Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Some slant thoughts

with 3 comments

Update: On January 26, 2023, I revised and extended my remarks in this post, primarily to include some slants that came to market after the original post. Emendations are in italics.

I discussed slants some time back in this Sharpologist article (in which I describe toward the end of the article one possible reason for the observed increase in the popularity of slant razors), and in a Sharpologist-initiated discussion, I’ve had some additional thoughts.

As a sign that the popularity of slant razors is increasing, consider that several years ago there was one slant on the market: the Merkur 37C. Then came the Merkur 39C: same head, heavier handle. (The Merkur slants are two-piece razors, so handles cannot be swapped: if you want a different handle, you must buy a different razor.)

Now look at the list of slants currently available:

  • Above the Tie S1 (bar guard)
  • Above the Tie S2 (comb guard)
  • Fine Superlite [no longer available, alas]
  • iKon 102
  • iKon B1 stainless
  • iKon X3
  • Maggard slant
  • Merkur 37C and 39C
  • PAA Bakelite slant (white or black) [no longer available]
  • PAA Slant (in a better plastic than Bakelite — he calls if Fakelite]
  • PAA Double Slant (extremely good slant, very comfortable and efficient)
  • PAA Alpha Ecliptic Slant (using design of vintage Walbusch humpback slant)
  • RazoRock German 37
  • RazoRock Wunderbar (too harsh for me)
  • RazorRock Superslant (remarkably good)
  • The Holy Black SR-741 slant

Soon a slant razor will be available from Ireland in two versions (chrome and black) and Stirling Soap Company is apparently going to have s slant razor available soon. (The first production run had cosmetic defects and was sold as seconds; the final version has not yet appeared.) (Failed to appear.)

So the market offerings have grown from one choice of slant to eleven fifteen in just a few years. That’s quite a jump, particularly since some men say that they find no benefit from using a slant: for them a slant shaves just like a regular razor.

Let me note right away that slants are like regular razors (and razor blades) in that a given slant seems to work well for some and not for others, and I doubt that anyone would find all eleven worked well for him. It’s very likely that an individual will find that some of those slants work well for him, and some do not work well at all, and which ones work (and don’t work) varies from person to person. This is shaving, and men vary considerably in their beards, skin, technique, prep, preferences, and so on. (For example, the Wunderbar slant seems to appeal to men who enjoy a morning challenge since it quickly punishes any deviation from perfect technique (angle and/or pressure). I like a more forgiving slant, but my preferences are, I have repeatedly observed, far from universal.)

For me, the best of the lot are the X3 and the 102, but I’ve heard from some for whom those razors did not work so well: some found that X3 was not efficient and that the 102 tended to clog and the range for the optimal angle was narrow. Others, like myself, find the two are wonderful, so it’s yet another YMMV situation. My current best includes not only the 102 and X3, but also the iKon stainless-steel slant (with head having a B1 coating) and the RazoRock Superslant. I also very much like Fine’s aluminum slant, but that is no longer available.

With any new razor, including a new slant, it is important to try 3-4 different brands of blades, to use very light pressure, and to explore (carefully) a range of angles to find the optimal angle, which might have the handle farther from your fact that you expect. With slants, light pressure is particularly important. Several have commented that blades that seemed dull in their regular razor work fine in the slant, and blades that were fine in their regular razors tore their face up in slants. For the angle: move the handle away from your face until the blade stops cutting; then move the handle closer to find the angle at which the blade just begins cutting again. That is close to the best angle.

Just to run down the list, my own personal experience (which may differ from yours) is that the 102 and X3 work best, and the ATT S1 and the Merkur family work well. With the others more care is required (the iKon stainless slant head, which I have with a DLC coating rather than the B1 coating, requires extremely light pressure or it will nick — update: the problem was not the pressure, but the angle; once I moved the handle farther from my face, the razor became extremely comfortable (which includes not being prone to nick) or do not work at all (the Wunderbar and S2 were very harsh, and, lately, the Fine, Maggard, and PAA slants have given me problems). The PAA Double Slant is a wonderful razor — after trying it, I bought one for my son and a spare for me — and I have very high praise for the RazoRock Superslant — see this post

I say the “Merkur family” because several of these have heads that are clearly modeled on the 37C/39C head: The Holy Black’s SR-71 slant and the RazoRock German 37 (the name alone is an obvious clue). The Irish slant also looks as though it might be a Merkur clone, and perhaps the Stirling as well. (I’ve not tried the Stirling so I’m unsure).

