Pet Peeves – Safety Razors

Posted: December 3, 2016 in Shaving Articles

We all come to the point in our hobbies when we become aware of things that, without fail, will bug the crap out of us.

I am certainly at that point with wet shaving.

Let us, then, discuss my pet peeves, insofar as safety razors go. Hold onto both hat and head, because the winging is about to commence.

1) Overly slippery handles. Grr. It’s got a wickedly sharp blade in it. It’s near my face. My hands are wet and soapy. Why, why, why would it seem like a good idea to make the handle of a razor slippery? What on earth is the thought process there? I honestly don’t know. It only seems to be a sensible design choice.

But – but it appears that what I perceive to be sensible is not universally accepted as being so. There are a good number of razors that have handle finishing that I don’t agree with. I will list a few of those I’ve found wanting, not by name, but by the sins they’re guilty of.
a) Smooth as a carrot. Yes, they make them this way. Chromed or otherwise finished in a perfectly smooth fashion. Smooth things don’t have any grip.
b) Pretend traction. Just because there are lines of some kind, or vague bumps in the smooth surface, that does not mean that we’ll be able to get any purchase on the implement when we’ve got soap all over our fingers. Tsk, tsk.
c) Weird roundness. The butt end of a razor handle should be squared off. End of transmission. It has no reason to be otherwise. A round back end does nothing but keep the small fingers from balancing there and enhancing the control of the razor. Sigh.
d) Twisty McSwingaround. I understand the idea of the barber pole grooves. It catches the light. It’s pretty. It seems like it would do great. Well, not for me. Yes, you can hang onto the razor, but it is hopelessly prone to want to spin around sideways as I use it. Infuriating. If I’d known, there would have been a few razors I would never have purchased.
e) Half Assed Knurling. The least of the sins, I suppose, this is knurling that simply isn’t cut deep enough into the metal to really give the grip you need. Try harder.

What should a razor handle be modeled after? I’ll give a few examples. For vintage razors, I’ll say that you could look a long time without finding a better design than the Gillette Aristocrat (late 40’s). The Fatboy and Slim Adjustables are also great. These are quite complex traction patterns, and might not be ideal for every manufacturing technique.

For modern razors, the Feather AS-D2 is everything it should be. Deep, checkered knurling in stainless steel. Matte finish, similar to a bead-blast. Good weight, great traction, correct length.

2) Inordinately long handles: I have big hands. I was led to believe that this would mean that I needed a long handle to shave comfortably. Yeah, no. I like a standard to short handle for a razor. The length of a Superspeed at the short end, to the length of a Slim Adjustable on the far end. Yes, I can do okay with longer handles, but for me, they’re in no way necessary, and sometimes make it harder for me to shave my neck easily. If the razor is so long that I need to engage in special gyrations in order to maintain the blade angle at the base of my neck, that’s too long for me. Nuff said.

3) Mild, but bitey. We’ve encountered a few of these razors. They’re really comfortable on the early passes, lulling you into a false sense of security. Then, every time, you end up getting irritated or bleeding by the end. Not a great mix, this. While any razor can bite, one that feels mild but frequently nips is not preferred.

4) Aggressive, but to no perceivable end. There are some razors I’ve use that come across very harsh, really beating up the skin, but don’t seem to take the hair off very well. There are too many good razors around to waste my time on these. Into the shoebox of despair they go.

5) Drunk painters. Yeah, like an inebriated house painter, these tend to leave little remainders of stubble at odd intervals across my face. Only a dedicated cleanup pass can really get the shave where it needs to be with a razor like this. If it only happens from time to time, I’m willing to take the blame. If a trend develops…

6) Blade snobs. If you can get a good shave with a razor, but only on the first shave of a particular brand of blade, that doesn’t particularly endear me to that implement. Everything has its ideal operational requirements, but if it’s downright temperamental, that irks me.

