Ease of Lathering: In an unusual move, I’m going to say “Weird”. This is a super thirsty formula. I’m not kidding. Put some water on the puck to loosen it. Leave more water in your brush. You’ll still be well within margin, and will have to add more, and more again. The soap also loads with, to me, a very strange consistency. Something I’ve never experienced. Without wishing to sound grotesque, I found the formative soap to resemble snot. It starts as a stringy, glutinous mess, but will turn into a nice, slightly nut-brown lather if you work a bit. Not hard, again, just weird and totally novel in my experience. I’m not a soap maker, so I don’t know what kind of chemical interaction is at play to make this happen.

Protection: Excellent. This is not quite the same formulation as the white-jar or “glissant” bases. It is a tallow base, but doesn’t have lanolin. It has a high glycerin component, and has a whole bunch of different other saponified oils as well. This is a high quality soap. Perhaps its character doesn’t quite send me into the paroxysms of joy that some people experience, but it doesn’t leave you wanting in regards to slickness or cushion. It’s not so much the end result as the method of getting there, at least for me.

Residual Slickness: Very good. No issues here at all. Just a step behind the very best slickness I’ve experienced.

Scent: Good scent. I don’t find that it knocks me down in terms of being an homage to Old Spice. I like but don’t love it. I feel like, in a lot of ways, Crown King “Sundown” is a better Old Spice scent (even though it doesn’t really even mean to be) than the Reserve Spice. All that said, the Reserve Spice is not going to be a disappointment if you’re looking for that classic scent profile.

Production/Value: Barrister and Mann is right at the top end of what I’d consider to be a mid-priced soap. The presentation here is classy and refined, with the wide-mouth jar and strong graphic design for the labels. I find that it leaves me wondering if I’ve paid a few bucks too much, though. I just want that extra “something” I’m not really feeling for the higher cost. The shave soap business is exceedingly competitive right now, and you can get so much for, say, fifteen bucks/tub that charging more for your product will often bring a sense of lofty expectations. I’m not going to say that the Barrister and Mann products are poor values. No. They are hard pucks that will yield a lot of shaves per ounce, and the quality is there. However, they’re far from the only game in town, and other soaps seem to deliver the goods at a lower price point.

Notes: I will go against the general trend and say that I prefer the white jar B&M formula to this one. Once learned, it lathers in a predictable and normal manner. There’s no weird, congealed mucus phase. I may be missing out on some grand idea that others can grasp, but this one isn’t quite a home run for me. That’s not to say that, with several more shaves under my belt with this stuff, I won’t suddenly click with it. That’s happened before. Early days, though, I’m a little on the fence about Reserve Spice.

Cheers, and Happy Shaving!

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Ease of Lathering: Very easy. This is on par with the easiest soaps to load. Very nearly as easy to load and lather as Catie’s Bubbles (if you can fall off a log, you can do it.) The wide-mouth container and eager soap formulation give you every advantage here.

Protection: Amazing. Perhaps the best I’ve experienced. Only a handful of soaps get to this level of protection, with a lather that is both voluminous and thick and buttery. We’re talking up there in the Tabac level of killer lather, all provided with a vegan formulation. I suspect some sort of evil sorcery. Seriously, this stuff is a formulation you can count on, even with an aggressive or even perilous choice of shaving implements. Even if your regular reference soap is quite good, this will likely be an improvement.

Residual Slickness: Again, fantastic scores here. PAA is not kidding around when they talk about this being a high butter formulation. If there’s any dampness at all, this stuff is going to let your razor glide right across. Great face feel after the shave, as well. Although the product gloss can sometimes feel like it verges upon hyperbole, it ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up. The Crown King formula backs it up. Wow.

Scent: This soap’s fragrance is an homage to the short-lived ’60’s scent called “Sun Up” by Gillette. I’d call it a cousin to the Old Spice scent, but with more of a powdery delivery, as well as a hint of the darker character of Pinaud Clubman Special Reserve. Very much a classic, old school scent. Upon first sniff, many will nod and feel a tug of nostalgia. Many of your classic scents would work fine in conjunction with this profile. Good scent strength here, but in no way overpowering or intrusive. I purchased another soap that is purportedly an Old Spice homage, and I think that, in a lot of ways, Sun Down ends up being closer in spirit than that soap.

Production/Value: This is a solidly mid-priced soap. With 4 ounces in the tub, it’s a little behind the value competitors in per-ounce price, but the ingredient list is absolutely above reproach, with nothing hinky and most every sought-after ingredient you could add and still remain a vegan formulation. Crown King’s recipe needn’t apologize for anything. To my way of thinking, it runs with the best soap I’ve ever used. I often ask, as a value test-case, if a tested soap is demonstrably better than Razorock. In this case, yes. Nothing against RR soaps, but other than maybe SMdF and The Dead Sea, this one has them outgunned.

