razor

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.

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A Closer Look at the Mach3: Going Back After DE Shaving

I’ve said from the start that I didn’t switch to double-edge (DE) shaving from a cartridge razor because I was unhappy with the shaves I was getting.  For me, the switch was almost entirely about money, and a little bit about the “cool” factor.  This week I ordered six new brands of razor blades, sort of a do-it-yourself sampler pack I cobbled together, and though it’s most expensive to order them in small quantities rather than a bulk purchase of a single brand I still only paid $15 for about 30 weeks worth of razors.  Not too shabby.

Since it will take a few days for them to arrive, it seemed like a good opportunity to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a few months: try out the Mach3.

This seems a bit silly on it’s face because I’ve used one for over a decade (with a Fusion thrown in here or there).  What don’t I know?  The answer is that while, yes, I’ve got years of experience using one, I’ve never had anything to compare it to.  Things are different now, so this week I’m using a cartridge razor again (luckily I had one laying around for the last ten or eleven months).

There likely will not be an official review of it, though I may do so if I feel so inclined.  Rather the point has been to remind myself what it is like, so I can draw better comparisons when people ask me about the difference.  Thus far I’ve noticed several things:

It feels light and cheap.  I’ve grown used to a heavier, metal razor.  Going back to plastic just feels weird and flimsy.

It’s not  much of a time saver.  The prep time remains the same, the type of razor you’re using doesn’t change whether you’re using foam from a can or mixing your own lather.  Actually shaving is slightly quicker, but making two passes the time difference is probably only a few minutes at most.

It’s easier to miss spots.  The cartridge doesn’t seem as effective at removing lather, leaving a good amount of watery slop, which makes it difficult to see spots you’ve missed.  Consequently, I ended up missing spots that I normally (but not always) get with a DE blade.

The shave is less consistent than I remember.  Some spots get wonderfully smooth, primarily my cheeks and mustache area.  But my neck and chin, where there is more definition, are a toss up.  Parts are smooth, others have a fair amount of stubble remaining even after a two pass shave.  It’s not a bad shave, it’s perfectly suitable for a day, but it is by no means great.

Finally, it just doesn’t feel as good.  The shave itself is dull and simple, while the stubble that’s left and whiskers that grow back feel…weird.  Whereas DE shaving results in a scruff that feels like a good sandpaper, the Mach3 results in a pokey, inconsistent sharpness.  It’s not uncomfortable, but it’s noticeably different and not in a good way.

My thoughts thus far are decidedly “eh.”  While I didn’t switch to DE shaving because I was unhappy with the shave or the experience I was getting from a cartridge, those seeds have now been planted.  Having been where the grass is both greener and cheaper (though admittedly more difficult to get to, simply because few grocery or drug stores carry the items in any variety, if at all), I’m simply not impressed with the results I’m getting.  I’ll certainly use cartridges in the future, they do have some advantages and I don’t hate them.  Plus, there’s a heck of a lot of variety out there so maybe some other brands or models are better. 

But I now have another reason to keep using a DE razor, for me they simply shave better.

Breaking in New Blades

Occasionally you realize something that, in hind sight, you should have realized months before. Today was one of those days.

Since I started shaving with a safety razor I assumed that the first day shaving with a new blade would be the best opportunity to shave well with it. That each blade begain at optimal sharpness and smoothness, with each subsequent shave degrading the blade.

This morning it hit me like a lightning bolt: like many tools and machines, some blades need to be broken in.

Sunday has always been new blade day, and I figured it would be my best shave. But as I was pondering during this morning’s deforestation, I realized that Sunday shaves usually don’t feel the best. In fact, its usually not until Monday or Tuesday that the shaves feel closest and most comfortable.

Though this will take more observation, but I’m now believing that some blades peak around day two or three before declining on shave quality. While this may seem trivial, figuring this out will mean that if there is a big event to prepare for, such as a wedding, interview, date, etc, prior planning will help provide the highest quality shave by coordinating peak blade condition.

This really should not be as interesting as it is, but I’m kinda geeking out!

The Experiment

In November of 2013 I bought my first double-edge (DE) safety razor.

Unlike cartridge razors, which are intended to only use one of a couple blade types designed by whichever company made the handle, DE razors accept blades that might come from any of dozens of manufacturers.  Some of those blades are new, some have been around for decades, and different blades will give you a different shaving experience. 

I grew up shaving with a Mach 3, and so this was a whole new world to me.  I’d never had to worry about what type of blade I was getting, what the differences were, or finding the right combination of blade and razor to fit my face.  The handle went into the cartridge, and that was it.  Cuts were virtually non-existent, and I almost never even bothered with shaving creme, much less aftershave or any other shave treatments.  Shaving was because I had to (either for work, school, or some other reason), that was it.

At the recommendation of a friend who was already into DE shaving, after a month or so of figuring things out I picked up a razor blade sampler pack.  Since there are so many type of blades out there, sampler packs allow you to try just a few blades of a collection of brands so you can figure out what works best for you.  For a newcomer like me this was ideal, as I had almost no idea what brands even existed, much less which ones were good.

So for $15 I got a pack that included 46 blades from eight different brands, and last week I began my attempt to work my way through them.  With each blade lasting a week (they could be pushed to last longer without much problem, but a week seems like a good standard to go by), it’ll take me months to complete. 

In addition to documenting my shaving adventure, I’ll also include posts from time to time on various other aspects of my introduction to a new way of shaving: how I selected my razor, switching to homemade lather rather than shaving creme, what type of materials I’m using (shave soap, lather, brush, etc), and whatever else.

I’m figuring this out as I go, so we’ll see what happens along the way.

My starting tools:

Edwin Jagger De89L razor:

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Col. Conk shaving soap and badger hair brush:

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And razor sampler pack, purchased from bullgooseshaving.com

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Let the journey begin!