The One

There are a lot of threads on shaving forums dedicated to the question, “If you could only have ONE…what would it be?”  That one thing could be anything: one razor, one cream, one brush, etc.  The question is asking what product is your most trusted, most favored, most relied upon.  It’s one of those questions that people ask so that they can get to know the people that they’re talking to better, but it’s also used by newbies to help them try to get a better handle on the myriad and seemingly endless list of shaving products that are available to them.

Most folks do not have a good answer for this question, not because they don’t have a favorite soap or most often used blade, but because the idea of limiting themselves to just one product is intimidating.  How can you choose just one when there are so many good products out there?  The reality is that, before entering the world of traditional wet shaving,most of us did use just one razor and one cream or gel, and never thought twice about it.  Most of us would have found it insane to have a collection of razors or creams.  But, like so many other things in life, when you find a better way to do something you want to know more…and in the world of traditional wet shaving there is a whole lot more than any of us could have ever imagined.  The question isn’t difficult to answer because of all of the products that we use on a regular basis, the question is difficult to answer because of all of the products that we COULD use on a regular basis.  After a brief period of experimentation most of us settle down and gravitate toward a core set up that is only occasionally altered.  I may have dozens of soaps, but I really only use four or five on a regular basis…the rest are just there for when I’m feeling squirrelly.

I have thought about this “one product” question a lot and while my answers have always been a bit mercurial and evasive, the truth is that I do have a solid answer.  There is one cream, one soap, one razor, etc. that I would gravitate towards if I could only have one set up.  I do have a set up that always does well and that always produces excellent results.  I think that most folks, if they’re really honest with themselves, would be able to say the same.  For me, the other razors, and soaps, and things are nice, but are hardly necessary.

My core set up is almost boring in how common and simple it is.  There is nothing particularly spectacular about the products that I find most trustworthy, nor is there anything in my set up that could not be easily replaced.  There is no one of a kind soap or hard to find razor, there are just good, solid products that can be relied upon each and every time I use them.  While I may have a few honorable mentions in each category, when I am really honest it wouldn’t be difficult for me to have just one set up to use every day.  Without further ado here is my “just one” set up:

–Pre: Shave Secret.  I love this stuff.  It’s easy to find, smells good, and works beautifully…all for under $4.
–Razor: RiMei.  A solid, low cost razor with an excellent grip and a well designed head.  It’s just top notch.  It’s a very close contest between this razor and the Parker SRW, but the RiMei edges the SRW out by virtue of that fact that it’s quicker, easier, and less expensive.
–Blade: SuperMax Titanium.  There are many good blades and a few that come very close to the SuperMax Titanium (Lord Platinum, Astra SP, and Croma Diamant), but no blade exceeds the Titanium.
–Brush: Mixed loft boar/badger.  Until recently I was never really blown away by a brush, but this one has done it. It’s a Chinese knot from eBay paired with a simple plastic handle.  It looks great, and performs extremely well.  There are softer brushes, brushes that hold more heat or water, and brushes made of better materials, but there are no other brushes that make me gravitate toward them over and over again.
–Lather Bowl: VDH Premium Shave Set Bowl.  I bowl lather roughly 75% of the time and when I do I use either a $1 La Coccina salsa bowl or the VDH Premium Shave Set bowl.  I use to dislike the VDH bowl because of its small size, but lately I have discovered how to use that to my advantage, creating denser and more concentraited lather in the smaller area.  Thanks to this revelation I now find myself using this bowl almost exclusively when I bowl lather.  It’s a nice, compact bowl that’s easy to find and inexpensive to buy.
–Soap: Van Der Hagen Deluxe/Glycerin blend.  I take one puck of Deluxe and one puck of Glycerin, melt them and mix them together, and pour the mixture into either a Kingsley dark wood bowl or a twist up shave stick container and I end up with the perfect soap…all for under $10.  It smells good and works great.
–Cream: Kiss My Face Cool Mint.  When I’m in  hurry or need a cool down, KMF Cool Mint works wonders.  It’s fast, easy, and not so cold as to completely freeze my face.  11oz. costs less than $8, and I can often get it on sale for as low as $5.
–Post: SAL Alum.  This stuff is inexpensive, effective, and easy to use.  I know that my skin is safe when I use SAL Alum.  The only thing that even comes close is T.N. Dickinson Witch Hazel, but when I need my skin ready to be abused by sweat and heat without having to worry about irritation, I always turn to SAL Alum.
–Blade Disposal: Tin can blade bank.  There are a lot of options for blade disposal, but none are as effective, customizable, and low cost as a DIY tin can blade bank.  50 cents gets you years of safe blade disposal, for me there was never another option, the tin can blows everything else away.

