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I had been interested in the Maggard’s line of safety razors for a while. There is an almost daunting amount of choice in the line-up, and the number of configurations is head-spinning.

At last, I resolved to buy one of each of the heads, and four handles to go along with them. I have written reviews on all the heads already, and I’ll now do my authoritative ranking of all the heads and handles, with a brief explanation of why they are thus placed. Buckle your seatbelts, because I’ll be going with some dispatch.

Heads:

  1. V3A: This is the winner. It’s nearly as smooth as the normal V3, yet very efficient. It has, to my opinion, the best efficiency vs. comfort ratio in the group. As an efficient razor choice, it doesn’t have to make apologies to be in any company. If I had to keep just one of the heads, this would be the easy choice. I find it to be equally as efficient as, say, a Merkur Progress on 4 or 5. It matches up to the Merkur Future on, say, 3. Maybe not quite that efficient, but only behind it by the smallest of margins. It can be safely used against the grain, but it’s a little too much for that usage every day, at least with my face. Big home run.
  2. V3: This is every bit as good as my Merkur 34C. I think, on balance, I like it better. I would say that it shaves in a very similar fashion, but having the ability to exchange handles to get just what you want gives it the edge. It’s also less expensive, and I find it to be just slightly more efficient (though that is the smallest of margins.) A great daily shaver, or inexpensive option for travel, so you don’t have to take your heirlooms on the road and risk leaving them in a hotel room in Pittsburgh. Another great option.
  3. Maggard Slant: This is one of the milder slants you’ll find. If you don’t have a coarse beard growth, or you shave frequently, this might be just the thing. I found that it was usable and pleasant, but didn’t offer anything in the way of efficiency improvement over the V3. The fact that it is significantly more money, and didn’t yield any real world advantage in my testing, put it back a few rankings. If you find that the slant head works best for you, your results may be different.
  4. Open Comb V2: This is the only head of the bunch that I didn’t get along great with. I could use it, if it were the only option available to me, but I would have to be careful. My testing showed it to be a little rough on my face, even with a middle-of-the-road blade. I have only found a few open combs that really work well for me, though, so I may just not enjoy their presentation. This is the only head of the four that I have had no real urge to come back to after the duration of the test.

Handles:

  1. MR11: This handle is my clear favorite, though that would not have been my guess when I purchased the set. The MR11 is a classic “Bulldog” handle. It’s somewhat heavy, short, and has superb knurling. To me, that ticks all the correct buttons, as I prefer all the features mentioned. It has good fit and finish, and is functionally as good as any razor handle I’ve used. I can’t see what could realistically be asked beyond that, considering the price. Chock full ‘o win.
  2. MR5: The MR5 handle is the one you see most often, and the one that is heaped with praise in most forums. I like it quite a lot, and the machining alone far exceeds what the asking price would indicate. I didn’t quite like it as well in practice as I did while simply looking at it. The handle is beautiful. There’s no question about it. It feels great in the hand. I just found that the machined-in grooves did not always lead to a feeling of better control on my part. Still, fantastic, and easily recommended.
  3. MR1: This is your classic, bog-standard handle. Very much akin to the MR11, yet isn’t quite as good at anything. To me. This handle is what the Merkur 34C’s handle would be, if the razor was a 3-piece. Good performance, decent machining. If you intend to mount a vintage head on it, this could work really well, since the handle itself is very unassuming and will not clash or take away attention from the head.
  4. MR14: Placing last in this group of handles is no shame. They are all good. The MR14 simply goes to the back of the line because it doesn’t have the same traction plan or quite the level of confidence-inspiring “X” factor that some of the other handles feature. The fit and finish is very nice. The weight, though light, is still plenty to balance out most heads. The in-use traction is good enough for most situations. There’s really nothing bad to say about the handle. There’s just so much great to say about the others. If you’re getting one of the heads that features the gunmetal gray coating, this might give you the most cohesive appearance. That’s a big selling point, if you’re not looking for a two-tone look.

All in all, this is a great product lineup with tons of value options to be had. There are a lot of other handle options. I only chose the ones that catered more to my taste, so you might find a different one to be just your cup of tea.

I hope this helps you make a decision, if you were looking into purchasing a Maggard razor. In my view, there are no bad options here, just different choices. For the price, you could easily order a sampling of multiple heads and handles, deciding on your favorite. Four complete razors can be had for less than what a single premium-priced offering would set you back. For all but a select few, at least one of the heads and handles will prove to be a solid option.

Cheers, and happy shaving!

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Last on my whistle stop tour of the Maggard house brand razors is the V3A head mounted to the MR14 handle. (The picture above depicts the MR11 handle. The results of the test and the events described herein are based upon the use of the cited, MR14 handle.)

