Cutting It Close

December 29, 2014

For Christmas this year, I asked for and received a gift that might seem a bit strange or, well, boring: a Merkur Long Handled Safety Razor. I was actually pretty damn excited to get it, too. This was not like a scene out of some clichéd Christmas movie where the father gets a novelty tie because he’s boring and no one knew what else to get. I really wanted this thing. But why? What follows are my reasons for wanting to try using a safety razor as well as the experience of my first shave. I will not be going into great detail about the intricacies of shaving technique and what not. There is plenty to read elsewhere.

Why Bother?

Facial hair barely registers as a concern for me most of the time. My cheeks and mustache still grow in fairly blonde, so they aren’t easily noticeable. My neck and jawline grow in much darker, but I look decent with a couple of days of stubble. Compared to lots of guys, my facial does not grow in terribly fast. Even when I was working in an office setting I only shaved twice a week.

So why do this at all? Well, the simplest reason was ‘why not?’ But I have more specific ones, and they are are threefold.

 It’s cheaper! Like, a lot cheaper.

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My new toy

On a practical basis using safety razors is exponentially cheaper over the long haul when compared to those overpriced SUV razors with six blades, a gel strip, weird vibrating motors, and nitro boosters (I assume). As of today, December 29th, 2014, Amazon is selling a 15 pack of Gillete Mach3 cartridges for about $34. It’s been some time since I’ve purchased these kinds of blades, but this seems like a decent price for what is not even remotely the top of the line product. The Gillette ProGlide Fusion is about the same price for just 8 cartridges, for example. I know that Gillette blades are more expensive than other cartridge brands, but they are also generally better regarded as far as quality as well.

By contrast, a box of 100 Persona Double Edge blades goes for a little over $13 right now. These are inexpensive even by safety razor standards, but they are pretty well-liked. And holy buckets! That’s $0.13/blade versus $2.27/blade, an almost 17.5x per blade price difference compared to the Mach3.

Another way of looking at that would be that, all other things equal, a Mach3 blade would have to last about 17.5x longer than the Persona to match the value. Mileage per blade obviously varies based on how frequently you shave, the coarseness of your beard, and your tolerance for how well a blade performs. Still, according to an article in Fortune from a couple of years ago, Mach3 blades last about 5 weeks. Shaving101.com says a  double-edge safety razor ought to last at least three shaves. Do whatever conversions between weeks and number of shaves you want, but it’s pretty clear the safety razors win on price.

It’s more effective! Which really only matters if you care, and I do.

Right now it’s almost 12:30PM, and I’m typing this while sitting on the floor in my living room in the clothes that I slept in. Sorry ladies, I’m taken.

I am doing this because I can, but despite the rather pathetic image I am legitimately interested in good grooming. I like to clean up pretty well when I can be arsed to leave home. The idea of using an old school safety razor appealed to me for that reason. The consensus across the internet – yes, consensus is possible online but only on silly things like this – is that once you get the hang of it, you’ll get a better quality shave with less irritation. I have the unfortunate combination of somewhat coarse facial hair on my neck, and somewhat wimpy, sensitive skin (again, my neck mainly). To date, my shaving habits have been terrible. I buy cheap blades and drag them across my face with the all the grace of an Amazonian traveler hacking through the underbrush with a machete. The result is pretty frequent razor burn, ingrown hairs and other unpleasantries.

The possibility of getting a better result for less money holds limitless appeal to my efficiency-maximizing brain. Would you buy, say, a dishwasher that cost more and cleaned your dishes less effectively than a cheaper one that worked better? Of course not. Well, you might, but I don’t know you. You might be an idiot for all I know. You’re not an idiot, are you?

It just seemed sort of cool

I no longer recall exactly when I became interested in traditional wet shaving. Over the last few years, I’ve paid more attention to men’s fashion, grooming and design in general. This felt entirely organic to me. It seemed like part of maturing into adult manhood as well as an acknowledgement that these things had always interested me to some extent. I just became more willing to admit it.

