Not What I Expected



December 31
Still above ground.


AUGUST 26, 2010 7:16PM

The Good Life: Shaving

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Why hasn't he shaved?

-- Tom Hanks as Charlie Wilson, talking about Dan Rather in Afghanistan, in Charlie Wilson's War

I suppose most men at some time or other have had to shave, and I think most see it at best as a bothersome chore. How many beards are grown more from a dislike of shaving than for aesthetic reasons?  There is a web page devoted to the history of shaving, from prehistoric times to the Quick Shave razor of 2003.

 The last forty years has seen a number of technological chanages in shaving:  disposable razors, razors with two blades, three blades, and now five blades.  Some have speculated that if current mathematical trends continue razors of the future may have 20 blades!

And of course there are the electric razors, all the way from simple beard trimmers to exotic self-cleaning models with tanks of cleaning fluid that have to be replaced.

And in addition to that there is shaving cream of all kinds, disposable cans of lather, gel that turns into lather, and so on.

I think it is fair to say that in recent decades the history of shaving has been largely the history of the marketing of disposable shaving products.  A visitor from another planet might conclude that shaving has more to do with generating trash than cutting hair, with neither being very pleasant. 

I never paid much attention to shaving.  I bought whatever disposables were on sale at the store and dragged the damned things across my face.  And then recently I found my father's old Gillette safety razor.

 People accuse me of never throwing anything away, and they are correct.  Thus it was no surprise that my father's razor would appear, thirty-four years after he passed away.

Double-edge safety razors are no longer manufactured in the U.S., but are available on the internet.  They are also available used on Ebay, in antique stores, and at estate sales. 

Under the assumption that anything that can be collected is collected, and that anything that is collected will show up on the internet, I did a little research on the razor and discovered that it was manufactured in the early 1950s, around the time when I was born.  Though almost sixty years old the razor was in excellent condition.  I decided to try it out.

But first I needed double-edge razor blades, and I had no idea if they were still available.  It turns out that they are, $3.00 for a ten-pack at the local grocery store.

My first shave was . . . terrific.  With a safety razor the weight of the razor itself does the job, and almost no additional pressure is required.  

Further research on the internet revealed, to my surprise, that for some men shaving is a almost  a personal religious ritual, a spiritual journey in search of "BBS" -- Baby Bottom Smooth shaves.  I decided to join the religion.

The first thing was to purchase a shaving brush.  There are many grades of brushes.  At the low end are those made with artificial bristles.  Up from that are brushes with boar bristles.  A step up from those finds "pure badger" bristles.  Another step up involves "best badger" bristles, taken from a different part of the badger.  And at the top of the shaving brush  taxonomy are brushes with "silvertip" badger bristles, often going for $100 or more.  I settled for "best badger" grade.


I then added a tube of Proraso shaving cream, from Italy, in addition to Proraso after-shave lotion and after-shave splash.  A silver nut bowl was pressed into service as a shaving bowl, used to combine the shave cream and hot water.  

And in a fit of religious devotion I made my own pre-shave oil, mixing grape seed oil, glycerin, and eucalyptus, rosemary, and lemon essential oils.  You know you've become a fanatic when you start mixing your own pre-shave oil.  Completing the pre-shave experience is Jack Black facial wash, a mild soap that does not dry the skin.

Using the above with copious quantities of hot and cold water at appropriate times results in a shave that is remarkable, both for smoothness and lack of skin irritation.   The post-shave lotion completes the process by remoisturizing the skin, and the after-shave splash, applied after I rinse the sink and the various utensils, refreshes, and supplies a pleasant but subtle and short-lasting scent.

For those of you who wish to accompany me on the profound journey to the Baby Bottom Smooth shave, I offer the following resources.  I have no connection to these companies and sources other than as a satisfied customer and reader:

Classic Shaving 

 Lee's Razors

 Vintage Blades


 Em's Place


Badger and Blade 

News Flash!  Check out Matt Paust's new post on shaving:  Close Shave

 This is the second in a series that I call "the good life."  It is about things, experiences, and people that I enjoy.  The first post, about haircuts, you can read here.

