Category Archives: craft

A Damn Good Shave – Part 2 Lathering Technique

In my last [post] I told you about the process of wet shaving.  This time I’ll be going over the details of lathering.

As I mentioned, you begin with a hot soak or a shower to soften the hairs and prep the underlying skin.

Manly men use real shaving soap!The next step is to build the lather.  Now if you’re new to the process, I’d recommend spending a good amount of time just trying to build lather and get that part down, before you begin to attempt shaving.  As you might imagine, having good product is a key to this, but if you’re new – how do you know what’s good or not?

Easy.  Ask around.  There are plenty of [forums] with reviews and descriptions of commonly used items that can get you started.  Don’t get hung up on picking a particular scent, just take a sniff and if it is pleasant enough – go for it.  Depending on your location and proximity to various stores, you should have a few choice product options.  Every mall has a Body Shop store, so I usually recommend a tub or tube of their [Maca Root cream.]

I’ll talk about creating lather in a bowl here, though many users lather up on their face.  The process is pretty much the same for either, as well as for soaps or creams.  I’ll talk about the types of bowls in another post.

The brush should be moist, and I normally do so by filling the bowl up with hot water and letting the brush soak in it for a minute or so to absorb some of the liquid and soften the badger hair much as we do for the facial hairs.  The water should be dumped, and the brush gently wrung out to remove excess water.  You “load” the brush by constricting the brush hairs into a clump using your thumb and forefingers, and then continue either by swishing this in small circles on the product to get it to stick to the brush, or spooning out a small dollup (typically half a teaspoon) into the bowl and then begin.After a beating

The goal here is to create a lather that is thick, like cool whip with formed peaks, but not too thin, airy, or runny that collapses back into soapy liquid shortly after being whipped into being.  Sometimes, between the soap on the brush, and the water absorption in the badger hair, you hit that sweet spot right away.  Other times you might need to whisk the brush ’round and around in the bowl, pumping it a bit to impart some air into the mix to fluff it.  And yet other times it might be too dry with not enough liquid, making the swishing and lather creation stiff and difficult to swirl up.  In those cases I’ll typically dip just the very tips of the loaded brush into water, or just add a few drops in to liven things up.  You can always add more water, but once you’ve got too much it can be difficult to compensate, so start small.  Frankly, it can be difficult to build a good lather, or even recognize when you’ve got it just right, until you have some experience under your belt doing so.  Here’s a [video] that can help.

The last step in lathering is applying it to the face.  Simply take this out of the bowl using the brush, and swirl this in small concentric circles.  I usually begin just below the ear in the side burns area, and move across the face, then down the neck.   Feel free to gather more lather from the bowl as needed.  You may find other online tips mentioning “painting” the face, as though you have a paint brush, rather than a shaving brush.  I also do this, but usually after having swirled the lather into place, to help even it out.  You’ll know at this point if you’ve formed your lather correctly, if it seems to expand a bit after it rests on your face a few moments, softening the edges.  If you’re face lathering, the only difference is that instead of building lather in the bowl, you’re doing so directly on the face after having loaded the brush.

One last reminder for lathering.  Make sure to practice as a beginner.  Set aside a half hour or so, and practice loading the brush, then whipping it up just in the cup of your opposite hand.  Get a feel for the water to product ratio, and intentionally use too much of one or the other to see the results.  Once you feel you’re a pro, move onto doing so in the bowl, and repeat.  You may find yourself going through a bit of product, but most of the time your initial purchase can last for a year, so a few practice batches at the start can be well worth it, and get you up and running quickly.

I hope you’re taking these posts to heart.  Feel free to comment and let me know if I’m not telling the whole story, or skipping over the details.  I’ll next describe how to handle the razor and efficiently remove the hairs from your chinny chin chin and more.  (Part 3)

See you next time.


