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The Standard Shave?

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[Note from Mantic59: Doug Hansford writes a blog on shaving and has had some interesting experiments on shave technique recently.  I asked him to consolidate his thoughts for Sharpologist.]
Though I enjoy having a very close shave, I, like some others, have facial skin that won’t tolerate three-pass shaves every day.  So I’ve struck a bargain between my obsession for a close shave and my distaste for raw, wounded facial skin. I’ve experimented with technique options for optimizing my daily shaves without making three full passes.

An Old-School Perspective: the Standard Shave

Most men the world over and throughout history, if they shaved at all, took a single pass. And I would also suggest that most didn’t shave daily; some perhaps only every week or for special occasions. A single-pass shave with any lone shaving edge will shave close enough to look acceptably tidy on most men, although will not give close to a baby-smooth result for many either. Yet if one compares this single-pass shave to being bearded – all rough and wooly – a single-pass shave is pretty darned clean and smooth by comparison. This is why it’s appropriate to call a single-pass, with-grain shave a standard shave. It is the standard against which other, better shaves are judged, and it’s likely the historical norm for shaving.

It can also be good for the psyche, by rallying against the imperatives of a close-shave obsession, to take a standard shave – that is, one pass, with grain – daily, when a closer shave isn’t really needed. Not only does it help one get more comfortable with merely a good-enough shave, it can also help the skin restore itself for those days when you want better than a standard shave.

Optimizing the Standard Shave

No Raking

Maximize your skin protection as you make any pass – whether the solitary pass of the standard shave, or one of several – by using an anti-raking stroke pattern.

Most men probably shave their beards as one would rake leaves off a lawn; that is, they start at an edge of the beard and stroke toward the lathered, unshaven area. This leaves a relatively lather-free surface that grows with each additional stroke. However, it also begins each stroke in an area rather free of protective lather and moisture. Shaving this bare area in the usual manner can create unnecessary irritation.
Instead, shave by starting each stroke in a lathered spot near the margin of the beard, and stroke toward the beard edge. With each progressive stroke into the beard, always stroke from the lathered area toward the just-shaved area. This will tend to carry lather and moisture ahead of the razor and help protect any skin that gets re-shaved with successive strokes.

Don’t Be Square

There is a stroking technique that can also maximize the effectiveness of any blade in any non-slant razor. I call it the oblique stroke. It is also known as the Gillette slide, named after the well-known illustrations in old Gillette shaving instructions that show a razor oriented with the blade edge parallel to the floor, but showing a long diagonal stroke across the cheek.

While the Gillette slide, as drawn, might be correctly considered an advanced shaving technique, the common oblique stroke is quite simple. Instead of trying to shave diagonally across ones face with the blade edge parallel to the floor, which is surprisingly difficult, it’s quite easy to stroke your razor in whatever direction is most comfortable and desired, while simply orienting the razor so the edge is slightly off perpendicular – that is, not square – to the stroke direction.

As many woodworkers know, the skewed cutting angle actually makes the blade edge effectively a bit sharper. (This is commonly done with chisels or hand planes when cutting wood.) The oblique stroke also makes the blade-bar span effectively a bit larger. So this technique can slightly increase the shaving power of any straight-bar or open-comb razor.

Buff Up a Standard Shave – Obliquely

If I’m truly going to do just a one-pass shave, another way to optimize it is to use short, oblique buffing strokes in flatter, less sensitive areas. That means keep the razor on the skin/beard for both the cutting and return strokes, which should be oblique. Keep in mind that buffing on a one-pass-only shave might be fine and dandy, but if you do subsequent passes after that, it might be a formula for unnecessary irritation. If you’re going to do oblique buffing for your solitary-pass shave, a relatively mild razor choice such as a Gillette Tech, or one even milder, might be a prudent move.

Slow ‘n Steady

When shaving problematic areas such as under my jaw line, on my upper lip, on the point of my chin, or on my lower neck, making my strokes more slowly and rather short will often reduces injuries. This is especially true when shaving against the grain.

The Best Shave in Less Than Three Passes: Tag-Team Razors

[Ed. Note: Amazon and West Coast Shaving links are Sharpologist affiliate.]

