Old school shaving

Thursday, 10. February 2011

Dovo Black Micarta

This Christmas I made the switch over to a straight razor from the standard off the shelf disposables and in a word it’s simply awesome.  There is some therapeutic value in the morning, my face feels a lot better, the shave is much closer to the skin and I find I nick myself less with the straight than the disposables.  There are some downsides of course – a learning curve, a higher initial investment and it takes a little bit more time.  Even if you don’t feel like taking the plunge of holding a 3 inch razor against your neck; there are some partial steps that will yield much better results than the standard disposable and canned crud for shaving cream.

On the basic level you need a few things, a razor, strop, brush and shaving soap or cream (again, not the canned stuff.) The overall cost is somewhere around 100 dollars for a halfway decent setup, although I would imagine you could do better if you were avid with eBay and craigslist. Likewise, it’s possibly to spend exponentially more on lavishly embellished hardware and exotic material. Fortunately, such items are hardly needed. There are a number of other incidentals that are useful to pick up eventually.. hones, stands and the like.

The number one improvement would probably be jumping over to a badger brush and shave soap. The brush is approximately 50+, to around 100 if you get the good silvertip badger brushes. Soap is around 15+, but it lasts for a year or 2 typically. The more pricey brushes retain water better producing a better lather, not mention being silky soft to the touch. Typically you would soak one for about 5 minutes in warm water, which costs no time if you’re doing this while showering. From there, you shake the excess water off the brush, put it to the soap until it bubbles and then begin lathering up your face or making lather in a bowl. Both have their upsides. In addition to being all natural and nourishing the skin, shaving soap is an excellent lubricant for the razor that’s about to be gliding along the skin. (Modern shave cream is designed to have the razor “float” above the skin and retain shaved hair, while softening the hair and skin. It doesn’t lubricate as well as a result.)

As for the razor itself, any well honed straight will do. Since it is something that takes some practice to do without mangling blades (even stropping improperly can mess up the edge), I recommend going with a blade that is professionally honed for a little while anyways.  It should be somewhere between 6-8 weeks before it needs to be rehoned, which typically costs somewhere around $15 and postage unless you can find a place to do it locally.  Alternatively, if you don’t like the idea of a big metal knife on your throat, the old school double edged safety razors work “almost” as well and are still considerably cheaper than the usual disposable or cartridge routine.  Merkur is a good place to start if you are interested in this route.  A well sharpened razor however will cut hairs effortlessly, without any tugging or dragging.

A good option when starting is to only shave part of the face, and gradually increase the area shaved as you get the hang of how the razor is used.  Too much angle will cut you, too little won’t cut the hairs properly.  Somewhere around 30 degrees is a good place to start, and you simply flatten the razor to your face a little if it starts tugging.  Typically you would start shaving with the grain, and then switch to a cross grain and then possibly an against the grain cut depending on how smooth of a shave you want.  There are plenty of forums that can give better advice about technique than I can, this is merely here to wet your appetite.

The process is definitely more time consuming (although not as much so as you become more and more proficient), but also something of a ritual and quite relaxing once you get into the routine.  You’ll also be wide awake before the razor even touches your face, so it’s a good start to the morning. The net results are typically more comfortable and cheaper (and more environmentally friendly to boot) … sometimes the old ways are the best.

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