safety razor

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.

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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.

The Great Shave

Several years ago I walked into a small model train shop in Mobile, AL, wherein I found an extraordinary display.  Everything was meticulous, an incredible example of time, dedication, and attention detail.  I asked the clerk about it, and he told me that it was built by him and another enthusiast.  Reflecting on the other guy, he chuckled and remarked, “we were working one day on this, and he was using a jeweler’s eyepiece and a dental pick to paint pupils on a model duck.  He suddenly stopped, set down his tools, looked at me and said, ‘what on earth am I doing?’  He got up, waked out, and he never came back.” 

Hobbies have a way of swallowing your time, what begins as a distraction becomes an interest, an interest becomes a routine, and soon enough, if you find yourself immersed.  So found I at the end of last year, and Christmas afforded me a welcome opportunity to step away for a while.  So I grew a beard.

About week three.

About week three.

I make no claim to being the world’s best beard grower, but by five weeks it was thick enough to fairly claim that I was no longer “growing” a beard, but rather “had” one.  Long enough to be soft, as well as troublesome while eating.  School returned and I found myself rested, not just from my work but from my hobbies.  I was ready to get back into the routine. A wise and prudent man probably would have used some clippers to trim things down to stubble length, then clean it up with normal shaving. 

I am not that man.

Instead, I made ready to do battle on a scale never before attempted…by me.  I chose my tools carefully:  For lather, I went with Proraso green.  It’s a good, thick lather, and I hoped that the menthol would help alleviate any razor burn that the heavy work might cause.  For a blade I picked Treet Dura-Sharp.  Carbon steel and one of my favorites, it holds a strong, sharp edge.  It would only need to last one shave, but it would be a big one. 

With that as a start I softened things with warm water, then lathered up.  I don’t know that I’ve ever used more lather at once than I did then, working it from multiple angles to make sure it didn’t just gather on the outside but worked down to the skin.  Once ready, with razor in hand, I went to work.

The biggest problem I would have became rapidly apparent: there was so much hair that the razor quickly gummed up.  Hot water did the trick for that, by breaking down the soap binding the stubble together I was able to clean out the razor with a little effort but each pass quickly made a new mess.  With the deftness and subtle of a Cub Scout with a hatchet, I hacked away.

It took four passes to get things set right.  Two with the grain, the first to get to clear the hair, the second to clear the stubble.  Once across the grain, and a final pass with the grain to get things nice and smooth.  To wrap things up I first used a spice aftershave to tighten the skin, then a splash of Lucky Tiger face tonic to cool things off.

Remarkably, irritation was at most mild, and only noticeable when I’d rub a certain part of my neck.  The beard was gone (to some disappointment to my wife), and I was ready to get back in the grove.  I’ve grown to love my shaving routine, and I’m excited to have it back.

For now.

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: Treet Dura Sharp

Classy and classic.

Classy and classic.

The most significant difference between modern safety razors and wet shaving compared with how it was done a century ago is that today almost all razor blades are made out of stainless steel, while prior to the 1960s razor blades were made out of carbon steel.  Carbon steel rusts easier, and so with the introduction of stainless steel carbon steel, despite many feeling carbon held a superior edge, it was almost completely abandoned.

Almost.

Treet Dura Sharp is one of the few razor blades still on the market that’s made out of carbon steel.  Manufactured in Pakistan, it is coated in PTFE (Teflon) which provides some protection against rusting while also giving a sharper, longer edge over just carbon.  Having never used a carbon blade before I was curious how well it would work. I’m sold.

I don’t know if the razor is quite as sharp as a Feather, nor quite as smooth as the Gillette Silver Blues.  But they have been some of the most enjoyable blades I’ve shaved with, and they are in serious competition with those two for the spot of my favorite blade.  They feel sharp, gave a close shave with no irritation, nicks or bleeding, and they have a satisfying feel (and sound) as they cut through the stubble.  The result was a good shave throughout the week, though they had begun to lose some sharpness by the fifth shave or so, and a blade that even if not the best in one category did everything well in an enjoyable, balanced package.

The drawback here, of course, is that since it is carbon steel whether it would rust.  I had heard a few different methods of preventing it, with the two leading methods being simply making sure it was well dried (I did this by shaking and blowing it out), or by dipping it at the end of the shave in some rubbing alcohol and letting it air dry (the idea being that the alcohol will displace water, and then dry faster).

