Shaving Soap Review: Razorock “XXX”

Posted: September 27, 2016 in Uncategorized
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Ease of Lathering:
Very easy. This is a soft Italian soap, and thus is easy to load, easy to lather, and generally easy to work with. There is no accident that the soft soap or “croap” is such a popular form in the industry.

Protection:
Excellent. The XXX soap produces a protective, thick lather that should satisfy almost any shaver. Right up there with the best I’ve used.

Residual Slickness:
Good slickness is left behind as this soap is scraped away. Although prudence dictates that we always have at least a light layer of soap on the skin when we pass our razors over, sometimes we have some, ahem, interesting techniques. This RazoRock soap seems to allow us to go over “bare” skin without any trouble. Still, keep in mind that the amount of soap left over on the skin depends somewhat on the razor you’re using. Some leave a lot, some very little.

Scent:
The first time I smelled the inactive soap, I thought…hmm, I don’t know. Once I lathered it up, though, I started to like it more and more. I would call this a spicy, floral, but certainly masculine scent. I think there is some element of musk as an undertone. It strikes me as an Italian scent. Perhaps a barbershop scent, within the parlance of the Italian tradition. I found that the longer I smelled it, the more I liked it. Of course, all scent discussions are subjective ones. Over the course of time, it has come to be one of my very favorite soaps in terms of smell. That’s the only data point I can give you.

Production/Value:
This is a killer deal. I got this soap for about ten bucks, and this is a seriously excellent, artisan-made soap. At times, it is available even cheaper via italianbarber.com You’re getting a top-notch, small batch soap for the price of a mass market product. Although this is a soft soap, and will go away faster than a triple-milled hard puck, the quality, scent, and performance are all aces. There are few products that give you this level of soap for anywhere near the price. Many of those are made by Razorock/Italian Barber. They are a force to be reckoned with in the shaving world.

Notes:
I’ve heard a lot of good things about RazoRock soaps, and I find them to be borne out by this soap. I’m seriously pleased with this product. In point of fact, I haven’t found a single product from this brand that has been less than excellent. Highly recommended. If the scent I’ve described isn’t your scene, there are tons of scents to choose from. Also, keep in mind that this soap does have tallow as an ingredient, so if you’re vegetarian or vegan, that might put you off. Fear not. Razorock has several soaps that use a vegan formulation. The experiences I’ve had with the vegan base soap is that it gives a very similar shave. Give this one a try. It should be right near the top of anyone’s list.

1) Sharpness: Great
2) Comfort: Good
3) Value: Good
4) Availability: Fair
5) Country of Origin: Russia
6) Passes “First Shave Test?”: Yes
7) Longevity (# of shaves): 3
8) Notes: My shave reviews, of late, have gone thoroughly out of control in terms of word count. I’ll keep this one to come version of brevity.

I quite liked the other Rapira blade I tried, the Swedish Supersteel. I was thusly intrigued with how the Platinum Lux would shave.

In short, it did quite well. Sharp enough, smooth enough. Perhaps not quite as good as the Astra SP. Not as smooth as the Polsilver. Didin’t seem to have the uncanny lasting power of the Perma-Sharp. Still, a creditable performance.

For associated equipment, I used a Gillette Knack, a British Gillette Rocket “Parat”, and my trusty Feather AS-D2. No bad shaves, no wholesale bleeding around the bathroom sink. While not as remarkable as a few of the blades I’ve tried, but certainly a good option, if you want a sharp blade with some smoothness to it. It doesn’t upset my whole understanding of the universe, however, or cause me to change all my preconceptions. Worth a try.

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I already knew that I liked Superspeeds when I found this razor. I had no real qualms in getting another one. At the same time, I suppose that I didn’t have any earthly reason to. Other than just for kicks. Which, it turns out, is one of my favorite reasons for doing anything.

When I found this fellow in the case at Jitterbut Antiques, I was looking for a Gillete Flare Tip that was all nickle-plated brass. I already had a 40’s era and a black anodized handle Superspeed from 1967 (also theoretically a Flare Tip).

There were several Flare Tips to choose from, but I liked the price on this one, and I liked the pattern of the knurling. It reminded me of my Aristocrat, a favorite razor.

