I began a journey in October 2013 that lasted over a month. This journey was with the Personna 74* vintage DE razor blade experiment. I was able to use this one blade for over 30 shaves. I still have not completely retired this single razor blade and plan on using it occasionally in the future just to see if I can find the limit of it's usefulness. Granted the superiority of it's performance declined and leveled off around a dozen shaves into an average shaving workhorse, nevertheless it was still very functional.
One of the things I discovered on this journey is that the Personna 74* razor blade worked best in early 1970's vintage solid (closed comb) bar razors such as the Gillette Super Speeds, Adjustables, and other non-open comb razors. The only open comb razor that worked well with the 74* blade was a Gillette New Long Comb. Of course I did not have the opportunity to use every other style of razor vintage or modern. I found it interesting that modern non-closed comb razors did not like this vintage blade either.
This experienced changed not only how I shaved but how I thought about shaving and showed me how I had been previously so short sighted and arrogant in my application of a daily shaving philosophy and technique. We are indeed quite spoiled in our daily practices. We have variety and choices overflowing and as a result we tend to be ridiculously fickle. By December 2013 my shaving techniques and philosophy had been completely revised.
Pre-74* experiment I routinely binned razor blades after three shaves regardless of their performance. Post-74* if a blade performed well on a third shave I continue to use it. Granted there are still some brands of blades that never get past the three shave limit but many do. I have found that other Personna blades can last easily for five or six shaves and a few others can easily be used consistently for four or five shaves. It is difficult to toss aside the "throw away" mentality that mass marketing propaganda has so effectively conditioned us to obey. But it hasn't been completely the mass marketer's influence. There is a healthy portion of peer pressure involved also. We've seen so many others do the "three and bin" shuffle that falling into the same pattern is psychologically very easy to also follow that lead.
Something else happened that I am just now beginning to understand. Since November 2013 I have again picked up my old favorite razors, many of them open comb in design. They provide excellent shaves and I love them but not to the same extent as pre-74* days. I find myself turning more and more to non-open comb razors and enjoying these shaves much more than before. Previously I experienced traditional non-open comb safety bar razors, particularly the more aggressive types, as an open invitation to nicks and weepers, particularly around my chin where there are ample curves and uneven skin surfaces. I don't have those issues anymore. The Matador Toro Mastiff razor usually always drew blood when used but not anymore. The RazoRock Jaws open comb razor is no longer my favorite and has been replaced by my vintage Dutch made Ginge Razor (a precursor of the Muhle R41 and EJ DE 89 razors in design and function). This change of preference has puzzled me ever since.
Something else happened during my Personna 74* excursion. The 74* did not like the use of pre-shave oils in particular but also chaffed at other types of pre-shave balms. Consequently about the same time I started using the methods presented in the 1905 book, "Shaving Made Easy - What A Man Who Shaves Ought to Know" of using only a good pre-shave face wash with soap and rubbing the shave soap into the beard for a few minutes to condition the whiskers and harden them in preparation to being cleanly shaved. This minimalist philosophy along with the change in razor preference started me to think about shaving habits and techniques.
Slowly, over the subsequent days and weeks this information has percolated in my mind. Over and over again as questions and issue arise when others post questions and problems on the shave forums and groups the issue of habit and simplicity comes to mind. Over complication and over thinking abounds. Many times my responses reflect a "get back to basics" stance. So many times many of us think that using a particular product, razor or blade is the answer to our shaving problems and issues, but so many times the solution lies simply in technique and taking into account the variety of "clues" our face provides yet so often we cannot see the clues for what they are but blame anything except our sloppy skills and techniques. We are held captive by our modern impatience for immediate rewards and expecting miracles from the various "pills and cures" we routinely consume. Far too often the "magic pill" is in the from of some kind of smoke and mirrors embodied in our most recent product and gear purchases.
Even though my uncle didn't know much about what constituted a good traditional wet shave he did know a few things about how to function as a shaving man. One of the things he told me when I first started shaving and I began experimenting with wet shaving and electric razor shaving was that when switching from one type of technique to another that it took a few weeks to "condition" the face to the new method. He purchased for me my first electric razor. I had been using a Trac II type of razor as a 13 year old novice shaver. He presented a brand new Norelco Tripleheader Floating Head Razor to me and said that I wouldn't get a close shave without irritation until I had "trained" my whiskers to the way the electric shaver cut them. He was right. It took a few weeks of daily shaving to end up with a decent result without razor burn and irritation galore. Consequently, he told me that if I decided to go back to "blade shaving", that's what he called it, my beard would have to adjust again. There's some great truth in that concept.
