Friday, April 11, 2014

Why a Single Edge?

I feel that I'm overdue writing a post dedicated to the single blade razor. Lately I've been emphasizing the importance of the brush and preparation, at the end of the day it's not the brush that removes stubble, and I do love my razors.
For clarity: shaving with a "double edge" safety razor counts as single edge shaving, as only one of the two sharp edges should be in contact with your skin at any time. If both edges are touching your skin, your shave has gone badly wrong!

Reasons to shave with a single edge:

  • Cartridges cost more over time than DE blades or a straight razor.
  • You are not locked into a specific brand of blade.
  • Traditional razors are built to last a lifetime, not until the next model comes out.
  • Traditional razors look far more impressive.
  • A single edge gives you more control.
  • A single edge gives you more feedback- especially a hollow ground straight razor.
  • Traditional products have a sense of historicity.
  • You get to learn a new skill.
  • You may achieve a much closer shave than you've had with cartridges.
  • You are less likely to experience ingrown hairs.
  • You are less likely to experience razor burn.
  • The best reason: Because you want to.
Some of those points need no elaboration, but I do want to emphasize a few.

Control and Feedback

When you shave with a cartridge razor, you have much more material in contact with your face- several blades, the blade guard, and a "lubricating strip" of questionable benefit.

Shaving with a safety razor, you only have the single blade and the safety bar (or comb) in contact with your skin. A straight razor has even less contact: only the finest edge of metal against your skin.

One of the first revelations I experienced when shaving with a traditional razor was how much more feedback I ever had with my cartridge razors. The analogy that came to me the first time I experienced this was of car enthusiasts talking about being able to ``feel`` the road beneath them through the suspension and steering. This feeling is most pronounced when using a hollow ground straight razor, which allows you to feel individual hairs ``pop`` as the blade cuts through them.

As well as being an incredibly useful tool for perfecting your technique, this feedback give you a great connection to your shaving ritual, and will teach you about the contours of your face and growth patterns of your hair, which is useful to know whatever razor you use.

Control (again)

The second way in which single edge shaving gives you control is in your choice of blades. Once you buy a Fusion, Hydro 5, Azor, or other cartridge handle, you are locked into buying the specific cartridge meant for that model, from the one manufacturer that produces it.

Double Edge blades are standardized in shape, but made by many manufacturers under many brands, with some key differences in quality, sharpness, materials and treatments. This means that if you decide that your blades are too sharp, too dull, too short-lived, you can try another brand. At the time of writing, the Kaliandee store carries Astra, Dorco, Feather, 3 models of Gillette, Merkur, Personna, Wilkinson Sword and Derby- and this is not an exhaustive selection of available brands, they are just the most popular.

With a straight razor, you are locked into one brand- the make of the razor. In the case of straight razors, this gives you all the more control as you can stop and hone (or have honed) your straight razor to your exact specifications.

Ingrown Hairs and Irritation

Most traditional shaving enthusiasts feel that a single edge beats cartridges for reducing irritation and ingrown hairs. There are a couple of reasons why this is probably true:

1) Fewer blades across your skin

Shaving generally requires multiple passes- the aim is to reduce hair over multiple passes of the blade rather than lop it all off at once. One of the selling points of cartridges is that their multiple blades give the effect of several passes in one. In my experience multiple passes are still needed for a close shave- and when you have 5 blades in one razor, even if you only go over the same area twice (as opposed to my usual 3 passes), you are accumulating the equivalent of 10 passes with a single edge.

2) Cartridges "tugging" on hair
Some people feel that cartridge razors tend to "tug" on the hair, pulling it slightly before cutting it. If this does happen, this will cut the hair below the level of the skin, leading to an increased chance of ingrown hairs. I've yet to see convincing scientific evidence for this, but ask the members of any shaving forum why they prefer a single edge over a cartridge and you are likely to hear ingrown hair and razor burn horror stories about cartridges.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Superlather

Do you particularly appreciate the variety of scents and products that traditional shaving offers? Are you a perfectionist, always aiming for a better shave?

