Looking to improve the quality of your shave? Have you decided to try wet shaving, but aren’t quite sure what razor to buy?
If you have never heard of it, wet shaving is shaving using traditional shaving tools, namely a straight or double-edge razor, shaving soap, a shaving brush, and warm water. Many men have adopted these tools and techniques because they feel exploited by the modern shaving industry.
The truth they have discovered, you may have read, is that the new “shaving technology” touted by the big shaving brands is merely a marketing gimmick to put your money in their pockets. Want to know how to get the perfect shave? Look no further than wet shaving!
The least painful way to start wet shaving is with a double edge razor. You have two choices for your first double edge razor: an old fashioned (vintage) razor or a modern double edge razor.
Optimally the first razor you buy should be durable, inexpensive, and provide a comfortable, easily-accessible, quality shaving experience. This choice, along with a quality blade and a good brush and soap, is how to get the perfect shave.
The Old Fashioned Razor
There has never been a better time to get old fashion razors online. The old fashioned razor can be found fairly easily on E-Bay and many wet shaving forums inexpensively. Antique stores, flea markets, and estate sales are also good places to find good deals on great old fashioned razors.
Most of these old fashioned razors are Gillettes. Gillette held the patent for double edge razors and their handles for decades.
Gillette moved away from the design after the patent ran out and they no longer had a strategy for maintaining profitability, opting instead for multi-blade cartridges that they could redesign periodically. This allows Gillette, and the other big shaving brand names, to simply create a new patent every time one runs out: around 20 years after it was granted.
Double edge razors were arguably the pinnacle of shaving technology for many years. Many assert that they still are.
These razors were mass-produced and were the most popular gear to shave your face with for generations. Mass-production meant each razor was much cheaper due to the quantity of razors produced and sold, coupled with low prices on the requisite materials.
Generally, these razors were made from brass and most commonly nickel plated. These razors’ materials are very durable and their mechanisms relatively simple resulting in a nearly indestructible product.
Fully functional razors from even the very early days are relatively common. This means that the vast majority of these razors are still out there and can be had cheaply due to high market saturation.
The main advantage of these old fashioned razors are: 1) high quality material construction, 2) refined design, and 3) durability. Many beginners avoid these razors because they always need light restoration work and sterilization before they are shave ready.
The Modern Double Edge Razor
A modern double edge razor will also provide a fine shave at a reasonable price. The Edwin Jagger DE89 was my first double edge razor and cost me about $30. This razor gives a comfortable shave and is well designed.
There is one thing to keep in mind with the modern double edge razor: durability. Many of these razors are made with Zamak, an alloy of zinc. Zamak is inexpensive and easy to manufacture. Zamak (also known as pot metal) is not generally well-liked in the wet shaving community because of its low durability and tendency to corrode when its finish fails.
Often a fall from your sink will snap the Zamak head of your new three piece razor off at the threads. These razors are well respected as starter equipment, just be aware that these razors will likely never be heirlooms for your son or your son’s son.
The main advantages of modern razors are: 1) readily available 2) no cleaning or restoration necessary 3) supports the growing wet shaving manufacturing industry. Most people who start with these razors do so for ease of access. No cleaning or restoration is required. Open the box, load a blade, and shave.
And the Winner Is?
There is much debate about which type is best to start with. In this article we will focus on old fashioned, or vintage, razors. For the above reasons, I genuinely believe this is the best place to start.
If you go this route be sure to take some time to learn what to look for in vintage razors. The many wet shaving forums out there contain a wealth of information that will prepare you for your hunt.
Search (and join!) these forums for info on buying razors on ebay, or check out their classified sections for quality used razors.
The process, in my experience, takes an hour or two from start to finish to restore your new score to shave-ready condition. This isn’t as bad as it sounds; much of the time spent is soaking the razor in various cleaning solutions.
Most guides suggest a separate step after cleaning to sterilize the razor. I generally skip that step (Take this advice at your own risk!) because Scrubbing Bubbles does sterilize to a degree.
The only caveat to the above advice is gold-plated razors. It is recommended that these old fashioned razors be treated as fine jewelry.
Whether you choose to follow this advice will depend on the condition of the razor and whether you plan to add your razor to a collection. For user-quality gold plated razors I follow the same procedure as for nickel-plated razors.
It may damage the gold plating, but will not, in any way, affect the shave. More on these golden old fashioned razors a little later.
Which Razor Will You Choose?
There are many many options for you to choose from when it comes to a beginner old fashion razor. To follow are a few of the most popular.
Most of these razors you can find on ebay for anywhere from $10-$50. If you are patient you may find even some of the most coveted old fashion razors for cheap. The key here is persistence and patience.
Invest the time in learning what you are looking for and in finding the razor you want at the right price. I found my favorite razors for less than $30 delivered!
Take a look at the following information to decide which of these fine razors you are going to purchase to begin your exciting wet shaving adventure.
#3:The Gilette Super Speed
By far the most abundant and cheapest old fashion razor on this list. The Super Speed can be found in decent condition for less than $20 delivered to your home. The razors manufactured in the 1940s to 1950s are generally the most highly regarded.