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I'm going to look around the house and see if I can come up with one of my old double edge razors. You're correct; the weight took care of the pressure needed. I like that there is only one edge per side. These new fangled 3 and 5 blades stacked are just plain goofy.
I found this so interesting. I can't help but wonder what went through your mind as you were shaving with your Dad' shaver....knowing that he had used it 34 years ago. This was interesting to me: "My first shave was . . . terrific. With a safety razor the weight of the razor itself does the job, and almost no additional pressure is required." I would never have thought about the weight of the razor making a difference.
did you encounter the tip in your research that a nice way to extend the life of the razor blades is to flip the blade from top to bottom in the safety razor after each use? Something I learned from an elderly gentleman in 1969.
Yes, the weight of the razor makes a big difference. it's like the difference between writing with a fountain pen and a ball point pen. With a fountain pen the ink flows on to the paper. With a ball point pen you have push the tip of the pen into the paper. Using a ball point pen is more work, and tires the hand sooner.

The more additional pressure you use in shaving the more likely it is that you will suffer from skin irritation, or "razor burn," as they call it. With an inferior razor you end up with a worse shave, more irritation, or both.
Yes, I do flip the blade each time -- which is easy to do since I rinse the razor every time when I'm done, and take the blade out to do that. And that's another nice thing about a safety razor, especially the "butterfly" style; the whole thing opens up and rinses clean in an instant, unlike many of the disposables that tend to clog after each use.
Ah, very nice. If you're going to do something, do it well. I remember seeing my father's old-fashioned safety razor and thinking it was very cool. I didn't have to start shaving until I was in college, if then--I'd have thought I was too old to pick up an appreciation for the activity. Maybe, some day. For now, it's as you say:

I think most see it at best as a bothersome chore.

I use an electric every few days, not worrying about the stubble in between. I should thank a couple of decades' worth of male celebrities who made the look fashionable.
My father had that exact same razor, so your photo brought back memories. Since this is the second post on shaving I've seen here today, I'll repeat my comment from there. My husband just grew his beard out for two weeks recently, and the shave off was a challenge, not to be met by his electric razor. I determined to buy the best safety razor I could (these days, it's complicated) and shaved it off myself. It was one heck of a baby bottom shave.
I started my post a couple of weeks ago and then kind of forgot about it. When I saw Matt's post I became inspired to finish mine. Thus the odd coincidence of two shaving posts on the same day.
shaving, I hate it, though I can appreciate the satisfaction generated by its ritual aspects and enjoyed your survey of the classic tools, making your own pre-shave oil, now that's a righteous commitment to right action
When I first made the pre-shave oil I used a little too much eucalyptus oil. The effect was sort of like being hit with tear gas. I had to add more grape seed oil so as to "tame" the final product.

Currently I only have a mustache. I tried shaving it off once, but everyone said "grow it back, please grow it back." I concluded that there must be something reprehensible about my upper lip, but I don't know what.
I think it's very nice that you've found a way to enjoy the process. A meditation, really. To a man, every guy I know HATES shaving.
I have to admit to a flair for combining simplicity with technology for a smooth, irritation-free shave. Of course y'alls get razor burn and bumps like us's, but there are often certain peculiarities to black skin/hair that dictate how we do the shaving thing. Namely that is a propensity (because of curly, stiffer hair) for ingrown hair and bumps. Any way, my mantra follows:

1-Hot water or hot wet towel to soften the hair before cutting

2-My favorite lube and cutting aid is my homemade soap. Particularly the shea butter bar I make. My brother (who shaves more than I) is enthralled with it.

3-Not to rain on your nostalgia parade, but I am a fan of the 5-blade Gillette. Yes, I wish it had more weight for the same reason a heavier stick shift knob is preferable. And the design aesthetics leave much to be desired, but the overall function is nice. Unfortunately I feel the blades dull to quickly, which may be a consequence of ultra-thin, perhaps ultra-cheap steel.

4-Post shave treatment consists mainly of tons of cold water to close pores. I'm not a fan of the alcohol-based aftershaves. But a nice lotion, something with coconut or shea does the trick.
I shave in the shower. Just thought I'd share.
And yes, I enjoy it.