1) Sharpness: Poor
2) Comfort: Poor 
3) Value: ?
4) Availability: Fair
5) Country of Origin: Russia
6) Passes “First Shave Test?: No
7) Longevity (# of shaves): Who knows?

8) Notes: I was beginning to think that Russian blades were all excellent. Virtually every blade sourced from Russia has been good, at the very least. More than a few of my favorites have come from there. Ladas, while not being being as well lauded as some, seemed to have its fans.

Well, don’t count me among them. I loaded a brand new Ladas blade into my Gillette Aristocrat, lathered up Cella soap, and gave it a go. Even on a single day’s beard growth after an exemplary shave, the Ladas provided no comfort, no easy glide through the wiskers.

The Aristocrat razor has proven to be a fairly tolerant razor, performing well with everything I’ve fed it, even blades with a lot of mileage on them. Over two passes, it struggled with the Ladas blade, chattering, dragging, and tugging. All the while, the hair was not coming off with any facility. After two uncomfortable and seemingly ineffectual passes, I removed the test blade and finished with a Personna Lab Blue. There was a lot of work to do on the last pass, such that it required a formal “pick up” pass. I almost never do pickups, for reference. This, from a face that only had the lightest of stubble on it. Unacceptable. This is the first time I’ve actually pulled a blade out in the midst of a shave.

Did I cut myself? No. Did I get undue irritation? No. I was cautious, and Cella is excellent soap. Still, my verdict is that, for me, the Ladas blade holds no allure whatsoever. Turns out, at least for me, the Russians aren’t altogether perfect. With so many great blades coming from there, the Ladas hardly deserves mention. Like all things, your mileage may vary. Not recommended.

Note: 

Listen, folks. This was going to be an ongoing column where I’d deliver reviews of all the brushes I’d used. I have reviews written, but I’m scrapping the project until something can stand fiber-to-fiber with these Plissoft brushes. Nothing I’ve tried can even hold their shoes. Short version: get one. Right now, before they raise the prices. I’ll treat this review that I began writing upon first picking up the Italian Flag version as canonical and accurate for the other brushes, as they are uniformly awesome.

Razo-Rock Plissoft (Italian Flag Handle, “The Monster”, and “The Disruptor” all tested)

Does it grab up the soap?
With haste and fury. Yes. The Plissoft fiber, while soft on the tips, has plenty of backbone to grab a load of soap from a hard puck soap. Unless you have soap that is utterly fossilized, I don’t anticipate that you’ll have any difficulty getting soap into this brush.

How’s it lather?
The Plissoft brush lathers better than anything I’ve used with my stable of soaps. I’ve been able to whip up a great, creamy lather every single time out. Soaps, creams…face lather, bowl lather, shaving stick…no problem. I can get a superb lather every single time.

How’s it feel on the face?
Here is where the Razo-Rock brush really shines. With its clever mixture of good backbone but very soft tips, the face feel is luxurious and therapeutic. You just want to swirl your lather around longer than strictly necessary. I feel like they’ve made the synthetic fibers feel like an animal fiber bristle, at the same time retaining all the great benefits we’ve come to expect. I suppose that any brush that features this same fiber would likely perform the same way. Score one for technology.

Does it shed hairs?
I think that one or two hairs fell out, but this seemed to run its course after a few shaves. I imagine that this was probably reflective of a few fibers either being damaged in the production process, or not quite getting bonded into the handle. I don’t believe that it’s anything to be concerned with. So long as a brush doesn’t lose so much mass as to become sparse, I suspect it’s something that is the province of nit-picking. Keep in mind that the Plissoft fibers are very fine, and packed into the knot with great density. Thus, it has many more fibers than an equivalent synthetic from an older technology. A few hairs are not going to be missed.

What’s the break-in period?
None. How’s that? It’s performed the exact same way on every shave I’ve done, right from the first one. I swirled the soap onto my face for five seconds, stopped, and said, “this thing’s pretty rad,” to myself. I haven’t changed my opinion since.

