razor blade

Horse Hair Shaving Brush- A Superior Way to Lather

Once upon a time, about a hundred years ago, horse hair shaving brushes were common.  Which made sense, with the automobile still ascending horses were much more common, and the rise of shaving with the advent of the safety razor meant that affordable shaving brushes were rising in demand.  That changed dramatically during World War I, when outbreaks of anthrax traced to horse hair shaving brushes resulted in public health investigations and drove away customers. 

Yes, I said anthrax.

Badger, boar, and synthetic brushes now rule the market.  But horse hair is still available, and for the last several months I’ve been using one.  I’m a happy convert, it’s been a great brush and I have no desire to go back.

The brush I’ve been using is this one, the Vie-Long 04312 Professional, which retails for about $20 on Amazon:

Fingers not included.

Fingers not included.

Horse hair brushes tend to cost less than badger brushes, meaning that you can get great quality for less money.  I would think the cost has to do with there being a lot more hair to a horse than to your average badger, but I really have no idea.  Whatever the reason, if you’re looking for an inexpensive shaving brush these are a great option.

The brushes take hair from the mane and tail of the horse, with mine being 25% from the mane and 75% tail (I’ve seen some info saying that it may be 50/50), the difference being that mane hair tends to be softer so when you combine them you get a good mix of soft but firm.  Unlike badger hair brushes, where the badgers are commonly killed in the process (most badger fur comes from parts of Asia where badger meat is eaten), horses aren’t harmed in the trimming process.  So if that’s something that’s important to you, then this is the better option of the two.

My first impression of the brush was that the bristles felt stiffer than my badger brush, but with use they have softened somewhat with use.  My second impression, upon wetting the brush, was the smell.  Be warned: horse hair has a funk to it.  My dog wanted desperately to eat the brush for the first few days, but after three or four days of use the smell washed out.

The most important part of a brush is, of course, how well it lathers, and there the brush has truly shined.  In my experience, the horse hair holds water as well or better than badger hair.  What that means is that the lather doesn’t dry out as quickly, staying moist on the brush and moist on your face.  In fact, using the horse hair brush has made switching back to a badger a bit difficult, as I’m finding that my water/soap ratio doesn’t work as well.

I’ve always lathered directly on my face, and the slightly stiffer brush works well for a paintbrush style application.  The stiffer bristles seem to pick up soap faster than a badger, and while the bristles aren’t so stiff that it’s uncomfortable or scratching they retain their shape well during lathering. Clean up takes slightly longer, as soap seems to want to hide deep in the bristles more than with badger and it seems to take longer to dry.  But the difference is at most marginal.

Horse on the left, badger on the right.

Horse on the left, badger on the right.

Based on the last several months of use, in my opinion horse hair is the superior product.  I still have my badger hair brush hanging right next to my razor, and I still use and enjoy it frequently.  But the horse hair seems to do the job better, while at the same time costing less money.  It lathers well, feels great, and in my opinion looks better.  I’m sold.

New York Shaving Company

We visited New York City a few weeks ago for my first time, where a combination of freezing cold and steady rain promptly derailed our plan to do an urban hike through Manhattan.  Finding ourselves at Grand Central Terminal with several hours to kill before a Broadway play, we quickly found ourselves running out of things to see within dry and easy walking distance.  Spotting a nearby shaving place on the Google map, and being blessed with a wife who cheerfully encouraged our visiting it, we found ourselves outside the New York Shaving Company.

Having gone to a couple other dedicated shaving stores I knew somewhat to expect, to my delight I found it to be the best brick-and-mortar shaving store I have visited.

Look at all that stuff!

Look at all that stuff!

Like most other shaving stores two big highlights of New York Shaving are their own line of shaving products, and an in house luxury shaving experience.  I wasn’t able to sample either on this visit, so I can’t speak to their quality, but what I can speak to is the wide range of retail shaving products they had on sale.

Using Art of Shaving as an example, as they are the most numerous shave store around, something you’ll notice is that outside their own product line  their selection is actually quite limited.  They usually have a handful of DE razors for sale, and one or two brands of blades.  Third party shaving creams, soaps, etc, are not an option.

New York Shaving Company went the other direction.  With numerous double-edge razors for sale, third party shaving products, and over a dozen brands of double-edge razors, it was a great one stop shop for a shaving enthusiast.  With more options than I had money for, I finally settled on a pack of Treet Classic (which I spoke about last week) and a pack of Treet “Black beauty” razor blades, which may have been a decorative item but which they sold me anyway.

Guess which one is the "Classic" pack!