So that’s it.  Nothing fancy.  Most of that stuff I can get locally and none of it costs more than $10, but it’s all good, solid gear.  I know what to expect from these products and I can recommend them without reservations or qualifications.  In fact, it’s the exact set up that I used today…and my skin is baby butt smooth, so really what more could I ask for?



Shave Of The Day (24 July 2013)

One of my favorite soaps is Van Der Hagen Deluxe melted and mixed with Van Der Hagen Glycerin.  The combination creates a great smelling, slick soap with excellent skin care abilities.  I like to put my mixture into a nice Kingsley dark wood bowl to jazz it up a bit and to give it the respect that it so rightly deserves.  For the low cost of $3.50 for 5oz. of soap ($1.75/VDH soap at HEB and WalMart) and $6.50 for the bowl I get an amazing soap in an amazing container.  Sadly, I haven’t been able to use this soap much lately because I’ve been on a soft soap kick, but today I pulled out my VDH Deluxe/Glycerin blend and took it for a spin.

I did my usual three pass wtg/atg/xtg shave followed by a cold water rinse and a splash of T.N. Dickinson Witch Hazel.  The Art of Shaving Fine Badger brush helped the VDH soap go crazy with thick, creamy lather that provided excellent protection and glide.  The Gillette Old Type head sitting comfortably on a ball end Tech handle was the perfect choice to finish off my Personna Platinum blade.  The blade is on shave #7, but still works well.  I’m actually hesitant to let the Personna Platinum go, but I feel it beginning to tug, so following this shave it’s time for something new.  I managed a DFS with zero nicks.  The blade caused a little minor irritation while shaving, but the witch hazel took care of that.  A great shave with gear that really deserves more love.

Pre: Hot shower and warm water splash
Razor: Gillette Old Type on ball end Tech handle
Blade: Personna Platinum
Brush: AoS Fine Badger Brush
Soap: Van Der Hagen Deluxe/Glycerin Blend
Post: Cold water rinse and T.N. Dickinson Witch Hazel


Product Links:

Van Der Hagen Deluxe:

Van Der Hagen Glycerin:

Personna Platinum:

Kingsley Dark Wood Bowl:

Shave Of The Week Part Two (17 June 2013 – 23 June 2013)

I finished out my week with my Union Cutlery 5/8 full hollow square point straight razor, Van Der Hagen Glycerin soap (in shave stick form), The Art of Shaving Fine Badger brush, and T.N. Dickinson With Hazel.  A few things struck me over the week in regards to this set up.  First, I hate the s,ell of witch hazel.  Even scenting it with essential oils or fragrance oils did little to diminish the awful smell…luckily it does not linger.  Second, shave sticks are awesome!  It’s so easy to run a stick of soap over your face and lather up.  No bowl, no messy puck, just a few quick swipes and some lathering.  I think I will be buying some shave stick containers rather than continuing to attempt to find suitable deodorant sticks to cannabalize.  Third, as much as I like traditional straight razors, I prefer disposable blade straight razors.  With DBSRs there is more customization available, less maintainance, less prep and clean up time, less cost, and just as much cool factor…and if you like the bigger blades, then hair shapers and Feather/Kai/CJB razors have them.

