Month: August 2014

Getting Myself a Shave Bowl

One of the first things I thought when I started DE wet shaving was that I needed to pick up a shaving bowl.  I had no idea what they did or how they worked, but it seemed like something I would need…I guess.

Subsequently, that was one of the first misconceptions about wet shaving that I found myself corrected on.  As it turns out, a shaving bowl isn’t necessary at all.

For months I simply lathered directly on my hand or face.  It wasn’t until I had worked my way through my first shave soap puck and needed to melt it down that I got around to actually trying a bowl out.  What I found was that while I wasn’t using it for building a lather, it did help significantly with loading the brush with soap.  So when it came time to get more soap I decided to find myself a bowl (my wife, ever patient with my commandeering the dishware, gently requested that I find an alternative container).

Shaving bowls can run for $10-15 or more online, but being cheap I had no desire to pay that much.  Instead, I hit up Wal-Mart and got this one for a dollar:

It came in several colors, I picked red because I thought it looked best.

It came in several colors, I picked red because I thought it looked best.

Is it specially intended for shaving?  No, but it fits perfectly in my hand, is a great depth and width for a brush, and oh yes, it costs a dollar.

I’ve never used shaving cream from a tube, which is usually then mixed in a bowl before application.  Nor do I use a bowl much for lathering, as I mentioned.  So what do I use the shave bowl for?  Loading the brush, which is getting the soap into the brush and bristles so that when you try and lather you have something to work with, is one of the most important steps in a good shave.  You can load directly off a free standing block of soap, and I did so for many months.  But I’ve found a bowl to be helpful, and so that’s what I decided to use it for.

First I molded the soap into the bowl.  The most universal method of this is, from what I am told, using a hand cranked grater to shred the soap, then packing it by hand.  However, if you know that the soap can be melted in a microwave (not all can or should) then you can save yourself a lot of time.  I decided to use Col. Conk’s Almond soap, I’ve melted their Bayrum scented soap before without problem so I assumed that the Almond would work just as well.

Though my experience remains limited, Col. Conk's has been my favorite shaving soap thus far.

Though my experience remains limited, Col. Conk’s has been my favorite shaving soap.

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Step 1: Put soap in the bowl.

Once the soap is in the bowl I used short bursts in the microwave to soften and melt the soap without cooking or bubbling it.  Eventually, in a minute or two, it liquified.

You don't have to cool it off, it does that on it's own, but I decided to put it in a bowl of cool water to help speed things up.

You don’t have to cool it off, it does that on it’s own, but I decided to put it in a bowl of cool water to help speed things up.

Once it cooled I had a full puck’s worth of soap in the bowl, ready for use.  Having used it for several weeks now, I can report that the bowl has been working great!  While a specialty bowl might bring some additional benefits, and melting it into the bowl means that until I use all of the soap the bowl is tied up (reducing its use if I feel like more soap variety), the low cost and ease of acquiring (as opposed to ordering online) makes it a welcome investment and tool in my growing shaving kit.

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Shaving Fail: A Harsh Lesson in Grain

Whenever I see old pictures or movies about pre-Wright brothers flying machines, usually some bizarre creation that seems to have no chance of working, I wonder to myself, “what were they thinking?”  Of course the answer is simple, they were thinking it would work.  Having grown up knowing what airplanes, helicopters, and rockets look like I have information that they didn’t.  What they had was what they thought was a good idea, right up to the time that they decided to try it out.

The other week I had a good idea.

Why, I asked myself, when shaving across the grain, do I always start at the ear and go toward the chin?  What if I started at the chin, and shaved toward the neck?  Perhaps all this time I’ve been missing out on an ideal shave technique, getting closer shave with less irritation!

I owed it to myself to try, so one morning I lathered up and when it came time to shave across the grain I put metal to skin and gave it a try.

The results were instantly terrible.  I could feel the blade gripping and pulling, a rough uneven resistance coming from my skin.  With trepidation I finished the side, and with blood already beginning to form the experiment was called off nearly as soon as it had begun.

The results were conclusive.  On your left is shaving from chin to ear, on your right is shaving from ear to chin.

Oh mama, look what King Gillette has done to your boy...

Oh mama, look what King Gillette has done to your boy…

So, I will no longer be shaving in the direction of my chin to my ear.  I don’t have to learn that lesson twice!

After Action Report: The Great Shave Experiment

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

On Friday of last week an eight month experiment came to an official end: I had used each of the razors in my sampler pack for at least four weeks, and tracked my experience through dozens of written posts.

Along the way I’ve learned a lot, some of which is particular to what works for me, and some which would benefit anyone. Tiny refinements have been made, as well as major changes (for example, I started using one side of the razor on one day, switching sides with each day so, whereas now I use both sides during a shave so that the wear is more even).

And yet, it’s not really over.

Now would be a great time to walk away from things. I’ll keep shaving of course, but having set out with a goal that has now been accomplished it would be easy to declare success and perhaps turn my energy elsewhere.

But I’m having too much fun to do that, so instead I’m going to keep going until I lose interest or time to keep it up.  Because why not?  I still have to shave, I’m still going to be using a double-edge razor, and I’ll still be looking for new and enjoyable shave supplies.  Might as well document it for the fine folk of the internet.

(I guess this means I should update my “About” section.)

Review II: Feather Hi-Stainless

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When I first tried Feather razor blades I was nervous.  They came with a reputation for sharpness, and are considered one of the best blades you can buy.  I hadn’t had any major shaving incidents, and I didn’t want to start.  But they impressed me so much, and gave a shave so enjoyable, that they were probably the best I’d used thus far.  With this second round of testing, and with some blades that I remembered loving suddenly falling short, I was again nervous, this time that a blade I thought so highly of wouldn’t live up to what I remembered.