Our practice of switching from one type of razor to another has always been something that I liked about traditional wet shaving. I enjoy the different "feel" of how a DE blade feels after shaving a few days with a SE style razor or an injector and vice versa. Post-74* I have found it more difficult switching from one style of razor to another and achieving a superior shaving experience. Don't get me wrong, it is still very good to shave with my Schick Hydro-Magic Injector or my Gem 1912 or EverReady 1914 or 1924 Shovel Head razors. Nevertheless, the shaves are not as good as when I return to a non-open comb razor like the Maggard MR6, Matador Toro Mastiff, Ginge, or Gillette Heavy Super Speed Red Tip.
By using this particular style of razor for an extended period of time I have effectively conditioned my beard and skin to a particular style of shaving. The use of pre-shaves isn't as effective anymore, unless the environmental conditions are extremely dry or I have for some reason experienced some irritation and skin damage. This "conditioning" that I have experienced isn't a bad thing but simply a situation that I must be cognizant of and realize that my ease of moving from one shaving method to another will not be as smooth and easy as before. Overall, the "excellence" of my shaves are much better now when using a non-open comb DE razor. Previously the level of overall excellence was lower by a notch or two overall and the journey to a completely over the top excellent shave was only sporadic and so much rarer. Now with non-open comb razors and the right blade I can achieve a very superior and easy shave every day.
Knowledge is so important and this knowledge and insight has given me a context from where I can truly evaluate products and gear with my eyes open a bit wider and with my field of vision a little clearer. I can effectively eliminate so many of the extraneous variables that previously clouded things not only in practice and execution but in my mind as well.
So, by not varying my shaving set up and basic technique for over a month I have not only dialed in my muscle memory and basic technique but I have boiled down and refined a methodology (no this isn't anywhere near being a "method shaving" thing) of shaving that has elevated my shaving experience and will allow me to enjoy a wider array of products and created an environment where I can separate the truly excellent products from the only average ones and hopefully immediately recognize the real stinkers when they show up.
I have seen many mentions/posts voicing dissatisfaction with the Gillette 195 Adjustable "Fatboy" razor recently on the shaving forum postings due to so many people being involved in the Fatboy February activities. I have often wondered how much of their dissatisfaction was due to being unfamiliar with the correct techniques of using the Fatboy with it's thicker razor head height and how much is due to not allowing themselves enough "face time" with it to understand how to get the most from it. The adjustable factor is also always challenging with these types of razors. Changing the setting effectively changes the essential characteristics of the razor. The impatient need for instant gratification and easy results many times defeats and chases away a favorable end result in such situations. Common fallout of our current modern lives.
I'm one of the biggest cheerleaders of the connection to the past that traditional wet shaving can accomplish. An inherent problem we modern wet shavers have with truly connecting with the way traditional wet shaving used to be is that we are constantly changing up not only software products but razors and blades. Our fathers and grandfathers generally used a single razor and one brand of blades. Yes, you could say it was boring but brand loyalty was a way of existence 50-60 years ago. This played out in their lives in other ways as well. Men worked for a single company for their lifetime and many never changed jobs once settling in on a career. Today changing jobs regularly is not viewed as being irresponsible and foolish the way it was in the past. Changing products frequently was a foreign concept to most wet shavers prior to the multi-blade revolution of the 1970-80's. Frequently changing our shaving "combo's" may chase away the boredom factor but could be the seed of so much of our dissatisfaction as well.
What I am attempting to say is that frequently changing our shaving gear line up has both benefits and deficits. Many of the "problems" encountered with shaving "failures" probably can be chalked up to the constant changing we normally do and the inability of our beards and skin to have time to adjust to those changes. I'm not advocating doing away with the variety of shave gear that has become the "norm" among modern traditional wet shavers. What I am saying is that we need to be aware of the situation we are creating for ourselves and learn how to better adapt to it.
I don't know how I will progress having "gotten in the groove" of non-open comb shaving as my present dominant mode of shaving. There are many directions I could proceed. I could stay in that groove or progress to create a new "groove" by shaving exclusively with another style of razor for an extended period of time. Now that I realize what has happened I can choose my future pathway. Without that realization there was only confusion and a bit of occasional panic. I know that I have not abandoned my love of open comb razors but have simply moved on to another phase of my shaving experience. Before I could not really enjoy modern razors. Now I can. It required me growing and developing and pushing the envelop a bit to get where I am today. Each of you must also make those decisions in your shaving path but do so with open eyes and conscious choices. The alternative is to possibly find yourself in a dysfunctional "rut" where you experience an extended period of poor shaves without a clue how it all came about.
I'm placing the link to my 1st Personna 74* shave video below for those who have not seen it before and are interested. I also have a few subsequent shave videos using the Personna 74* including my shave No. 30 available on my YouTube channel "FutrNovlst".
Good Shaves, Be Happy, Be Safe.