Tuesday, October 18

I'm a geek - a shaving geek

As I was standing in the bathroom this morning, shaving my stubble off, I had a revelation: I am a geek*.

Not that it's a great shock to me; I've been pretty sure of my status a a geek since I was in school.

What caused the revelation is that I suddenly grasped what part of being a nerd is: A nerd will pursue an interest in depth, with great enjoyment and with scant regard for what the "normal" people think.** For example; If a "normal" person needs a computer, s/he will buy a desktop or a laptop and use it until it needs replacing. If a geek needs a computer, s/he will end up with, well:
  • Two desktops in use (mine and my better half each have one) with dual screens
  • Two desktops on standby, with three screens between them
  • One laptop in use
  • One laptop on standby
  • Three Netbooks (two for me, one for my better half)
  • One tablet (HP Touchpad, bought during the fire sale)
  • and one ultra small form factor computing device...
Anyhow, back to this morning: As mentioned, I was getting the stubble of my face while I was letting my mind drift and enjoying myself immensely.  Actually enjoying shaving myself is still somewhat of a novel experience for me, since for the majority of my adult life shaving have simply been a chore at best and resulting in a bad case of razor burn at worst. Electric razors have always felt like they were ripping my beard out, and the various latests, greatest razors put out by Gillette have been like dragging a dull knife over my face - didn't matter if it was two or five blades, nor what can of foam I used. Shaving was a chore and something I just got over with as soon as I could.

Not so no more.

Shortly before I deployed to Africa last summer my better half directed my interest towards the recent resurgence of classic shaving; that is shaving with a brush, some soap or cream, and a simple one-blade, two edged safety razor of the kind your grandfather used. I figured I would give it a try and ordered a starter-kit from an online retailer in Norway - at the very least I would not have to worry about charging my electric razor or getting cartridges for my system razor while in Sudan...

Remember my comment on what will happen if a geek needs a computer?

My shave this morning started out with me giving my face a wash with Dr Bronner's peppermint soap, putting out my two safety razors - a Merkur 39C slant bar for the initial pass, and my Parker 22R for the second pass and touch-ups - before I spent a couple of minutes deceiding what brush and soap I would use... ended up picking my newly acquired horse hair brush^ and matching that with a soap that I've had trouble getting to lather with one of my other brushes; Proraso soap with eucalyptus and menthol. The combination made a wonderful lather by the way.

So yes, if a "normal" person needs to shave, he'll pick up an electric razor or whatever wunderbar new system one of the big names sells at inflated prices. If a geek needs a shave, he might end up with a new hobby and an array of kit:
  • A Parker 22R butterfly razor - a good first razor, and a wonderful one for the second pass.
  • A Merkur 39C slant bar - a more aggressive razor, and not one for those just starting out.
  • A Body Shop synthetic brush - a decent brush and a good one for travelling; it dries quickly.
  • A Prosaro boar bristle brush - came with my starter kit and is pretty okay; handle is a bit on the big side for me.
  • A Turkish horse hair brush - wonderfully stiff and can make good to great lather out of anything. Smells like wet horse though, but I'm sure that scent will diminish over time.
  • A tub of Maca Root shave cream from Body Shop - procured before I started with classic shaving, and a pretty decent shaving cream. Contains a fair bit of nasty chemicals though...
  • A tube of Aubrey Organics North Wood shave cream - for use without a brush. Not too impressed with the glide, but will be good for travelling.
  • A tube of Proraso eucalyptus and menthol cream - part of my starter kit and my sole cream while in Sudan; I like both the scent and the soft glide it has.
  • A tub of Proraso eucalyptus and menthol soap - pretty much the same as the cream, but as a soap. A little harder to build the lather, but that's partly down to skill.
  • A tub of Crabtree and Evelyn Sandalwood soap - smells great and works great. One of my favourite soaps.
  • A stick of Arko shaving soap - haven't tried it yet^^ but some people online swears to it - and some swears at it. Like everything about classic shaving, your mileage may vary considerable.
  • An alum block - antiseptic and astringent, it's used to clean and seal any minor nicks. Stings a fair bit if you got a larger nick, and tastes really weird if you get it on your lips.
  • A selection of blades. So far I've been using Feather Hi-Stainless, but trying new things is part of the enjoyment. So far I got the following blades lined up to go: Zorrik Super^^^, Merkur Super, Willikins Sword, Gillette 7 o'clock, Astra Superior, Lord Platinum, Shark Super Chrome, Personna Platinum, Derby Extra and Persona Super...
Off course you don't need so much to make shaving enjoyable again; on my recent ToD to Sudan (12 months in Africa) I brought my Parker 22R, my synthetic brush and the tube of Proraso cream - but I find that having to make a couple of choices in the morning adds to the enjoyment. And compared to some people out there my combined kit is definitely on the small side...

