Review: The Art of Wet Shaving Amongst Cyclists (Part Two)
Cover photo: Hugo Koblet amidst a rest day at the 1951 Tour de France, freshly shaved.
(2016) "I'll just purchase this bike and see where it leads." Sound familiar? Substitute bike with razor and you've fallen off the precipice into a wonderful world of reliable products.
Clearly you’ve been snared in the wet shaving trap if you’ve continued onto part two of our wet shaving articles. Like we said in the first part, let it happen. It’s exciting to explore how involved the process of wet shaving was over a century ago. The accessories that follow vary between the 'necessary' such as shaving cream or soap, to the ‘nice to have’ such as a scuttle. We’ll fill in the middle, but for your convenience we’ll label items as ‘needs’ and ‘wants.’ We featured some of these items on last year’s holiday list; don’t be surprised to see similar items on this year’s too. It’s hard to get enough of a forgotten pastime. Let’s get started.
In the rough order of the wet shaving process, the straight razor (if using instead of a safety razor) will need to be stropped. This is not a substitute for sharpening; instead it merely prolongs the length of time between honings. Because of the strop’s importance, it should be ranked as a ‘need.’ Take it from someone who kept putting off purchasing one. The last few shaves would have been better with a butterknife, but it's learning.
Many people think of their childhood barbershop when the leather strop is mentioned. It was the big leather belt on the side of the barber’s chair. The barber would grab it and snap his wrist back and forth, back and forth on it in mesmerizing fashion. The satisfying pop and slide of the strap made the tonsorial experience that much more unique.
In the world of wet shaving it can be difficult to navigate the strops available. There are multiple sizes such as 2 ½ inch and three inches and styles such as accompanied with a linen strap or not. (For reference the standard straight razor is three inches wide.) There are strop pastes and oils to preserve the leather. Just like the razors themselves, it is normal to hear of strops being handed down from generation to generation. If you can find one from someone in the family, several products on the market can return the strop to its former glory. If not, there are several companies who make fine leather strops to wow your friends with your barbering skills.
Shaving Cream/ Shaving Soap
Forget the canned version at the town grocery store that comes to mind when I say shave cream. It’s one of the culprits for skin irritations and poor shaves. The accelerant in the can causes skin to dry out. So companies put lubricants in the shave cream; razor companies put lubricating strips around the razors. It’s all reactive in the end. The shaving cream company treats the side effects, not the problem.
Shaving cream and soaps in the wet shaving world can be as thin or as viscous as the user prefers. Almost every one of them comes in a scented option. I love the smell of two personally: Bay Rum and Barbershop. Happily almost every one of them is available in sample size for the person to test. The modestly priced shave soaps last quite a while, making them worth the purchase when compared to store-bought shave cream.
Whipping up a good lather can be achieved by a decent brush, good shave soap, and scant amounts of water. Through experience, a person can whip up a great lather that’s pillowy and slick, making the shave more effective and the razor less likely to knick. Further purposes of shave soap include exfoliation of skin and oils as well as making the follicle stand straight up, thus making it easier to swipe off the face. Making it easier to eliminate facial hair equals a closer shave with less chance of knicks or missed spots.
An important note is that many of the shave soaps are tallow-based. That's important for those who prefer vegan products. Tallow is the left-behind paste in the butchering process. If this is a concern, seek out vegan shave soap or non-tallow shave soap.
Perhaps the last unanswered question is the difference between soaps and cream. Shave soaps are part of the routine where hot water is used to soften up the soap. The brush is swirled around and water is used to adjust the viscosity. Shave cream is less thick and requires less water (if any) to lather. I started with shave cream and immediately found satisfaction with shave soap. But each person is different. Even beginners will benefit from switching to artisan shave soaps and creams, which makes this a ‘need’ category.
Aside from the stylish shiny blades of the straight razor, the shave brush is the other studly accessory to wet shaving. Before we go any further, it is imperative to never, ever, ever (clear enough yet?) use a shave brush with store-bought shaving cream from a can. Specifically the accelerant can ‘melt’ the fur on badger brushes. Hopefully that final fact will deter anyone from purchasing shave products from their local grocer. Anything that melts something else really shouldn't need convincing to cease its usage.
From acrylic brushes to horsehair, from boar’s hair to silvertip badger brushes, there are many options from which to choose. The most sought after brush material, though, is the silvertip badger brush.
