Old School Wet Shave

Shaving Like a Gentleman

Shaving should be fun and enjoybale, almost like a hobby... not a chore.

Thanks to the man-version of Pinterest, manteresting.com, I’ve been reading lots of articles about manly things. One of the articles I stumbled upon through manteresting was “How to Shave Like Your Grandpa” from the artofmanliness.com. It piqued my interest, especially because I’ve been looking for a new razor to use, since the plastic Schick disposables I use give me ingrown hairs and make me break out (probably from razor burn). In the interest of trying new things, and resorting back to the “way things used to be” – because the way things used to be are, in most cases, usually better than the way things are now – I decided to splurge and give traditional wet shaving with a double edge safety razor a try.

Benefits:

  1. First-and-foremost is cost savings. A pack of 12 disposable razors is about $10… figuring one razor per week, that means you’ll get 12 weeks of shaving for $.85 per week. That’s nor bad, but the quality is horrible.. razor burn galore (at least for me). Disposable cartridge razors, like Mach 3, Fusion, etc, cost (on average) about $30 for 12 cartridges… figuring one cartridge every two weeks, that’s 24 weeks of shaving for $1.25 per week. Pretty expensive when you think about it… sure, you might be able to stretch a cartridge for a month or so, thus lowering your cost per shave, but quality certainly suffers the longer the cartridge goes before changing. You start to feel the razor tug instead of glide… razor burn… and all the gunk accumulates in between all the blades. Ick. Now, compare that to 10 pack of double edge razor blades, which runs about $6… you should change the blade once per week, so you get 10 weeks of shaving for $.60 a week. In terms of cost per shave, it’s well below disposables and cartridge razors. Don’t even get me started on electric razors.
  2. Natural vs. chemical. Look at the ingredients on a can of Gillette shaving gel… or Edge gel… what’s number one on the list? Can you even pronounce the ingredient list without having a phD in chemistry? I looked the other night and Edge shaving gels have isobutane listed as ingredient… sure it’s probably used as the propellant to get the gel out of the can, but still. Isobutane… a chemical similar to lighter fluid. No wonder those aerosol cans are marked “Flammable”. Now, compare that to the soaps and creams used for wet shaving. One of the most popular shaving creams, Proraso, contains eucalyptus and menthol, as well as glycerin for slipperyness. Think that stuff is in those cans? Nope. Just because their commercials have some hot girl rubbing all up on a man’s face after a shave doesn’t mean they’re the best… that’s the same way Budweiser and Miller advertise… they make you want their product. And we all know what you get for want those products… subpar, mass-produced drivel.
  3. Environmental impact. This isn’t a big one for me, but it might sway someone’s opinion… double edge razor blades are recyclable. Try recycling a disposable razor or the Mach 3 cartridge when it’s spent. Good luck. Plus, the lather you generate washes down the sink… and you don’t have a big metal can leftover. And, you’re not releasing aerosols into the atmosphere. Plus, all the wet shaving stuff I’ve seen is clearly marked that it is not tested on animals… think any other cosmetic companies can say that?

What you’ll need:

A razor… double edge safety razor. I went with a Merkur 180 long-handle safety razor. Merkur razors are well reviewed on Amazon and the brand was referenced on many of the articles I read. $30(ish) for the razor… so there’s an initial cost for the equipment, but there is for other razors, too (like when you have to shell out a little skrilla for the Fusion razor AND the replacement cartridges… or the exorbitant cost of a high-end electric razor). You might be able to score a double edge safety razor at an antique store, on eBay, or in your grandpa’s medicine cabinet… but, they are available new through the internet, as well.

Merkur 180... made in Germany, so you know it's good stuff.

Double Edge Razor Blades… My razor came with a trial Merkur Super blade, which has been working out pretty well. Based on Amazon reviews, I ordered some Feather double edge blades, as well. Try out some different blades… see what works best for your face… and remeber, in the end, spending a few cents on a better brand of razor blades is worth it, since, in the end, it’s an overall cost saving over other shaving methods. You’ll need to change blades after a week and half, at most. And I was surprised that the blades were almost paper thin… very flexible. So don’t be taken aback when you first feel one.

