The Manly art of shaving

Posted: August 26, 2008 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , ,

It all started in November of ’06. I never thought much about shaving until my wife bought me a nice new electric razor so we would stop buying all those cartridges. I wanted to stop for two reasons: 1. I don’t like the fact that they are so disposable and 2. they are really expensive! A pack of four blades for a Mach 3 is like $16. And they only last 3-4 weeks max. Anyway, I thought I had figured out how to solve the issue by getting the electric. Well that thing ripped the crap out of my face!!! And it didn’t even cut the stubble I had! So I ventured out to find a solution…

I came perilously close to buying a Fusion but then I discovered the wonderful world of Wetshaving. DE’s and Straights. became my home, and the rest is history.

Wetshaving is basically using a lot of hot water during your shave. Most people who do this also whip up their own shaving cream with a badger hair brush instead of using the stuff out of a can. There is a certain nostalgia one feels when shaving this way, even if you never knew anyone who did. You feel connected to men throughout the ages because you are doing something how it’s always been done. Something that takes a little longer, but in the end, is more worthwhile than scraping the latest battery powered Five blade atrocity over your jaw. Nowhere is this feeling more pronounced than with using the straight razor. I started using a DE (double edge) razor that uses the old style blades like in the picture below. Immediately the shave was better and more comfortable than anything I had used before. But after a while I got interested in straight razors. Partly because I liked the fact that you could maintain them for a long (200+ years) time and also because there is something inherently Manly about shaving with a naked blade that is so sharp it can split hairs. And yes, I have a few that can do that. It is called the “hanging hair test” and what you do is, you hold a hair horizontally above the upturned blade. Then you bring the hair down onto the blade in a slow smooth motion. Not whipping it down fast. If you honed your razor correctly, the hair will pop in half with zero pressure applied. It is very gratifying to see that after you have spent hours honing the blade carefully on a stone and then using a paddle strop with One Micron diamond paste and .05 micron Chrome Oxide and checking the edge under a microscope to check your progress (inset). That is not necessary, but it is cool to see how the scratches disappear going from 4,000 grit to 80,000 grit. I also love the fact that I can do it myself. I don’t need to run out to the drug store to get blades to shave. Even if I was in a cabin in Alaska, miles away from anywhere, I could shave just fine. But then again, if I was in a cabin in Alaska, I would grow a burly mountain man beard. But that’s beside the point. Incidentally, the razor pictured in the top of the post is one that I totally refurbished from one I got at an antique store for $8. The original horn scales were dirty and cracked so I made new Oak scales and pinned them myself. I also cleaned, shined, and sharpened the blade. It is a 6/8 blade Wade & Butcher made in Sheffield England.

I also love using hot lather. I use a scuttle which is shaving mug with a hollow outer wall that you fill with really hot water but the inner cup stays dry for mixing up your cream. There are many types of creams available and they all have great scents. And the lather they produce is much thicker than with canned goo. Along with pre-shave oil and aftershave, this is about as close as a man can get to getting a facial. I actually look forward to shaving. It is a relaxing ritual that does take more time to do but because of that, it gives you time to think about the day ahead. I like to have the bathroom to myself when I shave just as my wife like to take a bubble bath with candles by herself. It is time I set aside for me and is a welcome break before tumbling headlong into a hectic day. Another reason to be alone is that so you can concentrate on what you are doing. Using a safety razor is not that different from any modern razor but holding a straight razor to your throat demands your full attention. It’s kind of like a hostage situation; everyone take deep breaths and use soft voices. Do not disturb the man with the knife at someones throat.

Another thing about wetshaving: People usually make three “passes” on their face instead of one. I had never heard of this before. Generally, most men shave once, downwards with the grain of their beard hair. Sometimes up on the neck. But this method never left me smooth. So now I go once with the grain, rinse and relather, once across the grain, rinse and relather, and lastly, against the grain. Because of the first two passes, the last one is usually very quick but leaves you as smooth as a baby’s butt. By the way, that is a phrase used so often around the shaving forums that there is an acronym for it. BBS. It is the ideal to shoot for. Baby’s butt smooth. Since I have a three month old at home now, I can compare regularly and I can say honestly that it is not that hard to do using the wetshaving method. I also use an alum block directly after rinsing with cold water to close up the pores. This calms the skin and prevents nicks from bleeding. If I do get cut, I have a styptic pencil on standby.

The other key is preparation. In order to cut the hairs easily, they must be soft. So I soak my face with a hot washcloth for about two minutes before I put on lather. Sometimes if I am feeling especially luxurious I will use pre-shave oil before the lather. Then use boiling water in my scuttle so my lather is piping hot for the whole shave. Most of the time I use the hot water out of the tap and that keeps it warm.

Well I guess that’s it for now unless I forgot something. Feel free to let me know what you think and if you have any questions, just ask.

For anyone who is interested, I use:

Edwin Jagger Best Badger brush

Moss Scuttle for mixing

Merkur FUTUR razor

Japanese Feather blades

assorted Straights when it fancies me

Proraso pre shave cream

Taylor of Old Bond St. Avocado cream, Proraso cream-green tube

Classic Alum block

JASON organic aloe aftershave

  1. chichu92 says:

    ooh.. so this was wat u wer talkin about…
    nice meeting u mate..
    have a nice day..

  2. Steve says:

    Great post. I too have toyed with the stra8 shave but not sure yet that I want to make the time commitment. Still getting a lot of pleasure from the DE and “miles to go before I sleep”. Both Leisureguy and I have made an interesting discovery regarding shave oil: You may wish to try it for a fourth and final “gloss” pass in order get that BBS result. Your post did give me the itch for the straight-edge once again!!!

  3. alpinmack says:

    I might have to try that. And I still use my DE when I’m feeling lazy. Straights are fun though. Anyway, thanks for the post and may you always get BBS.

  4. […] Shave using a straight razor— Ah yes. I love this. Definitely a shave worth concentrating on. Shaving has become somewhat of a hobby so you can read more about it here: […]

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