Italian Barber came out with the German 37 razor after years of hearing from men who liked the 37C/39C but wanted to be able to swap handles. Merkur seems somewhat dormant in razor innovation and made no move to offer a three-piece version of the 37C/39C, so RazoRock stepped in and made one. (The original Merkur patent came out in 1906, so after 110 years patent protection is long gone. Making a clone is perfectly legit, it seems to me, particularly when the clone meets a customer need that Merkur will not address.)

One particular benefit of the German 37 is that the head is available by itself for $12, so those who are curious about a slant can try one at low cost provided they have a spare handle.

So that’s the current marketplace and my experience with it, but in this post I want to address the general experience with slants. Some years back, I ran a poll on a shaving forum and got a reasonable number of responses. It turned out that 70% loved their slant (it did a better job than their regular razor) 23% thought it shaved as well as their regular razor (no better, no worse), and 7% thought the slant shaved worse.

Based on that I made it a standard recommendation, which indeed you can find in the Guide, that a man’s second razor should be a slant: once a novice has mastered his initial razor (and in this post I offer several recommendations for that initial razor) so that he routinely gets a smooth result with no nicks and no razor burn, I highly recommend that his second razor be a slant. My reasoning is that changing the shape of the guard (comb guard instead of a bar guard, or vice versa) is really irrelevant (IMO) and an adjustable razor will still cut with the straight-on chop of his current razor. The slant, in contrast, cuts differently.

Of course, nothing in shaving works for everyone, but based on that poll, 93% of men would find that a slant shaves no worse than their regular razor, and 70% will find that it shaves better.

But now we get to the interesting part: I am running a new poll on The Shaving Room forum, and the response pattern is now very different. As of this moment it is:

Having given a slant a fair trial, I found that it’s:

better than my conventional razors: 12 vote(s)    48.0%
worse than my conventional razors:  1 vote(s)    4.0%
pretty much the same as my conventional razors: 12 vote(s)    48.0%

I tried to figure out why about half those trying it detected an improvement in their shave and about half did not. The fact that so many did detect improvement suggests that the improvement is real, particularly since some who found an improvement were experienced shavers who knew well their typical shave experience. For example, I recently quoted Eddie from Australia:

Today I finally received my slant X3 head from iKon Razors!

What is my first impression you ask? WOW, WOW WOW!!! Why didn’t I try a slant razor years ago!!??? I used a new Polisilver Super Iridium blade with a short Weber handle which I had lying around and it cut so very comfortably and so smooth!! I’m very happy with my purchase and I’d be  recommending it to my close friend who also shaves with a standard DE!

I want to thank you for your recommendations as I have been very happy with your opinion and advice!

I’ve been DE shaving now for at least 8 years (thanks to you) and this was my very first slant experience! No nicks, no cuts, just a great shave!! That says a lot because my skin is very sensitive and I had no problems at all shaving with it and no razor burn or anything!!!

I used light to no pressure and it came very naturally to me! I guess shaving with a DE all this years has helped master technique?! You’re right, the slant “slices” the hairs away and I could hear the slicing.

I shouldn’t have listened to those nay-sayers  “Don’t use a DE because it’s too harsh for sensitive skin”!

It shaved as smooth as butter!!

Note that Eddie has 8 years DE experience: by now he knows what his shaves feel like, so I trust that the improvement he detects is real. Indeed, I trust the responses from all those who respond that the slant provided a better shave for them: my assumption is that men can tell when their shave is better or not. And I also trust the responses from those who say the slant shaves pretty much like a regular razor (and, for that matter, the response from the man who found his slant give him a worse shave).

So what is going on? If the improvement from the slant is real (which seems to be true, given the large number who report an improvement), why don’t all men detect the improvement?

