The New Normal

Posted: May 8, 2016 in Shaving Articles
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Just a quick update. As I alluded to in one of my earlier posts, I’ve taken possession of a few new shave accouterments. Two things I’ve been making good use of lately are the Astra Superior Platinum blades and the Derby Extra blades.

I’ve found that the Derbys are aces with the Merkur 39C slant razor. It should be noted that pretty much all findings with the 39C could also be applied to the 37C. They have the same head, and the 39 just has a longer handle. The combination of the slant head, which makes it a very efficient cutter, and the very smooth Derby blades, makes it into a maintenance shaving monster. As before, I’m carrying on with my two pass shave with this combination. Once with the grain (downward), and once across (inward from the ears). This provides a serviceable shave, quickly, and with the very minimum of irritation. I will give the nod to this combination over the 39C+Personna Blue team. Not by a lot. The Derbys are just so darned easy on your skin. Now, if your beard is a fearsome thing made from bristles of steel, perhaps you’ll need a sharper blade, but for my beard, which is fairly dense, but not terribly coarse, it works like a champ.

I already knew that the Astra SPs worked wonderfully with the Feather Seki Edge AS-D2. I wouldn’t have purchased them otherwise. They have become my new go-to in regard to loading the Feather razor. For my purposes, they are at just the right point in the sharp vs. smooth matrix, being both a bit sharper and a bit smoother than the Personnas, which have served as my regular shave for some time. Don’t get me wrong. The Personna blades are still on my list, and I don’t have anything bad to say about them. They are still the blade that I’ll use first when evaluating a new razor, and they’ll be seeing rotation in, well, pretty much all the razors in my arsenal, but they’ve met their match in a few different fights here.

For a lot of razors and a lot of shavers, none of these blades would be a bad investment. I like the fact that none of them are very pricey, at less than fifteen cents per blade. At that price, there’s no need to try eking out extra shaves. If there’s a sense that they’re getting dull or rough, throw in another one. You could easily use a Derby, new with every shave, for cheaper than a lot of other blades could manage, even if doing three or more. For instance…Merkur blades. My sense is that the price on those has a lot to do with being carried at swanky shave stores that make massive profit margins from comparitively rich duffers who don’t want to do any research on their own. But then again, I might be showing more teeth here than is is warranted.

Ah, well. Sometimes, when doing psuedo-science, it comes down to some cold, hard realities (or at least, perceived ones!).

I’m coming to the end of my Proraso White supply now, as it’s been serving as my most frequent soap for the last little while. I’m going to be locked on the horns of a dillema when I run out, as I feel that, for me, the Green and the White Proraso occupy the same basic niche. I don’t have any sensitivity issues with the higher menthol jolt of the Green, and I like the soothing feeling that it brings. It’s sixes when it comes to shave comfort. It’s faintly possible that the White has a slight edge, but it would be difficult to prove that beyond the shadow of a doubt. Perhaps it’s time to try something altogether different, from a different soap maker. Then again, it may simply be time to use a few things up and simplify my gear stash. Nah. That’s no fun. Forget that. As Yngwie Malmsteen said, clearly more is more.

Cheers, all.

Patrick

 

 

 

Merkur Superior Stainless

1) Sharpness: Good
2) Comfort: Good
3) Value: Poor
4) Availability: Good
5) Country of Origin: Germany
6) Passes “First Shave Test?: Yes
7) Longevity (# of shaves): 3
8) Notes: I received the Merkur blade as part of the package when I ordered a Merkur 34C. Since I was confronted with the opportunity to try it, I figured that I had best do so. This blade’s performance was firmly middle-of-the-road. It was sharp enough, smooth enough, and lasted through three shaves without causing undue irritation. I got solid shaves with it, but it didn’t equal the best in regards to the amount of beard stubble it took off per pass, nor did it have that “skating on glass” smoothness that some blades can provide. In general, I would say it was probably not quite as good at any given element of the shaving game as, say, the Personna Blue. Totally acceptable performance, but it doesn’t bring out the best of the AS-D2 razor, to my way of thinking. If it were the easiest blade to lay hands to, I wouldn’t be able to realistically complain that loudly or that long. That said, this is an expensive blade that commands a premium price. As of this writing, it was going for over $26 American money on Amazon, for a pack of 50 blades. Hmm. I can get some really good blades for less than $15 per 100. As in, some of my very favorites. My three current go-to blades are the Personna Lab Blues, the Derby Extras, and the Astra Superior Platinums. These blades, from the USA, Turkey, and Russia respectively, are all at least the equal of the Merkur. In fact, they all, to my mind, exceed it in some, if not most performance metrics. Now, this is a small economy. The price of blades is likely not the margin between eating lunch and going hungry for most people, but when you think that the Merkurs are FOUR TIMES as expensive as many other blades out there, they are going to need to bring something special to the table. I’d love to say that they did, because I’m a fan of the steel coming out of Solingen, Germany, but I can’t. If I’ve learned one thing in this little journey, it’s that you can’t bank on a brand name in cutlery to point your way. Making razor blades is a specialized art. The brands, and even specific models, have to be evaluated on their own merits. Merkur? Well, for razors (the handle part), they’re aces. Great value for the money, great shaves. Blades? I say you’re better off looking elsewhere.