I tried both methods, here are the results:

After one week use, alcohol dipped on the left and simply dried on the right.  The spot on the blade edge either was fluff or appeared during the week since the blade was used.

After one week use, alcohol dipped on the left and simply dried on the right. The spot on the blade edge either was fluff or appeared during the week since the blade was used.

Rusting was minimal in both cases, confined to where the razor head clamps down on the blade.  There is slightly less rust using the alcohol dip, though during the alcohol week I found myself enjoying how the blade aged through use somewhat less than without.  If any actual difference occurred, then to me it would seem that the blade ages better naturally rather than trying to extend its life.

The rusting though is so slight that unless you intend on using the blade longer than a week there seems little cause for concern.  They are cheap enough that even if you only shave one or twice a week and can extend the calendar day use of a blade longer than a week then if rusting is a problem you could replace it more often without much added cost. For me though it’s not a problem, I change blades every week and if it can survive in Virginia then I suspect it can survive most places.

I highly recommend this blade.  Having tried a fair number at this point, it is easily in my top three and might even be my favorite.  It’s sharp, smooth, and enjoyable.  With ten blades a pack I’m looking forward to eight more weeks of fantastic shaves.

A Brief and Questionably Accurate Explanation of Carbon and Stainless Steel Razor Blades

You have probably never asked yourself whether you use a carbon or stainless steel razor blade (perhaps because normality abounds in your life).  It’s not a question that gets asked often, and because nearly all razor blades are made out of stainless steel, whether in a cartridge or double-edge, it’s a question with an easy answer.  But that wasn’t always the case.

The exact history is somewhat murky, but here is what I’ve been able to learn…

When Gillette introduced the double-edge safety razor in 1904 all blades were made out of carbon steel, and this continued for almost 60 years.  Using carbon steel created a significant problem though: because of the water involved in shaving there was significant risk that a blade would become rusty even over just a few days use, requiring either close care or frequent replacement.

To combat this Gillette turned to metallurgists to do science-y things.  By 1945 they began experimenting with coating the blades with a thin layer of other material to protect them, and in short order they turned to polytetraflouroethylne (PTFE), better known as Teflon.  They discovered that they could create a blade which, though initially slightly inferior than an untreated razor, would break in after a shave or two and then provide a sharper, longer lasting edge (for those of you interested in details of this, which go over my head, check out the above link).

This all came to a head in the 1960’s, when stainless steel was introduced.  Depending on who you ask it was either Gillette or Wilkinson Sword who was the first to bring stainless steel to market, but by the mid-sixties it was conquering the market.  The blades, often coated with PTFE as well, would last far longer than carbon steel resulting in much reduced need to purchase replacements.  With patents expiring, fierce competition, and emerging products that required less purchases, it is little surprise that within a decade of stainless steel blades hitting the market that Gillette introduced the first cartridge razor blade, setting the course of modern shaving.

So if during that brief window stainless steel so thoroughly stomped on carbon steel, why use them?  Stainless is so preferred, after all, that there are only a handful of brands that use carbon and most of these can be tough to come by (and only one that I know of that doesn’t use PTFE, a Treet brand nicknamed “black beauty”). 

The edge. Carbon steel hasn’t completely died off because they offer a great edge.  There is some debate over whether stainless steel or carbon steel blades are harder, and which one degrades faster, but most seem to agree that carbon steel offers an unusually sharp edge at the very beginning.  While some say that the carbon steel dulls faster, others contend that the material allows for the edge to be kept far longer than with stainless, and even stropped for longer use.

At the same time, while carbon steel razors are comparable to stainless steel blades, their relative price has plummeted over the decades.  Even if the blades are not cared for closely and require more frequent replacement, the cost is still so low that it is not economically prohibitive.  If you use twice as many blades, replacing them more frequently, the cost difference amounts to just a few dollars a year (if that).  The economic incentive of stainless, while still there, has been greatly reduced.

While the benefits of the two can be debated, what can’t be dismissed is that stainless steel remains the dominant force on the market.  It is ironic that a method which draws so heavily on heritage and use of techniques and designs that have been around for a century primarily uses blades that appeared within the last few decades. 

But if you want to try the type of razor blade that safety razors were originally built for you’ve still got options.  Not many, but they’re out there. 

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.