Consider for a moment different brands of razor blades. Almost all who try different brands of blades find big differences among them, and also all men (say, 85%, but that’s just a guess) end up with brands they like a lot and brands they avoid, and those can vary by razor.

But, oddly, some small percentage of men (I’m guessing around 15% based on comments I see on Reddit and forums) cannot detect any differences among different brands of blades. This is a benefit (they can just use the cheapest blades they can find), but it’s odd that so many do detect differences. Given the number, I would say that the differences among brands are real. (FWIW, I do find that some brands that work well for me in some razors do not work well in others, and in general I can indeed detect differences among different brands of blades.)

The obvious answer is that people vary, and sensitivity to any differences varies, with some very sensitive and others less sensitive. Consider the sense of sight, for example: some see variations in color (hue, brightness, saturation) quite vividly, differences that are less visible to some and invisible to others (as to those who, like me, have some degree of color blindness). Or consider hearing: some can detect sounds that are inaudible to others. Or consider the sense of smell: some (Luca Turin, for example: see The Emperor of Scent, a wonderful read) can detect not only differences in scent but can identify the components of a fragrance. So it’s perfectly normal that people vary in their sensitivity to sensory input.

It follows that the differences among different brands of blades are easier to detect (more obvious) than the difference between a slant shave and a regular shave. The difference between the shave from a slant and a shave from a regular razor is small enough so that nowadays about half the men do not detect the difference. (Obviously, this assumes a test using razors that work well for the person testing: a regular razor that works well for him and a slant that works well for him.)

Why would roughly half the men who try a slant not detect an improvement over their regular razor?

As noted above, men vary a lot in the nature of their beards and skin, and the primary benefit that I find the slant delivers is reduced cutting resistance. Of course, some beards (e.g., those of men just starting to shave) offer negligible cutting resistance even with a regular razor, and one would expect that for such men a reduction in cutting resistance would not amount to much — indeed, it would probably not even be noticeable.

OTOH, a man who has a thick, tough, coarse, wiry beard that really resists being cut, a reduction in cutting resistance would be much more noticeable — particularly if he also has sensitive skin. (If the beard resists cutting, then pushing the blade against the stubble makes the stubble push against the skin; if the cutting resistance is reduced, the stubble doesn’t push so hard against the skin, and if your skin is sensitive, you’re likely to notice this.)

That provides a possible explanation of why some detect an improvement in their shaves from a slant and why some do not. Good enough for a first cut, as it were.

But then there’s the second puzzle: why the change from a few years ago, when 70% found that a slant shaved better, to today, when only around 50% find the slant shaves better?

I was in a discussion with /u/picklednorthern on Wicked Edge, and he raised the point that the slant razor has become something of a fad (see the number of new slants coming to market, one sign of a fad).

Perhaps the difference (70% then, 50% now) is that several years ago the men trying slants had more experience (and thus more skill) than the men trying slants now. It’s always a mix — experienced and not so experienced — but perhaps the earlier poll was taken of a group of slant users who, on the whole, had more experience than those responding to today’s poll. The fad theory offers a possible explanation for the discrepancy in the results of the more recent poll: relatively speaking the respondents to today’s poll are less experienced than the respondents to the earlier poll. Those with more experience, who may have predominated in the earlier poll, know better what their shave is like and might better notice a small improvement.

In addition, consider that several years ago slants were not much talked about and only one slant was on the market. In effect, this meant that men trying a slant had more or less sought it out, which generally means that they were driven to it by some dissatisfaction with their current shave. This motivation is familiar: many (most?) men who come to DE shaving today are driven by dissatisfaction with the shave they get from cartridge razors, now so much the default that anyone looking at other types of razors is (generally) looking for a reason — namely, he doesn’t like the experience and/or the cost of his current (cartridge-razor) shave.

The same story might hold for the slant. Men several years ago tried a slant because their current DE shave was not so good as they wanted. I would expect that group of men tilted toward those who had thick, tough, coarse, wiry beards growing from sensitive skin. With proportionately more such men trying slants, the percentage of those who detected an improvement was greater than it is today, since today slants are a bit of a fad (and thus more visible and more talked about) so today men are trying them as a fad or from curiosity, not because their current DE shaves are unsatisfactory. So today’s group would include proportionately more men who find that a regular razor works fine (their beard does not resist cutting all that much), and such men may detect little or no improvement from using a slant.

