shaving cream

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.

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: Col. Conk’s Shave Soap- Almond

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 thus far.

For the last four months my primary shaving soap has been Col. Conk’s Almond.  I bought it in Wall, SD, at a giant general store/restaurant/tourist trap they have there (it’s probably half of the entire town), along with a couple other Conk’s scents.  Every kind they had, in fact, except lime. Because who wants to smell like limes in the morning?

Admittedly, before then I would have also asked “who wants to smell like almonds in the morning?”  Or ever, really.  But it seemed like a good idea at the time and I’m glad I took the risk because it has been a pleasure to use.

I’ve used Col. Conk’s before, and for all I know this is the exact same stuff except with a different fragrance added.  Previously the soap sat as a block of soap on a dish, but with this puck I melted it down into a shave bowl right from the start.  My technique was then to go in about ten minutes before I would shave, cover the soap with about a quarter-inch of hot water, then let it sit while I got cleaned up and prepared.  Once I was ready to shave I’d drain the water, then use a wet brush to load the softened soap and lather on my face.

It worked like gang busters.

Previously I was getting inconsistent loads which resulted in some thin lathers that weren’t always enough to get the job done.  Perhaps because I’m now more experienced I’ve great lathers almost every time, and when the load has been insufficient a couple drops of water on the soap and a quick reload got me into good shape.  It does seem to have resulted in the soap not lasting as long as the previous puck of Conk’s I used, but that might be a result of me not lathering properly previously.  Even if this goes though more soap than necessary, when it’s still lasting four months I’m not feeling too bad.

The soap provided great protection, and a refreshing scent that made for an enjoyable shave.  The scent started extremely strong, dropping off quickly over a couple weeks time, however despite the decline it remained present when lathering up until the last several weeks.  I still catch it from time to time, but I think it might be that it’s just on its last leg.

I haven’t been using it exclusively, I’ve also been using Proraso, Dollar Shave Club Shave Butter, and Barbasol. But Conk’s has been my favorite, hands down.  It smells great, feels great, and works great.  I’ve got two more pucks to go through, one Bayrum and the other Amber, and when I’m done I may just find myself stocking back up on Almond.  I’ve highly enjoyed it.

Dollar Shave Club Review- Shave Butter and Moisturizer

As I said in my last review, the DSC shave butter and moisturizer did well as part of the complete DSC experience.  But it’s one thing to keep irritation down when the tool you’re using is a cartridge razor, it’s nigh impossible to cut yourself with one and if your skin isn’t inclined to get sore easily you can shave with just about anything.  For years I simply used water.

But the question remained: how would it do under double-edge conditions?  A DE razor can give you a closer shave with less irritation than any cartridge…if you use it right.  And part of using it right means having a good lather and aftershave to go along with it, or in this case, shave butter and moisturizer.  To find out if it would hold up I loaded up a Feather razor blade and gave it a try.

The results were very promising.  Throughout the testing I noticed no noticeable razor burn from the shave, and my skin definitely felt good especially with a cold wind that settled in the last few days.  Two applications of shave butter was enough to get three passes with the DE, one for the with the grain and across the grain, one for against the grain.  The shave butter rinsed well out of the blade, and what spots that were missed were likely a result of the user.

But for as well as it worked, there were a few things that have left me ready for a change.  First, while it is extremely convenient to just squeeze something out of a tube I miss the enjoyment and ritual (and warmth) that comes from mixing up a warm lather from a block of soap. It’s relaxing and refreshing.  Second, because the shave butter is almost completely clear it makes it difficult to see where you’ve shaved and where you haven’t.  Of course by the end of the shave you should easily see where you still need to shave, but during the initial pass or two when you’re trying to reduce rather than remove it can make it difficult to tell what still needs to be done.

A couple things I’ve noticed about the moisturizer:  First, while it soaks in just fine after you put it on I found that it left my face feeling oily for several hours afterward.  Or maybe that’s just what moisturized skin feels like.  It was especially noticeable after exercising, as sweat would seem to draw it out of where it had soaked in.  Second, I noticed during the time I was using it an increase of smudges and smears on my cell phone.  I think it has been a result of touching my face and picking up some of the lotion residue, then touching the screen.  I don’t know that’s the reason, perhaps I just noticed something that was happening before, but it seemed to be.

Really though these complaints, if they even fall to that level rather than less than enthusiastic noticings, are minor compared to the good results that I have had from using them.  If the DSC razors are up your ally, these likely will be too.  They’ll stay on my shaving counter and I will use them from time to time, but I’m looking forward to getting back to soaps and splashes.

