Monthly Archives: March 2010

Old School Shaving – A Lost Art

So now that we’re out of beard season, I’ve begun regular shaving once more.

I’ve never been a big fan –  always going for as many days as I can without looking too much of the caveman variety.  Besides which it was a pain.  Literally, when I went for more than 3 days, and the blades pulled more than sliced the hairs.

My Shaving GearI ran out of fresh blades so I went to the store to pick some up.  I know the prices have been heading north, but this time they’ve gone too far.  $22 for a 4 pack?!  I’ll be lucky if it lasts 2 months!  I had enough, and decided to go Old School.

I’ve been interested in straight edge and double edged razors in a nostalgic “how they used to do it” way, but it always seemed such as hassle to me on the surface.  After reading a few articles and watching some videos I finally decided to take the plunge (Mantic59 has some really good ones)

Going this route means an investment that can last years, and save you money in the end.  You’ll need a razor, a brush, some soap or cream, a bowl or mug, and probably a stand.

Most everyone likes the Merkur brand of razors, and other than a few variants the basic models come in a regular or long handled version.  You know what they say about big hands?  So I got the long handled model (180), along with 10 spare Merkur Double Edged (DE) blades.

The next big item is the brush.  Gotta go Badger on this one (check the link).  Authentic Badger hair brushes hold water very well, which helps hugely when you’re whipping up the froth.  FYI though they stink.  It smells like wet dog the first few times you use it, but it wears off eventually.  They range in type and prices from $13 on up to $150.  A really basic Boars hair brush can be picked up at your local pharmacy, but for just a few bucks more I got a very highly recommended Tweezerman “Best” Badger brush that ranks with ones 4X its price and has a lifetime warranty.   I’ve heard stories of guys getting high end Silvertip on eBay for less than $30 if you keep your eyes peeled.

I mentioned to my wife to be on the lookout for a thrift shop mug or bowl, and she surprized me with an equally inexpensive bowl she saw at the Christmas Tree Shoppe.  The lion faces on the side were what drew her in, but I appreciate the way the base can be held in one hand, and that the sides roll back in a bit keeping the lather contained.

A stand is pretty much optional, but if you’re looking to stick with this, I would recommend getting a decent one to keep the brush dry.  Metal ones work well, but I always like wood and found one on Amazon.  A little pricier than I would have liked, and doesn’t fit my razor too well, but a drill bit later to widen the handle channel and it works just fine.

Now the final choice – the soap or cream.  This is what really got me most excited once I got the process down.  The biggest difference between the canned stuff and this, is that these all have good moisturizers and make shaving faaaaaarrrrr better.  The choices are simply endless.  Sandalwood and Cinnamon or Musk with Tabac?  Citrus and Lime or Lavender?  Cream or soap?  Many of the soaps are purchased within a container or wooden bowl, but this is used for storage, while the mug or other bowl is used to prep the lather.  Initially I used some Colonel Conks Bay Rum soap, then some C.O. Bigelow shaving cream, and then some Van Der Hagen Select Shaving soap.  The Conks was my first batch, so while it worked out in the end, it was too runny and too watery due to my inexperience.  The C.O. Bigelow is loved by many people as the state side version of Poraso – a well respected Italian brand.   I thought as a cream it was easier to whip it up into a good lather.  The Bigelow has a decent scent with Eucalyptus, and tingles with Menthol.  As for the Van Der Hagen it is easily the cheapest at just $2 a puck, and whipped up just fine once I got the hang of it, but frankly it is bland compared to the others.  No tingle, no scent,no nothing – just gets the job done with a basic soap, and it looks like I would burn through it pretty quick too.

Now as for the shaving part, I seemed to do pretty well.  My problem was getting a decent lather up.  After 3 shaves and twice that in attempts to bring about a nice foam, the key I’m finding is to use just a bit of water, but not too much.  I start by soaking the brush in super hot water in the bowl for half a minute or so.  Then I dump the bowl, shake the water off the tip in a pumping action, and swirl the brush onto the soap puck until I get lather started (a minute or two).  Transfer this to the bowl and swirl away some more, and within a few minutes you’ll have a nice thick dense foam.  Add a little water if it seems difficult to whip away.

