I hate to have two gross posts in a row, but…
I have always had a difficult time shaving. The German half of me has made me a hairy dude. I have hair that, as far as I can tell, is trying to abandon the crown of my head, creep down my sideburns and join with my chest hair via my neck. The fact that my beard is very coarse and the skin on my face is super-sensitive has always presented a problem. I have literally been stabbed in the face by my own shaved-off stubble before to the point that I had to get tweezers to remove the offending whisker-splinter. Usually I end up having to press down on the razor so hard to cut through the hair that it burns my face to pieces. 2 or 3 days later, the regrowth usually ends up pushing the damaged skin out and it looks like someone rolled my face in breadcrumbs. I have tried everything. Sharp razors, dull razors, dry shaving, wet shaving, bucket loads of balms, conditioners and aftershaves – nothing has worked. Usually I just used an electric (which still skinned me alive, but not as bad) and went with that, which earned me the nickname “Shade” in my teens due to my perpetual five o’clock shadow. It was either razor burn my self to death every day or so, or wait for the Miami Vice look to come back. I chose the latter.
I had talked to Vess for months, maybe even years about getting a straight razor. The whole idea was fascinating to me. You have one blade you use for the rest of your life, it’s sharper, the shaves last longer, plus there was just some kind of romanticism involved with the whole process – the hot towel wrapped around the face, whipping up the shaving soap with the brush, stropping the blade… everything about the whole ritual just conjures up an image of super-cool men in tailored suits with pomade in their hair and watches on chains. I had never made the plunge due to the initial cost of getting started, the ignorance of the process and the fact that it seemed a little intimidating. Lo and behold, Christmas came around and Vess made the plunge for me.
I was excited, but knew not to rush into anything without doing some research first. I scoured the almighty internet watching videos and reading forums trying to absorb all of the tips and pointers I possibly could for the inaugural shave. Having exhausted my efforts and gleaning all of the knowledge I thought possible, it was time to do the do. By this time, I had a fairly full beard going.
The blade had arrived to me, fittingly, razor-sharp. I decided to swipe the blade across the leather strop another 20 or so times just for good measure. I could hold a hair plucked from my head in my hand, swipe the blade by, and it was sliced into little dashes. Time for face prep.
First I trimmed the beard down a little in hopes that it would make the job easier. I decided to forgo the “hot-towel-face-wrap-stage” and instead opted to jump into a steaming hot shower. I scrubbed vigorously with soap at the soon to be liberated scruff, toweled off and jumped out. It was time to shave.
I took the brush and whisked the shaving soap into a fluffy lather. I then applied it to my face making sure to fully lubricate under and around the whiskers.
“Any last words?” I called out to Vess.
“Be careful!” she answered, the worry evident in her voice.
Finding a comfortable grip is the first obstacle to getting into Shaving Heaven. Even though I was following a million diagrams off of the internet, the grip still felt awkward. I made sure I was wearing my cut-proof chef shoes in case I lost my grip and a particularly long toe happened to be in between the razor and the floor. Finally finding a satisfactory grip, I began.
The first swipes down the right cheek went pretty well. You have to use short strokes as opposed to the long ones I’m accustomed to with the disposable blades. Due to the hollow blade, there is also a scraping sound that is amplified as the razor is popping off the hair. Cheek done, I mused to myself at how easy it was. This was going to be a piece of cake.
It was about the time I got around my mouth and chin that I realized how odd my face was. There is a chin-butt, scars, angular jawlines – all of which confounded me. I gnarled my grips while pulling my nose in all directions hoping to shave spots I could barely see in the mirror due to them being obscured by the pretzel of arms. Nevertheless, slow and steady wins the race, so I proceeded slowly and cautiously. The right side done, it was time for the left. Unfortunately this required me switching the razor to my left hand to repeat a process that I wasn’t comfortable doing with my right.
The left side went about as well as the right, except not. Nicks were still plentiful, but you could barely feel them because the razor was so sharp. I forged ahead anyway, undeterred by the occasional slip. The good news is, 45 minutes later I was done with the first pass. The bad news is, you’re supposed to do 3 passes for a perfect shave: 1 with the grain, 1 across the grain, and 1 against the grain. I surveyed the damage done.
Hmm, this didn’t look good. I decided to err on the side of caution and do the second pass only.
The second pass went surprisingly well. I had a feel for the grip on the razor by this time and having less hair-resistance made the job go a lot smoother. I wasn’t completely thorough, though, because the amount of blood collecting on my face was starting to alarm me. Luckily, I had a secret weapon!
A styptic pencil is essentially a piece of chalk composed of aluminum sulfate and titanium dioxide. It’s the combination of these magical chemicals that causes the bleeding vessel to contract at the site of the wound and make you scream the word “fuck” at the top of your lungs. Having stanched all of the bloodflow, I admired the job in the mirror. I was happily amazed. It was as smooth as a baby’s bum!
There were a couple of stray blonde hairs around the lips and chin, but I didn’t give a shit. I was just glad it was over. It was time for aftershave.
* Protip: Don’t use an after shave that contains alcohol after using a straight razor… EVER!!! TRUST ME!!!
It was indeed the closest shave I had ever had. In fact, I would call it subcutaneous. I just need a lot more practice. I read it takes around 100 shaves with a straight razor before you will feel completely comfortable. Toward the end, I was getting more used to holding the blade, and if I would have done the second and third passes with more attention I know I would have eliminated any straggling hairs. I can’t wait to give it another shot in a couple of days after the cuts heal up.