by some Old Spice, ready for the day.

Heck of a way to start the day and a new week.  Feel good, look good, smell good.  The manly arts are pretty darn great.

Review: Shark Super Chrome

A smooth and easy razor blade.

A smooth and easy razor blade.

Just to lay it out there at the outset: I have no idea what the difference is between the Shark Super Stainless razor blades I tried a couple months ago and the Shark Super Chrome that I tried this week.

That’s not hyperbole, I honestly don’t.  I’ve looked around online, and there doesn’t seem to be any real consensus.  About half the people out there think there’s no difference at all, and about half think that the Super Stainless are a touch Sharper while the Chrome are a touch smoother.

For comparison, here’s the packaging that the two came in:

Super Stainless on top, Super Chrome on bottom.

Super Stainless on top, Super Chrome on bottom.

And here they are with their individual wrappers:

Again, Stainless on top and Chrome on bottom.

Again, Stainless on top and Chrome on bottom.

The blades themselves look absolutely identical, and both say “Shark Super Stainless” on them.  As far as I can tell the only difference is that the Stainless come in a paper box, and have two simple paper wrappers on them, while the Chrome comes in a plastic box, and has one nicely printed wrapper on it.

Interestingly, the price is not the same: Super Stainless are currently cost $10.95 for 100, while Super Chrome cost $11.95 per 100.  When not on sale, the Chrome only cost 4 cents more.

While they seem to be virtually identical, I find myself leaning toward the group that thinks there’s a slight difference between the two.  Shaving the last two weeks has been incredibly smooth.  Not in the result on my face (though that wasn’t bad), I feel like other razors like the 7 O’clock, Personna, and the Super Stainless were better in that regard, but rather the Chrome seems to be incredibly forgiving, allowing for very forgiving shaving that just goes smoothly.

The blades being forgiving turned out to be an especially good thing as the blades seemed to lose their sharpness pretty quick.  The first several shaves were excellent, but by the end of the week the shave quality seemed to drop noticeably.  The result as my taking an increasingly aggressive approach with the blade, and while that is normally a recipe for disaster I hardly got so much as a spot of bleeding.

Which raises the question again: are these the same blades?  I remember the Super Stainless being an excellent razor blade, and I don’t recall a noticeable dip in quality.  This leads to several theories:

1) They are the same blade, just packaged and marketed differently, and whatever differences I’m noticing are because my experience and expectations have changed.

2) They are the same blade, and any differences are simply a result of production variations.

3) They actually are different, and I’m noticing it.

This up coming week I’ll be shaving with a Super Stainless blade so I can compare the two more directly, and will report back next week.  While it’s a deviation from the normal experiment timeline of two weeks a brand, I think that it’ll be worth it for the sake of clarifying any differences between the two.

As for the Chrome itself, I enjoyed shaving with it.  Is it the sharpest I’ve tried?  Doesn’t feel like it.  But it does a solid job, gives a good shave, and is a breeze to use.  A very good razor, but one that raises some questions that’ll need more examination to answer.

Grooming Lounge: A Local Shave Spot Gets a Look-see

Points for dapper presentation.

Points for dapper presentation.

Aside from Art of Shaving there aren’t many brick and mortar shaving stores around these days.  While you can find an item or two at most drug stores, few places carry much beyond cartridges, aerosol cream, or shaving gel.  So when I found out I’d be in downtown DC I decided to stop by The Grooming Lounge, a local store which, as the name suggests, focuses on men’s grooming.  While there’s plenty of places online to buy shaving supplies, if there’s a local source I’d like to know what it offers.

The store itself is easy to get to, just outside Farragut North metro station, and unassuming from the outside.  Funny enough, it’s just across the street from an Art of Shaving.  Apparently L street is DC’s razor district. 

Mid block and blending in, it's easy to miss if you're not paying attention.

Mid block and blending in, it’s easy to miss if you’re not paying attention.

The store itself offers a number of services.  While I don’t know what all they provide (I was there for other reasons), I did see a shoe shine spot and I believe I saw an area for shaving.  The staff was extremely friendly and helpful, with one salesperson answering my questions and showing items for about ten minutes.  Of the brands they had in stock they seemed to have the full line, everything from pre-shave oils and shaving creams to face washes and lotions.  With dark wood styling, the store definitely has a classy feel to it.