Thus, I picked it up. It looked okay. Its finish was a little dull, but it was totally squared away mechanically. I was shocked when I did the first wash, because this razor began to shine and sparkle with no polish at all. It just needed a little grime brushed away. After polishing, it may be the brightest of the razors in my vintage stable. Except for a very small half-moon nick on one of the butterfly doors, it looks brand new.

It occurs to me that I haven’t done the historical background on this one that I usually do. Allow me to backtrack.

The “TV Special” Gillette Flare Tip Superspeed was produced only in 1958. It was sold as a promotional offer through a sports program called “Gillette’s Cavalcade of Sports”. It is mechanically the same as other Superspeeds of the era, except for the knurling pattern, which was arranged in vertical lines of knurling, seperated by small, deeper channels. The standard Flare Tip had rectangular segments of knurling, for reference. I think that the TV Special is prettier, but that’s a matter of individual aesthetics.

One thing I’ll vehemently defend is how great this thing shaves. I don’t know why, but I have had consistently superior shaves from this particular razor. Whenever I pick it up, it just feels right. It is currently my favorite of my Superspeeds. Not by a huge margin, but there it is. If I had to pare down my collection, this would be one of the last ones I’d let go. It’s a razor I could be perfectly happy to shave with exclusively.

As with all Superspeeds, it’s a fairly mild shaver, but will get the job done with a sharp blade. For my combination of beard/face/technique, it works great. My go-to with Superspeeds is the Astra SP blade, but any sharp blade will work. Very much a keeper. In this particular case, the “as seen on TV” stigma need not apply.

About the photos: I should note that the slight coppery tint seen in the pictures is just an artifact of the camera. The razor is a nickle plated device with a high sheen.

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Climatic Concerns

Posted: September 18, 2016 in Shaving Articles
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A phrase that is often used in the shaving world is “your mileage may vary.” There are a lot of reasons that this is said. Different people, with different faces, different stubble, different razors, different blades. Sigh…using different soap with differing amounts of water mixed in. Pant…with different technique, and different levels of expectation in regard to how close the shave must be.

One thing we rarely consider, I believe, is the actual climate in which we are shaving. Is it wet, dry, cold, hot…these things play a big part in how our skin reacts to the shaving process. In my normal environment of the Mountain West, it’s predominantly dry. This means that products with a higher content in humectants and moisturizers seem to work better.

On my trip to Maine, I’ve noticed that I need little to no extra moisture on my face. Just washing off Arko soap, I notice that the tallow from the soap stays, and my face is comfortable and hydrated. Even the small amount of glycerin from the Aqua Velva aftershave ends up sticking around, sometimes being fully present and palpable on my face for a long time. I’ve had a sense of glide and hydration in my shaves that is not always present with a fairly “bare bones” prep when I’m out west.

I believe these differences are primarily because the level of humidity here is much higher. I don’t know if my skin would adapt to this humidity after a while, and the differences would fade away. I don’t have enough time to make that determination. But suffice to say, if you move to a totally different climate, you might find that some of your “software” might work differently in your new locale. Perhaps better, perhaps worse. Maybe just a small wrinkle that changes your opinion.

This is why, when we recommend a product that we’re over the moon about, it might not be quite the same when it comes to your door. If I’m having great luck with a soap, for instance, in the high desert, it might not be quite what you need in the Midlands of England, or in Singapore, or in Anchorage.

Hardware shouldn’t change, which is nice. I believe that you will either like or dislike a razor, or a blade regardless of your physical location. Then again, over time, you’ll sometimes see your tastes change. You might be on the outs with a particular razor, then find you really connect with it at some time in the future. It depends on feel. Both emotional and physical. As we get old and gray, the hair gets coarse and difficult, and that can change what razors work best for you, too. But, as they say, that is another story.

Happy Shaving.

Ye Olde Reality Check

Posted: September 17, 2016 in Shaving Articles, Uncategorized
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I love the wet shaving game. The scents, the hardware, the ritual aspect…it’s all great. However, this last ten days on the road have proven that, when you come down to it, it doesn’t take high-zoot gear or super special stuff to get a great shave.

I’ve been using the Gillette 1967 Superspeed with Astra blades, Arko soap, and store brand Aqua Velva. It has provided completely comfortable, reliable, and excellent shaves. Pretty much baby’s butt smooth on the first shave of the blades, then somewhere between damn fine shave and BBS for the next two. No nicks, cuts, weepers, or irritation (collectively…for all the shaves combined. Never even any unusual sting when the aftershave goes on.) Great face feel all day, no issues to be found in the slightest. The Plissoft brush does all that you could hope, every time.