All in all, this week went well.  The VDH Glycerin shave stick worked beautifully, the Union Cutlery did what it does, the AoS brush is becoming a bit more bloomed and feels great.  I got good shaves all around and was happy, but it did take a bit longer than I like, now that I have become obsessed with DBSRs.  I’ll likely keep using my straights, but relegate them to the weekends when I have more time to devote to them.


Shave Of The Week Part One (17 June 2013 – 23 June 2013)

Last weeks shaves ended up pretty poorly.  I tried to extend the life of a blade beyond what was reasonable, I made a few mistakes, and I ended up paying for it with some rough shaves, and a pretty significant inch long cut on my neck.  This week I decided to keep things simple, a good razor, some good products, and no experimentation.  So far things are going well and I am happy with my choices and the results, I will recap the week after it’s over in part two.

For my razor I decided to return to my Union Cutlery 5/8 full hollow square point straight razor.  I have been enjoying my shaves with my Parker SR1, but felt like reminding myself that there are other good razors out there.  The Union Cutlery had been tugging a little the last time I used it, so I started off by stropping it along my pasted balsa strop before moving on to my regular linen/leather strop routine.  This razor may not win any beauty contests, but it works well and has taken a lot of effort on my part to get it to this point.  Even if I were to abandon straight razors, I don’t think that I could ever get rid of this particular razor, it will always have a home with me.

For soap I am using Van Der Hagen Glycerin.  I am partial to Van Der Hagen soap, but I usually go with VDH Deluxe or a melted together puck of Deluxe and Glycerin, rather than just straight VDH Glycerin.  I melted two pucks of the glycerin soap into an old repurposed deodorant container and made a shave stick out of it.  I had some extra VDH Glycerin and thought it might be interesting to try to make a shave stick.  It turned out very well, but I have yet to use it in any of my shaves, so I decided to give it a go this week.

I will be face lathering, obviously, so I decided to use my The Art of Shaving Fine Badger brush.  It has a lot of backbone for a badger brush, but still manages to maintain a nice soft feel against my face.  The AoS Fine Badger also does an excellent job of holding onto tons of water and product with very little effort.  In short, it is a perfect choice for face lathering.

I’m holding off on the alum this week in order to use some of my T.N. Dickinson Witch Hazel.  I don’t often use the witch hazel, but I figured that it would be a nice change of pace.  I dislike its smell, but the scent disappears quickly and it leaves my face feeling smooth and irritation free without any real burn.

Following a hot shower and a warm water splash I did a three pass with the grain/against the grain/across the grain shave with a cold water rinse and an application of T.N. Dickinson’s Witch Hazel.  The result was a damn fine shave with a mild amount of irritation and a single nick on my upper lip that was caused by an unfortunately timed hiccup.  The soap worked remarkably well and proved so slick and effective that I didn’t even miss using my preshave gel.  The soap lathered up quickly and effectively and never dried out or disappeared.  My AoS Fine Badger brush held up well and did not slosh around lather like my Vulfix did when I used it for face lathering.  Transitioning from my Parker SR1 back to a square point straight razor proved to be slightly difficult as it took a little time to reacquaint myself with the larger blade and the deadly square tip.  I had some difficulty getting my neck and jaw line as smooth as I wanted, which resulted in some mild irritation, but nothing too awful.  I managed to hiccup right as I was beginning the xtg pass on my upper lip…which is when I nicked myself.  It was a small nick, but it did require me to pull out my handy Clubman Styptic Pencil.  I hate styptic, it burns like crazy, but it works.  After rinsing off I threw a little witch hazel on and felt the irritation slowly melt away, the stuff works well and helps to prevent infection.  In spite of a few issues my shave was a pretty good one and I look forward to the rest of the week being more of the same.

