When I first began figuring out how to wet shave with a double edge razor, the predominant advice seemed to be to use a badger brush. Softer, better quality. My first brush was an Omega 13109 Creamy Curved Handle Pure Badger Shaving Brush
. It’s a great brush, luxuriantly soft. I also had an inexpensive boar brush, part of a shave kit I bought for the bowl. The boar brush, frankly, has an odd odor and is much rougher than the badger.
Fast forward to recently when I had some Amazon gift card money to burn and I decided to pick up the Proraso Professonal Shaving Brush. Some of the reviews mentioned how soft it was, so I figured it was a badger brush. But imagine my surprise when I opened it and felt bristles much stiffer than my badger. It was a big brush, too, the handle is a large one and it takes two hands to jam it onto the stand slot. This appeared to be two cons right off the bat. But then…the lather!
This is the stand that I use.
I did notice that distinctive boar odor as soon as the brush was wet and sweeping around my face. It’s not a good smell. But here is what put that out of my mind: In just a few passes around the soap, the lather was already quite thick and fluffy. Maybe it’s the stiffness of the bristles? Maybe it’s how the boar hair holds the right amount of water? (As always, let it drip, then three taps to have just the right amount of water in the brush). Whatever it is, the lather is some of the best I’ve gotten from a Proraso soap. It’s also been consistent. In the week that I’ve used the brush, the soap has whipped up soft and creamy each and every time.
Proraso brush with my favorite Proraso Eucalyptus Hard Shaving Cream / Soap, 150ml
I’ve also noticed after a week’s use that the bristles have softened ever so slightly and the smell has gradually gone away. That’s a big plus because I don’t think I’d keep using it if it didn’t. And did I mention the lather?
(The Proraso Shave Brush is made by Omega and is a rebranding of the Omega Boar brush. The Proraso name may add a couple of dollars to the cost, but…Proraso!)
I was pleasantly surprised by the Proraso Shave Brush! It has challenged my preconceptions about the superiority of badger over boar hair brushes. It’s a good reminder that when it comes to the art of wet shaving with a good razor, there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach. After all, finding the perfect combination of tools and technique is all part of the art of shaving with swagger.
My shaving technique is the combination of several ideas and steps that I’ve gleaned from various websites and videos. Today I’ll share my beard prep steps.
One of the important aspects of wet shaving with a double edge razor is making sure your whiskers are ready to be cut. You don’t just go at them. They’ve got to be prepped. Made ready. They need to be gently brought to that state where they wait with eager anticipation for your blade to lop them off. Here are my steps.
- A hot shower. In addition to the primary benefit of cleaning your body and making you smell better, a hot shower is an opportunity to wash your face with soap and hot water. The hot water opens your pores and washing your face softens your whiskers, making them pliable and compliant in the cutting process.
- Don’t dry your face. When you dry off after your shower, don’t dry your face. Let the whiskers stay wet which keeps them soft and reduces irritation from rubbing your face with your towel.
- Re-wet your face with hot water. After the shower, the next step of prepping for the shave is filling up a small bowl (or shaving mug) with hot water and dropping in my brush. While it gets nice and saturated, I splash hot water from the tap on my face and neck while I let the sink fill with hot water.
- The right amount of water and soap. A good lather is worth its own post but a simple approach is that if your brush has been soaking, pull it out of the water, let the water drip off, and then give it three taps or flicks. That should leave just about the right amount of water on the brush to give you a good lather.
- Lather away. Don’t skimp. You don’t have to make a Santa Clause beard with your lather, but it shouldn’t be a dry, light layer either. Massage and work the lather in brisk circular motions. Flatten the brush and swirl away. The brush helps exfoliate your skin, raise the whiskers and leaves them standing at attention, ready to yield to your blade.
Someone reading these steps might conclude that it’s almost too much. Each detail is taken too seriously. But remember, a good shave is something to be savored and relished, something that takes time and can’t be rushed. Your face will thank you!
The Derby Extra Double Razor Blade is unfortunately one of the lowest rated blades you’ll see on this blog. It has the misfortune of being the only blade I’ve ever taken out of my razor after a single use. More on that later though… Here’s how it stacked up using our rating system:
- Tugging = 2
- Sharpness = 1
- Irritation = 1
- Longevity = n/a
Derby is a pretty popular blade, and maybe it’ll work for your face, but I found this blade to go well beyond disappointment and enter the realm of disgruntled. I experienced quite a bit of tugging with this blade, and the cut itself was extremely inefficient. Compared to every other blade I’ve ever tried this was simply not sharp at all. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s better than an electric shave, but this is not an Artisan’s blade and I would not encourage you to use it at all. My skin was visibly irritated as observed by my wife after a three pass shave. I made a point, as I do with any new blade, to be slow, methodical and pay close attention to the work at hand. Nonetheless I managed to nick myself twice, had a redness on my facial flesh and could visibly see small whiskers on my face. To the touch it was equally disappointing.