A Taste of Things to Come

After a brief lull in experimentation things are back to their uncharted ways around here.

First, a new sampler pack arrived from Bullgoose Shaving bringing with it a slew of new blades to try:

Not one of their pre-made packs, I really just picked a bunch that seemed interesting.

Not one of their pre-made packs, I really just picked a bunch that seemed interesting.

Pol Silver, Gillette Super Thin, Gillette Silver Blue, Perma-Sharp Super, Treet Dura Sharp (my first experience with a carbon steel blade), and Wilkinson Sword. I’ve already started using them and reviews will begin showing up in the near future.

Second, this week I received a package from Dollar Shave Club (well, their PR people):

This picture shows up roughly 800 times a week in my blog feed since I get anything tagged "shaving."

A picture like this shows up roughly 800 times a week in my blog feed since I get anything tagged “shaving.”

Inside I found wet wipes (which I won’t be reviewing), their shave butter (which I guess you use instead of shaving cream), a pack of four blade razors, and some aftershave/skin moisturizer.  Cartridge razors aren’t particularly interesting to me these days, but if they’re going to be nice enough to just give it to me then I’ll take the time to give it a try.  That will likely happen once I wrap up with the current razor brand I’m testing, and I’ll try it both as a full system as well as try out the shave butter and moisturizer with DE razors. 

Looks like October will be an interesting month of shaving!

Cold Water Proraso: How Water Temeprature Changes the Shave Experience

I thought "sapone" was the scent...turns out it's Italian for "soap."

I thought “sapone” was the scent…turns out it’s Italian for “soap.”

There is widespread consensus among wet shavers that hot water provides the best shave.  Nearly every shaving guide I’ve read recommends it, mostly with some claim of superior performance because of how the hot water softens your skin and stubble.  There are, of course, some who disagree with this and are instead ardent advocates of cold water shaving. 

I enjoy both, and I’m not going to argue that someone gives up one for the other.  But while both have always appealed to me for various reasons, this summer I’ve discovered that Proraso soap makes for an excellent cold water experience.

I discovered this one day after a long morning run.  It was hot outside, I was trying to cool down before I headed to work, and a warm water shave just didn’t sound very appealing.  So I lathered up with as cold of water as I could get, and went to shaving. 

The result was wonderful. A hot shave with Proraso creates a sauna like soothing, both in feel and smell.  But by shaving cold when I was already warm the normal tingles and sharp smell created a chilling effect, much like when you step outside on a cold day and feel the air crisp your skin and chill your nose with each breath.  By the time I finished my face was smooth and cold feeling, a sharp contrast with how I started, and with a splash of spice aftershave it felt almost holiday like.  It was one of the most refreshing shaves I’ve ever had.

The cold water did have some draw backs.  It thickened the soap, so when I needed to clean the blade of stubble I’d have to run it under hot water to break up the gunk, then back under cold to chill the now clean blade for the next pass.  But, with modern indoor plumbing this really wasn’t a problem at all.  By being cold it also made it more difficult to lather, again because of thicker soap.  A bit more water than usual did the trick on that part.

Whichever works best for you, do it.  But how to use cold water to change the experience is a trick I’m slowly working to build.  And if I ever have to shave away from hot water, at least I’ll be used to it!

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.

IMG_20140717_175543771

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.

Wall Drug: South Dakota Shave Supplies

Wall Drug is a small drug store, nestled between Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands National Park.  A country stop where I figured I could find some old-fashioned shave goods.

Or, at least that’s what I thought.  It turns out that Wall Drug, located in Wall, SD (a town whose primary existence, from what I can, is to facilitate the drug store), is a straight up tourist attraction.

According the the menu/history pamphlet that we were given, Wall Drug was struggling until the owners came up with the idea to offer free ice water to anyone who stopped.  Several decades later the store now consists of…well, pretty much everything.  Bookstore, restaurant, leather goods, candy shop, giant fiberglass jackalope, an animatronic piano playing monkey, and more gift shops than you can shake a stick at.

And, as it turns out, a small apothecary style shaving shop.

The old fashioned shaving selection.  It's small, but quality.

The old fashioned shaving selection. It’s small, but quality.

Most drug stores these days will carry some off brand razor blades, maybe a generic bar of shave soap.  To its credit, Wall Drug’s stock may have been small, but it was quality goods.  There were several Muhle brand razors, which use the same razor head as my Edwin Jagger de89L (the difference is in the handle).  There was a number of bowls, and even a couple of scuttles, which is a shaving bowl with a hot water bowl underneath to keep the lather warm.

