If you’ve spent any amount of time perusing this site you might know that I hold Petal Pusher Fancies in very high regard. Moustache wax, great. kokum butter shaving soap, great, moustache wax remover, great! Anyway, during one of our correspondence, Hodges from PPF (as the hip kids are want to say) asked if I “wet shave” and, if I did, he had a shaving soap for me to try. My shaving, to this point, had been all over-priced electric razors and gimmicky 37 blade battery powered vibrating ridiculousness. Shaving soap was a mystery, I didn’t know a shaving brush from a toothbrush and I was, and still am, scared of straight razors…so I told him I did and thus my romance with wet shaving began.
At its most basic wet shaving encompasses manual (e.g. non-electric) razors and some sort of lather. However when most people ask if you wet shave they want to know if you’re using a safety or straight razor with a brush and shaving soap. Not knowing what I was doing I just began Googling things. Lots of reading later I felt I was ready to make some educated guesses for the hardware I would use to indoctrinate myself into the brotherhood (and sisterhood for legs) of wet shavers.
Here’s what I got and why:
Merkur 34C Heavy Duty Safety Razor
The variety of razors is crazy. I’m going to stick with double edged safety razors because they’re the easiest for beginners. If you want to go off the grid and get a straight razor be my guest but don’t come crying to me when you’re riding a horse at Halloween with a pumpkin where your head should be.
Double edged safety razors come in a variety of styles. These come down to personal preference:
- 1 piece, aka butterfly – I really like this design but I didn’t want too many moving parts for my first safety razor. This will probably be the style of my next one.
- 2 piece – The 2 piece is pretty basic, there’s a screw knob at the base that releases the top of the razor. You drop out the old blade, drop in a new blade and screw the top of the razor back on.
- 3 piece – Three piece razors can be a hassle for beginners because you need to align the head properly between the two heads pieces and screwing the handle on can alter the alignment creating a crooked shaving surface. This isn’t a problem once you get the hang of it but still not recommended for beginners.
I chose the Merkur 34C HD because it is a moderately priced two piece from a reliable brand. I chose the 34C over their other two piece models because I wanted a shorter handle. I feel the shorter handle allows me more control of how much pressure the blade applies against my face. I will probably get a longer handle next just to experience the difference.
Simpson Special Best Badger Shaving Brush
The selection of brushes is wider than the selection of razors and will be the most expensive piece of your kit. As a beginner I think the only thing you need to concern yourself with is the type of hair you want. Most shaving brushes use badger hair so that’s what I’m going to look at. There are synthetic and non-badger alternatives but they are not as common. There are also varieties of badger hair not listed here that are probably higher quality than you want as a beginner.
In order of increasing quality/decreasing stiffness:
- Pure Badger – Stiffest and Coursest
- Best Badger
- Super Badger
- Silver Tip – Softest
I chose the Simpson Special Best Badger Shaving Brush because it is an inexpensive brush from a reliable brand. The best badger hair is stiff but not too course against my safe. I wanted stiff bristles to aid in the generation of lather from my shaving soap. My first choice was the Simpson Chubby 2 Best Badger because of the more squat handle but I couldn’t justify spending 3x more than the Special on my first brush. I look forward to trying new hair types and sizes but the cost of brushes makes playing prohibitive. Since I will be keeping mine for a while I have given it a name. Homer.
Petal Pusher Fancies Kokum Butter Shaving Soap
This wasn’t so much of a choice as the reason I was doing all of this. Shaving soap tends to come in a puck that looks unsurprisingly like a hockey puck. You put the puck in a bowl, mug or scuttle and there it lives for quite a long time. This is basically how you use it:
- Wet your soap and brush – How much depends on the soap and your water hardness. Experiment with it. That bar of soap isn’t going anywhere for quite a while.
- Develop lather – Agitate your brush against the soap. This can take a while. Some people claim to count to a hundred. I recommend reciting your favorite war speech. Here’s one to get you started.
- Load your brush – Get your brush all full of soap.
- 2 Schools of though here:
- Transfer to mug (or stay in your shaving mug) and keep working the lather. You don’t want to introduce more soap, you want to aid air to lather to get it frothier
- Apply to face and work it on your cheeks to introduce air. This can be uncomfortable with stiffer brushes but some folks also claim that this is good for exfoliating.
There are a lot of good shaving soaps out there. I recommend Petal Pushers Fancies Kokum Butter Shaving Soap (vegan) and Mitchell’s Wool Fat Shaving Soap (not vegan).
Determine whether your soap comes with a bowl/mug or scuttle. Most sellers of shaving soap offer a bowl or mug with their soap at a significant increase in price. Others, like Petal Pusher Fancies, are very realistic about the price of a bowl and, in this case, the bowl they supply will probably cost you less than anything you find on Amazon. Almost all soaps come in a refill variety which is just the soap and no bowl.
- You can use any mug or bowl that you already own
- Scuttles are cool
- If you get a wooden bowl make sure the wood is finished properly or it will rot with a wet puck of soap in it.
I don’t have a recommendation here. No shaving bowl or mug is worth more than about 15 dollars. Scuttles are cool but can be pricey. If you want to move past utilitarian needs then get anything that makes you happy. It’s worth an extra few bucks to enjoy yourself that much more.
Merkur Double Edge Platinum Blades
There are lots of different blades and they’re all a lot less expensive than replacements heads for the average Mach 3 or Quattro.
- Be careful – Seriously, these are sharp. You’ll eventually get used to working with them, just don’t get careless.
- Don’t throw your used blades in the garbage -You will hurt someone. Yourself, your kids, your pets, the garbage man, someone.
- Put your used blades in a recyclable container with a lid – An empty vitamin bottles or prescription medicine bottles should work fine
- Close the lid and drop in the recycling container – Check with your state but most places list used razors as recyclable
I chose Merkur Double Edge Platinum Blades because I bought a Merkur razor. Don’t read into the brand matching. Any double edged blade should fit in any double edged safety razor.
This is the kit I’m currently using and I’m very happy. I’m still learning the nuances of the whole process. I find this to be a great hobby and very relaxing. Relaxing? Yes, relaxing. How often do you get an opportunity to just focus on putting some nice warm water and some warm lather on your face. You can take your time with the shave and use the time to reflect on the day. With the right soap you can also enjoy a little bit of aroma therapy. Just let the folks in the house know that you’re shaving for the next 15+ minutes are you aren’t to be disturbed.
Many thanks to Hodges for getting me started down this path. I doubt I would have discovered it without him and that would be a shame.