Later On

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

Searching for a shave solution

with 6 comments

I recently heard from a shaver who is frustrated with not being able to get a good shave with a DE razor even after 10 years of using one. He writes that some of his challenges are:

  • hard water – He’s tried distilled/purified water and also try using a pinch of citric acid in a sink half-filled with water.
  • razor burn – He writes he typically gets razor burn. The razors he’s tried are Merkur HD (aka 34C), Merkur Slant (aka 37C), Parker Variant (a Progress clone), and RazoRock Stealth (a slant).
  • nicks – He typically gets some nicks.
  • rough patches – At the end of the shave, rough spots remain.

He asked me what I could recommend, and I’m posting this in case my readers also have suggestions. Here are my thoughts:

Hard water: Best is a water softener, but that option is available only to home owners as a general rule, and many (including myself) are renters. When I did own a home (in Iowa City, which has hard water), I did have a water softener with soft water throughout except for the kitchen cold water and the outside faucets.

Distilled water works best if some of tap water is included: mostly distilled (or purified) water with a glug of tap water so the lather will not be so airy. However, this does require heating the water unless you’re one who enjoys a cold-water shave (and some do). The advantage of the pinch of citric acid in a sink half-filled with water is that you can use hot water from the tap.

Alternatively, you can choose a soap that performs well even in hard water. Arko’s shave stick is reputedly quite good in hard water, and those who don’t like using a shave stick—I’m sure there must be at least a few—can grate the stick on a coarse grater and mash the shavings into a tub or bowl to make a puck. After the first use, the water will weld the shavings together.

So look for soaps that contain EDTA, or citric acid, or sodium citrate, or other chelating agents. Arko uses EDTA:

Potassium Tallowate, Stearic Acid, Potassium Cocoate, Aqua, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Glycerin, Parfum, Paraffinnum Liquidum, CI 77891, Tetrasodium EDTA, Etidronic Acid,Disodium Distyrylbiphenyl Disulfonate, Amyl Cinnamal, Citronellol, Geraniol, Hexyl Cinnamal, Linalool.

The chemicals in boldface are, I believe, intended to combat the effects of hard water. D.R. Harris shaving soap includes as ingredients Citral Tetrasodium etidronate, Pentasodium pentetate, and Tetrasodium EDTA, all of which bind to calcium to nullify—or at least reduce the effects of—hard water.

Razor burn and nicks: None of the razors he currently has, with the exception of the Stealth, would I classify both as very comfortable (which includes reluctance to nick) and very efficient, and the Stealth is a slant, so I would focus first on getting a good regular razor.

I initially suggested the Dorco PL602 (get on eBay) or the RazoRock Baby Smooth, which is now $20 $40 [it was $20 when I looked at the site as I wrote this post, but now it’s back to $40—the $20 price was either an error or a flash sale – LG] and is available in Black, Silver, and Electric Blue. (There’s also a titanium version for $125.) Both of these razors put an extreme curvature on the blade, and I believe that’s one reason they shave so comfortably and efficiently.

But then I I though of the RazoRock Old Type, also quite comfortable and quite efficient, and so I used it today to verify my impressions—and yep, it’s quite good: extremely comfortable and extremely efficient. The razor is $17, but he can buy the head by itself for $8 and use it with his Stealth handle. (His other razors are two-piece razors so their handles are unavailable.)

I suggest that he try 4-5 new brands of blades—and with any new razor you must try a few different brands of blades since a brand that’s best in one razor may not be best (or even good) in another razor. I suggest getting some samples from, and I would include: Personna Lab Blue, Gillette Silver Blue, Derby Extra, Gillette 7 O’Clock SharpEdge, Astra Superior Platinum, Voskhod, and Polsilver.

To avoid razor burn and to minimize nicks, keep the handle far from the face, something those accustomed to shaving with a cartridge razor find difficult since a cartridge razor requires the handle be held close to the face and old habits die hard. But if you hold the handle of a typical DE razor close to the face, here come nicks and burn. (The Stealth actually does have the handle closer to the face than most DE razors.)

