Shaving the Old-School Way
Double-edge razor remains the king
It's also one less item to dispose, because a quality DE will last a lifetime. The only part you'll need to replace is the recyclable blade. Depending on blade quality and beard thickness, a DE blade will last an average of four shaves. Some even stretch it more, though it's three shaves for me.
It makes economic sense, too. A top-notch DE razor goes for about $50, and a blade 10-pack around $5. The savings are undeniable.
The DE, around since 1904 when King Camp Gillette was granted the patent for it, uses a paper-thin disposable blade with a single cutting edge that is laser sharp. Although it shares some characteristics with the straight razor, the DE's learning curve is much shorter.
After going to three wars and shaving millions of civilians, the DE declined in popularity after the 1950s, when multi-blade disposable blades were introduced. Luckily not all was lost, as some men shrugged off the commercial hype and stayed with the DE. Today thousands of the old Gillettes are still around at flea markets, antique stores and in the classified section of various wet shaving forums.
Those old beauties were built like tanks. The coveted models include the Aristocrat, the Super Speed varieties and the adjustable Fatboy, among others.
Modern DE razors give just as great a shave as the vintage, if not better. Many prefer them to the vintage razors. I do, overall. Muhle, Edwin Jagger, Merkur, Feather, Pils, iKon, Joris, Weber, Parker, Goodfella and Weishi combine to offer a big catalog of DE razors to satisfy every taste and to tame every beard.
Merkur produces several models of adjustable razors, including the popular Progress, as well as the Futur and the massive Vision 2000. The chrome plating on the Muhle, Edwin Jagger and Joris razors dazzles. The Pils, Feather, iKon and Weber are all well-made stainless-steel razors. The German Pils, with its distinct design, also gives a remarkable taste of modern engineering.
Double-edge razors with a safety bar arguably tend to be milder and protect more against nicks, especially for beginners, compared to their open-comb counterparts. I think it's more a personal taste, really. I prefer the safety bar version. From a collection of some 30 DE razors, I have only two 1930s Gillettes with the open comb. All the others, vintage and modern, are closed comb.
Personal preference also covers razor blade selection. The blade that works best for me might not do the same for another. Also, some DE shavers opt for matching the razor with a specific brand of blade. For instance, I match the stainless-steel Feather DE, a mild razor, with Feather blades, considered to be the sharpest. For me, the Israeli-made Personna blades or the Turkish-made Derby work well with the aggressive Pils razor or the open-comb Joris.
Scores of DE razor blades are produced in Russia, Japan, India and other parts of the world. Most are stainless steel and many are platinum coated for a smoother shave. Coveted brands include Feather, Super Iridium, Gillette 7 O'Clock "SharpEdge," Kai, Polsilver, Personna, Wilkinson and Derby, among others. I prefer Feather, Gillette 7 O'Clock SharpEdge, Super Iridium, Personna and Derby. You'll eventually nail down your own preferences. To start with, try a sampler pack.
Double-edge razors and blades, in addition to traditional wet shaving products, are available at various online stores: Straight Razor Designs (straightrazordesigns.com), BullGoose Shaving Supplies (bullgooseshaving.net), The English Shaving Co. (theenglishshavingcompany.com), West Coast Shaving (westcoastshaving.com) and Lee's Safety Razors (leesrazors.com), among others.
As a beginner, you'll do well with the Edwin Jagger 89BA11 Barley Chrome. It's a sweet razor. The "Chatsworth" models are gorgeous. The R89 by Muhle is also a winner. The Sophist and the Stylo series from Muhle are stunning.
Merkur's short-handle 34C and the long-handle 38C "barber pole" are popular. I'll take the Progress and the 34C above the others in the Merkur line. Parker's 92R, based on the old Gillette TTO (twist-to-open), is a good starter razor. You'll also do well with the vintage Gillettes, of course. They are worth the hunt.
The new American-made Weber is a fine choice. So is the imported iKon OSS stainless-steel razor, which offers an innovative shave head combining the open comb with the safety bar. The German Pils and the Japanese Feather, both high-end stainless steel razors, are a shaving treat—and pricey.
Whichever razor and blade you choose, it is essential to prepare the beard with a good brush and shave soap or shave cream. Shave in three passes: with the grain of the beard, across it and against it. Re-lather before each pass. Some faces can't take the against-the-grain pass. In that case, do two passes with the grain or across it. The idea is to reduce the beard with each pass rather than wipe it off in one.
Your shave may take five to 10 extra minutes, but it is time well spent for one of life's pleasures: the morning traditional shave with the DE.
Obie Yadgar was Milwaukee's most familiar voice in classical music as an on-air host for WFMR.