Finally, they had a full line of Col. Conk’s shave supplies, both shaving soap and aftershave.  I’m a big fan of Col. Conk’s, and with my last bar having been used up a couple weeks before I was already thinking of buying more.  Wall Drug’s prices, oddly enough for a tourist stop, were quite good.

So I picked up some souvenirs!

 

Amber, Almond, and Bayrum.  They also had Lime, but honestly, Lime smelled kinda funny and I didn't see myself using it.

Amber, Almond, and Bayrum. They also had Lime, but honestly, Lime smelled kinda funny and I didn’t see myself using it.

Wall, SD might be a bit out of your way simply to get some shaving goods, unless of course you already live in south-west South Dakota.  But if you’re visiting Mt. Rushmore and places east, it might be worth your stop. 

And they still have free ice water.

Lasts Gasps of a Dying Soap

Col. Conk’s bayrum shave soap was the first shaving soap I’d tried. Before that it was either gels or Barbersol, applied with my hands. But after I purchased my double-edge razor my wife got me the soap and a brush as a gift, and I’ve been loving it ever since.

I wasn’t sure that I would. Lather didn’t interest me as much as the razor, and I wasn’t sure it would be worth the effort.

But what I found was a rich and rewarding experience. My first attempts, in hind sight, were terrible. Then I thought I got the hang of it, and it was fun. In hind sight though, the results here were also terrible. I just didn’t know enough to know that yet.

The last couple months have seen a lot of improvement. More foam, thicker and longer lasting lather, better protection.  When I wore through the puck, the melted remains in a small dish taught me about the benefits of using a bowl to load.

But the time is far spent, and there is little soap remaining. Probably just a few more shaves at most.

It lasted about 5 1/2 months. Not bad. A good soap apparently goes a long way. It also means it may be time to get new soap soon. It’s hard not to simply get another puck of Conk’s, but I’ve heard good thing about some of the other brands out there (such as Mama Bears) so I think I will try some out. Experiment.

In the meanwhile, I heartily recommend Col. Conk’s bayrum. I can’t speak to their other products, but this one treated me well.

Review: Proraso (Green) Shaving Cream

I thought "sapone" was the scent...turns out it's Italian for "soap."

I thought “sapone” was the scent…turns out it’s Italian for “soap.”

Several months back I asked around about what soaps I should try out, and the name that came up the most was Proaso.

Proraso is an Italian shaving cream, sold in either a tub or tube (like toothpaste).  It comes in three varieties, green, white, and red, with white and green being the most common.  I decided to pick up a tub of green, which is the standard formula.  I’d never tried a shaving cream that you mix before, and I was excited to see how well it worked (plus, I’d heard the tub was really useful for travel and mixing once the soap had run out).

 I’ve been using it for two months now and I’m happy to say that this stuff is great.

Mixing it is similar to mixing up a shaving soap.  You wet the brush, load the soap onto the bristles for 20-30 seconds, then mix up a lather however you prefer.  Personally, I apply directly to the face and I’ve found a good loading is plenty for three applications plus extra.

The first thing I noticed was the smell, which I believe is eucalyptus.  It was strong and eye opening, much different than the bayrum I was used to.  The second thing I noticed was the sensation: this stuff makes your skin tingle.  The best I can describe it is it’s like having wet skin with a cool breeze.  Not enough to make you cold, but to make you feel crisp.  I notice it a little bit on application, but really feel it as the skin is exposed through shaving.  This sensation fades some with daily use, but alternating with other soaps means that it’s more noticeable on days you use it.

The cream provides good protection, even with thin applications.  It also applies much more evenly than I’ve gotten with shaving soap.

There are a couple downsides to Proraso.  First, it can be a bit tricky to get the right mixture of water.  Too much and it’s runny, too little and it will dry out on your face before you can get to it.  Second, it is stickier on the razor blade, so it takes more effort to clean the blade of soap and hair.  Finally, it seems to leave a dusting of soap particles on hard to reach places of the razor, even with a good washing after use.

But these haven’t stopped me from enjoying it thoroughly.  With practice the mixture gets more consistent, with warm water the soap and hair cleans easily enough, and a weekly in depth cleaning of the razor when you change the blade keeps everything in order.

Once I run out I will be hard pressed not to run back out and buy more, it’s great stuff and I highly recommend it.