7) Needs a chaperone. If you have to twiddle about endlessly with the razor in order to get the blade to line up equally on both sides, it’s got issues. Issues I’m not that enthusiastic to deal with. I always look closely at the amount of blade and the gap when I’m loading in a blade, but if a razor consistently needs to be adjusted, that doesn’t impress me much. It speaks to loose manufacturing tolerances or a design that allows too much play in the mechanism. You deserve better. I…well, I probably deserve to get what I get, but I still WANT better.

That’s all my grievances for the moment. As I’m through winging, I’ll let you go.

Cheers, and happy shaving.

Ease of Lathering: Very easy, as would be the expectation, given the type of soap it is. The soap loads fast and lathers great. No problem here. Behaves a lot like “XXX” by RazoRock.

Protection: Great protection. Does everything you’d expect a premium soap to do. Creamy lather, great cushion.

Residual Slickness: Excellent. Nothing about the performance of this soap brings negative attention. It’s quite easy to take secondary passes across your face with little to no remaining soap lather. Rich ingredients and a well thought out formulation allow all manner of foolish behavior by the shaver.

Scent: Ah, here’s the…interesting part. My sense is that I’ve smelled this scent before, but I can’t think of where I encountered it. The scent wasn’t one I associated with shaving or the like. More like industrial cleaning. Not necessarily bad, but a little weird. I wouldn’t say that this is the soap that seduces me with its smell. In terms of what it smells like – I would say that it is primarily a sweet citrus smell, with another scent behind it that I can’t easily identify. They say that it is a laurel smell, and perhaps that is the note I can’t identify. It neither disgusts nor intrigues me. I’m neutral to it.

Production/Value: This is a really high quality soap that performs very well. It isn’t cheap. It’s four ounces at twenty bucks. Will that give you a ton of great shaves? Absolutely. However, it’s not what I would call a screaming deal. You’re not getting ripped off, but if maximum value is your aim, this may not be the soap for you. The dividing line, I believe, is the scent. If you’re head over heels for the laurel scent, you’ll be happy as can be. If you’re less than totally sold, you will find yourself with a great performing soap at a fair price, but nothing beyond that.

Notes: I wanted to try one of these soaps that has saffron oil as part of the formulation. I’m not at all disappointed with the performance of this soap. It is packaged well, formulated well, and works great. I’m not totally sold on the scent, but you might find it to be more alluring than I do, scent being subjective. If you choose to grab this soap, I don’t think you’ll be have made a mistake. I don’t see it as a must-buy, however, and don’t believe that it’ll become one of my go-to soaps. It’s a crowded field, and we can afford to be picky.

 

31443za

A great friend of mine gave me a gift of a handful of old razors recently. Two of them were GEMs. Gem razors use a single edge blade that is the same shape as a paint scraper blade. That is, they are rectangular in nature, and have a rolled back edge, with a tab on their sides. The blades you shave with, however, are not the same as the industrial scraper blades. The metallurgy and the grind is different. Yes, they’re more expensive. Why? Because you put them on your face, which is not the same as being on an old barn window. I hope.

In any case, this is far from my first GEM. The first one I picked up, a Bullet-Tip, has just never quite shaved like I wanted it to. However, it’s important to evaluate each razor on its own merits, rather than engaging in gross overgeneralization. I very much enjoyed the 1912. Very much. Thus emboldened, I gave the featherweight a try.

The Gem featherweight is called thus because it has a very low mass head, paired with a Bakelite handle. Bakelite is a very early type of hard plastic that was frequently used from the 30’s through the 60’s, before being overtaken by other types of plastics that were easier to mold. As I understand, it is a phenolic resin that has a base of wood pulp. Maybe. My grasp on the chemistry is tenuous. No matter. This is a very light razor.

For some, razors can only be good if they are heavy devices that bear upon one’s face with their own mass. I like a heavy razor as much as the next guy, but a light razor can be good, too. I enjoy my ’67 Superspeed Gillette that has an aluminum handle, for instance. Light razors have some advantages. The first, is that they have tend to be very maneuverable. The second is that they will allow you to dictate the amount of aggression. If you want to press a little, you can. If you want to let them float, they will. Third, if they work, they are great as travel razors, since they will not weigh down your shaving kit.

