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?

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An Easy Shave On A Gloomy Day

The day started off bright and sunny and a blazing 102°F, but it quickly turned grey and gloomy.  The clouds rolled in and the rain began.  Unfortunately this did little to kill off the heat, so while I sat in the A/C and waited for my daughter to return from her grandmother’s house I began rooting through my shaving gear and looking for something to brighten my day.  I eventually decided to go with some good old, time tested gear.  Sometimes it’s just nice to pull out gear that does its job without all of the extra flash.

For my soap I’m using my Van Den Hagen Deluxe/Glycerin blend.  I melted a puck of each and mixed them together in a Kingsley dark wood bowl.  It’s good, slick soap that works well and looks nice.

The razor is my spifftastic pre-war Gillette fat handle Tech.  The fat handle has some nice heft and feels good in my hand.  The pre-war Tech head is slightly more aggressive than the newer Tech, but its design makes it incredibly forgiving and easy to use.  I’m pairing a Super Iridium Extra Stainless blade with it.  The balde is smooth and efficient and works well in my Tech.

The brush for today is the Every Man Jack synthetic.  This brush only works well for face lathering, but it has a nice easy to hold handle and a tall loft that feels super soft.

Two and a half passes to perfection.  All it took was a with the grain/against the grain and a little clean up on my neck.  I finished up with a cold water rinse and some T.N. Dickinson Witch Hazel.  Baby butt smooth skin with zero nicks and zero irritation.  The Tech is so easy to use that I could shave with my eyes closed, the VDH blend works great every time, the EMJ brush is perfect for face lathering, and the SI blade is smooth and efficient.  It was an excellent weekend shave.

Pre: Hot shower and warm water splash
Razor: Gillette pre-war fat handle Tech
Blade: Super Iridium Extra Stainless
Brush: Every Man Jack synthetic
Soap: Van Den Hagen Deluxe/Glycerin blend
Post: Cold water rinse and T.N. Dickinson Witch Hazel

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Product Links:

Every Man Jack Synthetic Brush:

http://www.drugstore.com/every-man-jack-shave-brush/qxp411981?catid=288501

 

Van Der Hagen Deluxe Soap:

http://www.drugstore.com/van-der-hagen-deluxe-shave-soap/qxp155184?catid=183790

Van Der Hagen Glycerin Soap:

http://www.drugstore.com/van-der-hagen-glycerin-shave-soap/qxp155183?catid=183790

Kingsley Dark Wood Bowl:

http://www.drugstore.com/kingsley-for-men-wood-shave-soap-bowl-with-lid/qxp75462?catid=183790

 

 

First Impressions And SOTD (05 August 2013)

There are some initial impressions which tend to stick, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  In the world of traditional wet shaving many newbies ask the inevitable question: “Which blades work best?”  The answer is just as inevitable as the question, “Your Milage May Very.  Everyone is different, you’ll just have to try them out for yourself.”  In spite of the view that no two people will agree on the suitability of any blades, folks tend to be more open about which blades they dislike.  Even as they are denied a list of possible usable blades, newbies are often barraged with lists of unusable blades.  The problem with this is that folks tend to keep those bad first impressions of so-called unusable blades with them and then regurgitate those views to other newbies.  Many blades eventually receive bad reputations, whether they are deserved or not, based solely on hearsay.  One of the blades that is often listed as totally unusable is the Merkur Super double edge blade.

The Merkur Super double edge blade is often compared to a piece of sharpened tin can.  In fact, the Merkur Super is often held up as one of the worst DE blades ever made.  Due in large part to its poor reputation and high price (a ten pack of Merkur Supers will usually run between $7 and $10) most people do not even bother to try these blades unless they receive them for free.  Many of these free Merkur blades are usually in the form of a sample Merkur blade, which is included with new Merkur razors.  This is an unfortunate situation because the sample blade is often poorly packed and can become banged up before it is ever even used, giving the user a bad example of how a Merkur blade performs.  And so it is that Merkur blades, rightly or wrongly, receive nearly universal disdain.

