Mild? or Comfortable?; Aggressive? or Efficient?

Bernard66 on some years back pointed out that using N-S for the first past, E-W (or W-E) for the second, and S-N for the final pass was misleading and inappropriate. While some few may have monodirectional beards, most men must contend with contrary patches and areas where the grain slants to some number of degrees—often, on the neck, a “slant” of 180º, so the grain is upward—or even grows in a whorl. (Your only hope for shaving whorls well is excellent prep, a brand of blade that’s very good for you, and—ideally—a slant-bar razor.)

Bernard66 pretty much insisted that we start using “with the grain” (or WTG), “across the grain” (XTG), and “against the grain” (ATG) to describe shaving directions, and people—particularly those who have patches that don’t grow N-S—were happy to follow the usage because it better determines the desire action. I myself have a small area of horizontal grain (growing in the direction of ear to nose) on the corner of my right jaw. Only when I closely inspected the grain did I realize why that patch never achieved smoothness: I was never doing a pass ATG for that little area.

I think we need a similar reformation of terminology regarding razors. Quite often razors are described using “mild” and “aggressive” as opposite extremes of a continuum. That approach fails because the words are ambiguous.

Mildcan mean “comfortable” or “inefficient at removing stubble; suitable only for very light beards.”

Aggressive – can mean “harsh” or “extremely efficient at removing stubble.”

I suggest that we use new terminology that reflects two orthogonal axes, one axis running from “inefficient” to “efficient” and the other from “comfortable” to “harsh.” To describe the two continua more completely:

Axis of Comfort – At one extreme is “comfortable“: razors that give you the feeling that you are not going to cut yourself even if you try; no harshness at all. The opposite extreme is “harsh.” With a harsh razor you feel as though you’re teetering on getting a cut and the result of the shave is frequently razor burn. (Obviously, technique plays a role here, but some razors seem to encourage good technique while others demand it—and even then those razors are risky.)

Axis of Efficiency – At one extreme are “efficient” razors, which remove stubble readily and easily, perhaps leaving BBS patches even after the first pass and certainly after the second. At the opposite extreme are “inefficient” razors that seem almost reluctant to cut and are pretty much useless for guys with heavy beards.

Examples (based on my experience):

Feather AS-D1 stainless razor or the bakelite slant: The old description might be “mild and aggressive.” The new description is easier to understand: “comfortable and efficient.”

The 2011 Mühle R41 open-comb: The old description would be simply “aggressive,” but with the new terms I can be more precise: “efficient but harsh.”

The Weishi razor: The old description is “mild”; the new is “comfortable but inefficient.”

A razor that is both uncomfortable (“aggressive”) and inefficient (“mild”) generally would have a short lifespan on the market, but perhaps you’ve come across one or two.

This new terminology obviates ambiguity.

It is important to note, of course, that these terms apply not simply to the razor, but to the combination of razor, blade, and shaver. For example, the Weber razor is for me comfortable and efficient—with most brands of blades. And Kai blades are (for me) a smoother and more civilized version of Feather blades, the Kai blades being exceedingly sharp (“efficient”) but also quite comfortable—in most razors.

And yet a Kai blade (great in most of my razors) in a Weber razor (great with most of my brands of blades) I found to be exceedingly harsh (albeit efficient). So it’s not simply the razor or simply the blade, but the combination of the two, together with the nature of the shaver’s skin and skill.

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  1. Ian says

    Excellent post. I wish more wetshavers would adopt this terminology as it would make discussions and reviews of razors more clear. Yesterday I used the Phoenix Double Open Comb for the first time and found it very comfortable and efficient. The end result was as close as my Edwin Jagger de89 but with fewer issues. I have sensitive skin and tough hair, and because of this only shave every other day, so I think I will really appreciate the Phoenix razor.

  2. KipNox says

    Not only a reformation of the terminology is needed, but I think the type of beard needs to be addressed in any review of a razor. Notice in this article how you talked about “light beards”, “heavy beards”, or an every day beard. And that’s key. Does an every day beard or “light beard” mean one grown in 24 hours? 36 hours? Or even measure the beard in millimeters or inches?
    I agree to use the terminology “comfortable”, “harsh”, “efficient”, and “inefficent” along with the type of beard. Imagine the accuracy a newcomer could read when he sees a review stating: “This (insert razor name here) razor was found comfortable and efficient on a daily beard, using Rapira Platinum Lux. However, it was deemed harsh on a light beard.” Aha. Now we have a better range of experience to expect from this razor/blade combination.

  3. jaffafa says

    To me the meaning of aggressive is:

    If you put the sharpest blade you think is really sharp for you in the most aggressive razor for you and when you shave you feel the extreme sharpness on your skin with the amount of blade exposed and if you easily get irritation, nicks or cuts frequently even at the first pass then that is aggressive.

    Also, if you put the sharpest blade for you in the aggesivest razor and if you feel like it is so sharp (similar to what i said above) and it makes you feel like as if you’re shaving with a straight razor or a knife and it will almost cut you if you’re not precisely accurate on your angle or technique.

    So, to you use the most aggressive razor with the sharpest blade you need to be a perfectionist at all times, even DE veterans who go fast.

  4. Shave Dude says

    I have whorls around my jawline and at the base of the neck. I’ve used a slant, with success, but what really shines is the Ikon duel head. The OC side is mildly aggressive and mows down 95% of the whorl with no irritation, then the CC side can be used for polishing and blade buffing. This thing does a better job than a straight for me, I know most will not believe it, but it is true.

    • says

      For me, the iKon family of razors is extremely comfortable and highly efficient. Even the early symmetrical iKons were excellent, and the asymmetric models are particularly nice. I like best the S3S, which seems not to be a current model. I tend to use the asymmetrics as though they were symmetric, switching sides as I accumulate lather, and that works fine for me: great comfort, great results.

  5. bsmyn0708 says

    A razor is a razor. Buying a $200 razor will not give you a better shave if the blade sucks and your technique is mediocre at best. That said, I think people need to stop hoarding razors and focus on one razor and use that razor only.

    • says

      It’s certainly true that blade selection and good prep and good technique are essential parts of a good shave, but razors do indeed perform differently—if that were not the case, I presume we’d all use the Sodial razor available on for $2.30, which includes shipping. I can get a perfectly fine shave (result) from the inexpensive razor, but I do find that the shave (experience) can be better with a more expensive razor, assuming prep and technique are constant.

      It’s good to use one razor only (and one brand of blade only—but one that works) during the weeks when you’re perfecting the technique. Beyond that, the world seems to divide into explorers, who enjoy novelty and variety, and settlers, who enjoy a more constant environment. So that step depends on the individual shaver’s mindset. In shaving, I’m an explorer.

      • Pastor David Smith says

        I am a explorer also.

        I have tried several dozen soaps. Bought 3 brushes; 1 boar, 2 badgers (different grades), and I own 7 razors. I have tried so many blades I’ve lost count. Never tried one blade that I liked that wasn’t Platnium coated. So I then went crazy on buying every blade I could find that was Platnium coated.

        I like Lord, Astra, Wilkinson Gillette, and Feather. I find Feather to be too aggressive but enjoy it when I haven’t shaved in several days.

        I got on a Mama Bear’s kick and purchased dozens of her soaps. I recently purchased Cella, and I enjoy it also (not crazy about the scent though).

        I agree that prep is essential and agree that some Razors are aggressive. I have a Gillette ’57 adjustable that I now only use when I haven’t shaved in MULTIPLE days.

        Thanks for your post. Always enjoy reading this blog.

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