Practical Shaving with a Double-edge Safety Razor

The product review site TheSweethome.com has a page on manual shaving written by the guy who broke the story in 1989 on Gillette’s release of the original Sensor. That was the razor that started the hyperbolic “tech” cycle in shaving. I give the man some credit.

Still, I disagree with what he has this to say about double-edge safety razors (the kind you see Cary Grant using in black and white movies):

…old-school shaving is a time-consuming process, filling up about 15 minutes on the short end from start to finish. That’s a lot longer than most people are willing to spend on just a single grooming task in the morning, but many proponents of this method of shaving come to value the ritual aspect of this approach as much as the quality of the shave.

This was once my experience with double-edge safety razors, but it is no longer. My current process takes less than one incremental minute. Here it is:

  1. Take a shower.
  2. Before drying off or stepping out of the shower, squeeze out a dab of Kiss My Face shaving cream onto your still-wet hand and rub it vigorously onto your still-wet beard.
  3. Turn the shower back on and shave with the grain using a double-edged safety razor and a fogless mirror. Occasionally rinse your razor in the hot water stream.
  4. Rinse everything off.

I think the reasons Dan Koeppel says using a safety razor takes 15 minutes is that most people who use double-edge safety razors in 2015 are likely to

  1. Take a long, hot shower to “open their pores”.
  2. Fill their sink with hot water.
  3. Wet a badger hair brush
  4. Use the badger hair brush with the water to warm and wet their beard.
  5. Eventually get around to using some fancy shaving cream with the badger hair brush to artistically apply it to their faces (like Cary Grant).
  6. Shave.
  7. Rinse.
  8. Clean up.
razor photo

Image by Quality & Style Practical Shaving with a Double-edge Safety Razor

This is not an exaggeration. Classic Shaving, which is where I bought my double-edge safety razor, has a page titled “Brush and Bristle Basics Without the Sales Pitch” that drones on and on about the importance of a badger hair brush and all the distinctions between the types of badger from which your brush can be made. This is silly. You have a hand. A brush is not an improvement on it.

Additionally, if you shower as often as you shave, you do not need a separate 14-minute ritual at the sink that wastes hot water just to get your face wet and lathered. If you shave in the shower, rinse and clean-up are the two seconds it takes to stick your face under shower head these days.

I have tried the fancy shaving creams. They are silly. Use Kiss My Face. One squirt bottle lasts a couple of years.

It’s too bad that double-edge safety razors seem to have become a finer thing in life. They are actually a very practical, inexpensive thing in life. They work well if used properly. I confess it took me time to learn to use well, but it now takes a subjective two minutes of my day.

Other must-have information:

  1. Don’t apply much pressure when using the safety razor. You probably have to apply *some* pressure. But don’t just mash it against your face and drag like you would a cartridge razor. You will just tear up your face that way.
  2. Buy decent blades. Don’t buy Gillette “Blue”-branded blades. They are awful even on the first shave. I am currently using a set of Persona blades I bought off eBay. One blade lasts me nearly a week. They are made in the USA and work great. Even premium blades are much, much cheaper than the cheapest cartridges.
  3. If you are like me and have a face that may develop bumps resulting from ingrown hairs, only shave with the grain. Yes, shaving against the grain will give you a closer shave, but become comfortable with the process before experimenting with shaving against the grain. Instead, if you aren’t happy with the closeness of your shave, lather up and shave again while still in the shower. Pay attention to the angle at which you are holding the razor relative to your face. The advantage of plastic cartridge razors is that you can just mash them against your face like some sort of animal and know that you have the correct cutting angle. Using a double-edge safety razor is a skill, albeit a simple one. You could even try it out on some sacrificial arm hair first to get an idea of how it ought to be used. Unlike cartridges, these razors are sensitive to the angle at which they are used. Take it slow and pay attention.

Why bother with a double-edge safety razor at all?
Most people who use these things seem to feel it helps them get in touch with their inner man. Personally, I have really thick hair that is hard to cut, but the Persona blades handle it well. It’s also nice that it is cheap and convenient now that I’ve eliminated all the more metrosexual steps of the process. The way I use it, it’s actually less fussy than any other option including electrics.

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46 thoughts on “Practical Shaving with a Double-edge Safety Razor

  1. This is pretty much exactly what I do with two changes: I use Edge gel, and I use disposable double bladed razors – I don’t care which brand. Disposables eliminate problems I have with losing things. Kiss My Face might well work, I haven’t tried it. I am set in my ways.

    I will shave against the grain. I’ve done this for a long time, mostly I don’t cut or abrade myself any more. This wasn’t always the case.

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  2. The second process is the one I use and it still takes me no more than 6 minutes and that includes two passes, one with and one against the grain. It ends up being almost as fast and easy as using a cartridge. The major difference is that I have to concentrate more because my chosen razor, Gillette Red Tip Superspeed, is pretty aggressive.

    I think part of it is because I also multitask. There’s no reason I can’t put on deodorant and brush my hair at the same time that I fill my sink with hot water to wet my brush. Maybe I should count that time as “shaving” time, but that’s time I would have to spend in the morning anyway.

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  3. I can accept the use of the safety razor, as a principal benefit I have found with a straight razor is the single, sharp, strong blade as opposed to the multiple thin blades of the commercial razor-head cartridge. I can see the use of the safety razor as a convenience compared to the straight razor and its many associated rituals.