The preceding techniques for an optimal standard shave (that is, one pass, with grain) can be combined with some additional ideas to optimize one’s two-pass shave. This will yield a much closer shave than the best standard shave, but will avoid much of the skin insult that comes with three-pass shaves day after day. So in addition to making oblique, anti-raking strokes that are rather short and deliberate, I will do the following:

First Pass: Vertical, Largely With-Grain Strokes

In my two-pass shaves, I make most of my strokes vertical. Because much (not all) of my beard has a generally-downward-growing grain, I simply stroke the razor downward in the first pass. The exception to this is my lower neck, which grows sideways and slightly upward. There I simply stroke upward. Remember that these strokes are oblique, not too quick, rather short, and in an anti-raking pattern.
Also for the first pass on a given day I will use one of a variety of razors – all of which are generally mild to medium aggression. Yet because I’m shaving carefully and largely with the grain of the beard, this also means that it’s relatively safe to amp up the razor aggression if I choose; so I will occasionally use an even more addressive instrument for the first pass. That said, my normal first-pass options for my beard and face include the Gillette Slim Adjustable set to four (of nine), the Maggard straight-bar razor head (the original first-generation version), a c.1948 Gillette Tech (or equivalent such as the Rimei RM2003), or the Merkur 15C open-comb razor.

Second Pass: Vertical, Largely Against-Grain Strokes

In the second, final full pass, I will use a mild razor. My preferences include the Weishi 9306 or the Gillette Slim set to one (of nine). I will occasionally use the Tech for the second pass if I used it for the first. The mild character of the second-pass razor helps me to minimize weeper wounds during this final, full pass.

I use all oblique, short, deliberate strokes for my second pass and these are vertical against the grain except on my upper lip, where I go cross grain (and, obviously therefore, not in a vertical direction). I also continue with the anti-raking stroke pattern in this second pass to help minimize irritation.

Clean-Up Strokes

I will sometimes simply re-wet my problem areas, which will then still be sufficiently slick due to residual shave soap, and, with my second-pass razor, will take a few clean-up strokes under my jaw line and on my lower neck. Under my jaw line, these strokes will be strictly against grain (and, therefore, not perfectly vertical). On my lower neck, I will usually make any clean-up strokes vertically (like in the second pass), but with the blade angle of the oblique stroke oriented so that it will tend to slice against the grain a bit.

So for those double-edge users whose skin can’t tolerate three passes every day, these preceding ideas are some techniques that can improve the quality of your daily shaves.

And for Economical Shavers

To get more mileage from your shave soap or cream as well as your blades, there are a couple of things you can do; after all, a penny saved is two pennies earned (considering payroll taxes).

To increase the smoothness and functional life of your blades you can press dry them after rinsing. I like to use a square of toilet tissue for that task. Then to go a step further, try palm stropping your blade on your palm that is lightly oiled with shaving oil. The stropping may help align the microscopic edge that can get damaged from normal use, and the oil may help to reduce the erosion of any factory coating. The oil may also help seal the blade from oxygen and moisture, which might otherwise have slightly deleterious effects.

A tip for better mileage from your shaving lather comes from Gillette themselves. In one of their printed instruction sheets from the 1920s, they suggested not rinsing one’s shave brush after the shave. Simply set or hang the brush, full of lather, to dry. Then prior to the next shave, hold some water in your cupped hand, and in it roll the brush. This in-the-hand wetting will prevent the whispy dried foam from floating away in the air as you initially flex the bristles.

Then you can rub your damp, slightly-soapy hand against the other and then rub that soapy moisture into your already-wetted beard.
The dried-lather-in-the-brush tip implies another idea, which is that pre-shave soaking of a brush is not necessary. After you have wetted the outside of the dried-lather brush in your cupped hand, you can simply run from the spigot a small amount of water into the brush and begin to make lather, adding more water into the brush several times as necessary.

