Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Today is 64 degrees and cloudy so out comes the sandalwood shaving soap. I'm really starting to feel limited in the choice of shaving options I have. Still, the nice sandalwood scent is really pretty good anyway, so I don't have much in the way of complaint.

I found a couple of things over this past week that has helped me out a bit with my shaving. First, it seems that at least with my Merkur 34C razor, the position of the blade within the head of the razor actually matters. I've been used to just using the cartridge razor that clicks right into the head and you're ready to go, but the DE razor I'm using requires a bit more attention. I've found that there is a minuscule gap between the holes in the safety razor blade, and the pegs that hold the blade steady within the head.

This gap means that there is room for the blade to "drift" away from exact center, especially when I tighten down the razor to secure the blade. I find that when I tighten it down, the blade will actually twist in the direction that I tighten it. The answer seems to be to hold the blade in place while I load it and tighten the screw, but as much as I try I don't seem to get it perfect, since I need to do a bit of finger contortioning to hold the blade in place while I tighten the screw, I don't think I ever will.

Is this a big deal? Not really, but it does make me cast an eye to other DE razors that I have seen. Some models seem to close down over the blade like 1950's underground hangar doors and I think that may help the issue a bit, but as I'm interested in some other shaving things already, a new razor is not at the top of the list for my next purchase.

The other thing that I tried this Sunday morning that seemed to help out my shave was to actually leave the shower running while I shaved. I live in an apartment, and the light switch in the bathroom is connected to the ceiling fan so that I can't turn the fan off unless I want to shave in the dark. Because of this and the dry Southern California air, it never really remains warm and steamy in the bathroom. As soon as I step out of the shower, I'm hit with a cool blast of air that is quite refreshing, but tends to defeat the purpose of keeping my face warm, and the pores of my skin open. I don't dry my face when I get out of the shower, but by the time I have the shaving cream ready to go, everything is all cooled down and the pores are all closed.

Keeping the shower on keeps producing steam and today my bathroom was a bit of a sauna. This certainly kept my face warm, and even helped to improve the lather of the shaving soap, presumably because there was more moisture in the air to combine with the soap. This all helped with a much more comfortable shave, though it did get a bit annoying having to keep wiping the steam off of the mirror to see what I was doing. One of those steam-free mirrors would probably do the trick to combat this.

I wouldn't actually recommend that everyone do this though. The whole time I was shaving I was thinking about how much money, water and energy I was wasting (energy required to heat the water) while I was trying to have a leisurely shave, so I probably won't do this again. It was a nice experiment though, and going forward I'll be trying to think of ways to keep that bathroom fan off or some other way of keeping that bathroom warm and steamy-like. Since I'm actually planning on moving out of my apartment into a house, I will be looking forward to being able to modify the bathroom so that I can turn off the fan so that I can get a great shave.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Today was about 60 degrees with some overcast. This morning I felt like the sandalwood soap was the best way to go out of my entire collection of 2 shaving options. I've been battling a cold lately, so it's more difficult to get a relaxing shave with a stuffy head and achy body, but one thing that is nice, is the steam from the shower and shaving helped my head to feel a little bit better as I shaved.

I actually went against my usual routine this week and shaved on Wednesday in addition to my normal Sunday shave. I guess that this shaving thing is really taking hold, as the only reason I shaved was because I just desired a good shave. On that day, I went with the Proraso as I was feeling like a little "bracing" and it did indeed give me a good start to the day. Since it wasn't my usual take all the time in the world to shave thing, the Proraso fit the bill nicely.

One reason I bring up the Wednesday shave is that during that shave I found I just couldn't take the factory blade that came with the razor anymore. After only 2 shaving days with them, I was finding that I was getting a better shave with the Sensor. Instead of slicing out my beard nicely, there was a lot of pulling of hairs, difficulty, and pain. I knew this couldn't be right, so I tossed that blade out, and started using the Crystal double edged blades from my sample pack.