Pre: Hot shower and warm water splash
Razor: Union Cutlery 5/8
Brush: AoS Fine Badger
Soap: VDH Glycerin in shave stick form
Post: Cold water rinse and T.N. Dickinson Witch Hazel


Product Links:

T.N. Dickinson’s Witch Hazel:
(This is easily found in most pharmacies and grocery stores.)

Van Der Hagen Glycerin:
(This is also easily found in most pharmacies and grocery stores.)

The Art of Shaving Fine Badger Brush:

Dutch Fever!

I’m from Michigan originally.  I say originally because if I were to just say, “I’m from Michigan.”  it would be inaccurate.  I was born in Michigan and then quickly moved away at the tender age of one year old.  I did end up coming back eventually.  I lived in various towns and cities in Michigan on and off for approximately half of my life.  I have lived in roughly thirty cities all over the world, but Michigan is where I began.  So, while I may not be a true Michigander, I do consider it my de facto home.

Michigan is an odd state, much more diverse than people might believe.  The areas in and around Dearborn and Detroit have the largest Arab population in the world, outside of the Middle East.  You’re just as likely to see signs in Arabic or Farsi as in English or Spanish.  Places with French names like Detroit (originally pronounced: deh-TWAH), Charlevoix (pronounced: SHAR-luh-voy), Mackinac (pronounced: MAC-in-NAW), and Sault Ste Marie (pronounced: SOO-saint-muhree) are common because the French loggers and trappers were the original European settlers in the area.  There is a huge Greek and German population as well.  There are actually towns where German is the more common language and the city of Kalamazoo, Michigan holds an annual Greek festival that literally takes over down town for several days.  The Mennonite and Amish population are pretty well represented as well.  There are an enormous amount of orchards, wineries, vineyards, and fruit markets, all of which attracts a substantial seasonal worker population of various Hispanic folks.  And in west Michigan there is a town called Holland.  This town is, as you might assume, primarily Dutch in ancestry.  They have an annual tulip festival, there is a good portion of the population that speaks at least a little Dutch, and they have phone books filled with names like Voorhees and Van Der This or Van Der That.  The Dutch are actually quite well represented in west Michigan in general, you’re as likely to meet a person with far too many Os or As in their name as you are to meet a guy named Smith.  So, Michigan is a melting pot of sorts and I was lucky enough to interact with many of these different cultures.  One of my good friends in highschool was an Egyptian guy who came to the US via Germany, so he taught me a bit of Arabic and helped me to study German while I taught him how to turn an “independent study” into an ongoing rubber band war with the Spanish teacher.

When I was learning German in highschool I was also learning Dutch on the side, because in a west Michigan town with more Dutch place names than English ones that’s just the way it was.  I was quite fluent in German by the time I left for the military, but I never really took to Dutch.  I liked the Dutch culture, but the language was just too close to German for me to learn both at the same time without mixing things up.  These languages served me well when I dated a Pennsylvania Dutch girl, whose grandparents were ex-Mennonites, but beyond that I haven’t spoken German in nearly ten years and my Dutch is even further away.  It still makes me smile when I’m able to pick up a sentence or two, but I would not claim to be able to speak either language any more.  All of this brings me to my point, in a very round about manner.  I see Germanic cultures and people, especially the Dutch and Germans, as very close cousins to Americans.  I feel a sort of kinship with the Dutch, so when I learned that they had some pretty well thought of shaving gear I was curious, to say the least.  When an opportunity to get my hands on some new old stock, Dutch made, double edge razor blades popped up I jumped on it.

A very kind member of The Shave Den gifted me a package of ten Max Herder Elite blades which, after an unfortunate snafu involving the postal service and what I can only assume was an overzealous sorting machine, have finally landed on my doorstep.  As soon as I had my paws on these blades I knew that I needed to do a Dutch themed shave, so I pulled out my puck of De Vergulde Hand Extra Fris soap, my Van Der Hagen boar brush (yes, I know it’s an American company, but they have Dutch roots), and my Gillette super speed (Ok, I don’t own a Dutch razor, but I’m sure that Mr. Gillette KNEW some Dutch folks…), I loaded up a Max Herder Elite blade, tuned my computer to, and got down to it.

