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Shredding Your Solid Soap: The “Grater” Way to Shave.

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If you’re tired of playing the game of lather cat-and-mouse with your recalcitrant hard soap, I have a special set of solutions and suggestions in store for you today!

A Comment On Amazon

Two reviews of Williams Mug Shaving Soap on Amazon caught my attention recently while I researched for another article:

“I have been shaving with a brush and shaving soap for fifty-seven years, my wife’s grandfather gave me a shaving brush when we were first married. I had to replace the brush, twice, but have always used Williams shaving soap. I have tried a few more expensive kinds, but they all about smell or some other gimmick, with Williams, I always get a great amount of lather, and always a great shave.

This gave me pause: here’s a man who spent 57 years of his shaving life using the same brand of shave soap without deviation.  (Perhaps the same razor and blade brand as well.)  This intrigued me!

Yet other reviews have complained of this soap being difficult to work with: producing poor lather, requiring an inordinate amount of time to generate results, lather can only be made by blooming the soap for a few minutes, results were thin and watery, and so on.  

I immediately set about to investigate.  

Let’s go back in (shave) time…

Here we briefly touch on some shaving history.

I’ve noticed a fair portion of the traditional English soaps – Williams, D.R. Harris & Co., Mitchell’s Wool Fat, Geo. F. Trumper’s, Taylor of Old Bond Street, etc. – tend to be triple-milled hard soaps which are sometimes challenging for a modern DE shaving aficionado to work with.  

The reason? Hot water: The shave scuttles from the mid-1800’s date back to an era forgotten from living memory where hot water was very dear to come by, and could only be procured by boiling the kettle on coal fired stove or over a wood fire (e.g., while in the field, or on a military campaign). A traditional over / under shaving scuttle mug would keep your lather warm for a closer, more comfortable shave, even in a Spartan environment.  

The original concept would look like this, and probably would have been made out of either copper or tin, to allow for direct heating:

Figure 1: Primary illustration from US Patent # 66,788.

This would have been an affordable “everyman” version that could have been stowed away in a field pack for those on a military campaign, or kept hanging on a hook for sailors in a naval service. 

Here are some shave scuttle varieties not commonly seen these days:

Notice the drain holes in the top.  The soap puck would remain up top during the shave, and might remain there until fully consumed across the weeks or months that followed.  The drain holes would draw excess moisture to the water chamber below and prevent the soap from disintegrating or spoiling between shaves.  This necessitated a hard soap with low water content.

While in use you first wetted the brush with warm water from the lower chamber, next you build the lather directly on the soap puck itself and then finish with face lathering and a shave.  

You can witness GeoFatBoy demonstrating the use of such a traditional shaving instrument here:

It is somewhat drawn out but it worked at time, given the limited infrastructure humanity had on hand for decades and perhaps centuries long forgotten.

It’s Grrrrrrrate!!

Ed. note: Amazon links are affiliate.

Now we get to business.

Although I have a vintage box-style grater, I suggest an open style cheese grater with a handle instead.  

Here is one such example.  This open variety allows you to gather the shreds by hand from the back side easily, where the taper or box style cheese grater is a little bit more challenging to work with, especially given that the sometimes gooey nature of some shave soap frequently likes to adhere to the back side of the grater’s surface (whereas cheese may just fall off).  

You can shred into your shave bowl as required, or you can invest in many small containers and fill each your soap shredding’s in one pass.  Either will work depending on your storage space.  

Some small storage containers:

For example, these 1.25 cup containers are perfect for containing a four- or 5-ounce shredded puck of shave soap.  Don’t forget to label them appropriately!

Another option would be a cheese crater with an integrated container if you are going to shred your entire soap puck in one pass and be done with it.  When done you transfer the freshly shredded soap to your containers.

This looks promising, for about $10.  

Another model which looks okay for $8. 

Shave Results:

This approach works because the increased surface area of the soap shreddings in contact with water make even the more difficult soaps soften quickly – William’s Mug in this case – and they become much easier to work with and get you good results much faster with less effort.  

Gone are the days of having to fiddle around with blooming the puck, extensive mixing with your brush, trying to get just the right amount of water in there to make the soap respond, etc.  Now you simply gather some soap sprinkles from your cheese grater, drop them into your shave bowl and let them melt in a small amount of water, lather and shave.  This is a bit more work up front, but you get shaving faster – and get out the door sooner – on those hurried, groggy mornings later on.  

A secondary advantage is you can very precisely meter exactly how much water goes into your lather, rather than guesstimating how much water your brush contains before you begin building lather on your soap.  You eliminate the “back-and-forth” between your bowl, brush and face when your shave gets going.

The harder the soap the more water you need to add.  No problem!

As you experiment and do this 3 – 6 times or so with your various shave soap pucks, you’ll rapidly get a better idea of how much soap and water you need for each brand or type. 

The Williams Shred Shave and Concluding Thoughts

Returning to my original story, I grabbed the Williams Mug soap puck, took one swipe on the shredder and gathered the soap shavings into the bowl with a bit of warm water at the bottom.  

