You've finally made the decision. You are sick and tired of paying exorbitant prices for multi-blade cartridge razor blades, weary of the ingrown hairs, razor bumps and constant irritation. Possibly you have been an electric razor user. You occasionally get a close shave but it isn't very often, the replacement blades cost almost as much as a new razor and if you run the razor over your trouble spots too long there's irritation. You've had enough and want something new that works. Maybe you have watched a few videos online about traditional safety razors or been told by your dermatologist that a single or no more than two blade razor is the best way to prevent bumps, irritation or ingrowns. You've read a few blogs and articles, but don't have a clue what to do next.
You're at least in a good place. There are several other articles in this blog that can help, in addition to dozens of videos available here and on my YouTube Channel "FutrNovlst" in addition to all the others out there on the internet such as Mantic59.
But you've decided. You've searched amazon for possible new razors and have no idea which one is right for you. Possibly you have found some online stores and again, no real guidance in what to choose. There are starter kits available, but it all is so confusing and you don't have the funds to just waste on hundreds of dollars of shaving gear that you don't know whether or not will solve your problems. There are a few locations in the Mall like Art of Shaving and L'Occitane but everything's so expensive and confusing.
First Step: Learn about and buy some basic lathering gear and possibly some shave preparation products There are scores of razors to choose from but buying a razor isn't your first task. None of them will provide for you a comfortable shave without proper pre-shave preparation of your face and beard. The beginning step is simply soap and water.
You already have the basic equipment in your home. A wash cloth, a bar of good soap and warm water. Studies have been conducted by dermatologists and grooming product companies for decades and it has been found that a small percentage of men even wash their faces prior to shaving. Of course for years when I used an electric razor if I washed my face prior to shaving it caused problems. If the oils were removed first the electric razor heads just didn't slide well over my face. I often applied talcum powder on my face prior to using my electric razor to create some glide. Electric pre-shave worked and it left a little oily residue on my skin to provide the slickness needed for a comfortable electric shave.
I found a book that was published in 1905 called "Shaving Made Easy - What A Man Who Shaves Ought to Know". This book opened my eyes to the simplicity of shaving preparation and just what the lather does during a shave.
Link to Pdf of Shaving Made Easy:
The anonymous author of Shaving Made Easy describes a simple routine of washing the face with soap and water prior to shaving. The chemicals in the soap essentially strips off the outer protective covering of the hair follicle and allows it to open up and accept water, which caused the whisker to open up, become engulfed with water, swelling up which allows it to be cut easier by a sharp blade.
The second step after washing the face is to build a shaving lather with a proper shaving soap utilizing a shaving brush. The author recommends a badger brush, but a boar, horse or synthetic fiber brush will work just as well. You then apply the lather to the face and rub it in with the tips of the fingers allowing it to set there for a couple of minutes to further react with the protective oils of the whiskers, causing them to spread and open so water can enter the hair follicle. Another method used by barbers for decades has been to apply a hot towel over the massaged in lather and allow it to further moisten with steam from the towel penetrating the whiskers. The towel is removed and lather re-applied with the brush just prior to putting razor to whisker.
I can hear you asking, "But what soap can I use?" Well you need a soap that is well suited to washing/reacting with the oils produced in the hair folicle to protect it and remove them. In the United States there aren't many lathering shaving creams available but there are a couple of good shaving soaps: Williams Mug Soap and Van Der Hagen Shaving Soap.
They can be found in many independent grocery and drug stores and some general department stores and they are very inexpensive; usually less than a 2-3 bucks a puck. Brushes are a little more difficult to come by these days "in the wild" of brick and mortar stores but Van Der Hagen does offer a starter kit and there are other boar and badger brushes still sold outside of specialty stores. Some barber and beauty supply stores still carry them in addition to grocery, drug and department stores.
You don't have to go expensive to start and I recommend not dropping huge bucks until you have more experience and knowledge of a brush or a razor. In Europe there are a few more plentiful offerings for soaps, creams and basic brushes. Boots Chemists shops still carry basic equipment and they carry a great soap and other products like Palmolive soap and cream, Ingram's and many others.
Just a Few of the Available Types of Traditional Shaving Creams
If possible I recommend new shavers to try and find a shave cream that lathers, not the "brushless" type, when starting out using a shave brush. It is easier to make a good lather with a cream versus a hard soap, but soaps aren't difficult either. It's just that sometimes starting out you don't quite understand completely how to do it and some soaps, particularly if you purchase an artisan type soap from a local home based vendor. Artisan soaps at times are more difficult to get a good lather produced and you have to learn how to "dial" in the right combination of adding water during the lather building process. Also many soaps are available in shave sticks, which are great ways to try out a particular type of soap, it being a smaller amount of the soap in stick form. These are generally soaked prior to rubbing them on the face and face lathering. Can be very easy, but some guys have problems starting out this way. Shave creams are a good starting point and allows you to easily experiment with face lathering and bowl lathering. In time you will develop a preference of technique, but it takes time.
Boar and Badger shaving brushes do have a breaking in period and it varies greatly from one brush to the next. Badger brushes take the least amount of time. Boar brushes take longer and are much stiffer and prickly and "scritchy" on the face until fully broken in and the fiber tips split after being used and dried over a couple of weeks of regular use.
