Getting started wetshaving

Merkur HD and Derby BladesMerkur HD and Derby Blades

Where to start? This page can get you started. Wet shaving is not rocket science but can be overwhelming at first. Hopefully this guide will show you a few basic links, tips and tricks that will allow you a successful first shave. The techniques and methods described in this page are not the only ways to wet shave, consider this page as guidelines.

Quick questions

Which brand should you buy? Have a look at the reviews. If you need any suggestions, look at the summary on this page.

Where can you buy it? There's always the Supporting Vendors, Vendors, Vendors forum, B/S/T (Buy/Sell/Trade) forum, Supplies for your town in either Wiki or in a Thread.


If you still haven't found the answer to your question, don't be shy, just ask a question in the Shave Clinic & Newbie Check-In forum. If you are specifically starting with a straight razor, drop by the Straight Razor Shave Clinic.

Before you start

Keep in mind that you are aiming for a beard reduction. Pressure should be nil at all times. Blade Angle should be around 30 degrees (not the handle). When learning how to shave, try to keep the same products and shaving tools for as long as possible. If you have to change something, only one at the time. It will be easier to narrow down what causes problems.

Razors

Which razor to pick? Not an easy question; there are so many different models. You must ask yourself which razor will work best for you. Would it be a Double Edge safety razor (DE Razor), Injector, Single Edge, Cartridge (such as Gillette Mach3) or Straight Razor? The most common models of razor recommended for starters are the Merkur HD, Edwin Jagger (or Muhle Pinsel) R89 Closed comb model and the Gillette Super Speed.


Depending on which razor you pick, make sure you get the right type of razor blade. With a straight Razor, unless it uses a disposable blade, you will also need a strop and perhaps a barber's hone. The main criteria is to have the razor shave ready. To be shave ready, it needs to be honed by a Honemeister. Usually, the vendor or seller will specify if the straight is shave ready. The strop is essential to maintain the edge of the razor. The barber hone will keep the edge sharp when the strop cannot make the edge as sharp anymore. This is not necessary to start with but if you want to use straight razors on a regular basis, a barber hone is cheap way to keep the edge sharp. This page will give you more information on what to look for when buying your first straight razor, strop and hone.

Blades

Blades are another important decision you'll need to make. You'll find lots of different answers when you ask which blade people prefer. Merkurs, Feathers, Derbys, IPs, Gillettes, etc... Some are ultra sharp and unforgiving, while others are so forgiving they'll even forgive the hair. Different blades will also react differently in different razors. You'll eventually find certain combinations that work better then others. But for now just choose one! If that blade feels right, keep it! The less you change in your setup, the quicker you will learn. If the blade doesn't feel right try another one. How can you do that? Purchase a razor blade sample pack. Several of the registered vendors on B&B sell sample packs.

Brushes

There are so many different type of shaving brushes with badger hair, bristle, Boar, Synthetic, knot size, etc... Which one is best? Again, you will get a lot of different answers. When you start wet shaving, a good starter brush would be bristle or boar. Omega is an excellent manufacturer. Why boar or bristle? They will set you back ~$10. For more information on how to choose your first shaving brush, follow this link.

Soap/Cream

The first decision you'll have to make is Shaving Soap or Shaving Cream. How to pick? We all have preferences, some like Shaving Soaps, some like Shaving Creams, some like both! Pick the one that you prefer or sound better to you. The only piece of advice that you can use is that shaving soaps will give you more lubricating lather and shaving creams will be easier to produce lather with! Have a look at the reviews before you buy. If you need help to decide on a cheap product, (Guide to Inexpensive Soaps and Creams) should give you an idea on what to buy.


Now, you must resist the urge of buying a lot of different products. The more you change your setup, the more mistakes you might make.

Pre-Shave

Proraso Pre/Post shaveProraso Pre/Post shave

The pre-shave is by far one of the most important parts of wet shaving. The shame is, often times it's one of the most overlooked by the new shaver. A whisker in its normal dry state can actually be harder than a copper wire of the same diameter. The purpose of the pre-shave is to soften that whisker. The softer the whisker, the easier the razor will cut it, which means less irritation.

There are various products that can be used such as conditioner while taking a shower, shaving oil, a simple shower, a hot towel or Kyle's Prep.

Need help? Consult this link for more information on how to do a pre-shave prep.

Aftershaves

Aftershave offers another huge confusing mass of choices... Splashes, Balms, Scents, etc... It may seem that the Aftershave wouldn't be that important a part of the shaving experience to finish the shave. To help you, consult the guide and resource of Aftershaves for the Wet Shaver. A good starter would be Nivea Sensitive Skin Balm.

As part of the Aftershave routine, some also use or substitute the Aftershave for Witch Hazel.

