Mild? or Comfortable?; Aggressive? or Efficient?

Bernard66 on ShaveMyPlace.com 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.

Leisureguy (10 Posts)

A retired guy who hated shaving and so decided to figure out how to enjoy it. Did that, wrote a book, and now look forward to my daily shave. I also enjoy movies, cooking, reading, blogging, and the like.


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Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    • 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.

  3. 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.

    • 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 Amazon.com 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.

  4. While the idea of making a difference between aggressiveness and efficiency and making it visible on a double axis diagramme is very good and can be interesting, this is again a very YMMV thing.

    I am now a seasoned shaver, but have experienced that a given razor initially rated as harsh would then feel milder or a razor that I first found to be inefficient could in fact be very efficient, the ability of the shaver and the choice of the blade being essential.

    What could be useful, would be a compendium of the blade exposure and angle of the razors ; it would be very interesting to see wether there is a common pattern within the razors one likes / dislikes.

    • I look forward to seeing such a compendium—it would indeed be interesting. In the meantime, my hope (as you see) is to remove some ambiguity from shavers’ descriptions of their experience with various razors. The experience of a razor is, as you indicate, affected by many things other than the physical characteristics of the razor: prep, skin type, beard type, technique, blade used, level of skill, and so on. Despite all those variances that lead to different experiences, there is a lot of clustering that allows us to discuss razors in terms other than discussing, say, one’s dreams. I’m interested in improving the vocabulary used to describe the experience and to remove some ambiguity from those descriptions. In other words, my focus is on characterizing the experience (in general) that people have with a razor.

  5. The physical characteristics of a razor are secondary (IMO) to the experience of using the razor, and that of course is subjective and varies by person, with clusters here and there. Indeed, objects have the same physical characteristics (blades, notoriously, but also razors) can be experienced quite differently by different people, which is why I give priority to the experience rather than the object. And having made my proposal, I wait with interest to see what happens.

    And I assure you: razors can indeed feel aggressive. I’ve been there. :)(

  6. I do personally use terms like all of these when trying to describe razors to other people, but I doubt you’ll have any success codifying things to the point where they’ll become really useful as a dual-axis scale for exactly this reason:

    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.

    Regardless of what words we use, about the only truly objective aspects that can be attributed solely to the razor here are the amount of blade exposure and the range of blade angles through which it allows the blade to contact your face. These two factors are connected, in that a razor that affords more blade exposure (the amount of the blade that extends past the plane created by the cap and guard) will, by necessity, allow the blade to have contact through a wider range of angles. But what those angles are is determined by the head geometry.

    Everything else is down to squishier factors like blade choice and user skill. That is, if I tell you that a particular razor is “mild but effective,” am I telling you something useful about the razor itself? Or, am I telling you something about how well the razor works for me, on my face, with my technique, and my choice of blades, and my mood that day, etc.? The fact that you can take an “inefficient” razor and instantly make it more efficient by using the Gillette Slide or the Modified Slide illustrates the problem.

    Essentially, what I think people are trying to get at with the terms “mild” and “aggressive” is not really comfort based, but rather the amount of rope a particular razor will give you—whether you hang yourself with it or not is more or less up to you.

    • Appreciate the comment. I included the examples in the post so that people could judge whether the descriptions work well enough to use.

      And regardless of objective factors, the terms “mild” and “aggressive” are indeed ambiguous, and if people are going to discuss their experiences with razor, avoiding ambiguity is a good idea, don’t you think?

      • Absolutely I agree, but I’m not sure that adding a dimension and making both scales entirely subjective removes any of the ambiguity. They’re not inherent attributes of the razor, but rather are ways of describing your experience using it.

        Saying a razor is “comfortable but effective” is really nothing more than saying you found it to feel pleasant and work well for you. I can’t predict that a razor that you find comfortable will be the same for me, so what good does knowing that do me? And, beyond a certain minimum threshold, I would argue that “effective” or “ineffective” really has much more to do with the craftsman than the tool.

        If we really want to remove ambiguity we need to talk about things that are more objective, like the amount of leeway a particular razor’s design gives you with the blade—the notion that some safety razors are “safer” than others—and that is really what I think the original intent of the “mild/aggressive” notion was. Whether those are the best terms to use is an entirely different matter.

        • Well, we can try it. I find the proposed terms less ambiguous than “mild” and “aggressive”, each of which has two common meanings. The proposal breaks those into two non-ambiguous terms, thus removing the ambiguity if not the subjectivity. It is possible, note, to describe a subjective experience unambiguously. “Subjective” and “ambiguous” are not synonyms.

          Note that you are free not to use these terms. We’ll see whether they catch on with others.

          • “Subjective” and “ambiguous” are not synonyms.

            That’s not what I said. What I said was that making things entirely subjective doesn’t really remove the ambiguity that I believe you’re trying to address.

            I think where we’re missing each other here is that you’re looking for words to better describe the quality of your experience with a razor, and I’m talking about words to describe an attribute that is innate in the razor itself. I wouldn’t use the terms “mild” or “aggressive” to describe how a razor feels—a razor doesn’t feel aggressive, it is aggressive, or rather it is more or less aggressive than other razors along a continuum.

            I look at it more like weight, for example. Even without a scale to take a measurement, if I’m just holding a razor I may be able to give you a halfway decent guess as to its weight, but holding two razors I can absolutely tell you if one is heavier than the other or if they’re about the same weight. Similarly, having used two razors I can tell you if one is more aggressive or more forgiving (and maybe “forgiving” is a better word for “less aggressive” than “mild” is) than the other, or that they’re about the same, even without a clear measurement of what that means.

            So I guess what I’m really saying is that I’m totally on board with the idea of using more precise terms than “mild” or “aggressive” to describe your experience. I just don’t think that those replace the notion of “aggressiveness” as a physical characteristic of a razor.

  7. Charlie says:

    Wonderful article and argument. I agree with everything said. To me, the proof lies with the slant razors. Early on, they were determined aggressive, but more and more people are finding them to be efficient and comfortable.

  8. Kenny Haberman says:

    I really have to agree with the x/y axis type of description you had for razors. Are you (or Mantic) going to start building a database or chart perhaps? Then again, would subjectivity play a role into how a razor is perceived?

    Assuming N→S is 0°, my beard grows like this:

    • Sideburn areas grow inward at 90°.
    • Cheeks/lips/chin grow N→S at 0° (although the outer edges of my chin grow more at a 45° angle outward).
    • My neck grows outward at 90° from the center line.

    and…

    • The corners of my jaws (under my ears) have whorls!

    Take the time to map out your beard!

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