One of the cooler side benefits of writing for a magazine with the reach and circulation of OnMilwaukee.com is that in addition to our Milwaukee readers, our work is sometimes discovered by interested parties who live nowhere close to us.
So, when I blogged about my first experiences with "wetshaving," that is, the old-fashioned art of shaving one's face with a double-edged safety razor and badger-hair brush -- several experts in the field took note.
Fortunately for me, those experts included the proprietors of and representatives from ClassicShaving.com, West Coast Shaving and The Art of Shaving, all of who noticed that my early stumbling blocks were probably resulting from a combination of inadequate hardware and unpolished technique.
Yes, I called my first blog entry a "warm endorsement of wet shaving," but I should've called it luke-warm, at best. Using the most entry-level of tools, I was cutting my face up way too much those first few weeks and not getting a particularly close shave.
Sure, I had freed myself from the bonds of those $6 multi-blade razors, but at the expense of a raw and red face. (Read my first blog here, if at this point, you're wondering what I'm talking about.)
My tune changed quickly, though, when a slew of high-end tools began arriving in the mail. Between these three companies, I received a new razor, two badger-hair brushes and several tubs of shaving cream. All of a sudden, my bathroom looked more like a barber shop, and I knew it was time to donate my face to shaving science.
On my end, I studied the techniques from the masters at BadgerAndBlade.com. Geeky as it sounds, I actually find myself looking forward to shaving every day now. My skin looks and feels better, and there's something soothing about spending a few extra minutes pampering yourself.
Here's what I'm working with:
Shaving brushes: I'm currently rotating between the two sent to me, a model from Rooney and one from Edwin Jagger. The Edwin Jagger brush is a little smaller, and perhaps a bit softer, but both are heads-and-shoulders better than the cheap, synthetic brush I started with (because I was honestly a bit grossed out with the idea of rubbing a badger on my face).
Jason SaintJohn at ClassicShaving.com explains that a good brush makes all the difference.
"A bad badger brush feels so much better than a synthetic brush," says SaintJohn. "99 percent of synthetic brushes are made from extruded nylon circles; this is stiff and doesn't hold water ... Badger is just the only way to go. They have tried, beaver, fox, horse and everything else. None will hold water or shake out after as well."
Pre-shave oils: The pros are somewhat split on whether this stuff is even necessary, but I'm using a small vial from The Art of Shaving that was sent to me, and one from Anthony Logistics that I bought. Both seem to make the razor glide a bit better, but the effect doesn't seem to be dramatic.
Shaving creams: Three different creams were mailed to me, and my sensitive face loves each of them. The tub of Taylor of Old Bond has a subtle scent, while the ClassicShaving.com proprietary blend and The Art of Shaving creams are completely unscented. They each lather differently but all work so much better than those cans of metallic goo I'm used to -- and, they're so much more gentle than the Proraso/Bigelow cream that I first tried.
"The menthol/eucalyptus in the tube is a bit harsh for my skin also," says SaintJohn. "I tend toward things that are more natural and more for sensitive skin."
Razor: After my first shave with the Edwin Jagger DE89, I immediately got rid of my $9 LORD razor. Short, stubby and plated in polished chrome, the Edwin Jagger feels so heavy and substantial. Instantly, my shaves become smoother and less irritated. I can't pinpoint why, but a $30 investment in the razor, itself, is money well spent.
"The razor head geometry controls how a razor performs," explains John Koontz from West Coast Shaving. "All DE razors will accept a DE blade, but they do not have identical blade angles, blade gaps, safety bars, etc ... You need to have the correct angle and blade gap to get a great shave. However, your results do not mean Edwin Jagger is a better razor. It just means it's a better razor for you.
Blades: I'm still using the crazy-sharp Japanese double-edged blades from Feather. That's the only "control" in this before-and-after experiment. I haven't ruled out trying a different brand, and in fact, I'm pondering taking a step back from the ninja-sword sharpness of the Feather.
Koontz agrees. "I started with Feather blades years ago and survived, but I would not recommend them for someone just starting out with safety razors. They are extremely sharp and not very forgiving."
Aftershave: This is the one ingredient that has given me the most trouble, as every alcohol-based balm I've tried stings like nobody's business and leaves my face red and puffy. ClassicShaving.com sent me their soothing Feather aftershave from Japan, while West Coast Shaving mailed me The Gentlemens Refinery "The Standard." Both have a milky consistency, and I'm alternating between the two. I find the The Gentlemens Refinery to be a little stickier, while the Feather is a little more soothing. Both work, but leave my face a little shiny. I continue to experiment, including adding witch hazel into the equation as a toner. It might be working.
Technique: All the equipment in the world can't compensate for poor technique, so I hit the forum of BadgerandBlade.com and experienced with three different methods, with varying success. One particularly revered technique is called "Kyle's Prep," and it involves invoking an old-fashioned barber three-minute application of steaming hot towels over a layer of shaving cream. On the other end of the spectrum is a theory about cold shaving: instead of using heat to soften the hair and open the pores, using ice-cold water to basically shock your whiskers into submission. Finally, I read about the "four pass method," which suggests if you get a close shave in three passes, you can do better in four.
After a few weeks of experimentation, I find that Kyle's Prep is the most luxurious, while the ice-cold shave, unpleasant as it sounds, is refreshing and leaves my face the least irritated. And the four-pass shave, for me, anyway, is too much.
My takeaway: Something that started as an exercise to save money on shaving my face has turned into some substantial upfront costs. Between what I've spent -- and what's been spent on me -- the tab is well over $100, though it's certainly possible to buy the right equipment and keep the total well under that amount. However, these tools, if cared for, can last a lifetime, and even the best blades on the market are still significantly cheaper than my previous baseline, the Gillette Pro Fusion Power.
Speaking of which, I shaved using my Gillette razor the other day, just to see how it compared. The shave was actually a bit closer and was accomplished in about a third of the time. But it was also a lot less pleasurable. Sort of like driving a stick-shift and an automatic transmission: there are days when you just want to get from point A to point B, then there are days when you want experience the joy of driving.
Which is, a few months into this wet shaving experiment, my experience so far. I'm not great at this sutff -- yet -- but I'm not giving up, either.
Spending far too long in the bathroom and occasionally bleeding all over myself never felt so good.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.