To illustrate how bad the experience was, after my three pass I actually popped the blade out and put in an Astra Platinum and did a two pass. My face actually looked less irritated after this, and my whiskers were where they belonged – in the sink.
So all in all, don’t try this at home folks – it’s not worth it!
Shaving with a double edge razor is an art, and for the most part the razor, your brush and soap are all fairly standard. There’s some variation, but as long as you stick to The Basics you’ll find that things will work out fine. Where things get hairy (yes, pun intended) is with blades. There are LOTS of options, each uniquely different. To complicate things further, each face is different. We don’t expect our reviews of blades to be true for every face, but we do think they can be a general guide to you and your face as you decide what to try.
In full disclosure, we’re fans of the Crystal, an Israeli blade that cuts close with almost no tugging. Both of your authors here at Shave with Swagger consider this our “go to” blade, and our wives humbly agree.
In order to review these blades we want to provide a basic rubric to help you understand our position. Thus we’ll be using the following criteria for our reviews:
- Tugging – Does this blade pull when you use it to cut your whiskers?
- Sharpness – How close does it cut, what is the residual whisker value post shave?
- Irritation – What kind of irritation is left on the skin after shaving?
- Longevity – How long will the razor last you once you start using it.
We’ll use a 5 point scale to review these blades, and in each category the higher the number the better the blade. For example, an irritation of 3 means that you may have some skin irritation, maybe it was dry or pulled in a way that was uncomfortable after the shave was complete. Meanwhile a 5 in sharpness means this could be the Samurai sword of razor blades and you should probably pick one up at your earliest convenience.
Stay tuned, our first blade review is up next…
There are generally two lengths of safety razor handles out there. If you read our article The Basics you know that we recommend the short handled version by Merkur. We’re pretty sold on the short handle over the long handle. You can obviously use whatever is most comfortable for you, but we think there are some compelling reasons for the short handle.
First, the short handle version is heavier. Don’t believe me, start counting ounces on Amazon and you’ll see the razor we recommended is one of the heaviest that Merkur makes. This is actually a really big deal, because you want the weight of the razor to do the work for you. One of the worst things you can do when shaving with a double edge razor is to apply pressure to your tool. You’ll wind up taking more then just whiskers off your face, and nobody likes that.
Second, your razor is not a squeegee, and you’re not wiping down the windows of a skyscraper. You want to have an intimate relationship with your face, so get up close and don’t use a tool that’s going to put distance between you and what you’re doing. The short handle means there’s nothing bumping against your palm or even your wrist, it’s you and your tool to give yourself a nice clean cut.
Third, have you ever seen an artist stand five feet away from their canvas? Maybe some of that new post-modern art that nobody seems to understand, but by-and-large artists are close to their canvas. You are an artist. Be close to your canvas. I can’t emphasize this enough that shaving your face needs to be more than a utilitarian exercise if you’re going to enjoy it.
Now all that said, if you’re using a long handle razor that’s OK. Remember, weight is the most important thing – and still more important is the fact that you’re using a double edged razor!
Razor burn. Irritation. Chafed skin. Bumps. Whiskers subtly buried just under the skin. Even zits. That was occasionally true of cheeks and jawline but pretty much always true of the area when chin and neck merge.
Maybe it’s because my face is more sensitive. Maybe it’s because I am too rough with the razors. Shaving irritation is just something I figured was part of the deal. When I used an electric foil razor, the irritation was probably due to me mashing the foil against my face to convince myself I was cutting as close as possible.
The three blade cartridge made me feel the burn. Then they invented the five blade. Surely that would reduce irritation. Nope. But they have lubricating strips! But I used “sensitive” gel! Nope. Irritated. Bumpy. Alas, it was just part of the bargain. If you shave, you’re going to get razor burn and irritation.
One of the benefits claimed for double edge razor wet shaving, however, was a reduction of razor burn. Well, THAT’S something! And I kid you not, the very day that I began shaving with a safety razor and a nice cream (it was Proraso cream at first)…I tell you, the very same day I used a safety razor for the first time, my face wasn’t red and bumpy. At all.
I know what you’re thinking. “Just like that? No more razor burn?” Yes. Just like that. Even with more than one pass (I sometimes use up to four passes when I want a really close shave) I rarely get any irritation. Generally speaking, the more passes you make, the more chance for skin irruption to develop but these blades are just so sharp that it’s really not the case.
If you’re ever wished that shaving didn’t leave you with razor burn on your face, chin, or neck, then perhaps it’s time to switch to double edge wet shaving. It’s so close but with no bumps!
And because shaving no longer brought that irritation, I began to slow down and actually enjoy this morning ritual. More on that in another post.
One of the greatest benefits of wet shaving with double edged blades is how inexpensive the blades are.
A fancy electric razor will set you back $100 or more. Sure, you can find cheaper ones, but the old adage is true that you get what you pay for. Even then, after a year of use, you’re looking at around $15-30 to replace the foil. That works out to be around $2+ a week per shave.