Maggard razors are made in India. They are part of a line of razors that Maggar’s has designed. They are manufactured under a subcontract of some kind. They occupy a very competitive price point in the market, particularly for the quality of the manufacture and the materials utilized. The Maggard heads are available a la carte, so you can mount them to the handle of your choice, culled either from a razor you already own or from a purchased handle. They are priced anywhere from about $7 to about $20, depending on the model. They are constructed coated zinc alloy, with either a hard chrome plating or a gunmetal gray coating.

If you choose to purchase a Maggard handle to go with one of these heads, your cost will be somewhere between $14 and about $19 dollars (current pricing, early 2017). Purchasing multiple items in combination can provide some price breaks from there. The entire razor, if constructed from items in the Maggard catalog, will typically have an aggregate price of somewhere between about $20 to a shade under $40. Thus, even at the high end, their price is quite affordable.

Most of the Maggard razor handles are made from stainless steel. They feature clean finishes without any machining tool marks or large holidays in the finish. They may not have the obsessive finish perfection of a far more expensive piece, but they have accurate and useful knurling machined in (for the most part – some don’t have knurling). They are an astounding deal for the money, considering that all stainless razors are hard to find for under a hundred dollars.

The MR14, breaking from the norm for Maggard handles, is an anodized aluminum piece. It features a gunmetal gray finish that matches the slant and the V3A. Being aluminum, it is fairly light. That said, it handles nicely and doesn’t result in a head-heavy presentation, at least with the V3A.

The V3A head is a design derived from the basic blueprint of the Edwin Jagger DE89 and its ilk of razors. As I’ve already discussed, the standard V3 razor is an excellent head, and hits way above its price. The V3A diverges from the DE89 mold by increasing the blade gap by a significant degree. To my eyes, it also biases the blade somewhat less, giving it a very flat blade presentation. The “A” in V3A stands for “aggressive”.

Would it be right to assume, then, that this is a perilous and rough razor? Does it need the uttermost attention to avoid large scale facial carnage?

Not in my experience, no. Actually, I find the V3A to be a very mild mannered razor that gave me no sense of danger. There is an awareness of the hair being cut, and cut close, but the blade-on-face feel was in no way rough or stringent. I was performing the test, by the way, with the Personna Lab Blue blade, a classic moderate choice.

To me, the magic of an efficient razor is that I can get a good shave while only going in the safer directions. To be more specific, I can get quite a close shave with only with the grain and the more gentle across the grain passes. Results can differ, but these are experiences that I’ve found to be true for my beard growth. If you have moderate to fine stubble, which I suppose would cover about 2/3rds of the shaving populace, I imagine that you’ll have a similar experience. Thus, I’m going to generalize. If you have very coarse hair, feel free to disregard my findings or take them with a grain of salt.

Anyway, back to efficient/aggressive razors. If you’re a daily shaver, they can allow you to always be presentable, but not beat the stuffing out of your face. Two, or even one pass will suffice to get you close enough to function in society, and you won’t always be nursing minor facial irritation. After all, we’re looking for a repeatable, comfortable experience, not a bloodbath. (I think. Hey, if your nickname’s “Bloodbath Jim”, have it it. I’d recommend the Muhle R41.)

Back to sane shaving in the daily/maintenance realm. What you need for this usage case is a razor that is efficient, but not prone to nipping or irritation. The V3A fits this bill very well. It feels gentle on the face, but is quite efficient. Two passes, with a moderate blade, yields a very nice shave, with precious little remaining rough stubble, even in the spots where I tend to have those issues.

This brings us to the question of aggressiveness, and the subjective nature of such an assessment. I felt that the V3A was smoother and more comfortable than either the Maggard Open Comb (V2) or the Maggard Slant. At the same time, it clearly delivered a closer shave than either of those two heads while using the same methodology. I feel like I could shave a two-pass every day of the week with the V3A and do it safely. It doesn’t appear to need a special blade to get the job done, which is another tick in the win column.

After a pause in the test, I came back and tried the V3A with the Gillette Wilkinson Sword blade. This proved to be a great combination. I did two consecutive 3 pass shaves with the razor, and found that it delivered superb closeness without cuts or irritation with this combination. Going against the grain, you need to be sure to avoid pressing the razor into your skin, but it is certainly safe enough to use in that manner. I wouldn’t go so far as to do it every day, but the two pass shaves are good enough to allow you to rest your skin on “off” days without walking around looking like a slouch. I found that I preferred the razor with the MR 11 handle, as opposed to the MR14, but that is a taste issue. Both of the handles are inexpensive and of good quality.

