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Choose your weapons: the safety razor, blades, shaving cream and a styptic pencil (just in case).
Choose your weapons: the safety razor, blades, shaving cream and a styptic pencil (just in case).

A warm endorsement for wet shaving

A few weeks ago I was standing at Target, looking at my options for razor blades. An eight-pack of Gillette Fusion Proglide Power cartridges cost $33.

There's gotta be a better way, I thought.

Then I remembered a conversation I once had with colleague Dave Begel about shaving with a straight razor. It was an intriguing notion, but with a several hundred dollar cost of entry, not to mention the very real possibility of slicing my face off, I decided that shaving with a straight razor wasn't for me.

Still, the PR machine that is the razor industry keeps conning me into buying fancier, multi-blade hardware that does actually work begetter than the previous generation, but costs an arm and a leg.

That's when I stumbled across some bloggers advocating something called the "wet shave," a slow, deliberate process involving a badger-hair brush and a double-edged "safety razor." Its proponents promise a closer shave than any new-fangled Gillette product and at a fraction of the price. A blade costs about 50 cents and lasts a week or so.

That is seriously cheap. Color me intrigued.

I watched a few YouTube videos from some of the pros who have practically fetishized this manly art, but my final affirmation came from my coworker, Sid, who started using a safety razor a few months ago. He advised me to take the most inexpensive route in, with a cheap, Egyptian "DE" safety razor called the Lord, which runs about $10 on Amazon. I also picked up a 10-pack of Feather blades from Japan for $7, which are described as "ninja sharp."

Hey, go big or go home, I say.

The final piece of the puzzle was a synthetic badger-hair brush for $8 (the idea of rubbing a dead animal on my face kind of freaks me out) and a $5 tube of fancy Italian mentholated shaving cream from Bath and Bodyworks. I also grabbed a styptic pencil, just in case.

Tools in place, I steadied my hand and started shaving, fully expecting to cut myself to pieces. One day one, I didn't cut myself at all, actually, but the process took about 15 minutes, compared to the two-minute job I can do in the shower without even looking in the mirror. As I was warned, the shave wasn't incredibly smooth at first -- because the blade doesn't pivot, the technique is all about making several passes and "beard reduction." I was warned not to attempt to shave against the grain right away, and I didn't.

On day two, I did a bit better but also sliced my upper lip and had to use the styptic pencil, which is not a pleasant sensation. The shave was closer and I realized that for someone who has been shaving for about 20 years, this isn't rocket science.

On the third day, I switched from the free blade that came with the Lord razor and loaded up the ninja sword from Feather. I noticed a big difference and even went against the grain on my third pass. It made for a very smooth shave, and while I did nick myself, I wasn't a bloody mess when I was done.

Granted, this process is slow and time-consuming and a little tricky before that first cup of coffee. So far, I still shave better with my Gillette Fusion, but something feels very John Wayne / Don Draper dragging a razor blade across my muzzle. I imagine that every component matters, and while I have good shaving cream and great blades, the cheapo brush and razor may be holding me back. Perhaps in time I'll upgrade to the $35 Merkur from Germany that the pros rave about.

Like any new endeavor, I expect I will continue to improve in both speed and accuracy, though I don't expect shaving to become a hobby like it is for those guys on YouTube. I find that sort of weird.

And, when I'm in a hurry, I expect to default back to that expensive cartridge razor hanging in my shower. But at least now I know that those pricey blades will last much, much longer as I learn how to shave like my grandfather did.

Which is pretty cool, even if it does make me a little late for work.

Talkbacks

mantic59 | Nov. 4, 2010 at 3:39 p.m. (report)

35795 Thanks for the shout-out to my videos! By the way, I was born & raised in Oconomowoc!

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greatguy | Nov. 3, 2010 at 9:02 p.m. (report)

Wish all men who want to know how to shave could read this wonderful tip so that they would know that wet shaving is just as easy as 1-2-3! Thanks for sharing.

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squareinch | Oct. 27, 2010 at 3:41 p.m. (report)

35509 Great insight, really enjoyed reading it!
thank you

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