My focus was on the shaving supplies, and they had a much better supply than most places.  Along with their house brand products, they had a number of items in stock that I’d only heard about online: Proraso, Jack Black, Bluebeard, etc.  While they only had one brand of razor blades, they did have a number of cartridge, double-edge, and straight razors, including a nice Merkur 34c.

Look at all that stuff!

Look at all that stuff!

While the selection wasn’t huge, it was definitely the most I’ve seen in one place before, and there wasn’t much room for more than what they had.  The products tended to lean more toward modern styling, which while a bit disappointing is understandable.  They’ve got to make money, and they’re in a very modern part of town.

I was surprised but happy to find their prices were extremely reasonable.  I picked up a bowl of Proraso, which I’ve heard great things about, and the price was only a dollar more than what it would have cost on Amazon.  One dollar!  For the ease of having an actual location you can go and browse at it seemed like a small price to pay. 

I’m looking forward to trying out what I got, and having heard good things about Jack Black I might be back in the future.  For those in the DC area looking for some good shaving supplies, do yourself a favor and check the Grooming Lounge out.

Review: Col. Conk’s Shave Soap – Bayrum

While there’s plenty of shave sites out there that will bemoan the inferior nature of aerosol shaving cream, I’ve never had a problem with it.  It’s fast, it’s simple, it’s consistent, it’s never given me any problems, and when the time came to make the switch to double-edge shaving I picked up a travel size can.  It did the job, but after weeks of researching razors I’d gotten a hankering to try out making my own lather.  So for Christmas my wife got me a badger hair brush and a puck of Col. Conk’s Glycerin Shave Soap, and off I went.

Now that's a dapper looking man.

Now that’s a dapper looking man.

I’ve been using Col. Conk’s for two months now, and I’ve been greatly enjoying it.  It took several weeks to really get the hang of what I was doing, and then several more weeks to get the method refined to the point that I’m getting consistent lathers.  But I’ve greatly enjoyed the soap, and while I might get a can of aerosol or shave gel to have around in case I’m running late, I have no desire to go back to regular use of either of them.

The soap has a rich, solid smell to it.  I’d never heard of bay rum before, but I’m now a fan.  The soap, and by extension the lather, smells like something you’d find in an old, wood paneled barbershop.  Thick, rich, smooth.  While the scent seems like it’s diminished over the last month or so, that may be because I’ve gotten so used to it that I just don’t notice it as much.  I shave in a smaller guest bathroom, and the soap has given the room a wonderful smell just by being in there.  While I would like to try some of the menthol or sandlewood soaps out there, I’m going to have a hard time not buying another bay rum product.

The soap has also held up to daily use very well.  I’m about two and a half months into using it everyday, and I suspect that I can easily get another several weeks out of it.  The only problem I anticipate with getting easily another month is that I might wear through the middle of the puck, but if I load the brush from the edges then I should be fine.  More experience will tell me whether this is a sizable amount of time for soap to last, or if either the soap or my loading method are reducing it faster than normal, but I have no complaints with how it’s held up.

The soap produces a good lather that makes for a great shaving experience.  My method of loading from it has been this:  I soak my brush for a minute or two in warm water, with a few drops of water dripped on the top of the soap puck to help soften things.  After shaking out the water I do counter-clockwise circles until a brush has a good, somewhat thick paste of soap on it, then with a touch of water on the brush I lather directly on the face.  Normally, a loading makes enough that I can make two applications for two shave passes.

The first application tends to be a bit thin.  The lather tends to be pretty low, and looks more thick soapy than shaving cream.  After the first pass with the razor I add a touch more water to the brush and start reapplying, this time squeezing the brush through my thumb and forefinger to pull out some soap lather.  I lather up the brush tips on what’s been squeezed out, and then apply to face.  This time it’s thick, solid foam that really hangs on. Since this is normally my against the grain pass, this thicker lather is really helpful both to protect the skin and to help me see where I’ve shaved and where I haven’t, as at this point the hair is getting short enough to make it hard to tell in spots.  At the end of the shave, it left the face feeling smooth, clean, and soft.

Frankly, while I want to try new products there’s a part of my that is perfectly satisfied with what I’ve found and wouldn’t mind sticking with it.  This is a solid soap that I am happy to recommend.  It smells great, it lasts a long time, and it does an excellent job where it counts the most: on the face.  While I don’t know that it helped give me a closer shave than aerosol creams or gels, it absolutely gave me a better shave experience.

I am sold.