Finally, if your economical interests run to preserving precious skin oils in your face as well, consider shaving entirely with cool water straight out of your cold-water tap. Many men notice no difference in the quality of their shave when using cool water, and, not only might it help preserve natural oils in dry, sensitive skin, it also wastes less water waiting for it to run hot from the tap, and it saves the energy that would be needed to heat the water in the first place. This idea was suggested in a very old-school tip, which explained that cold-water shaves eliminate the need to have your servants prepare hot water before your shave! (And that’s why I do it, of course. 😉

Happy shaving!
About the author: Doug Hansford writes a blog on shaving at

Doug Hansford

Doug Hansford


9 thoughts on “The Standard Shave?”

  1. Interesting post. I would say that a “standard” shave is the most common shave, and among those who shave with a DE razor the most common pattern is the three-pass shave WTG XTG ATG, with the idea being to reduce the stubble significantly before shaving ATG. If you look at this chart of the results from a poll I did, it’s interesting to note that even among two-pass shaves, WTG XTG is more commonly used than WTG ATG. However, two-pass shaves ending with ATG (namely, WTG ATG and XTG ATG) are about as common as two-pass shaves ending with XTG (namely, WTG XTG and XTG XTG the other direction).
    Still, it’s clear that shave patterns that use three or more passes are most common, probably because with good prep, good technique, a good razor and a brand of blade that works well for the shaver in that razor, the effect on the skin is benign. With good prep, light pressure, and a good blade angle, little harm seems to come to the skin, especially if a razor that’s easy on the skin (a slant, for instance) is used.
    So far as wetting the knot and letting the brush sit for a few moments (while one showers, for example), I recommend experimenting to find what works best. My own experiments in that line showed that wetting the knot and letting the brush sit a while did not help with synthetics (naturally) nor with badger, but did help with boar and horsehair. I recommend the experiment, since not soaking a boar brush can make for a rugged first pass, particularly for those whose skin is too sensitive to tolerate a three-pass shave.
    Omega, BTW, specifically recommended against letting shaving cream lather dry in the brush.They apparently believes it damages natural bristles, though I imagine it would have little effect on synthetic brushes.
    I agree that oblique cutting, using a shearing action rather than compressive force, meets less resistance, and for many the simplest way to accomplish that is through using a slant razor, which (because of its requirement for very light pressure and the ease in cutting—meaning it doesn’t push so hard against the stubble) is also very kind to the skin, as mentioned above.
    In any event, because shaving is so much YMMV—what works well for one may not work at all for another—everyone must experiment to find what works best for him, and the article suggests a number of interesting experiments. Try different things, pay close attention to outcomes, and figure out your own best shaving techniques.

    1. Leisureguy, readers will be well served if I make two points related to your comments above.
      1) As one who is university trained in polling and marketing research, I must emphasize that it’s important to understand that polling is a precise science. If the proper statistical processes aren’t followed, particularly in sampling, the poll results are meaningless — neither valid nor reliable. It is highly unlikely that the results of your informal poll represent the habits of all those who DE shave in the US. Even less likely is that your results represent the DE shaving habits of men world wide including Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America. For example, I have a number of older acquaintances from Asia (specifically, India). They have used DE razors all their adult life. When I inquired about whether they do multiple passes, they looked at me like I was crazy; they are strictly one and done: very old school. Of course, this is not case-closed proof, but is suggestive of the likely larger reality beyond the preferences of a self-selected, self-reporting group of DE aficionados.
      2) A slant-bar razor’s design is much more complex than, and not at all analogous to, simply making oblique strokes with a straight bar or open comb DE. All slants will have a varying blade angle along the edge, part of which (the larger-angled part) is going to be more irritating on sensitive skin. Also the Merkur slants, for example, have both a varying blade reveal and varying blade-bar span along the length of the edge, which can also affect comfort — larger reveal and larger span are likely to be less comfortable. Sometimes these will offset, but that results in middling comfort, not superior comfort. Many DE shavers with sensitive skin find the slant design to be irritating; and I am in that number. I would much rather use and recommend a moderate to mild straight-bar razor with oblique strokes than a slant-bar razor. The former is much more skin friendly.
      Best regards –DH

      1. Correction to point 2) above: the Merkur slant has a constant blade reveal along the blade edge. It is its blade angle and blade-bar span that vary along the edge and tend to offset; that is, where the blade angle is the most harsh, the span is the least, and vice versa. In this way they offset, but result in middling comfort. (Sorry about my earlier error; I wrote that off the cuff and was apparently under a small brain cloud. 🙂 Cheers and happy shaving!

