To be 100% clear before presenting anything to you, the reader.
- I am NOT a shill
- I am NOT paid by any of the companies named here
- I was NOT given any products for testing or review purposes
- I DID seek this out on my own
- I DID reach out to some of these companies via STANDARD means
- These are my OPINIONS
As you might be able to tell by the scrollbar in your browser. This is a very long read compared to my usual posts. If nothing else, read the first 1⁄2 or so of what is here. That’s the meat and potatoes. The hearty stuff that’s worth focusing on. The second 1⁄2 or so is examples and ‘what is KemoNine using for gear’. Feel free to skip the insights into my preferences, the first 1⁄2 stands on its own.
Sloppy Soap (link)
The soap company that started me down this path. They have a great product, passionate owners and don’t mess around. They popped up in one of my feeds and I took a chance. I’m glad I did. Their customer support has been very helpful at every turn. I’ve had questions and they have answers.
Above the Tie (link)
I found this company while looking for Stainless Steel razors. I dug through the site and loved what I saw for razors. I did have questions and their customer service was top notch. They were fast to respond and answered all of my questions. They even set me up with an order ahead of a product being available on their website.
West Coast Shaving (link)
This site kept popping up in my searches for razors and related sundries. I dug through their offerings and took a chance on a small order. They are a great starting point for finding products, general info and getting ideas. If you’re new in town, start here for ideas and initial products to buy.
I prefer to buy from people that aren’t mass producing products. I really don’t want to buy a pen, razor, leather goods or anything other than food ‘often’. They have a large number of artisans selling a number of different products. I almost always start here for ‘forever’ items and support the ‘small guy’ whenever possible. If you’re looking for unique shaving gear, there are a lot of options here. More than I care to admit. I’ve lost many hours to discovery on Etsy.
Awhile back I bought some artisanal soap on a lark. After using it for a month I gave it a go as a shaving cream. It did not disappoint. However, it did get me thinking about how I go from hairy ape to hairless ape.
Shaving is a regular process most of us build into our routines. After awhile it’s something we tend to do by rote. Little to no thought is put into it once we find something that ‘just works’. Swapping out shaving cream for a good soap got me thinking about shaving again. If I care enough about soap, I should probably look at shaving too.
This blog post is the culmination of thinking about shaving, experimentation and more.
My preferences here were dialed in over many, many weeks. I went down the rabbit hole, danced with the red queen for a bit and then returned to reality. I did the hard work, I leave it to you to find your preferences.
You’ll also notice I don’t call attention to specific razors, brushes and other items. This is 100% intentional on my part. Shaving supplies are going to be super personal. I’ll link to what I’m using and a couple sites as starting points, nothing more. I hope that you’ll spend a little time poking around and make selections based on your preferences.
Disposal – Important!!!!
Before I get into the post there is something VERY important I’d like to point out regarding blade disposal. The blades used in Safety Razors are razor blades and are very sharp. Yes, that’s the whole point but when you dispose of these blades you need to be mindful. Nothing worse than a Waste Management person being cut because of improper disposal.
You can get a sharps container or a blade disposal container for cheap and they should be used for your blades. I’ve included a few options at the end of this section.
If you’re worried about recycling or where to turn in the used blade container: Check with your local government, local pharmacy and similar options. A lot of cities have published guidelines for non-biohazard sharp disposal. A lot of pharmacies will take your spent blade sharps container as well. Some pharmacies will even order sharps containers for you. A little research goes a long way for keeping things safe for all involved.
If you’re especially concernted I’m told this site (link) has some good info for USA residents.
A final thought: if you have a blood borne pathogen such as Hepatitis C be sure to use a biohazard sharps container and avoid the landfill. Please take special care in this circumstance.
Containers For Blade Disposal
- Feather Used Blade Case: Link
- This is a good option for travel use. Just be sure to tape the opening after adding any blades for disposal. This can be dropped in the standard trash (do NOT recycle) as long as you tape up the opening well.
- Derby Razor Blade Disposal Case: Link
- A large blade container (think years to fill as an individual) with a focus on DE razor blades. Great for a barber shop or at home. Note: the biohazard label is not uncommon and doesn’t affect non-biohazard use and shouldn’t affect disposal. Check your local municipality guidelines just in case the biohazard logo is a problem for non-biohazard sharps.
- Medline Sharps Container: Link
- 32 ounce sharps container. Holds a ton of blades (think years to fill as an individual). Note: the biohazard label is not uncommon and doesn’t affect non-biohazard use and shouldn’t affect disposal. Check your local municipality guidelines just in case the biohazard logo is a problem for non-biohazard sharps.
Misconceptions and Confusion
Cults of Personality
Shaving is wet shaving is part of personal grooming. Stated another way: if you ‘shave’ the manner (technique) and tools are just things you use to get the job done.