Alum bloc / Styptic pencil (optional)

Alum BlocAlum Bloc


To Alum or not to Alum? Alum, or aluminum potassium sulfate, is a crystal which actually has many uses. In the case of shaving, it's used as an antibacterial and astringent. The Alum bloc is used in the post-shave routine with the Aftershave. Most wet the Alum bloc, rub on the skin, let dry for a minute or two and then, apply their aftershave.


A Styptic Pencil is similar to the Alum bloc. It is used to stop any nicks or weepers from bleeding. Follow this link for a quick guide on how to use one.

Electric Kettle (optional)

Electric Kettle to heat waterElectric Kettle to heat water


A kettle is one of those things you may not need, but it can really help. Hot water isn't always available or warm enough to make lather and shave. You need to remain careful when using an Electric Kettle. If your water is too warm, it can damage your shaving brush or burn your skin. If you can stand the heat without burning your fingers, the temperature should be right. Do you really need one? Probably not.

Lather Bowl (optional)

Rice Bowl for LatheringRice Bowl for Lathering


There is more than one technique to produce lather. You can face lather, hand lather or bowl lather. In this last case, bowl lathering requires... a bowl. Does it need to be a bowl specifically? No, it can be a large Latte mug. Some like texture inside the bowl, some prefer it to be plain. Some like ceramic, some like wood, other, metal. You can pick what seems right for yourself. Often, a cereal bowl from the kitchen will do. A good sized bowl would be 4" diameter and 2" tall. Remember, this is a guideline, not an absolute required size.

Lather

Making lather is crucial to a good shave. How can you make some? Consult the tutorials. A good lather can make a whole difference in the shave. What is lather? Lather is the yogurt consistency product that will hydrate your skin and let the razor slide on your skin acting like a shield to protect you against razor burn.

The Angle of the razor

The ideal angle for cutting whiskers is about 30 degrees. That means, if your face and whisker form a 90 degree angle, the razor BLADE would be raised 30 degrees off your face. This allows the blade to easily slice through the hair, rather than raking or dragging across it. Keep in mind this is the angle of the BLADE, not the angle of the handle. All razors are built differently, so the angle of the handle will vary greatly.

If you need any help finding this angle, consult the Blade Angle page.

Pressure

Pressure is one of the most difficult things to deal with. If you're switching from some sort of cartridge razor you have to realize something: Cartridge razors are designed to work best when pressure is applied on your face. A DE is designed to be used with no pressure at all. If you apply pressure, you will end up with irritation, nicks and weepers. A Straight Razor is similar, you will need a light pressure for a successful shave. Do not apply too much pressure, just a light pressure, otherwise, like a DE Razor, you will have irritation, nicks and weepers.

The way you hold your razor can be important in minimizing pressure. One technique is the Balance Point Method.

Passes

What is a pass? A pass is a series of strokes that will remove the lather from the surface (skin) that needs to be shaved. You should do a single stroke where you have lather. Do not shave over and over where you do not have any lather for now.


How many passes should I do? You should probably do 2 or 3 passes maximum. Often, too many passes and inexperience leads to irritation. You need to keep in mind that you are aiming for a beard reduction, not a very close shave. However, too many passes will cause irritation. With time and practice, the shave will be closer, do not worry too much at first.


Is direction important? Yes. Generally, the order of the passes are WTG (With the Grain), XTG (Across the Grain) and ATG (Against the Grain). You can determine the direction by letting your beard grow for 2-3 days. Then, in a mirror, stretch the skin and look at the direction of the whiskers. Shaving ATG is not mandatory to get a close shave and should be avoided at first in order to limit the risks of irritation. Only do it if you feel confident. In all cases, do not force the shave.

It may be helpful to draw out a map of your beard's grain.
There are several templates available:

There's also an interactive whisker map allows you to map the direction of growth and how to best shave each area. You can then print it out to keep as a reference.

What can you do? Start by shaving WTG only for your first shave. You can do 2 passes WTG. The shave will not be very close but it will give you an idea on how to work with the angle and let the razor do the cutting. If you feel confident, try XTG as your second or third pass. Only do ATG if you think you are ready.

Finishing Up

You have done your passes and now ready to finish the shave. First, rinse your face with cold water. Pat dry your face with a towel. If you have an Alum bloc, wet it and rub it on your face gently. Wait a minute or two for it to dry. Put a small quantity of aftershave in your hand (around 1/4-1/2 teaspoon), rub in the other hand and quickly spread on the face.

Summary

In summary, if you want to take the plunge into wet shaving and don't know where to begin, here are some recommendations for what you should get to start off with...
Basic Shaving SuppliesBasic Shaving Supplies


Order of the shave
  • Prep
  • Lather up
  • Shave
  • Post-Shave

If you've already been shopping, hopefully the guidelines (and they are just that, guidelines!) above will help you make the most of your venture into wet shaving! Enjoy!

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