Learned from the Razor’s Edge

Posted: June 4, 2016 in Shaving Articles

It’s been some time since I started in on the whole wet shaving thing. I’ve noticed that, much like anything, my opinions and understandings change with time. Today, I’m going to go back to my first wet shaves and think about my experiences. I’ll consider some of the things I’ve discarded, some that I’ve kept. What has proven out over time, and what is still in flux.

My first double edged shave was with a Parker 99R razor, a Shark blade, and Proraso Red shave soap. I also put on the Proraso Red pre-shave, because I didn’t know how things would go, and how much protection I’d need.

It was a good save. A close shave. A scary shave. I was into it.

Things that are still true: Proraso soap is great. Shark blades have proven to be rough and jagged in all the razors I’ve tried them in. I’m not into them. Wet shaving is neat.

Things that I’ve put aside: The Parker 99R was an inexpensive razor, and a good tool I dusted it off a while back and was able to get a superb shave with it. Totally workable. However, compared to some of the razors I’ve picked up since, its comfort to closeness delta isn’t that great. It just takes a lot more care and attention to get the same results as other razors do. I’d recommend the Merkur 34C as an alternative. A bit more expensive, but it’s easier to use and even more effective. Also, my initial concern about a two or three piece razor being more difficult to use than a butterfly/twist to open razor have proven unfounded. On the contrary, the razors that screw together hold the blade more consistently. I found myself frequently fiddling with the butterfly open of the Parker, and finding that, if a partial turn came out of it during the shave, it would change the razor angle.

Things in flux: I went through a period when I was using the pre-shave from Proraso both before and after the shave. Then primarily after, because I wasn’t seeing a big change at that time in the way the razor reacted. For a time, I went away from using it altogether. Now, I’ve come back to using it as it was intended, as a preshave. I find, especially if I have a bit more beard growth than normal, it just makes that first pass more comfortable, and tones the skin a bit. I don’t leave it on a long time, just for the few minutes while I’m getting the brush lathered. I now use it more often that not, especially when I’m using it for a full-bore, three pass shave.

In terms of the number and nature of passes I use, I started with the full four points of the compass. While this is the only way to be absolutely sure you’ve hit every hair from the best direction, it’s pretty rough on your face, no matter how careful you are. From there, I went to three passes, plus a cleanup phase. That cleanup phase included going across the grain on my neck crease. I ended up dispensing with this, again because it tended to bring on too much irritation. With the addition of the Merkur 39C razor, I found that this, a slant-bar design, could get plenty of closeness for most purposes with two passes. In truth, so could most razors. I have simply designated the 39C for this duty, because it is so capable on the with the grain pass, scything through the stubble with almost no resistance.

Although I imagined that my blade preferences may waiver, I’ve tested the blades that I’ve disliked, and the ones I’ve liked, multiple times. Case in point: the Kai blade. I wanted to like it more than anything. Kai own Kershaw and Zero Tolerance, two of my favorite knife companies. However, yeah, hated them every time. Oh, well. Seems that, at least when it comes to blades, opinions stick.

Lessons learned: Well, I’ve learned a lot about shaving in general. I never considered the directional pattern of the hair growth. I never thought about all the different shaving mechanisms available. I was blissfully unaware of the ingredients of a soap, or which ones to avoid. I had found the the old Gillette Foamy worked, and that had been that. I’d found that the Mach 5 razor did okay, and I stayed with that. The unexamined life isn’t worth living, though, is it? I’ve tried products from all over the world. I’ve studied soaps and blades, aftershaves and astringents. Skin care in general. It’s been a pretty inexpensive hobby, and I’ve had a lot of fun doing something that was simply a task before I started doing it mindfully.

What’s in my rotation now: I have an Astra SP blade in my Feather AS-D2. I have a Derby Extra in my Merkur 39C. I’ll be using a lot of Palmolive shave cream for the next little while, throwing in Proraso White pre-shave as needed. I’ll likely team these with Aqua Velva, though the Palmolive doesn’t have a strong smell, so I can use whatever aftershave I choose without worrying about any interaction issues.

What I probably won’t buy again: Now, some of these are because I’ve just found things that are better at doing the same thing. Others are superfluous, being too similar to other products to maintain both. A few, I just don’t care for. I won’t be buying any blades that I’m not head-over-heels for in the future. There are simply too many brands to persist with a blade that I’m tepid about.

I probably won’t buy Proraso White shave soap again. Not because I don’t like it, but because the Proraso Green is just a bit better, and I like the bigger menthol hit.

I don’t believe that I’ll buy Palmolive again, but that’s primarily because it is difficult to get here in the States. The postage is such that it’s not the value that it is over in Europe. I’ve heard that the Palmolive is really inexpensive and easy to pick up there, but because the one I got had to be imported from Portugul, its price ended up being three times what it would have been in a shop over there. I’m using it up right now, to make room for other soaps I wan to try.

I won’t be buying Colonel Conk’s soap again. I just haven’t found it to be a protective or lasting lather. It ends up having very little cushion, and dissipating in the midst of a pass, so that it needs to be re-applied. Sorry, Colonel.

I certainly won’t be buying Burt’s Bees shave cream. Not only does it fail to lather, I’m allergic to it. So much for organic stuff. To some extent, so much for soaps I can pick up in local stores. I guess I’ve become a snob.

On the bubble is the Proraso Red soap. No, there’s nothing at all wrong with it, but there are a lot of sandalwood soaps out there, and I want to try them. I have limited space for this hobby, and so I have to be reasonable in regard to how many products I keep. I found, through the time I’ve owned the soaps, that it seems like the Proraso Red isn’t quite as protective as the White or Green. Also, I’m not always in the mood for the stronger smell. Thus, I use it less. Again, I love the scent, love the soap, but it’s a big market with a lot of products.

Things I’ll always have on hand: These products have come to be part and parcel of my shaving experience. This is a snapshot, but I feel confident enough to say that these products will stick around. Something pretty amazing would have to come around to knock them off the pedestal.

Soaps: Proraso Green, Arko

Preshaves: Proraso Green, Proraso White

Aftershaves: Aqua Velva Ice Blue

Blades: Personna Blue, Astra SP, Derby Extra

Razors: Feather AS-D2

Brushes: Omega syntex 

What’s to come: Although I recently indicated that I was going to go away from blade testing, I have changed my mind, and I’m going to test several new blades in the near future. The siren call of GREAT SCIENCE is simply too strong.

I believe that, in the interest of time and energy, I will go to a one shave testing heuristic. I think we learn most of what we need to know about a blade in the first shave, and we primarily learn if it’s very long-lived beyond that. I’ll reserve the full three shave review for blades I really dig on the first go around. Blades that I’ll be testing include the Voshkod, Rapira, Polsilver, and Personna Red. I will likely also grit my teeth and grind through some of the blade brands that I have in hand, but don’t really feel any great enthusiasm for.

I also plan to try a few new soaps in the near future. In an upcoming article, I’ll talk about my experiences with soaps thus far. Soaps I have my eye on: Cella, Tabac, Taylor’s of Old Bond Street, and Captain’s Choice. More information to come when I take possession of those.

Well, that’s it for now. That’s the knowledge I’ve picked up from the journey. A new set of products is on its way to me right now, and as I learn about these products, I’ll be telling you my thoughts about them.

As one of my online friends said so often: “The journey IS the destination.”







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