Guess which one is the “Classic” pack!

The staff was very friendly, and really tried to help me find something I’d enjoy.  If there is one downside it’s that the prices are noticeably higher than what you can get online.  But what do you expect when it’s a physical location in the heart of NYC, and they’ve got rent and salaries to pay?  The cost, while high, is thus understandable; were I to live within easy access of the store I would happily shell out a few extra bucks to get my supplies there if it meant I had a local, on demand source for my shaving whims.

So if you’re in Grand Central Terminal with nothing to do for an hour or so, see the New York Library.  But if you’ve seen it and STILL have time to kill, check out the New York Shaving Company.  I highly recommend them.

Review: Treet Classic

Totally not taken on the sleeve of my hoodie!

Totally not taken on the sleeve of my hoodie!

When I was a boy and we’d go to get fast food I got in the habit of making a point that I wanted a “Coke Classic.”  While this was in the height of the cola wars of the early nineties, it was well after the great debacle that was New Coke, a product I was around for but which I have no memory of.  All I knew was that the sign listed it as “Coke Classic,” and while I didn’t know what was “classic” about it that was what I wanted (my dad, being a Pepsi guy himself, patiently waited for me to outgrow my youthful silliness.)

I have no idea what makes the Treet Classic “classic.”  Perhaps it is because it is made of carbon steel like the Treet Durasharp, which remains a niche portion of an already niche market.  With most double-edge shavers using stainless steel blades, the Treet Classic does stand as a traditional material in an already traditional field, but if there’s a reason for the name beyond that I’m not aware of it.

The Durasharp is one of my favorite blades, so I was excited to give the Classic a try.  Having now tried them both, I find the comparison between them to be similar to the Shark Stainless and the Shark Chrome:  I’m not sure there is one.

That’s not to say I didn’t perceive a difference, I did.  The Classic seemed to be just slightly less sharp, slightly less smooth, slightly more rusty at the end of the week, and slightly less long lasting.  It gave me great shaves, both in the experience and the result, but I found myself feeling several times like it was almost where I wanted it to be, but not quite.

It’s close enough however that it’s entirely possible the differences I noticed were entirely perception rather than actual.  Whatever difference there is, they are darn close.  While I like the Durasharps slightly more I’d pick the Classic over most stainless blades any day.  There’s something about carbon steel that just feels good, and while blades like the Feather give excellent, enjoyable shaves I’m finding myself more and more in the carbon steel camp.

And sometimes I’m not.  When given the choice I still will sometimes pick Coke, other times Pepsi.  One weird summer RC Cola even caught my eye (I grew out of it quickly).  I’m happy to have a foot in both camps, and the same will go for razor blades.

While the Durasharp might be slightly better in my mind, I’m glad that I now have another great carbon steel option to choose from.  If part of the reason to switch from cartridge blades to double-edge is because of the increase in variety of products, and unique tailoring of experience to the individual, there’s no reason to close any door that you don’t have to.  I suspect that the Treet Classic will have a safe place in my shaving supply for quite a while…unless I use them all first.

Reevaluating Personna Razor Blades

When I was a boy I once asked for roast beef on my sandwich, entirely because that’s what one of pigs in the popular nursery rhyme had. I hated it, refused to eat it, and wouldn’t touch the stuff for a couple decades. It’s now one if my favorites.

That tastes change is no secret, everyone knows it happens with time. What I didn’t expect was to get a lesson in how rapidly that can happen.

Personna Platinum Chrome blades were not well received the last two times I tried them, and I had written them off as not for me. But being a penny pincher, when faced with either throwing out blades I didn’t like or using them up I went with the latter and so I found myself using them for a third try.

To my surprise I found myself enjoying every shave with them. The shave were close, smooth, and consistent, and each morning I found myself increasingly satisfied. By the end of the week a blade I had little regard for had earned itself new found respect.

What changed? Was it my technique? Lather? Skill? I don’t know, but I like the results.

My Top 3 Blades

For as much fun as trying out a host of razor blades has been, the underlying purpose hasn’t been to experiment for experimentation’s sake, but to find what blades worked best for me before I bought anything in bulk. While numerous brands remain untested, with over a dozen now under my belt I’m prepared to make a few determinations.  My favorite blades:

1) Treet Dura-Sharp- Made of Carbon Steel, I absolutely love these blades.  They have a lot going for them.  They are sharp, long lasting, and though they aren’t stainless steel I’ve had no problems with rust.  While I don’t think they are quite as sharp or smooth as Feather blades, for reasons I have a hard time describing I simply enjoy shaving with them more.  The best way I can describe it is that the tool that does the job best is not always the most fun to use, and with the results so close the difference for me, while noticeable, is negligible.  When I want an enjoyable shave, they have become my go to blade.