Not that the rig I have would work as well for everyone in all circumstances, but I’m certain that there’s an alternative that would work equally well, and for equally minimal cost. Every time. Like our granddads and dads may have done. One brush, one soap, one razor. No muss, no fuss. You like Old Spice? English Leather? Brut? What? Me, I’m an Aqua Velva man. It’s said that there’s something about us. Primarily, it’s that we smell like Aqua Velva sometimes.

What does it all mean? What’s the point of all the soaps, all the razors, all the GREAT SCIENCE? Fun. That’s it. It’s a hobby, and it’s fun to try things. That’s where all the additional energy goes, all the throwing of money at a problem that’s already solved. If I had to shave with the rig I’ve got, all the same gear, every day…I’d still enjoy myself, but it would get to be routine eventually. It would fall back into a simple activity, and only the little nubbin of artistry that is required to shave properly would remain. And for some, perhaps that is all they need. For the real shaving dorks, we need more.

Shaving on the Road

Posted: September 10, 2016 in Shaving Articles, Uncategorized
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For the first time since my headfirst fall into the churning madness of wetshaving, I found myself preparing to take the gig on the road. I had the pleasure and awful self-reflection of a man trying to decide what I would carry with me on a trip across the country. Sure, I could go easy and elect to not shave on my vacation…okay, no. Cross that out. I certainly couldn’t do that.

Well, I could just take a cartridge razor, and make do. But no. I have divested myself of every vestige of those dark days. I would have to, gulp, purchase a multiblade razor. That’s right out. I have not lost all vestiges of my self respect at this time, so I’m not about crawl back to a cartridge razor and admit defeat.

So, then, I needed to pick gear. It had to be fairly light. It had to be easy to use on the road. It had to be good enough and safe enough to trust my face to it when I’d probably not be in the absolute perfect conditions.

What did I choose?

  1. 1967 Gillette Superspeed (anodized handle). One of my most gentle and friendly razors, it’s small, light, and won’t jump up and slit my jugular if I look at it cross-ways. It’s also feasible to replace it, if it were to get lost by some awful circumstance.
  2. RazoRock Plissoft “Bruce” Brush: My fanboy-ism for the Plissoft brush is well documented. They’re cheap, they’re awesome. The “Bruce” handle shape is very compact. All win.
  3. Arko (in shaving bowl): Arko works. It’s very high-yield, so a little goes a long way. It’s a very neutral scent that won’t raise merry hell with others using your area. I won’t cry myself to sleep if I lose it.
  4. Arko “Cool” shave bowl: A distant second in the Arko balm lineup to the Extra Sensitive, but it works fine and has very unassuming smell. Small tube. Cheap.
  5. RazoRock Alum Block: Both my deodorant and my wound sealer, as well as an astringent if I need it.
  6. Astra SP Blades: Because you need a sharp blade to get the most out of the Superspeed, and they’re smooth. And cheap. My philosophy is to not carry your most precious and irreplaceable gear on the road. Because that’s kind of daft. Says me.
  7. <Related Equipment> Original Listerine, for an astringent/aftershave/mouthwash/disinfectant/other thing…

How was the first shave?

Frikin’ rad is how it was.

With my mom looking on, because she was trying to grasp the purpose of all my endless, soul-destroying drivel, I launched into the shave. It went swimmingly. Reference closeness, no irritation, and my mom saying, “It’s like an art-form.” Everything you hope for when you’re little. Okay, maybe not quite that much. There were no swimsuit models or Lamborghini Countach supercars.

Would I have gotten a better shave with my more premium gear? I don’t know. There really wasn’t much room for improvement. And it was portable. Life is good. Bring on the open road and all its sub-optimal shaving locales.

Ease of Lathering:
Nearly effortless. If there is an easier to lather soap around, I haven’t come across it yet. I feared that I would be overcome by the lather and require assistance to get free. Don’t use this on too small a lathering bowl, or you’ll have it going all over you. Seriously, within a few seconds of beginning to lather, the stuff exploded into whipped creamy goodness. If you have been having difficulty with getting a lather, and it’s frustrating you, try a Taylor’s cream.

