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Jim’s Miscellaneous Ramblings (aka FAQ’s) – Wet Shaving

The following are extracts from emails sent to our customers that we seem to repeat so often that we thought we would share them with the general public, in the hope that they would be of help to those exploring wet shaving for the first time. We have been keeping them for awhile in a file called “Jim’s Miscellaneous Ramblings” and thought we would just keep that title (sounds so much better than “frequently asked questions”).  We will add to this as time goes on.

Should I get an adjustable razor?

We get asked this question a lot. The adjustable razor was developed because not all beards, and not all skin types, are the same. However, this has to be put in the context of time it was developed.  Back then there was only one razor blade available…the Gillette Blue Blade.  In the early days of the safety razor, before the advent of the adjustable razor, Gillette would offer a new razor model in 3 variations. For sake of discussion, we will call them a light, a medium, and a heavy. The "light" was for people with light beards or with sensitive skin. The "medium" was for the so-called "average" person with an average beard and skin. Naturally, the "heavy" was for those with coarse, heavy beards. Really the only thing that differentiated the three was the head geometry that controlled the amount of blade exposure. This would determine how "aggressive" the razor would be.  Essentially, today’s adjustable safety razors, like the Merkur Futur, allow you to vary the amount of blade exposure and thereby the aggressiveness of the blade that you are using.   

In our opinion, you do not need an adjustable razor.  Non-adjustable razors, what we call our “Standard” razors, have the head geometry set to a “medium" blade exposure.  We find that the best way to “adjust” the shave provided by a specific razor is to change the razor blade that you use in it. Today there are 30 or more double edge blades being made in a dozen or so countries.  You will find that each brand of razor blade gives a slightly different shave.  So, it’s best to experiment with various brands of blades to see which works best for you.  Of the blades that we carry, the Merkur blades would not be considered an aggressive blade.  The Feather blades would be considered a very aggressive blade.  Our other blades fall in between.  Most shaving sites, including ours, sell razor blade sampler packs at a discount to allow you to try different brands.

Just what is a “floppy” shaving brush?

It’s important to understand just what this term means.  First of all think of it not as a pejorative but as a descriptive term.  Some shavers actually prefer floppy brushes.   But what causes a shaving brush to be considered floppy?  There are three primary factors that can contribute to this.  These are the resilience of the hair bristle, the loft, and the density of fill.  The resilience is commonly referred to as the backbone of the shaving brush.  There is a great variation in this characteristic.  A brush can be too stiff, coarse, or scratchy for some users.   Another brush can be too soft.  Many look for an ideal combination of characteristics to meet their specific needs.  One of the reasons for the popularity of the so called “two-band” variety of silvertip badger hair brushes is their significant resilience combined with soft tips.  It should be no surprise that you pay a premium for these brushes.  The loft of the brush, which is measured from the top of the handle to the crown (top) of the hair bundle, has a major impact of how floppy a brush would feel.  All other factors being the same, a brush with a tall loft would be more floppy than a brush with a shorter loft.  Like all things though there are limits.  If the loft gets too short, performance can be sacrificed.   Lastly, the density of fill, defined as the number of bristles per millimeter of knot, can also have an impact on floppiness.  It would seem fairly apparent that if the brush was more tightly packed with hair, it would hold together better during use.  However, of the three, the density of fill seems to have a proportionally lesser impact.  From a general performance perspective though, this characteristic of a shaving brush cannot be understated.

What about pre-shaves?

There is a real divided camp on the use of pre-shaves.  However, I have a coarse beard and find a pre-shave gives me a closer shave with less irritation.  Therefore, I use one almost every time I shave and certainly whenever I have gone more than a day without shaving.  My preference however, is for a pre-shave that is not an oil.  I have found that oil tends to degrade the performance of a shaving brush over time and unless you shampoo the brush frequently, it really can get fouled up.  I use the Castle Forbes Pre-Shave, which is not an oil, and I find to perform better than anything else I have tried.

What shaving soap/cream do you recommend?

The characteristics that you look for in a shaving cream or soap are how well the lather lubricates and the amount of cushion it provides between the razor and your face.  Shaving soaps are broadly grouped into the “melt and pour” soaps, like the Colonel Conk, and the milled soaps.  Most of the higher quality shaving soaps have been triple-milled.  Recently however, there has been a growing number of small handcrafted, artisan soap makers offering high quality shaving soaps that are not milled. Most of these, like Mike's Natural Soaps, Mystic Water Soaps, & Queen Charlotte Soaps contain tallow and a variety of other natural ingredients. Using any shaving cream or soap with a quality shaving brush is far superior to using foam from a can.  So, the choice of any cream or soap will be a significant step up.  However, a high quality shaving soap like one of the artisan soaps mentioned above or a soap from D.R. Harris, or a premium shaving cream like Castle Forbes should produce significantly better lather than one of their lower priced counterparts. 

