Shaving: Back to the Future

So, I’ve been absent for a long time, and the two or three people reading this probably wonder to where I vanished. Not that I have a lot of wacky hijinks to outline, but I have started a new hobby of sorts. I’ve recently acquired a safety razor. Yeah, the kind that accepts double-edged razor blades, the ones nobody uses anymore.

But… why? Why on Earth would I, or anyone for that matter, devolve from wondrous advancements such as electric razors. Well, I’ve owned a Braun Activator 8585 for a few years now, and while it irritated my neck less than the Norelco that preceded it, it took a relatively long time and always left me with stubble. I have wiry, coarse, and fast-growing facial-hair, so this was just not doing the job. I finally got fed up with the process; if I’m doomed to spend eternity shaving, I might as well do it right.

So, how do I do it, and what do I use? First, I’ll outline the products I use, and why.

  1. Vulfix 2234 shaving brush: Pretty much middle of the road, but any shaving brush is important to turning a cake of shaving soap into retardedly thick lather.
  2. Mama Bear’s Soap: This was frequently lauded at a forum I frequent. The purpose here is to combine a good brush with a quality soap and create thick lather in lieu of shaving cream or gel. It’s cheaper, and kinda fun.
  3. Parker 71R: I should have gotten a Merkur 38C Classic HD, but I bought a gift set from Classic Shaving and I assumed they knew more about the products than I did. Until I did enough research, that was true. From what I gather, this razor is passable for now.
  4. 1970 Gillette Super Speed: Yes, I own a razor older than me. I bought it from a friendly chap on the Badger and Blade forums. I probably could have gotten one at an antique store, but call me lazy. These types of razors have silo doors, allowing easy changing of blades, and the shave isn’t half bad either. This is my current go-to blade, but after my Merkur 38C Barber Pole Slant arrives, supposedly it’s more appropriate for tackling steel-belted stubble like mine.
  5. Proraso after shave: It’s not enough for an after shave to not contain alcohol, and most moisturizers aren’t meant to be used on the face. I’ve found this works very well and doesn’t burn.
  6. Alum block: soothes razor-burn, closes pores, antiseptic, and seals minor cuts. It’s also a great indicator of how harsh a shave was, since it only “burns” on razor-burned skin. This has helped me refine my technique and fixes some mistakes I still make.

That’s a lot of stuff, and in addition to the above, I have a razor stand with matching bowl for mixing the soap into frothy goodness. I also don’t mention what blades I use, as there are dozens of manufacturers that vary in sharpness, smoothness, durability, and other variables. I’m currently going through a blade sampler, and when I finally find my favorite, I fully plan on buying a bulk package. Derby is my current favorite, edging out Merkur and Dorko blades, but there’s still so many more to try. So, what does all the above actually accomplish?

  1. The important part is prep. My stubble is exceptionally coarse, and to soften it, I splash hot water on my face, lather up with my brush, massage it into my skin with my fingertips, and put a hot towel over my face for two to three minutes. This circumvents the hair cuticle and moisturizes the hair follicle itself, making it easier to cut. If I don’t do this, even sharp blades drag when I do the final against-the-grain pass. Actually, they still drag, but it’s not as pronounced.
  2. Mix up a frothy bowl of cream and just grind it into my skin with my brush. I like the way this feels, and it sets a layer of lubrication for the blade. Between every pass with the blade, I rinse off with some warm water and perform this step again.
  3. Perform my first pass with the grain of the hair growth. This is different for everyone, and in my case, the growth is pretty logical. Growth on my neck is up toward my jaw in a V shape. The hair on the upper half of my face grows in an inverted V shape. The two combine along my jaw and direction goes toward my ears. There are minor variations along this theme, but most importantly, I know how to follow this and do a first pass that’s not very aggressive.
  4. The second pass is across the grain at a 90-degree angle where I can manage. This takes care of any outlying areas that don’t quite match the usual growth pattern, and further reduces the stubble height before the final pass.
  5. Finally, I do a pass against the grain. Some people suggest a second across-the-grain pass, but I’ve found I get little benefit from this, and it just ends up irritating my skin. As long as I do the prep, I don’t need so much reduction.
  6. Shaving over, I rinse off with warm water. This gets rid of any stray soap, for obvious reasons. I try and be gentle to avoid irritating my skin further.
  7. Next, I rinse again with cold, even ice-cold water. This shocks the skin and closes up pores and nicks.
  8. My skin cooled, I rinse the alum bar in cold water and lightly press it along every surface of my face, letting it do its job. It’s oddly refreshing, and my skin doesn’t seem as irritated afterwards.
  9. To end the whole process, I pour a small portion of Proraso on my fingers and massage it into my face. There’s no burn here, and due to the witch-hazel and moisturizers, the effect is a weird radiating cooling sensation.

It’s a lot of stuff, and I won’t lie: it takes forever. Even after I get practiced in this arcane art, I’ll be spending upwards of twenty minutes per session. But I’ve never had a closer shave. Even with my novice hand, yesterday I achieved what some people on the forums refer to as a Baby Butt Smooth (BBS) shave. There was no stubble anywhere, my skin relaxed about an hour after I was finished, and even twelve hours later, I had less stubble than my electric left after ten minutes of grinding it into my face. Keep in mind my electric was a top-of-the-line, considered one of the best, cleaned and sterilized itself, and was still a fucking piece of shit by comparison.

How is it that after all the advancements of modern technology, the old standby of blade application directly to the face utterly defeats current tools of the trade? Worse, cartridges ranging from two to five blades are known for skin irritation and ingrown hairs and razor bumps, while practiced application of a DE blade can avoid all these, and with blades that cost $0.20 each, instead of $3 per refill at internet prices? I’m not crazy enough to attempt a straight-razor, but I don’t need to. One minor technological improvement of double-edged blades in a simplistic housing is fine. What, do I have to wait for teleporter technology, when I can finally just transport all the hair in my beard elsewhere?

Fuck it. I’m probably dangerously close to cognitive dissonance by adhering stubbornly to my new hobby, but if I’m going to puree my neck, it might as well be my fault.

Until Tomorrow