A Year of Shaving

It was a year ago this month that I first shaved with a low-tech safety razor, an event I wrote about at the time. In the intervening twelve months, I’ve learned a lot about what used to be a painful and unpleasant near-daily necessity for me, and which remains a burden for a lot of people.

There can be no doubt that the aerosol foam and goo that comes in a can is quick and easy to apply, but I really think that manufacturers are competing in this field not to produce the most effective, highest-quality, best-performing product, but to produce products with purely marketable qualities intended to impress those who don’t know any better. The thickness and consistency of your foam, goo, gel, or lather has little to do with the quality of the shave you’re going to get. Hell, a bar of hand soap works better to lubricate the razor-skin interface than most things that squirt out of cans.

I’m a big, big fan of Proraso, which might be the best deal out there in shaving cream. It gets the job done well no matter whether you apply it by hand or with a brush. It’s water-activated, like most real shaving soaps and creams, and is very, very hard to actually add too much water to. I squirt about as much into my wet palm as I would toothpaste onto a toothbrush, rub onto both (wet) hands, and apply to face, occasionally wetting my hands to produce a respectable volume of gently-scented, mildly invigorating lather that works far better than anything else I’ve tried. (I also use the hard soap version, applied with a boar brush, and it works just as well; the tube stuff seems to cool a little more than the puck of hard soap.) Even if you don’t want to switch to an old-school safety razor, switching to a better shaving cream will do wonders for your daily shave.

Proraso used to be available at Target, but not anymore, for reasons nobody can fathom. If you don’t want to buy some by mail order, or spend $10 on a tube of the stuff re-branded as C.O. Bigelow from Bath & Bodyworks, my second recommendation is the Kiss My Face “shave creme”, which is available all over, even at some grocery stores, in a variety of scents. It’s almost as good as the Proraso, and completely organic, if that matters to you. A little of this stuff goes a long way – one full squirt of the stuff out of the bottle is more than enough for most peoples’ faces, or half a leg. Add a little water and apply, and it produces beaucoup lather that dries surprisingly quickly.

Having gifted most of my spare vintage razors to unsuspecting acquaintances, I’m down to using two – my trusty “Star” razor from the 1920s, and a 1950s Gillette Super Speed. The latter is a popular double-edged razor still used and loved by many; the former is a common single-edged razor of a style that’s growing in popularity.

Even among wet-shaving geeks, the old single-edged razors have a bad reputation. It’s completely unjustified; a single-edged razor is a hundred percent easier to use than a double-edge, and capable of producing a shave 98% as good. I cynically suspect the reason for their unpopularity among the obsessive-compulsive swarms of internet wet-shaving communities is the comparatively poor choice of blades for them, making the obsessing-over-the-perfect-brand-of-blades thing something of a challenge. “You like the Gem blades? Yeah, me too, though the other ones are pretty good too.” I shave with the single-edge Star razor and el-cheapo drug-store “Gem” blades probably nineteen times out of twenty.

I’ve written before of my trials with double-edged razors; everything in the end comes down to blade geometry – the angle of the blade relative to your face. With the Star, it’s a no-brainer – lay the razor basically flat against your skin, and you’re golden. With the Super Speeds, or any other double-edge safety razor, you control the angle – too shallow, and you’re not actually shaving; too steep, and you’re scraping a very sharp blade across your skin, not gliding it across. The margin for error is perhaps five degrees. There’s a steep, steep learning curve, but one which rewards patience and practice with an incredibly wonderful shave.

Regardless of the style of safety razor, speed and pressure are your enemies. Go slow, go gently; expect multiple hair-reduction passes, rather than removing everything in one fell swoop. Don’t expect a great razor, soap, cream, or blade to automatically perform magic; poor technique, in shaving, leads to bad results even with the best tools and materials. Conversely, good technique can and does produce top-notch shaves even with “mediocre” and “pedestrian” supplies (down to a point; shaving goo in a can applied to a dry face, then removed with a disposable plastic razor won’t perform miracles, even in the hands of a master.)

Sure, in the beginning there are likely to be a few slightly bloody learning experiences; it shouldn’t be long, though, before your skill at the once-widespread art of shaving is worthy of respect.

Published in: Geekiness, General, Wetshaving | on June 27th, 2007| Comments Off on A Year of Shaving

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