One of my interests/hobbies is tied closely to my job – no, not music; wet shaving. Or, as men who grew up in a different era called it, shaving. Classic wet shaving is a morning ritual that gives me an opportunity to slow down, reflect, and get my mind right before taking on the day.
So, for my job – being in the military and all – I have to be clean shaven; and here in Korea, I have to be clean shaven 24/7. That being the case, having a thick beard that grows in quickly can be a bit of a pain. For much of my life, shaving in the morning was an annoying task that often left my skin and mood irritated. Like many guys, I used a shave gel and a cartridge razor (like the Schick Quattro) because I enjoyed spending lots of money on disposable blades that didn’t give me a close shave and often left my face feeling like it’s been put through the ringer.
Around five years ago, I decided to change up my routine. I started by switching from gel out of a can to a shave soap with a brush. I tried several different soaps and used a cheap brush before splurging on better equipment; I liked that the soap lasted forever and that I could massage my beard with the brush before subjecting my face to my 50 blade cartridge. Later, I added a shave oil as an extra layer of protection. It was a step in the right direction but it wasn’t enough to get me to like shaving. Almost three years ago, following my wife’s suggestion, I started researching safety (double edge) razors and “wet shaving.” Converts to safety razors raved about the close shave and long-term cost savings compared to cartridge razors.
I did a lot of research before spending any money. There are a ton of resources out there for those interested so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. For that first shave with my newly purchased Merkur 34C, I was ultra careful. With cartridge blades, you can move fairly quickly through your routine – even when going across or against the grain. Also to get a “close” shave, you have to actually apply a bit of pressure onto the skin. For DE shaving, you generally allow the weight of the razor do the work, applying very little to no extra pressure. It took a couple tries to get the hang of it so that I didn’t nick myself; but once I got my technique down, it became (dare I say) an enjoyable experience. And, most importantly, the shave was close. Very close. Also, after the initial investment, the cost savings of switching to traditional wet shaving were noticeable.
So, here’s my equipment:
1. Merkur 34C Classic. Merkur is a popular German brand with a number of models. This chrome-plated model has a little bit of weight, is well-balanced, and provides a close comfortable shave that’s not too aggressive. It’s a good choice for a first safety razor and, if I take care of it, will last a lifetime.
2. Personna Double Edge Blades. I bought a variety pack of blades, trying out a few, before settling on these. The right blade for you will depend on your face, beard, and razor. Try out different combos until you find what works for you. To buy 100 of these blades costs around $12. I bought a pack in February of 2014. I finished that pack last week. Now granted, there were days I didn’t shave (though I never grow beards when on leave so I may skip a day or two but I am still clean shaven most of the time). Some trips I may not have brought my safety razor (more on that below). But you get the idea. I basically get 5-7 shaves out of a blade. If you shave almost every day, that’s $12 for 100 or so weeks. With the Schick Quattro, I used to spend around $18 for eight cartridges. Using a little magnet device to try and lengthen the usefulness of my cartridges, I was able to get almost a month out of them before I started to feel a deterioration. For those bad with math – $18 for 32 weeks vs. $12 for 100 weeks. Game. Set. Match.
3. Edwin Jagger Badger Brush. This is a pretty nice bush at a reasonable price. I’ve had this brush for two years now and it still works great. Badger hair seems to be the standard as it holds water well and does a great job of working up a lather. If well-maintained, badger brushes can last over 10 years. Pretty good value. However, I just got a synthetic brush that has gotten rave reviews…more on that in a minute.
4. Proraso brand of shave soaps. These are just great. They come in a self-contained tub and work up a great lather that protects the skin from the sharp edge of the blade. I have both the classic version and their version for sensitive skin. Both work beautifully and have a nice scent. A tub generally lasts around four months.
5. Shave Secret Shave Oil. I use a couple of drops of shave oil with my shave soap to help the blade glide smoothly across my skin. There are all kinds of expensive shave oils out there. The cheapest one I’ve found is also the best one I’ve used. Not too thin; not too viscous. It just works to give my skin that extra layer of protection.