I am having problems producing a good lather with my shaving soap/cream, what do you recommend?

We would love to sell you another soap or cream, but before blaming the product, check your water.  One thing to remember is how important a role the quality of your water plays in lather production.  Buy a bottle of Aquafina and warm it to just slightly above room temperature in the microwave. Use this with any soap or cream with which you are dissatisfied before relegating it to the waste bin or giving it to your least favorite in-law.  

How do I use the shaving soap in the wooden bowl?

Most just take their wet (not dripping) shaving brush and “charge” or load it with soap and then lather directly on the face. The simple concept of “charging” or loading the brush is just a means of transferring soap to the face to do the actual lathering on the face.  Thus the term “face lathering”.  This loading of the brush can take place in any container, including the gorgeous wooden bowls in which many of the better milled soaps are sold. An alternative is to build the lather in a “lathering bowl”, rather than on the face.  A lathering bowl can be something as simple as a rice bowl, or something as elegant as the hand thrown pottery Sara’s Lather Bowl that I designed.

What do you recommend for an after shave? 

The one product group of which I am a big fan is aftershave balms, particularly the unscented ones.  After the shave, I do not think your face needs the added insult of alcohol.  It needs to be soothed and moisturized.  I try to avoid products containing alcohol, which tend to dry out my skin, particularly in colder weather.  One product that I really like comes from The Gentlemens Refinery.  It is made of all natural ingredients. Being unscented is a real plus for me as well, since I like to use a variety of different colognes.  Most of the shaving creams and soaps that I use do have a fragrance, but that scent does not carry much beyond the shave itself.  If it does, I’ll use the cologne or EDT that matches the cream.  For the most part though, an unscented aftershave balm is just the perfect thing.  Because the balm is unscented I don't have another layer of fragrance upon which to layer my cologne. 

My brush is losing hairs. Is this a problem?

It’s not uncommon for a brush to lose a hair now and then, particularly when first used. Many times this is just the result of loose hairs from the original badger hair bundle not being properly combed out at the factory when the brush was made. This can often be the case with some of the more densely filled brushes. However, if the shedding does not stop after a week or so, then the brush may be suffering from failure of the glue that is holding the hair bundle together.

However, before contacting your retailer and giving up on a perfectly good shaving brush, here is what we recommend to our customers. Give the brush a good aggressive shampoo with your normal hair shampoo. You may even want to do this twice. Thoroughly rinse the brush out and let it dry out. When it is completely dry, comb it thoroughly with whatever wide gap comb or brush you have available. Then, rub your hand back and forth across the brush to bring up any additional loose hairs. Now you should use your brush exclusively for another week to see if the shedding continues.

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A Simple Buyer’s Guide to the Merkur Safety Razors

We answer questions all day long about razors. So we know how confusing it can be to come into this strange world for the first time and see terms that make little to no sense.  One such area relates to the so-called 2-piece and 3-piece designs of the Merkur safety razors

First, it’s important to understand that all the Merkur non-adjustable razors, what we call “standard” safety razors on our website, are basically the same.  The only exception to this is the Slant, and although an exceptional razor, we don’t recommend this as a first time safety razor.  So, excluding the Slant, the Merkur “standard” razors can be divided into, for sake of discussion, what we will call the “light” and “heavy” models.  These can be differentiated by the thickness of their handles and their overall weight.  It should be noted that many individuals prefer a heavier razor.

These “light” razors are what are known as a 3-piece design, where the razor breaks down into 3 components.  The “business end” of the razor, which is commonly known as the head, is made of 2 pieces or plates, between which is held the blade.  The handle screws into the head to tighten the razor.  The handle is the 3rd piece. The most common of these razors is our “Standard Classic”, the Merkur Model 33C.  There is also a popular long handled version of this razor, the Merkur Model 23C, our “Long Classic”.  Its handle is ¾” longer than the 33C, but in all other aspects it is the same.  The Model 42, our “1904 Classic” would also be included in this group.  It has the same head as the 33C and the 23C but the handle has a more stylized Victorian look. The handle is approximately the same length as that of the 33C.

The “heavy” razors are all a 2-piece design.  The top plate of the head has a long threaded shaft.  The bottom plate of the head is attached to the handle.  Just as with the 3-piece design, the blade is sandwiched between the 2 plates.  The threaded shaft of the top plate is inserted through the blade and into the handle where a knob at the bottom of the handle is turned to tighten the razor.  The most common of these razors is our “Heavy Classic”, the Merkur Model 34C.  There is also a popular long handled version of this razor, the Merkur Model 38C, our “Long Handled Heavy Classic”.  Again, its handle is ¾” longer than the 34C.

