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Thread: The Noob Chronicle - My Straight Razor Experience

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    I'm on The Straight Road jdto's Avatar
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    Default The Noob Chronicle - My Straight Razor Experience

    Since there are so many experienced veterans of straight razor shaving around here, I figured I'd write a small journal of my first steps into the anachronistic world of the straight razor. Hopefully some of you will find some interest in my writings, as well as some familiarity as you go through the your first shaves, or remember them from way back when.


    A New Hobby
    I'll preface by saying I stumbled into traditional shaving somewhat by accident, having read a discussion on an unrelated forum and noting that a friend had his DE razor up for sale. I immediately jumped into this hobby with both feet. Having seen shaving as an onerous chore to be avoided at all costs, I hoped to turn it into a pleasurable experience and something from which I could derive enjoyment. After some reading and searching, I settled on a decent Omega boar bristle brush from my local pharmacy, some Proraso shaving soap from the same, some Real Shaving oil, balm and face scrub and picked up the Merkur 38c, complete with a partial pack of the infamous Feather blades, from my aforementioned friend.

    The journey into DE shaving was, indeed, all I expected it to be: frustrating, fun, pleasurable, scary and, at the end of the day, quite enjoyable. I quickly picked up a Vulfix badger brush, as well as discovering some sample shops from which to order soaps, creams and other shaving supplies, not to mention a sample pack of DE blades. But there were these sections on the forums I was reading, sections that held a new mystery: the straight razor. It seemed almost inevitable that I would have to try this, given how much I was enjoying the DE experience.


    The Straight Road
    Needless to say, I became fascinated by the art of the straight razor shave and, having already acquired more shaving gear in a few short weeks than I'd purchased in the previous 3 or 4 years, I promptly found myself purchasing a straight razor from a classified ad on a forum. To accompany this, I had to order a strop and some other supplies, just to make sure I had a great first experience. I was lucky to have the wealth of information of the straight razor community online, StraightRazorPlace.com, to guide me in my choices. Of course, while waiting for the respected postal services of the United States of America and Canada to do their thing, I continued to read, absorb, watch and listen to any and all information about razors, lather, strops, hones, brushes and aftershaves that I could get. I discovered a second straight razor, this one a bit more expensive and a bit fancier than my first, with ebony scales and a nicely polished blade, which I had to have.

    Remember, all this is before a straight has even touched my face.

    Finally, the first razor arrived, a slightly battered H&H that came to me shave-ready from a very friendly and helpful member of the online community. Of course, with no strop, I was forced to put it aside and wait, rather impatiently, for the rest of my kit to arrive.
    Several days went by and, arriving home from work, I discovered my strop waiting in the mailbox. At last, it was the day!


    My First Shave
    Having read several guides and watched a few videos, I now considered myself an expert on straight razor shaving. After all, how hard could it be? Lather up, scrape three inches of the sharpest steel in the world over my face, rinse off and done, right? Easy stuff, right? For the occasion, I decided to try my sample of Mitchell’s Wool Fat shaving soap, whose near-mythical status amongst traditional shavers had attracted my attention.

    Having followed the instructions on my stropping kit regarding conditioning and preparation, I was ready to have a go. I began to strop, slowly, carefully and successfully. After the first ten passes, I figured I was getting the hang of it and started to increase my pace. I’m sure the experienced shavers among us are shaking their heads knowingly at what happened next, as I sliced the razor into the strop, luckily not too badly, but enough to put a significant dent in my budding overconfidence. Back to slow and easy, careful and gentle, I got through my first thirty passes on the strop and set the razor aside, ready to go.

    As I lathered up, I was feeling quite a bit more nervous than I had been with the first DE shave, even given all I had read about the dreaded Feathers. As I spread the passable MWF lather onto my face – I still need more practice at lathering that stuff – I was in an almost euphoric state, ready for anything. Taking the seemingly small and delicate tool up in my hands, aligning my fingers on the grip just as I’d seen in the photos online, I held the blade at what I figured to be an appropriate angle on my right sideburn. This was it! I was about to become a new man. A more manly man. A throwback to simpler times. Right?