A Damn Good Shave – Part 1 The Basics

My Shaving GearAn old friend recently reached out to me, because he had had enough of the newer, better, greater claims of Gillette and Shick, and their ever rising costs with lackluster results.  The disposables are poor quality at best, and even some of the alternatives from Merkur and Parker have been said to be prone to pitting and breakage.  He had heard, and I confirmed, that old style double edge razors, from the likes of Gillette and others from a half century ago or more, are far superior in results, comfort and closeness than any of the modern day equipment.  I can’t speak much of the failure of the modern variants from Merkur, and would only add I myself have not experienced this myself.

I thought to lay out the recommended steps of traditional wet shaving in a series of posts, both for his benefit, and yours. :)

So I’ll begin with a description of what wet shaving is all about.  Whether it is referred to as classic shaving, wet shaving, barbershop style, DE (double edge) shaving, traditional shaving, or straight edge shaving, it is all the same process.

You begin by moistening the face, either by use of hot towels or taking a warm shower to open the pores and soften the facial hairs.  Sometimes if I don’t feel like taking a shower, I’ll just splash water as hot as I can take it, on my face and neck continuously for 2-3 minutes.

This is followed by using a shaving brush, usually made of badger hair of varying degrees, and a specialized shaving soap or cream to whip up lather.  Canned creams are known to dry out the skin, and contrary to popular belief facilitate the shave, but leave the face in worse shape than before it began.  Sometimes this lathering is done directly on the face, and other times in a bowl, scuttle or mug.

This lather is applied to the face, usually with the brush itself, and then is shaved off with the razor in a series of angled swipes.  If done correctly, it will minimize razor burn and cuts, while removing the facial hair and lather one stroke at a time, and progressing from spot on the face to another.  The remains are splashed off with warm water, the razor briefly rinsed, and the steps repeated, with a different direction used for the swipes to achieve an even closer shave.  Each cycle is also called a shaving pass.  This is usually repeated for a total of 3-4 passes, depending on beard thickness and desired closeness, with an ideal of “baby butt smooth” (BBS.)

After the final splash removes the lather and cut stubble remnants, a topical astringent is applied to the face and allowed to dry, usually Witch Hazel, and sometimes in conjunction with a block of alum for accidental shaving cuts.  After it dries, a cold water rinse is next to close the pores, and followed by applying aftershave or balm to soothe and care for the skin.

While the steps may seem a lot, in practice this can take perhaps 20 minutes on average for an experienced shaver.

Shaving in this manner is typically more cost effective, more comfortable and with better shaving results, and can turn what many see as a dreaded chore, into a luxurious time of enjoyment for a regular manly ritual.

My plan is to follow this post with the details of lathering and razor techniques, the aftershave, and suggested gear.

Check back soon!


A Treefort Grows In Woodbury – Part 2

So now, three months after kickoff, with a backache and a handful of splinters later, and the treehouse is almost usable (as long as we keep our balance) :)

I picked up where I left off, laying 2×6 boards across the top of the bolted 2×8 boards. Hardware was a big component, as I felt that the nails and bolts could only hold it together so much, without attaching it properly.  I went back and forth to Home Depot and grabbed some 90 degree plates that could hold the boards upright so they wouldn’t tip side to side.

For the underside there were some 6 inch metal twists, called Hurricane Ties, that also provided further vertical support, and kept the beams from moving off the foundation.

I know that the recommended spacing for beams is 16″ inches on center, but due to the trees getting in the way I adjusted this (smaller and larger) to accommodate the three, as well as the opening for them to come up on the ladder.  Finally it got to a point where I could lay some temp flooring on top, and the boys lent a hand (mostly decorating the boards.)

They say you can dangle the decking as far as 3 ft off the side without a problem, but I was over that, as you can see in the picture.  This was mainly due to the shape of the foundation, so only the corners protruded, but I was a little worried about stability.  Back to the Depot!

After some more discussion with a surprisingly helpful guy there, I opted to install a support beam running the whole length, with columns underneath. This was a bit involved.  I had to dig a set of holes nearly 4 feet deep, fill the bottom with gravel, place the posts in and attempt to get them as level as I could with temporary boards attached.  AND THEN, I had to make sure the posts were aligned the same way so they were parallel to each other.  Whew!  Being a one man job this took time, but I got them in and filled the hole with some concrete.  The boys did their part again here, mixing and scooping with joy as the stuff slorped and plopped its way into place.