Check the date code in the description to get the year. You will be able to do this with most Gillette razors, with few exceptions. There is a decent variety within the Super Speed line to choose from, especially in the 1950s models.
The red tip is preferred by many as it is the heaviest of the Super Speeds. Many believe that heavier razors aid in achieving the “no pressure” technique vital for the most comfortable and closest shave.
#2: The Gillette Adjustable
This one comes in two basic flavors: Fatboy and Slim. The main benefit of these razors is that the aggressiveness can be adjusted.
When starting out double edge shaving one generally favors a milder razor. When skill is gained many come to prefer a more aggressive shaving experience.
Adjustable razors allow you to get an old fashion razor that will grow with you, from extremely mild to very aggressive. With persistence you can find a good one for $30 or less.
If you have a budget on the higher end – at around $50 – you can generally find and purchase a Fatboy within minutes after a simple E-bay search.
The Fatboy is a must-have for all double edge razor collectors due to its rarity (produced from 1958 to 1961) and quality construction. Many in the wet shaving community use a Fatboy to the exclusion of all else.
This razor has a short and stubby appearance due to it’s thick, short handle and high-profile head. If you have a more modest budget you can still get one of these legendary razors – it just takes longer.
If you’re looking for a deal here, it is vital that you learn to distinguish the Fatboy from the Slim by appearance alone. Check out this link for a guide to aid you in your quest. Once you can visually distinguish one from the other do an E-bay search for “adjustable Gillette” “adjustable razor” or any similar permutation and try to find a Fatboy not labeled as such.
This takes some time, but you’ll eventually find one for very cheap. I found mine packaged with an old Gem single edge for $25 delivered!
The Slim is generally less expensive, due to it’s wider availability. The slim had a longer run than the Fatboy making it less rare and, thus, less expensive.
The Slim was developed as an improvement on design of the Fatboy. The Fatboy has a fat handle to allow room for the relatively complex machinery in the handle, the Slim has the same mechanisms packed into it’s more compact and sleek handle.
Some wet shavers prefer this razor to the Fatboy due to the Slim’s lower profile head. Though fairly rare, there are some who report that their Slim locked up because of mechanical failure or shaving cream buildup in the handle.
Many experienced shavers claim to receive a shave comparable to that of the Fatboy, some even claim superior shaves.
#1: The Gillette Aristocrat
There are many forums and discussions to be found extolling the virtues of these golden masterpieces. Many, including myself, claim these are the best razors ever made. The Aristocrat was in production from 1910 – 1951.
Different years are more prized than others, depending on personal preference. Mine is a 1946-47 edition and I could not recommend it more highly as a starter razor.
These years are considered to be the most aggressive, but don’t let that put you off, it doesn’t feel that aggressive and is fairly forgiving. The blade gap is a little more aggressive than the Super Speed and the heavy handle makes for perfect balance.
More than any razor I have ever used, blade angle seems more intuitive and the feedback is fairly pronounced: you can really hear the razor cut through your stubble. These old fashion razors can be VERY expensive, but it is not too difficult to find a great deal.
I got my user grade razor for about $30 delivered to my door. With a little patience, you can get your very own Aristocrat on the cheap, too.
These are the short list of old fashion razors generally believed to be the best starter razors. I will reiterate that the quality of materials and workmanship of these Gillette razors surpasses anything modern at the same price point.
Rounding It Out:
When starting out wet shaving, you are going to want to get kit that offers the greatest bang for the buck.
With your killer new razor you are going to want to get yourself a variety pack of blades, which you can also get on E-bay or any number of places, like West Coast Shaving. Different razor blades and personal preference will also affect your shave with your new razor.
Try a bunch of different blades to find the one that works best for you with your new razor. Always remember that wet shaving is a highly customizable experience.
Any effort you put forth to perfect the experience will be well worth it.
A good shaving brush is also important. Many wet shavers insist that Badger hair is the only valid choice. A good, soft, dense badger brush is going to cost you a pile of spondolies. I recommend you buy a good quality synthetic brush.
Many call the Plisson the “brush of the gods” and that may be the case. The Plisson brush can be hard to find and is rather pricey. My personal recommendation is a Plissoft brush from Italian Barber. When I started I bought a Simpson Badger brush for $45 on sale.
The brush was scritchy, smelly, and shed. I later bought a Plissoft Monster for $12 on Amazon and I haven’t used the much more expensive Simpson brush since. The Plissoft brushes are soft, don’t shed, hold water, and are lather champs!
There are many to choose from, but some sell out fast, get ’em while they last!
The last ingredient is a good soap. The Italian Barber RazoRock soap line is both easy to load and build tons of lather. I have never owned or tried a soap easier to lather than their XXX soap that can be ordered direct for about $10.
It also smells like my grandfathers bathroom after he shaved – definite old-timey nostalgia points for me. To top it all off, it’s fairly inexpensive.
You can pick up both a fine brush and soap from the Italian Barber website and have them shipped right to your house for around $30.
Putting It All Together
Now that you have your kit together, it’s time to embark on your adventure into the world of wet shaving. Mantic59, the Sharpologist, has a great free ebook and tons of instructional youtube videos available that will get you started on the road to wet shaving bliss.