Technique: Beard Prep

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!



Derby Review

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:

  1. Tugging = 2
  2. Sharpness = 1
  3. Irritation = 1
  4. 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!

Reviewing Blades

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:

  1. Tugging – Does this blade pull when you use it to cut your whiskers?
  2. Sharpness – How close does it cut, what is the residual whisker value post shave?
  3. Irritation – What kind of irritation is left on the skin after shaving?
  4. 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…

The Short Handle Razor

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!