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Bearded & Tschorn's razor blade redux: the power of one

Monday, the Wall Street Journal posted an article about guys who stockpile razor cartridges as a hedge against running out of their favorite blades as razor makers launch ever more advanced -- and expensive -- versions (among the men interviewed was a San Francisco investment banker who bought his Gillette Mach 3 cartridges 100 at a clip).

Men, it's time to put down the razor, step away from the sink and take a good look at the steamy mirror of Rage_gem your morning ritual. Do you really need to hoard blades the way "Seinfeld's" Elaine stockpiled the Today sponge? What's next -- having to decide if a particular date is "blade worthy"? 

When did we men stop being hunters and start being gatherers?

I understand the desire to gather. I was completely blade blind for years, with a follicular fealty to the Gillette Sensor Excel double blade cartridges that I'd been using for nearly three decades, forced to upgrade to a third blade -- albeit temporarily -- when I found myself stranded in Europe last summer without access to my blade of choice.

The piece I penned in the aftermath of that generated a lot of e-mail from men who expressed similar attachment to their blades of choice. It also resulted in a package arriving at my desk from book and blog author Michael Ham, containing a mid-1950s-era, double-edge TTO (twist-to-open) Gillette safety razor. "If you think two blades is better than three," read the enclosed note, "you'll probably find one blade better than two."

That was last September, and once I got up the nerve to use a vintage, second-hand razor sent by a complete stranger (the book does include detailed instructions on how to clean razors found at flea markets or on E-bay), I've not only been a total convert to the old-school double-edge (also referred to as a DE) safety razor, I've been buying different versions -- old and new -- wherever I can find them, and my collection now includes a brand new German-made Merkur, a Parker from India (both available on Amazon.com), and a Gillette TTO from 1965 (the year I was born).

I find the DE gives me a shave as close as any cartridge razor I've used, though as Ham points out in his "Leisureguy's Guide to Gourmet Shaving,"  every face is different and the perfect blade - or number of blades -- for one face doesn't mean it's the best choice for the next. He recommends experimenting to find the right combination for your own face, and I couldn't agree more.

In fact, this week, I trimmed my blade count down even further, and started experimenting with a GEM single-edge razor I found at a Montana antique store over Memorial Day weekend for $15, and it may actually be the best shave to date (and it's as old-fashioned as I'm willing to go, since there's little chance I'd ever muster the the intestinal fortitude to wield a straight razor on my own face first thing in the morning.)

Maybe that investment banker interviewed for the WSJ piece knows the Gillette Mach 3 gives him the best shave of his life, but if he's like most men, chances are he's using the same thing he started shaving with (or close to it). And, until something forces him to hunt, he'll be content to simply gather.

Let the hunt begin, my hirsute brothers; the best shave of your life may be right around the corner. Will you really be able to stare at yourself every morning in that steam-clouded bathroom mirror knowing you don't at least try to put your best face forward?

-- Adam Tschorn

Leisureguy's Guide to Gourmet Shaving

How many razor blades for a close shave? It's a close decision

Photo: A vintage GEM single-edge razor purchased for $15 at a Montana antique store, one of the many grooming hardware options available to men willing to hunt around for the best combination of blade and razor. Credit: Adam Tschorn / Los Angeles Times.

 
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I started using straight razors when the Mach 3 came out. I'm up to the 5 blade Fusion Pro Glide with the power razor. I find that every blade added is better for me! The Pro Glide has a little edge that helps to straighten your hair right before the razors hit it. It truly is a much different shave than the original Fusion. I'm old fashioned with a lot of things, but not my razors. You hit it right when you said whatever is right for your face is the right choice.

Great and, for me, timely article. I just got back from buying a package of my current razor, the Gillette Mach3 Turbo, thinking, "there's gotta be a better way". Thanks for the suggestions. Ohhhh, a-hunting I will go, a-hunting I will go, . . . .

Got my safety razor from Ross Cutlery (yes, -that- Ross Cutlery) in Downtown LA. They have a wide selection of vintage razor holders and a few choices in razors as well.

What do you put in a single edge razor? Paint scraping blades from Home Depot?

I went through a similar journey; started with a multi, went to DE and have settled on straight razor. DE blades are a luck of the draw, some shave really well, others will tear up your face, but what do you expect from something mass produced? You have to hone and strop a straight razor which means that the blade is the utmost in terms of sharpness as well as smoothness. It does take a lot of practice and a certain zen-like focus to not dice up your face, but it's worth it. Even if people can't see that's how you removed your whiskers in the morning, you will know and that's important.

Joiiiiin us.... a single blade is so superior. I too have stockpiled Gillette double blade Sensor cartridges like Elaine stockpiled sponges. They're very hard to find and I use them many weekday mornings if I'm in a hurry. But for the days I can take my time, a single DE Merkur is by far the closest shave I've ever had!

I've used a single, double and triple blade each for years and done comparisons of them to find that the triple blades give me BY FAR the closest, most comfortable shave. Although I'd be willing to try that GEM single edge razor - looks cool.
The biggest factor I've found, other than blades, is your shaving cream. Those foams don't work nearly as well as actual creams like TJ's honey mango "cream shave" - it was a revelation.

a LOT of people have been using single blades for a while... but it has remained underground.

