Traditional Wet Shaving
Here are some hints from my exploration of traditional “wet” shaving.
Updated 20190930, 20230911
“Traditional Shaving” Tips
In late summer of 2019, I rediscovered “traditional shaving”, which can be classified as shaving that relies on the products that Dad or Grandpa used to use in the 1950s, such as a “double edge” safety razor or straight edge razor, pre-shave oil, shaving cream that you work into a lather using a shaving brush with badger bristles, and a bracing after shave.
Sometimes you hear it referred to as “wet shaving” and while I’m no expert, that appears to be a superset that includes use of water or oil with any type of shaving equipment, including cartridge or electric razors.
I’m enjoying shaving this way, and have turned it into a meditative morning ritual, performed before the women of the house arise and invade the bathroom. Besides, it’s manly, takes skill, and I like smelling nice.
There’s an initial investment for traditional shaving as you get geared up, but the blades are inexpensive compared to the typical 5-blade cartridges, once you get a combination that works for you.
This document is my initial notes based on reading the many online communities like /r/wicked_edge on Reddit and Badger and Blade, sites like Sharpologist, and my own experimentation. I live near Tokyo so there’s some information in here about getting products in Japan.
The basics include:
- A double-edge “DE” or single-edge “SE” razor, and appropriate blades
- Optional pre-shave oil
- Shaving cream
- Shaving brush
- After shave
There are two main types of “safety razor” - a “double edged” type and a “single edge” type, often designated by their initials DE and SE. There appear to be more DE razor models than SE razor models on the market. There are inexpensive one-piece models out there, which open up when you twist the knob at the bottom, allowing you to install the blade. However, the modern razors all seem to be two or three piece designs, usually with a handle, a solid or “safety” bar (milder) or open comb (more aggressive) baseplate, and a top plate with or without scallops.
- Henson AL-13
- Muhle Rocca, Hexagon, or Traditional R81/R89 (milder) or R41 (aggressive)
- Feather AS-D2S or WS-D2S
- Blackland Blackbird or Dart
- AboveTheTie Windsor
- Timeless various combinations of stainless, brass or titanium parts
- Rockwell 6S or 6C
- CharcoalGoods various combinations of copper, brass or stainless parts
- RazoRock aka “Italian Barber” Mamba, Baby Smooth or Game Changer
- Karve Christopher Bradley in Brass, Stainless or Aluminum
- Supply V2 or newer
- OneBlade Core, Hybrid or Genesis (SE but with a pivoting head)
- Blackland Vector or Sabre
- Schick Type O “injector” original new-old stock, or a clone
- RazoRock Hawk
- AboveTheTie G1
In Japan, there are sometimes cheap Feather DE holders in pharmacies, and, Feather makes a more expensive DE razor as well, which is sometimes available for about JPY 25,000. Hankyu Mens in Yurakucho Tokyo carries Muhle razors and accessories, but they don’t carry more than one of each item, and won’t give any kind of discount for damaged shelf stock. That’s pretty unfortunate actually, because it’s otherwise a really nice department store.
There are still a lot of DE and SE blades being produced. SE blades are thicker and less flexible compared to a DE blade, so they last longer, and tend to be more stable on the face without what might be called “chatter”, that you sometimes get with a DE blade.
- Japanese “Feather High Stainless” DE blades are aggressive and may “bite” a beginner
- Israeli Personna DE blades are milder, and are what Muhle uses for their branded blades
- Derby and Astra DE blades are milder, and more suitable for a beginner
- As for SE blades, Schick Injector I’s work in the Supply V2 SE razor, the OneBlade models can take Feather FHS-10 blades, and the Blackland Sabre takes GEM style blades
In Japan, most pharmacies don’t seem to carry blades any longer, but they are easily available from Amazon. Feather, which is well-regarded, is a Japanese company, so those are pretty easy to get. A double edge blade is “ryoba” 両刃 and a single edge blade is “kataba” 片刃.
A pre-shave oil can be applied to soften up your beard before applying soap and shaving (some people shave directly with just the oil). You can buy famous preshave’s like “Proraso” but, a lot of people make their own.
It looks like a lot of different oils can be combined along with a couple drops of essential oil (EO) for scent. A typical combination is jojoba, sweet almond, olive (squalane), and grapeseed. Now I’m trying the following (number indicates part):
- 1 part jojoba, 1 sweet almond, 1 olive (squalane), 0.25 St. John’s Wort oil (the extract in other similar oils), and some drops of cedar EO. (Tried a blend with eucalyptus but it felt and smelled harsh)
Other oil recipes from B&B forum:
- mftoms59: Winter blend is 3 olive, 1 shea nut, 1 soybean, 3 drops bergamot EO. Summer is 3 olive, 1 soybean, 1 kukui and EO.
- Rich: 2 castor, 1 grape seed, 1 olive, 1 avocado, 1 apricot, 1 vitamin E, 1 almond, 0.5 lanolin, 0.5 glycerin, ~1 drop per oz of tea tree EO.