As I worked my way through the ‘Wet Shaving’ and ‘DE Safety Razor’ lands I ran into a lot of information that I can only describe as ‘Cult of Personality’. A lot of the online reviews, demos and information is framed up in this gushing, bubbly, drink the Kool-Aid style that can be very off putting. It can also be very confusing thanks to information that is seemingly contradictory up-front.
The fundamental truth is buried in subtext. It’s a simple fundamental:
Shaving is the means of removing hair from the body. What works for you is intensely personal and rooted in preferences. Your and My preferences will likely differ. THIS IS OK!
Seriously, personal preferences abound. Find yours and ignore the haters.
I wrote this post because the information was so contradictory and scattered. I wanted to get people to think about a better, cheaper shave. I’ve worked hard to point out the variables that are important to a good shave while leaving you to find and choose what works best for you. I’ve sprinkled in my opinions and what I’ve found to be great products but you’re welcome (nay: encouraged) to ignore my product preferences.
The only thing I ask is you pay special attention to what I call attention to as a ‘fundamental’ variable or product that deserve some time and energy. It may be annoying to spend some time researching and product testing but I’ve found the end results to be worth the up-front effort.
If you dig into the wet shaving and safety razor worlds you’ll see it’s dominated by individuals who identify as ‘men’. This DOES NOT mean that this world is a ‘boys club’. It simply means men tend to shave a very visible part of their body and tend to have strong opinions.
If you pickup a razor with any frequency, this world is for you too.
Ignore the silly dude bros and have a good shave.
Modern supplies are just as good as vintage supplies. If you don’t care about vintage, don’t bother. The modern hardware is just as good an anything made ‘long ago’. This is very much a preference.
Vintage supplies are just as good as modern supplies. If you want a vintage product, go with it. Things have changed since vintage hardware was created but it’s variations on a theme. This is very much a preference.
Modern Vs Vintage
Seriously: preference. Find a razor/brush/etc that you like and go with it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you made the wrong choice. Its your body that you’re shaving. At the end of the day your preferences dictate the terms of how you shave.
Opinions can be helpful for finding your preferences but once you have them, stick to them. Even if that means you stick to modern cartridge razors.
Quality vs Cost
Higher cost does not always mean higher quality. You can spend a small fortune on razor hardware and it can still be junk quality. You can also spend very little to get high quality. The usual quality/cost analysis should be applied to the shaving world.
I dug into this some and I don’t see a strong need to make recommendations or call out specific brands/hardware. If you look close at my personal gear selections you’ll see a bit of a pattern emerge but it has more to do with my personal preferences and tastes than cost/quality ratios.
These are a few universal items that I would strongly recommend you spend some time with. These are the key elements of a proper shave (legs/face/crotch) and will be rooted in opinions. I’ve tried multiple options for these items and some were great, others horrific. Do not let one bad shave ruin the whole experience.
Online you can find all kinds of information about shaving technique. I’d recommend some research into the ‘good’ ways to use a DE Safety Razor. I poked around a bit before buying my first razor and a few of the suggestions were really helpful. I’ve distilled the common recommendations below. Feel free to adapt these to your own style. I’d also recommend a little reading on this front to get some ideas.
I should also state: it took me awhile to nail down my technique. It didn’t happen right away and the DE Safety Razors require a different approach than cartridge razors. Give it at least 6-12 shaves to nail down properly.
- Hold the razor at a 30 degree angle to your skin
- Do NOT add any pressure, let the razor’s weight take care of things
- Pay attention to how ‘aggressive’ the head and blades will be
- You probably want a mild head/blade if you have thin or sparse hair
- You probably want an aggressive head/blade if you have thick or dense hair
- You probably want mid aggressive if you’re somewhere in between for hair thickness or density
- With the grain, then against the grain then across the grain is a standard pattern for shaving that results in a very close shave
- Lather up between passes
- Take your time, this will be a longer process when compared to safety razors
Finding the right blade for a new razor is key to a good shave. It’s also painful, bloody and time consuming. This was the biggest item I struggled with overall. I liked the feel and balance of the razor I purchased. However, the shaves were terrible until I started looking for new blades. Simply swapping blades was the difference between the worst and best shave I’ve had to date.
During my initial research I saw blade sample packs. I read the reviews on the popular blades and picked the one that seemed to make the most sense. I was dead wrong. I ended up buying the West Coast Shaving Everything Sampler pack and worked through every blade in the pack. They have other packs (link) and I strongly recommend a sampler.
After I started work on this post someone sent me a link to Try a Blade (link) and said they had good success. The website is a bit painful to use but I would definiately have bought a ton of blades from them if I was aware of the site before I had made my supply purchases. If you want to try a variety of blades, this site is for you.