Well night and day difference. That blade seemed to mow everything down very nicely. I've read that the factory supplied blades probably bounce around a lot from being shipped in the box, which contributes to a duller edge. Even though it's hard for me to conceptualize why that might be as they are all individually wrapped, I would be inclined to agree. Between Wednesday and today, the Crystal blades are doing a fine job.

I find while I shave that DE razors are much less "forgiving" than today's disposables. It seems to me that disposables are made for the lowest common denominator of shaving. Meaning that in order to work for the most people, the razors have to be very easy to use, and require as little technique as possible. What I think this does however is to sacrifice a really great shave for the safety of not having to deal with a really bad shave.

Wet shaving with double-edged razors take much more time, and requires both an understanding of your face as well as an understanding of shaving techniques. Wet shaving is also helped tremendously by the use of the right tools and products. What I find though at least for me is that instead of being a burden to learn these things, it is a joy to do. The work I put into the understanding of the shaving process and going through the procedures is returned back to me greatly in the form of absolute enjoyment of such a simple act.

I've rarely found that anything that is easy to do is worth doing, and it is indeed so with shaving. I would much rather get a great shave with the right tools and techniques than a mediocre shave with mediocre razors. Switching razor blades in the shaver to get a much better shave is just one example of how nice it is to come to an understanding of how to get a great shave. I have a feeling it will only get better.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Scratching the Surface

Well it has been cold and rainy the past few days, just the way I like it. Unfortunately real life intruded on my normal routine, and I wasn't able to do my usual breakfast, relax, shave routine as I had some things that I needed to get done. I still had time to shave though, and I especially didn't want to skip it today, as I got my stuff from West Coast Shaving yesterday. This included Proraso shaving cream, the Merkur 34C HD razor, and their sample pack of cheap razors.

My first impression of the Merkur razor was "It's small". It's a nice little razor though, very hefty and compact and it is all in chrome. I'm used to my Schick Sensor Excel which has kind of a longer handle, so it was a little strange to have this tiny thing in my hand to shave with.

The Proraso shaving cream looked pretty much like its picture, like a tube of toothpaste. When I opened the top and smelled the shaving cream, my first impression was "It doesn't smell like anything" which was kind of surprising, I thought that it would have that menthol/eucalyptus scent just pouring out, but nope.

The razors weren't much of a surprise, they looked like the pictures, I was slightly surprised that the Merkur razor came with two blades in it's box I didn't think it came with anything. I've read from other forums that I should just throw the razors out as they aren't good, but I tend to like to use the bad stuff first so that I know what the good stuff is like, so I took the factory razors and put it right in the razor.

Now when it came time to shave, I did the normal routine, but of course I used the new tools. First the shaving cream: slightly different than soap as I just squirted some out into the mug instead of lathering up the soap first. It's kind of nice as it takes a little less work. It's not like using soap puts a huge burden on things or anything, but using cream instead of soap seems to take less time to lather up.

The lather was pretty good, as I get used to wet shaving I think my lathering "Technique" is getting better, and I think I do pretty good, but I didn't notice a huge appreciable difference in the lathering capability of the Proraso vs. the Classic shave soap other than the aforementioned ease of use. One thing I did notice though is the smell of the Proraso to me smelled a bit "mediciny", probably because of the menthol. I've been used to smelling the sandalwood from what I already have so I noticed it much more. It's not an overpowering type of thing, but it is there.

After lathering up, I started in with the Merkur, and found that something wasn't quite right. The thing was pulling at my whiskers, and none of them were coming out. So this kind of hurt, and I usually have a pretty tough face. Tried again, this time putting a little more pressure on the razor, and it ended up hurting more. I picked up my old Excel and tried that... Nope everything working ok there. So I went back to the Merkur, and went for another go, and this time things went pretty easily. What happened was when I went back to the Merkur, I stared using a different side of the razor, so I found that one side of the razor does pretty good and the other side doesn't do much except hurt my face.

