Whenever I try something new, I get obsessive about it. It doesn’t matter if it’s animation, cocktails, music, screen printing or my latest journey into straight razor shaving, I plunge myself into it. I’m not a toe-dipper, that’s for sure.
Straight razor shaving is slightly different from animation or cocktails. When making a film or a martini, there’s little to no chance I’ll slice open my jugular and bleed to death alone in a steamy bathroom. At the same time, all these activities share a common denominator, which is a big learning curve. I guess I’m into learning curves.
I also love doing things with as small a footprint as possible. Every week I was throwing away cartridges from my disposable razor. Future anthropologists will think our era was not only wasteful, but could only harvest aloe in thin strips. What a mystery that will be.
The other reason is financial. Have you shopped the razor aisle lately? If you’re lucky you have the easy-shaving kind of hair and can get away with those cheapo single-use Bics. Those don’t work on me. My beard is made of titanium and some sort of NASA-grade reentry tile material. If I bleed when I shave, it’s because the hair follicles self destruct out of spite. So I need razor blades that only come from Krypton. And there’s a limited supply with no backorder because, well… BOOM. So they’re super expensive.
I first explored the vintage art of straight razor shaving in New York around 2004. I can’t remember why I didn’t plunge into it then. I had visited the Art of Shaving in Columbus Circle and it looked like an old-timey romantic thing to do. I think they sales guy was wearing a vest and a cravat, so the atmosphere was a Sweeney Todd and Harold Hill mashup. And the dude knew his stuff. This was before P & G bought them out and corporate America flipped yet another thoughtful, artisan shop into a bland chain retailer. A story for another day, perhaps.
I thought again of getting into it a few years ago, but we lived in Oregon and everything in our trailer-style bathroom was constantly cold and damp. Not great conditions for carbon steel. Or people. But I digress.
Now that we live in Southern California, everything is warm and dry again – and our bathroom came with a light this time. So a couple weeks ago I picked up a straight razor at the Gillette outlet store (sorry, the Art of Shaving) and went to town on my face. I painted the town – er, face red. Literally. Red. And bumpy. It was not the baby-bottom cheek variety of shaving I had imagined, it more like gravel and salt rubbed into the bleeding stump where my nose used to be. I mean, holy OW. I felt like I was learning to shave all over again, which I was.
I learned a few things from this:
- Just because the sales girl says the razor is “shave ready” doesn’t mean it’s ready to shave you. Is that confusing? Yes, yes it is.
- Lather and technique don’t help if you’re shaving with what is essentially a butter knife.
- Blades need honing. Which is not something you can do with that big rock in your front yard.
I was referred to a local guy who does professional blade honing (http://bladeandstone.wordpress.com). I was slightly skeptical because at this point I had already dropped over $200 on stuff to remove my facial hair. So honing shmoning, what did I get myself into here?
Blade & Stone is run by a master honer named Ben. Aside from the fact that Ben saved my face and got me to love straight razor shaving, I really dig the fact that he is an artisan like us. There’s no corporate puppeteer employing hourly that’s-not-my-job types, it’s a guy who is accountable to his clients. He truly loves what he does and he shares his wealth of knowledge on blades and shaving for free.
So what happened with my shaves? “Holy ow” turned into “Good god almighty that’s a shave!” I am hooked on this method. I’m keeping some disposables around to shave my dome because I’m not as confident reaching behind my head with a surgically sharp blade just yet. I like wearing hats, but not skin grafts.
To me, straight razor shaving is like the craft of screen printing. You can push a button and have ink automatically spurt from a digital printer, but where’s the art and craft in that? So I love this off-the-grid way of shaving. It’s got a big learning curve, it takes mucho time and care, and not everyone does it.
Which is why I do most things. Because I – ahem – they are difficult.