All was going along, and then tragedy nearly struck.   We had a crazy storm blow through, and the trees, having been already weakened by prior severe storms, waved frantically about until the top fork on one of the trees snapped off.  We were amazingly fortunate in that it missed the structure by inches, so I set to it with a chainsaw, and the boys lent a hand once more cutting the branches down to size and pitching them over the side of the nearby fence into the woods.  My hope is that we can incorporate some of them into the railings when the time comes.  Bonus!

Each step took time, and I was really only able to work on this, on those weekends when we were not running around somewhere else, and not trying to wind down too much :)  But in the end, I was able to get to the wonderful step of removing the temporary flooring, pickup some additional boards, and begin placing them in, making the finished size just over 8×12 feet.

The idea of a treehouse to me, always meant using whatever you had on hand, and making do.  Most of the grainy pictures you see in movies all look like some hackneyed attempt, that is barely holding together, yet lovingly adored and revered by the kids.  With that in mind, I rummaged through what we had in the garage, and combined the old (cut to size) and new 1×6 boards.  I realize the older boards are not pressure treated, and will have a much shorter life span, but the finished look is so much better for it with an unintended zebra effect.

I have a few tips for placing the boards and spacing them, as well as accommodating the curves around the trees – but I’ll save that for another post.

In the meantime we all get to enjoy the fruits of our labor, and plan out the railing and roofing to go in.  Though if the boys had their way I’d be figuring out secret passages, one button trap doors, and a zip line entrance.  What a great time :)


A Treefort Grows In Woodbury – Part 1

So this year, after much procrastination, we’ve decided to finally build a tree fort for the boys.

Now, I never had a tree fort growing up.  It was the kind of thing every kid dreamed up, but few ended up with.  We would climb around in trees all the time, and made forts consisting of branches and old blankets down on the ground.  But nothing as formal or engineered as one with planks, turrets, and a spyglass.

I began this project, in the same way I begin most of the unknown – I Googled it.

This turned up a number of sites, but most were plans to purchase, with few tips.  I flipped through a book at home called The Dangerous Book For Boys and found some helpful hints there to mount the boards onto the tree, and lay them at 90 degrees to form a subbase.   After that it was your typical construction.

So a jot later with a basic plan, and we headed out to the local Lowe’s hardware store.

After finding the bolts we needed, we grabbed a friendly salesman who seemed to have some semblance of knowing what he was doing, and got some advice.  2x8s for the frame base attached to the tree, and 2x6s for the flooring base on top of it, with planks on top of that.

I figured we’d build a base, and sort out the top (covered roof, railing, etc…) later on.

So we got home, unloaded and began to work.

Step 1- bolt the base to the trees.  If you look at our “plan” you see three circles representing each of the trees we’ll be using.  I put one in using a single 1/2×6 inch bolt, then attached the other side with a lot of up & down to make sure it was as level as I could get it.

I quickly found the leveling part was the tough one, as these boards were heavy, and lifting them solo 10 feet above the ground wasn’t easy.  After some quick thinking I placed some 4 inch screws just below where the boards will be attached.  This way I can lift them up slightly to drill it out and bolt it into place, while the other end is resting on the screw.

Then I go back to that end and attach it too.  Repeat this to wind up with 3 bolts at each point where the boards meet the trees.  Needless to say I now have the boards up, but still need to put 3 bolts through at each spot. The bolts themselves are very hard to get in, and I’m using just a hand ratchet, not an air gun like some folks have for their Indy car racing.

It will take some time, but we’re off to a good start. Next step is to finish off the bolts, then the 2×6 boards go on top roughly perpendicular.

In the end I’m hoping for a platform somewhere between 8×10 and 10×14.  Final dimensions depend on how far it will stick out away from the tree, and how easy I can put up support columns underneath the corners.  Fun, fun!!  :)


I Want Just The Right Boot

I have one pair of shoes I wear to work every day.

