Once upon a time, I started shaving some 15+ years ago with a Shick razor with safety wires, and graduated to a Mach 3, and Fusion when it came out, never really questioning the process. The Fusion seemed harder to clean, thanks to more blades packed tighter, and I often found myself preferring the back-side single blade thanks to its easy cleaning and ability to trim closer.
A little more than 4 years ago, I got a Norelco electric for Christmas (as I asked for) and switched to that. It worked fine, though it would leave my neck red and irritated. This past fall I needed to replace the blades (after three years, despite mfg suggestion of annually) and found the new blades cut far less efficiently, requiring more passes and thus causing more irritation.
Early this year, I was watching YouTube videos about woodcraft as I sometimes do, and happened upon a video on double edge safety razors. I researched a bit and then a bit more, and after fretting the entry cost on Amazon, wound up at Meijer.
I picked up a Van Der Hagen razor, I figured at $20 it would tell me if I liked safety razors, and I could go all in with a Merkur or Parker later on. Reviews online rated it superior to the Micro Touch One you may have seen Rick from Pawn Stars pushing. It is chrome plated brass with a butterfly design (two doors open on top for you to insert the blade when you turn the handle screw, as opposed to the screw allowing the whole top to slide out in a two or three piece design).
As I had been using an electric, I didn’t have any shave cream. I figured Edge gel just wasn’t in the spirit of what I was getting into, but wasn’t up for springing for the matching Van Der Hagen soap, bowl, and brush for another $30.
I went with this Pacific Shaving Co shaving cream. It was on sale at the time for around $4 and claimed 100 shaves. It does alright, you need to mix with some warm water and work up a lather, then spread it on. It will dry out and go flat on your face after a few minutes, the more water you lather in the longer you have. I doubt I am getting 100 shaves out of it, maybe half, but that’s really not bad, close to what I would expect from a can. I have noticed it has a strange habit of getting stringy in the tube, I assume due to polymerization of the thickeners they used. Once lathered, you don’t notice, it does seem to make it harder to squeeze that bit out though.
So that’s the what, as for the how, it’s not all that different from any other razor. Maybe it helps I went electric for awhile and made it a little easier to change up my habits. Lather up, preferably after a shower so your hair is softened. I like to fill my sink with water so I can shake my razor in it to clean, I find just under running water doesn’t do the trick. I start on my right, being right handed, at my ear and go down, using many short (one inch or so) strokes with one side of the razor until I feel it is starting to drag a little and not leaving a clean path, then flip and continue until it happens again, then rinse. Everyone says go with the grain, I tend to go with, across, against, and everything in between due to a rather odd growth pattern that almost spirals under my jaw. Feel with you fingers, and make your first path with the grain, getting your whole face shaved. Now lather up again, this time you won’t get as much lather as there is no hair to lather against. As you do this, feel for stubble so you know where to focus. Now, go across or against those areas (depending on skin sensitivity, you should know if you can go against the grain or not) with the razor for an extra smooth shave.
As for nicks, chances are you wont even know you did it until a minute later when you see the red drip or you rub cream in and feel a burn. Your first time with a safety razor, you WILL cut yourself, but not because it’s your first time, but because it’s the blades first time. I don’t know why, it’s just how it is, new blades nick you more. I have a few moles that I know to be careful around, I am sure you will learn your own areas to ease around. Whatever you do, don’t glide the blade long way, the way you gut with a kniife, because it will cut you like a knife. This seems obviously, until you are moving to a new path below your ear and realize you almost just did it.
With your old razor, you held the cartridge flat to your face and it pivoted and floated to follow your contours. With a safety razor, the head is static, so you need to move the razor to follow your contours. With experience, you can feel it, whether it is cutting hairs or just floating over. Each razor has a slightly different cutting angle, too high or low and the head just glides over with now blade contact. When you get the angle right, it’s obvious.
The jaw, Adam’s apple, and under the nose will take the most care. The jaw/chin is mostly just several passes at different angles to ensure you get everything, and the nose is about using the the edge of one side of the razor in right under the nostril, to get as close as you can, then using the full blade to clean up after. Hard to explain, but you will understand when you try it (I hope).
After all that, rinse your razor, drain and wash your sink, rinse your face with cool water, and pat dry. Styptic if you need, aftershave if you want (or dare?).
Yes, shaving twice takes time. I only did one pass for the first several times. As you go, you get faster, and soon you can fit that second pass in. You get better at knowing what paths to take, what angle, and where to avoid. Like anything, it’s all about practice.
If you want to go out and spend hundreds, be my guest, you can certainly do it. Like I said, I started with about $25 in hardware. I have since added a bowl and brush I got from a farmers market from a lady selling homemade shave soaps. I also have a family friend who sells shave soaps and similar natural supplied from her website, but not the bowl or brush. I do plan on getting a stand and some better blades, and eventually a better razor. Amazon is probably your best source, be it razors, blades, bowls, brushes, stands, soaps, whatever. Some malls now have Art of Shaving stores, I recommend to stay out. They are severely overpriced (you can verify on their website) and are generally empty of other customers, so you will immediately be “helped” by the generally sole employee. They can be a good source of information, but it will be biased to their products, and you may be better helped by many online forums ( I have learned much from the Badger and Blade), friends (after posting on Facebook I was using a safety razor, two friends let me know they have been using them for a while as well), or even your father or grandfather.
So, thats what I have learned in my two+ months. Feel free to ask me any questions you come up with, or leave any advice you may have for others.
I will try and get a follow up post later, a little more in depth on a few things, maybe even a video. Those that read my blog may know updates have been sparse for a while, but I have a new direction and will be pushing for more update.