"Holmes, what in the name of everything holy are you doing?" snapped Dr. Watson as he closed the door to the sitting room of the apartment 17 steps up off 221B Baker Street, London.
"Elementary, my dear Watson," droned Sherlock Holmes, eccentric detective extraordinaire, "I am testing the properties of shaving soap." Briskly, Holmes was clanging a badger hair shaving brush in an apothecary cup flinging creamy white shaving lather in all directions.
"You are making quite a mess of it," spat Watson as he settled into a wing back chair next to the fire as far from the lather spray as possible.
"Quite the contrary," piped Holmes. "This particular soap requires just the right amount of water at precisely the correct time to produce a lather that lands and maintains a puffy mound like that one," pointing to a glob of lather five feet from Watson's right toe, "whereas another lather like that one," pointing the stem of his pipe towards a bubbly splatter seven feet slightly to the right of Dr. Watson's left shoe, "is completely lacking in the proper confirmation of a shaving lather. It is indeed not a shaving soap but a woman's perfumed soap. Totally unsuited for a proper man's shave. Observation, experimentation and reason, Dr. Watson"
We won't go further with the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in the mystery of the shaving soap, but as many situations encountered by the curious deductive reasoning detective, observations and experimentation often played a role in identifying the clues to the "game" that was afoot. Sherlock Holmes schooled himself on may topics becoming an expert in order to uncover the true nature of his surroundings and subsequently solve crimes and capturing the criminal. Our journey in discovering the our best shave often requires similar skills and patience.
When I began my journey in traditional wet shaving I knew very little about the process, the products, the equipment, or the culture of the shave groups and forums. It was a very daunting experience. I didn't know anything but I needed to know a lot more and didn't know how to obtain that knowledge. What did I do? I proceeded like a curious detective.
So what does a shaving detective or in my case a "Mad Scientist" do when exploring the world of traditional wet shaving? First thing I did was to head to the library. A library today is as close as our computer search engine. I Google searched different words and terms and found a variety of things: videos, blogs, shave groups and forums, advertisements, old books, etc.. This is the first step in learning. Finding out some basic information helped tremendously. I could then interact in the shave groups and when I ran across a word or phrase I didn't know, I first did a Google search. If that didn't help only then did I ask the "newbie" question.
The next major thing I did was watch videos...dozens and dozens of videos about shaving. I watched the different shaving techniques and the different products. When I came across a product I was unfamiliar with I did a search. If that didn't help I again asked the "newbie" questions. But more than anything else I watched and read and listened to the SOTD (shaves of the day) postings and the comments and banter that followed. It was quite a while before I really joined into the conversations much. This was the next major crucial element of being in a shaving group...you must understand both the written (if there are any) and unwritten rules. This involves observation and patience.
I see so many new members of shaving groups fumbling and bumbling around desperately trying to fit in, but they have not spent the time learning the cultural environment. Who in his right mind would go into a strange neighborhood and walk into a neighborhood bar or pub and start striking up conversations and throwing around jokes and jibs without first knowing what the cultural rules are for that location. Same thing applies to shaving groups. If you don't respect the unwritten rules and break the cultural taboos you won't make friends but alienate yourself from everyone except fellow new group members who probably know little more than you do.
Shaving groups and forums are wonderful places to gain fantastic friends and learn a truck load of information about traditional wet shaving, I learn something new almost every day. Nevertheless, I must interact appropriately to gain that information. A shave group is not an extension of the larger Facebook and YouTube posting and commenting world. Shave groups are more like corner barbershops or pubs. You must show proper decorum, respect, and earn entry to the group by appropriate polite actions. Only later, once you have gained entry as a regular poster and comment maker can you get by with wise cracks and jokes.
Now, you are totally overwhelmed with the waves and waves of new products, razor blades, razors, after shaves, balms, colognes, soaps, creams.... What do you do now? Take a deep breath, hug yourself, take another deep breath and try and be patient.
By this time you have probably gotten a few products...usually those available in your home town area...if you are so lucky. Maybe you had to order a few things from the internet. Regardless, you are doing some shaves with traditional wet shaving products. If you like those products, look for other SOTD postings with those products. If you find someone else that likes those same products there is someone you remember, take note of and possibly start talking to about that product. In time they will use other products and if they like them, those are the products to start observing to determine if they are candidates for your future purchases. Again...take it slow. Only try one new product at a time. Do your homework about it before buying.
If you haven't gotten in a full 30-60 days of shaves with the same kit or set of products (razor, blades, soap/cream, brush, aftershave, balm) it is only by using those products over time that you can truly say that you understand how they work for you. One try with a product is not adequate. You are in training and that training is crucial to you knowing your face and your needs. Without this basic knowledge and understanding you will waste precious time, money and probably blood on products and equipment that are not suited to your needs.
Acquisition Disorders abound and are quicksand that can get you drown very easily if you aren't cautious and patient. The products you like as a new traditional shaver will change as you become more experienced and more knowledgeable about your face and beard. The products that rip your face apart in the first few months could be products you love at a later time once your shaving muscles have matured...developed muscle memory and you are in proper "shaving condition".
YMMV...Your Mileage May Vary is a very true axiom and tenet of traditional wet shaving. What works for you may not work the same way for me. Even though you will probably come to despise seeing it in comments...it is our reality. Consequently, also don't discount a product or instrument because some else hates it.
In time you will learn which men are "shaving soul mates" to you and those individuals who have polar opposite tastes and needs than you have when it comes to hardware (equipment) and software (products). When one of your "Shave Mates" tries a new product and likes it, then that is a very good clue that you will like it too and vice versa.
Surfing the boards (shaving groups and forums) can be great fun and wonderful places to gain friends and information. With patience and following some basic courtesies and rules you will have no problems.
Excerpt from The Case of the Misplaiced Barrow by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
We were about to leave when I happened to glance at Holmes. To my surprise he had not shaved; whilst he may ignore the need to eat when engaged with a case, he maintains his appearance unless under the most extreme of pressures. “Holmes, you appear to have forgotten to shave this morning.”
It sounded like a growl had emanated from his throat.
“Mrs Hudson has moved my shaving brush.”
“I hesitate to believe that. Wait, the badger hair brush with the silver handle?”
I returned to our sitting room and re-appeared thirty seconds later with the brush in my hand. “You put it behind the skull after Lestrade called round yesterday morning. You had used it to demonstrate the differences that could be detected when a variety of brushes were employed. I shall return Mrs Hudson’s pastry brush to her on our way downstairs.”
Holmes accepted the shaving brush with a slight movement of his lips. This was all the acknowledgement I would receive, but he appreciated the humour of the situation. I must admit that my main reason for remembering the location was that I had been concerned that if Holmes had Mrs Hudson’s pastry brush we would not be having a meat pie for a while.