Feather Stainless razor blades... will cut whiskers and stubble (and your finger tips and facial flesh) like butter.

Shaving cream or shaving soap… since we’re ditching the gel-in-a-can, we need to generate lather the old school way… the way any self-respecting barber does before he shaves your neck after your haircut. You whip that shit up yourself! The base for the lather is either a cream or soap. I recommend Proraso shaving cream, made in Italy. If you want to shop locally, Proraso manufactures shaving cream for Bath & Body Works called C.O. Bigelow & Company shaving cream… same stuff. Yes, it’s about $10 a tube, but that tube will last you WAY longer than a can of Gillette or Edge… I promise. Also, Target (at least the one by my house) has picked up on the luxury shaving trend and sells a few types of shaving soaps, as does Wal Mart. Van Der Hagen shaving soaps are sold at both Target and Wal Mart… Wal Mart sells unscented plain-Jane Van Der Hagen shave soap for like $1.50 and Target had scented and unscented Van Der Hagen soaps in stock for $5(ish), as well. Do some leg work… or there’s always the online option.

C.O. Bigelow Premium Shave Cream... Made by Proraso, but sold at Bath & Body Works so it's easy to find... just head to the local mall. Will last three times longer than cream/gel in a can.

Van Der Hagen Shave Soap... $1.50 at Wal Mart.

Scented Van Der Hagen shave soap... Target, $7.

A shaving brush… just like the barber… you gotta whip up the lather with a brush. Badger hair only… badger. Not boar’s hair. Badger… the bristles are stiffer, so you’ll whip the lather faster and exfoliate your skin a little more as you massage the lather on your face. You can spend upwards of $50 on a brush, but I found a Tweezermen’s badger brush on Amazon for $11.

Badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, brush. Badger hair brushes work the best.

An old coffee mug or bowl… this is where shave cream or shave soap + brush + a little water = lather. Latte mugs or old soup mugs seem to work the best.

A styptic pencil… to cover the inevitable knicks you’ll ding yourself with until you get the hang of this new shaving method… it’s ok. Wear them as a badge of honor!

An aftershave or face lotion… for facial recovery. Nothing with alcohol… look for the natural stuff. I picked up a tube of Every Man Jack post shave lotion at Target for about $5.

About 10 minutes…. once you get the hang of wet shaving with your double edge safety razor, prep, lathering, shave, and clean-up will take about 10 minutes once you get out of the shower in the morning.


How To:

In my opinion, it’s easier to post Youtube videos than it is for me to describe how to do it…

An introduction:

How to lather: (I use a dime-sized squeeze of the Bigelow cream in a bowl… I also keep a puck of soap in a mug to work up a little lather, too)

How to Shave: (you’ll get the hang of it… take a look at the technique. Don’t push, let the weight of the razor do the cutting. Don’t slide the blade laterally… move it north-south with a stiff wrist, letting your arm do the moving.)


Some tips (after only a couple days with the new razor):

  1. If you’re having trouble acquiring all the equipment you’ll need (safety razor, brush, double edge razor blades, shaving creams/soaps), check out a neighborhood, local drugstore… you know, the one that’s been around since forever… the one that supplied your grandparents when they were kids. Since they’ve been around for forever, they may have all the “old”-style shaving products in stock. If you’re having trouble finding them on their shelves, make sure to ask the manager or owner about the stuff, they might be able to point out the location… and, chances are if they don’t have the items in stock, they can order them for you or they’ll offer to keep a small selection on hand… that’s what I did, and now the small drugstore up the street is going to keep a little supply on the shelves.
  2. Google search for a “barber supply” store in your area, as well… or, tell your barber that you’re getting into wet shaving and ask your barber where he gets his supplies. Since barbers use a lot of the same equipment, you might have some luck finding things through their suppliers. You all have a local, “old school” barber, right?
  3. There’s always the internet… Amazon pretty much has everything a wet shaver could dream of on their site… just search. And, once you fine-tune the products that work best for you, eBay (and Amazon) typically offer items in bulk… 100 razor blades, a two or three pack of Proraso… cheaper per item that way. And don’t forget about Super Saver Shipping.
  4. When you’re whipping up your lather, make sure to hold the brush by the bristles, where the bristles meet the handle. Kind of pinch the bristles in your fingertips and let the handle rest in the space between your fingers and your palm. This will put less stress on the brush, making it last longer. Also, make sure to hang your brush, handle up, to dry… don’t set it handle-down on the counter… that’ll ruin it. You can make a brush hanger out of an old wire coat hanger… or buy a pretty razor and brush stand.
  5. Whip the lather until hard peaks form… like making a stiff whip cream.
  6. You’ll get the hang of it… I promise. Yes, it might be a challenge to master the art and technique. And, yes, you’re face may get a little irritated in the beginning. And, you might nick yourself until you get the fell down… but don’t give up. Everything gets easier with practice… so hang in there.