- Joe: 3 castor, 1 grape seed, 1 olive, drops of mint and lavender EO.
- Mike: 1 almond, 1 avocado, 1 olive, 1 coconut, tsp of glycerin, drops of tea tree and peppermint EO.
- Donald: 3 almond, 1 castor, tsp of glycerin, drops of EO for scent.
- Rabidus: 3 almond, 2 castor, drops of EO.
- Krusty: argan oil with drops of lime EO.
A couple tips about oils:
- Grapeseed: light, “non-oily” oil
- Argan: great for older skin, but a greasier feel
- Jojoba: also great for older skin, said to cure eczema due to anti-inflammatory properties, similar to skin’s natural oil, has a long shelf life
- Sweet Almond: medium weight oil and good for dry skin, contains vitamin E, helps with eczema and dandruff (there is also bitter almond oil, which is more for scent)
- Rosehip: thicker oil good for healing injuries such as acne scars
- Coconut: can cause acne in some people, so maybe not great for the face
- Squalane: derived from olives, a light and non-greasy oil, good for acne-prone or sensitive skin
- Store oils in a cool, dark place
- “Essential oils” are concentrated volatile oils that have a scent
- “Carrier oils” are neutral, natural oils with little to no scent, that you typically dissolve an essential oil in. They don’t evaporate like essential oils
In Japan, Muji-ryohin is a good source for some of these oils. There’s a product by Argelan called: “St. John’s Wort Apricot” Organic Certified Moist Deep Skincare Oil. This is a popular organic brand readily available at Matsukiyo, and this oil has the healing St. John’s Wort with other oils mixed. You can also get Bio-Oil, known as “Bioil” in Japan, which is super hyped these days as having “healing properties”. Hmm…
Haven’t experimented much. So far I am just using CO Bigelow’s shaving cream and working up a lather in my hand, then on my face. Works well if you warm the bristles of the brush first.
Shaving brushes are cheap to uber expensive, about JPY 2000 to 40,000. There are synthetic ones, and natural hair ones. The natural hair ones are apparently usually eurasian badger or “anaguma” in Japanese. There are grades of badger, and “silver tip” hair seems to be the most expensive and sought after.
The knot is key, and synthetic brushes are often flimsy feeling because of that, but, Spiffo makes a synthetic knot that feels like silver tip badger, called their “luxedo” knot.
In Japan, I’ve seen inexpensive KENT brushes for sale for around JPY 2000. Yurakucho Hankyu Mens has more expensive Muhle brushes.
Haven’t experimented much. I had Aramis from before, which is OK but to me smells old fashioned, and I recently got Clarins “After Shave Energizer” which is more reasonably priced, and has a light, pleasant scent that disappears quickly (so you can apply whatever cologne). Another famous style of after shave is “bay rum”.
Witch hazel is a plant extract that acts as an antiseptic with healing properties, and people often use it, or a toner that contains it, as an after shave. It’s called hamamerisu-sui (ハマメリス水) in Japanese, from the name of the plant: hamamelis virginiana.
In Japan, witch hazel is available in various forms, usually mixed with other stuff:
- Kracie “Moistage” Astringent Essence Lotion - ‘hikishime’ type with collagen and hamamerisu-sui
- Argelan organic mist lotion “Hamamelis Chamomile” with tea tree oil
- Mandom Lucido After-40 Ageing Care Refreshing Lotion
My favorite razors that I use most are the Henson AL-13 and the Muhle Hexagon. The Henson is less aggressive, and is more suitable for when I have less beard, while the Hexagon is more aggressive, and better for ploughing through a few days’ growth.
- Rinse shaving brush and put it in warm water
- Wash face
- Pat dry and apply shaving oil to beard area
- Gently shave a couple of difficult bits around the edges of my goatee
- Brush teeth to give oil a couple more minutes
- Press out a little shaving cream into hand, shake water from brush, lather soap in hand with brush, scoop up the lather “pile” with the brush and apply to face, lathering further directly on face
- Shave (without pressing, letting the razor’s weight work for me) with grain of beard as a first pass, starting in the middle of neck under goatee, and working out so that things stay even
- Shave across grain of beard to get a closer shave
- Rinse and pat dry; apply alum if I cut myself
- Apply after shave
- Apply light moisturizer after the after shave dries
- Rinse and dry brush and razor
- Strop razor blade while in razor, for a few strokes opposite the shaving direction, on a section of old jeans I keep in cabinet
- Be gentle and let the weight of the razor work for you - some people say to do short strokes which does seem to work for harder to see areas
- Most DE or SE razors don’t pivot (except the OneBlade) so you need to develop some muscle memory to get it right
- Some people strop the razor blade before use, which is said to remove microscopic burrs. You can strop on an old piece of denim, a cork or your hand even
- SE blades usually are good for 5 to 7 shaves, while DE blades usually work for 3 to 4 shaves. Replace if the blade feels like it is “pulling” and not cutting
Thanks for reading and I hope this was useful.