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.
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.
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.