Value for money?
This is, without putting too fine a point on it, the very best value for the money that can be found in wet shaving. THE BEST. The Plissoft line of brushes are uniformly excellent performers. Just decide what handle style and what size of knot you’re looking for, and buy one. Buy more than one. They’re that good. I thought my previous synthetic brushes were good before I got these. I have given them all away. Seriously. Insane value.

Further details:
You tend to have a benchmark for success in any product. A line, to which other, similar products are compared. Well, this brush moves the line. Things I thought were excellent before – well, they’re only just good now. Yes, it’s that much different.

This is a great brush. I think, if you’re used to badger brushes and want to go into a synthetic without sacrificing the sense of softness, this is the one for you. It has that face-pampering feeling, while still being stiff enough to grab up the soap easily.

Listen, I’ll get more brushes at some point. It’s part of the hobby, part of the obsession. Those brushes will have to leap over a fairly tall bar to outdo this one. Razo-Rock provides heretofore unknown levels of performance at this price point and with this technology. Hat tip, gents. Well done. I couldn’t imagine recommending any brush outside the Razo-Rock Plissoft line at this time. It’s that good.

A Short Primer on Alum Blocks

Posted: August 24, 2016 in Shaving Articles
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People who have not had the (misfortune?) of becoming involved in the traditional wet shaving game probably have no idea what an alum block is.

That’s okay. Really, it is. It isn’t a topic that comes up in the average conversation. If you wish to know a bit more, however, please read on.

Alum blocks are somewhat similar to styptic sticks in their basic function. If you’re asking yourself, “What’s a styptic stick?” let me go back a pace.

Alum blocks are solid blocks of potassium salts. They’re fairly solid, but when wet, they transfer a layer of salt onto your skin.

What does this do?

First, you’re rubbing SALT on your skin. Remember the old saying about rubbing salt in the wound? Yeah. If you’ve shaved in such a way as to perform, ahem, macro-dermabrasion, or given yourself a nick or cut, you’ll get some feedback. By feedback, I mean it’ll sting. Perhaps a lot. If it does, you’ve miscarried your shaving technique somehow. The pain is an incentive to do better next time.

The postassium salt will work as a styptic, to some degree. Because it is a very strong astringent, your pores will snap closed, and that’ll often stop minor wounds from bleeding.

High concentration salts are also excellent antiseptic/antimicrobial agents. So, if you’re concerned about disinfecting any facial injuries, this will do the trick.

Basically, the alum salt can be used as an aftershave astringent, in lieu of an alcohol-based balm/splash. Here’s how:

1) Wet your face.
2) Wet the alum block.
3) Rub the alum block on your face.
4) Suffer the repercussions, if there are any.
5) Let the alum stay on your face for a minute or two, max.
6) Wash it right off with cool water.
7) You’ll notice that your face now has NO SLICKNESS. Yes, the alum kills every bit of oil or lingering soap on your skin. No protective layer exists on your skin at this point in the process. Let’s not leave it that way. You’d feel really dry and uncomfortable after a while.
8) Put on your favorite moisturizing balm to fortify your skin.

But wait…there’s more. Alum is a competent styptic, an aces astringent, a disinfectant, and it’s also a deodorant.

That’s correct. I said “deodorant”. I wrote it, if the truth be told. It’s a stylistic flourish. You see…okay let’s not get ourselves off track with secondary and tertiary commentary…

Why do we develop a funk after a while? Bacteria, mostly. Sure, there’s a bit more to it, but the stuff you put under your arms to keep the funk at bay and be a socially acceptable person usually does so, in part, by keeping bacteria at bay. Sometimes, this is done by preventing sweat from forming beneath your arm. Not to be too gross, but sweaty armpits are a nice atmosphere for bacteria. No sweat? Less funk. That’s the antiperspirant mechanism. If you look at the ingredients on a plain old deodorant, it’s a different game. It’s usually high in alcohol, and has fragrance, as well as a gummy carrier of some type that holds that alcohol (an antibacterial agent) on your skin.