    Down went the razor, removing some of the hair on my cheek and, thankfully, none of the skin. I made it through the first pass relatively unscathed, getting the feel of this strange implement as it came into contact with my face. Not heeding all the advice I’d read, I went for a second with-the-grain pass, this one reducing my already somewhat sparse beard even further and even showing some nice progress in the difficult moustache area, as well as around the chin. Emboldened by my relative success thus far, I brashly lathered up a third time and, still with the grain, I shaved yet again. This time I felt some burn, I felt some scraping and I cut my chin. Not too badly, but enough that I needed the styptic to stop the bleeding. As I rinsed off and cleaned up, I felt the burn on my neck, my left cheek and my chin, I felt the stubble on my jawline and underneath the point of my chin, where I had tread most lightly.

    A horrible shave, but what an experience!

    I have to confess, I didn’t really feel more manly. I didn’t feel like a throwback, but I felt damn good, all the same. Alum, cold water, some Proraso aftershave and then some Real Shaving balm helped me feel a little better in the burn department, but no help was needed in the accomplishment department.

    I had done it. Day one.

    Maybe next time I’ll actually take off all the hair!
    Cheers,

    Jack
    Last edited by jdto; 10-06-2011 at 07:25 PM.

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    Senior Member blabbermouth ace's Avatar
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    Believe it or not, a far better than average start, very likely due to your diligent research and preparation. It will get better, slowly, for a long time, but the journey is more worthwhile than the destination.

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    Great read....

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    Thanks for sharing jdto.
    Keep trying, keep learning, keep sharing, hang on and enjoy the ride
    Hang on and enjoy the ride...

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    I'm on The Straight Road jdto's Avatar
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    The Straight Road – Part Deux
    My second ever shave was another great learning experience. Had some more battles with MWF and, again, with my chin.


    Anticipation
    With one shave under my belt, I felt like I was ready for anything as I headed home on the subway, already thinking about how nice it would be to line myself up over the sink in the small bathroom in my apartment. After my struggles with Mitchell’s Wool Fat lather during my first shave, I figured the logical choice would be, while in my very early learning phase, to go back to the more comfortable and easy-to-lather Proraso soap. Of course, I’ve always been more stubborn than logical, so I was determined to give the MWF another go. My anticipation was heightened by the fact that I would have all the time in the world to spend on prep and shaving, as my better two thirds (that would be wife and daughter) were out for the evening.

    Prep
    After spending what was probably a bit too much time reading and watching videos about lathering MWF, I decided I’d go with my Omega 10005 Boar brush, rather than the Vulfix 2234 Super Badger I had used during the previous shave. My first stop was at the strop, slowly, steadily and relatively successfully, I managed twenty-five passes with only minimal flaking on the edges of the strop and only two small blemishes on the leather surface. I once again thanked the advice I had received from the online shaving community, which had led me to the inexpensive and very effective Poor Man’s Strop kit from WhippedDog.com for my first. Imagine ruining a beautiful $80+ strop in your first few passes of the razor!

    After not shaving for two days, I figured my skin would be alright with the more vigorous massage of a face lathering from a relatively stiff- bristled boar. As I soaked the brush in nice warm water and loaded the soap with more of the same, I applied a steaming hot towel to my face and sat back on a footstool in our adjacent bedroom, enjoying the moment of utter relaxation as the heat penetrated my face and my senses. I repeated the hot towel treatment several times for a total of about four or five minutes of face time, then moved to the lathering stage.

    MWF 2 – Me 0
    Working the brush, I charged it up with soap and proceeded to face lather. The stiff, somewhat scratchy bristles of this fine brush worked their magic, as I steadily built up what I figured was a half-decent lather on my face. Over the course of several minutes, I lathered, dipped, lathered, dipped and scrubbed the brush on my face. It seemed better than the my previous attempts, so I accepted a somewhat creamy, slippery lather and moved on to the main course. Little did I know that I was going to be less than happy with the result of my lathering efforts.