The actual shave itself has become somewhat of a ritual, a very comfortable and manly ritual. First I'll wash my beard stubble with some Dr Bronner's peppermint soap, which helps soften up the stubble and prevents the oil on my skin from breaking down the lather. Having done that, I'll rinse off and start laying out the tools of the trade; my razors and the combo of brush and soap / cream I've decided upon. After soaking the brush in warm (not hot) water, I proceed to adding wetness to the stubble with the brush. This both softens the brush some and gets the water down between all my stubble. Then it's time to build the lather, and how I do that depends a bit on what soap / cream and brush I've picked. Some combos work best if built in a bowl (I use a cheap, plastic bowl from IKEA), some combos turn out better if built directly on my face.

Having built the lather, it is time to apply it. No reason to put on an inch of lather - the idea is to create a lubricated surface for the razor to glide over, as well as softening the stubble even more. At the end the brush is still heavily loaded with lather, which is good. Putting the brush aside, I rinse the slant bar under hot water - not to clean it but to prewarm it - and starts the actual shave. Slow, short and controlled strokes does the trick - letting the weight of the razor do it's work as I guide it. First pass is with the grain, and leaves me with a shave just as good as anything I could manage in the past. I'll rinse and put away the slant bar, rinse my face and apply lather again.

Yes, a second layer of lather for a second pass. I've found that my brushes will easily hold enough lather for three passes, even if I mostly stick to two. The second pass is with the 22R, and going across the grain of my beard. Short, controlled strokes, letting the razor work for me again. When done correctly, and with a decent blade, you can actually hear the sharp edge cutting the stubble down to nothingness. A second rinse, check for any obvious misses and then stroke my block of alum across my neck and face to clean any minor nicks and cuts. Then it's a simple matter of rinsing and putting away the razor, the brush and the bowl, plus cleaning all the little beard bits from the sink. Some people goes for a third pass too, usually against the grain, but I've found that two is enough for me.

It may sound complicated, but overall it takes about the same time as using a cartridge razor and cleaning up the resultant mess in my face. My skin is happier, I got a new hobby and gets to enjoy my mornings. And it is cheap too; the initial outlay may be a bit more than using the "latest and greatest" thing from Gillette or the other Big Names in shaving, but when you look at the math it turns out significantly cheaper in the long run:
  • A Parker 22R costs 295 kroner (it is far from the cheapest DE razor around), and a pack of ten (10!) Feather Hi Stainless blades costs 40 kroner. Since each blade lasts about a week, that's about 0.60 kroner a day for shaving.
  • A Gillette Fusion Power Stealth costs 185 kroners, and a pack of four (4!) cartridges costs 139 kroner. If one cartridge lasts a week, that is about 5 kroner a day for shaving.
In other words, you pay about as much for a razor and a pack of blades independent of your choice of cartridge or DE razor - but you can shave for six more weeks with the DE razor... and after that, the gap keeps increasing. Your costs may vary depending on where you live off course, but the basic premise holds true: Classic shaving is significantly cheaper than using cartridges - if anything the cost difference should be greater in most countries. It is also better for the environment; no plastic waste, less packaging and the blades can easily be recycled. On top of that it provides a better, closer and more comfortable shave - so why not give it a try?

A basic starter kit can be pretty cheap; if you live in the US (for example), you can get a basic DE razor for less than 10 USD, a ten pack of good blades for less than 2 USD, a shaving brush for less than 5 USD and a shaving stick for under one USD. A modest outlay that will save you money in the long run, as well as providing you with some personal spa time each morning. You do deserve a bit of pampering, don't you?

*) Or nerd, or tech-head, or whatever other description you prefer.
**) Other definitions of geek / nerd includes:
  • A person who is interested in technology, especially computing and new media.
  • Geeks are adept with computers, and use the term hacker in a positive way, though not all are hackers themselves.
  • A person who relates academic subjects to the real world outside of academic studies; for example, using multivariate calculus to determine how they should correctly optimize the dimensions of a pan to bake a cake.
  • A person who has chosen concentration rather than conformity; one who passionately pursues skill (especially technical skill) and imagination, not mainstream social acceptance.
  • A person with a devotion to something in a way that places him or her outside the mainstream. This could be due to the intensity, depth, or subject of their interest.
^) From Turkey. Cheap at  2.45$, hand made and cruelty-free - the hair comes from trimming the horse's mane.
^^) Also ordered from Turkey. At 1.78$ I can afford for it to be mediocre.
^^^) A freebie, came alongside the horse hair brush and shaving stick in the package from Turkey.

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