Without all sorts of weird chemicals, the alum salt can perform the same task. Just wet it and rub it in your underarm area after a shower. It won’t hurt skin that hasn’t been shaved, unless you’re very sensitive. I’ve never had a problem. If you’ve just shaved your underarms with a bench grinder, all bets are off.

Now, I’m a fat guy. It’s summer. Triple digit temperatures are not uncommon. I present a stern challenge to a deodorant. Many prove unequal to the task. I’ve only found a handful of products over the years that can be solidly counted upon. Late in the day, I will sometimes begin breaking through. Some antiperspirants and deodorants, while effective, can cause us a lot of irritation. Our scent-free presentation is ruined if we’re digging at our armpits like a dog with fleas all day. These concoctions can clog your pores, irritate your skin…some people believe they’ll cause all manner of other maladies. Without delving into the realm of the theoretical, let’s just say that there can be issues. Most of the time, it’s simple, functional issues, but it can be worse, if you have allergies or other unusual reactions to the standard ingredients.

I’ve had my share of deodorants either not work or really get me down in other ways. Not so with the alum. It lasts a full 24 hours with no sign of peril. It’s simple. It takes precious little of the salt to get the job done, so it should last a good long time. Alum isn’t expensive. Natural, simple, effective. Can’t argue with that.

Well, if you made it all the way through my blather without bursting into tears and running away from your computer screen, you are to be commended. You now know pretty much all I have to teach you about alum.

Happy shaving!

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The Gillette Superspeed was produced for something like forty years, one of the longest runs of any razor. Really, a remarkable outing for any retail product. A twist-to-open design, the Superspeed is probably what most people will recognize as simply “what a safety razor looks like.”

As I covered in a previous post about the 1967 Superspeed, this is a fairly mild razor design, one designed to perform smoothly and shave well for a broad spectrum of people. A razor for the masses.

Of the various Superspeeds, the 40’s style model is often considered to be a favorite. The earliest Superspeeds were an adaptation of a model called the “Ranger Tech”, that was produced for a short time just after World War II. The reaction to the Ranger Tech razor had been positive, so Gillette continued on with the design, tooling up for a large production run of their new standard in one piece, twist-to-open razors. The earliest iteration of the design, it is a somewhat plain razor, without any wild stylistic flourishes. The primary visual queues to this version of the razor is that the twist knob at the bottom of the handle is not flared, and that the knurling is the standard sort of solid checkering that you’d see on an older razor, such as a ball-end Tech or open comb. While not quite as ornate as the traction pattern on, say the Aristocrat or the various adjustables, it still provides very good grip.

The early Superspeeds had a shaving head that was somewhat “tall”, having perceptibly greater loft from the baseplate to the top of the head than later models. This design is in common with many other twist-to-open Gillettes of that era. Some say that the amount that the taller head biased the blade made for a slightly better shave. At best, I think that the functional differences between the Superspeeds are fairly subtle. The older models may be slightly more efficient, but going to a Superspeed in hopes of finding a very aggressive shave is probably a mistake.

The various Superspeeds are some of the cheapest and easiest vintage razors to find, and they’re still very viable today. Most of them are going to mild to moderate razors that benefit from a fairly sharp blade. The only aggressive version is the Red Tip. In a weird quirk of fate, these razors have a twist knob that is red in color. But that’s not what we’re talking about today.

As is my habit, I dropped into Jitterbug Antiques on my lunch hour to see what sort of trouble I could get myself into. After mulling it over for a while, I walked away with a fairly nice 40’s Superspeed, one of the perceived “holes” in my collection. After cleaning it up and engaging in what would kindly be termed as meticulous polishing (verging upon obsessive weirdness), it looked really nice. Not brand new, but with a surprising gleam for a razor that I believe comes from around ’48 or thereabouts (there are no date codes for this era).

A word about establishing dates for your Superspeeds. There are some great resources online. One of them, for all Gillette razors, is the date code page on the Razor Emporium website. There are also some great forum posts on sites like Badger and Blade that can be of assistance in this regard. The earliest of the Superspeeds were built upon the design of a razor called the Ranger Tech. There are very subtle differences in the earliest models, with the center bar that has “wings” and no notch. Mine is the slightly later, with the notched center bar. It is said that the ’48 through ’50, as mine is, is just a little less mild. Again, very subtle distinctions here.

