Old School Shaving with a Double Edge-Razor
In recent months, I’ve been receiving a lot of questions about shaving with an old-school double-edge razor. Numerous wet shaving enthusiasts agree that the best shave you can get at home can be obtained by using proper technique with a double-edge razor, badger hair shaving brush, and traditional English shave lather. I agree.
You might remember the fall of the Berlin Wall; then you probably remember your dad shaving with a hefty Gillette double-edge razor (often called a “DE” razor).
Gillette doesn’t make those any longer, but you can purchase an excellent Merkur double-edge razor for about $40. Pair this with a quality badger hair shaving brush, quality English shave lather, and a little patience, and you may find yourself with the closest shave you’ve ever had. I recently decided to switch from my usual Gillette Fusion ProGlide and give the DE a try for a week. I was very pleased with the results. So you can try it for yourself, I’ll fill you in on the tools and techniques I used. If you are wondering if more blades are better, you’ll find the answer to that question after you shave with a DE a few times.
To get the best shave, you’ll want to shave after a hot shower. This will help soften the beard and make shaving easier. Because the traditional wet shave with a double edge razor takes a bit longer than shaving with a modern cartridge razor, I recommend shaving at the sink rather than in the shower. This will allow you to see what you’re doing and filling the sink with a few inches of hot water will save gallons versus shaving in the shower.
Investing in quality shaving tools and products is worth it — your face is the first thing people notice, so don’t skimp on quality when it comes to caring for your mug. Here’s what I use:
The Merkur Hefty Classic Razor – this razor is quite similar to the classic Gillette Safety Razor your father used to use. It is astonishingly well made and will last a lifetime. I paired the razor with an amazingly sharp Merkur Platinum double-edge blade (10 pack for $5).
These blades are good for about a week’s worth of shaves and, at about $.50 each, they’re a massive bargain compared to today’s cartridge razor blades.
Art of Shaving Brush — Even if you don’t change your razor, you should invest in a quality badger hair shaving brush. Good badger shaving brushes start at around $35. There’s no need to buy an ultra-expensive brush, so buy the cheapest alternative that interests you. Using the shaving brush with regular shaving cream will provide a greater lather, lift the beard, also exfoliate the skin for a better shave. There are synthetic, and boar bristle brushes on the market, but go with the badger. Badger hair is hollow and holds more water and will produce better lather.
Geo. F. Trumper’s Rose Shaving Cream — Geo F. Trumper has been making shaving creams since 1875 therefore since you have guessed, they have perfected their product. Many shave creams have astounding natural scents like lavender, rose, violet, and sandalwood and the scents will make you look forward to shaving in the morning.
Of all the creams I have tried, my favorites are Geo. F. Trumper’s Rose, Truefitt & Hill’s 1805, and Taylor of Old Bond Street’s Lavender. You probably won’t see a great deal of difference in performance between these products, so pick the one you think smells best. Don’t worry; the fragrance doesn’t linger after you rinse so that you won’t leave smelling like a rose. Trust me. When you try these products, you won’t go back to the canned stuff.
Applying the Shaving Cream
The beauty of the English-style shave creams is that very little goes a long way, especially when used with a shaving brush. To create your lather, wet your shaving brush by submerging it in your sink of hot water. Remove the brush and, using the tip of your finger, push a pea-sized amount of cream down in the center of the bristles on your shave brush. With your finger still in the brush, give the bristles a little squeeze to set the lather in the brush. Splash a bit of hot water on your face and begin working the brush around the area to be shaved using a circular motion. Do this for about a minute to create a rich lather, lift the beard, and exfoliate the skin. Enjoy the feeling and fragrance and let it relax you.
The modern multiple-blade razors on the market are designed to take off as much hair as possible with one pass. The double-edge razor will take the beard down in stages and will typically require two or three passes. On the first pass, you’ll want to shave with the direction your hair grows using short strokes and
no pressure on the razor.
Did you notice the bold and italic font there? That means it’s important. Do not press down on the blade at all. Simply let the weight of the razor glide over your skin. Putting pressure on a double-edge razor will not necessarily result in a closer shave, but it most certainly will result in a razor burn. Once you’ve completed your first pass, lather up and complete a second pass not against the grain, but across the grain. After the second pass, feel your face. If the shave feels close enough, stop there. If you require a closer shave, re-lather and shave again against the grain. You did notice that part where I said not to apply any pressure to the razor, right? One thing to keep in mind is that you’ll probably get a nick or two until you get the hang of it, but don’t let your first day or two discourage you.
When shaving with a DE razor, the angle is important. When you first place the razor to your cheek, the handle should be perpendicular to the floor (when the razor first touches the face, the edge of the head, not the blade, should be in contact with the face).
Raise the handle, so the blade comes in contact with your face at about a 30-degree angle. This is the optimal position to ensure a clean shave with as little irritation as possible.
After your shave, rinse the face with a splash of cool and pat dry with a towel. Apply a quality after-shave balm-like Truefitt & Hill’s Ultimate Comfort Aftershave Balm to moisturize the skin and promote healing. Finally, you’ll want to rinse your shaving brush and hang it with the bristles facing down to allow the brush to dry and prevent water from collecting in the handle and soften the glue that holds the bristles together.
Doing this will ensure years of use from your badger shaving brush.
Now that you know the tools and technique give the traditional wet shave with a double-edge razor a try. Shaving this way will take a bit more time in the morning, but it’s a ritual that requires you to slow down, enjoy the fragrance of the shaving cream, and start your day off at a relaxed pace. Couldn’t we all stand to slow down and enjoy the little pleasures in life once in a while?
Another benefit to shaving this way is that you’ll shave hundreds or thousands of dollars for a lifetime of shaves. There’s a little bigger investment upfront for the quality razor and brush, but excellent double edge blades are cheap, and you’ll get months of shaves out of a single jar of traditional shave cream (I get more than three months from a single jar of Truefitt and Hill). Factoring in the cost of blades and shaving cream, I probably spend less than $.40 per day on shaving.
For those mornings where time is of the essence, I’ve still got my trusty Gillette Fusion ProGlide hanging in the shower, but I’ll be enjoying my Merkur double-edge razor (and saving money on great shaves) for years to come.