I’m a geek – a shaving geek

Note: This is a repost from my other blog – suitable updated, expanded and brought up to code.

Having spent a fair bit of time the bathroom most mornings, shaving my stubble off, I one morning received a revelation: I am a geek*.

Not that it’s a great shock to me; I’ve been pretty sure of my status a a geek since I was in school.

What caused the revelation is that I suddenly grasped what part of being a nerd is: A nerd will pursue an interest in depth, with great enjoyment and with scant regard for what the “normal” people think.** For example; If a “normal” person needs a computer, s/he will buy a desktop or a laptop and use it until it needs replacing. If a geek needs a computer, s/he will end up with, well:

  • Two desktops in use (mine and my better half each have one) with dual screens
  • Two desktops on standby, with three screens between them
  • One laptop in use
  • One laptop on standby
  • Three Netbooks (two for me, one for my better half)
  • Two tablets (a Samsung Tab2 and a HP Touchpad)
  • and one ultra small form factor computing device…

Anyhow, back to my mornings: As mentioned, I was getting the stubble of my face while I was letting my mind drift and enjoying myself immensely. Actually enjoying shaving myself is still somewhat of a novel experience for me, since for the majority of my adult life shaving have simply been a chore at best and resulting in a bad case of razor burn at worst. Electric razors have always felt like they were ripping my beard out, and the various latests, greatest razors put out by Gillette have been like dragging a dull knife over my face – didn’t matter if it was two or five blades, nor what can of foam I used. Shaving was a chore and something I just got over with as soon as I could.

Not so no more.

Shortly before I deployed to Africa for a twelve month Tour of Duty my better half directed my interest towards the recent resurgence of classic shaving; that is shaving with a brush, some soap or cream, and a simple one-blade, two edged safety razor of the kind your grandfather used. I figured I would give it a try and ordered a starter-kit from an online retailer in Norway – at the very least I would not have to worry about charging my electric razor or getting cartridges for my system razor while in Sudan…

Remember my comment on what will happen if a geek needs a computer?

Well, these days a typical day starts with me picking out the days combo of razors, brush and lather, before doing a bit of prep: a throughout wash of my face with pure castille soap while the brush soaks in warm water. After the prep I load the brush up, make lather and starts shaving – smiling all the time.

So yes, if a “normal” person needs to shave, he’ll pick up an electric razor or whatever wunderbar new system one of the big names sells at inflated prices. If a geek needs a shave, he might end up with a new hobby and an array of kit:

  • A Parker 22R butterfly razor – a good first razor, and a wonderful one for the second pass.
  • A Merkur 39C slant bar – a more aggressive razor, and not one for those just starting out.
  • A Merkur 985CL open comb travel razor – sits somewhere between the 22R and 39C, and usually in my GoBag. I sometimes takes it out and uses it at home though…
  • A Feather Popular razor – remarkable mild, but requires a fairly light touch
  • A Racer razor from Egypt – untried so far, but gotten good reviews online
  • A Yuma razor from Turkey – cheap, untried but also gotten good reviews
  • Two Body Shop synthetic brushes – a decent enough brush and a good one for travelling; it dries quickly. So I got one in my GoBag and one at home.
  • An Omega Shaving Brush #10048 Boar Bristle (box branded as Prosaro) – came with my starter kit and is pretty okay; handle is a bit on the big side for me.
  • A Turkish No6 horse hair brush – wonderfully stiff and can make good to great lather out of anything.
  • A Turkish No7 horse hair brush – same knot as the No6 as far as I can tell, but with a different handle.
  • A Vie-Long #14033 mixed horse-badger brush – still in the process of breaking it in.
  • A tub of Maca Root shave cream from Body Shop – procured before I started with classic shaving, and a pretty decent shaving cream. Contains a fair bit of nasty chemicals though… will probably not get a new one once the current tub is empty.
  • A tube of Proraso eucalyptus and menthol cream – part of my starter kit and my sole cream while in Sudan; I like both the scent and the soft glide it has. Used to live in my Gobag, but have been ousted by a newer cream.
  • A tub of Proraso eucalyptus and menthol soap – pretty much the same as the cream, but as a soap. A little harder to build the lather, but that’s partly down to skill.
  • A tub of Crabtree and Evelyn Sandalwood soap – smells great and works great.
  • A stick of Arko shaving soap – some people online swears to it, and some swears at it. Like everything about classic shaving, your mileage may vary considerable. I rather like it myself, once the strong scent had worn off a bit (hint; leave it unwrapped).
  • A tub of Col. Conk Bay Rum shaving soap – my first bay rum. The scent is subtle and good, but it reminds me of something I can’t quite put my finger on – not anything bad, mind you.
  • Several samples of tallow, lanolin and kokum butter shaving soaps from Mike’s Natural Soaps: Lavandin & Eucalyptus, Barber Shop, Rose & Cedarwood, Orange, Cedarwood & Black Pepper, Lime, Peppermint & Rosemary, Pine & Cedarwood, and Unscented
  • A tube of Nivea Shave Cream – a solid performer, generously PIFed from a fellow shaver. Sits in my GoBag most of the time, I’m always careful to put it back after using it at home.
  • A tube of Rise Shave Gel – generously PIFed from a fellow shaver.
  • A tub of RazoRock XXX Shave Cream – generously PIFed from a fellow shaver.
  • A tub of Orange Essential Oil Shave Soap – smells great, generously PIFed from a fellow shaver.
  • A refill pucks of Mitchel’s Wool Fat Shaving Soap – generously PIFed from a fellow shaver.
  • Samples of Martin de Candre and TFS Bergamotto Neroli Soap – both solid performers, both generously PIFed from a fellow shaver.
  • A tube of Aubrey Organics North Wood shave “cream” – for use without a brush. Not too impressed with the glide, okayish for travelling. Backup for the tube in my GoBag.
  • An alum block – an antiseptic and astringent, it’s used to clean and seal any minor nicks. Stings a fair bit if you got a larger nick, and tastes really weird if you get it on your lips.
  • Proraso Liquid Cream Aftershave – a pleasant smell in my opinion, YMMV though.
  • Krampert’s Finest Bay Rum Aftershave – generously PIFed from a fellow shaver, and a very nice aftershave indeed. I miss it badly when I’m shaving from the GoBag.
  • Three bowls for making lather in – a copper bowl from Turkey, an “at home bowl” (intended by IKEA as a cereal bowl), and a Turkish acacia wood travel bowl.
  • A selection of blades; Feather Hi-Stainless, Trent, Zorrik Super, Merkur Super, Willikins Sword, Gillette 7 o’clock, Astra Superior, Lord Platinum, Shark Super Chrome, Personna Platinum, Derby Extra, Persona Super…

Off course you don’t need so much to make shaving enjoyable again; on my recent ToD to Sudan I had only my Parker 22R, my synthetic brush and the tube of Proraso cream – but I find that having to make a couple or more choices in the morning adds to the enjoyment. And compared to some people out there my combined kit is definitely on the small side…

The actual shave itself has become somewhat of a ritual, a very comfortable and manly ritual. First I’ll wash my beard stubble with some Dr Bronner’s all natural castille soap, which helps soften up the stubble and prevents the oil on my skin from breaking down the lather. Having done that, I’ll rinse off and start laying out the tools of the trade; my razors and the combo of brush and soap / cream I’ve decided upon. After soaking the brush in warm (not hot) water, I proceed to adding wetness to the stubble with the brush. This both softens the brush some and gets the water down between all my stubble. Then it’s time to build the lather, and how I do that depends a bit on what soap / cream and brush I’ve picked. Some combos work best if built in a bowl (I started out with a cheap plastic bowl, upgraded to a cereal bowl and have just bought a cheap copper shaving bowl), some combos turn out better if built directly on my face.