Gillette Date Codes

For Gillette razors beyond 1951, they will have a date stamp consisting of a letter, which will track to a model year. For some models and years, there are numbers, indicating the quarter of the year in which they were manufactured. Some collectors like to have a “birth year” razor, and will hunt for one. Just a data point. Anyway, back to the razor itself:

When put into action, I found that it shaves much the same as my ’67, though the “feels” are different. It’s heavier, a little grippier, and the feel on the face is quite reminiscent to the Aristocrat. With a sharp blade, it’s capable of a really close shave, but it’s primarily a friendly, safe razor that just wants to be your friend.

There’s room in the world for all kinds of razors. If you have a coarse beard, or want to get through to a good shave in fewer passes, sometimes aggression is called for. I have a few razors, like the Merkur 39c, for that occasion. If I just want a shave with the minimum of peril, though, I like to go back to something like the Superspeed.

I’d highly recommend a Superspeed to someone just embarking upon the adventure of traditional wet shaving, as they will often allow you to do inadvisable things without significant repercussions. In the same way, if you’re a veteran wet shaver and haven’t tried one of these classics, you’re doing yourself a disservice. A good old Superspeed can be had for a very reasonable price. If kept with care, they should be able to shave for almost any length of time without failure. There’s really nothing quite like taking something from forty or more years ago and putting it back to work for you. With a little effort, they can be restored and polished to almost appear new. I don’t know. Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe being crazy isn’t so bad.

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Tabac

Ease of Lathering: Very Good
Protection: Very Good
Residual Slickness: Good

Scent: I have to admit that I totally misjudged this soap after the first few shaves. Here’s the thing: at rest, dry, Tabac just smells like soap. Kind of a clean, slightly flowery scent. It’s only after lathering that the soap really starts to give forth its full spectrum of smells. It’s fairly present, but not overwhelming to my nose. It smells much like the aftershave, for all that helps. I can’t tell you exactly what it smells like. I’m not discerning enough to take you through the “notes” as they call them. Perhaps the best I could do would be to tell you that it smells like a vintage cologne on top of the soap smell. I’ve found that, the more I use Tabac, the better I like the smell. Every time I come back to it, I grow fonder.

Production/Value: This is a good, hard puck soap. It produces a lot of lather without eroding away. Thus, it’s going to give you lots of shaves per ounce. As with any hard soap, a brush with good backbone will make things easier. You’d have to have a pretty floppy brush, though, to render it difficult to use. Though this is not a bargain basement soap, it’s still a good value in my book.

Notes: This is a very nice soap in regard to doing the basic task of creating a lather and allowing you to shave without drama or bloodletting. Now, it doesn’t smell like I thought it might, which was like pipe tobacco. With a name like Tabac, one would imagine that would be the profile. Perhaps it’s green tobacco, which is a different smell. I didn’t grow up in a place where tobacco is grown, so I can’t say.

Let’s leave scent aside and speak about performance. This soap creates a beautiful lather with multiple brush types, and whips it up without any undue gyrations on the shaver’s part. It’s a good performer. It seems to have good protection, just fine on first pass. I suppose that the shortfall would be that it doesn’t leave your skin as slick after it has been scraped away by the razor as some other soaps I’ve used. Thus, you’d be best served by erring on the side of slapping a bit more suds on your face, if you need to take cleanup passes or additional trips across clean skin. Just a caveat, which may or may not be an issue, depending upon your technique.

A final bit: the packaging on the soap, when purchased with the shaving bowl included, is really nice. A bit more luxurious in this regard than any of my other soaps. It’s not a travel-ready container, though, as the lid does not securely snap or screw on, and it’s on the heavy side. For travel, I’d say a soap that performs as good or better, and has a very slim packaging, is the Arko. If there is a soap in my current arsenal that is most similar, the Arko would be it. Arko is cheaper, but otherwise is quite similar in performance. It might outdo the Tabac in residual slickness. The scent of Tabac is more “cultured” and luxurious than Arko, though I don’t mind the smell of the latter, myself. Tabac is certainly a classic soap, and performs very nicely. Give it a shave or two before you make up your mind on the scent, as I didn’t get the fully present scent of the brand until I’d worn off the first layer of the puck. In general, Tabac is a “grower” for me, one that took me a bit of time to warm up to. Warm up I have. Give it a try.