Figure 2: The soap begins to melt slightly.

I tilted the bowl at an angle using a dental floss box under the bowl and let sit for a few minutes while I cleaned up and washed my face.  

Meanwhile, my sturdy assistant Edward popped in to investigate my handiwork.

Figure 3: Felis catus domesticus: Edwardicus

He was not amused with my antics.

I returned my attention to the shave bowl and worked the lather up with the brush.

Figure 4: The finished soap result prior to the morning shave.

In record time I had a copious cloud of lather awaiting my shave, all with minimal effort expended fighting a stubborn hard soap puck.  

The shave came off very well without a hitch, with plenty of rich, creamy lather to spare by the end.  

Do these things and your mileage will be consistent with this grate approach.  

Happy shaving!

Charles Smith

Charles Smith

14 thoughts on “Shredding Your Solid Soap: The “Grater” Way to Shave.”

  1. You can also mix different shredded soaps very easily.
    i mix my tabac with vergulde hand extra fresh works very nice.

  2. Great idea with good tips.

    Keep going.

    I use a cheese grater, grate the soap, put the grated soap in a wash cloth, add 6 teaspoons of canola oil, add some favorite cologne (optional), wet the whole closed cloth with warm water and compress the wash cloth containing my soap into a ball, and press the ball into my clean used shaving soap container.

    Voila, your own shaving soap that performs well.

    It adds water and oil to soften.

    I’ve done it countless times and saved a boatload of money.

  3. I love my hard puck soaps! I also keep Williams Soaps in the weekly rotation. I grade my pucks to fit my bowls because I don’t want them bouncing around while I load my shave brush. Great article! Would be curious to know your top 10 hard puck soaps for 2020.

  4. It was said a year or so ago that Williams was no longer going top produce the soap but here it is and I still see it being sold all over so what happened does anyone know

  5. First off, I really like Williams. It’s my main daily shaver. Not as copious amounts of thick lather like an artisan soap, but is slick, I like the aroma, and I don’t have a problem with disappearing lather. I typically do a dry load with this. Just a few drops, if any, of hot water sprinkled on top of the puck while I shower, and swirl my wetted brush over it to pick up the soap and then build lather either in the bowl or on my face. And it works out just dandy. I only have 4 brushes. And they all work well with this method. My 2 PAA brushes, the Perigrino and the Amber Aerolite, work best.

    Having said all of that, I will try the shavings method just to see what result I get. Playing around with all of this stuff is part of the fun of traditional style shaving.

  6. I shaved a whole puck into a container, pressing it in with my fingers, adding a little hot water along the way. Williams becomes an entirely different, easy to lather soap. After blooming it in hot water during shower time, it lathers up very quickly, and gets nice and dense in a shaving bowl. I have never had any of the difficulty described elsewhere with the Williams soap after grating it.

  7. Interesting article. However, there are too many brands of soap pucks out there that perform just fine without grating that I see no need to start adding steps to my morning shave routine. 😉

  8. Fascinating article. I’ve used your method when trying out shave sticks because I prefer building my lather in a bowl. In fact, using the same Timeless bowl you displayed. Perhaps I might try this on the next milled soap which are typically harder to lather. I think that by grating it and reforming it into a larger bowl it might be easier to generate a satisfactory lather. I’ve been using a hamburger press to flatten out the soap with a touch of hot water,

  9. Very interesting article. I’ve grated hard soaps in the past and pressed the shreds into an old, clean twist-dial deodorant container for face lathering purposes. In retrospect the pressing of grated soap into a container seems pretty counterproductive.
    Melting some grated shreds in a bit of water as described in this article makes much more sense.
    Learning tips like this is just one more reason to always look forward to the next day’s shave.

    1. Grated puck of Williams into a sealable Pyrex bowl and a stick of Arko into another. The bowls are large enough to allow the soap shavings to remain relatively loose.
      Melted in a splash of kettle boiled water a pinch of Williams in the lathering bowl and showered. Once the shower was done that pinch was a sludgy slurry with essentially the same consistency of a Williams puck left in water overnight.
      Gave it a good whipping and it filled the bowl with a pretty good lather, which managed to stay lathered and not break down through two passes. Williams’ lack of “staying power” lather has been one of my beefs with the brand for a long time, but the pinch of grated soap worked very well for me.

  10. Interesting way to use Williams soap. Whenever I have bits of soap that are too small to use I grate them and put them in a container. The container may have as many as seven or eight brands of soap in it. I then press it down and have Frankensoap. I happen to use a circular grater which is safer on my hands.

    1. Yes, it is a Timeless Razor shaving bowl. I got mine from WCS. It works great, and I do not worry about slipping and breaking. However, because it is plastic, it will retain the scent of stronger smelling soaps. If you do not like the smell of yesterday’s Tabac mixed with today’s Proraso green as you mix your lather, . . .

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