Most traditional wet shavers — that is, those who use old-technology razors including double edge (DE) razors and other designs — know about RAD: Razor Acquisition Disorder. This is when shaving hobbyists, aficionados, keep acquiring different brands or models of razors.
RAD and PRA
Many, if not most, justify their RAD as a keen passion and interest in trying different razors. And this may be true. However, my personal experience with my own previous RAD is that it was fundamentally due to not consistently achieving the ideal shave with any one of my ever-growing stable of DE razors (and I suspect this is a contributing cause to some others’ RAD as well). As a result, I was always on the hunt for the razor (and blade combination) that was just right and could provide a close, comfortable shave every time.
Today, however, I no longer chase new and different DE razors. My RAD has been cured. What led to that cure was the decision criteria to keep only a few carefully-chosen DE razors and distribute the remainder to others. The ones that I’ve kept have been retained for very specific reasons, and in large measure, the reasons relate to a razor-rotation routine that I use, which I call progressive razor aggressiveness (PRA). My PRA rotation has allowed me to achieve close and comfortable shaves far more consistently than when I was choosing — either by whim or intuition — the razor and blade combinations for my daily shaves.
The criteria by which I separated the keeper razors from the rest were generally two: 1) the razor must fundamentally provide a comfortable shave, and 2) the razor must have its unique place among the other keepers within a shaving-character spectrum of mild to aggressive.
The result was that my thinned-out collection of DE razors provided for each to fulfill its specific role in my day-to-day shaving rotation. As I progress through the razor rotation — usually over two or three weeks — I generally use the same blade without substitutions for its entire life cycle, from its first shave to its last. I also use only a single razor in any given shave.
Optimal and Thorough Blade Usage
Optimal and thorough blade usage is one of the rules to which I adhere — mostly for ecological reasons.
I’ve found that if I rinse and press (not wipe) dry my DE blade after a shave, and then give it two palm-strop strokes on each side of each edge, it is possible to get many good shaves (14 to 20 or more) from a single blade.
(When a blade is used up, I deposit it in a used-blade bank for later recycling, which I also encourage you to so as well. Please don’t throw them in the trash so they end up in a landfill.)
I have a large inventory of new DE blades consisting of at least seven or eight different blade manufacturers/models. These blades are, in and of themselves, reasonably compatible with my skin. This is consistent with the conventional DE shaving advice to experiment with different DE blades to find more-optimal pairings of blade with one’s DE razor(s). Though my blades are compatible enough, I don’t have favorite blades. But in my trials of different blades, I did find a few that seemed to be somewhat more irritating in one way or another. I won’t buy these more irritating blades in quantity, though the remainder that I still have, I will eventually use. The good news is that by applying my strategy of PRA over the life cycle of any given blade, I have eliminated the need to find ideal blades for my skin, and it has allowed me to more comfortably use blades that I might otherwise avoid.
Therefore, if one uses the full life of any given DE blade, as its character changes from its maiden shave to its last effective use, getting the best shave from the blade may require almost a reversal of the conventional wisdom of finding the best blades for one’s face in a given razor. Instead, I use the best razor for my face at a given stage of the blade’s life cycle. Hence PRA.
Starter and Transition Shaves in the Rotation Cycle
With a brand new blade, I always kick off the rotation cycle with a very mild-shaving razor. Two examples in my experience would be the Merkur 33C Classic and the Phoenix Original Double Open Comb razors. There are many other very mild razors, often characterized as beginners’ razors, which may also be a good option for a shave with a brand new blade. I haven’t tried them all, but you can search Sharpologist for recommendations (Ed. note, excepting Maggard, product links in this post are affiliate). But bear in mind that mild isn’t necessarily comfortable. This accounts for my criterion that a razor has to provide a comfortable shave; I have found some very mild razors such as the Weishi 9306F that just aren’t comfortable for my face.
I typically use my mild razor for the first two or three shaves on a new blade. Because of that first-stage razor’s lap-cat shaving character, to achieve the closeness that I desire on a given day I may also take more passes (or at least more strokes) than I might with more aggressive razors. Ultimately, I choose to move up to the second razor in my rotation after I feel that I’ve had to work a bit too hard to get a close shave.
The second-stage razor in my rotation is more aggressive than my stage-one razor, but still on the mild side. I think of this razor as a transition razor, because it serves as a bridge to the third, ultimate razor in the rotation, which usually provides the majority of the shaves over the life of a given blade. For me, that second razor in the rotation is a post-WWII Gillette Tech. The version of the Gillette Tech that I currently use is a 1965 Tech — the head with a cast-Zamak top cap and nickel plating — paired with a contemporary, nickel-plated, traditional-sized handle. (In my experience, this ’65 Tech has the same shave character as earlier all-brass models of the 1946-1950 vintage that I’ve used. The solitary pre-WWII Tech that I’ve used was a bit more aggressive than later models and not to my taste.) I will typically use the ’65 Tech for a couple of shaves before using the stage-three razor.
After the first four to six shaves on a blade, it has mellowed to point that I can comfortably use my adjustable razors for the last stage in my PRA strategy. (I have two different adjustable models, and either one would be adequate for this final and longest stage in my razor rotation. I use two simply because I like them both too much to part with either. I will typically alternate third-stage razors every shave or every other shave during this last PRA stage depending on whether I’m just shaving or doing some comparative evaluation of shave soaps or whatever.)
The choice of adjustable razors for this mature-blade phase of the blade’s life cycle is no accident. I don’t use the adjustable razors for the early shaves on a blade because I would characterize my adjustable razors to be of medium aggression on their mildest settings. This medium aggression requires more care when shaving with a new blade, and on my face, makes minor skin insult too likely and too frequent. But using a seasoned blade that isn’t quite so sharp, makes these razors ideal. Because of their adjustability, as the blade edges evolve day by day, I can dial up the aggression of the razors as needed to continue to get close, comfortable shaves. I use the adjustable razors throughout the remainder of the blade’s life cycle until the blade is ready for retirement to the recycle container.
In terms of comfort and suitability to one’s skin, adjustable razors are no different from other DE razors in that individual preferences will vary. For example, some men love the shaves provided by vintage adjustable Gillettes. Personally, I found it difficult to get a comfortable shave from my 1963 Gillette Slim Adjustable. My Parker Variant, on the other hand, is a very congenial instrument. The same can be said for my Ming Shi 2000S (also known as the QShave on Amazon), a variation on the Merkur Futur design.
Of course, if adjustable razors are not part of your stable of shaving instruments, you can find other non-adjustable razors that offer more shaving aggression and substitute those into your rotation. I prefer the adjustables because of their versatility, ease of changing their aggressiveness setting, and on all but the Gillettes, their infinite setting options. This convenience of changing razor aggression is something of which I often take advantage mid shave, when I want to do a final clean-up pass. Other adjustable options beyond the Variant, the 2000S, and the vintage Gillettes include the original Futur and Progress razors from Merkur and Futur-design-based offerings from other manufacturers. The multi-baseplate design of the Rockwell 6C may be a good option as well. I have not used this razor, so I don’t know its range of aggressiveness. However, if that range is sufficiently wide, and it is adequately comfortable on one’s skin, it may be a one-razor-fits-all option to cover the entire spectrum needed for PRA.
So the bottom line is that many men are like me: they can both get a close, comfortable shave every day and at the same time use a given DE blade for many shaves. The trick to blade longevity is to tend to the blade after every shave. The key to getting a great shave while making use of the full life cycle of the blade is to match the evolving state of the blade’s edge to an appropriately aggressive (or mild) razor.
Happy PRA shaving!