Perma-Sharp Super

1) Sharpness: Great
2) Comfort: Great
3) Value: Fair
4) Availability: Good
5) Country of Origin: Russia
6) Passes “First Shave Test?: Yes
7) Longevity (# of shaves): 5, maybe more(!)
8) Notes: I’ve been hearing a lot of positive noise about the Perma-Sharp blades of late. As an interested party, I decided to procure a few and give them a test to see if the buzz was justified.

For the first shave, I decided that I should get back to the actual test razor for this series, the Feather AS-D2 Seki Edge All Stainless (don’t worry, I won’t use the full name often, as it is a bit of an absurdity).

Loading in the blade, I prepped my face with a Noxzema wash, then lathered up some WSP Fougere Noir soap with my current favorite brush, the Plissoft from Razorock. What followed was a wonderfully comfortable shave. Part of it was the AS-D2, part of it was the lather, but the Perma-Sharp blade played a key role. On the first shave, it struck me as a smooth, very comfortable blade with plenty of sharpness. The closeness of the shave was right up there with the best I’ve seen from the razor, with no cuts, weepers, or irritation. To be honest, it had been a while since I shaved with the AS-D2, and it was an eye-opener. I’d enjoyed all the vintage razors I’ve been picking up so much that I may have forgotten how great a razor this is. Taking nothing away from the vintage razors, but Feather makes a heck of a shaving machine. I picked it for these tests so that there would be no apologies or confounding variables. The blades, provided they’re at least a little sharp, should function to their best effect.

Having passed the first shave test with ease, I carried on, employing my 40’s era Gillette Superspeed with basically the same periperhal equipment as above. Another good shave. Nothing to worry about from the Perma-Sharp blade. Smoothness and sharpness presented no issues in this shave.

The third shave with the Perma-Sharp blade was one for the books. Bowl-lathered Taylor of Old Bond Street Rose shave cream, having done a Noxzema face cleanse beforehand. One of the best shaves I’ve ever had. Perhaps the best. The razor worked wonderfully in the 40’s era Gillette Superspeed. Very smooth. Very effective. I was well pleased with all included products. The blade fared so well that I’ll carry on with additional shaves through the week, seeing what kind of lifespan it might have. I can already tell you that these blades are worth a try. Very much so. More to come…

Overtime: Fourth shave was a two-pass with my Gillette Slim Adjustable (setting 5), sliding on Arko soap. Another good one, very comfortable, plenty close. No sign that this blade is done.

Fifth shave, again with the Slim Adjustable, this time on setting six. Two passes, sliding on WSP Rustic soap. Even closer shave, no irritation or chattering across the skin. It appears that Perma-Sharp is not kidding around with their moniker. The blade continues to perform. Still seems sharp enough to do the job, and I’ve felt no roughness yet. Very pleased. Rather than go on endlessly, I’ll just cap this with the total number of shaves I was able to get before things started degenerating.

In the end, I had seven shaves, every one good. The last two were with the Slim, on setting seven, two passes. This blade never gave me any irritation. No weepers, no cuts. Excellent closeness, right to the end. Its last act was to shave my neck, blind, for two passes. No problem. I may well have been able to get another shave or two out of it, but it’s not in my best interest to keep on until things become un-fun. Suffice it to say that people who brag about this blade lasting them longer than you’d typically believe, the stories might just be true. I’ve certainly never pushed a blade this long. Usually, by shave four, I feel some obvious degeneration.

I have to give my strongest recommendation that you give the Perma-Sharp blade a try. As with anything, it might not work with your setup and your face, but I find it to be a heck of a blade. The combination of smooth performance and excellent staying power have really impressed me. Hat tip to you, Perma-Sharp.