Notes: I’m kind of kicking myself for taking so long to try Crown King soaps. Although I have more soap that I could easily use in a decade, I’m really considering buying more of this line. (Oh, I did. My willpower shattered like a chair across a wrestler’s back.)

This stuff has a lot going for it. Useful packaging, nice, wide mouth, fantastic soap, cool vintage scent. Sun Down has it going on. Highly recommended.

Cheers, and Happy Shaving!

Cella and the question of progress

Posted: November 13, 2017 in Shaving Articles
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Things are getting better. We’ve come so far.

This is the rallying cry that we hear in the shaving world with some frequency. Every year, soap makers come out with better formulations that lather quicker and provide more glide and feature thicker, silkier texture. New things. Better versions of awesome. With Argan Oil and Nutrient X (I just made that up).

I have a great many different modern soaps, from several different brands. Are they good? Yes. Often very good. Fantastic, even. There is a tangible difference between the soaps. The way they load and lather. The amount of water they require. All the stuff that I write reviews on. In some cases, a change in formulation for a particular brand will yield some perceivable benefit.

Don’t get me wrong. The number of great choices in today’s wet shaving market is fantastic. I love it. I hope things continue to be so focused on innovation and progress. It’s a great time. A time of being spoiled for choice. Barring allergies and sensitivities, it’s hard to make a really bad choice with any reputable artisan. Even a small amount of study can get you into a brand that will treat you right.

But…if it’s all about progress, where does that leave the old, storied brands of soap? Have they been far outshined, consigned to be the dusty relics of the past? Let’s think of Cella soap, and use that as our basis for today.

Cella has been around essentially forever. Since 1899. It says so right on the package. I don’t know if the formula has changed over that span, but even if it has, I don’t think it invalidates my point altogether. We’ll just talk about what it is today, because we can’t time travel into the past to test it out. We shall assume that it was good then, and that people liked it. Why? Because they’re still making it now, and the company is still in business. Seems logical.

The Cella of today is no more expensive than your average artisan soap. Cheaper than some, more expensive than a few. Like the bulk of the artisan soaps, it is a soft croap (very soft, in Cella’s case). It is based in tallow and coconut oil. Again, not unknown in the wetshaving world. Likely, it has been formative to what shaving soap even IS to a lot of artisans, throughout the years. Similarities almost have to abound.

I’ve been using Cella, both A/B testing it with some of the best soaps available today, and just day to day through the last several weeks. Here are my thoughts:

When you know how to use Cella, it requires no real sacrifice of quality, even when compared to the best artisan soaps of today. It is easy to work with, provides a great lather, and is kind to your skin (provided that you are not sensitive to any of the ingredients. I am aware that some have a sensitivity to the calcium carbonate in the formulation. Happily, I am not one of those people.) To my nose, the sweet almond scent is always a winner. Even if it isn’t particularly compelling to you, few would complain about it. The scent doesn’t linger, so any aftershave you wish to use will be fine.

Weaknesses? If pressed, I would list two. The first is that, because of the extreme softness of the croap, the rate of ablation is greater and faster than other soaps might show you. Particularly, a triple milled soap is going to last longer, ounce for ounce. The other weakness I would list? The wee, narrow jar. The classic red jar, while iconic to the brand, makes it harder to lather than a wider mouth container might. This is easily fixed, as one can scoop out a little and put it into a lathering mug or bowl. You can also get this stuff by the kilogram, in case you just don’t want to have to think about soap for a long, long time.

So, then. If we factor the price vs. yield, where does that leave Cella?

For me, very much still in the mix. You can get a fantastic shave with this stuff. Maybe a few soaps are a little slicker. Maybe a few have even denser lather (very damned few). Maybe a precious couple leave your face with better post shave (yes, Mitchell’s Wool Fat fans, I hear your shouts). All that said, Cella still stands as a great option, an option that could easily be your set-it-and-forget-it shave soap.

Progress is a great goal. Progress has been made. The long, long shadow of the classic products have yet to be altogether escaped. For me. Let me know what you think.

Cheers, and Happy Shaving!

The Derby Extra and other topics

Posted: November 11, 2017 in Shaving Articles
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When I first got into wet shaving, I did a lot of research. I looked at reviews on Amazon. I watched tons of videos (Thanks, Nick Shaves!) I read stuff in forums. I didn’t know anything. I had to rely upon the wisdom of others. What razor would work? How many passes? What soaps were best? What blades?

From there, I had to begin buying stuff, trying stuff, and coming to grips with what worked for me. In the end, no amount of reading about what other people have done or have enjoyed will get you all the way into the light. You have to try things yourself, or your knowledge is only theoretical and incomplete.

