About the Author: Zach S. is an expedition and product/lifestyle photographer from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and a graduate of The United States Military Academy Preparatory School. When he’s not doing photography, he’s writing and working towards his goal of becoming a Marine Aviator.
I firmly believe that shaving is one of those things that has gotten worse as society progresses, not better. Whereas our grandfathers and great-grandfathers could remove stubble with a confident swipe of a straight razor, we find ourselves reliant on complex six-bladed metal and plastic contraptions and buzzing machines that leave our skin patchy and irritated. What was once a morning ritual has become a rushed afterthought in the morning routine of most men.
A razor without plastic and multiple blades!
This winter, on a whim, I bought a double edged safety razor at a CVS because it was the same price as a pack of replacement blades, and it has been the best thing I’ve ever done for my face. The single blade is razor sharp, and cuts closer than any cartridge I’ve experienced. I’ve been shaving on a daily basis since high school (twice a day in the army), and my face is feeling better than it ever has. Another benefit is that the blades are incredibly cheap, so you can switch more often and still save a serious chunk of change. Over the course of this article, I’ll try to cover both the basics you’ll need to start, as well as the techniques needed to master the safety razor.
Double Edged Safety Razor: you can get one of these from many places. Vintage ones can be had for cheap on ebay, and the forums seem to recommend the entry-level ones from brands like Merkur. For the sake of economy, I went with a Van Der Hagen model from my local drug store. It cost about 20 bucks, and came with 5 blades, which should last you a few weeks.
Blades: This is where you’ll need to experiment. I wasn’t particularly satisfied with the blades that came with my razor, so when it came time to order more, I looked at my options. Given that my beard is extremely coarse, I chose Feather brand blades, which are famously sharp. If you have a softer beard, I’d suggest Derby blades, which are much more forgiving on the face, and slightly cheaper. Several barber companies sell variety packs so you can experiment. A pack of 5 blades typically costs around a dollar, and they’re even cheaper if you buy 20-50 at a time.
A 5 pack of blades will last a couple weeks.
Shaving Soap: Do yourself a big favor, and take your can of Barbasol and throw it in the trash. It’s what I used for years, but for this you’re going to want a proper lather. The chemicals in the canned creams dry out your face and gunk up the razor. You can get a bar of shaving soap for a few dollars most any place, but I’ve been using a bar from Mike’s Natural Soaps. It’s about 12 dollars for a bar, but it’ll last for weeks, and Mike’s soap includes tallow and lanolin, so you’ll get a crazy smooth shave and a good moisturizer all in one. From what I’ve been told on the various shaving forums, the cream is one of the biggest factors in getting a good shave.
Mug and Brush: You’ll need these to whip your soap into a rich lather for your face. The finest brushes are made of badger hair, but I got a boar bristle one on sale at Walmart for a few dollars, and it’s been doing just fine. You can also get a special shaving mug, but really any big mug will work. I’ve been using my Art of Manliness coffee mug to great effect. This is one of those places you can really save money.
Styptic Pencil: This one is totally optional, but the first time I shaved like this, I cut myself many times and needed one. You rub it on the cut and it cauterizes it, stopping the bleeding. Oh yes, it stings, but it stops the bleeding.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, here’s the technique to shaving with a safety razor, step by step.
What your lather should look like.
Step 1: This depends on your morning routine. If you shower in the mornings, just start your shave when you get out, so your face will be wet and warm. If you don’t shower, get a face towel and soak it in hot water from the sink and hold it to your beard, letting the heat open your pores for a minute or so.
Step 2: Using warm (not hot) water, gently soak your brush. Be careful not to use hot water, as it’ll unglue your brush.
Step 3: Using your wet brush, start rubbing your bar of soap (which should be sitting in the bottom of your mug) in slow, circular motions. As you see foam form, increase your speed until it becomes a rich lather. It should take about a minute. It’ll take practice, but you’re trying to strike a balance between it being too runny or too thick.
Be sure to work that lather around/under all your whiskers.
Step 4: Wet your face once more, and apply the cream to your face with the brush. Use gentle circular motions to evenly apply it, being careful to get it under the bristles of your beard.
Step 5: Holding the razor at a 30-45 degree angle, gently run it down your cheek, starting at your sideburn. Go slowly, and don’t use any pressure. The weight of the razor should be doing all the work. I recommend doing passes of 2-3 inches, washing the razor in the sink between strokes. As you get down to your jaw and neck, you’re going to want to feel your face and shave with the grain. If you go across the grain or against it your first time, you’ll probably cut yourself. Take your time and reapply cream as needed. Never shave an area without cream, and don’t rush.
Word of Advice: practice on a balloon first.
Step 6: Once you’ve shaved with the grain, most of you will be good enough for day to day life, but if you want that baby faced smooth feel you see on drill instructors and police, you’re going to want to re-apply the cream and go across the grain. When shaving, pay careful attention to the direction your beard grows in. The hair on your neck often grows in the opposite direction. When you’ve shaved across, reapply for the last time and carefully shave against the grain. This is the step I initially cut myself on, so be very cautious until you get the hang of it. After talking to my local barber, he told me to cover a balloon in shaving cream and practice on it until I could shave it without popping it. You need to be delicate.
Step 7: The final step is to wash off your face. I use cold water to help close my pores, and then I use a styptic pencil to cauterize any cuts I may have gotten. If your face feels raw, apply some lotion or aftershave. Clean the leftover cream from your mug, rinse your brush, and then set it out to dry. Be sure to clean off your razor, too.
Blood free and closely shaven. Success!
Step 8: Admire your shave! These are the 8 steps I use when I shave, and should provide an adequate foundation that you can branch out from. I hope this article has helped convince you to take the plunge and try a double edged razor, and has provided you with all the steps you need to succeed! Be sure to hit me up on Instagram to tell me how it’s going!