Month: April 2014

Blood! …My First Use of a Styptic Pencil

It was bound to happen sooner or later, really just a matter of time, but today marked my first cut significant enough to warrant a styptic pencil.

First, what is that?  A styptic pencil is used to stop bleeding, made up primarily of aluminum sulfate it basically contracts the skin and blood vessels while helping things clot. It has the look and feel of a piece of chalk, with a pointed end to help target the bleeding spot.

You did well today, kid.

My styptic pencil.  You did well today, kid.

I’m not entirely sure what happened, but I think I might have had a pimple or bug bite lurking beneath the two days growth of stubble.  I was shaving along on the first pass (with the grain), when I felt a noticeable bump along the back of right jaw.  I turned my head to look, and sure enough there was a noticeable amount of blood welling up already.

This probably should have been my cue to leave the area alone.  Being the wise man that I am, I just went ahead lathering and shaving it twice more (across the grain and against the grain).  Each time I’d wash my face, apply shaving cream, and in a moment have a nice red blotch appear in the white foam.  Is that the best way to handle a bleeder?  Probably not, but meh.

I wrapped up the shave and gave a cold water wash, which normally handles anything bleeding.  There was still a bit of blood coming out, not much but enough that I decided that I both wanted to avoid getting it on my church clothes and that this would be a great time to try out my styptic pencil.  It’d been sitting on my counter for six months doing nothing, might as well see how it worked.

Everything I’d heard is that it would burn.  Honestly, I didn’t fell anything.  I pressed it against the cut, which wasn’t large at all for the amount of blood that had come out, and after about ten seconds pulled it back away.  No more blood, cut hardly noticeable. and except for some white residue that appeared a moment later no problems.

I’m sold.  If you’re thinking of getting into wet shaving, or you’re already trying it yourself, pick yourself up a styptic (an alum bloc also works I’m told).  Did I NEED it?  Maybe not, but it sure was handy.

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Shaving Experiment: Phase II & Razor Blade Rankings

With the first round of trying my razor blade sampler pack concluded, I’ve now got an idea of which blades work well for me and which don’t.  Really they almost all did alright, but there were a few standouts.  While everyone has different reactions to blades, for me the current ranking is this (with the top several extremely close):

1) Feather Hi-Stainless

2) Shark Super Stainless

3) Gillette Sharpedge

4) Treet Platinum

5) Shark Super Chrome

6) Derby

7) Personna Red

8) Astra

That list is subject to fluctuation, especially since I like most of them for different reasons.  The Astra blades were the only ones that I really disliked, and so that’s why they will be leading off the next round of testing.

What I plant to do is work my way back up the order, from bottom to top, and see if and how my opinion about the blades have changed.  Will things be different with more experience, different shaving creams (for some), different time of the year, etc? 

We’ll find out.  Today I begin with Astra, I’ll give updates throughout the process and write a second review once I’m done that will be added to the review page. 

I’m looking forward to seeing what happens!

Review: Derby Extra

For many wet shavers, Derby is the first razor blade they'll experience.

For many wet shavers, Derby is the first razor blade they’ll experience.

In the world of double-edge razors, Derby is the McDonalds.  They are everywhere, they are cheap, and I haven’t seen a lot of people willing to say they like them. 

Derby was the razor that I started safety razor shaving with.  When I purchased my razor the company included a pack of five Derby blades, and I thought they were wonderful.  In fact, I was so impressed with them that I considered just sticking with them rather than seeing what else was out there. 

But where’s the fun in that?

It’s now four months later, I’ve tried out half a dozen other brands and I decided to go back and see how Derby holds up. 

Coming off of shaving with a Feather blade, Derby feels noticeably dull.  Not nearly as sharp as I remember them feeling.  They also seemed to lose their edge faster than I remember, by Friday there was noticeably more effort and attention necessary to get a good shave.

But while I’ve found razors that do almost everything better than the Derby…I like them.