2) Feather- You will not see a list of best or favorite blades on the internet without someone bringing up Feather, I have not seen any other blade with so many advocates.  When you try it out, it’s easy to see why.  The shaves are sharp, smooth, and consistent.  I’ve never had irritation with them, and whether it’s a job interview or wedding they have become my choice for my closest, best looking shave.  While I found the Durasharps more enjoyable, the Feathers are a close second and give a superior result.

3a) Now I’m going to cheat a bit, while the post is titled my three favorite blades the #3 spot is actually a tie between two.  First, the Gillette Silver Blue.  Nearly as sharp, smooth feeling, and irritation free as the Feather, and nearly as fun to shave with as the Durasharp, they are an excellent blade that falls just short of being the best.  It’s what’s in my razor right now, and I’ve been enjoying it all week.  The blade doesn’t do anything wrong, it just falls slightly short of others.  If I only had them from here on out, I would be in great shape.

3b) Derby- Perhaps it’s because they are what I learned to use a double-edge razor with, but Derbys remain one of my favorite blades.  They waned some once I branched out, but the more I try other razor blades the more I’ve come to appreciate the great job these guys do.  While not nearly as sharp as the other blades on this list, they give me a close and enjoyable shave that feels great all day long.

The only bad thing about any of these blades is that so long as they’re in stock my other razor blades just don’t get used.

Review: Gillette Super Thin

The thought has troubled me from time to time that perhaps I am too nice in my reviews.  I generally have good things to say about what I use, and while I like some things more than others I tend to come away with positive impressions even if I’m not going to want to use it again.  Perhaps, I’ve wondered, this undermines my other opinions by making almost everything a shade of wonderful.

Let me be perfectly clear regarding Gillette Super Thin razor blades: I hated them.

The offending party.

The offending party.

Manufactured in Vietnam, from what I can tell, and wrapped in paper that is actually an advertisement for a Gillette cartridge razor, I had heard good things about their sharpness and mild nature.  I don’t know if they are actually thinner than any other razor blade, I can’t measure that minutely, but I came into them looking forward to giving it a try (especially after just shaving the beard).

Shaving with them an uncomfortable, bordering on painful, experience.  When shaving with the grain it felt like there was a burr in the razor blade, while parts would seemingly glide over the skin there would always be a spot that seemed to be digging in.  Both blade edges, multiple blades, it was always there.  There was never any physical indication afterward that this was happening, so there seems to be no lasting harm, but it wasn’t fun at the time.  Across the grain seemed more normal, and against the grain seemed on the low end of average.

The quality of shave seemed to be average.  Neither the worst I’ve had, nor the best.  I will give them credit in that I never noticed any irritation, despite the discomfort while using them.  No rash, burn, or nicks.  But other blades have had similar smoothness, while lacking the outright discomfort of use.

The result is that they have made it onto the very short list of blades I actively dislike.  I might try them again in a few months, to see if the negative experience was a result of just being out of practice.  Or I might not.  Gillette makes blades that treat me much better, namely the 7 O’Clock Sharpedge and the Silver Blue, so if I am done with the Super Thin I won’t lose any sleep.

Oh Christmas beard, oh Christmas beard…

My wife jokes that when we were first dating and first married she could tell the day of the week by my beard, I’d shave on Sunday for church and then grew it through the week.  While she has been nothing but supportive of this bizarre shaving endeavor, she has at times expressed an interest in me growing something again.  For the Christmas vacation I decided to give her what she wanted and on the 19th the beard began its return.

But that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped shaving completely, and for the last two weeks I’ve been working to keep my face from being an uncultivated wild.  For the first week or so, due to us traveling for the holidays, I pulled out the Dollar Shave Club razor they sent me a couple months back.

It was terrible, and here’s why:

When I was a kid my dad wisely made me mow the lawn on Saturday.  He also wanted me to edge the lawn, but I would usually just go over it with the mower and figure it was good (eventually we worked out a compromise where I would mow and he would edge).

Trying to use the DSC razor to fine trim a beard was like trying to use the mower to edge the lawn, it’s just not the right tool for the job.  The razor is great and cutting down lots of hair quickly and without hassle, much like a lawn mower.  But the cartridge head is large, the razor is bulky for anything other than simple passes, and the cutting edge is shrouded for safety’s sake so it is hard to see exactly where the shaving begins and ends.