After all that preamble, how did the little GEM shave? In a word, excellent. I like the length, the shape, and the handling dynamics. Good audio feedback. Nice and gentle, but great efficiency. I’m actually shocked at how well it shaves. It gives superb closeness, within the realm of doing a two pass shave. I have determined that, with a single edge, doing a three pass is just not going to be a good idea for me. That being said, the two pass provides a prefectly serviceable shave, provided that the razor is fairly efficient.

I’m really jazzed that the GEM Featherweight is such a good shaver. Not just because it was a gift, and one hates to have gifts not turn out well. No, because it is a great old razor that will be another fun option for me to use. Not just something fun to look at and consider, a relic from an old age, but a still-viable tool. I liked this one, and the 1912 GEM, so much that I purchased more blades for them. Good stuff. This is what it’s all about.

DIY Beard/Preshave Oil

Posted: November 26, 2016 in Shaving Articles
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While to topic of pre-shave preparations can be a social wedge in the wet shaving world, I have come to appreciate the aid of such products at times.

When I first started shaving, I picked up the pre-shave lotions from Proraso in Red, White, and Green. They all function well, while I think that the slight edge may go to the White, in regard to slickness and feel. However, the Red has the nicest scent, as I’m quite fond of the Proraso sandalwood formulation. My usage, in the past, had been to put the pre-shave on and let it sit for a few minutes, then to wet my face and shave as usual. I wasn’t sure about the amount that it impacted the shave. Maybe a little, but not night and day. That was my feeling.

I also tried RazoRock “Mr. Joe” pre-shave glycerin soap. I found this to be a very effective, in regard to its mentholated feel and lather boosting qualities. It’s fairly present lime scent made it a somewhat of a specialist, however, as that scent can clash with some soaps.

Finally, and perhaps most effectively, I’ve been using a coconut oil lotion to prep my skin prior to the shave. I would put this on and let it sit for a good while, which got me thinking.

Because of my experiences with the coconut oil lotion, I changed my approach. Being a night shaver, I began putting my pre-shaves on an hour or two prior to the shave. This, it turned out, made a big difference. Given that additional time, the moisturizing qualities of the pre-shave (not the Mr. Joe, as that’s actually soap itself, and wouldn’t be good to leave on your skin) really made a difference. My skin was slicker, healthier, and better prepared for the shave, regardless of what shave soap I was using to make it happen.

I had looked at the pre-shave oils out there, and while I was intrigued, I wasn’t certain that I was that excited about spending the amount of money that a lot of people were asking. I looked at the ingredients. I felt skeptical. I still wanted to try some, however. Some people had said that they were actually antithetical to getting a good lather, or to getting a close shave. In the name of science, I felt like I had to explore this issue.

The pre-shave oils on offer universally use a mixture of natural vegetable oils, along with some essential oils and perhaps some vitamins. Coconut, grape seed, olive, argan, castor, and a few other oils tend to be in most of them.

In my house, I had extra virgin, cold pressed olive oil. It’s my favorite for cooking. Ingredient one, come on down.

I also had some essential oil of lemon. Bam.

Finally, I had a small bottle with a restrictor cap to mix into.

A bit simple, a bit caveman, but I just poured maybe three ounces of olive oil in, then added a few teaspoons of lemon oil. I shook it up, then put some on my face. And, just for the heck of it, onto my goatee. It could be beard oil, too. Right? I have a chin beard. It sometimes needs some love, too. Hmm…

My experience?

It works great, at least if you leave it on for a good hour or two before the shave. It does well as a moisturizer for chapped elbows and rough hands, too. There’s no dire need for an essential oil to scent it, but putting one or more in just makes things better. Just remember to test yourself for irritation before hand. You don’t want to break out in a rash with your new pre-shave/beard oil. I knew I was fine with lemon, and I had it in house, so that’s my first batch. I found that the gentle lemon scent hid the olive oil smell, especially after a few minutes.

What does my do-it-yourself mixture not do as well as a store-bought mix? Well, it may be a little viscous or “gloopy” in comparison. If you put it on, your face will have a bit of a shine and an oily feel, but that could be overcome with a very gentle rinse and towel-off.