Following my usual prep I performed a two pass with the grain/against the grain shave followed by a cold water rinse.  The shave left me baby butt smooth and left my skin soft and with zero irritation.  I did manage to get a pretty good nick on the left side of my chin, but that was entirely my own fault.  The DVH Extra Fris soap continues to make me happy, providing an excellent lather and leaving my skin soft and pleasantly scented.  I would love to try either the regular DVH soap or the shave stick.  The VDH boar brush did a passable job with this soap, but was nothing remarkable.  The Max Herder Elite blades were crazy sharp.  These Dutch made Swedish steel blades mowed down my stubble in record time and with zero difficulty.  These blades are so sharp that I could have stopped after one pass and had a damn fine shave.  They are a little bit harsh, but not in an unmanageable way, if you begin with a little bit of respect for the insanely sharp edge on these blades, then you will be rewarded for your caution with an extremely close and comfortable shave.  The one nick that I received happened because my hand slipped on my first pass…it didn’t even begin to bleed until I was rinsing off after my second pass.  I have a feeling that my capillaries were so shocked at how easily and cleanly they were severed that they didn’t know that they were supposed to bleed all over my face until then.  In spite of the nick, my shave was very pleasant and enjoyable.  I’m sad that these blades are not in current production, I would absolutely buy some if they were available.  I am happy to say that the Dutch make some awesome shaving gear and I’ll have to see if I can find a Dutch made straight razor in the near future, but in the mean time I’ll continue to enjoy my Max Herder Elite blades.

Pre: Hot shower and warm water splash
Razor: Gillette black handled super speed
Blade: Max Herder Elite
Brush: Van Der Hagen basic boar
Soap: De Vergulde Hand Extra Fris
Post: Cold water rinse


Product Links:

De Vergulde Hand Extra Fris:

Van Der Hagen basic boar brush:

Shave Of The Day (16 May 2013)

I was feeling kind of grungy this morning, so I decided to use a soap that smells nice to help me get out of my funk.  I’m continuing with my middle of the road products today, but I will try to emphasize what works well with these products rather than focusing too much upon their short comings.

Today I decided to go with a few products that I rarely use.  First up is the soap.  I dug into my gear box and pulled out my Mama Bear’s Toasted Coconut soap.  This soap is easily my favorite smelling soap.  The coconut scent is so nice that I could sit around sniffing it all day long.  Like all of Mama Bear’s soaps this is a glycerin heavy melt and pour soap.  I am a fan of glycerin soaps and I enjoy the many variations that they come in, however I am just not very fond of Mama Bear’s.  I find the lather to be lacking in glide and fairly quick to disappear.  The soaps also tend to be picky as far as the correct water/soap ratio is concerned and because of this I have accidentally created a useless foam out of a Mama Bear’s soap on a number of occasions.  In spite of its short comings, when this soap works it is a real pleasure to use.  For my brush I have selected my Van Der Hagen basic boar brush.  This brush is a good choice when used with stubborn soaps which require some aggressive lathering and can be quite effective once it is properly broken in.  Its bristles are quite rough and it tends to eat lather, so if you are using an underperforming soap or a thin cream then this brush should be avoided.  It’s easy to find this brush in pharmacies and grocery stores and consequently is quite often the first brush for many new wet shavers (myself included).  The razor of the day is my trusty Union Cutlery 5/8 full hollow square point straight razor (say that five times fast).  This razor is an excellent performer that I have come to rely heavily upon as I learn the art of straight razor shaving.  It is easy to use and fairly mellow, but does have a deadly sharp point that will attack if it is not properly respected.  I purchased this razor on eBay and have done a lot of work to get it looking half way decent, it is a perfect example of just how much of an investment of time and money vintage straight razors require to become truly usable.  This razor was honed for me by Larry at Whipped Dog and was the tool that gave me my first successful straight razor shave, it will always have a place in my heart and in my shaving rotation.