The general rule is to move the handle away from your face until the razor stops cutting (in a silent bathroom you can clearly hear when the cutting sound stops), and then move the handle a little closer, just until the cutting sound resumes. That’s close to the correct angle. Play with it: closer, farther, closer, farther, until you lock in on the best angle.

One thing that helps here is focusing on keeping the cap (not the guard) touching the face, and by “touching” I mean barely touching. Focus on trying to use too light a pressure, while still making sure the cap touches the face. This is to take care of the other suspect in razor burn: pressing the razor too hard against the skin. While the razor’s head must be in contact with the skin, it should not be more than that. If the skin has a dent where the razor is, that’s way too much pressure.

Rough patches will generally succumb to an efficient razor with a blade that works well for you in that razor, provided you do a classic 3-pass shave: with the grain, rinse, relather, across the grain, rinse relather, against the grain. The only trick is to determine the grain’s actual direction, rather than its putative direction. I had one chronic rough patch on the bottom part of my right cheek. When I carefully mapped the grain of my beard using this interactive diagram, I discovered that the grain in the trouble spot was horizontal and “with the grain” was in the ear-to-nose direction.

As a result, on my first pass I shaved that area across the grain, on my second pass (when I shaved in the direction ear-to-nose) I shaved it with the grain, and on the final pass, I shaved it across the grain in the other direction. I never shaved it against the grain.

So now, on the across-the-grain pass I continue to shave ear-to-nose except for that one spot, where I shave nose-to-ear, thus shaving it against the grain: no more rough patch.

I used Mama Bear’s Energy shave stick this morning with the Green Ray brush, and I continue to be highly pleased by the lather from her glycerin-based soaps. Tallow is nice, but so is glycerin, and indeed the quality of lather in terms of density and consistency seems better than some of my tallow soaps. The Energy fragrance is also very nice: “Citrus, including Grapefruit, Lemon and Lime, with hints of fresh Cucumber and Jasmine, and a touch of Pineapple, Blackberry and Champagne.” The link is to the soap in a tub since the Energy stick seems currently to be out of stock.

I selected the Old Type to remind myself, and it is indeed quite comfortable and highly efficient. I think it would be a good choice, though the Baby Smooth would also be excellent and perhaps a shade more comfortable. But both are top-notch.

A good splash of TOBS Shave Shop finished the shave in fine style.


Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2019 at 8:53 am

Posted in Shaving

6 Responses

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  1. Outstanding suggestions, Michael. To your credit you don’t leave much to add.

    I wish the person had mentioned how tough his whiskers were (or did I miss it?) and how fragile his skin is. That’s useful information to have when doing an evaluation and making suggestions.

    That knowledge might lead us to one of the three classic Gillette Super Speeds: Red Tip, Flare Tip, or Blue Tip.

    Or it may suggest a friendly Gillette adjustable razor such as a Slim or a Super Adjustable. I can’t imagine a Slim or a Super Adjustable on lower settings being hostile to anyone’s face.


    Steve Riehle

    7 March 2019 at 11:48 am

  2. Michael – the article mentions the Baby Smooth being $20, but Italian Barber site shows $39.99 as of 4:20 pm today 3/7/19. Is there another place I should be looking? This is a great razor and I would buy another. Thanks.



    7 March 2019 at 4:44 pm

  3. That is so weird. It was indeed $19.99 at the time I posted this. Perhaps that was an error on the website that’s been corrected. I had thought it was $40, but when I looked I saw the lower price. I should have bought a few.

    I don’t know of any other source.

    Maybe it was a flash sale?



    7 March 2019 at 4:55 pm

  4. Could have been a flash sale. I never thought of that. Thanks for the follow-up.


    Craig Bell

    7 March 2019 at 9:09 pm

  5. My thoughts: it’s more technique than hardware. I’d focus on angle, whisker direction, pressure (none!) and taking it slowly. “Wipe away the lather, not the whiskers” – let the razor do the work…


    Phil S

    8 March 2019 at 5:53 pm

  6. Perhaps I did not emphasize my technique suggestions sufficiently. However, in my experience, there are marked differences among razors in comfort and efficiency, and I was recommending some exceptional razors in that regard.

    But your point on the importance of technique is well taken. If you look at my post, I did allude to that. In some detail.



    8 March 2019 at 5:56 pm

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