Lather with Soap, not Foam

No, not regular old bar soap – shaving soap!

The foaming gel variety of shaving cream that has supplanted old fashioned shaving soap comes in pressurized steel cans and costs $3.00 – $5.00 bucks, depending, apparently, on the level of built-in moisturization Shaving soap costs under $1.50 (where I shop), never loses pressure, and you have only a palm-sized scrap of cardboard to dispose of.

Matt uses a straight razor to shave. He got it for $5.00 at one of those stores where they sell things people have abandoned in their storage units. Properly cared for, it will outlive him. (We haven’t dated it, but it looks like the handle may be Bakelite – it could be that this razor has already outlived an owner.) If you’re going this route you will need more than just the razor and the strop (the leather and canvas strap you always see in the barber shops of Westerns): the strop alone does not sharpen the blade. From time to time (and almost assuredly the first time you use it) you will need to sharpen the blade properly on a honing stone. When you’ve honed the edge to perfection then you “wipe” it on the strop to get the well-nigh invisible razor edge of the metal to straighten and not fold over. You may also want to get a tube of strop paste. A shaving brush, mug, and soap are also necessary. We’ve blown trough several brushes, so I can say that this is not an element to be cheap about. Cheap brushes lose bristles in clumps – or sometimes, the whole head falls out of the handle into your mug. Any old mug you can fit the soap into will do, and soap is a matter of preference. Williams just happens to be the only kind carried by our local store. There are plenty of varieties online, at Lehman’s, and the Cumberland General Store.

I haven’t tried the straight razor myself. Yes, I’m chicken, but I’m also using up the last of a jumbo bag of pink plastic disposable razors before I switch. If it turns out that I can’t hack it with the straight razor (or, rather, if I do hack something) I’ll try a safety razor.

Safety razors, so I had heard, were invented as a direct result of World War I because of the use of mustard gas. With gas a real threat, soldiers needed to be ready to don a gas mask at any moment, and whiskers prevent a gas mask from properly sealing around the face. I did a little research (thanks again, Wikipedia!) and found that they were around well before WWI, but Gillette worked one hell of deal with the US military and “some 3.5 million razors and 32 million blades were put into military hands, thereby converting a substantial portion of young men to the Gillette safety razor”.  Safety razors, as the name implies, are safer than straight razors (in that it is ever so slightly more difficult to slash your jugular open) and, according to Lehman’s, they give a cleaner shave. Safety razors are what your grandfather likely used to shave. They look like a chrome-plated modern disposable razor and take specially notched double-sided refill razor blades (not at all like the kind you buy at the hardware store for your paint scraper). In the height of the safety razor’s popularity some houses were constructed with a compartment in the bathroom wall beside the mirror with a tiny opening in which to deposit your used blades (Google that one — there were too many great results for me to pick one to link to!).

Regardless of what manner of sharpened piece of metal you use to scrape the hair follicles off your skin, you can use shaving soap. You’ll save a few bucks and enjoy a nice clean shave. I have found my legs much smoother since I started using it – but I was also shaving in the dimly lit shower with Ivory soap and no glasses before the switch, so maybe I’m giving the soap too much credit . . .

Now I just need to overcome my fear of lye so that I can start soapmaking and make our very own shaving soap from scratch!

– Amanda


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