I did find that there was a small “half moon” of slight discoloration in the finish, but it didn’t appear to be anything more than cosmetic. For the price of the head, I’m willing to let it pass. To me, the V3A is a huge win for Maggard.

My sense of the razor, however, may not be yours. By and large, I’ve found that somewhat aggressive safety bar razors tend to work better for me than open combs or slants. Given my face, skin, and level of finesse, I seem to be able to perform good shaves more reliably with a big-gap solid safety bar than with other designs. Other people tend to have far better luck with a slant. Some swear by open combs. If you know that your past experience has told you that the big blade gap on the V3A will be a bad feature for you, that’s totally valid. For me, a guy who quite likes the Gillete Adjustables turned up to 9, the V3A is a sweet shaver.

Hope this series of reviews has helped you make a choice. I’ll be back with a final wrap-up article in which I rank my choices of which Maggard heads and handles I liked the best.

Cheers, and happy shaving.

A long, long time ago, in the 80’s:

In the days of yore, when dinosaurs walked the earth and the keyboards that were included with a computer were actually considered to be important, keyboards were better than they are today. The technology that was employed in said keyboards was the topic of some conversation in the design meetings. Yes, the computer manufacturers anticipated that we’d like to actually employ the keyboard they sent along. For typing, to be clear. Not just to catch crumbs from our hastily-eaten meatloaf sandwich during our twelve minute lunch. Ah, the good old days.

What was the difference between those old keyboards and the ones you see included now? What made them better? Why did computer manufacturers begin using sub-standard materials and engineering for an integral input device that we still use? Hark, I shall discuss these topics. At length. What keyboards were, what they are, and the functional differences between the good stuff and the junk.

The Difference:

The first and most important difference between old keyboards and new was the way in which they were constructed. In old keyboards, the mechanism was mechanical in nature, where the new keyboards use a fairly simple methodology for key press registration.

In a mechanical keyboard, from the present or bygone era, each key operates with its own self-contained machine. Below each key, there is a discreet mechanical switch of some kind. That is the “mechanical” in mechanical keyboards. Of course, all keyboards are mechanical, if we consider the most basic definition of the word. They have moving parts. The difference is the method by which the signals are created that send the keystrokes back to your computer, as well as the complexity of said method.

How a Rubber Dome Keyboard Works: 

In a modern scissor-switch or full stroke keyboard (laptop vs. desktop style), the resistance you feel as you press the keys is from a rubber dome. As the dome collapses, a contact is made with a tracery of electrodes, and the keystroke is sent. Below the key caps, there are apertures where the stems stick through the base plate, and a mesh of rubber membrane “domes” is glued onto a grid of switches. If the elements that make up this matrix happen to fail in some way, there’s not much you can do. Everything is, in some form or fashion, hooked to everything else. There’s no way of repairing a serious problem. Perhaps you can replace a broken key cap, but that’s the extent of it. I’ll have a lot more to say about rubber dome switches as we go along, but that is the short version.

How Mechanical Keyboards Work:

In a mechanical switch keyboard, each switch is basically its own thing, and a new switch could be plugged in, provided that you wished to crack the case open to do so. When I say “plugged in”, that probably entails a bit of work with a soldering iron, just for clarity’s sake. In this more discreet design, there is a small collection of parts below each key. These are typically, from top to bottom, as follows:

1) The key stem. This is the part that the key cap interfaces with. It acts as a plunger that moves downward and enacts the key press.

2) The chassis of the switch. This holds all the bits and parts together. The key stem travels down into it as the key is pressed.

3) A spring mechanism. The spring tension can be created with a few different types of device. Most often, it will be a very small coiled spring. Leaf springs are also used at times. Some discreet switch technologies will use a rubber dome as part or all of the resistance methodology. An interesting, but essentially moribund type of keyboard switch was the dome-and-slider mechanism, that worked in this way. The “hybrid” switch of today is the Topre switch. I’ll have a whole article on this design at a later date.

4) The instrument of tactility/click. Not all switches employ this feature, but those that do will have some part or parts that allow the force curve of the spring pressure to be altered at some point in the key travel. If a switch is to have a click as it engages, the creation of this sound will bear upon how the switch internals function. Most clicking sounds a keyboard switch makes will be caused by the spring hitting against the chassis of the switch housing, or something similar to that. This noise is not to be confused with either the noise of the key hitting the base plate (bottoming out), or the key reset sound (a resonance or chatter that the switch exhibits when it comes back to the top of its travel under spring pressure).