With a little experience under your belt they are about impossible to cut yourself with (which means I’ll probably cut myself the next time I use them).  Using a three pass method you can get a pretty good shave with them (definitely not the closest I’ve gotten, but not bad at all). 

And, of all the razors I’ve gotten, they give the best next day scruff.  Don’t ask me how, but it’s a nice, even, rough stubble that feels great.

Like I said, Derby is the McDonalds of the safety razor world.  And you know what, I like McDonalds sometimes.  Is it great?  Nope.  But does it satisfy in its own way? 

Yes it does.

Shaving on the Fly: Brushing Up For A Family Wedding

Using a safety razor is a lot of fun, but if I’ve found one downside it’s that it can be a bit of a hassle to travel with. Last week was my sister-in-law’s wedding, held out west where the rest of our family lives, and so my wife and I trekked 2,000 miles across the country to support them.  Of course, a wedding means there’s going to be ceremony and photos, so that meant I’d need to be shaving.

Unlike a cartridge razor that you can just toss into a backpack or toiletry case, a double-edge razor requires planning ahead.  As I discussed in a previous post, the TSA doesn’t like loose razor blades in carry-on luggage so I packed a Feather blade in my wife’s checked baggage when she flew out (she went early to help get things ready for the occasion).

But that still the question of how to lather up.  When I traveled for Christmas I simply brought a small travel can of Barbasol.  But this time I decided to make it more interesting.  First, I needed to get a brush out there without it getting damaged. I came up with two options:

If I needed to I could use an old paper tube (paper towels or toilet paper) to keep the bristles protected.  This wasn’t my ideal choice, as the brush could slip and slide around, and the paper (and the brush within) could easily be crushed. 

The second option was a prescription bottle.  I’d seen it suggested somewhere online (I don’t remember where, else I’d give credit), but I didn’t have any on hand.  So I just went down to the local CVS and asked them for one (a request I’m guessing they don’t get often given their confusion at it).  I’d planned on paying for them, I figured there might be medicine bottles as a retail item, but they kindly just gave me one for free from the pharmacy.  It worked perfectly!  The brush was well protected, and it kept the bristles protected throughout the trip (just make sure it’s dry before you put it in).

The bottle is a bit tall, but the width was perfect and the brush was just fine.

The bottle is a bit tall, but the width was perfect and the brush was just fine.

The next question was whether to bring shaving soap or shaving cream.  I decided to go with the shaving soap because it’s lighter, harder, and dryer.  This allowed me to just wrap the soap in a paper towel and stow it along with the rest of my toiletries.  Since it’s a solid there’s no problem getting it through TSA, and since I enjoy it more than my shaving cream it made the travel shave a bit more enjoyable.  The only downside is that after months of faithful use, my soap has finally worn through.

I can still use it, but its life is definitely on the downhill.

I can still use it, but its life is definitely on the downhill.

The shaves I got while out there weren’t my best.  Traveling throws off my rhythm and I just couldn’t seem to get as close and even a shave as I’m used to.  But they were still enjoyable, and perfectly good for pictures and festivities.   It was a beautiful ceremony and reception for a great couple, and wonderful weather.

The Logan, UT Temple, location and morning of the wedding.

The Logan, UT Temple, location and morning of the wedding.

Flying back security x-rayed my bag, then a second time, before finally placing my razor in a bin by itself and x-raying that.  Finally satisfied, they let us through and we headed home.  A great trip!

Razor Blade Review: Feather Hi-Stainless

Light as a feather.  Get it?  Of course you did, it's a terrible joke.

Light as a feather. Get it? Of course you did, it’s a terrible joke.

No other razor blade comes with a reputation like the Feather.  Universally considered one of the sharpest razor blades available, these Japanese blades have the largest and strongest fan base of any other I’ve seen.  I’ve yet to see a discussion of favorite or best blades where it wasn’t mentioned.

Some people, mistakenly thinking that sharper must mean “better”, jump right to the Feather when they first start shaving.  But just because a blade is sharp doesn’t mean it will work for you, and if you don’t have the basics down then it can be a recipe for a unintended bloodletting.