Once we got back I switched to my DE razor, loaded with a Wilkinson Sword blade (which I thought would be good enough, but not so nice that I dislike using it for so small a job).  Much, much better.  I can see the razor so I can fine tune exactly what is getting shaved, it’s easier to maneuver, and since it shaves closer the line is more defined.  Excellent.

As I’ve watched the beard grow slowly back in, and as I find myself increasingly anticipating shaving it off, I’ve taken the time to reflect: in the last year I’ve tried six shaving creams, three aftershaves, three razors, and a dozen different razor blades.  I’ve liked most of them to some degree, disliked a few, and really enjoyed a small handful.  My top three favorite blades have been Feather, Gillette Silver Blue, and Treet Dura-Sharp, and it’s a close call between them for who’s in first.  So close in fact that I really can’t say, I’ll have to put them head-to-head.

With the new year having arrived I find myself wondering what the future holds.  I don’t know that this time next year I’ll still be writing about shaving, but then again, I wouldn’t have thought a year ago I would now have written over a hundred pages on the subject.

We shall see what happens.  In the mean while, I’ll keep shaving.

Review: Wilkinson Sword

Why shave with a knife, when you can shave with a sword?

Why shave with a knife, when you can shave with a sword?

In hind sight, maybe I shouldn’t have put that question in the picture caption.  It would have gone well at the start of the article.  Oh well, absolutely not too late now, but we’re moving forward.

Wilkinson Sword is one of the biggest shaving companies in the world, but you probably know them by another name: Schick.  For reasons that I’m sure make sense to someone, Wikipedia says company is marketed as Schick in North America, Australia, Asia, and Russia, and Wilkinson Sword everywhere else. As I have been unable to find any Schick labeled double-edge razors, it would seem that portion of their market is handled exclusively through the Sword portion.

But I digress. 

The Sword has been a  good razor blade.  I encountered some roughness on the first shave or two, but once broken in it gave a decent shave through the rest of the week.  I did notice is that they seemed harder to clean off, the soap and hair seemed to want to stick to the blade a bit, and the first shave almost felt dull compared to what they did after a day or two of use.  But the shaves were close, even, and consistent throughout the week. 

And…average.  While it was a good shave, I really can’t think of any thing that stands out about them except that few other razors had as little irritation as it did.  But since very few double-edge razors give me significant irritation, it’s really a marginal benefit.

They’re good blades, I’ll give them that.  But while there wasn’t anything really bad about them, I don’t find myself having a desire to keep using them. 

Review: Perma-Sharp Super

That's not punctuation I recognize...

That’s not punctuation I recognize…

After shaving with the Perma-Sharps for two weeks I’m still not sure how I feel about them, though it’s entirely possible that by the time I finish writing this review I’ll have talked myself into one opinion or another. 

It’s an odd blade.  The store I bought them from says they are made by Procter & Gamble, but they don’t bear the Gillette trade name which P&G owns.  They are manufactured in Russia with an English name, which isn’t unusual unto itself, except that the package then has what Google translate tells me is Turkish printed right on the front.  And when it comes to shaving, it’s one of the few blades that have really grown on me.

Most of the time if I’m going to like a blade I can tell pretty quickly.  With the Perma-Sharp it was very different.  My first shave with it left much to be desired, the next day continued to be unimpressive.  But by the third day I found much of what I disliked disappearing.  By the fourth day those things weren’t even noticeable.  By the fifth I had figured I just had a bad start. 

Then I changed blades, and it was back to square one.  Once again though by the third day or so it was shaving great and I was happy with it. 

I’ve had blades that required a bit of time to break in before, I even wrote a blog post about it.  But I’ve never had one with such a steep and noticeable curve.  The first couple shaves the blade felt rough, uneven, pulling and tugging when it should be cleanly cutting.  But after a shave or two this had vanished, replaced by a reliable, sharp, consistent blade.  In fact, by the end of the week I hadn’t noticed a decline in sharpness or shave quality.  It was living up to it’s name.

Hence my uncertainty about it.  On one hand, for the first shave or two I simply didn’t enjoy it.  By about Tuesday it was doing well, and it was a pleasure the rest of the week.

Next time I use them I’m going to try out a trick I’ve heard about, that if you run an overly aggressive razor through a cork that it will even out the edge and give a more comfortable shave.  Perhaps that will do the trick.  For now, when I get critical about it I remember how smooth and sharp it felt during a time of the week that many razors struggle, but I can’t ignore the rough few days at the beginning. 

