A close shave

No, I didn’t have a near accident in the shop.  And, no, this isn’t technically about sharp tools you find in a workshop.

Today’s post is instead about my personal grooming habits.  Disgusting, isn’t it?

Rather than bore you with my choice of toothbrush, deodorant or foot powder, I’ll tell you about my new razor for shaving. After 26 years of searching for the perfect cartridge shaving ‘system’, I’ve gone back in time to start using a double edged safety razor.  A Parker 22R twist to open model with Wilkinson Sword stainless blades.

Maybe it was my quest for a closer shave with less razor irritation. Maybe it’s a nostalgic bent to use the same kind of razor my grandfather used before he went out to deliver milk from his dairy in Fairview, New Jersey.

Actually, it was because I can get a mountain of high-quality blades for dirt cheap when compared to those 3, 5 or 7 blade cartridges.

Before I took the plunge, I did my research. There are plenty of articles that wax poetically about the advantages of using this kind of razor. There are many how-to sites that tell you the best way to use the razor. And, I discovered a woodworking connection in how razors like this were made in the first place.

Flash back to Paris, France in 1762.  Back in the day, the only way to get a close shave was to use a straight razor.  These consisted of a handle and a pivoting blade of the finest and sharpest ground steel you could get. While capable of giving an unbelievably close shave, they are also quite capable of slicing off a chunk of ear during a moment of distraction.

One of the folks making these straight razors was Jean-Jacques Perret, a cutlery maker. While thinking of how he could improve the razor, he had a moment of inspiration after watching the workings of – of all things – a carpenter’s plane. (Interestingly, he was a contemporary of famous carpenter and bench designer André Jacob Roubo.)

In 1769, Perret wrote his book – which sounds like a totally awesome read – Pogonotomy or the Art of Learning to Shave Oneself.  In this riveting master work, Perret described a safety device he had worked on that would work with an existing straight razor. It was a wooden sleeve that wrapped around the blade, exposing only a small amount of surgically sharp edge to the skin, making any slip a little less painful. He called this device a rasoir à rabot, or a plane for the beard.

While Perret’s design didn’t take off, later developments by the Kampfe brothers and – more famously – by King Gillette, brought us disposable blades that didn’t need to be honed or stropped. Gillette, who won the contract to provide razors for soldiers being deployed overseas during World War I, was able to create a market of users when these young men returned from the trenches.

The safety razor reigned supreme until 1965, when Gilette introduced the Techmatic cartridge based razor. With effective promotion and marketing, the race to build the perfect cartridge razor was born. And, I bought into it hook, line and sinker. I had the daily razor irritation – and the lighter wallet – to prove it.

Now, not only have I changed razors, I have also gone to a tube-based shaving cream that I whip into a lather with a shaving brush. The stuff is luxurious, and a $10 tube lasts about a month and a half. It’s also given me an excuse to break out the Woodworking Superstar mug my kids had gotten me for a Father’s Day a few years back.

I have to allow a few more minutes for shaving in the morning, but that is offset by the clean results and the total lack of irritation afterward. Plus, it feels kinda cool to shave the way General Eisenhower did while at his European headquarters or how John Glenn shaved the morning he launched into space on Friendship 7.

In case you are curious about how to shave with a safety razor, here’s a great article from The Today Show about how the process works with some awesome tips.

12 thoughts on “A close shave”

  1. You know what? I think you’ve really got something there Tom.
    I learned how to shave on one of these and then got talked in to using the cartridge razor by some joe on TV who said all the babes would want you.
    I used to love that safety razor (after I left some of my chin in the sink a few times…lol)
    I cringe every time I have to plop down 20 something bucks for 8 replacement cartridges for the plastic piece of junk I now use.
    One pack of 1oo Shark blades would more then make up for the replacement cost.

    Is this a full service blog or what?
    You take good care of your readers brother.
    Thanks Tom.

  2. I used one of those when I was in the Air Force basic training. We had a guy who shaved with one for a week with out a blade in it! The DI made him put a blade in it and the guy darn near blead to death in the latrine!!
    Ahhh!!!!! The memories……LOL


  3. That’s about the exact same setup I changed over to a little over a year ago. If you didn’t know already, that Bigelow cream is actually re-branded from a company called Proraso. It’s also about $10 from various places, but the tube seems to be a lot larger than the one pictured. My tubes last about 4 or 5 months now that I’ve gotten the minimum amount to use figured out.

    I used to get so angry buying those stupid cartridges, I finally decided to just invest a little money (although not much more than the next pack of blades I needed to buy) and switched over. A couple weeks later I switched to Proraso and a brush. I’m much happier now, it’s actually somewhat fun to shave now, and at 100 blades for $14 and some change, you start saving money pretty quickly.

    My next project is to buy a really nice badger hair “knot” and turn my own brush.

  4. Cool post Tom.

    I used to have my grandfather’s open comb safety razor from the 30s. Unfortunately it got lost in a move about ten years ago. Your article makes me want to go get a new safety razor. There was nothing like it.

  5. Great post Tom. After getting sick of paying the money for the cartridges and the shaving irritation, I switched to this method about 3 years ago. Much better shaves at a much lower cost. Haven’t looked back.

  6. Tom, you have once again inspired me. Thanks to your article, I have ordered my first DE safety razor! It’s not one of the fancy expensive ones but it’s a Weishi butterfly top model, about $20.00. If I can get the hang of it and like it then I’ll upgrade to a nicer model. Anyway, I just wanted to share that I do have a fond memory of the DE safety razor. Although I never knew my dad, my mom had one and I always thought it was the coolest thing. The weight and feel of it was really impressive. I’ve used the disposable razors for years and I’m getting tired of them, especially the cost!

    Again, thanks for posting this and inpiring me to try something different!

  7. From the looks of the beard on the guy depicted in the Plate his invention can’t be working out too well for him.

  8. Intriguing. I still have my grandfather’s safety razor. One of the few treasures I salvaged from the man who raised me. I believe I will try this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.