I decided at the outset of the experiment to try and avoid that, and so I saved the Feathers for last.  I’m happy to report that during the testing there were no nicks or even significant blood from shaving too close.  And I’ve come to a simple conclusion: these blades rock.

In fact, as I’m anticipating beginning the second round of testing, I’m starting to think that several of my beliefs about other blades may have been mistaken.

With a number of blades I found that they would give me a good, close shave.  But, after a day or two shaving closely, I’d have to back off a bit and let things recover otherwise the shave quality would drop slightly.  I assumed this was because my hair just wasn’t growing back fast enough, and the close shaves over several days would build up some slight irritation from getting more skin than hair.

But perhaps not.  During my tests with the Feathers I’ve been shaving as close as I have before, and more consistently. The last few days I’ve even been going from my normal two passes to three (first with the grain, second across, then finally against the grain).  To my surprise and satisfaction, even that slight irritation seems to have gone away.

I have a couple theories on why that might be:

1) It was a result of inexperience or bad technique, which I have improved through practice.

2) Whether because of sharpness or smoothness, Feathers work extraordinary well for me.

Either way, these last couple weeks have been some great shaves.

The one downside I noticed is that by the end of the week I was definitely noticing the blade beginning to dull.  Of course, this can be solved simply: either shave less or change the blade more frequently.  But, nonetheless, it is the one downside to the blade that I noticed, especially coming off having just been using the Tweet blades that seemingly shaved forever without losing their edge.

But, that complaint is small potatoes.  The Feathers are excellent blades, and for quality of shave they’ve moved to the top of my list.

Very slick.

Morning Shave: Kicking off Spring Right

Spring sunset at the Jefferson Memorial, things are finally getting warm enough to start enjoying the sites and sights again.

Spring sunset at the Jefferson Memorial, things are finally getting warm enough to start enjoying the sites and sights again.

After a long, snowy winter spring seems to have finally arrived in Virginia.  After a week of blooming the blossoms are starting to fall off the trees, giving way to vibrant green leaves and sprouts.  The weather has been gorgeous, cool enough for a light jacket or hoodie in the morning but mid seventies by the afternoon.  Things are looking nice.

So nice in fact, that we haven’t turned on the heater or air conditioner in at least a week.  Last night we left the windows open, and this morning were treated to a nice, cool home with the sounds of birds outside.  And traffic, but hey, you take what you can get.

I’ve been using Proraso heavily lately as my Col. Conk’s shave soap is nearly worn through the puck, but I thought this morning called for a change.  Lathering up I was treated to the refreshing scent of bayrum, something I’ve grown to love.  I prefer Col. Conk’s to Proraso, while it takes slightly longer to mix the result is a thicker, silkier, longer lasting lather.  With a new Feather razor blade two passes and a splash of spice aftershave left me feeling great.

 The shave wasn’t quite as close as it might have been, I decided to experiment some with the blade angle and the change just wasn’t as good as the previous angle had been getting.  Good to know, it’ll be helpful for future shaves.

Now I’m enjoying a quiet Sunday morning with my feet kicked up, spending time with my best friend before she heads to Utah to help with her sister’s wedding.  Life is good.

Review: Leisure Guy’s Guide to Gourmet Shaving

If you had told me a year ago that there were books written entirely about how to shave, I would have wondered what sucker would spend money on something like that. It’s shaving, you put some foam on your face and run a razor on it. Replace cartridge when dull, repeat. It’s not rocket science. If you’d then told me that I’d someday own and enjoy a book about shaving, I’d have thought you were crazy.

Children of the digital age, this is what we call a book.

Children of the digital age, this is what we call a book.

Yet, here we are.  Leisure Guy’s Guide to Gourmet Shaving is that book, written by Michael Ham. I’d already been following the Leisure Guy shaving blog, Later On, when I came across the book on Amazon, and so with birthday money burning a hole in my pocket I decided to check it out.