I bought some soaps. Some that worked. Some that didn’t. I picked up a collection of blades and started working through them. Many of the blades, I just didn’t know. They were altogether a mystery to me. Some were lauded in the forums. Some, however, tended to get a lot of derision. One of those was the Derby Extra. Half the shavers that I’d read about would say how dull and useless the Derby blades were. With each negative review, I’d filter the Derby down further into the lower stratum of my blade choices. Because they’d probably be crap. Because everyone seemed to think so. And they were cheap.

So, I went along, finding blades I liked and hated, until that fateful day when I finally tried the Derby. I had to, because by then, I was writing reviews online, and using a psuedo-scientific method to describe them, and everything. Great science, as it were, demands that we try things, even if we think we already know the answer we’ll arrive at in the end. Evidence is paramount. Or words to that effect.

I loaded the blade into my Feather AS-D2. I didn’t have high hopes. On paper, it looked like a poor combination. Gentle razor. Less than super-sharp (if I was being charitable with what I “knew”) blade. Sounded like it would be a case of a lot of skating over the stubble, juddering, and a poor shave. But…but that wasn’t what happened.

Weirdly, I got a fantastic shave. Comfortable. Close. No issues. Maybe it was a fluke. Other elements can make or break a shave. How your feeling. The prep. The lather. Tons of synergies or negative synergies. All the X factors.

Puzzled, I tried it again. It worked again. I doubted the evidence. I had to have another blade, another try, and in another razor. The Derby…the much-maligned Derby. It worked great in the Merkur 39C, too. I wrote a review. I tried to explain my findings. I probably failed. I ended up buying a hundred of the darned things.

If the Derby blade doesn’t work for you, I respect that. That they work so well for me is still something of a mystery. Lately, I’ve been using them in conjunction with Gillette Fatboys set on “9”. I use them for two shaves, then toss them. Given their price per blade, I never feel like I’m throwing money away. Good shaves, every one. Not quite as close as ones done with, say, a Polsilver Super Iridium blade, but the only person in the world who knows the difference is me. And it’s super slight.

The upside with using a smooth blade with a fairly aggressive razor is that the stubble comes off quickly, and without a lot of drama. I don’t have a perfect idea as to why the Derby blade gets such bad rap. One thought is that they might be one of the first blades a lot of people try, and they end up having bad experiences because they’re just starting out. I can’t support that thesis, but it’s my best guess.

I think pairing blades with razors is a lot like what we see with electric guitars and amplifiers/pedals. Some combinations work great, some not so much. It’s all in what you’re hoping to find. Some things obviously work great. A Fender Strat into a Super Reverb. A Gibson Les Paul into a Marshal JTM-45. With the things that work for almost everyone work well for you? Probably. But the fun, for the shaving hobbyist, is to find that combination that surprises you. The unheralded synergy that gives you a great shave, even when logic would say that it shouldn’t.

That’s enough of a ramble for me today. I’d planned to sing the praises of Cella soap today, but I’ll leave that soliloquy for another post.

Cheers, and Happy Shaving!

Suddenly, I’m A Keyboard Outfitter

Posted: November 11, 2017 in keyboarding
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Over the last few weeks, I’ve built three keyboards for my friends, and another one for myself. I’ve been instrumental in corrupting more than a few folks into buying their own mechanical keyboards, as well. Through my well-documented geekery, I’ve become the go-to guy in my circle of writer friends when anyone has a keyboard question. In another few days, I’ll building another custom-job for a friend. Things have developed that I can probably build up most any color, type, and shape of mechanical keyboard that the average human can think of. Well, maybe my game isn’t as strong on ergonomic ‘boards, but that’s generally true for most people.

How did I get here? Shrug. Not sure. It started with a broken key, I guess. I had a DasKeyboard that broke one of its keys, and I really only needed a single key to fix it. Of course, Das didn’t sell single keys. I would have to fully replace the whole key set if I wanted to have my…”L” key, it seems to me now. And…there were a lot of options. A. LOT.

Thus, I started looking around online to find what I could in terms of new key caps. That took me down into the weird other realm. I learned lots of stuff. I’ve shared much of it on this forum. The things that were fit to print, in any case. I purchased more keyboards and parts than any one human being would ever need. I watched videos about how it all worked. I read articles on Deskthority. Your boy set himself to learn all about that shit. And…kinda did.

I let a few friends try out a few ‘boards I had kicking around. I would say that at least 3/4ths of the people who have tried mechanical keyboards have enjoyed them. The bulk of those have either asked me to build them up something, or bought a board on their own.

What I noticed about the people for which mechanical keyboards weren’t particularly impressive was this: most of them used a form of ergonomic keyboard already. Either a Microsoft or Logitech, in the main. Thus, they had already understood that there was something better for them than the bog standard keyboards you see everywhere, which are awful. A small secondary group of the non-amazed simply can’t abide any kind of excess noise with their typing. Which is sad. And wrong. Also…sad.