Shaving re-up

Posted: April 22, 2016 in Shaving Articles
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Well, here’s a milestone. For the first time since I started this little hobby, I’ve actually had to re-buy stuff. Thus far, I’ve only purchased new things. Okay, I have had to buy a few additional bottles of my favorite aftershave before now, but allow me this small conceit.

So, then. The first soap I used to the nubbins turned out to be Proraso Green. This didn’t shock me that much, as I am very fond of the Proraso soap, and the green, with eucalyptus and menthol, has wonderful face feel. If my feet were held to the fire and I had to choose only one soap, I suppose the green Proraso would get the nod. Thus, I’ve purchased another tub of it. I should mention that, because the Proraso soaps are fairly soft, you don’t get as much mileage out of them as a harder soap might provide. If you want maximum shaves per ounce, and minimum cost, something like Arko is the way to go.

I was putting together a travel solution for DE shaving, and that spawned my purchase of the Merkur 34C, which I reviewed here on the site, and recommend. To go with it, I purchased another synthetic bristle Omega, this time with the “old fashioned honeycomb” chromed handle. I was already sold on the ease of use and good lathering capability. When it came in, I found that it was rather bulky, compared to my blue handled model. After using it a bit, it became clear that I should use that one as my home brush, sending the well seasoned blue Omega on the road (where it’ll see sparing use, as I don’t travel all that much currently.)

Because a man of my stripe will always find himself wanting for more Aqua Velva, I ordered a few large bottles for the larder. It has become my go-to, and is used in about 3/4ths of my shaves.

While I still have a good number of my standard Personna Blue blades kicking around, I’d burned through all of my favorites of other types. Because I’d applied a rough sort of science to my rating and reviewing of blades, I had a pretty good idea of which blades had been my favorites thus far. After ruminating, I decided to order a 100 pack of both Astra Superior Platinum and Derby Extras. The Derbys are super inexpensive, less than nine cents per blade. The Astras are less than twelve, and I think they perform so well that even the really premium blades on the market are hard pressed to best them. I’ve since tested the two blade types with the 34C razor, and both work well. The Astras are an especially good match. I’ll have to see how things go with the 39C. It does fine with the Personna blades, but it’s possible that one of the others might make a better match yet.

All this puts me in a place of abundance. Unless I am struck by a sudden desire to try new things, I’m pretty set, and I’m happy with the gear I’ve collected. I’ll check back in when I have something to review or report, but I won’t bore you with same old, same old in the meantime.

Cheers,

Patrick

Razor Review: Merkur HD34C

Posted: April 22, 2016 in Shaving Articles
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Over the last few months, my shaving patterns have fallen into a fairly comfortable rhythm. I would shave around three times a week, switching between my Feather AS-D2 and my Merkur 39C slant. After a flurry of blade tests, and the resultant test fatigue, I wanted to get back to just shaving. Constant experimentation can be a bit tiresome after a while. There were still blades out there I wanted to test, but the ones that were easy to get and piqued my interest had probably already been done. So.

So, I was loading my Feather with Feather blades, then Wilkinson Swords, until they ran out. I was feeding my 39C a steady diet of Personna Lab Blues. Life was pretty good.

But.

But, it occurred to me that I didn’t really have a travel razor. I am not totally confident that things won’t get lost on a trip. Bags find their way to the wrong airport. Things get left on the sink in a hotel room. Thus, I wasn’t super excited about taking my AS-D2 out on the road with me. It’s not disposable. At all. My 39C, on the other hand, is built like a tank, and just seems a little bit stupid-big to be putting in a shaving kit for the road.

