After seeing bare grocery store shelves last year, have you thought about different ways to perform everyday tasks? Sure, we have stored food, paper towels, paper plates, paper gold (toilet paper), and countless other necessary items. However, have you considered the everyday task of shaving? A multi-bladed shaving cartridge is considered the norm, but what happens when that shelf is bare too? Whether it is every day, once a week, or once a month, eventually it is a necessary task that nearly all men perform. Having a few alternate shaving supplies stashed away when your first choice is unavailable, will help you round out your preps. This article will describe the use of a double edge safety razor, and use of a shaving soap (also known as mug shaving).
The modern straight edge razors (also fittingly called “cutthroat razors” –because there were some ghastly accidents), have been used for hundreds of years. However, they require a great deal of skill to shave, and must be constantly sharpened to hold their edge. Whether the occasional honing, or the daily stropping, even sharpening of the blade itself requires a great deal of skill. Safety razors have been used since the mid-1800s, but still used an expensive forged blade. Enter King C. Gillette (yes that’s his real name), the inventor of disposable double-edged (DE for short) safety razor blades. With the use of a DE razor blade, a fresh blade can be installed and remove the need for sharpening altogether.
Various brands of DE razor blades are Derby, Bic, Feather, and Gillette, to name a few. I haven’t tried many brands, but I have enough Derby blades to last quite a few years. Some people recommend changing out blades weekly, but I don’t have any issues running a blade for several weeks. At 10 cents a blade or so, it is easily far less expensive than your typical cartridge razors. At that price you can try out different brands until you find one that suits you.
There are three main types of DE safety razors: Two-piece, three-piece, and butterfly. Two-piece, and three-piece razors have a threaded handle that unscrews from the head to completely disassemble and give access to the razor blade. The only difference between the two, is whether or not the lower portion of the head is fixed to the handle. As far as function is concerned, they both require the most care when removing or installing razor blades. With the use of a towel, washcloth, or leather head cover, removing the head can be safely and easily done. A butterfly DE razor has a knob located at the bottom of the handle, that swings open the head of the razor. This allows the user to tighten or loosen the head without your fingers being anywhere near the razor. Either way, a delicate touch is needed when handling razor blades.
I have used both three-piece razors, and the butterfly types as well. My personal preference is the three-piece razor, and I believe “WLDOHO” produces a great razor at the fair price of $30. With a walnut handle that tapers as it approaches the head, the razor allows for a solid grip while shaving with wet hands. Another solid choice is “Bambaw” with a bamboo handle, and can be purchased for $18. I have had issues with losing my grip on metal handles. Perhaps, I could find a handle with aggressive knurling, and the grip may be better, but for me wooden handles suffice.
Another key aspect of the safety razor is the shape of the safety bar. The safety bar sits directly in front of a passing blade, and reduces the skins exposure to the blade, significantly reducing nicks and cuts. The most common type of construction is a scalloped safety bar. This gives enough coverage to protect your skin while shaving, and enough exposure to allow for an aggressive shave. Other heads include: plain safety bar, closed comb, open comb, and slant head.
One of the greatest benefits to using shaving soap, is it can be the most luxurious lather you have ever used for shaving, and there are three different types: cremes, soaps, and soft soaps (sometimes referred to as croap). The main difference between the three is the water content. Soaps will be hard to the touch, soft soaps will have a putty-like consistency, and cremes will be an almost liquid form. Cremes require so little water to reach the right consistency, they are considered the easiest to create a lather. Hard soaps have very little water, therefore the amount of shaves contained in one package is quite economical. Soap makers pride themselves on removing water through a process called “triple milling”, and is completed by shredding, melting, and remolding multiple times. This produces a high quality product with very little water, and a single puck of soap could last over a year. The dense soap however increases work during the lather process.
Common soaps and cremes that I have used are:
Tabac: A hard soap that is manufactured in Germany. It has a light smell, and many internet reviews claim it smells like a barbershop. Economical, and lathers well.
Proraso Refreshing in a tub: This is a soft soap, and is made in Italy. It has a medium smell of menthol and eucalyptus. The eucalyptus gives a slight tingling when you shave. This has by far the most luxurious (thick) lather that I have tried.
Proraso Refreshing in a creme: A creme that is almost identical to the tub, but is closer to a lather due to higher water content. Excellent lather as well.
Lather and Wood: This is a soft soap made in Seattle, Washington. It has a strong spice smell called “Bay Rum”. It lathers okay, but loses volume after a few minutes.
Soaps that I have not tried, but come highly recommended are: Mitchell’s Wool Fat Soap, Taylor of Old Bond Street, D.R. Harris, and Sir Hare. There are too many smaller shaving soap makers to name them all, so I can only name a few. Hard water may affect the lather on some soaps, so test out what seems to work for you.
You will need a brush and a bowl to whip the soap into a lather. Common brushes use synthetic hair, boar hair, or badger hair bristles. Badger hair is considered the best, and can cost as little as $20 all the way up to $80, but honestly I use my inexpensive synthetic hair brush the most. Shaving bowls aren’t anything special either, they are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but large enough to stir everything around with a brush. Bicrops makes a nice ceramic bowl with a ribbed bottom to speed up the lather process.
The lather process is all dependent on whether you are starting with a creme, soft soap, or hard soap. For cremes, place a small amount (YouTube videos usually say an almond size, but I prefer more) into the bowl, and begin whisking the creme with a dry brush. Drip water onto your fingers, and flick droplets into the bowl. As previously stated, cremes require very little water, so don’t add too much. Large soap bubbles appear when there is too much water, and adding more creme is the only solution to fix watered-down shaving creme. Whip for about 30 seconds for desired consistency.
The lather process for a soft soap begins with dampening (not too much water!) the soap in the soap dish. Swirl the brush on the soap, to “load” the soap onto the brush. Too much water will produce large soap bubbles, and they will spill excessively out of the soap dish. A little mess can be expected, but too much mess means too much water. After about 30 seconds transfer the brush over to the shaving bowl, and add flicks of water much like the creme process. Proper lather will occur after about 30 seconds of whisking in the shaving bowl.
The lather process for a hard soap is similar to a soft soap, however the brush needs to be slightly more damp. You will notice if the brush is too dry, because not much soap makes it way onto the brush. Transfer the brush to the shaving bowl to get a proper lather, which will again be 30 seconds to a minute. Some people prefer to lather the soap directly on your face, but I prefer using a shaving bowl. Before applying the soap to your face, you may need to squeeze it out of the brush. Place the brush in the web of skin between your thumb and index finger. Pull downward with the brush, and squeeze the shaving cream out of the brush. If done properly, performing this two to three times should be enough for one facial shave.
Cartridge razors are easy to use, but special care must be taken with a safety razor when shaving. Nicks and razor burn are much more common with safety razors, but can be avoided by following a few guidelines. Apply light pressure with the razor’s head, and if you have to make another pass, so be it. Keep the head tilted at 45 degrees, and avoid pulling downward with the handle, let the weight of the head perform the shaving action. Use short strokes to keep from pulling down with the handle, and to keep the proper tilt.
After cleanup, store the brush downward to promote drying and to extend the life of the brush. Comments range on the Internet from “don’t put up wet soap, you could get bacteria” to “don’t leave the lid off, the soap will dry out”. Just use caution when storing the soap, and everything should be fine. Tuck these away for when you need them, or use them as your everyday shave. Either way, when shelves are bare, or you can’t get to the store, these are a great way to help keep a clean face.