Welcome to the second part of my beginner’s guide to wet shaving, that is that is, shaving with a safety or straight razor. This is a three-part series:
- The Software (shaving creams, soaps and aftershave)
- The Hardware (razors, brushes, blades)
- Technique (how to actually shave with a safety razor and brush)
So, after part one, you got yourself a good shaving cream or soap and some classy aftershave. Now you need the hardware: the stuff you actually use to do the shaving. There are three main things you’ll need to buy: a razor, razor blades, and a brush.
1. The Razor
At first glance, this seems like a tricky choice: there are hundreds of options here and the price range goes anywhere from $10 to $1000! Fear not! It’s pretty easy to figure out where to begin.
Your first decision is between a safety razor (i.e. one that has disposable blades) and a straight razor (also known as a cutthroat razor, which is basically one huge blade). Here’s my advice: get a safety razor. Straight razors are wonderful (and unless I’m traveling, I use one almost every day), but they aren’t easy to learn. It took me several months to get the technique down. In the process, I cut up my face good and proper and also ruined the blade a couple of times (and it’s quite the job of work to get it sharp again).
So, a safety razor it is! Don’t do what I did when I started out: I bought myself the expensive Merkur Futur for $68. It looks gorgeous, which is what drew me in:
The problem is that the handle is smooth, making it hard to get a grip when you have wet hands. This thing is kind of dangerous unless you’re careful. Also, it’s an adjustable razor. In theory adjustable razors are great: you can change how aggressively it shaves. The thing, though, is that for most blokes, once you find a setting you like you never change it again. Don’t bother with something like this when you’re starting out. Keep it simple.
The other important choice you have with safety razors is whether you want a “three piece” or “butterfly” razor. This is just about how you change the blade and doesn’t affect the shave. I have both types and have no real preference. Here’s a video which explains things nicely:
Go for something in the $25-$35 dollar range, choose one you like the look of. Here are two of my favorites:
- Parker 99R ($30.00). This is a great butterfly razor with a long, hefty handle. This is my go-to safety razor.
- Classic Shaving Deluxe Vintage Safety Razor ($25.99). A fantastic value, three piece, non-aggressive razor. An ideal starter’s razor.
2. The Blades
While finding a good is straightforward, finding the right blade is tricker. There are hundreds of brands out there. You may find that one razor works well with one brand but is dreadful in another. Also, what might be a great blade for my skin might be a terrible one for yours.
The best way to start out is to get a sample, variety pack of blades and see which ones work for you. West Coast Shaving has a great selection of well-curated sample packs. And here’s another one, from Lee’s Razors.
Here are just a couple of my favorite and least-favorite blades. Remember as you read this that your mileage may vary.
- Feather blades (c. $25 for 100 blades). Hands down the best blades on the market. Easily the sharpest around. Yes, they are more expensive than most but remember it’s still only 25c a blade, which is about 5c a shave.
- Astra Superior Platinum (c $18 for 100 blades). A great all-round blade. You can’t go wrong with these.
- Shark Super Chrome (c. $15. for 100 blades). They’re called sharks! These things are fun, high quality and great value. And they have a picture of a shark on the wrapper! What more could you ask for?
- Derby Extra (c. $10 for 100 blades). Don’t let the great price point fool you: in the words of a friend “these are little better than scrape.” That said, some people I know love them. They’re nonetheless worth trying and are included in most sample packs: if you like them, great, just don’t think they’re the be-all-and-end-all of blades.
- Merkur Double Edge Platinum (c. 6.25 for 10 blades, that’s $62.50 for 100!). For the love of all that is holy, avoid these. They’re worse than Derbys and are six times the price! Merkur makes great razors, but their blades are awful.
- Anything you find in the pharmacy. In general, the double edge blades you find in the pharmacy are horrifically overpriced and on a quality par with Merkurs. Once you find a blade you like, buy in bulk and buy online.
3. The Brush
Why do you need a brush? To prep the lather and your face. You have three main options here: a brush made of badger hair, a brush made of boar hair, and a synthetic brush.
Synthetic brushes I will talk about only briefly. They are highly variable in quality. If you’re a vegan you’ll need to go this route: take time reading reviews to see if they’re good or not. That’s really all I have to say on synthetic brushes.
Otherwise, you have a choice between badger or boar. Here’s the skinny: boar is cheaper but much stiffer and therefore harsher on the skin; badger is more expensive but softer and much more pleasant on the skin. Personally, there’s no time in my life for boar brushes, but some people love them. I much prefer the luxurious, soothing badger brush.
Brushes can cost you almost anything. You can get a decent boar brush from the pharmacy or supermarket for $10. You can find a decent badger brush starting at $20. In both cases you could spend hundreds on a brush with a beautiful handle.
Honestly, there is one brush I recommend to all beginners. It’s a little more expensive but it has a solid knot of hair, is well-made and will last for years:
- Classic Shaving Super Badger Shaving Brush (49.99). This thing is a monster. For the quality of workmanship, it’s great value. It will last you for years. It’s great on the skin and produces great lather. The perfect introductory shaving brush. Done.
Finally, you may need a mug or a bowl. I use a mug to soak the brush in and to rinse the razor while shaving and a bowl to make the lather in. You’ll see many expensive mugs and bowls online. Do yourself a favor and just buy cheap ones from the dollar store, or commandeer ones from your kitchen. You don’t need anything special here.
5. In Conclusion…
There you have it. In part one, you got the creams, soaps and aftershave. Now you can get all the hardware you need. Next up: Part 3 — how to use all this stuff!