If we were to recommend one of the “light” razors over the other, it would be the 33C.  We much prefer the handle design of this razor over that of the 42, given that it provides a more secure grip when wet.  As for the “heavy” razors, we would recommend the 34C.  Were we to recommend one razor over all the others, it would most likely be the 34C.  Having used all these razors at one time or another, we find ourselves continually returning to the 34C. 

One last point, whether the razor is a 2-piece or a 3-piece design will make no difference with regard to the head geometry.  By this we mean that the angle at which the blade edge is presented to the face.  This is the same in all of these razors.  The end result is that with a given blade, a Merkur 2-piece razor tends to shave the same as one of their 3-piece razors.  So, if you do not like the shave you are getting, it is best to try a different blade rather than buy another razor.

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Why Badger Hair Brushes?

Before we answer that question, we want to devote just a few words to the badger itself. You should know that the badger is hunted primarily for its meat. The countries that are the main importers of badger hair operate under very strict import controls. Most of the high quality commercial badger hair comes from remote areas of China where badgers are plentiful. In fact, they are so plentiful that they endanger crops and livestock. The Chinese government controls badger culling by licensing tiny village cooperatives to conduct hunts and process the hair. The sale of the badger hair provides co-op members with an additional source of income.

Vintage Blades sells only 100% badger hair brushes. There are, of course, less expensive shaving brushes out there, but they are not 100% badger hair. Here’s what you will find:

Product Cost $ Comfort X
Boar bristle $ X
Boar, badger blends $$ XX
Pure Badger $$$ XXXX
Best Badger $$$$ XXXXX
Finest Badger* $$$$$$ XXXXXXXX
Super Badger** $$$$$$$ XXXXXXXXXXX
Silvertip Badger $$$$$$$$$$++ XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Note: Some use the term “Super Badger” indiscriminately. Our brushes are so labeled by their maker. Just be sure you know what you are buying.

Note: Some use the term “Super Badger” indiscriminately. Our brushes are so labeled by their maker. Just be sure you know what you are buying.

But again, why badger hair? Like human hair, badger hair absorbs rather than repels water and water makes up the biggest part of your shaving lather. So, the more water a brush carries the better. Also, we would assume you want the softest brush possible against your face in the morning. The real point is that badger hair is so soft that it does not irritate the face while lathering. Reduction in irritation is the whole idea of wet shaving.

NOTE: Because there are no international standards for grading badger hair, it’s important to purchase a quality brush from a source that you can trust.

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How To Care For Your Brush

1. Shampoo the brush in warm water before the first use. Use the same shampoo that you use to wash your  hair. Some also like to use a conditioner. *

2. NEVER boil your brush.

3. Never press the brush into your skin. This will break the badger hair. Instead, stroke it sideways, like a painter’s brush.

4. Wash the brush well with warm (not hot) water after each use.

5. Flick the brush to remove as much water as possible after each use. You can also gently stroke it on a dry towel.

6. Never store the brush on its base (yes, we know they are flat). Instead, use a brush stand so the remaining water can move away from the base of the hairs.

NOTE: See our selection of Brush and Razor Stands 

7. To avoid mildew, do not store the brush in the medicine chest between uses. Instead, place the stand on the vanity top to allow proper air circulation.

8. If you use a brush in a travel kit, be sure to take it out to dry thoroughly upon your return.

* It is not unusual to see a couple of hairs fall out a new brush the first time or so that you use it. Any more than that, however, and there may be a problem with the brush. Contact the vendor from whom you purchased the brush or the brush manufacturer directly to determine what solution is appropriate.

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Men’s Fragrances – A Cautionary Tale

We have to start out by confessing that we really like fragrances for men.  We use a different one almost every day.  However, for some their work environment makes the use of a fragrance impractical or there may be other considerations that will limit their use.  As with most things though, the key to using a fragrance is moderation. This is something all women understand but it is a revelation that is slow to come to many men.   

We prefer our fragrance to be contained exclusively in the form of a cologne or eau de toilette (EDT).  We like our shaving soaps and creams to be lightly scented.  We certainly enjoy the aroma of a warm, fragrant lather on our face in the morning.  However, after we rinse it away, we would like it to be just a pleasant memory.  Then we always follow-up our shave with an unscented, non-alcohol aftershave balm to help soothe and re-moisturize.  With this routine, we are free to use a fragrance of our choice without fear of it conflicting with anything we have used prior.   