Tips for Vintage Razor Shoppers

Posted: August 13, 2016 in Shaving Articles
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If you find yourself in the market for a vintage razor, there are a variety of things you may wish to consider as you look around. Read on to see my suggestions.

First, do yourself a favor and start out with at least a little knowledge about what you’re getting into. Do a little research online, so you some vague idea about what the razors are worth before purchasing anything. What the “experts” suggest, and so forth. Also, keep in mind your needs as a shaver, if you plan to put the old fella to work. If it’s just going to sit in a case, I suppose it’s just a matter of aesthetics.

If you have some relatives or friends you think might be in possession of some vintange gear, it may be possible for you to arrange to purchase said equipment for a song. They may just give you the razors, if they are not of a mind to try and sell them. Beyond that, heirlooms from family always signify a bit more.

If purchasing a razor, check that any moving parts work as they should. To the best of your ability, make sure everything lines up and seems to cinch down properly. In terms of finish, the razor may be in need of cleaning, lubrication, and polishing. These things are easily enough remedied, if you don’t mind expending a little time and energy. Of course, if you see serious oxidization, corrosion, or spots worn clean through the plating, this is sub-optimal. Keep in mind what you’re hoping to do, though. If you’re purchasing one as a “user”, it can be a little ragged in appearance, so long as it functions. For display models, though, you want it to look good, or at least be within your capabilities to restore.

Be sure to thoroughly clean and disinfect your razor before you use it. An easy way to do so is to put a cap full of dish soap in a mug, then put the razor in, head open or cap loosened, as the build of the device dictates, and pour boiling water over it. Let the whole thing stand until it’s cool enough to not burn your fingers. Take an old toothbrush and use it to clean all the surfaces, nooks, and crannies. If you find that this doesn’t totally assuage your sense of duty in regard to disinfecting, let the razor stand for several minutes in some rubbing alcohol. That, or go full-tilt and use some Barbicide. Just remember that stuff is wicked toxic, and will kill you dead if you drink any.

If you have a twist-to-open vintage razor, it will likely need some lubrication on the various hinges and articulated bits. A razor that’s manifestly clean and tidy looking can probably just have some mineral oil worked into it – that stuff is safe to ingest, biologically inert, and will suffice for the purpose of slicking up the action of moving parts. If you wish to go one better than that, use some food-grade synthetic oil, such as Superlube High Viscosity with PTFE. That’s what I use, and it’s the very thing.

If you’ve got a razor that has some corrosion deep in the mechanism that may be impeding its function, you’ll want a cleaner-lubricant that has a powerful penetrant/solvent component. WD-40 will work, but I prefer CLP, Tri-Flow, Rem Oil, or Liquid Wrench. Give the penetrating compound plenty of time to get into the mechanism, moving it to work the oil deeper in. If you use a compound like this, you’ll probably want to clean the razor thoroughly afterward, as these all contain petroleum distillates that aren’t necessarily what you want to be rubbing onto your face.

Finally, if your razor is altogether clean, but still has dull, corroded, or otherwise less than shiny surfaces, you’ll want to use a very mild polishing compound to work that out. My go-to is Nevr-Dull wadding, available at most automotive stores, or on an e-retailer like Amazon. If this proves insufficent, try Semichrome polishing cream, which is more potent, but still very gentle. Keep in mind, though, that any polishing compound has the ability to erode away an already-thready plated finish. If you’re working with a gold plated razor, you have to be very careful, or you might end up finding some of the nickle under-plating shining through.

When your vintage beauty is, well, beautiful, give it a try. As with any razor, make sure that the blade loads properly, and is being held evenly on both sides. Be careful on the first few passes, before you fully grasp all the handling dynamics. Some have said that they don’t have a great success rate finding good razors, but I’ve yet to bring one home that wasn’t shave-worthy and fully mechanically sound. Your results may vary, but there are a lot of good vintage safety razors still out there. Patience and a little head-work will net you one that may become a favorite.

Good luck, and happy (vintage) shaving!