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!

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