If you have been wet shaving with a multi-blade razor you can begin using traditional shave brush and lathering until your double edge razor is purchased and delivered. You will be amazed at the difference the "old style" preparation and lathering techniques alone deliver a better shave even with multi-blade equipment.
Selecting your first DE razor is a daunting consideration, but don't belabor it. I advise to not spend more than about $30-$50 tops, but it wouldn't hurt to go even cheaper if you can. Most inexpensive razors are mild shavers and mild is good for a beginner. There are many inexpensive razors available for $15-$30. Granted they won't be of the highest quality but very functional; you may never need to step up to a more expensive razor. Many wet shavers eventually do but starting out it will get you by until you have learned a bit more and better understand exactly what you want in a razor. Now if you are lucky to have an old vintage double or single edge or injector razor hidden in a drawer that belonged to a relative and is no longer being used, then all you need are the appropriate blades, a little clean up and you are ready to shave. That's how I started, using my father's Gillette Slim Adjustable.
Parker and Edwin Jagger are excellent first choice razors. Online Maggard Razors offer very good inexpensive options, Italian Barber has one of my favortite the RazoRock Jaws which is an open comb razor that is more aggressive plus many other online merchants. Brands such as Matador, Cadet, Pearl, Weishi and Sabi are good inexpensive options with some being better than others. A Twist to Open design (TTO) is probably the easiest to operate but a three piece designed razor isn't rocket science either. You are going to have to do some research and probably ask some questions. If you read this blog and have questions, leave a comment and I will help if I can. Doing some online searches and observing and asking questions on shaving boards, groups and forums can help too. Another blog article here: WALKING OUT OF THE SHAVING FOG WITH HOLMES & WATSON...HOW TO DEDUCE YOUR WAY TO SHAVING KNOWLEDGE AND NAVIGATING ONLINE SHAVE GROUPS can give you some pointers on these beginning knowledge acquisition processes.
Once you have gotten a cream or soap, a brush and a basic inexpensive razor it is time to start shaving. Go slow at first. The key thing to remember is that using a traditional DE safety razor is gradual beard reduction with a 3 or 4 pass technique, meaning do not use any pressure with the razor and blade against your skin. Let the tools do the work and the weight of the razor and the sharpness of the blade will cut the whiskers. Mantic59 has some very good basic technique videos on YouTube. My videos are less on technique but can also provide some examples from which to get in the proper mindset. If you have been using a multi-blade cartridge razor there are two things to keep in mind. You had to apply pressure because the razor is light and doesn't work unless significant pressure is applied and secondly, the head swivels and the angle decisions are made for you. Using a DE razor requires you maintaining the correct angle of the blade against the skin.
Now in the beginning phase of getting your first shaving kit or set up you will be exposed to a much wider array of shaving products. You will be tempted to get as many of them as you can. This is called "Acquisition Disorder". You become a shave product and gear shopaholic if you aren't careful. Resist the temptation. Use your basic set up for 30 to 60 days without adding any other products. The only thing you may need to do a little experimentation with is the type of blades you use. Some blades work well for some people and do not work at all for others. A particular blade can work well with one razor and terribly with another. A sampler pack of razor blades may be necessary for you to find your first "go to blades". In time you will probably find at least a half dozen blades that generally work well for you. Once you find a blade that feels comfortable for you most of the time, stick with using that type of blade and use no other for at least 30-60 days.
It takes using one razor and one set up of products for multiple days in a row for your "shaving muscles" to be honed and conditioned. You have to get in proper shaving shape. The muscle memory you create will help you get "in the groove" and produce good shaves day after day. You won't have to think about it as much and you will just be doing it. It isn't that much different than learning to ride a bike. At first you are very shakey and uncertain and you fall all the time. When you begin shaving the traditional way you will have irritations and nicks and weepers...that is normal. Don't worry about it, keep going. In time things will improve and before you know it you will be riding the shaving bike down the hill without falling and scraping your knees (face). Your muscle memory will be grooved and the pressure and angle will become automatic for you. Then you can begin exploring other products one at a time until you find the ones you prefer and work best for you. YMMV - Your Mileage May Vary applies at all times. What works for you may or may not work for someone else, beyond the basics. Some things generally work for everyone. Later when you start exploring and things go bad you can then return to the basics...the tried...the true products and methods and you will recover and usually understand what went wrong when you changed things up.
Below are some videos in the order I think are most beneficial for the beginning shaver that can help you as you begin your journey in traditional wet shaving. Good luck and welcome to the wonderful world of traditional wet shaving...it's a good place to be.
Good Shaves, Be Happy, Be Safe
Let's Talk About Pre Shave and Post Shave Routines
Answers For Those Curious About Traditional Wet Shaving
Stirling Shaving Soap Lathering Demo & Gillette Old Style OC Razor
SOME SECRETS, MYSTERIES AND WISDOM LEARNED ABOUT TRADITIONAL WET SHAVING...AND LIFE
First Real Straight Razor Shave plus a review of the book, Shaving Made Easy, circa 1905
A Serious Discussion About Hot vs Cold Water Shaving & YMMV Plus Conditioning A Boar Brush
How to Make Your Own Homemade Shaving Products
Open Comb vs Straight (Solid) Bar Razors & Personna 74 Blade Test Shave No 23
A TRIP TO THE PAST IN WET SHAVING