    The Shave
    Taking my freshly stropped H&H, I set my grip, still somewhat awkwardly, and began my first pass. As in my previous attempt, the sideburn and cheek areas were relatively easy, while the jaw line was somewhat trickier and the chin and neck were the most challenging. I did manage to get the whiskers at the corner of my jaw, just below the ear, and even the difficult ones at the corners of my mouth. I was disappointed to find that, by the time I was ready for my neck, my lather had dried up and become flimsy, actually blowing away in little bubbles. Determined to get a better lather, I took to my bowl, whipping the brush and some new drops of water furiously, producing an acceptable and somewhat cushiony lather, which probably helped me get through the chin portion of the shave more easily.

    Ah, the chin! I have a little scar under my chin (who doesn’t?), courtesy of a childhood faceplant in the schoolyard, followed by someone tripping over top of me and driving my chin into the ground. This makes an already delicate area even trickier for me to shave. I did manage to get the whiskers down to an acceptable level this time, though it was nowhere near what you would call a smooth shave. That said, between my jittery hands and my battles with MWF, I was fairly satisfied with my second ever straight razor shave. I made two additional passes, lathering as I went to avoid the stuff drying out on my face, and ended up with a shave that was what you might call patchy.

    Post
    I finished up with my alum block, cold water and my Proraso aftershave, followed by the post-shave cream and then some Real Shaving balm.

    The Verdict?
    Well, it was better than the previous shave, but certainly not what I would call a “good shave”. I had managed to avoid cutting myself, though I did sort of “pop” a couple of ingrown spots on my neck. Nonetheless, I learned a few more things about my face and that I still have a lot to learn about lathering that darn soap!

    My Truefitt & Hill sample pack arrived today, so I guess we’ll be trying a new cream for shave number three!

    I think I'm on the Straight Road!
    Cheers,
    Jack
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    I'm on The Straight Road jdto's Avatar
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    The Straight Road - Part Three: The Next Day
    My past two writeups have come the day after my shaving experience, but this time I decided to write it up immediately after the fact, just for a little change of perspective. With the arrival of my sample pack from T&H, there was no way I was not shaving this evening when I got home. Was this a good idea? Hmmm...let's find out.

    Anticipation
    The arrival of the bubble envelope to my office this afternoon made it almost obligatory that I shave today, just one day after my previous, and just my second, straight razor shave. Of course, when my package arrived, I pulled out the cologne samples and checked them out, settling on Trafalgar as my preferred scent for the time being. Slipping off to the bathroom, I applied a few experimental dabs to test it out. Definitely a nice scent, with pleasant spiciness and some woody tones. I arrived home filled with the anticipation of shaving for the second day in a row - you'll note that I tend to do my straight shaving in the evening due to time constraints in the morning - only to find my wife waiting, ready for me to accompany her to pick up the other third of my better two thirds from daycare. Being the dutiful husband and father that I am, I accompanied her on the two block walk to pick the little one up. Good things, after all, come to those who wait. That's why I waited forty-eight hours for my next shave...oh yeah, except I didn't. That might not have been such a smart move.

    Prep
    I decided I would prep a little bit differently than I had in my previous shaves, opting for a shower and some eShave Orange Sandalwood preshave oil. Shower prep usually gets my whiskers nice and soft and hydrated, so I figured this would be a good day for it. I soaked my brush and warmed my bowl in a sink full of hot water as I cleaned the baby oil off my H&H 6/8. I had rubbed my strop down with my bare hand, having read this was good for the strop, and conditioned it with a couple of drops of the oil that came in my Poor Man's Strop kit. Concentrating hard, making sure each stroke was even and the spine and edge of my blade were making contact with the mostly smooth leather surface of the strop, I started my passes. I decided to go for about forty passes this time, hoping to obtain a smoother edge for my experience today, especially given the fact my face was only twenty-four hours removed from the previous assault.