If you buy the latest and greatest cartridge razors, well…check this comparison out:
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that a typical five blade cartridge could last for a week of shaving. (Of course you could go longer but let’s compare apples to apples). This product, for example, would give you twelve cartridges for $36.99. At 12 weeks of shaving, that breaks down to just over $3.00 per week. That’s $150 a year of blade costs!
Let’s assume also that we can use a double edge razor blade for a week of shaving. (Again, this too varies, but for comparison’s sake…). Now, let’s look at a product like this double edge variety pack . For $24.99 you get 100 blades. That’s just short of two years of shaving which breaks down to about a quarter ($.25) a week. That makes it right around $13 a year!
Based just on the costs of razor blades alone, you can see that double edge razor wet shaving is a far less expensive alternative. And when you’re saving that kind of money and still getting a great shave, that’s shaving with swagger!
But double edge razor blades have another advantage which I will cover in my next post!
So you’ve had it with electric and cartridge based razors and are ready to enter the world of wet shaving. Where do you begin? We fully intend to analyze all facets of wet shaving in detail, but we thought it also might be best to start of with some core tools of the trade, we call them the basics.
Fundamentally you need the following in order to start wet shaving:
- Soap or cream
We recommend using Proraso for soap. There’s no bowl or prep involved, this is an easy to use soap for beginners and it makes your skin feel great after a good shave.
There are lots of brushes out there, the important thing to remember is badger hair. (It’s better than boar hair). We’re not picky about the brand, but the type is important. Don’t be fooled by imitators, something like this Escali brush will do the job and not break the bank either. And if you have any doubts, just trust us: Badger hair.
Believe it or not, this is easy an one for us to recommend. Merkur is the standard, and we strongly recommend the Merkur 178 Classic. You have some choices to make, short or long handled and weight. We say short and we say heavy. The bottom line is you want the weight of your razor to do the work for you. It’s the safest way not to cut yourself. The 178 is on the heavier side of straight razors and provides a manageable grip without getting in the way. You’ll find that your razor is the most expensive item you’ll buy, but keep in mind this thing will last forever. It’s about the same price as that cheap Phillips Electric razor at Walmart, but it’ll still be around in six months.
Every face is different and every blade is different too. It’s hard to recommend a specific blade for general use, but we personally have had positive experiences getting started with the Crystal (Israeli Personna). We’ve found it to be sharp, with almost no tugging and yields an absolutely pleasant shave in single or multi-pass approach. That said, don’t necessarily limit yourself to just one brand of blade. The pack we’ve linked above has 240 blades in it and normal use means that this set should last you more than a year. So consider a sample pack like this one or this one (which includes the Crystal) so that you can experiment and find out what works best for you. Even if you pick up a sampler and then use the Crystal you’ll still find you’ve paid less than an eight week cartridge refill for that fancy Gillette you’re giving up. We’ll spend some more time analyzing a bunch of these blades in the coming weeks, but we consider this to be a good place to get started.
Remember, your gear is important! There’s a little bit of a buy in but it’s worth every penny and saves a lot in the long run.
I have been known to grow a beard, or two. In fact this past summer I went six months without brushing a blade across my face. It wasn’t because I like beards per se. I don’t dislike them either. For me a beard was a matter of necessity. The growth on my face prevented me from enduring the chore of shaving. Does this sum up your life? Do you wake up and deride the thought of lathering up to clean off your whiskers?
The truth is I hated shaving. I really honestly hated it. I tried the fancy expensive electric razors. I even ponied up for a Braun with one of those rinsing stations. What I learned is that the razor was satisfactory out of the box, disappointing after a month and expensive by two. Then there was the skin irritation I would get, the lack of smoothness against the grain and the constant need for lotions and after shave to appease my damaged face.
I also tried one of those multi-bladed cartridge type razors. They come in the nifty packaging and do double, sometimes even triple the damage every time they roll across your skin. They require expensive chemical foam to get the job done too. I have to confess while I felt this cut was far closer than what I ever got from an electric razor, it simply didn’t accomplish what I craved for: A face my kids could touch without getting hurt.
But I have seen the light, and my whiskers are gone I tell you. There is an alternative to the medieval ways we brutalize our flesh with so-called modern gear. There is simply no reason to shave with third world equipment when you can enjoy the clean, cool and supple cut of a double edged razor and a wet shave. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Stay tuned…
It’s there again, that dark shadow, that carpet of bristle, your beard trying to break forth into the light and commandeer your face. But that’s not going to happen. Because you are going to shave it. Expertly. With care and precision, you are an artist ready to use your tools to carve away the material of your facial hair and reveal a face that is smooth, smells great, and is the object of envy to that poor multitude of souls whose morning shave is a unwelcome exercise in aggravation instead of a pleasurable indulgence.
At Shave With Swagger, that’s exactly what we’re here to help you do.