My Shaving Kit... A Merkur 180 Double Edge Safety Razor... Shaving Cream... Badger Brush... Styptic Pencil (still getting the hang of the new razor)... and my lather mug. Boom.

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  1. #1 by dave on July 6, 2012 - 10:38 PM

    How dare you say no Boar. They are very different but if you know what you are doing you can get a fine shave if not in my case a beete shaver when I tried boar instead of my long tweezerman badger. The rip in to a soap puc like no other and the lather is more dense and creamey that the the more fluffy badger lather.

    • #2 by sean on July 6, 2012 - 11:17 PM

      You’re right, they are different. If you find the boar hair is working fine, then awesome! I’ve had luck with the badger hair brush and a soap puck the few times I’ve tried soap instead of the cream… but, hey, whatever works for you!

  2. #3 by Theblackknight on September 7, 2012 - 11:12 AM

    Thanks for this. I just bought a 180 and didnt know BBW had poroso under a different name.

  3. #4 by Mike on April 29, 2013 - 10:28 PM

    So, it looks like it’s been a year since this post, are you still using the Merkur with feathers or did you switch back to what you had prior to Merkur ? Interested in an update as I just started about a week ago, using the exact same setup as you – and I find myself thinking back to how easy it was to use the sensor excel with edge gel – and it gave me a really good shave…! (if only the refill cartridges were not so expensive…!)

    • #5 by sean on May 4, 2013 - 9:56 PM

      I am still keeping up with the wet shaving… the Merkur 180 is still going strong (with periodic cleanings) and I am still in love with the Feather DE blades. They’re ridiculously sharp and give me a great shave. I’ve also resorted to a disposable razor with canned gel (and once or twice with an electric razor I got when I was in high school) when I’ve traveled with a carry on and couldn’t take my DE razor (due to the razor blades) on the plane, but I’ve noticed I break out, get a few bumps, and get a ton of ingrown hairs when I transition between shaving methods. So, I’ve remained diligent about sticking with wet shaving only… and my shave has never been closer and my face has never been smoother.

      • #6 by Mike on May 4, 2013 - 10:27 PM

        Thanks for the update…!

        Were you letting your Tweezerman brush dry hanging with brissels down, or sitting on the handle, brissels up?

        On a separate note, I shaved today with all cold water – was really surprised with the results – fantastic shave….!

      • #7 by sean on May 4, 2013 - 10:38 PM

        I made a brush hanger out of an old metal coat hanger… so it ALWAYS dried bristles down. Never dropped it either or slammed it around the mug… just poor manufacturing… take a look at all the customer pics on Amazon and you’ll see how many people experienced the same problem. But, like I said, you get what you pay for and buy the time you buy one, have it break, and buy a replacement, you’re still WELL below the cost of the more higher end badger brushes.

    • #8 by sean on May 4, 2013 - 10:00 PM

      Oh, I did have to get a new badger brush, as the Tweezerman brush I had cracked and the bristles fell off… it was the cheapest badger brush out there, by far, so I suppose you get what you pay for. Though, two or three Tweezerman brushes is the same cost as a slightly-higher end brush.

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