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This is what a real man uses to shave.

I have been quite surprised to learn that my interest in “traditional” grooming methods and other “manly” things may be a result of my creeping dread that historical indicators of masculinity are disappearing. There certainly seem to be a lot of articles and think pieces written on the subject, anyway.

I mean, maybe, I guess? I just though it might be a cool and good skill to have and would save money. Also, I like well-made things that last and dislike things that feel cheap and disposable. I’m sure that says a bunch of other things about me and WHAT IT ALL MEANS.

Bottom line, I was stoked to get the razor and was excited to give the thing a try.

The Shave

Because I am a scared and weak man who has never had to do hard things*, I approached my first shave with trepidation. I was pretty sure I’d hack my face to bits and bleed out into the bathroom sink. My wife informed me that she would be of little help if that should happen, and past experience with a knife accident supported this. I waited until she was gone.

I had watched one or two “how to” videos and scanned a few blog posts for guidelines on the process. For me, written instructions were more useful. Watching someone shave is remarkably boring. In the end I mostly jumped into trying it out, ignoring most recommendations and just lathering up and going for it. By far the most helpful tip was the following, taken from the Art of Manliness post “Learn How to Shave Like Your Grandpa.”

Angling your razor is probably the trickiest part. The proper angle is somewhere between 30 and 45 degrees. To get the proper razor angle, put the top of the razor head directly on your cheek, with the handle parallel with the floor. Now slowly lower the handle until the blade can cut your whisker. Practice on your arm if you’re not comfortable practicing on your face.

Anytime I thought I was about to hack into my cheek meat, I just lifted the blade and restarted using this method. This helped me to slow down after years of bad shaving habits. After only a few minutes I felt like I had the basic motion and positioning down. Not much longer after that and the process felt entirely natural, like I had been doing it for years. I’ll undoubtedly get faster and more confident over time, but the learning curve was MUCH smaller than I thought it might be.

The Results

53HI have a luxury right now, one I may not always have: the luxury of time. I have no children, and I work on my own schedule. I do not have to be in an office thirty minutes from home by 8AM. I do not have to shepherd kids out the door after trying to get them to eat breakfast or into the bathtub after dinner. I don’t have a zillion other things getting in the way of shaving taking longer than it ever has before.

Safety razor shaving simply takes longer. With the crappy cartridge razors I have used for most of my shaving life, I could get away with going too quickly even if I paid for it with razor burn and ingrown hairs. Going too fast with a double-edged safety razor will lead to a crappy shave and a lot more nicks.

I raise the concern about the time it takes because it is the only reason I can imagine not making this my permanent method of shaving. This was a better quality shave than I’ve ever gotten before and with no irritation. I did not cut myself at all, owing in party to my caution as a newbie, but also because it’s not that hard to avoid if you take your time. The dark side of getting more confident is that I will eventually get more careless as well. I’m not worried about this at all, for what it’s worth. I also love knowing that this will cost a lot less money over the long haul. It’s a clear win in my book for these reasons alone.

Beyond those things, I found I did enjoy the process. The razor felt great in my hand. It’s substantial and strong, well-balanced and comfortable. As I hinted above, I like simple products that are made well and last a long time. If I take the minimum proper care of my razor, there’s no reason it can’t last the rest of my lifetime and beyond. At least the thing feels like it’s that good. I look forward to finding out.

Perhaps I’ll get lazy and lose interest. Maybe this is just a personal fad, and I’ll decide the perceived convenience of cartridge razors is worth the added cost. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve thought I was really into something and then apathy took root instead. But I think not. My frugalness tends to trump a lot of my more negative habits, and I do legitimately love owning high quality tools.

Plus, adding traditional wet shaving to my list of skills allows me to reassert my traditional masculinity in a world that no longer values it, restoring my sense of self as a true man. Maybe it’s that.


*Exaggerated for effect, of course, but entirely untrue.

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