Dollar Shave Club Review- The Whole Kit and Caboodle

Journalistic integrity requires a writer to say when they are reviewing a product whether they paid for it or it was given to them for review, that way people are aware whether there has been inducement.

What they sent me.

What they sent me.  Apparently the razor they sent is the four bladed “Lover’s Blade.”

Or something like that, I think.  I’m not a journalist, and I have no idea what their ethical standards happen to be.  I just write a blog, and if companies want to send me stuff then so be it.  Which Dollar Shave Club (DSC) did, and so here’s my unvarnished opinion on it:

If I didn’t already own a double-edge (DE) razor I would seriously consider getting a subscription.

To get the full experience I decided to go all in: DSC shaving butter, razors, and after shave moisturizer (I’ll review the shave butter and moisturizer as part of DE shaving next week).  While the heart of the DSC marketing strategy is selling razor cartridges for cheaper than what you can get Gillette or Schick in stores, and the razor is the most important part of a shave, I’d heard good things about the shave butter and I wanted to judge it with all factors leaning in it’s favor (I went into it skeptical, and I didn’t want any bias against cartridge razors to tip things too much).

The razor itself seems to be solidly built, perhaps more so than a Mach3.  The weight feels heavier, and the cartridge seems to fit more securely to the handle, giving it an overall feel of being higher quality.  Where it falls short is the ergonomic design they have tried to put into it, while it works well for shaving downward if you try to hold the razor to shave across the grain or against the grain the ergonomic curves made it awkward for me to hold.  In that regard the Mach 3, with it’s straighter handle, feels better for those passes, though your mileage may vary.

At first I wasn’t very impressed with the shave results.  I started with a two day growth, and the shave I got was, at best, adequate.  Without careful attention it was easy to miss spots, making the shave as long as what it normally takes with a DE razor.  It took two to three passes, with, across, and against the grain, to get a close shave, which sort of seems to defeat the point of a multi-blade razor.  Additionally, the size of the four razor head made it difficult to get right under my nose, and there’s no single blade trimmer on it.  However after a couple days of shaving I found the results improving noticeably, which might mean that some of the above problems were user related.  Within a few days I was getting consistently good shaves, which while not as close as what a DE razor offers were still rather good.

The shave butter itself seems similar to the shaving cream sold by Trader Joe’s, which worried me a bit at first because when I’ve tried the Trader Joe stuff it (though working well shave wise) had a tendency to clog up my razor.  Either the two products are different or I just didn’t notice it this time, because I had no clogging problems with the shave butter.  With some hot water it washed out well, and I found that a single application of shave butter was often enough for two or three passes.

The moisturizer took some getting used to.  I’ve never used a lotion or moisturizer consistently, and I found the instructions to apply liberally to have been misleading: don’t.  A little bit goes a long way, and after using the shave butter it generally took a few moments to really soak in.  My face would feel slick, almost oily for several hours afterward, and if I worked out within a few hours of applying the sweat would seem to mix with whatever the moisturizer had left to make it feel like it had just been applied.  Perhaps this is a just what having moisturized skin feels like.  If it’s not for you, of course, you could always just use a regular aftershave and not order it when you get the razor.

The results have been that after a couple days use I found myself getting good shaves with no irritation.  The skin butter seems to work well with the razor, the razor seems to shave as well as any other cartridge blade, and the moisturizer seems to do it’s job of cooling and soothing any potential burn spots. 

However, I don’t see myself signing up for it.  Were I still using a cartridge razor, then this would be an extremely attractive offer.  Cartridges are extremely expensive, and the idea of having new razors for dirt cheap along with shaving lather and aftershave stuff shipped right to the door sounds like a heck of a deal.  But at the end of the day the shaves, though quite good, were just…dull.  Not the razors themselves, mind you, those were quite sharp.  Rather the lack of skill involved, the lack of effort required, it made the experience an extremely easy and effective chore, but a chore non-the-less.  Within a few days I found myself missing my DE, not simply because of the shave it gives, but because I missed the detail, the effort, and the satisfaction that comes from seeing the fruits of your own labor. 

Cartridge razors simply don’t offer that, and while DSC gives a good shave it’s too simple for my taste.  That said, if you’re goal is simply to get a close, clean, irritation free shave, then this is right up your ally.  It’s a solid setup, and the price is hard to argue with.  At just a few bucks a month it is considerably higher than a safety razor (DSC advertizes on Facebook that it’s razors cost $4 a month, which can get you half a year or more of safety razor blades), but substantially less than if you bought Gillette cartridges in the same amount.  If safety razors aren’t for you but you still want to put a hurt on that scruff, then this seems like a good option.