I myself held the unfounded view that Merkur Super blades were not even worth the effort to try, but I am a naturally curious person and was not content to accept this view without at least trying them out once.  This morning I decided to bite the bullet and try out a Merkur Super blade.  I’ve had two Merkur blades sitting in my sample tin for a while now, but I kept putting off using them and coming up with various reasons for this procrastination.  The reality is that I didn’t want to waste a shave on a blade that I believed would perform poorly.  The possibility that Merkur Super blades would live up to their infamy has kept me away, but there are a few nearly universally hated blades out there that I actually like, so I knew that Merkurs could do well for me as well.

To give these blades the best possible chance I broke out my Gillette black handle Super Speed razor, C.O. Bigelow shave cream, and my uber soft Every Man Jack synthetic brush.  At the last minute (and after taking the picture) I decided to make it a superlather of Van Der Hagen Deluxe soap and C.O. Bigelow cream.  Using my EMJ brush and superlather combo I created mountains of thick, creamy lather and did a three pass with the grain/against the grain/across the grain shave followed by a simple cold water rinse.  I could almost hear the the Psycho shower scene “squeal” as I began my shave, but that ominous feeling quickly went away.  As it turns out, I managed a Baby Butt Smooth shave with zero irritation and zero nicks.  My skin was left ultra soft and smooth, even without any post shave treatment. 

I’ve managed to get blades that I hate to perform by using perfect prep and ultra slick lather, but this is not what went on with the Merkur Super blade.  It was an effortless shave thanks to excellent lather, but it was also a nearly perfect shave thanks to the Gillette black handle Super Speed razor and the Merkur Super blade…it was a case of everything working perfectly together rather than one product compensating for another. I know it’s just one shave with a single example of this often reviled blade, but if it continues to perform, then I will have to count myself among the dozen or so folks who have actually tried and like Merkur Super DE blades.

Pre: Hot shower and warm water splash
Razor: Gillette black handle Super Speed
Blade: Merkur Super
Brush: EMJ synthetic
Soap: Superlather of VDH Deluxe and C.O. Bigelow
Post: Cold water rinse

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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.

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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

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Product Links:

T.N. Dickinson’s Witch Hazel:
(This is easily found in most pharmacies and grocery stores.)
http://www.walmart.com/ip/10321470?wmlspartner=wlpa&adid=22222222227000000000&wl0=&wl1=g&wl2=&wl3=21486607510&wl4=&wl5=pla&veh=sem

Van Der Hagen Glycerin:
(This is also easily found in most pharmacies and grocery stores.)
http://www.drugstore.com/van-der-hagen-glycerin-shave-soap/qxp155183?catid=183790

The Art of Shaving Fine Badger Brush:
http://shop.nordstrom.com/s/the-art-of-shaving-fine-badger-shaving-brush-black-handle/2808208?cm_cat=datafeed&cm_ite=the_art_of_shaving(r)_fine_badger_shaving_brush_-_black_handle:13799U&cm_pla=personal_care_accessories:men:shaving_accessories&cm_ven=Google_Product_Ads&mr:referralID=31c4d643-d787-11e2-9389-001b2166c62d

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.

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Product Links:

AoS Unscented Preshave Oil:
http://www.amazon.com/Art-Shaving-Pre-Shave-Unscented-Sensitive/dp/B000FGTTTC

AoS Unscented A/S Balm:
http://www.amazon.com/Art-Shaving-After-Shave-Unscented-Sensitive/dp/B000FGTTTW/ref=sr_1_3?s=hpc&ie=UTF8&qid=1367776502&sr=1-3&keywords=the+art+of+shaving+unscented+after

VDH Boar Brush:
http://www.drugstore.com/products/prod.asp?pid=155181&catid=288501&aid=338666&aparam=goobase_filler&device=c&network=g&matchtype=
(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:
http://www.shoeboxshaveshop.com/ralafashso.html