Regardless of the soap I use, I find that the oil prep has made the blade glide better, and removed the need for me to do a moisturizing balm afterward. It’s even obviated witch hazel so far. I’ve had no issues with clogged pores or the like.

What about the beard? My beard can sometimes get a little wild, and I have also had issues with dry skin below the beard. Working a small amount of the olive oil into the old goatee has proven to work great for conditioning the hair and skin.

So, for the cost of, well, nothing, I was able to make my shaves better and more comfortable. If you’re a morning shaver, you could easily put a bit of this oil on prior to going to bed, and have the same benefit (or even better). I’d let it have a few minutes before going head-to-pillow, however, just to make sure you’re not getting oil spots on your bedclothes.

To recap: all you need is some olive oil (coconut would probably work just as well) and some essential oil of your choice to make your own pre-shave. You could cut it 50/50 with castor oil, if you want to get fancy. Fancy, however, may not be strictly necessary. When you look at the price of olive oil, even the highest tier of organic extra virgin stuff, it’s super cheap when used as a shave prep. You only need a few drops, less than a teaspoon full, even if you’re being lavish. If it’s something you can put inside your face, there’s no reason to think that it won’t be find on your face. That’s the reasoning I’ve decided to use. It may be a false premise, but whatever.

In terms of essential oils, you can get a 4 ounce bottle of most of the oils for around $12 to $15 dollars on Amazon (U.S. money, Fall 2016). 4 ounces is a crap ton of essential oil. So, for the cost of one of the high-zoot pre-shave oils or beard oils, you can probably create a decade’s worth of DIY stuff. Not too shabby. Good enough for this cave dweller.

Cheers, and happy shaving.

The New Normal

Posted: November 24, 2016 in Shaving Articles
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I recently did a shaving favorites article, and predictably, my whole shaving pattern quickly changed, contradicting a lot of the things I said in that post. Normality, favorites, and opinions are just snapshots in time.

Over the course of the summer, I’d settled into shaving every day. Prior to that, I’d typically shave every other day or so, doing a full three pass shave every time. If I get an ideal shave with a full three passes, there’s not a lot to shave the day after. The stubble is just barely starting to show up. Despite this, I’d been so enthusiastic to shave and try all the gear I was collecting that I started shaving a full three pass, every day. Excitable boy, they all said.

There are a few problems with this approach. The first is that doing a thorough shave every day tends to put a lot of strain on your facial skin. It’s hard not to get yourself irritated, and if you start getting irritation, you’ll find it difficult to heal up when you’re at the shaving mirror every 24 hours. The face just doesn’t have time to recover.

The strategy needed to make this work (for me) is to use a mild, safe razor. Something like an old Gillette Superspeed or Knack. Anything that tends to be too incisive will get you into trouble after a certain number of shaves. You also need to pay a good deal of attention to facial prep. If you only shave a few times per week, you have a lot of time to heal. You can give yourself a few weepers or minor bits of razor burn and not worry too much about them. Every day…not so much. You have to give your skin all the chances it can get to make sure you’re okay.

Or…yeah. “Or” is where I’m going with this.

I’ve talked about “maintenance” shaves in this forum before. For me, my safe shave is with the grain, then across the grain on my cheeks and jawline, finishing with another with the grain pass (in actually, sort of across, due to hair growth pattern) on the neck. Two passes. Decent shave. Very little risk. The avoidance of my trouble spots.

Does this shave go as close as humanly possible? No. There’s simply no way to get a perfect shave with a double edge razor if you don’t go against the grain. The shave is perfectly respectable, and probably closer than anyone ever gets with an electric or a cartridge. At the same time, low injury rates and good comfort are what you can expect. Okay, they’re what I can expect. Everyone’s shaving journey takes them down different roads.

I still love to shave, and shaving every day lets me get my fun more often, as well as being able to test more products (twice as many, it turns out) than if I shaved only every other day. Thus, I’ve gone with the safe shave every night.

Because I’ve lost a good bit of weight lately, and my face is more angular than it was (as well as having bone closer to the surface), there are a few new danger zones I have to take into account. At the same time, autumn has come, and with the cold temperatures, a tendency toward very dry air.