Boy, this book would have been useful five months ago.

Inside is a wealth of information about traditional shaving: razors, blades, brushes, soaps, creams, oils, bowls, scuttles, proper angles, cleaning…it really is a one stop source for information on the art of the wet shave. Though as I’m reading it I’m not finding a lot of what I would call new material, what took me weeks to learn through websites, message boards, and Facebook, is here condensed in one handy manual.

Even if you’re familiar with the subject, it makes for great refresher reading when you have a few minutes to kill. And though I’m starting to get some experience in the subject, I’m learning new things and remembering things forgotten as I go back over topics of interest. Case in point: I read last night that after washing your brush in warm water a cold rinse will help protect the hairs. Does that actually work? Heck if I know, but for the 2 seconds it’ll cost me I’m sure willing to try.

So if you’re looking to improve your shave, I highly recommend it. It’s a great resource, and would make a great gift for your manly friends (theoretically almost everything in it would also apply to women, but give a woman a book on shaving at your own peril).

Razor Blade Review: Treet Platinum

I think that it is pronounced like "treat."

I think that it is pronounced like “treat.”

When my razor blade pack arrived in the mail I’d heard of most of the varieties already.  That’s a large part of why it beat out other samplers, it provided some degree of familiarity (if just in name, as I’d only used the Derby blades).  While I hadn’t heard of ever variety, such as the Sharpedge, I at least knew of their manufacturer, Gillette.  There was only one brand, in fact, that I hadn’t heard of:  Treet.  That hasn’t stopped them from making quite a name for themselves in the last two weeks of my use.

For many years Treet was known for making carbon steel blades.  While these were popular with many for their ability to hold and edge both sharper and longer than stainless steel, they were more prone to rust and thus required more attention.

The industry now primarily manufactures stainless for ease of use, and Treet has followed suit.  Made in Pakistan, the Treet Platinum is perhaps not as visible as some other razor blade brands.  But if you’re looking for a great blade that consistently holds an edge, then this one is right up your ally.

Performance wise, I’ve found the Tweet Platinum to be comparable to the Shark line of blades.  For as close as the Shark Stainless and the Shark Chrome were, the Treet feels like it falls somewhere in the middle: not quite as sharp as the Stainless, but more forgiving; not quite as forgiving as the Chrome, but sharper.

I’ve found it to give excellent shaves that are so close that it actually makes daily shaving a bit uncertain, giving the hair little time to grow out.  To accommodate this, I’ve found it helpful to alternate morning between two passes (one with the grain and one against) and just one (against the grain).  It seems to allow growth to recover enough to provide better shaves than just trying to go as close as possible each time.

Where it is most different is that the Treet seems to hold it’s edge much better than most, perhaps better than any other blade I’ve yet used.  While there was certainly some degree of wear, the blade remained sharp and consistent through a full week of shaving.  That sharpness and even wear allowed for consistent shaves throughout the week, without the feeling that the blade had substantially changed from when I started.  While they are no longer carbon steel (at least, not these ones), the Treet reputation remains intact.

I did notice that the blades seem to be a touch harder to clean.  Normally a quick rinse under hot water will get most blades clean, the Treet seemed to hold on to hair and lather a bit more tightly.  It only took an extra moment under the water to break it loose, but it was noticeable given how easily other blades rinse. This may not be the blade’s fault though, as I switched to a new shaving cream at the same time I started using the blades, so that may be an issue of the cream just not dissolving in water as easily as my previous shaving soap.  Something to keep an eye on as I use other blades.

Verdict:  I’ve found the Treet blades to be extremely satisfying, and one of the best day to day blades I’ve used.  Others have gotten shaves that feel closer, felt better, etc, but few if any have delivered such great results so consistently.  The shave smoothly, they shave well, and they stay sharp, it’s hard to ask for more.