5) The switch itself. All of the moving parts allow us to, with at least some accuracy, press the correct keys at the correct time. When a key is pressed, the key designer decides at which point in the key press the switch registers the event. This is most often done by completing or breaking a circuit in the bottom of the switch. In the bulk of switch designes, it is a membrane that is manipulated by direct contact with the switch’s internals, physically being opened and closed by the key action. The switching can also be done via Hall Effect, capacitance, or optical sensor. There are probably even other, more esoteric methods for sending the electronic signal. The wiring schematic of the switch and the inclusion of diodes or particular circuit designs can sometimes alter the way keyboards react to more than one key being pressed at the same time. This is typically not of import to the typist, but gamers will often find it necessary to mash several keys at once, and not lose any of the inputs. This quality is often referred to anti-ghosting or n-key rollover. (Sometimes some number, rather than n, if the number of keys is finite.)

Compare and Contrast:

The full membrane, rubber dome technology that has been widely used in recent years is doing all the same tasks, it is just a much, much simpler device with far fewer parts. Complexity being the enemy of economy, it has proven that “good enough” is often the popular choice. Mechanical keyboards, in those same years, have fallen by the wayside. I don’t know of any mainstream PCs that include them as part of their packaged equipment. I will attempt to illuminate the reasons why, and the arguments both for and against mechanical keyboards in the rest of this article. Let’s dig into it.

Rubber Dome vs. Mechanical:

Will both technologies work? Yes. There are some quite good rubber dome keyboards. They are far easier to produce than a fully mechanical design, and the technology can function pretty well, provided that other elements of the keyboard are well thought-out. Rubber dome keyboards can also be made far thinner, so that they can be used in space-conscious implementations, like laptops. While it would be possible to put a scissor switch (like on a chicklet keyboard) atop a mechanical switch, it would still yield a deeper, less compact form factor. There are low-profile mechanical switches, but they have rarely maintained the qualitative advantages that are the hallmark of their larger peers.

Not all mechanical switches have been good. Far from it, some of them have had average or even poor typing dynamics. Most of the switch technologies that have managed to survive through the lean years of rubber dome dominance are at least passable, but some are, at least to the average typist, no better than a run-of-the-mill stock keyboard. Much of this is also personal preference, and intended purpose. A gaming keyboard has different requirements than a pure typist’s tool, and so a particular switch might be great for one, but not that amazing for another.

The hands that sit on the keys are also a large component in this equation. We develop skill with a keyboard. All its quirks become known to us. The spacing and feel, the necessary key travel and force, the sound, the layout. If you’ve done a great deal of typing on a particular sort of keyboard, you’ll be a little better on that keyboard than on others.

Mechanical keyboards have a particular feel. In the first minute, or hour, or even week, you might find that it’s harder to type at the same pace and with the same surety as it might have been with your old keyboard. Even if the new one is lauded as being the cat’s whiskers, and the old one was a steaming pile of crap. Before familiarity sets in, we can really struggle.

I typically may see six, eight, even ten keyboards of all different types through my work day. Laptops, desktops, wonderful mechanicals, deviously unpleasant pieces of junk…you name it. That means that I have my moments of seeming futility on any given ‘board. My brain has to re-map. A lot. That’s just something you have to expect. If you get a mechanical, don’t expect that it’ll be the best thing ever for the first few hours, at least. Give it time.

The Mechanical Advantage:

Old, vintage keyboards had more than just their complex design going for them. They also had crazy build quality. If you look back at the time when computers cost far more (in the dollars of the day) than they do now, the quality of their peripherals was held to a higher standard. After all, the peripherals were the “touch points” for the computer.

No one wanted to spend what they could use to buy a luxury car on their new IBM PC, only to have the keyboard be terrible. Remember, also, that IBM, the first giant of home computers (in the US), was the maker of one of the greatest typing machines ever invented, the Selectric typewriter. In the business world, these were the undisputed, heavyweight champions of typing. They were expensive. They were indestructible. They provided a superb typing experience.

When designing their computer keyboards, this long expertise on the part of the manufacturer led them to pay some attention to what typing on these early computers was going to feel like. It was important to them. It was their brand. IBM, after all, stood for International Business Machines.

Beyond just the typing feel, these devices were built to last, to suffer though a huge amount of use and abuse without falling apart. Some of the keyboards I’ve had the misfortune to experience in my day job, that of a computer tech, have been so poorly manufactured as to be almost useless.

Let’s talk about the worst keyboards for a moment. What was it that made them so bad? Weren’t they just like any of the other examples of the breed? Sigh. Yes, they had the letters and numbers on them, but beyond that, they were utter trash. Some worked great when first taken out of the box, but they would wear very oddly, such that some keys would have wildly different levels of pressure to actuate than others. Some would go right to mush if people used them with a purpose. After a few months of heavy typing, they would have all the feel of typing on small squares of rancid Jell-O. Some had such sloppy or sticky keys that just getting a sentence out with out dropped characters seemed impossible.