I have been making consistent use of pre-shave treatments, as well. I think I’ve voiced some level of reticence or skepticism in the past, but it really depends upon your skin, the climate, and your shaving regime. At this time, I find that they’re indispensable. I’ll have more comments about pre-shave stuff in a further article.

Something that becomes starkly clear when you change your shaving regime is that your needs in hardware will be different. If you’re doing the safe two pass shaves (or one pass…), it’s going to be to your benefit to have a more efficient and incisive razor. A recent article I posted talked about the question of aggressive razors, and if they cut closer. The answer was, and still is, no. They don’t necessarily cut closer, but they cut faster, mowing down more hair on the early passes. If you’re not going to a full three or more passes, the aggression can be the difference between a mediocre shave and a really nice one.

I dusted off my Merkur 39C razor and tried that as my go-to for this tactic. It worked. It worked well. The old, familiar problems I’ve had with it in the past reared their ugly heads once more, however. For one, I find a chromed razor to be more likely to judder or stick on your skin if your shave lather has been swept aside. Secondly, the spiral, barber pole pattern on the handle doesn’t quite work for me. I prefer cut, checkered knurling, or something similar. The barber pole pattern feels “twisty” and a little out of control.

So I tried something else, a razor that featured better handling dynamics. The Gillette Slim Adjustable. Oh, yeah. On settings 7 and up, this thing kills it. Great efficiency, but no pain. The point of the high settings on these old machines becomes perfectly clear. Yes, a lower setting is great for a three pass, but cranking it up works wonders when you’re doing a more abbreviated shave. Not miracles, but wonders. This test made it clear, yet again, that if you want only one razor, an adjustable is probably the way to go (provided that it has a legit mild setting – I’ve been told that even the lowest setting on the Merkur Future is pretty aggressive). For me, it’s kind of all about the Gillette Adjustable right now.

Do I get a five ‘o clock shadow with two passes? Yes. But remember, I’m a night shaver, so that’s five…the next day.

Is it likely that I’ll do the thorough shaves again? Sure. I certainly will. That said, sometimes having “good” all the time is better than having “great” every once in a while.

Cheers, and happy shaving.

Ease of Lathering: Effortless. This very soft soap is nearly a cream as delivered. It has an almost tapioca pudding consistency (which is a little weird). Note, though. If you decide to use it like a cream, don’t try to be overly economical with the amount you dip out of the jar. The nature of the stuff means that it can get lost or thrown off of the brush, causing an uneven load. Still works best, in my experience, treating it like a soap. I would recommend dipping a small amount out and sticking it to the bottom of your lathering bowl. Its unusual consistency seems to need the brush to contact a considerable amount of the soap in order to get the ideal load (not that it actually uses that much. I would be concerned with water deteriorating the soap if you loaded it too often out of the jar.)

Protection: The face feel is amazing. Amazing, I tell you. Super cushion and glide. Luxury feel all the way. I have no reservations about this soap in regard to performance during the shave.

Residual Slickness: Again, this stuff, provided that you don’t underload your brush, is going to work great. Lots of slickness and the sense of being nourished after the shave. The rich ingredients featured here are evident both during and after the event. The feel of your face afterward, and the lingering hints of the scent, are pretty awesome.

Scent: The olfactory symphony that this soap gives off is just killer. To me, of course. This is a complex, masculine, cologne-style scent that has some tobacco elements to it. I would call it a dark, warm smell, I suppose. For whatever that’s worth. Scent being subjective, I can’t promise you’ll dig it, but I do. One hundred percent. The old schnoz gives SMdF top marks, all the way across the board. Right up there with the best smelling soaps I have ever experienced.

Production/Value: As with “The Dead Sea”, a soap I reviewed recently, SMdF has the thick glass jar and metal lid. Very nice. The “craft” labels look great…out of the box, in any case. The labels, in an effort to look old-timey, aren’t waterproof. It’s an…interesting decision. Even a small amount of water causes the labels to crinkle up. Oh. well. small issue, really. In terms of the soap, it’s a lot of great product for the money. Within the realm of luxury soaps, the retail price is at the entry level, but gives you excellent performance. You’d have to be utterly spoiled rotten to ding this soap on very many levels.