For a while there I had two pairs, and I would wear the black ones some days, and the brown on others.  For the last 12 years or so, my favorites have been Doc Martens ever since I found a nice pair of two tone wing tips when I was working in NYC.  Some years I’ve had Chukkas, but it has been mainly oxford styles.  With my last pair (the current), it seems the quality went down some though.  As with a lot of manufacturers, they decided to outsource more, and most of their stuff comes out of China nowadays.  So the leather isn’t quite as nice as it had been, and the stitching wore out faster than it had before, and I decided it might be time to look at something else.  Besides, if you’ve ever worn Docs you know they’re not light on your feet, and I was getting tired of lugging  around the extra weight.

After my usual casting around the internet, I decided American made was the way to go.  This seemed to come at a higher price though, but I figured if they lasted me twice as long, then twice the price is worth the quality and craftsmanship.  The taller Chukka styles appealed to me, and I eventually found myself looking in the 6 inch boot category.  I needed something that was dressy enough to go with my daily work clothes of ‘country club attire,’ while casual enough to avoid the overly shiny look most dress shoes have.  I came across an article at The Art Of Manliness, and I fell in love with the throw back design of the dress boot and the Wolverine 1000 Milers.

Now comes the kicker – the price.  I expected to pay more, but the Wolverine’s run $350 on average.  I’m not the type of guy who’s going to spend that much on shoes, even if they do last longer than most.  So I looked to see what was just as good, but at a more reasonable price.

I almost went for a pair of Red Wings.  The Iron Rangers had a nice blend of rugged and classy, and I found a site I could get them for $240 shipped.  Orvis had some rebranded pairs on closeout, but I missed them by a day while I thought about it too much when they were listed at $130.  Still, I hoped I could do better – and did.

In the end, the LL Bean Katahdin Iron Works Engineer boots won me over.  Originally $159 (now $179 after the new year,) I scored a pair on sale for $134.  Solid leather, quality hooks, goodyear welted soles, and made in America with a lifetime satisfaction guarantee.  It turns out they are made by Chippewa, another brand well known and respected more for their work boots than dress boots.  People have stated over and over their pairs have lasted 10 or 20 years, and that was the tipping point for me.

So how’d they do that?  If you have a good pair of shoes or boots, and care for them properly they can last as long just as easily.  It seems to boil down to three aspects – Cleaning, Oiling and Protection.  So long as the last two are covered, then the shoes almost clean themselves.  Build up wipes off with your basic moist rag very easily.

I’ve been wearing the boots just 2 days now, and I had read it takes anywhere from 2 weeks, to 2 months for them to fully break in.  To speed it up a bit, I applied some mink oil to the boots.  Even though they are brand new, they sucked up the oils like a sponge, and made the leather more pliable and softer so it molds to my feet faster.  In the picture above you can see the boot on the left untouched, and the one on the right applied with the mink oil.  As a side effect it often darkens it as well, but I preferred them a deep dark brown anyway.  Once the oil seeps in overnight, you want to apply protection.  I’d been using SnoSeal on my hiking boots for years, and others agree it gets the job done right, along with Obenaufs Leather Protection as top tier products.

Repeat the clean, re-oil, and reprotect every 6 months and you’ll be glad you did.  Quality products not only look better, and can last longer, but remember that price doesn’t always end at the register.  You pay yourself back with care as well.

Make ‘em last and do it right.  See you in 20 years.


Wishin and Soapin’, Running and lovin’…

So I thought I’d put out an update of how things are progressing, and fortunately it is all good news (unless you ask my wife that is).

Starting with soaps, I’ve gotten the first batch out as you know.  The Orange spice has a great aroma kicking up in the bath every time we use it.  Sadly though, we’ve burned through it in about 2 weeks, and far faster than I expected.  Since then I’ve come up with both a second and third batch.  The second was my ode to the Woodshop, with scents of Pine, Fir and Cypruss with some self rendered tallow in the base, and a small kick of ground pepper.  That’s still curing until the end of July so no test washes just yet.