I'm not quite sure what the story is with that. I will have to find out if that is normal or not. The razor didn't come with any instructions or anything so it's back to the blogs and forums for me. However the side that did a good job whipped right through my whiskers, so I was pretty happy. There are still things to learn about the wet shave process, so I think this will continue to get better. It is fun to shave with the Merkur, it feels nice, if a bit small, in my hands much better than the piece of plastic I'm used to.

There are all sorts of razors out there as well with longer handles and all sorts of things. I'm already keeping my eyes out for the next thing to get, although I do think my next acquisition will be a new shave brush as I'm content for now to continue my shaving with the Merkur and experience the differences in blades and work on the whole shaving process.

One final thing, as I was shaving, and especially when rinsing my face off with cold water, that Proraso really puts the cool on ya. It is indeed very refreshing to have the menthol cool your skin as you shave, and that is very nice and I imagine during the hot weather that will be a very nice shave experience.

So the journey begins, sandalwood during cold weather, menthol for the hot, and for the spring? We shall certainly find out!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The form and function of wetshaving

It's bright and sunny today in So Cal, 63 degrees this morning. Unfortunately I don't have any different shaving cream just yet to take advantage of the warmer weather. I went to the site to order my new shaving stuff, and a few things were out of stock, so I decided to just wait and order everything at the same time. I found other websites that had the items I was looking for, but all of them were more expensive than West Coast Shavers.

I've decided the next thing I'll get in addition to the Merkur HD 34C and the razor blade sampler pack is Proraso shaving cream. As I continue to lurk through the hallowed halls of the wet shaving Internet websites, I can see lots of consensus among the wet shaving group on certain products, and who am I to buck the trend when so many have gone before me?

Anyway, Proraso has been described as a great cream, with lots of lather and the kicker for me was the cool eucalyptus for warmer weather which I described in my last post is something that I would like to try. It is from Italy which is nice, I only wish it didn't look like some drug store toothpaste tube or hair gel tub. You can't judge a book by it's cover, but honestly, I just do like the look of a good book cover.

Thinking of packaging though got me thinking about all the other shaving products out there and how they are packaged. Schick and Gillette do a great job packaging their products. It is one reason for their success. Like I said, I love great packaging, I think presentation is a big part of enjoying something. So it is a little tough to ignore the commercials, and the can designs and all of the high-tech looking razor cartridge systems.

I don't begrudge these companies, I think there is a place for the disposable razors and shaving cream. For guys like me that can't stand waking up in the morning there will always be the need for the quick shave before going to work, and I think that these products work for that. But I've seen wet shaving described as a "steak dinner compared to eating at McDonald's", and I can't think of a better analogy.

I have no problem eating at McDonald's, but I'm not going to eat it every day, and of course a steak dinner is simply better meal. The big shaving companies, just like McDonald's, do a great job of packaging and advertising their product not only to get you to buy, but also to drown out the alternative products. However, a good wet shave, just like a great steakhouse, is simply a much better proposition than disposable razors and cream in a can.

Presentation plays a part in this. A great steak restaurant has much better presentation in their restaurants than the "eating area" of a McDonald's, just like the products for wet shaving have better presentation than the mass produced ones. Shaving soaps often come in wooden bowls, Shaving brushes can be made out of rare and exotic materials, and razors are made of real metal and finely honed blades. I love the fact that these things have a history, and a following, and techniques and all of that. The presentation is part of what makes all of this fun.

For me, the Proraso packaging just doesn't do it for me. I'm a big advocate of "function over form" so if there's a better product in sub-par packaging, I'm going for the better product. I have a feeling the cream will occupy a place in the back of the cabinet hidden behind all of the better looking products, but from what I've read I also have a feeling it's the one I'll be reaching for the most, so I'll have lots of space to be able to get to it easily.