Are you a “Tweener?” You’re not brand new to old school shaving…but you’re not a grizzled (pardon the pun) old-timer, either. You’re in between: you have your shave technique pretty much down and you’ve discovered your favorite products. But wait! I would like to suggest seven things to try (or try again) before you settle down into that comfy shave routine.
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A Cool Water Shave
Shaving with warm water is de rigor shave technique, but before you etch it in stone, try a cool water shave. Proponents of cold water shaving say it gives them a better shave by “stiffening” hair for a cleaner cut, and that it can reduce irritation and promote better circulation. If you happen to live in an area with hot weather it can feel pretty good, too.
Most cold water shavers continue to prep with warm water but then continue with cold water for a pre-shave rinse and lathering.
(Another) Blade Exploration
Odds are when you started your wet shaving journey you experimented with different blades (or even cartridges). And you discovered the brand(s) that worked best for you. Even though they look the same there is quite a range of technologies at work behind the scenes: different metallurgies, coatings, grindings, etc. You probably have left-over packs from your original experimentation.
Now that you have some experience under your belt, do it again. You may discover that a brand you did not like at first now performs better for you.
An Upgraded Badger Hair Brush
The first real “epiphany” I had when I started my wet shaving journey was my first use of a badger brush. I had been using a decent boar brush (an Omega Pro 48) and performed just fine. Then I got a badger brush. It was an el-cheapo Tweezerman (roughly equal to an Escali nowadays. BTW I do not recommend that brush) but oh. My. Gosh. How it changed the feel of my shave. The softness of the bristles, and more importantly the retention of heat from the warm lather, gave me a more luxurious experience.
Then I upgraded again, this time to a “best” badger (sometimes you’ll see this listed as “super” or “fine” but unfortunately there’s no real agreement on badger hair grading) mid-grade brush…and the clouds parted and the sun shined through.
Not only was the brush softer on my face, it made a better lather more quickly. And still that lovely heat retention. The definition of contentment for me. 🙂
These days, performance-wise, I admit there is a lot more to choose from. Synthetic fibers for brushes have come a long way in a short time and are near equal to their badger counterparts. Plus there is not the concern that some people have with the “harvesting” (ahem) of badgers. Prices are competitive, too.
But in my experience synthetics still cannot quite equal mid-grade badgers in the heat retention department. There’s just something about warm lather throughout the shave that is incredibly appealing.
The difference between a mid-grade and an upper grade (“Silvertip”) is not as dramatic as going from a boar, horse, or low-grade badger to a mid-grade badger so there’s no need to spend ridiculous amounts of money but there are certainly reasonably-priced brushes that are worth looking at.
A Lather Scuttle
Originally called a “Moss scuttle” after it’s inspiration, Dr. Chris Moss, a lather scuttle is designed to keep a shaving brush and lather warm throughout the shave. The first cream scuttles were made by Sara Bonnyman Pottery but many others have since appeared, such as Georgetown Pottery, Shavebowl, and there is even a “travel” shaving scuttle from Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements (PAA).
You can even cobble together a “do it yourself” solution with a couple pottery bowls or latte’/soup cups.
No matter how you do it, try keeping your brush warmed throughout the shave. Even in the warm summer months it can feel really great!
An Adjustable Razor
Those who have followed me for any length of time know my predilection for adjustable razors. I used a Merkur Progress for many years and I still prefer an adjustable (though I’ve set aside my Progress for a Parker Variant or a Rex Ambassador these days).
An adjustable razor can give you some significant flexibility in your shave. Brand “X” blade doesn’t quite cut the mustard with your current razor? Use an adjustable and tweak it up a bit. That new shave soap you wanted to try has a disappointing lather cushion? Dial the razor down to compensate.
But a continuously adjustable razor like the Progress, Variant, Ambassador, or perhaps one of the new crop of inexpensive imports from the Far East, can be sooooo much more convenient.
Finishing With “J-Hooking”
When the late Charles Roberts showed me the “J-Hook” technique for cleaning up small rough patches of stubble after the bulk of my shave I was, well, not exactly terrified, but certainly reluctant to try it. I mean it just looked so…aggressive (and not in a good way) to me. It was six months before I got up the nerve to try it.
But when I finally did try it, I discovered it is not only easy to do but very effective! Don’t let it scare you, give it a try:
The classic face treatment for after shaving is using an alum block (like this one). Alum block is made up of potassium alum, another naturally occurring mineral. It was primarily used for its antiseptic properties back in the day, but it is a mild astringent too so it’s useful for those little shaving weepers. You wet the block and rub it all over your moist face.
If you have not nicked yourself you may experience a cool tingle. As is goes over a nick you’ll get a bit of a sting. Allow the face to dry briefly then rinse off with cool water–you don’t want to keep it on your face due to it’s salty properties. Then follow up with your favorite aftershave balm.
Shaver’s reactions to using alum block tend to be of the “love it” or “hate it” variety. Personally, I’m of the latter persuasion. But they’re so cheap that it’s worth giving a try to see how you might like it in your shave.