Notes: If there was anything that didn’t quite do it for me, it was the fact that I couldn’t really feel the menthol/camphor in the soap. I’m sure it was just too subtle for me to sense, but some people were talking about this soap being the “grown up” version of the Proraso Green. Beep. No, not the case. This is a great soap, and has a wonderful scent. It isn’t Proraso Green, or any other high-menthol and eucalyptus soap. Which is okay. Just don’t go into a purchase of the product thinking that it’ll occupy that niche. To me, this is more along the lines of Tabac. If you *wanted* to like Tabac, but it was too floral for your taste, this might be the very thing. Recommended in the strongest possible terms.

1912gemsafetyrazor

I’ve had a GEM razor in the stable for a while. I have respected the design, but…but I haven’t had the very best luck with it. In general, I’ve had a bit of difficulty getting the ideal shaves from the GEM and the Schick Injector I have. I tend to irritate my neck with them, as the heavier blade stock tends to be more unforgiving in my trouble spots. This has all be documented in earlier reviews.

A great friend of mine, Chris, is aware of my weird fixation with old razors, and I’ve done my best to corrupt him, as well. He drive trucks professionally, and this takes him all around the country. He returned from one of his trips and, to my great surprise, brought me back some old razors he found in an antique shop.

One of those was a fairly beat-up looking GEM, one of the original style that came out in 1912. Now, I don’t know how to go about determining the date for a GEM, so I went ahead and didn’t do it. Because…laziness?

In any case, I took a look at the razor and wondered if it could be fully made presentable, or if it would be pretty cobby looking beneath the verdigris. I was so corroded that I wasn’t sure if I was looking at brass or some other coating. It resembled copper, to be honest.

But I love a challenge. Into the ultrasonic cleaner it went, with the rest of the haul that Chris kindly brought to me. It was much improved, but still pretty rough looking at that point. We went on to soak it in alcohol and lemon oil, as is my preference for disinfectant and also for displacing any remainder of water.

Then…then came the magic of Semichrome. And magic it was. Several patches of cloth went totally black. My hands were dark as a coal miner’s. But the razor was back to beautiful, almost unrecognizable as the same thing. Chris was there to witness the transformation, and was tickled. We were moved to take the old shaver out for a voyage, just to see.

In the past, I’ve complained about the sharpness of the GEM style single edge blades. Not quite as sharp as I would like, has been my refrain. Well…perhaps I just needed to put the blade in the right razor, because it was smooth, effective, and gave a damn fine shave in the old 1912 GEM.

I have, in the interim, realized that, for me, going against the grain is just not a bright idea for me with some razors. GEMs are among those. I do my “safe” two pass shave, with an across-the-grain pass on my cheeks/jawline and two with-the-grain passes on the neck.

This week, I’ve been having some difficulty with irritation here and there. This was a result of a few iffy choices on my part, as irritation usually is. I’m happy to report that the old GEM did not further this irritation, and I still got good shaves.

A word about good shaves. You have to be realistic with what you’re going to get with regard to closeness when you don’t do a full-tilt shave. There will be some roughness if you go against the grain afterward. Stubble will come back more quickly. It’s just a function of the closeness of the shave. There are no miracle machines out there. These tools are only able to achieve a certain amount of closeness without using them to their fullest advantage.

All of that said, the GEM provided a very comfortable and efficient shave. The best of anything I’ve experienced from a single edge razor. I really like the open comb, as it allows the soap’s slickness to stick around a little better if you’re going over the skin multiple times. The audible feedback on this razor is amazing. Loud and deep and coarse. It sounds as if it would be terribly rough, but it’s just the acoustics of the razor head.

In any case, this old beast changed my mind about GEM razors. It’s great. It can go punch for punch with my big Merkur in terms of maintenance shaves goes. It’s beautiful. It has great handling dynamics. The handle has good grip. It’s awesome. Great thanks go to Chris for the wonderful gift.