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Old school shaving is new school cool

Posted by: Andrew - Thu, 10 Mar 2011

Not too long ago I started using a double edge blade safety razor for daily shaving. What follows is my take on this traditional form of shaving, and how easy it can be to get started. What is referred to sometimes as “Wet saving” can also include a straight razor. In this post I am referring to double edge blade safety razors only.

New! 17 Blade Turbo Super Duper Shave System!

Enjoying the retro lifestyle today is certainly not the same as living in 1955. No matter how much we would like our lives to be so simple, its near impossible nowadays to escape modern conveniences. All those classic advertisements that we now find kitschy and cool have led to the action packed, annoying ads that we are bombarded with today. Advertising plays a big part in everything from what cereal we buy to what razors we use.

And don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t give up some conveniences for the world… you will have to pry my macbook pro from my cold dead hands. But other items, like that new 17 blade razor shaving system… well, I just don’t want to pay $25 for a replacement cartridge for it (ok I’m exaggerating a little.) Sure it has more blades, but does it really work better than the single blade razors?

The short safety razor story

In a stroke of genius one of the razor companies (Gillette?) got the US Military to issue double edged blade safety style razors to our boys in uniform. When they came back they kept on using them. Shaving was fun and inexpensive for years. Then the modern disposable and cartridge razor systems were invented by razor companies in the 1970s to increase profits and have planned obsolescence. Today there seems to be an arms race in how many blades a razor can have.

Then there’s my story

I have the rotten luck of having a tough, thick beard. But like any tough guy, I am really sensitive too, and I cut and nick like crazy. This makes shaving a real task if I want a close, nick free shave.

For years I used an electric razor, but switched to cartridge razors about when the Mach3 came out. Wow, 3 blades. You’d think that that would be an improvement, but the truth of the matter is that for me at least it didn’t make much difference and boy was it expensive.

At an estate sale I picked up a vintage Gillette Super Speed double edged blade razor. I tried it, hated it, and left it in a drawer for years. More recently I picked it up again and gave it another try, and I’m glad I did.

So whats the deal?

Using a double edged blade razor is definitely more of an old school feel than the modern cartridge razor. It is a little more time consuming, but on the whole a lot more enjoyable for a lot of reasons. Once you get pretty good with it, you will have fewer nicks, less irritation, and more fun shaving.

A double edged safety razor is basically a blade holder. Many styles are available that unscrew at the top, and put a razor in. They are heavy and just feel good in the hand. These will set you back $25-$50 new but you can also find good ones at estate sales, and with a little care it should last forever. Also these razors rinse much better than the cartridge razors making cleanup easier.

The razor blades are a double edged single metal razor, made to fit the holders. These blades are made all over the world, and are pretty inexpensive (bought in bulk you can get good ones for less than 25¢ each…). They last me at least 4 shaves each.

As far as lather there are many different shaving soaps available in a variety of scents. You use a brush to create the lather and apply it. I tried the brush/soap but I did not like the soap I had, so I stopped using it for now and am using up that can of Barbasol I had. (Interesting- notice the razor on their home page http://www.barbasol.com/ ) My next shave cream will be the Hawleywood’s brand Liquid Cream Shave we sell at Cats Like Us.

The shave itself

Once I got the hang of it I was able to shave with a double edge blade razor just as well as a cartridge or electric. I get fewer nicks and bumps so long as I’m paying attention — there’s a little less room for error than the cartridge razors. The key is holding the razor at the right angle— not the same as a cartridge razor. This was what I had wrong the first time I tried it and it took me a while to get it right. You need very little pressure (with a good blade) to get a good shave. This is one reason traditional shaving is less irritating than cartridge razors. For me, I get a good shave in one pass. Some folks make many passes (lather, shave, repeat) but I find this too irritating and not worth it for the extra closeness.

More about the blades

There are a lot of brands and type of blades available. Which ones are best? It doesn’t help that many of them have “Super” in their name, so no help there. The standard answer seems to be “you have to try them and decide yourself”. Fortunately since they are so cheap that’s not a big deal, and that’s exactly what I’m doing.

I recently purchased a 20 brand variety pack, and have been keeping notes about how the blades perform. You might think, as I did, that they would all be about the same. Well I’m here to tell you that there’s a big difference between the brands.

Brand Made in Rating Notes
Lord “Super Stainless” Egypt Very good My favorite so far.
Astra “Super Platinum” Russia Very Good Also an excellent choice.
Feather “Super Stainless” Japan OK Supposedly ultra sharp, I found them to be just OK.
Treet Pakistan Lousy Got dull and rusty after 3 shaves.
Derby “Extra” Turkey Very Good The good reviews I have found are all true.
Asco Egypt Lousy I’ve read reviews claiming these stay sharp for many shaves, but my experience was just the opposite.

Here is a chart comparing how the blades perform (for me). I’ve got a long way to go before I’ve tried all the brands and I will update this chart as I go.

Where to get started

I gave up on drugstores for quality products. Fortunately there are plenty of resources for getting started with double edged razor shaving:

If you have access to a shaving specialty store in your area that would be a great place to start. Some online resources include:

Retrorazor.com
All around great overview with some helpful videos.

Badger and Blade
Nice forums on the subject and a very complete blade reviews section

Amazon.com
I found many many multipacks of blades here. A quick search for Double edge razor will get you started.

Ebay
Crazy deals can be had on blades ( My current favorite ASRTRA Super Platinum can be had for only 7¢ a blade! )
Also you can find lots of usable Gillette Super Speed razors!

Youtube.com
I watched a few videos on youtube which helped a lot.

Mr Razor Collectors Page
A page devoted to razor collecting.

I hope this was useful and have fun retro-shaving!

-Andrew



4 comments

  1. Nice introduction to DE shaving...Mantic59 has many terrific videos on Youtube for anyone who is interested. Now you have to look into shaving with a straight razor...talk about a steep learning curve but you'll never buy another razor blade again. Oh, and don't forget to use a brush...either badger or boar...you'll open up a whole new world of shaving soaps and creams when you do.

    — Nathan Zimmerman Thu, 23 Jun 2011

  2. I don't see the Wilkonson Sword blades in your list of blades. I've used this UK brand for years with much success.

    dAn Tue, 29 Mar 2011

  3. Thats a Gillette 1951 model up top with the case. That's what I've been using.

    — Jonny Sun, 13 Mar 2011

  4. What a well written,organized,and informative blog. Andrew, this is something that that could save someone a lot of time & money. What comes to mind for me is all those men who have to teach their young ones how to shave.Even more so, a single mom shopping for her boys first kit. What if a kid has tougher follicles than his pops? Does Big Daddy or Hot Momma buy a dozen razors & hope for the best? Not if they have read this blog & followed your advice. My Fedora is off to you!

    Barb Kopera Fri, 11 Mar 2011

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