      2. Nice to see someone else serious about quality research. I also am educated in research and spent 20+ years doing the work. It’s a shame what many are passing off as research these days, IMO.
        Anyway, nice article. I have to minor quibbles:
        First, I probably wouldn’t use the word “standard” as it has mixed meanings. Often “The Standard” is used to mean the top of the line. For your basic shave, I think I might refer to it as the “Baseline shave” or something like that.
        Also, I believe most men just want to get their shave over with, and aren’t obsessed about it, as many in the “traditional shaving” world in the Americas seem to be. Lumping DE shavers in other countries with those in the western world, maybe be a mistake, IMO. In many countries DE shaving is the “norm’, so many who use DE are your basic “get it out of the way” kind of shavers. They would be more like cartridge shavers here.I believe most DE shavers in the US and Canada (and probably England, Germany, etc) tend to be those more interested in getting a special shave.
        I think most cartridge shavers are one-pass kind of guys (I know I was for years). So it would make some sense that most DE shavers, in a place where DE is the tool of choice for most, would do the same.
        I’m guessing here, of course, as I haven’t done the research.
        Anyway, I believe you and Leisureguy make some good points. An interesting and civil discussion.

        1. “Two minor quibbles…” not “to”. Damn booze! No, I never blame the booze. I’m tired. Yes, that’s it. Tired.

          1. I have previously (as in months ago) considered both your points, which are reasonable. However, I intentionally choose to use the word “standard” as a reaction to the DE-hobbyist usage as in “standard three-pass shave” — though if I used the word “basic” as in “basic shave”, it would probably be less ambiguous. (In the first article I wrote on this subject months ago, which I published on my own blog site, I discussed the various meanings of the word “standard” and my reasons for its use.)
            My objection to the common phrase “standard (or “traditional”) three-pass shave” is that it suggests (at least to me) that DE shavers have always done this and continue to do so. Of course as I have written, I believe the standard or traditional shave is one and done. Hobbyists and aficionados are the exception, not the rule, not standard, not traditional.
            I obviously agree with your point that most cartridge shavers as well as most non-hobbyist DE shavers world wide are trying to get through the process, the chore of beard removal, as quickly as possible. In fact, I have tried, with mixed success, to get some of my friends to convert to DE shaving, and most who have made the switch still perform one-pass shaves; I can’t get them to take the time to do better. Those who didn’t convert, stayed on the dark side 😉 because they couldn’t get as close a DE shave in one pass as they could with their cartridge razor.
            I guess where my thoughts on “the standard shave” bumps heads with many DE hobbyists/aficionados is that I think it inappropriate to have two shaving-norm standards: one for hobbyists/aficionados and one for the mass of men who simply shave as a routine chore. I also think the concept of “traditional/standard three-pass shave” is misleading to newbie aficionados, who are likely to infer that all men who have DE shaved have always made three passes; and more importantly, if they can’t make three passes every day without skin damage, there’s something wrong with them: their technique or their skin. Neither of which is necessarily true. So I continue to stick with my use of the phrase “standard shave” to mean one pass — consistent with the mass of men who DE shave daily, not just the aficionados. (And by the way, I use the term “aficionado” not as a pejorative; I use it simply to indicate “those who have passion.”)
            So it’s early in the morning as I have written this rambling exposition; I hope it makes some sense, reasonably piggy backs on your comments, and makes more understandable my choices and views as stated and implied in my initial article. I appreciate your thoughtful comments.
            Best regards — DH

          2. Where is the “Reply” button under Doug’s most recent reply.
            Anyway, a very coherent post, considering it was first thing in the morning. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting “standard” is incorrect. But the word does have different connotations. So I was simply suggesting, it you want to avoid confusion, you consider another, less confusing, term. I mean, as a researcher, you would avoid using a term that is easily misconstrued in a survey, right? That’s all, really.

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