If you can answer either of the above in the affirmative, and you haven't tried shaving with a superlather yet, I suggest giving it a go at your earliest convenience.

First off, a definition: A "Superlather" is any shaving lather made from a combination of two lathering shaving products (soaps, creams, and Italian hard creams/soft soaps known as "croaps").

Most wet-shaving experts specifically use the term to describe a combination of a hard soap and a soft cream, but I have combined soaps with soaps, and creams with creams before, and I called all of them superlathers (all the good ones anyway!).

There are a variety of advantages to be had from combining products (if you just want to give it a go already, I give a quick explanation of my approach at the bottom):

The Best of Both Worlds
Pretty much all reasons to try superlathering stem from this: "the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts".

As I've discussed before, there are some broad differences between soaps and creams in general. Certain brands also have a reputation for being particularly strong in certain characteristics. By combining a soap and a cream (for example), you should be able to make a good, rich lather with the moisturizing and protecting qualities of a cream, with the slickness of a soap- in other words, you can get a step closer to the perfect shave.

Scent Combinations
The best way to create a signature scent (short of approaching a bespoke perfumer) is by layering and combining products. Although shaving soaps and creams do not scent your skin with anything like the strength of an actual cologne or aftershave, they still add to the effect (someone has to get close to pick up the scent of your shaving products, so think of this part of your scent layering as a treat for the people in your life who you are close to). Through some fun trial and error, you are bound to find a combination that suits your personality and tastes.

Making your products punch above their weight
Even though my University days are behind me, I still enjoy picking up the occasional budget or own-brand product just to compare to the big name alternatives. Where shaving products are concerned, while you generally get what you pay for, I find the cheaper soaps and creams still provide an acceptable shave even if they lack some of the luxury refinement of the high-end products.
For my last shave (which I enjoyed mid-way through writing this post), I loaded a Vie-Long brush with Col. Conk's Bay Rum soap, then proceeded to whip up a lather using Williams Mug soap. I find that the Williams/Conk combination works far better than either soap on their own. I won't be giving up my Taylor's, Truefitt, Trumper or Harris products any time soon, but superlathering makes the cheaper stuff enjoyable enough to stay in my rotation.

Using up "second choice" product
If, like me, you enjoy picking up and trying new products, then sooner or later you'll have a few around that don't quite cut it, and which tend to get overlooked in your collection. Throwing them away is wasteful. Giving them away is a great option, especially if you think the product is good but not to your tastes. The third option is to find a product you can superlather it with that makes for an enjoyable enough shave that you find yourself wanting to use it again (this is why I started superlathering with the Williams Mug Soap in the first place). 

 How to create a superlather

 My personal method for combining two soaps is to gently splay out the brush, and load* the inner part of the brush with the first soap, gently "close" the brush, trying not to squeeze the soap out, then load the tips of the brush from the second soap- not applying too much pressure in the process.  I aim to have the brush loaded with as much soap as I would if I were lathering only one, so the time spend loading from each soap is about half that if I were only using a single product.

For creams, I prefer to place a small (about half what I'd normally use) amount of cream into the splayed out brush,  then load the brush from a soap as usual.

Either way, once the brush is loaded, you can proceed to build your lather in a bowl or on your face as normal.

This is in no way definitive- Mike Sandoval of Shaving101 and Mark H of sharpologist both prefer to load their brushes with a soap and place a small amount of cream in his shaving bowl before lathering. The basic techniques of lathering do not change significantly, you are merely trying to incorporate two products rather than one into a lather. For me at least, experimenting with new techniques and products is part of the fun- hopefully you'll enjoy finding the combinations that work for you!

*introduce plenty of soap, i.e. "soapy water" into your brush, before you aerate and hydrate it further by actually whipping up a lather.