Shaving: Part 2 – How to Half-Shave

Ritual, art, membership to a cabal of manly-men-boxing-fools in a brew pub — these have never been associations I’ve had with shaving. As Tim has already indicated, our dad gave us a pretty abridged shaving tutorial. Along with scant demonstration, he may have mentioned, “Try not to kill yourself.” Whether he did or did not impart this final kernel of wisdom, there was no follow-up lesson or even a check-in to see if we had garroted ourselves.

As a result, for pretty much all of my shaving-life, I have half-shaved at best. My father’s lack of teaching surely contributed to this, but so did the milieu of the ’90s. In the social circles I traveled then, there was no stigma associated with whatever you decided to do with your facial hair. By the end of the ’90s and the early ’00s, I was shaving maybe once a week. Eventually I found a decent beard trimmer and with it, my shaving became more erratic. Sometimes I had a beard, sometimes I had a shadow, sometimes I was clean shaven, sometimes I had an experimental look, but most of the time I had some amount of hair on my face. This was largely because in those instances when I was clean shaven, I would never continue to do so beyond a couple days because I’d either forget to keep up with it or I got razor rash.

Still, I do razor shave on occasion, and when I do, for nearly two decades it has been with a Mach3. As Tim has also duly noted, the Mach3 is really the bane of shaving. After it materialized in 1998, the facial hair horizon was forever leveled. It is as if no other razor had ever existed since or after. With it, razor cartridges were to forever be things that existed behind locked glass, and the only thing better than three blades was more blades.

Razor, Stand, and Brush
Merkur 34C Heavy Duty Classic Double Edge Safety Razor, Stand, and Escali 100% Pure Badger Shaving Brush
About a year and a half ago, I decided to razor shave; accordingly I dug out my Mach3. Problematically, I had no idea which blades were old, new, or rusted. Because I don’t razor shave that often, this frequently happens to me, and when it does I inevitably just go out and buy all new blades. This time, however, out of spite for the Mach3, I decided to explore other options. This eventually led me to buying a safety razor. While this does potentially mark me as a hipster, after reading up on them, I decided that I shaved infrequently enough to invest in something as arcane as it was asinine.

There is a ton of razor-nerd literature on the web, more than enough to make up for my father’s dearth of shaving knowledge and also make this post seem like it was written by an illiterate shaving caveman. A lot of the literature posits that safety razor shaving is superior to more modern types of shaving. If you doubt this sentiment, I’m with you. It is more likely that the boon in safety razor shaving has to do with a beard-backlash and someone recognizing that there was a vast untapped market of people who really hate the idea of the Mach3.

One thing is for sure, if anyone tells you it is cheaper to shave with a safety razor (in our modern era), consider this post a free pass to laugh right in their stupid shaven face. Odds are, that if they are safety razoring it, they’ve read up on it and expended time, effort, and money on safety razors. It’s a wash that inevitably results in the accumulation of deadlier varieties of safety razors and ascension to asshole-razorhood. I myself still have plenty of time to go ape-shit and purchase a Feather AS-D2 for $180+. Thank you Mach3 for making me the monster I am.

Where the homologous Mach3 is like the fast-food strip in every town, there are countless varieties and flavors of safety razors from which to choose. Though some will argue that the options are lucid enough, the combinations of two and three piece construction, adjustable or fixed, and closed comb (safety bar) or open comb (teeth), also make a fairly strong case for just reaching for the ubiquitous Mach3.

In my case, I opted for a somewhat standard and basic setup. This is what I have:

  • Merkur 34C Heavy Duty Classic Double Edge Safety Razor
  • Personna Double Edge Razor Blades
  • Razor Stand
  • Escali 100% Pure Badger Shaving Brush
  • Proraso Shaving Soap in Bowl
  • Nivea Men Sensitive Cooling Balm
  • Lather & Wood Shaving Oil

The Merkur 34C goes for around $35; it is well regarded, getting recommended as much for the neophyte as it does the advanced shaver. The best part about the Merkur 34C is holding it, and I’m going to venture to say this holds true for most safety razors. It feels awesome, like something engineered in an airplane hangar. Prior to using it, the one thing I did wonder about was its handle length, which compared to a cartridge razor like the Mach3 handle, is short. The handle to the 34C is three inches long, as opposed to the Mach3 which is over five. I imagine1 this is because safety razors are balanced (it’s the weight of the razor itself and gravity that does the whisker cutting; it’s not the pressure from your hand, which is how you chop your face to pieces). Now that I’m used to it, the three-inch handle feels great2.

Merkur 34C and Mach3
Merkur 34C and Mach3 handles
A 100 pack of blades cost me $10. I also purchased a razor stand. If you are in the market for a safety razor, whatever you buy, I highly recommend this, especially if you buy a brush as well. The stand helps to keep both the razor and shaving brush dry, extending their lives, and it looks nice.

Razor and Blades
Merkur 34C Heavy Duty Classic Double Edge Safety Razor and Personna Double Edge Razor Blades
The shaving brush has been the one item in the set up I haven’t quite figured out. I’ve purchased two so far, because they tend to, after time, lose their hairs. In both instances I have purchased the Escali 100% Pure Badger Shaving Brush, in part because it is a bestseller on Amazon.

To shave, I use Proraso Soap, which comes in its own little plastic bowl. I really like this stuff, it smells nice. Some people also recommend using a pre-shave oil, so I picked up the Lather & Wood Shaving Oil. You are to put this on your face before you lather up with the soap. It smells nice, but – shrug – I sometimes forget to use it. A hot shower probably does the same trick. Finally, I use the Nivea Men Sensitive Cooling Balm. It’s not overpowering and it feels good, though you might still get yelled at if you walk into a smell-free zone.

Shaving Soap, Balm, and Oil
Proraso Shaving Soap in Bowl, Nivea Men Sensitive Cooling Balm, and Lather & Wood Shaving Oil
Shaving with a safety razor does take some getting used to, and while the name may imply “safety,” it still feels pretty dangerous. It takes practice, is fiddly, and more time consuming than shaving with a Mach3. One pass will not give you a close shave. You will probably need two or three and also have to explore that ‘grain’ thing. If you are like me though, and you just do one pass, the great news is that you’ll have a 5 o’clock just like Don Johnson by evening. It’s the perfect way to half-shave.

Don Johnson
Don Johnson at exactly 5 o’clock.

  1. I’m too lazy to look it up, but not lazy enough to fail to footnote the fact. 
  2. Longer handled razors are for people with bigger hands.