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7 Things You Must Try Before Settling On A Shave Routine -Updated

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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

The assortment of blades available

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.

A Synthetic Fiber Shave Brush

In the first version of this article I advocated upgrading your shave brush to a mid-grade 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 it performed just fine.  Then I got a badger brush.  It was an el-cheapo Tweezerman shave brush (perhaps thankfully it’s no longer produced) 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 mid-grade badger brush…and the clouds parted and the sun shined through.

These days, performance-wise, synthetic fibers for brushes have come a long way in a short time and I believe are now equal or superior to their badger counterparts, at a lower price point–sometimes much lower.  Plus there is not the concern that some people have with the “harvesting” (ahem) of badgers.

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 Savanna Shaving, 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 Rockwell T2 Stainless 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.

Sure, using a razor with a selection of base plates (like the Rockwell 6 series) can be effective, too.  And shimming a razor can do a similar job (kind of).

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:

Alum Block

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.


Shave tutor and co-founder of sharpologist. I have been advocating old-school shaving for over 20 years and have been featured in major media outlets including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Lifehacker. Also check out my content on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest!View Author posts

5 thoughts on “7 Things You Must Try Before Settling On A Shave Routine -Updated”

  1. I own only 1 badger, 2 horse hair, 2 boar bristle, and 4 synthetics. Says it all. Still using a scuttle with cold water for Menthol, hot water for all others

  2. I have frozen water in my PAA travel scuttle. (add a little and freeze, repeat) When done shaving, I put back into freezer, It does not thaw enough during my shave to matter. This takes, be bold shave cold to a new level! I was using a EJ badger. Then several years ago got a synthetic. WOW, now I have 10 synthetics! The badger has not ween the light of day in ages.

  3. Mark,

    Thanks for all your wonderful and extremely helpful advice. I purchased the Edwin Jagger Best Badger brush that you linked to in this articles, based on your recommendation. It’s inexpensive and great! Also, I began J-Hooking months ago, because of your instruction, and love finishing with that technique. Once again, thank you for sharing your wisdom!

  4. Agree:
    Cold shaves work excellent for me.

    I never understood the hype about badger brushes. After year’s of experience by now, and several silvertips in my den, I still consider boar brushes the best tool for the job.

    Give the straight razor a go. With some persistence and a properly honed razor, you will be rewarded.

  5. I’m an alum block lover. Will be trying the j-hook and buffing technix. Have an adjustable on order … Rockwell Model T, if it ever arrives. I’ve both the synthetic and best badger brushes. I like them both. And I really like the cold shave in spring/summer. And the scuttle is equally useful for that. Fill it with cold water and let it sit while showering. Refreshing!
    Good article!

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