Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Ancient and Manly Ritual of Soap, Brush and Blade

Friend, fellow blogger, Bend's honorary goodwill ambassador,  and (gag) "Bend treasure," H. Bruce Miller, has turned me on to a new obsession.

For many, many years, Jack has shaved his rugged, manly face and chiseled chin with a Gillette Mach3 razor: a system with a cheap handle and expensive three-bladed cartridges. This, along with Edge Shave Gel, gave Jack what he thought was a pretty good shave.

But during conversation over a game of chess a few months ago, the matter of shaving came up, as it does with well-groomed gentlemen. Bruce let on that he used the India-made Parker double-edge razor with Japanese Feather brand blades.

double-edge, or safety, razor. The blades are of of honed steel. Multi-bladed injection-molded cartridge razors are to this as Miller Lite is to real beer. 

I paid little attention at the time; this idle bit of conversation sank without a ripple into my aged and creaky brain as swiftly as the names of people to whom I have been recently been introduced, unavoidably and regrettably forgotten almost immediately.

But like a good aftershave, the idea lingered. It had attraction: it suggested gadgetry (which I love), and connoisseuroisty* (which I also love); it appealed to me and a seed was planted which eventually flowered into curiosity and, shortly thereafter, into acquisition.

For Christmas I asked for a hard rubber shaving mug, the kind you could rattle a shaving brush around in without fear of breaking or loud rattly noises. My admirable daughter obliged.

And once that thing was in my hands, I was hooked.

Within a week, I had ordered an Edwin Jagger DE87 safety razor, a puck of Mitchell's Wool Fat shaving soap, a Simpson badger shaving brush, a bespoke Dirty Bird pottery scuttle,** an assortment of blades, a styptic pencil to quench the newbie hemorrhaging, other necessary accouterments such as lotions, aftershaves and balms, and cheerfully embarked on the quest for a manly man's Damn Fine Shave.

At time of writing, I've only been shaving with the razor for a few weeks. I am but a tyro, a newbie. It is harder than shaving with a cartridge razor. It requires practice and skillfulness. One must proceed mindfully.

I nicked myself a lot at the beginning.

Some brands of blades are sharper than others and beginners need to be careful. After trying several blades, I've settled on Gillette 7 O' Clock "Yellow" blades as a comfortable and effective blade to use while I develop my skill.

I'm getting better; my shaves are becoming dependably baby-butt smooth and miles better than anything I ever got from a supermarket blade. I'm glad I switched. Supermarket cartridge razors are clearly the Two Buck Chuck of shaving.

I'm enjoying, as Bruce says, "[...] the ancient and manly ritual of soap, brush and blade." And, like he found, "[...] it gives a better and more comfortable shave."

But is it manly enough? Bob Woodward, former Bend mayor, local mountain biker, Scottish beer afficionado, occasional writer for The Source Weekly, raconteur, and man-about-town tells me that he shaves with a straight razor:

Jack is just too unco√∂rdinated to use such a thing.  Jack can't chop two onions without lopping off a fingertip. 

* A neologism a day keeps lazy readers at bay.

** Not yet here; Dirty Bird scuttles are hand-made.


  1. I don't know what all this halla-ballu is about. I find single blade razors a recipe for stitches and elitist. "Manly", what a crock. I must be a lazy metro whatever because I just love my 5 bladed (brand name here) razor. The only complaint is that they are a bit expensive at Walli-World (yes I know Wal Mart has not yet invaded Oregon, but your time is coming). Talk about manly, you just try to use your straight razor without soap, you will look like Frankenstein when you are finished!. I use mine with water only, that is a real man!

    How is the weather up in your country. It looks like you have received a fair share of snow. We are just warmer than usual down here in the plains, just love the sunshine.

    Just wait until them Ducks come south to play a real football team. Down here we hunt Ducks, with a Shotgun...Chome helmets won't help a bit.

  2. "the ancient and manly ritual of soap, brush and blade."

    What a lovely turn of phrase! No wonder I'm a Bend Treasure. (And please remember to capitalize both words.)

    Anonymous: You probably can't help being an asshole, but you don't have to go out of your way to advertise the fact. And you must be incredibly clumsy if you can't shave with a double-edge razor without requiring stitches.

    Incidentally, we do have WalMarts in Oregon -- lots of them.

  3. Nice writing, Jack - I enjoyed the telling of the tale. Glad to see that you are getting to indulge your connoisseuroisty in new arenas. For what it's worth (not much, I daresay), I have an old Gillette Sensor that I love dearly. Not as spiffy as your Edwin Jagger, perhaps, but it does a fine job on my tough beard / sensitive skin combo. Finding blades is another matter - they are scarce on the ground, but can be ordered online. The interesting part is that several years ago I made a simple shift in my approach to shaving that made an amazing improvement in the quality of my shave - I started shaving in the shower. With the addition of a fog-free mirror, my shaving life changed forever. For whatever set of reasons (and I am guessing there are several), I get a BBS & irritation-free shave every time. I still like to use an aftershave lotion, but it is an option now rather than a necessity.

    There you have it - one more story from the naked city.

  4. Hey, Steve M, I also like shaving in the shower but don't for two (2) reasons:

    1. It chews through a lot of hot water, and,

    2. I have not found a magnifying shower mirror that wasn't (a) piece of crap and started to rust from the first day I installed it, and (2) the ones with the suction cups usually pull loose from the tiles at 3 a.m., crashing to the floor of the shower, sending me upright in a paroxysm of terror.

  5. Good points, and the mirror I found goes a long way toward answering both. It attaches in-line with the shower head and provides an adjustable valve that reduces the main pressure and routes some hot water through the mirror for the fog-free effect. I reduce the shower pressure considerably while I shave, then turn it back up briefly while I rinse. You can find a selection of them at

    It works well for me.

  6. Shaving in the shower keeps the beard moist and easier to cut, but I find if I apply a good layer of quality shaving soap that isn't a problem.

    Also I like to listen to music while performing my morning toilette, and I can't hear it over the sound of the shower.

  7. The top silver razor? We saw one of those at the Swap Meet (next to the Grocery Outlet). I almost bought it because I wanted to use it as a decor in the bathroom. It was in a little box...very vintage looking. But I didn't end up getting it.
    Swap Meet is every Saturday. Check it out. :-)
    - Malia

  8. Runs in the family. I shower and shave in the shower of course and use a wipe of my soapy finger to put the fog at bay. The premium shaving soap used to be Wilkinsons in the black container, alas, gone by.

    You may want to research the Rolls Razor. My dad used one in Europe during the unpleasantness in the mid 40s.


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