In a business environment, where many people are using the computer all day long, they suffer far greater and faster abuse than anything a single home user might inflict. In this higher duty cycle, any flaw in a device will be shown with cruel certainty. In these roles, modern keyboards are a commodity. They are assumed to be replaceable parts. Some of the switches on old keyboards from the golden age were tested and guaranteed to be able to survive over one hundred million key presses. So, yeah, change in philosophy there.

Remember, too, that the typists of the day were there at the computer to create work product. There was no mouse. There were barely any games. This was serious, and it was assumed that people would be sitting at the PC for hours, creating a great deal of text entry. In our modern implementation of the computer, we are more passive, in many cases. We work in a graphical user interface. We have a mouse or similar pointing device. We often sit for long stretches, just experiencing whatever we’re reading or watching. I’ve seen a lot of people who, other than inputting their password and perhaps fumbling a few one-line comments onto a social media site, could very well do without the keyboard altogether. After all, isn’t that what tablet computers are all about – we simply do the minimum to get where we’re going, then become passive observers.

There are a good many of us, however, who still use the keyboard extensively. We’re the sort to create thousands of words of text in the course of an evening or a work day. The purpose of this text could be anything, but if we’re using a sub par keyboard, it can be painful and un-fun. My feeling: everyone deserves a willing dance partner. My answer to having such a partner is to find the correct mechanical keyboard for you, and to allocate a little discretionary income toward that purchase.

In the next episode: 

Mechanical Switches in the Modern Day

Cheers, and Happy Typing!

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In the continuing test of Maggard’s house brand of razors, I now come to their slant. Please see my list of other articles for the already-reviewed V3 and V2 Open Comb safety razors. If you’re reading this in the future, it’s likely that I’ll have finished posting all the reviews, and done a wrap-up segment. Provided, of course, that I don’t meet with an unforeseen doom prior to posting such articles. Shrug. Anyway.

The Slant razor is Maggard’s most recent product launch. Their promotional literature indicates that a significant amount of time and design work was needed to come to marked with a slant razor they were confident in.

Slant razors, by their nature, require a more complex set of mechanical hurdles in order to work as they should. Because they are slanting and biasing the blade, the fit and design of the top cap and base plate are paramount to making them safe and useful. Poor tolerances could cause them to fit together in such a way as to pose a hazard to the shaver, which is not to be desired. Thus, it’s best to measure twice and machine once, as it were.

Unlike some of the Maggard razors, the slant has a gunmetal coating that has an element of metallic sparkle to it, but is not highly shiny. The finish is very nice looking, although a small holiday did appear on the top cap during my usage, It sort of looks like a fingernail clipping shape of slightly lighter color. It is possible that I dinged the razor against something during its use, but I can’t remember a moment when I dropped it or otherwise used it roughly. I have no complaints about it whatsoever. Other than the small cosmetic flaw I mentioned, the finish is very uniform and luxurious in appearance. The design of the slant head is a fairly high profile head, though not quite as extreme a slant as, say, the Fine slant, it has a resemblance to that razor in shape. I find it to be a good looking razor, all in all.

The safety bar is a smooth and rounded affair, and the blade gap is significant, but not going into the realms of absurdity. Upon loading the blade, a Personna Lab Blue, the blade reveal looked even and moderate across both business edges. No unusual amount of torque is needed to seat the blade. That is to say, one does not need to apply a lot of force while threading the handle onto the cap/plate complex in order to coax the blade into its bent and slanted attitude. A few slants, most notably the Phoenix Artisan Accouterments Bakelite, require a good deal of force in this assembly phase. Just a data point.

As slants go, I see the Maggard slant as fairly mild to moderate. It is not a rough shaver, nor does it feel perilous during the act of shaving. The counterbalance to this relaxed approach is that the Maggard slant is not particularly efficient. I performed my typical “maintenance” two pass shave, and it gave an acceptable shave. Not super close, but visibly fitting the bill in terms of being groomed. Some overachieving razors have managed something more along the lines of a damn fine shave with this same methodology. Examples include a Gillette Slim Adjustable on 9, a Merkur Futur on 3, and a Razorock Hawk with the Artist Club Pro blades. Those, it should be mentioned, are very efficient shaving tools, and are at the very top end of the razors I own in this regard.

The handle I used for this outing was the Maggard MR11, which I like a lot. I think this could be classed a “bulldog” handle, as it’s fairly short, stout, and beefy. It has significant knurling, making grip excellent, even with soapy hands. It is just the right length for me to tuck my pinkie finger under the butt end of the handle, giving me a great deal of control over the razor. It’s pretty much a home run. Yeah. An easy triple, at least, if we keep the baseball metaphors coming. I would say that it’s every bit as useful as the handle that came with my Feather AS-D2, or the great handle that is part of the Gillette Aristocrat. Maybe not as pretty as the old Gillette, but few things are, so that’s not really fair.

