IMG_9930After literately months of research, practice and a ton of shaving cream I am happy to publish this guide to classic shaving. I quickly realized that this article can’t encompass everything regarding classic shaving. It’s just not possible. However, this is a great start and will cover the basics of what you need to know and why you may be interested in making the change.

I’m going to explain some of the terminology, methods, products, and some helpful third party resources that will get you started. And yes, six blades are not ‘better’ than a single double edge. Seriously, do you really need six blades? Let’s get started.

It’s worth pointing out that there are two ways to shave.
Dry shaving – shaving without anything. No cream, soap, etc. Shaving on dry skin.

Wet shaving – shaving with soap and cream. This is what most of us are accustomed to and is the most popular method. Wet shaving is categorized into either straight razors or safety razors and then sub-categorized further into other sections like double edge razors, single edge, injector style, cartridge razors (Gillette Mac like) and disposable razors. I’ll be focusing on double edge razors (DE) and what advantages it has over the cartridge razor.

Why classic shaving? What’s the benefits of shaving with a safety razor?

1. Cost — As you probably already know shaving with products bought from big box retail stores is expensive. A pack of typical cartridge refills cost you anywhere from $15- $40 whereas the cost of a single double edge razor blade is around $0.20 cents. This isn’t to say classic shaving is cheap because you can make it what you want it to be but it can be cheaper than shaving with modern cartridge razors.

The initial investment in classic shaving may seem high at first but the next time you go shopping compare the prices. If your spending $15 for a pack of five cartridge refills, that’s $3 a blade. If you compare that to the popular Personna’s double edge razor blades where a pack of 100 blades is currently (09/2014) going for $14 USD. That’s a huge difference. That equates out to around $0.15 cents a blade. If you use two blades a week that’s almost enough blades to last you for the entire year for just $14 bucks, the cost of a single pack of cartridges. To start shaving with a double edge razor you can expect an initial investment of approximately $100 USD which isn’t bad considering you should break even in around 12 months.

Forbes reported that P&G’s profit margin on the Gillette brand is around 35%, higher than any other product/brand that P&G sells and they sell a lot of stuff.

high-cartridge-prices

2. Better Shave – Whats wrong with my Mach 3, Quatro, Fusion, etc ? These cartridge razors are designed to require the user to apply pressure to your skin to get a close shave. This is because the blades are angled to what the manufacturers would refer to as “perfection”, but in actuality it’s the angle that is safest for a mass market to help reduce nicks and cuts and still achieve stubble reduction. With a double edge or straight razor you control the blade and the angle instead of some huge corporation making plastic cartridges. This gives you the opportunity to get an extremely close shave. It’s freedom. Just keep in mind that with this freedom comes the ability to get ‘TOO’ close and nick yourself. Classic shaving is a skill. It doesn’t take long to pick it up and when you do your wallet and face will thank you.

3. More control – With a safety razor you control the angle and precision of the blades.
You can decide on what blades you want to use as every blade is different. You can control the lather instead of relying on what shoots out of a can.

4. Quality – I’m not referring to the quality of the shave but the quality of the razor, blades, soaps and creams. Double edge razors are heavy, sturdy and aesthetically appealing. When you hold one you can tell you are holding a superior product. New age cartridge razors are plastic and are marketed almost like a race car with corny slogans, buzz words and off the wall coloring schemes.

5. Reduced waste, environmental stewardship
Metal blades are recyclable. Shaving soap doesn’t come in an aerosol can.

What do I need to buy?
The basics include the razor, blades, a shaving brush to make lather and soap/cream.

Who makes classic shaving razors that I can buy? Where do I find classic razors? I didn’t know these still existed.

There’s a good amount of manufacturers making good quality double edge razors. Here are some of the popular sources.
Edwin Jagger  – Nice quality products in the mid range.
Merkur – A subsidiary of DOVO. Popular mid range razors, not my first pick however.
Goodfella – Around 100 USD, higher end razor
Parker – Mid range razors.

Like everything else you can purchase these on Amazon and various other online stores. If you don’t want to purchase a new razor for whatever reason you can search antique stores or ask family members if they still have their safety razor. My uncle had an old Gillette Super Speed laying around.

Which Razor should I buy? What is the BEST double edge razor? Edwin Jagger vs Merkur?
This is the most common question I’ve been asked. Everyone wants to get the best razor for their money. There is a lot to consider when purchasing your first razor. There are one piece, two piece and three piece razors. Slant, open comb and scalloped bar. The plating, adjustable or set gap … your head can start spinning fast. Generally speaking the two most popular starter razors for newcommers is between a Merkur (usually the 34 or 38c) and the Edwin Jagger DE89. So to answer this particular question of rather you should buy an EJ over Merkur I’m going to break my self imposed rule of not making product recommendations and make a product recommendation. So which one is it?

Go with the EJ. When looking at either an Edwin Jagger or a Merkur razor I would personally recommend the Edwin Jagger. Simply put, EJ  to me puts better emphasis on the quality of their products. The plating particularly. When it comes to plating issues I’m not the only person having this issue {1, 2}. I also can vouch for EJ’s customer service going above and beyond. I plan to follow up and buy some more products from Merkur in the future to see if their plating issues improve and if I would change this recommendation. If and when this occurs I’ll be sure to update this article.    — last update 2015 .. As of 2015 I still recommend purchasing an EJ over a Merkur razor.

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What is the Best Razor you could ever purchase? The trick to this is to obtain the best razor that fits your needs and that falls within your expected price range.

When purchasing your first razor I would recommend staying in the mid $30-$60 price range. This mid range is where you will find most of the popular better-made razors. You can get a great shave with the inexpensive $5 safety razors, they just wont last that long. I wouldn’t dump a lot of cash into something like the Feather until you know this is for you.

 

Purchasing Pre-Owned Razors
At first you may cringe at the notion of buying pre-owned razors but in order to write a complete article and include the high points of this journey I have to include buying pre-owned razors because it’s very common. This is because the razors built in the 50’s and 60’s were, like most things in that era, built with exceptional quality. I spoke with Matthew Pisarcik from Razor Emporeum who simply stated that the quality of the razors built around the 60’s can’t be replicated for numerous reasons. With that in mind Razor Emporeum began and continues to offer their popular Razor Revamp service where they take these old classic razors and restore them when needed. For around $80 – $150 USD you can purchase and restore the popular Gillette Fat Boy adjustable razor and many other timeless treasures. Or if you already own an older razor in need of some love you can get it revamped for around 50 USD. Take a look at their website for further details.

http://www.razoremporium.com/razor-revamp-service/

If later down the road you are interested in getting an older razor I would recommend the Gillette Super Speed, Fatboy and the Lady Gillette.

Selecting Soap or Cream – Can’t I just use the shaving cream I already Have?
Could you, sure. Should you? No. Shaving cream in a can, often referred to as Canned Goooo, contains all kinds of chemicals, synthetic perfumes which cause skin irritation (along with other things), preservatives and numbing agents all of which are harmful to the skin. Prolonged use of Canned Gooo products can cause severe drying of the skin and cause reoccurring skin irritation which make shaving painful.

This isn’t to say that soaps and creams are perfect but take this simple example. Lets compare two products. One canned and the other a shaving soap. Which would you feel most comfortable with putting on your skin?

Gillete Fusion Hydra Shaving Gel, Ultra sensitive Ingredients:
Water (Aqua/Eau), Palmitic Acid, Triethanolamine, Isopentane, Glyceryl Oleate, Stearic Acid, Fragrance (Parfum), Isobutane, Sorbitol, Glycerin, Hydroxyethylcellulose, PTFE, PEG-90M, Tocopheryl Acetate, PEG-23M, Propylene Glycol, Glyceryl Acrylate/Acrylic Acid Copolymer, Pvm/Ma Copolymer, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Green 3, Blue 1.

Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements: Ingredients
Ingredients: Saponified Stearic Acid, Aqua (Water), Saponified Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Saponified Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Saponified Garcinia Indica (Kokum) Seed Butter, Saponified Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Saponified Persea Americana (Avocado) Oil, Sodium Lactate, Glycerin, Fragrance (Essential Oils and/or Fragrance unless Unscented)


You can purchase the Phoneix Artisan Accoutrements soap online from their website (listed below). Not only are the ingredients awesome but this stuff is extremely easy to build a lather and smells great. http://phoenixartisanaccoutrements.com/collections/phoenix-shaving-soap

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If you’re not familiar with EWG.org , check it out. It’s an awesome site that helps you understand what exactly is in the products you use. They provide a mobile app also that lets you scan UPC barcodes while you’re shopping. But take this example.

http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/product/279718/Nivea_for_Men_Shaving_Gel%2C_Sensitive_Skin/

Nivea For Men Sensitive Shaving Gel scores a 7 out of 10 (10 being the worst). EWG shows that the ingredients in this product are less than desirable and should have you concerned.

 

nivea pic 3

In short, shaving soaps and creams are far superior to any pressurized canned product and will provide a better shave. Canned aerosol foams are chemical stew pots that were conducted in a lab. Stay away from canned gooo.

Popular shaving creams and soaps from my experience include
DR Harris – a triple milled popular shaving soap made with tallow.  http://www.drharris.co.uk/

PAA (Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements) has an awesome line of shaving soaps with a scent for just about anyone. Their ingredients are pronounceable and understandable. Their soaps have awesome lather and glide, I would highly recommend them.
http://phoenixartisanaccoutrements.com/collections/phoenix-shaving-soap

MWF (Mitchells Wool Fat) – known to have a mild scent which makes the smell hard to describe.

Tabac – This has a scent that most either love or hate. It’s a tabacco flower scent.
http://amzn.com/B000GHYXG4

Cella – Almond soft shave soap.

I also have to mention the Edwin Jagger limes and pomegranate shaving cream. I was extremely pleased with this product. It smells fantastic and provides a really nice glide.
http://www.westcoastshaving.com/Edwin-Jagger-999-Natural-Shaving-Cream-100ml-Limes-Pomegranate_p_1857.html

And aftershave. There are tons of options to choose from but I would recommend that you have a look at Captains Choice. Their bay rum product has an awesome scent. Not overpowering but lasting. It’s a true aftershave splash as its main ingredient is grain alcohol which works as an antiseptic.
http://www.captainschoicestore.com/shop/bay-rum-aftershave 

Now that you have the essential supplies, lets look at actually shaving.

  • Before you start shaving go ahead and place a blade into your razor so that its shave ready.
  • Next, soak your shaving brush in hot water. I usually let mine sit in a scuttle of hot water while I shower. Also note that if you just purchased a badger brush and haven’t used it yet you will most likely want to soak it in soap water a few times prior to shaving with it.
  • Have your shaving cream selected and in the bathroom ready to go.
  • Next, and arguably the most important step when classic shaving is prepping your beard. Skipping this will usually end with a poor shave. Prepping your beard helps to saturate your stubble with water. This softens the hair and makes for an easier shave. The simplest way to prep your beard is to take a hot shower. Leave your bathroom door shut to keep in the heat so that when you get out of the shower you can move directly into shaving without losing most of your moisture and heat. Another popular method if you prefer to shave prior to your shower is to soak a towel in hot water and hold that towel around your face. Yes, just like old fashioned barbers.

Mantic has a nice video demonstrating proper face lather.

You can also see that Geofatboy takes the same approach, lathering prior to soaking his face.

What to expect. My first shave.
To summarize this paragraph: 1) It’s not as scary as you think &  2) This is a skill 3) You probably won’t get a really close shave at first.

Remember that shaving with a double edge razor is a skill that will take some time to master. Don’t expect to start shaving and obtain an awesome shave off the bat. Could you get an amazing first shave? I guess it’s possible, but most likely you will need some time and practice to get really great shaves.

New age razors like the Gillette Mac 3 with 16 blades are on a swivel head so you can disregard holding the razor at the right angle. The same can be said for the blades. With a double edge safety razor you control the blade angle which should be around 30 degrees. Safety razors heads don’t swivel, so you can’t take careless swipes at your face. Cartridge razors are forgiving, safety razors are not. Just keep that in mind.

Since cartridge blades are pre-angled this requires that you apply pressure to get decent blade to skin action. With safety razors you shouldn’t apply any pressure. The weight from the razor itself is enough. If you apply pressure with a safety razor you will end up with irritation and possible nicking your skin.

Don’t over complicate your first shave. Spend the extra time in prepping your face. Ensure that the bathroom is warm and not cold (usually by shaving after a shower). Ensure your face is moist and warm (so use a hot towel).

Take a look at this video below from Mantic regarding classic shaving. He covers making passes and why you probably wont get a baby butt smooth first shave. It will take some time to master the skill and for you to feel comfortable with making against the grain passes.

How many shaves do you get per blade?
Generally speaking 3-6 shaves. Most people change their blade around once a week. A few factors play into the life of your blade.

  • The type of blade or brand
  • The amount of passes. More passes = more use = dulling faster
  • Storage. Water + oxygen = rust.

How much do blades cost?
Blades are around $0.10 – $0.25 USD each. For example, 100 Derby extra double edge razor blades from amazon costs approximately $9.50 USD which is about $0.10 cents per blade.  http://amzn.com/B004SGKMA0

Which blades should I buy?
I would highly recommend that you purchase a blade sample pack. This way you can test drive a few different brands to see which blade best fits you. Safety blades have varying metallergies, grinds, coatings, etc so the different brands really do perform differently. While your friend may get great shaves from Derby’s, you might not. Get yourself a sample pack and see what works for you. Here are a few places you can obtain sample packs.

West Coast Shaving:  http://www.westcoastshaving.com/Sample-Packs_c_1.html
Lees Razors:  http://www.leesrazors.com/products/DE-Blade-Multipack.html
Amazon. Just search for double edge razor blade sample pack : http://www.amazon.com/Double-Razor-Blade-Economy-Sample/dp/B001PZEHIK

BullGoose Shaving Supplies: http://www.bullgooseshaving.com/blade-sampler-packs/

Further reading, links, podcasts, etc

Mantic59 – Sharpologist – https://www.youtube.com/user/mantic59
The go to place for videos helping newcommers with classic shaving. I would highly recommend you check this channel out.

Badger and Blade Forums – http://www.badgerandblade.com/
Great location for discussion regarding classic shaving (and other topics). Good place if your interested in trading/selling/buying razors.

Paul H Films – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5tkSsOxlr91yi30Rs5qtfg

Reddit Wicked edge – http://www.reddit.com/r/wicked_edge

Mustache and Blade Podcast – http://howtogrowamoustache.com/category/podcast/

 

What does that mean? Abbreviations and terminology you may see.
When researching classic shaving you may come across some of these common abbreviations.

AD – Acquisition Disorder
AS – After shave
ASB – After shave balm
ASL – After shave lotion
ATG – Against the grain
BBS – Baby butt smooth. A really close shave.
CS – Classic shaving
CTG – Cross the grain
DE – Double edge (razor blade)
EJ – Edwin Jagger
FB – Fat Boy
MWF – Mitchells wool fat (soap)
SS – SuperSpeed (model of Gilllete safety razor)
TOBS – Taylor of old bond street (soap/cream company)
XTG – Accross the grain
YMMV – Your mileage may vary

 

What do you think?

Are you already shaving with a double edge razor? Thinking about buying a safety razor? Let me know what you think in the comments below.