Some other equipment I also have:
Merkur 37C. I got this razor about two years ago. It has a slanted guide bar that exposes more of the blade, producing a scything motion. More blade contacts the skin, you get a closer shave. The thing is, more blade contacts the skin so you have to be a little more careful, especially if you go against the grain. The 37C is a little heavier than the 34C, which helps you truly just let the weight of the razor do the work. I’ve found that I can’t shave with this everyday so I’ve settled into using this when I need that extra close shave – waking up earlier or knowing I’m going to be staying at work later; or if I have a few day’s growth and need a little extra edge to shave my beard. This is my go to razor in these instances.
Edwin Jagger Travel Shave Brush. I love this brush. It’s a badger brush that is travel-sized but still has a dense brush that holds water well. The handle of the brush is hollow so when you’re done, you unscrew the brush and place it inside. Really clever, and a brush that should last a long, long time considering I only use it when I travel.
So, I recently contributed to a Kickstarter by The Blades Grim for their new shave scents shave oils. Basically, a shave soap lasts so long you’re kind of stuck with the same scent (unless you have multiple soaps and creams, which most people don’t). Their solution was to come up with different scented shave oils that you lather in a shave bowl with their unscented shave soap. Brilliant! Right now, I don’t have a good shave bowl, but I did try it and was very impressed with the shave I got. Needless to say, I will be getting a shave bowl in the near future.
As sometimes happens with Kickstarter campaigns, if the vendor meets or exceeds their goal, backers will often get some bonus prizes. Along with six shave oils and the soap, I also received the aforementioned synthetic shave brush, which looks and feels great in my hand though I haven’t tried it yet. I also received this:
I’ve been thinking about straight razor or “cut throat” shaving for a while, but have stayed away because it scares me…and it’s not a cheap initial investment. Getting a free Blades Grim straight razor has given me an opportunity to give shaving like 007 a try. To maintain a straight razor blade, you need to get a leather strope, which is used each time you shave. Periodically, straight razors also have to be honed. Now, Blades Grim offers lifetime honing; you send it in, they hone it, and then send it back. I believe you just have to pay for shipping. So, I’ll probably wait to try my straight razor when I’m back in the States since the company is located in the Midwest. Even if I love it, I can’t foresee using it daily, but for that extra, extra close shave on the weekends…or when I’m planning on wearing a tuxedo…
So, what’s my routine?
1. I either take a shower or, if I just need to shave and head out, rinse my face thoroughly with hot water. Both are done to open pours and prepare the beard.
2. Set my brush in the sink with hot water, often while I’m taking a shower.
3. Rinse my face with hot water and massage a few drops of shave oil into my beard.
4. Build my lather with my shave brush and soap then lather up my face.
5. Take three passes with my razor, lathering up my face in between each pass – with the grain, across the grain, and against the grain.
6. Rinse my face with cold water to close my pours.
7. Apply toner which almost acts as an aftershave.
8. Apply moisturizer.
It takes 10-12 minutes to shave. Yes, it takes longer. So does grinding coffee beans and making a cup of pour over coffee as opposed to drip from a machine. You get my point.
Okay, so what about travel. If we’re checking bags, I bring my safety razor because I can stick my toiletry bag in the luggage that’s going under the plane. However, if we’re only doing carry-on (which we like to do for most of our travel), I don’t bring my safety razor because airlines don’t allow DE blades in carry-on luggage. Boo! What I’ve settled on is bringing my travel shave brush, Proraso, shave oil, and a Bic Metal Single Blade Disposable. A lot of DE shavers swear by them as an alternative when traveling and I have to agree. Overall, it does a pretty good job.
There you have it. Classic wet shaving may not be for everyone , but it really is a great alternative to the overhyped multiple blade razors that have saturated the market. If you’re on the fence, give it a try. Go old school.