I think that the Maggard slant is probably a great first foray into the world of slant bar razors. It could also be great for for people who don’t need huge amounts of bite. If your stubble isn’t super coarse, but a slanted presentation is more comfortable for you than a straight bar or open comb, this could certainly fit the bill. I think it’s less efficient than, say, a Merkur 37/39C, but may be a bit smoother, too. My sense is that you could shave with this razor comfortably every day (for two passes), or probably every other day for a full three. If you did great prep, or had a very sturdy epidermis on the front part of your head, I suppose that this is about as close to an every day, three pass razor as you’re likely to find in the field of current slants. I haven’t tried them all, and it may be that the Ikon X3 is even friendlier, but I’m just basing my impressions off of razors I’ve used.

One point of note: because the slant is a more technologically complex part to make, the razor itself is a good bit more expensive than the other Maggard offerings. While the other three are all less than $10 in U.S. money as of January, 2017, the slant goes for about $20. I think that the quality of the head justifies this price, but if ultimate value is your byword, I would say that the V3 or V3A better suit that criteria.

My feeling is that the V3 straight bar razor is very close to the efficiency of the slant, and is milder on the face. To me, with economics and a slightly better comfort to efficiency quotient, the V3 would get the nod over the Slant. I will say that I typically get along better with a straight bar razor, even one with significant blade gap, than I do with a slant. That’s just my face, my technique, and my preparation, however. I know a lot of people who find that a slant works much better for them.

In the handle department, I am hard pressed to pick between the MR5 and MR11, as they are both great. The MR5 takes the prize for being the heavier and more unusual of the two, but the MR11 has all the right moves for a classic bulldog style handle. They’re very well priced. Probably buy both. In terms of the heads…shoot, all four together are well less than $50 right now. Buy ’em, try ’em, and pick your favorite. As mad science goes, it’s a pretty cheap experiment.

Cheers, and happy shaving.

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Ease of Lathering: Very easy. This Catie’s soap lathers about as easily as anything out there. Absolutely no complaints. The soap will tolerate quite a bit of water, if your favored consistency is a bit lighter. It can also remain very yogurt-like in consistency, should you prefer that. By gradually adding in water, which I’ve found to always be the winning strategy, you can pretty much dial in anything you prefer here. Catie’s soaps, if anything, may lather slightly faster than Proraso and Razorock formulations, two of the soaps that I have found to be some of the easiest to load and lather. If your choice of brush is very soft, or if you have no patience with swirling around on the soap to get things started, this is a formulation you should probably look into.

Protection: Excellent protection. Again, nothing whatsoever to complain about. Catie’s Bubbles did not get all its accolades without reason. This is a superb soap base, with nothing that could be called a misstep in terms of performance, in my book. As I mentioned above, you can tune the lather to your preference, simply using less or more water to suit your purposes. Cushion and protection were available here aplenty, even with more aggressive razors.

Residual Slickness: Really nice slickness here. This is another great example of how a skilled soap maker can create a vegan soap that kicks butt and takes names.

Scent: Ah, the old scent question. For me, I get mostly grapefruit zest, with the citrus element dominating the much softer lavender scent. I am not sure what I was expecting, but it was a bit more strident than I had anticipated. I don’t hate it, but it’s not my favorite. If I had to do it over again, I’d probably pick a different version of Catie’s to try. Ah, well. Scent strength is pretty stout, and the scent does linger after the shave, though it mellows on the skin. I would say that anything following it should be compatible with citrus. There is not a lot of sweetness here. Rather, the grapefruit smell is quite realistic, and the lavender, rather than mellowing it, simply provides a sort of earthy undertone. After using this soap for a while, I’m enjoying it more and more, but it was a bit of a surprise when I first opened it up. I would say that it isn’t for everyone, but it might be perfect for you. Such is the subjective realm of scent.

Production/Value: The packaging on this soap is high quality. It might not come across in pictures, but the soap tub is actually a deep blue, and is transparent, so you can see the level of the soap pour if there’s enough ambient light. The soap itself is really, really good. It’s a soft formulation, and I think that the ablation of soap will probably be, if not rapid, certainly palpable. At the price, which is around $16 or so for 4 ounces, it is a fair deal. Not a screaming deal, but not a rip-off. I would put this squarely in the mid-priced artisan category. Not necessarily for the most miserly or economically-pressured shaver, but you don’t have to be one of the leisure class to afford it, either. At the price, there is a lot of competition, but my experience indicates that Catie’s holds its own with pretty much anything out there, particularly if your preference is for a vegan base.