Solution? Well, initially, I was going to get the Merkur razor that they make out of Bakelight. It looked cool, and was the right size and weight. Downside? It doesn’t have inset metal threads in the handle, so it’s metal 0n plastic in there. I am, shall we say, not always subtle. If it can easily be broken, I might figure out how to do so. Growing up, I heard this phrase with some frequency: “The boy doesn’t know his own strength.”

Out goes the Bakelight idea. I looked around for a short handled razor that would do the job. I found the Merkur 34C. It is nearly universally praised. It’s one of the go-to beginner’s or sensitive skin razors. Some of the guys I watched on YouTube to learn how wet shaving was done use it as a reference. Thus, not a huge gamble. Besides, it’s fairly reasonable to buy. Compared to the Feather, it’s almost disposable. Shrug. Not really. Anywhoozle…

The 34C came out of the box with good fit and finish. It’s a two piece, and comes together without issue. Blade alignment is good every time. The knurling on the handle is good, much more effective than the barber pole style on the 39C when wet. There were no voids or oddities in the plating.  (This is a chrome plated pot metal razor, which is what you’ll get for the price point. Since the metal is not under serious stress, it shouldn’t be an issue. If you’re hurling your razor down on concrete or using it to tune up your Jeep, you may need a different material. Brass or stainless will cost you, though.)

I tested the 34C with three blades, two shaves a piece. The first was the Personna Lab Blue, then the Derby Extra Stainless, then the Astra Superior Platinum. All shaves were three pass, full bore deals. All yielded excellent results, with baby smooth cheeks being the watchword. In the shaves, I only had one weeper, and the very minimum of irritation. Actually, perhaps slightly less than normal, even for the smooth operator AS-D2. Functionally, I was completely satisfied. The shorter handle, which I had imagined might take some getting used to, was no problem. It actually makes the razor easy to control, as you can put a finger on the end of the handle.

I found the dynamics of the razor interesting, and actually quite instructive at times. What I found was that the 34C demanded a much shallower angle to the face than my other razors. In fact, I could essentially address my cheeks directly, with very little “dial in” for the blade at all. It seemed to work best and be most comfortable well below the oft-stated 30 degree rake.

The 34C tended to have more “blade feel” on the face than the 39C and the AS-D2. It was somewhat more akin to the Parker 99R, although it was much gentler and less prone to judder. With the Feather razor, the first pass happens with very little sense of there being a blade touching your face. It can be used almost like a cartridge razor, just pulling large swatches of hair from your face in pseudo-magical style. The 39C’s first pass performance is somewhat similar, the slanted blade angle allowing it to tear through the stubble without a hint of slow down, provided your blade is reasonably sharp.

That ain’t the 34C. No, it demands you to work in short strokes, and keeps you aware of the blade that’s trundling down your epidermis. I don’t mean to say that it pulls, pinches, or abrades your skin. That’s not it. The 34C is just a communicative razor. As you feel for the angle it likes, you can sense the way the blade is addressing your face. It actually seems to help me slow down and work at the pace the tool requires, where I sometimes get a little cavalier with the other razors in my rotation. Because of this, I do think it would be a really good first razor. Shaves great, tolerates blades across the sharpness spectrum, and gives you feedback in terms of how much you’re digging in. All this at a reasonable price.

Which blade did it like the best? Easily the Astra Superior Platinum. That’s not to say that the others had any issue. There was no real difference in the end result, but the Astras, being sharper, left the least stubble for the later passes, allowing the least irritation.

I have to say that, for going six shaves without a “maintenance shave”, this is the least irritation I’ve had in a while.

So, I can easily say that I’ve found my travel razor. If I didn’t have such an excellent pair of primary razors, I would find it somewhat tempting to make it my primary go-to.

Well, that’s about it. Thanks for tuning in.