    But the oil really helps. I really like the oil. I really like how it lubricates the skin and helps me move the razor, even when I press it into the whisker. If that makes me a “metrosexual” so be it. (I suppose admitting that the oil smells good does make me a metrosexual, but yeah, it does smell good.)

    And the badger-hair brush is better than my hand. It applies the lather in a more uniform, faster, and longer-lasting way. I spend all of fifteen seconds running the brush under some hot water and then creating a lather from the soap. This isn’t that time-consuming.

    I timed my straight-razor shave this morning after reading the post. Eight minutes and fifteen seconds. I imagine the safety razor does go faster – but really, how much?

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  4. I’ve used a double edge safety razor for years. I have a typical old guy beard.

    In my opinion, razor blades don’t go south because of use. They go south because nobody cleans them and they corrode due to the nasty (water, shave cream/soap, old whiskers) environment that they are usually subjected to.

    After shaving, I spin the top of the razor off and take the blade out and wipe it off on my forearm or a washcloth (both sides). When I reassemble it, I leave everything loose so it will dry out. Takes maybe 15 seconds, and the blade (“platinum” of some persuasion) usually will last for weeks.

    The only caution is to tighten the razor back up before you shave the next day. Failing to do so will give your face the old bacon-slicer treatment. Not good.

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    • hdg: In my opinion, razor blades don’t go south because of use. They go south because nobody cleans them and they corrode

      That is my understanding as well. I do sort of brush it against a towel at the end. And I actually store it outside of the bathroom now since my wife once grabbed hold of it while fishing for something else and got a bad cut. They are cheap enough that that is all I’m willing to do.

      Incidentally, there are all sorts of old husband’s tales on the Internet about ways to extend the life of expensive cartridges. Honing them on jeans and such.

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        • Interesting idea. I notice that they do admit this:

          Blade Buddy is designed to maintain the sharpness of new or like-new razor blades. It is not meant to restore blades that are damaged, dull or rusted.

          It would seem this doesn’t help with corrosion, but maybe it’s still good enough to extend the life of your cartridges. Now that I think of it, the jeans idea probably has the same principle in mind of bending the edge of the blades back to approximately straight.

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          • Yeah, at least conceptually it could theoretically work. I basically start using this the second or third time I use a blade.

            But again, I don’t go through that many blades a year anyway, since I generally shave so infrequently (incidentally, I am of the mind that shaving infrequently is actually part of getting a good shave – the whiskers are longer and easier to cut, and your skin has time to recover from being abraded).

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  5. I went through various iterations of shaving technique until I finally hit on the ultimate solution: I don’t shave. I go to a real barber (complete with striped pole and old magazines) (as contrasted with a “stylist”). I have him take the beard down short. Ideally it is just longer than the ‘itchy’ phase. I combine this with my regular haircuts. The beard getting a bit shaggy is usually an issue before my (extremely limited) hair, so I probably end up getting a haircut about a week earlier than I otherwise would. I could extend the process through home grooming, but avoiding the need for home hair grooming is pretty much my main goal in life. At this point I have it down to having to trim the mustache once in the cycle, when it starts growing over the lip in an annoying manner.

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  6. What’s your experience with the Gillette Fusion (if any)?

    Back when I shaved my face, I found that I could use, for example, the “Good News” disposable razor and get a good enough shave to get me to tomorrow. Sure, I had 5 o’clock shadow around noonish, but I was blonde enough that that didn’t matter really.

    When I used those exact same razors to shave my head, I probably needed 6 or 7 different pieces of toilet paper to deal with the nicks and cuts and dings and whatnot. My head felt downright peeled.

    I suspect that this method of shaving wouldn’t work for head shaving. There are too many things that could go wrong.

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    • ,
      I have used the Fusion, but as Glyph mentioned, I think you have to be some sort of Rockefeller to use it consistently. If all options cost the same, it would be my top pick, I think.

      I wouldn’t try using a double-edged safety razor on my head. Safety would be my number one concern for head shaving to the point that I would probably try Wahl “balding clippers” before any sort of razor. Among razors, I have heard some good things about the head blade that Glyph links to, but I haven’t tried it myself. For my hair, I just use regular Wahl clippers.

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      • Even if all options cost the same, I don’t know if I’d use the Fusion, like I said I feel like I waste a lot of time trying to rinse the cut whiskers out of it between passes. I guess if I were so rich that I could just throw it away when it clogged that could work.

        Though, as I said, I am an infrequent shaver, so my whiskers are probably longer than the average bear’s when I shave. Maybe for a daily shaver, the clogging would be a non-issue.

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  7. Since I currently wear a beard, my shave takes me less than a minute – just the small bits of my neck and cheeks where I don’t want my whiskers to extend to. When I go clean-shaven, my shave is still maybe three minutes, tops. I don’t use any products on my face – if I’m coming out of the shower, I just shave, otherwise I hold a hot facecloth over my face for a minute first.

    I use Astra stainless blades, mostly on the strength of their being really cheap – under 20c a blade for the 100-pack – and they last a week when I’m shaving my whole face, or almost a month if I’m just doing the edges.

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  8. 1. Shaving sucks.

    2. I use a safety-razor, and I’ve tried almost everything else – but not a straight razor – but it all sucks.

    3. Shaving sucks for women too.

    4. What is wrong with us as a people that we’re horrified by hair? Ugh.

    5. Again, shaving sucks. I would never do it if my lady friend didn’t like it so much.

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