Notes: This stuff is lauded as many shaver’s favorite soap, and I can see why. The ease of use and performance are right where they need to be, and the packaging gets the job done. I think I’d give a slight edge in that particular area to Soap Commander, but Catie’s still has a very good jar, and the labeling works. I think some of their soaps are a little vague in terms of what the scent will be, but I believe that they’re getting better on this score. I’d recommend Catie’s wholeheartedly, but do your homework about which scent you prefer, and perhaps consider getting a sample before buying a whole tub. That is pretty much the advice I’d give for any soap from any maker, so I suppose it’s more of a general caveat. That way, you will have shaves that treat your nose as well as your cheeks.

Cheers, and happy shaving.

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1) Sharpness: Good
2) Comfort: Good
3) Value: Great
4) Availability: Good
5) Country of Origin: India
6) Passes “First Shave Test?: Yes
7) Longevity (# of shaves): 3 or more
8) Notes: Wilkinson Sword blades were historically made in  England, one of their classic shaving products. Through the years, production of these blades has moved over to Germany, and the blades became known as “Wilkinson Sword Classic”. I’ve tried them, and liked them a lot. Very nice sharpness, but still smooth. Certainly a blade that I have a lot of respect for. To my mind, they’re probably the best DE blades coming out of Germany at this time. I’ve historically had some issues with a lot of German-sourced blades. The Sword Classics, though, are a fine choice, in my opinion, and I’d be happy to buy them again, should the need arise.

I became aware of the Gillette Wilkinson Sword blade recently, and I’ve heard a lot of good things. Some shavers have indicated that they’re every bit as good as the classic blades, but tend to be somewhat less expensive. In fact, they’re sometimes offered at extraordinarly low prices. These blades are made in India. That isn’t altogether bad, as Gillette makes a whole line of Indian brands, the 7 ‘O Clock. These blades have proven to be quite good in my experience, and are also well-lauded by many other shavers. Materials and quality control have always been good, from what I can glean. India, actually, has quite a hand in the DE shaving market, since Parker safety razors are made there, as well as many “house brand” razors, such as the Maggard line. It’s a huge home market, and one would assume that the competition for that market allows for their products to reach a good level of refinement.

My first test razor for this blade was the Gillette ’58 TV Special Superspeed. The blade says “Gillette” on it, so why not feed it to an old razor of the same name. The TV Special is a favorite razor of mine, just a sweetheart that represents a nice, mild shaver. The shave came off very well, with a mild presentation and good closeness, in terms of what this razor tends to accomplish. I continued on for three shaves with the Superspeed, and had a very solid run. Good closeness, no trouble. A mild razor like the Superspeed will typically require a three pass shave for ideal closeness, and it is often easy to tell if the blade lacks that last few percentage points of sharpness, as you’ll have a tiny remainder of roughness after the shave. For me, it’ll be under the chin, and right along the far margin of the jaw. For instance, with an Astra blade, the first shave will be perfect, but the next ones will leave just a bit of stubble here and there. Still very good shaves, but not the last word in awesome. When evaluating a blade, it’s important to know how your razor acts with different blades. Without that, there’s no context. In this case, I found that the Gillette Wilkinson Sword pretty much delivered the same performance through three. Maybe one step behind an Astra SP on the first shave, but pulling even with the second, and perhaps just a shade better on the third, since it seems that this blade holds its edge a bit better than the Astra.

I tried a second blade in my Merkur Progress, running through three shaves on setting 2.5, which is a bit more aggressive than an old Gillette, but still quite comfortable for three pass shaves. Another strong effort. No complaints. Again the edge held well. I could believe that shavers who tend to “stretch” their blades might get a good week of shaves out of this blade, even if they shave every day. For me, I don’t find a compelling reason to go much beyond three shaves, especially when the blades are fairly inexpensive, but everyone has their own philosophy on this particular point. I’d rather switch the blade before the shaves get rough. They’re just not expensive enough to do otherwise, for me.

Finally, I did a run of 2 pass shaves with the Maggard V3A, which is an Edwin Jagger derivitive, but with a much greater blade gap. The first shave here was very comfortable, and got solid closeness with this methodology. Just what you’re looking for with a maintenance shave for everyday. No undue mileage on the epidermis. The subsequent shaves were equally good. With the two-pass methodology, I found no change in performance over the run of the blade, which is great.

I went on to use the last few blades in the pack, and they all performed as expected. No poor grinds or sudden dulling out. No rough shaves. Just a smooth performance, exhibiting good sharpness and consistent performance. The fourth blade, for those interested, was used in the Progress again, this time on setting 5 (maximum blade gap), and the Gillette Slim Adjustable on setting 9 (also full-tilt).