Creams and Soap: Getting a Good Morning Lather

When I first started using a safety razor I wasn’t sold on also changing up my shaving cream. While I didn’t normally use it, when I did I was perfectly happy with aerosol or gels, and it’s what I used for the first month or so after switching razors. My wife thankfully had more foresight than I and got me a brush and shave soap for Christmas, I’ve been a believer ever since. It’s opened up a whole new aspect to shaving, with hundreds of options available.

Most of those options fall into two groups: shaving creams, and shaving soaps.

So what’s the difference? It’s pretty simple:

To the left is a tub of shaving cream, to the right is a (heavily used) bar of shaving soap.

To the left is a tub of shaving cream, to the right is a (heavily used) bar of shaving soap.

Creams

Brush mixed shaving creams come in a tub or tube (like toothpaste), are fairly moist, and have the consistency of moderate to thick putty. My experience with creams has been that they are very easy to mix, and with a wet brush they create a good lather very quickly and with little effort. They’ve given me consistent and satisfying lathers every time.

Soaps

Shaving soaps are just what the name says, it’s a soap that’s made for shaving. It comes in bar or puck form, and generally lasts for about three months (some varieties last much longer). They are different from normal bar soap, though I’ve heard stories of some people using regular bar soap also. My experience with them has been that they take a bit more practice to master, and a little more time to mix. Both my best and my worst have been from soaps, with some absolutely great and others down right terrible, which I suspect to be a user issue.

Do they actually do a better job protecting your skin than gels or aerosol creams?

I honestly don’t know, but I have no reason to think they are any worse. That said, they absolutely make for a more enjoyable shaving experience and it’s become a much anticipated part of my shaving ritual. Preparing and loading the brush, mixing the to your desire, and getting a fresh, warm lather is incredibly refreshing. Plus, they have much richer, deeper scents that not only make for a pleasant shave, but which also linger on the skin well afterward.

Of the two, I personally lean towards shaving soap. That being said, I’m primarily using a shaving cream right now and having a very enjoyable experience. Luckily, with good soaps costing only a few dollars and creams not much more, there’s no reason that you only have to choose one!

The Importance of Shaving During a Zombie Apocalypse

We’ve all been there: police stations overrun, hospitals a death trap, federal forces pulling back to mountain holdouts, bridges bombed, warlords rising, violence rampant, basically anytown America looking more and more like Chicago. 

It’s understandable to assume that now is not the time to worry about shaving.  But you’d be wrong my friend…dead wrong.  Here’s why:

1) People with beards never fare well in apocalypse.  Can’t think of an example?  That’s cause there are none.  Even heavy scruff is an indicator that things are going down hill.  The Walking Dead folk, for example, are always scruffy, and what do they have to show for it?  Misery, squallier, and desperation.  Meanwhile, a clean shaven Charlton Heston in Omega Man and a clean shaven Will Smith in I Am Legend are living it up in penthouses, cruising in fancy cars, listening to their favorite music, plenty to eat, and living the good life.

2) A beard is bad for close combat.  While Special Forces in Afghanistan have popularized the warrior beard, when it comes to hand to hand battles you want a clean maw.  The reason?  Because the last thing you want is for a zombie to grab a handful of beard hair.  The Romans knew that (the grabbing part, zombies debatable), and it was standard that Roman soldiers would go into battle shaved so as not to give the enemy something to grab onto.

3) It’s aerodynamic.  Whether you’re running from shamblers or sprinters, cutting down on wind resistance can mean the difference between life and death. 

4) Zombies don’t shave.  Well of course they don’t, you say, so what?  Well when you’re approaching the barricades on the outskirts of a fortified encampment, that little bit of humanity might be just what you need to convince the sharpshooters your not a zed, and to hold their fire. 

5) It’s the secret to agrarian success.  With industrial society collapsing we’re headed back to the farm age.  The pinnacle of that was reached in our country in the late 1700’s.  What did George Washington, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the rest of our founding fathers have in common?  Nary a beard on them, that’s what. 

So when you’re scavenging your next burnt out store front, snag yourself some razor blades.  Civilization might be ending, but you’ve got a lot of living to do.