Patrick

Fighting the good fight

Posted: April 22, 2016 in Workout Reports

Well, it’s been a month since I last checked in with a report of my workout progress. What’s the news? Well, mostly good, with a few predictable caveats. First, I’m still at it. Three to four days per week, as my schedule and my body’s ability to recover dictate. Second, I’m really making pretty good progress. Third, well, my body’s sometimes a punk. Here are some observations:

  1. I’m having better luck with slow, controlled movements, utilizing low reps (5) than I’ve had in the past, using higher reps. You can create similar or better intensity though a shorter rep number by just going more slowly, moving under control, and concentrating on good form. With the various creaky joints I have, this has allowed me to not be in too much pain.
  2. About pain – there’ll be some. There’s no way around it. You are going to feel it, and you’ll be uncomfortable after some workouts. Ideally, if you’re progressing carefully and methodically, you’ll spread out a lot of minor discomfort, rather than being totally incapacitated at times. Doing pretty well in this regard.
  3. Not every day will be your best day. You’ll have off days. Do what you can. Some is better than none.
  4. You’ll get wicked tired at times. I have been essentially down for the count a few times after dinner. I am not 20 years old anymore. Sometimes I “bonk” and have to take a nap that lasts all evening. Sigh.
  5. Some things progress faster than others. Some of my movements are coming along faster than others, but they’re all improving significantly. When I remember how strong my legs used to be, having to eek progress out at this pace hurts my heart, but the progress is coming. Just…at a humbling pace. These things happen when you’re sedentary for too long.
  6. Don’t expect to be what you were, not right away. Maybe not at all. We take damage as we have our adventures, and we get older. Some things may not be in the cards. Don’t close the door on your ambitions, but keep in mind that you have to work around your current circumstance, not what you once were. Also remember that we may have idealized our past a little over the years. The older we are, the better we were, right?
  7. Tend your old injuries. I was wrapped up in my back issues and my right elbow. I kind of forgot about my bum left shoulder. Thus, I ended up really messing up said shoulder. It’s just getting better now. Meanwhile, I’m probably 70 percent improved with the back issue, and I’ve generally done pretty well with my elbow.
  8. Nutrition matters. I think my mindful protein intake this time around has helped. A lot. Don’t try to get into lifting shape without decent fuel. Especially if you’re over 40.

Well, that’s about it.  More to come, probably in a few weeks or a month, when I’ve had a chance to see how the progress is going over a longer scale.

Cheers,

Patrick

So, here we go. I am actually beginning the long and toilsome task of getting back in shape. I reached a health low point a few months ago, and it was a wake up call. This came on the heels of one of my good friends passing away unexpectedly. A friend years younger than I am, with no obvious history of illness. I’m not going to talk directly about that, short of saying that it was both a tragedy and an eye opening moment in my life.

I don’t think we imagine that people in our peer group will pass away from what could be termed “natural causes”. Not in our thirties or forties. I mean, sure, a few people have accidents, a few people develop a disease of some kind. By the time we reach middle age (ouch, still getting used to thinking of it on those terms), we know that we’re mortal, fallible, and growing a bit creaky in various ways. Still…most days, we don’t confront mortality head-on. We leave it for twenty or thirty years further down the road. That’s old person shit, right?

Except that we sometimes get our legs kicked out from under us, and we have to realize that death is not necessarily old person shit, specifically. We are made to understand that, if we fail to take care of ourselves, we may never get to see what it’s like to be fifty, or sixty, or points beyond.

Here’s the situation. I have a few lingering health issues. A bad stomach is one of them. One morning, things had gone so sideways with my stomach that I was miserable. I could hardly sleep. I felt like a hot balloon of fire had been inflated in my ribcage. Several things had come together to bring this about. First, there was my poor coping mechanisms in terms of some long term stress situations in my life. Both personal and professional. Second, the holidays, wherein I’d acted like an ass and eaten lamentably. Third, I was exceedingly worried about the health of a close relative, who’d been in and out of the hospital for a long time. (She’s better!)

In reality, I was just dealing with standard stuff, things that many of us have to deal with. (Many have to deal with much worse. I’m emotionally fragile, I suppose.)

Well, back to that fateful morning that found me feeling like I was about to die, sitting in the waiting room of an Urgent Care center.

The long and short of it: There was nothing really wrong with me, other than perhaps having had a minor panic attack, and a wicked case of the acid reflux.

Still, it saw me have to totally go off of solid food for a week, and very gradually get back into a normal lifestyle. I wasn’t ready to imagine that this would be my life, that I would be constantly bouncing off the bottom of the barrel, always feeling like crap, always being exhausted and at my wit’s end.

I had to change things around. Lots of things.

So I did. From work to food, to rest, I changed things. I began de-cluttering my house with a vengeance. I mindfully worked on moderating my proclivity for stewing, raging, and otherwise holding onto negative emotions. Strangely enough, this helped. I won’t say that I flipped a switch and now I’m perfectly adjusted to everything, and that all my problems are in the past. But I mindfully decided that I HAD to learn to enjoy life, and find some happiness again. Looking back, I found that so often, over the last (way too many) years, I’d been putting a good face on things, with true happiness and enjoyment coming far too rarely.