All in all, I find the Gillette Wilkinson Sword blade to be a very nice blade. Comfortable, sharp enough, and featuring good durability.

I would say that this blade is my favorite of the Indian-manufactured blades that I have used thus far, and would be a great everyday use product. I think it’s every bit as good as the Wilkinson Sword Classic, and would stand toe to toe with a lot of moderate blades on the market, like the Personna Lab Blue. Recommended.

Cheers, and happy shaving.

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The second in my series of reviews of the Maggard house brand razors, this one addresses the V2 Open Comb razor head.

Maggard has its brand of razors built in India, at least in terms of the heads. My impression is that they have design input and oversight in terms of quality control of these items, but I don’t have any insight as to how that works on the “inside” of the process. No matter.

The V2 Open Comb is, as you may intuit, the second version of their open comb head. It looks to be based upon the old Gillette open comb/short comb design, though the head is built of much thicker material and is generally more massive than the svelte little head of the Gillette “Old” style razor that was one of that storied brand’s first products. Still, the curvature of the baseplate and head are quite similar.

I own a cherished 1918 military model of the Gillette Old Style open comb, so I have the ability to contrast the two razors.

The Gillette “Old” open comb is a quite efficient shaver, and can deliver a great shave. My experience is that it requires patience. It isn’t a razor to rush. It’ll bite if you do. It isn’t the mildest, but it isn’t a super aggressive, either. I’ve found that, if you take your time on the first pass, much of the danger has been averted. It just needs you to try a little tenderness when you’re getting the beard stubble worked down at first. That said, the way the razor is set up, you could probably use most anything as a facial lubricant to get the shave going. Well, maybe not axle grease, but a lot of things.

Okay, on to the Maggard Open Comb, V2. The razor looks nice, with good tolerances and a nice finish. I chose to mount it on a Maggard’s stainless handle, the MR1. This handle is a medium short model, with solid knurling and a faux dial on the bottom, giving it a look like the Merkur 34C. It is a good handle. To me, it comes off as a very traditional, very bone-stock shape. The material and finish is more than adequate, though perhaps not as perfectly finished as a much more expensive product. Let’s be real. I got the MR1 handle for $14. It’s a screaming deal. As nice as the MR5? No. Not for me.

My test shave with the V2 used the Personna Lab Blue, a classic, moderate blade that I know well. If in doubt, I try to go with a blade that I have a lot of experience with, and that is somewhere in the middle of the sharpness spectrum. Often, it’s a Personna or a Dorco. This whole paragraph is going nowhere, so I’ll end it now, just to spare you any further misery.

And the shave? How did it go?

Hmmm. Well, it didn’t go badly. But…but, I have to say that the razor, to me, didn’t represent a ratio on the harshness vs. closeness scale that I could fully endorse. I found it to have a significant feeling of blade-on-face, and some level of roughness to the “delivery” of the shave that I wasn’t that fond of. I don’t mind if I feel the blade, even feel that minor thrill of danger when you draw a razor across your face. That’s all part of the game. When I get that feeling, though, I want it to be really slamming through the stubble. If it feels aggressive, but isn’t really that efficient, that’s kind of an issue.

I got a good, but not great shave after three passes. There was some irritation that needed to be mitigated with extra post shave treatment, but not large scale carnage. The V2 did not prove to be efficient enough to be a great maintenance shaver, so that doesn’t appear to be the usage case. In the same vein, I wouldn’t really feel like it would be a smart move for me to promote it to an everyday shaver, simply because it takes a bit too much of a toll on my face to get the job done. I have much gentler razors that cut as well or better.

In the end, I see it as a razor that is not quite what I was looking for. It doesn’t cut any closer (in point of fact, it doesn’t cut as close) than the V3 razor by Maggard, and it is much less comfortable for my skin, all other parts of the shave being equal (soap, prep, post, growth, season, etc.).

So, then, it falls well behind their V3 safety bar head. This, of course, may be altogether different from your own experiences. I find that, on balance, I tend to do best with a standard, solid safety bar, but that I can tolerate quite a large blade gap. That appears to be where I can “game the system” to get a really efficient razor. Slants are hit and miss, and I have only a few open combs that I really get along with.

In a larger scale, though, these Maggard heads are great. At the price of these devices, you can purchase all 4 Maggard heads for the price of a single Merkur. If you already have a handle you like, great. If not, I recommend the MR5 or MR11, as these are both excellent, and my favorites in the Maggard line. I should note that I don’t really favor long handles on a razor, so that informs my choice.

Cheers, and happy shaving.