Protection:
The lather that is created by the Taylor cream is very thick and rich. Much like yogurt. I believe it’s difficult to comment accurately sometimes on this aspect. A word is often used – cushion – that, I believe, means to denote the layer that insulates the skin from the blade. I believe this is somewhat subjective, but I would say that the Taylor is likely the equal of the good soaps I’ve used in the past. Truth be told, I find that most of the well-made shaving soaps and creams perform in a similar fashion, provided that you can contrive to get them to lather correctly. Given, the ease with which the Taylor gets to a great lather, there’s no real excuse to have sub-par performance.

Residual Slickness:
I wouldn’t say that the Taylor had the highest level of residual slickness. When it comes off, it doesn’t seem to leave a huge layer behind. Certainly not bad slickness, but if you want to trundle endlessly back and forth across your face, you may want to slap at least a thin layer of additional soap on, just to improve your glide and comfort. This goes with just about any soap, but some allow a bit more leeway in this regard. There is also a component of the razor at play here. If you’re using a razor that is aggressive, with a closed comb, it may act as an effective squeegee, clearing the soap so great an efficiency that there’s just not much left on your skin to grant slickness.

Scent:

The rose scent here strikes me a quite realistic. Not terribly powerful, as shave scents go. I find it to be gentle and in no way cloying. I didn’t find the rose scent to be overwhelmingly feminine for my tastes, although it would certainly not be out of place, should a gentle scent be your desire. In the world of wet shaving, I suppose that the vast preponderance of the scents are aimed at dudes. Barbershop smells. Woodsy smells. The smell of John Wayne smoking a cigar while driving a monster truck. That’s not the case here. It’s one that I think a female shaver might enjoy, and find appropriate.

Production/Value:
In general, the view of creams is that, since they must have a greater water content, they are bound to be less “soap for the money” than a hard puck soap. This is not an illogical theory. Also, with cream, it’s far easier to use too much soap for your purposes, where the slow ablative action against a puck is more controllable. And, yes, the supposition is typically correct. The Taylor products are not extremely expensive, but they’re certainly a bit more than some of the bargain brands. I can say that, comparatively to some other creams, this cream has very high production of lather. It is a veritable explosion of lather. Thus, it doesn’t take a huge amount to get the task done. I would say that value proves, then, to be fairly good. You’re paying, to some extent, for the name, the luxury it connotes, and the sense that you’re pampering yourself. Taylor’s creams come through and indeed pamper you during the shave.

Notes:
I find this cream to be a joy to lather and use. The rose scent is calming and feels classy to me. The lather is great. Everything is great. Well…almost everything. I was not thrilled to find out that the soap contained both Methylparaben and Propylparaben. Although I don’t know if these chemicals are really as harmful as some people feel that they are, I’m happier not to have them present in my grooming products. Perhaps I ended up buying part of some old stock that a retailer is clearing out of their inventory, but I was lead to believe that all the European makers were mandated to reformulate their soaps without the parabens. Who knows? Anyway, it’s a minor ding on a soap that is otherwise pretty kick-butt. I have no reason to imagine that the other scents would perform any differently, and so you are free to choose whichever one suits you. I personally picked the rose because I had nothing in this scent. If you’re interested in the Taylor creams, you can certainly expect great performance from them. I’d give them a go, knowing that you might end up with a product that has parabens in it. If this is an overwhelming concern for you, do your research and take a pass if you don’t like what you find out. This is not the only soap in the world.

A Word About Parabens:

The various chemicals that include the “paraben” root are preservatives that are commonly used in grooming products and make-up. They have been used for years to make products of this kind (that contain a lot of grease, wax, and other perishable ingredients) more stable and to extend their shelf life. The FDA has concluded that even a fairly high concentration of these products is safe enough for topical use. The concentration at which they would appear in a soap or moisturizer is pretty low, and has thus far not been proven to have any serious health side effects. (According to the articles I’ve read.)

That said, some people are sensitive to the paraben-based chemicals, and find them irritating. Others believe that they may be harmful if used over the long haul and in significant amounts. In a high enough concentration in the body, they could possibly cause endocrine system issues. Many of the “artisan” and “organic” makers have begun to take the parabens out of their formulations.  I’m not a doctor, an endocrinologist, or a dermatologist, so I can only share what I’ve read, but it seems like avoiding parabens may be wise. That said, if you like a product that has them in small amounts, I doubt that they will harm you. More, as they say, will be revealed.