A while back, I wrote about Wet Shave Economics, the costs of wet shaving. I’ve been interested in trying a safety razor for a while, so stuck it on my wishlist for Christmas, and Santa delivered. I haven’t been using my razor very long, but I thought I would throw down my initial impressions and experience.
I was a very lucky boy, and Father Christmas furnished me with:
- An Edwin Jagger DE89L razor
- A dish of Mitchell’s Wool Fat Shaving Soap
- An Edwin Jagger Best Badger brush
- A pack of Derby Extra blades
- A pack of Feather blades
- A brush and razor stand
- An Osma block of Alum
As I said, I was very lucky.
As with everything, you can spend as much or as little as you want. I was lucky to receive some top-quality items, but you could buy everything you need for under £20. Equally, you could spend £100 on a brush alone (or more), £20 (or more) on single shaving soap and that’s before the pre-shave treatments, the post-shave balms and colognes, or any other nice-to-have equipment.
On the other hand, you can pick up something like a Wilkinson Sword Classic for under £5 (with blades), a brush for under £10 and a shaving stick for as little as 49 pence (that’s what my Palmolive Shave Stick cost me in my local supermarket).
I probably used to buy two or three Mach 3 4-packs a year (I don’t shave every day and I used them well beyond the recommended number of shaves). That still probably cost me £14-20 a year. I used to use Gillette Series Conditioning Gel, which comes in at £3 a can, probably two of those a year. So all-in I was only spending £20-26 a year. To be fair, if I had bought a razor, it would have cost an additional £5.
Initially, then, safety razor shaving isn’t going to save you much money, at least if you spend as little as I did.
My Initial Shaves
It was with a bit of trepidation that I approached my first shave, having never used a safety razor before. Even opening the razor blade and fitting it was a bit nerve-racking. It all went smoothly though, aside from a few nicks.
I did find it left me with a bit of razor burn. Knowing a bit more now, I suspect that might have been down to a combination of excessive pressure on my part (you just let the weight of the head do the work) and my decision to go for the Feather blades, which are acknowledged as some of the sharpest around. This is one reason I invested in some aftershave balm, and it sounds like I should be using the Alum for more than just stopping nicks from bleeding.
With each shave I got more confident, though my technique is still far from great. I tend to use a two-pass strategy (three seems to be more common), much as I did with my Mach 3 (although I re-lather before the second pass now). I struggled with the lather too, and it took a few YouTube videos to understand the various approaches and the consistency I needed. I got there though.
As with anything, you get better with practice, and using a safety razor does involve getting to grips with the correct technique, unlike a cartridge razor. It does give you a lot more control though. The big question is whether it was leaving me with a better result. I was pleased with the smooth finish, but I had felt the same way about my Mach 3. A test was in order.
I decided to try a literal side-by-side trial. The past Saturday morning, I shaved half my face with a Mach 3 and half with my safety razor. The Mach 3 blades had only had one previous shave under their belt, while the Feather blade in my safety razor was on number seven before I started. So how did they fair?
Well, both sides were pretty good. I did two passes, one down (with the grain) and one up (against). I have to say, the Mach 3 was not only faster (less fear of cutting myself or worrying about the angle), but left the open plain of my cheek smoother. That’s not to say that the other cheek wasn’t smooth too.
The safety razor won everywhere else though, my throat was smoother on that side and my lip and the corner of my mouth were streets ahead (because you can get in to areas the vast Mach 3 blade can’t). I did pick up more nicks on the safety razor side though, but it was a much older blade.
Bring some Joy to Shaving
In reality, I’m not saving money. Even with the majority of my items gifted to me, I’ve bought additional blades and creams to try, I added a mug to mix my lather into, an aftershave balm. In fact, I got kind of giddy about the whole thing.
That’s a benefit you can’t mark on a spreadsheet: actually enjoying shaving. For me, it was always a bit of a chore. Now, I look forward to it, even if I haven’t got some new product or potion to try. I never used to wet shave on the weekends, now I do. It really has brought some excitement back to a fairly mundane task.
Then there’s the quality. You’re supposed to get a better shave. My test showed it was marginally ahead, but I’m sure some of the improvement with the Mach 3 came from my prep and use of a proper soap to provide the lather (even if I used the cheap shave stick for the test).
Useful Links and Information
I have spent way too much time watching people shave themselves. If you’re interested in giving it a go, here are some useful links for learning more, not just about technique but also about some of the products on the market:
PistonHeads wiki (useful for those in the UK)
PaulHFilms YouTube channel (again, good for those in the UK)
It doesn’t cost a lot to give shaving with a safety razor a try, and it doesn’t take much longer than using a cartridge razor, just a few more minutes. What you’ll end up with is a better experience that transforms a routine most men don’t enjoy. You could save some money too, but I’m betting not.