Anyway, the interested outweighed the uninterested, and some people were actually over the moon to find out that they could get a keyboard that made that clicking sound, the sound of progress, and happiness, and the industrious noise that assured that all was right with the universe. Mostly.

The word of my deeds spread. You build a neat, sparkly keyboard for someone, they want to share it on Facebook. Others become stricken with jealousy. Pretty soon, it becomes a semi-steady thing, people hitting you up to build them something.

Pretty fun. At some point, I may have to tack on a service charge for my time, but right now, I’m just recouping cost for the parts. Let it never be said that I have an overabundance of business acumen. The only way that I can make a small fortune is to have started with a large fortune. Which is fine. I am clothed and sheltered. I have foot to eat. And keyboards that make a wonderful cacophony, should I wish them to. That will suffice.

And I am a keyboard outfitter, it seems. Look below for the pictures of the most recent ones I’ve built up.

Cheers, and Happy Typing.

Ease of Lathering: Easy. I’d say that this soap is just slightly behind the very easiest of the soap formulations in this respect. Very predictable, not hard to load or particularly thirsty. Captain’s Choice gives is a quite soft formulation here, and it doesn’t fight you to get a good load of soap loaded.

Protection: Good. This is a voluminous soap. Not necessarily quite as slick or buttery as some soaps, it still provides a really good level of protection during the shave, and doesn’t feel particularly drying afterward. No complaints, but no great accolades are accrued here.

Residual Slickness: Pretty Good. It doesn’t distinguish itself particularly, but I didn’t have to alter my normal shave rhythm to account for any shortcomings.

Scent: The 49th Parallel makes its bones in this arena. If you like the smell of Cella, that sweet almond/cherry cordial fragrance, this one dials it up to full blast. While not super powerful in terms of scent strength, this one is completely realistic cherry/cream/almond that you can shave with. Is it candy, or is it shave soap? (Spoiler alert, it still tastes like soap.)

Production/Value: This is a mid-priced soap. In terms of performance, I’d say it’s somewhere in the ballpark, but nothing out of the ordinary. Performance-wise, a soap from, say, Razorock will give you equal or better performance for less money. It’s not a rip-off, but you have to come into this soap knowing you’re buying it for the fragrance, above all else. It isn’t going to play you false, or be a screaming disappointment, but it just doesn’t do anything special, other than the smell.

Notes: While I’ve done another review on a Captain’s Choice soap, this one has a completely different ingredient list. Completely. This formulation, to my eye, appears to be a less optimal and feature a less impressive list of ingredients. It doesn’t have argan oil, but has mineral oil in the formula. Snobs won’t dig this. The new soap is fine, but I think that, altogether, it’s a step down in soap base from their older formula, which I have in the “North” scent. I’m a little puzzled by this change, but it could be that the artisan that Captain’s Choice used previously is not available or changed their methodology. Again, this soap still works, but in a marketplace where artisans are finding better and better formulas, even a lateral move feels like a step backward and a missed opportunity. No buyer’s remorse here – I love having the scent in my repertoire, but I will say that my only reason to shave with this one over another soap would be the fragrance. Tempered enthusiasm here.

Cheers, and Happy Shaving!

I’ve done a few reviews of the Soap Commander formulation, so I’ll cut right to it.

The Soap Commander soap base is a hard (as in solid) vegan formulation that benefits from either starting with a wet brush or doing a light bloom/soak of the puck before loading. I’d characterize the ease of use as moderate. There’s a slight learning curve in loading enough soap onto the brush and hitting the right amount of water, but it’s nothing big. You just have to be slightly more patient.

The quality of lather, once ready, is really good. Not wildly voluminous, but very slick and protective. The lather strikes me as dense, rather than fluffy. Rinses clean and provides a good, nutrative base for your shave.

With Soap Commander, I think their greatest strength is their scents. Without being wildly potent, they linger, and always retain their nuance, rather than cooking down to only the strongest note.

Courage, to me, is the least exciting of the scents I’ve tried. It’s a nice, clean smell that would easily slot into an everyday role. I think it verges on a barbershop scent. Nice, bright citrus with some woody and spicy notes. Manly enough, but not musky, dark, or heavy. It isn’t as strong as Passion or Fortitude.

For some, this is their exact thing. I find that Courage is a little subtle for me, and certainly doesn’t knock Fortitude off of my list of favorite SC scents. It took me several shaves to really start appreciating it, but it did grow on me. If the notes hit your comfort zone, though, it’s totally worth a try.

As with all Soap Commander soaps, the packaging is well-made and the graphic design is effective.

Cheers, and Happy Shaving!