On many razor forums we call this obsession RAD (razor accumulation dependency) and many are also OC (obsessive /compulsive) We try to out do each other to see who has the most desirable currently popular DE razor. We buy on e-bay and hunt the internet for sellers of razors,blades,lotions,creams,gels mugs,brushes,razor stands and providers of custom handles. The search turns into a hobby and there are sites..ie. Badger and Blade, the Shave Den where all aspects of blade gap and weight are discussed.Would you say we are nuts? maybe but it sure is fun. HMS

Adam,

Great editorial, though I'm a bit wounded by your characterization of me as a "gatherer" rather than a "hunter." I prefer to think of myself as an OCD boy scout (always prepared, maybe a bit overly). But no matter.

To address the question you raised, I "know" the Gillette Mach3 gives me the best shave, but it's a soft "know." What I mean by that is that I tried several other "technologies" since learning to shave (including, I hesitate to admit, electric), and since the Mach3 became the ugly step-child of the Gillette line-up. And the Mach3 gave me the best shave. Earlier technologies couldn't shave as close without razor burn; later technologies haven't added anything except cost. IMO, the Gillette Mach3 is the pinnacle of shaving tech. Hence my desire to stick with it.

Having said that, I'll admit I've never used a DE safety razor, much less a straight razor (though I have been shaved by one thanks to several excellent tonsorialists over the years). But after reading the WSJ article, the related posts, and your editorial, I am strongly considering it.

Of course if I find I like it, I'll need to put my considerable holdings of Mach3 blades on the secondary market. Know anyone speculating in blade futures?

I switched from cartridges to DE about four months ago. I can not be happier. I've gotten some of the best shaves of my life. It is a simple formula: Better shave, less money, less waste. The traditional shave soap and badger brush are key ingredients as well. The only reason people don't generally know how good safety razors are is that they don't get any advertising budget like the new Gillette or Schick does.

Real shaving using a double edged razor and a lather generated with a brush is reaching critical mass. You have caught the Zeitgeist. The Mantic 59 instructional videos on youtube are all the acolyte need to gain the necessary skills. Also there are lots of forums and blogs which are the main repository of knowledge.
Why be taken in by the marketing of global shaving companies when for a fraction of the price you can have a far better experience. In fact you can luxuriate in fantastic top end products and still be saving money.

"I started using straight razors when the Mach 3 came out. I'm up to the 5 blade Fusion Pro Glide with the power razor. .."

A M3 or Fusion isn't a straight razor, a cut-throat open blade is. Yes, they're still sold. As are single and double edge blades for safety razors. While a minority, plenty of men have opted out of the blades and $$ arms race, and find these shave just a well. The only difference being, you have to learn how to shave - something the invention of the pivot cartridge has seen a couple of generations not need to do.

Every face is different. Why should one expensive, mass produced rack of blades suit them all?

I went from a Gillette Fusion to a Merkur HD double-edged razor ($35). I bought a sample pack of different razor blades and found I liked Derby blades (from Turkey), and bought a year's supply for $20 on Amazon. I use a badger brush ($35 from Edwin Jagger), shaving soap ($5-15 depending on the brand) and shaving cream ($5-10 depending on the brand), and I get the best shave of my life. For the price of 50-60 Fusion blade cartridges (and taking twice as long to shave), I get a masculine ritual that always improves my morning, and I feel great, and I can recycle my blades (cartridges end up in landfills, CFCs from foamy goo end up hurting the ozone layer and the cans of foamy goo end up in landfills). I own a straight razor, but have not yet learned to use it. For one flat price, plus the cost of a hone and a strop (which should last a lifetime), you never need buy another razor, and you'll get an ever better shave than with a double-edged safety razor.

Note that the razors this guy bought are not anything like $260 each. The new Merkur, if it's like the one I bought last March, under $50 and will last longer than I will. The blades, sold on Amazon and other places, sell for $15 for 100, plus or minus, depending on brand.

And you don't even need to do that kind of change to get a better shave! With your current razor, whatever it is, better prep and better lube can help. The purpose of the lather is to lube the razor blade so it doesn't catch and cut into your skin. There are other ways than a spray can. Pick up a decent shaving brush at Wal*Mart or various mail order places (cost from about $5 to $500, depending on what you pick), then get a shaving soap at Mamabearssoaps.com (or various other sources), learn to use them at Mantic59's YouTube channel, and go for it! You'll be amazed how much better a shave you can get. I was, anyway.

For some of the best advice and sources, see http://www.badgerandblade.com I have no connection to that site other than as a very satisfied shaver.

Answering Matt Owen: single edge razor blades are available on-line and other places. Make sure you them them by Gem or similar brands marked for shaving.

It is very interesting that most of the comments that I have received when I talk about DE shaving is parroted straight from modern shaving commercials. It is like having the discussion with Spinal Tap over the volume setting. "11 is higher than 10." Well what the spinal tap parody was showing was user ignorance disguised by a numerical slight of hand. I have shaved with the multiple blade devices and the electrics so when I started with DE I remembered a little secret I learned in Marketing classes. Marketing is designed to make a product more attractive than it is, so that the profit margin can be increased anywhere from two fold to four thousand fold. So if you got the handle for free and you use the replacement blades and the canned goo, anywhere from 50 to 95% of your cost every shave is operating revenue and / or profit for some big company.

"You can't cheat an honest man; never give a sucker an even break, or smarten up a chump." - W.C. Fields



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