The latest batch (3rd) was a nicely scented Lemongrass.  Lots of Lemon, lemongrass, and bits of lemon rind to round it out.  Smells wonderful!  I tweaked my base formula to make the soaps a bit harder, so while it loses some of the Conditioning qualities, I think it needed hardness more to make ‘em last longer.  I think I’ll whip up a coffee based soap, or perhaps an Oatmilk Honey next :)

As for running, here come the good depending on your perspective.  In a nutshell, I’m still going strong.  Just ran tonight as a matter of fact.  But, the wife doesn’t like how my feet are getting very Caveman-like.  Toes are spreading, and they’re getting wider.  A little wierd, but my back issues have all but disappeared as a result.  I’m finding however I have a mild case of Plantar Fascitis.  As a result I’m going back & forth between shoes & barefoot sandals.  There was a Moonlight 5K in New Milford I managed to run, and despite the light on & off rain I managed to get a decent time.  Nothing spectacular to be sure, but I was happy to have run my first and finished it.  On to the next, here in wonderful Woodbury come Sunday.  If all goes well I’m shooting to run this one in the barefoot sandals too :)

Its funny when people see me walking around in them.  Lots of comments, and I think overall people are interested, but its hard to tell if they’re humoring me, or if they’re genuinely curious as to what it entails.  In either case I don’t mind spreading the word around.  What works for me isn’t for everyone, but I’ll chew your ear off about it if you’ll let me :)


The First Rule of Making Soap Is…


Actually, there are tons of online articles – so here’s mine.

Perhaps I had my own project mayhem to uncover, or perhaps I liked the smell of bubbling Olive Oil, or perhaps I just wanted to give the wife a nice creamy bar for a reasonable price.  In any case, I started with looking at how it is made, then looked at the ingredients I already had.

I came across a few handy dandy articles, beginning with the Art of Manliness, which is what got me thinking about this in the first place.  In a nutshell, you take fats & oils, add diluted Sodium Hydroxide (Lye), and voila!  I’m not sure how, but the lye breaks down the oils in  a process called saponification, which in turn creates what we call soap.  Different oils yield different results.  Some moisturize better, some produce more bubbles, and others create a harder soap.  From that article I picked out a decent soap ratio from another site, plugged it into a soap calculator, and it was a matter of locating more stuff to mix it together.

Since we had some Orange essential oil, I thought to mix up a bar of my own version of Orange Clove.  Most of the ingredient oils we already had for cooking, but finding some Palm Oil was a bear.  Eventually a tub turned up at Whole Foods, labeled as vegetable shortening.

To save some bucks I picked up the pot and mixer at the local Goodwill.  Wooden spoons came from the dollar store, and in the end I have lots of leftovers for my next batch.

Once the oils hit 95 degrees on the stove and blended together, I slowly added the lye mix.  After about 30 minutes of mixing, it all thickened together, and I added in the orange, bergamot, and clove essential oils, and hard ingredients like orange peel and coriander powder.

I had prepped a wooden mold I built the week before, by lining it in parchment paper.  The pancake-like mixture was poured into this, covered, and left alone for 24 hours to cool and form.  

It is still semi soft at this stage, so this is when the block is cut up into bars.  I had measured out dimensions of 1.25″ thick X 3.5″ long X 2.5″ wide.

Once they were cut up, I laid them out to cure.  Because you use a chemical to create them, it can be pretty harsh on the skin otherwise until it finishes the reaction, which while mostly done, will complete over time.

Some people say you can use the soap after two weeks, but others say waiting a month is best.  As for me, I was too giddy (or maybe it was the fumes), but I gathered up some of the soap chips from the cutting and lathered up.

The proof is in the pudding they say, and it seems to lather up like a champ.  Of course, my skin dried up like a senior in the sun afterwards, and I needed lotion on my hands like when I was a teenager, but I was pretty impressed overall and can’t wait for the month to go by for the finished product.  The scent is what I was shooting for, and I’m looking forward to making other  blends.  I think a Woodshop one, an earthy Vetiver, and a Lemongrass are in order.  Woo-hoo!!