Typically, we apply our cologne/EDT to the chest area and maybe a little to the back of the neck.  This latter area is a great spot should you have a neck nuzzler in your life (wink!).  We prefer products that deliver a metered spray versus an open top.  Again, use caution when applying these products particularly if you have not used the particular fragrance before.  We have learned the hard way not to apply a cologne for the first time and immediately get into a vehicle full of people on a hot night.  Although the AC was on full, it took us awhile to figure out why all the windows were opening.  

We offer a number of lines at different price points but we are particularly fond of the fragrances from Penhaligon’s.   Their colognes and EDT’s have been offered since the late 1800’s and have been the favorites of the likes of royalty, Hollywood celebrities, and even an occasional Pope.  Their top selling fragrance is Blenheim Bouquet followed by Quercus, Endymion, and English Fern. Their latest offering, which is to be added to my rotation, is the delightful Juniper Sling.

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A Guide to Wet Shaving

Men, and women, have been shaving for centuries. So, there is no great mystery about shaving. Many people wonder why all the fuss recently about something their Grandfather used to do. Well it seems that in all the hustle and bustle of the “computer age”, we forgot that with Grandfather’s method, the shaving process could actually be done just as quickly, but without as much skin irritation. Also, as an added bonus, Granddad would have told you he was actually getting a much closer shave with his method, as compared to these new “wonders of science”.

Here are the Essentials of Wet Shaving

1. Hot Water

When possible, always shave after your shower. The facial hair absorbs the water and becomes softer and easier to cut. The heat causes the facial pores to open and lets the facial muscles relax. If a shower is not possible, wet a hand towel in hot water and press it to the face for at least a minute.

2. The Lather

Best results are obtained when using a good quality badger shaving brush. When using a shaving cream, place a small amount in the palm of one hand, dip the brush into hot water and using a circular motion in the palm, build up a creamy lather on the brush. Wet the face with hot water, and apply the lather to the beard. This time it is recommend that you paint your face with the lather, like a painter uses a paint brush. The brush may be dipped lightly into hot water if needed to produce more lather. If using shaving soap, dip the brush into hot water and use the same circular motion in your shaving mug to create a rich lather.

3. The Shave

The type and quality of razor you use is of utmost importance. Always use a clean, sharp blade. Before starting the shave, rinse the razor in hot running water. Shave in the direction of beard growth. Shaving “against the grain” can be painful and is the most common cause of “razor burn”. A quality razor with a sharp blade should glide over your skin. Shave twice if necessary, rather than force the razor.

4. Cold Water

Now it’s time to rinse your face and close the facial pores. First, use clean, running warm water to rinse your face well. Next, use cold water to close the facial pores. Gently pat the skin dry with a clean towel.

5. Moisturizer

Essential oils are lost during the shaving process and need to be replaced. You can use something as simple as body lotion, or any one of a myriad of moisturizers on the market. Our preference is one that is unscented. Remember that we said a moisturizer. Be sure to avoid using anything after shaving that has an alcohol base. It will inflame your skin.

Don’t Forget to Take Care of Your Brush and Razor After Shaving!

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Instructions on Use of VISION and FUTUR Razors

Merkur of Solingen Futur Safety Razor 

Below is a guide to renewing a double edged blade into the Futur Safety Razor.

Guide to renewing a double edged blade into the Futur Safety Razor

Step 1. Hold Safety Razor firmly and push up the lid. 

Step 2. Once loosened pull off the lid. 

Step 3. Very carefully place blade between index finger and thumb and insert into the Safety Razor. 

Step 4. Once blade is seated in place, then push down the lid. 

Step 5. Now set the Safety Razor for preference. Adjustable positions from 1-6 ( we recommend starting with position 1 ) 

Merkur of Solingen Vision 2000 Safety Razor  

Below is a guide to renewing a double edged blade into the Vision 2000 Safety Razor and general maintenance.

Guide to renewing a double edged blade into the Vision 2000 Safety Razor and general maintenance

Step 1. To open Safety Razor, turn clockwise (approx. 5 turns) 

Step 2. Insert blade 

Step 3. To close Safety Razor, turn counter-clockwise (until resistance is noticeable) 

Step 4. Space between blade & edge can be set individually by memorizing preferred constellation of letters -V-I-S-I-O-N- 

Step 5. Removal of the used blade 

Step 6. For thorough cleaning of Safety Razor remove blade. Press flaps against the base of the top. Turn handle counter-clockwise, until bottom lid comes off. 

Step 7. Remove bottom lid through the eccentric perforation from the groove of the guide bar, and pull it up out of the razor body with open flaps. 

Step 8. Take off the handle of Safety Razor, rinse the parts, if necessary use a lime solvent before rinsing. Insert blade only after reassembly. 

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