A month or so down the line from the great-(re)happiness project, I finally felt well enough to get down to one of the pillars, in my mind, of being well adjusted. Getting into some kind of physical shape, namely.

Now, I took stock of things. I was not ready to get back to my old caveman ways. No, I would have just injured myself. Two years lost in the noisome swamps of World of Warcraft addiction (another story, for another time), then another eighteen months of being terribly unhappy all the time, and I needed to start from scratch. Old school.

How old school? Well, I was crawling back to five sets of five reps. Kicking it old school.

And you know what? It’s working.

I’m doing four sessions per week, one hour at a time. Back and chest on day one. Legs and arms on day two. Back and chest again on day three. Legs and shoulders on day four. It’s not quite the “Bigger, Faster, Stronger” program that I did in High School, but it’s not so far off, either. It’s cautious. It’s basic, and if I can keep my various old wounds from flaring up too badly, I think it’ll get me in shape. I’m doing cardio every day, too, like good boys should. Actually, of everything, that’s the thing I’m seeing the biggest and most impressive improvement in. The first week, my body immediately went into “thou has slain me with thy evil machinations” mode. Second week, slightly less so. In the third week, though I’m already able to start upping the intensity, and I’m not as likely to be gumby-legged afterward. It’s progress. Another six months of this, I might be ready to start cavemanning again.

Details:

Day one: Bench, lat pull-downs

Day two: Squat, barbell curls, barbell triceps extensions (skullcrushers)

Day three: Dumbell butterflies, bent rows

Day four: Stiff-legged deadlifts (with shoulder shrug), dumbell military press

All days: Elliptical machine warm-up, Recumbent Bike cooldown; stretching and abdominal work in the evening before bed.

Well, that was a bit of a longwinded affair. I’ll check in and let you know how things are going with me as time progresses. I hope that I can keep creaky knees, inflamed elbows, and torn-up shoulders from raining on my parade.

Oh, and you’ll be amused to know that the elbow brace that I’m using to some good effect for my bad right elbow – it’s actually a size large knee brace.

Cheers,

Patrick

I have never been someone to give a great deal of thought to moisturizing my skin. In this, I have essentially used whatever was around, when I needed to because my skin was all powdery and gross. Like a dude would do.

Beginning to get into “the wet shaving game” as it were, I learned some stuff about ingredients that were possibly harmful, and had fallen out of vogue with the cognoscenti. Parabens, for instance. I learned that, sometimes paying a few bucks more, and spending a few more minutes looking at the ingredient list for a product, can make a lot of difference.

I’d picked up some moisturizer from “Every Man Jack” a while ago, and sort of liked it. I didn’t feel, however, that its effects lasted that long. It was a momentary fix, but without using the stuff every day or two, back to the old powdery and gross situation. Now, I’d been using, on and off, either a vitamin E lotion, or this stuff called Hydrophor Ointment. I believe the Hydrophor stuff is actually a prescription treatment. They sent it home with my dad for dry skin when he was sick. It’s basically Vaseline, with Lanolin and a few other ingredients mixed in. It works, but it’s got all the negative problems that Vaseline does, like hanging around forever on your skin, being sticky, etc.

During the winter here in Utah, the air gets pretty dry, and I tend to take a lot of showers, so skin dryness is the order of the day. I was poking around a while back, and found a product from NatureWell called Extra Virgin Coconut Oil moisturizing cream. To skip to the end, it’s the cat’s whiskers. Good stuff.

The cream features vitamins A, E, and C, as well as some other excellent oils, like Grape Seed oil, and Macadamia nut oil. You’ve got glycerin and a few other active ingredients in there as well.

It goes on smoothly, and doesn’t leave much greasy residue. I also find that it works well as a beard conditioner on the old goatee. The cream typically keeps my skin hydrated with one or two applications a week, which is nice, because I am not that enthusiastic about having to use a moisturizer every day. Too lazy.

Anyway, the only negative with this stuff, if it can be said to be negative, is that you will walk around smelling a bit like coconut. I believe that this is probably something that would be difficult to mitigate. Coconuts gotta smell like coconuts, as they say.

In any case, that’s a lot of bloviating about skin care products, and all I had to say, so cheers. Happy epidermis day to all.