Still, even now about half of those who try a slant do find it an improvement, and that’s worth noting, along with the fact that very few find a slant’s shave is worse.  (Again, I’m assuming that one is using a slant that does work for him — my shaves with some slants have been bad because that particular slant didn’t work for me, though others have reported that for them it works fine. Experimentation is required, just as for regular razors.)

I should recognize that some say a slant cannot work better, based not on their experience (the tiresome trope of men who think that everyone’s experience must be the same as theirs (and if it isn’t, it’s wrong) — if a brand of blade does not work for them, they believe then that it cannot work for anyone) but on theoretical considerations (e.g., the slant is not slanted enough to make a difference). My own inclination is to put theory a little below experience. As you know scientific theories are tested by comparing them to experience, and experience rules: if the theory predicts one thing, but it’s observed that the prediction is wrong, the theory is modified or discarded. Experience rules.

An example of this is the use of a pre-shave beard wash using a high-glycerin soap, which works extremely well for me, and there are theoretical reasons it should. [Nowadays, my preshave prep is Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave, which immediately displaced MR GLO, the glyceri soap I had been using for years.] But despite the theory, such a soap doesn’t work for everyone. (In some instances, it’s likely because the water is hard, and washing your face with soap does not make your face slick but results in a thin layer of sticky soap scum). I always advise people to be guided by their own experience, and that applies to slants as well: I recommend trying a slant as a second razor, but it may or may not result in a noticeable improvement.

BTW, if anyone else has a better explanation for the results of the two polls, and of the difference in the two results, I’m interested.

What I have offered is what is called “a likely story” in that it is consistent with observations and if true would to some degree explain the observations, but it is not proved and it provides no explanation for how the slant works. Ptolemy said that his Almagest was written to “save the appearances”: that is, to offer an explanatory structure that was consistent with what was observed of heavenly movements and positions and could be used to make accurate predictions. Ptolemy used a system of circular orbits with constant speed: that was the basic premise, and if you could describe the orbits of the planet using such a thing, the motion is (in a sense) “explained.” Because planets move in elliptical orbits with the speed varying, he had small circular orbits (epicycles) carried at a constant speed on the big circular orbit. The system grew in complexity, with epicycles on epicycles, to the extent that ultimately a simpler explanation was developed. However, Ptolemy’s system was perfectly adequate for, say, navigation. But Newton offered a better explanation by using a universal law of gravitation and elliptical orbits (thanks to Kepler)  instead of circles and constant speed. What we lack for slants is a Newtonian sort of explanation: my explanation above is very Ptolemaic.

Some other theories are that the ease and efficiency of the slant are due to head design rather than to the slanted blade, but of course the slanted blade is indeed one aspect of the head design of a slant. So people who like this explanation say that the improvement is due to the head design except for the slanted blade, which strikes me as a willful denial of what the razor is.

Another theory is that slants have a reputation for being aggressive (due to a misreading of the word “aggressive,” thinking that it refers to feel as well as to performance — slants are indeed aggressive in performance, but quite mild in feel) and they also look odd. Thus someone using a slant for the first time is apt to use it very gently and pay close attention, and that in itself may well improve the shave.

Still, the elephant in the room is the slanted blade: certainly a part of the head design and certainly different than a regular razor.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2016 at 12:09 pm

Posted in Shaving

3 Responses

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  1. I wonder what a list of non-slants introduced over the same time period would look like – is there an explosion of all DE razors, slant and non-slant, or do slants outpace non-slant introduction?



    5 November 2016 at 8:37 pm

  2. I think it’s clear that the general field of DE razors, slant and non-slant, is currently expanding rapidly, to the point that I can no longer keep up with the number of new razors on the market.



    5 November 2016 at 8:40 pm

  3. Slants rule. I use one 4 out of every 7 days.For me no comparison. Better shaves.



    7 November 2016 at 9:28 am

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