Keep going if you see bubbles, and you’ll go from this:

Loaded with Soap …To this: After a beating

Slap this on your face, while grinding it in circles.  This raises the hairs, preps and moisturizes the skin.  Let the razor glide on your face rather than pressing in, and work in sections.  Rinse with cool water to close up the pores and follow up with a decent aftershave or balm (no alcohol, read labels!)

Now it wasn’t an overnight transition.  I’ve read, and seen myself that it takes your face about 2 weeks to adjust.  You’re shaving the hairs now, not the skin on your face, but the razor is far sharper.  Expect a few scrapes, red streaks, and blood patches until you get the hang of it.  I would shave at night if I were you, otherwise your coworkers might wonder how the rest of the household survived the attacks.

After having toughed it out now though, I would have to admit it is indeed the best shave I was never looking for, nor expected.  But compared to the past, I now look forward to shaving, and seeing if I can improve my technique.

Go ahead – take the plunge!  Your manhood demands it!!  :)

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Making Maple Syrup

Maple buckets on the treesLate February into March…  what do you think of?

After getting the paper cuts and allergic sneezing fits on Valentines Day, and trying multiple times not to repeat Groundhog Day, I think of pending Spring and tapping the trees.

Now some people think of maple syrup as nothing more than a condiment you put on your baked goods.  Growing up however, it meant a whole process, that ended up a wonderfully thick, golden, sweet and tasty spread.  I grew up in North Salem NY.  It was known more for raising horses than raising children, but thankfully we were fortunate enough to be surrounded by open land and woods.  Right next to our home, was the biggest sugar Maple tree I have yet to see bested.  This, along with many others on property, were tapped and collected into buckets to make maple syrup.

So first, if you’ve never tasted real maple syrup, you’re in for an exquisite treat.  While similar to the fake stuff, it isn’t nearly as sickly sweet, but rolls with an undescribable warm goodness you have to try on your tongue, to understand.

The process is far simpler than most people realize.  Basically you drill a hole into the tree, hammer in a tap spigot (which you can get online or at area hardware stores), and hang a bucket off of it to collect it.  Of course you should put a top on, and drill a hole into the top to allow it to drip – otherwise you get too many bugs, or too much rainwater mixed in.  Once you have half a 5 gallon bucket or more, you strain it through some cheesecloth into whatever collection device you have.  I use a very basic, 30 gallon spare garbage bucket.  Now it sounds a bit nasty, but I make sure to clean it first, then line it with a new, also clean garbage bag.  Once you have a decent amount of time, pour it off into a big pot and boil away!  Any worries about bacteria or further nasties get scalded off with the water vapor.

Boiling the syrupNow the professionals use things called evaporators, that take the process to a highly efficient stage.  I myself however, use your basic lobster pot over a contained fire using spare fire bricks and the grate off my outdoor grill.  Not exactly pretty or highly efficient, but it certainly gets the job done.

So once you have it boiling, keep in mind, maple sap collected is little more than all natural mildly sugared water.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of 4% sugar content in the sugar maples and less content in others.  Boil it down at a 40:1 ratio and you get maple syrup (as in, 40 gallons of sap make 1 gallon of syrup).  The easiest way to tell when it is done, is to note how thick it is as it gets condensed and the water evaporates.  The other more accurate way, it to add 20 degrees onto the boiling point of water on any particular day.  This varies depending on air pressure and weather conditions, but generally it will be done once the sap/syrup reaches 120 degrees.

At our home we’ve collected the mason jars from pasta sauce, and use these to save the syrup.

This past weekend, since I’ve just begun collecting and it is relatively early in the season, I’ve tapped just 3 trees and gotten about 10 gallons of sap.  After an all day fire, and time spent chopping wood and keeping it roaring, we’ve ended up with about 1 and a half 32 ounce jars, or about 3 pints worth.

At every pouring stage you need to filter using cheesecloth and a mesh strainer, which complicates things, but makes it all the worth while when you got a full stack of homemade pancakes and a slow waterfall down the sides of the good stuff.

P.S. – Bite me Mrs Butterworth.

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