    The Lather Wars
    I've come to a conclusion after trying MWF and T&H cream in the past couple of days after a few weeks of Proraso: I suck at lathering. Either that, or Proraso is a very noob-friendly product. I suspect it's somewhere in the middle and I also expect that, with more time, I'll get better at it. I also, after some obsessive perusal of a few YouTube videos, think I am shorting myself on the water in my lather-making endeavours. Anyway, I'm sure that, once I get this lather thing down, I'll probably have much more enjoyable shaves. All in good time. Speaking of which...

    The Shave
    The shave...the shave...the shave....
    This wasn't a good one for me. My lather was thin and not too slippery, though it didn't dry out like my MWF lather. I think the shave oil probably saved me from a much worse experience, but as I sit here writing this, there is still quite a bit of stinging burn on my neck, cheeks and chin. I started with my usual with the grain pass, right side first, cheek and sideburns, moving into jawline. So far, so good. I did my best to pay close attention to the blade angle tonight, trying for light pressure and gliding the blade over my skin. I definitely felt some pulling and scraping, but I was thinking that's what a straight did. I attribute that to my lather and to my beginner's technique. The first pass, despite the lather and technique challenges, was relatively smooth and easy. I am still pretty awkward and clumsy with the razor, but at least my left hand felt like it belonged to me, rather than someone else's hand that I was trying to control via mental telepathy.

    Before the second pass, I tried to add a bit of cream from my sample pack while whipping the lather up a bit more. It was still under-hydrated, but at least it was more plentiful. I made sure to apply some fresh lather to my chin, cheeks and neck while doing a second, mostly with the grain, pass. This one did bring out some burn, but nothing too intense, so I made a decision that, in hindsight, was probably a bit rash.

    Lathering up with determination, I decided I would do a pass across the grain. This would be my first time going XTG with the straight and I figured that the third shave was probably enough time for that. Silly me! On a positive note, the shave I got was pretty smooth and I do have less rough patches than yesterday. Even the tricky spot just under the point of my chin is smooth!

    Post
    After the third, XTG pass, I was feeling a bit tender. I went with a post-shave rinse of lukewarm water, followed by my drugstore Witch Hazel splash, then the alum block, which stung like a you-know-what! While I let the alum act, I dried, stropped and re-oiled my razor, preparing it for at least forty-eight hours of rest as I am out of town this weekend. Setting the razor aside, I proceeded with a bracing cold water rinse and applied the lovely-smelling Truefitt & Hill Trafalgar aftershave balm. This stuff is really luxurious.

    The Verdict
    Ouch. Not one of my smarter moves, but sometimes the excitement overcomes the brains. I don't really regret it, as I did learn from the experience. The bumps and rash will fade, the burn will subside, but the lessons will remain. I had never had razor burn on my cheeks until today. Nonetheless, I have figured out that I need to work on my lathering techniques, that I should probably stick to shaving every other day and that T&H makes great-smelling stuff!

    Not a bad bit of learning for my third ever straight razor shave!

    Even if there are bumps and potholes (and razor rash) along the way, I'm on the Straight Road!

    Cheers,

    Jack

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    ..mama I know we broke the rules... Maxi's Avatar
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    I must say, that while lengthy, this thread is an excellent read. You're writing style reminds me of the way our masterful Obie braids his sentences into an entrancing and vivid post.

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    I'm on The Straight Road jdto's Avatar
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    Thanks for the feedback. I like to try to capture the feeling and mood of the experience and transmit a bit of what I am feeling.

    If I end up "talking" too much, just tell me to shut up.

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    Baby Butt Smooth... justalex's Avatar
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    If I end up "talking" too much, just tell me to shut up.
    sometimes in long threads, I think 'just get to the point' in your thread... I wish I could read faster

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    Senior Member conroygc's Avatar
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    This is a great thread. I always enjoy listening/reading to people's first straight razor experiences. Thanks for sharing!

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