As per usual I set my brush aside to soak and stropped my blade before taking a hot shower and then splashing some warm water on my face.  I can not stress enough how important proper prep is.  A dry brush, a dry face, and unprepared whiskers make for a bloody and rough shave.  It is better to skip a day than to skip good prep.  I performed a two pass with the grain/against the grain shave followed by a cold water rinse.  The soap lathered well, but took some work to come out properly.  Even with a good lather whipped up I still had issues with it not lasting as long as I would like.  The razor shaved smoothly and easily and let me off without a bite.  My brush actually performed quite well with this soap and felt petty good against my skin.  My overall shave was excellent and left me with a pleasant coconut smell on my skin, but also left my face somewhat dried out.  If I could find a way to combine this soap with another product that would help to provide better glide and to moisturise my skin then I might use it more often, but so far this soap does not pair well with preshave oils or after shaves.  As it stands, I am content to use this only on days when I feel the need to smell coconuty.

Pre: Hot shower and warm water splash
Razor: Union Cutlery 5/8 full hollow
Brush: Van Der Hagen basic boar brush
Soap: Mama Bear’s Toasted Coconut
Post: Cold water rinse


Product Links:

Mama Bear’s Toasted Coconut:

Van Der Hagen basic boar brush:
(This brush is easily found in many pharmacies and grocery stores and is a better deal if purchased as part of the Van Der Hagen Premium Shave Set, which comes with the brush, a bowl, and a puck of VDH Deluxe soap for about $9.)

Shave Of The Day (05 May 2013)

Pre: Hot shower, warm water splash, AoS Unscented Preshave Oil
Razor: P.H. Hahn 5/8 full hollow
Brush: VDH basic Boar
Soap: RazoRock Cumba Cheech
Post: Cold water rinse & AoS Unscented A/S balm

I purchased this P.H. Hahn 5/8 full hollow straight razor recently and was in a hurry to try it out, so I used it in spite of the fact that it still needs some work.  The blade is in excellent condition, but it does need to be honed.  With a quick run across my barber’s hone and balsa strop it did a serviceable job.  P.H. Hahn was an importer who was in business during the 1880s and then promptly disappeared, so this razor is from somewhere in between 1881-1890.  Hahn was like the Col. Conk of the 1880s in that all of his products were manufactured by others and then rebranded.  He mostly imported German razors, so I would guess that this one is no exception.  It has nice horn scales and I can see it being a favorite once I get it shined up and honed.

The Van Der Hagen brush did not agree with my choice of soap.  A poor lather that I had to work at was the sad result.  The brush is an excellent choice for hard soaps or for days when the stubble is heavy, but using it with underperforming soaps can be like using a sledge hammer to pound in  a tack.  I want to love the RazoRock La Famiglia line of soaps, but I just don’t.  I am much happier with RazoRock’s LOA line and should probably just stick with those.  The soap smells nice and left my skin fairly soft, but it was nothing spectacular.  I’ll try a superlather with some Karo Classic and a different brush next time.  The Art of Shaving unscented preshave oil did a fine job of making my face nice and slick and the unscented after shave balm is always nice when you just need something a little relaxing.  All in all, even with the Art of Shaving products performing well, it was a somewhat disappointing shave.  I have no irritation or nicks, but today’s shave also wasn’t all that close or all that enjoyable.  Oh well, you can’t win them all.

The photo isn’t all that great today either…sigh, I guess I’ll have to choose some awesome products tomorrow to make up for today.  Stay tuned.


Product Links:

AoS Unscented Preshave Oil:

AoS Unscented A/S Balm:

VDH Boar Brush:
(This is available in most grocery stores and pharmacies and can be purchased in the Van Der Hagen Premium Shave Set, which also comes with a puck of VDH Deluxe soap and a lather bowl.  The set is commonly available at WalMart or HEB for around $9.)

RazoRock Cumba Cheech: