August 14, 2007

Going straight...

I started out in 1982 with a Gillette Trac-II.  Twin blades, non-pivoting head.  Things worked well for many years, but a little after the Sensor came out the old Trac-II and Atra blades mysteriously declined in quality.  Shaving became a painful chore as the blades dragged and pulled against my whiskers.  I wound up growing a beard, and kept it for nearly a decade, using a Braun foil electric for edging duties.  Then I started getting gray hair in my beard - not the distinguished salt-and-pepper stuff, mind you, but an ugly piebald pattern.  I picked up a Mach 3 and found that it was just as unpleasant shaving my beard as the late-generation Trac-II blades. Replacement screens for the trusty old Braun were becoming unobtainable so I upgraded to a shiny new model with a docking station, automatic cleaning system, and shaving computer.  It died two days after the warranty period expired.  I got another - it also died right at the end of the warranty period.  I got a Norelco - it shaved fine for less than a week before it started pulling and blistering my face.  I bought a new cutting blade and got the same result.

Frustrated, I picked up one of the new Fusion razors and got an absolutely great shave right off the bat.  The second day's shave was pure hell - the five blades had apparently taken off a lot of skin along with the hair and on the second day there wasn't enough skin left and the blades were scraping too close to the nerves.  Shaving every other day wasn't an option.

At this point I was getting desperate.  The last really great shaves I had ever had were with the old Trac-II back before Gillette nerfed the blades.  My best shaves were old-school, so I decided to try going even older-school.  I noticed that the double-edge razor blades were still available, and some quick Google-fu revealed that the Personna blades made by American Safety Razor were pretty good, and that some web stores were bringing in very blades from Germany and Japan.  This looked promising, so I bought a DE razor ($15 on ebay) and a pack of Personna blades ($1.50 for a 10-pack at Wal-Mart).  Since I was tiptoeing into the old-school pool I also got a shaving brush ($10) and a puck of Williams Shaving Soap ($1) from the grocery store.

The first day's shave was pretty good.  Not as good as the old Trac-II, but definitely one of my best shaves in years.  My experience with the Vision made me skeptical - you can get away with anything once - but the second day's shave was also pretty good.  And the 90th shave three months later was also pretty good.  The exceptions was the goatee region around my mouth and the lower neck area, both of which were still tough going.  The DE wasn't leaving these areas raw and blistered like the electric and M3, but it wasn't shaving them very close either.  The problem in these areas are tough whiskers that grow very flat so that the razor can't get them close when shaving with the grain, but which tend to snag and catch when shaving against the grain.

As an aside, I think it is a real shame that canned foams and gels have superceded the shaving brush and shaving soap.  Very few of the canned lathers seem to soften your beard at all; you can get a closer shave using only hot water, and it's just as comfortable.  Using a shaving brush and soap does a couple of things.  First it cleans the oils and dirt off your face (shaving soap is still soap after all).  Secondly it softens the beard by saturating it with water, and the lather keeps the water from evaporating too fast.  And finally the swirling motion with the brush helps get the whiskers to stand up.  It is cheap too - a puck of traditional hard shaving soap will last between 6 and 12 months.  With this sort of life expectancy, inexpensive soaps like Williams ($1/puck) are an incredible deal and even fancy English soaps from venerable firms like Truefitt and Hill ($12/puck) are still much cheaper than grocery-store creams or gels.  And the soaps (at least the English ones) smell much better than the canned stuff.  Even for guys using the newfangled cartridge razors a brush and soap should be a major step up in shaving closeness and comfort.  But I digress...

In searching around on the net for a solution to my goatee area I was surprised at the number of recommendations for the straight razor. The claim was that the heavier blade did a better job cutting stiff whiskers, and because there was no safety guard the blade could be dropped very flat to slide underneath the tips of the whiskers and get a clean cut without digging in.  I was skeptical - skeptical that I could use one safely, and skeptical that a straight would do as well as its fans were claiming.  But I had already taken a large step back in time with the DE razor; trying a straight was just one step farther.

Posted by: mparker762 at 07:59 PM
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