To its credit, Feather didn’t disappoint.

Once again I found myself enjoying closer shaves and with less irritation than I have in weeks.  Whether two day growth or daily shaves for work, it did its job well.  So well in fact, that as I begin to look for new blade sampler packs to try it is one of only a couple blades that I’m planning to keep on hand.

The other blade?  Derby, oddly enough. 

That’s something I don’t understand.  Feather is considered one of the sharpest blades out there, best for once you know what you’re doing, while Derby is often seen as a starter blade.  A great start for new shavers.  Yet these two are perhaps the only two that haven’t disappointed me yet. 

I don’t know why this is, but I do know that I like them.  Feather has treated me well, I’m loving the work it does, and it will have a spot in my shave supplies for a long time to come.

Cold Water Shave: That’s Brisk

A short update today, tapped out as I go to work.

Many shave guides extol the warm water shave as the only way to go, and admittedly, I normally use warm water as well. But today I was feeling like something a little different, something cool and crisp after my morning run and for a warm summer day.

Lathered with warm water like normal, using Proraso soap. Proraso has a cool tingle to it to begin with, and I thought it would go well with the cold shave. I ran the Feather blade in my razor under cold water, then got to work.

The cold metal combined with the Proraso was a great combination, once the air hit a newly shaved spot it felt like an autumn morning. I’d run the razor under warm water to break up the soap, then once clean I’d run it back under cold to get it ready for skin.

Two passes left me feeling great, then some spice aftershave to give a warming kicker. Perfect.

Headed into work now feeling great, smooth face and no irritation.

Razor Upkeep: Dealing With Buildup

The other week I had a dream where I was an action hero, but my gun wouldn’t work because the slide hadn’t been oiled and the recoil spring was too weak.  To some that might seem weird, to me it made sense: while I’m not a neat freak, I’m the kind of guy who likes to keep my things in good working order.  

So it became a personal irritation last April when I discovered that the screw which holds the razor head to the handle was getting some buildup on the threads.  I don’t know if it was calcium or other minerals from the water, soap residue that was accumulating, or both, but there was a hard, white, rocky junk showing up. 

It's hard to see it, darn phone cameras, but if you look near the top you can see a white haze on the metal.  It's worse in the thread.

It’s hard to see it, darn phone cameras, but if you look near the top you can see a white haze on the metal. It’s worse in the thread.

I tried scrubbing, Q-tips, and toothpicks, trying to get it off without damaging the the metal.  Nothing was working.  By July I was beginning to have trouble threading the head, so I decided it was time to take action. 

I found a possible solution in the book “Leisure Guy’s Guide to Gourmet Shaving,” which is an excellent source of wet shaving information, written by Michael Ham.  In a section on cleaning second hand razors he suggested soaking razor parts in a room temperature, a 1:4 part vinegar/water solution for one to two hours to loosen deposits. 

I figured it was worth a shot.  I tossed the razor head in a bowl, added the 1:4 part solution, and wandered off.  I checked in on it thirty minutes later, and was delighted to find a sparkling (and gunk free) razor head.

Again, darn cell phone pictures, but I assure you the stuff is now gone and it looks good as new.

Again, darn cell phone pictures, but I assure you the stuff is now gone and it looks good as new.

The mixture worked like gang busters.  If I have anymore buildup on the screw threads, I now know how to fix it.

Review II: Shark Super Stainless

Shark Super Stainless

Shark Super Stainless

Eight months ago, as I first began testing different kinds of razor blades, I tried Shark Super Stainless for the first time.  Previously I had only ever used Derby blades, which gave me quite a good shave and which I had learned DE safety razor shaving with.  Moving on to the Sharks felt like a graduation, and the shaves felt incredible.  I seriously considered just ordering a pack of 100 and stopping the test right then.

I have now cycled through the rest of the sampler pack twice over (save the Feathers, which will be tested a second time over the next couple weeks), and I specifically saved the Sharks until last so I could both try them head to head with the Feathers, and so I could test them again with much more experience than the first time.

Alas, how the mighty have fallen.

For the last two weeks my shaves have been disappointing.  Inconsistent.  Not at all what I remembered them being.  Even on the best days the shaves were only good, not great.  Most days were average, and there were one or two that really weren’t good at all.  At the same time the razors seemed to dull quicker than I remembered, making for a rapidly declining experience during the week.

I have several theories on why this might be:

1) User issues.  It’s possible I’m just not shaving as well as I was eight months ago, and so regardless of the equipment the shaves will be worse.  This might be the issue, but seems unlikely.  While I might have been in a funk, I don’t think I would have gotten so noticeably worse at this.

2) Bad blades.  The blades I used before might have simply been better blades, and the ones I used this time weren’t as good quality.  This also seems unlikely though, as they came out of the same pack.  Different packs in a big box?  Sure.  But to have three good blades, then two bad ones?  That raises an eyebrow.

3) My expectations have changed as my experience has gone up, and the novelty of safety razor shaving has gone down.  That’s not to say I’m disliking shaving like this, quite the opposite.  But as I’ve grown more accustomed to it the perhaps now I’m not as willing to overlook some things, and take more notice of others.  With other razors to compare it to, perhaps now they don’t seem as special.

I’m leaning toward #3, as you can probably tell from how I discounted the other two but not that one.  Whatever the reason though, the Shark Stainless just didn’t do it for me this time.  I’m disappointed about that, I really liked them and also happened to think the packaging was entertaining.

But that’s the way these things go.  Perhaps I’ll swing back toward them in time.  Maybe I love them in winter, but not in summer.  Who knows?  In the meanwhile I’ll keep looking, and maybe our paths will cross again.