The handles themselves are important. There are nubby handles meant for facial lathering. Then there are the longer-handled brushes meant for bowl lathering. Artisans also make the brushes. Brushcraft turns quality custom brushes. We like to promote the local Pennsylvania shaving scene when it comes to wet shaving. Contact these artisans with ideas for your next shave brush. If you want the full effect of wet shaving, a personalized shave brush is quite possibly the want that crosses into necessity.
If you want an easier way to pillow up that shave soap, a scuttle is a great way to go. A typical scuttle is a bowl with a hollow chamber underneath. The chamber is for very hot water to be stored while the top bowl is for the development of lather from the shave soap. Since the style of wet shaving is multiple passes, this keeps the brush and shave soap warm for the second (and maybe third, if necessary) pass. Cold water closes facial skin pores, so having cold anything can be detrimental to the process. The warm water in the scuttle chamber is there to prevent that.
Some people prefer shave bowls. They can be simple bowls that hold the developed shave soap or cream. Some other bowls look like coffee mugs with a big ball on the side for the user to hold. Scuttles can be vintage as well if you’re looking in the right place, or you can turn your attention to small ceramic companies on the web who have small sections of scuttles. We banged our knuckles off of an old coffee mug for a year and love every minute of using a scuttle these days.
Scuttles aren’t necessary, but they’re a great accessory for the wet shaving experience. Because shave soaps come in tins, it’s completely possible to use that to develop a lather. Otherwise the ridges in ceramic scuttles aerate the lather while warm water in the chamber keeps it warm. Some of the more appealing scuttles include the vintage Old Spice scuttle or any scuttle with a cork to seal in the warm water. The photo features a scuttle from the Etsy shop Pottersong and it is enjoyed immensely.
Pre- Shave/ Styptic Pencils / After Shave
The best time to shave is after a hot shower. The pores are wide open and the face has been prepped as best as possible for the hacking events to follow. Naturally if you’re wondering where the hot towels come in, it’s here if you walked off the street into the tonsorial salon. The towels do the same job as a hot shower, though it's tough to beat the steamy towel at the get-go.
Some users prefer to use pre-shave oil to prep the face. In that case Dreadnought makes relaxing oil that preps the face for the shave soap/ cream. It’s a great way to get into the mindset about having the shave of the day (check for #sotd for more ideas). Some users don’t care for pre-shave oils though, too.
Should you find yourself bleeding a bit, a well-timed dab with a styptic pencil can stymie the flow of blood. I saw this in action when I asked for a pound of bacon at the local butcher. He nipped his finger on the slicer and got the styptic pencil immediately. He then put a rubber glove on and asked me what else I wanted. “Nothing,” I replied, my imagination rampant with blood-coated delicatessens. But in all honesty, knicks are part of wet shaving. It is said that it takes about one hundred shaves to get the idea. Even after one hundred shaves I still walk out of the bathroom with blood fangs, having evened myself out on both sides of the mouth. (I just can’t seem to only get myself once.) Plus it looks better than walking around with blood- stained flecks of toilet tissue.
Finally, after pulling off the cold towel to seal up the pores, after slapping the blood back to the skin surface, after fanning the face with a hand towel to dry the shaved area, the lasting impression is to be applied. Most shave soap companies make their own aftershave splashes to match a shave soap/ cream. Some are splashes while some are balms. It’s up to the person shaving to decide, though again many come as samples. What’s great is that, despite some knicks to the face, the after-shave cleans it up nicely.
Furthermore, if an impromptu night out on the town is planned, the after-shave splash can be a great pick-me-up. After all, what’s standing on the podium if the face isn’t freshly gussied up?
Remember the first bike purchase, and the famous last words to the sale were, “I’ll see where this goes”? Wet shaving is just like that. There may be a gifted straight razor hanging in a stand for a few weeks before the nerve is brought up to try it. Magically some artisan shave cream shows weeks later, then a brush, then a scuttle, then a strop, then… Well, you get the idea. It’s a bit like that first bike that seemed good for the role of introductory cycling. Then the components got upgraded, then carbon-soled shoes, then carbon pedals, then the tires, then the wheels, then the frame, then…
Like I said at the outset, let it happen. Because once it’s understood how modern progression ruined an enjoyable shave into something that is a hassle, it will reveal how progression may have ruined other things in other industries.
Anyways. Back to the cycling.