Having built the lather, it is time to apply it. No reason to put on an inch of lather – the idea is to create a lubricated surface for the razor to glide over, as well as softening the stubble even more. At the end the brush is still heavily loaded with lather, which is good. Putting the brush aside, I rinse the “heavy cutter” of the day under hot water – not to clean it but to prewarm it – and starts the actual shave. Slow, short and controlled strokes does the trick – letting the weight of the razor do it’s work as I guide it. First pass is with the grain, and leaves me with a shave just as good as anything I could manage in the past. I’ll rinse and put away the first razor, rinse my face and apply lather again.

Yes, a second layer of lather for a second pass. I’ve found that my brushes will easily hold enough lather for three passes, even if I mostly stick to two. The second pass is usually with a milder razor, and going across the grain of my beard. Short, controlled strokes, letting the razor work for me again. When done correctly, and with a decent blade, you can actually hear the sharp edge cutting the stubble down to nothingness. A second rinse, check for any obvious misses and then stroke my block of alum across my neck and face to clean any minor nicks and cuts. Then it’s a simple matter of rinsing and putting away the razor, the brush and the bowl, plus cleaning all the little beard bits from the sink. Some people goes for a third pass too, usually against the grain, but I’ve found that two is enough for me.

It may sound complicated, but overall it takes about the same time as using a cartridge razor and cleaning up the resultant mess in my face. My skin is happier, I got a new hobby and gets to enjoy my mornings. And it is cheap to get started too; the initial outlay may be a bit more than using the “latest and greatest” thing from Gillette or the other Big Names in shaving, but when you look at the math it turns out that it can be significantly cheaper in the long run:

A Parker 22R – my first razor – costs 295 kroner (it is far from the cheapest DE razor around), and a pack of ten (10!) Feather Hi Stainless blades costs 40 kroner. Since each blade lasts about a week, that’s about 0.60 kroner a day for shaving.
A Gillette Fusion Power Stealth costs 185 kroner, and a pack of four (4!) cartridges costs 139 kroner. If one cartridge lasts two weeks – which is what I got out of the old Sensor cartridges that is about 2.50 kroner a day for shaving.

In other words, you pay about as much for a razor and a pack of blades independent of your choice of cartridge or DE razor – but you can shave for two more weeks with the DE razor before needing replacement blades. Start factoring in the cost of new blades, and the gap keeps increasing. Your costs may vary depending on where you live off course, but the basic premise holds true: Classic shaving can be significantly cheaper than using cartridges – if anything the cost difference should be greater in most countries. It is also better for the environment; no plastic waste, less packaging and the blades can easily be recycled. On top of that it provides a better, closer and more comfortable shave – so why not give it a try?

A basic starter kit can be pretty cheap; if you live in the US (for example), you can get a basic DE razor for less than 10 USD, a ten pack of good blades for less than 2 USD, a shaving brush for less than 5 USD and a shaving stick for under one USD.

If you’re even cheaper and buys from cheaper places, you can actually get the whole kit for ten USD – plus shipping, off course.

All told a modest outlay that will save you money in the long run, as well as providing you with some personal spa time each morning. You do deserve a bit of pampering, don’t you?

*) Or nerd, or tech-head, or whatever other description you prefer.
**) Other definitions of geek / nerd includes:
– A person who is interested in technology, especially computing and new media.
– Geeks are adept with computers, and use the term hacker in a positive way, though not all are hackers themselves.
– A person who relates academic subjects to the real world outside of academic studies; for example, using multivariate calculus to determine how they should correctly optimize the dimensions of a pan to bake a cake.
– A person who has chosen concentration rather than conformity; one who passionately pursues skill (especially technical skill) and imagination, not mainstream social acceptance.
– A person with a devotion to something in a way that places him or her outside the mainstream. This could be due to the intensity, depth, or subject of their interest.

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