I’d also recommend keeping an eye on the country/region of origin and blade features (coating, material, etc) that are consistent in your picks. This can be a big help for helping guide any samples or future blades you try.
Finding the right blade is the difference between the worst shave imaginable and the best. If you do nothing else, spend time focused on blades.
Before discussing soap I should point out the following
- You CAN use current, commercial shave gels and creams with DE Safety Razors
- NOTHING prevents you from using your current shaving gel or cream that you love for cartridge razor shaves with Safety Razors
- This INCLUDES vintage safety razors
- Soaps, gels and creams are UNIVERSAL
- All they do is condition the hair and skin for a razor while providing slip
- They solve a problem that’s universal and I have yet to find a razor that has ‘special’ requirements on this front
- NO SOAP is also a valid option. Seriously, no soap works too.
Now that I’ve shouted a bit about soap…
I recommend spending some time finding the ‘right’ non-mass produced soap if possible. It will make a difference. If you can: spend some time and money on soaps. I got very lucky on this front and I can say that switching out soap made a big difference for me.
One big thing that may be a little odd when not using canned shave cream/gel is that soaps have a different lather. When I switched over to soaps for shaving I noticed that the lathers tended to be less stable and less thick. This is normal and expected. What I recommend is lathering in ‘zones’ based on how much shaving you can get done before the lather degrades. Degraded lather can result in a poor shave. If necessary, lather a little bit at a time.
I’ve come to prefer the Sloppy Soap Naked Pink and Gray (link) soap as my regular shaving soap. Formerly I used Gillette gels and other brands. No matter what I did in the past I always walked away with very dry skin and annoyance. With Naked Pink and Gray I walk away feeling smooth, refreshed and with healthy skin.
I’ve extolled the awesome soaps made by Sloppy Soap in the past and won’t go on any further. I do recommend you take a look at their offerings and pick one that looks ‘good’. If you can’t find one, fall back to Naked Pink and Gray and go from there.
I would recommend starting with a DE Safety Razor kit (razor + brush) if you’re starting out. I looked at the kits from West Coast Shaving and bought individual pieces after further research. If you’re interested but don’t want to be ‘that person’ when it comes to shaving supplies I’d recommend a kit.
West Coast Shaving has some good kits and I’d recommend any of their offerings as a starting point. Four of the ones that jumped out at me are:
- Lady’s Starter Set (link)
- Ladies Safety Razor Starter Kit - Build Your Own (link)
- Build your own - Bestsellers (link)
- Build your own - Starter (link)
As I explored DE Safety Razors and Wet Shaves I discovered that I need the following in my shaving setup. It took a bit of effort to discover but was worth it in the end. As you build into wet shaving keep in mind the overall aggressiveness of your head/blade combo and the soap you’re using.
- Mid to High aggressive shave overall
- A good soap that won’t dry out the skin
When I first started out I underestimated how important the overall aggressiveness is for a shave. The blade and head can make or break the shave in my experience. The first razor I used ended up having a mild head and mild blades were bloody lessons for me. I ended up needing aggressive blades to make up for how mild the head performs.
I almost gave up with wet shaving because of how much I had underestimated finding the right aggressiveness. Thankfully I managed to continue and ultimately found my preferences.
Your needs will likely differ and I strongly recommend working past any bad shaves as you discover them.
The various gear I settled upon is in the below selections. When I said I went down the rabbit hole and danced with the red queen, I meant it. I spent a lot of time doing research, finding higher end products and supporting smaller companies and artists. I even spent time pouring over commercial options and more readily available gear with a great price/cost balance that’s more affordable than small run products.
I went with non-commercial for a the majority of my gear. I only wanted to buy a couple razors and be done for a lifetime. I also wanted something ‘special’ for my home gear. However, for travel, I wanted bog-standard, off the shelf, commercial products. If I’m traveling I don’t want to lose something special.
If you’re looking for a great starting point and more commercially available gear, I’d recommend a close look at my travel setup. It’s all reasonably priced, good quality and readily available.
Paradox of Choice
Before getting into my picks. I’d like to take a moment to point out that commercial products are good too. I may have gone with some intense, specialty razor hardware but I also wouldn’t discount commercial products.
Please don’t think you need to buy what I have listed below. My gear is what works best for me and what I set out to obtain. Definitely spend time at West Coast Shaving and other sites if any of my gear selection isn’t up your alley.
The DE Safety Razor world is a great example of Paradox of Choice and can be paralyzing at times. Working through it can be very difficult but the rewards are great.
If you made it this far it’s time to share a secret: I also bought a bunch of Russian made blades that aren’t normally included in sample packs. As I worked through the original sample pack I bought, I realized the blades I preferred were Russian in origin. I headed back over to West Coast Shaving to take a look at the blades coming out of Russia that they offer.
I found another 5 blades to try.
At the end of the day I ended up preferring Russian made blades. I found a few that are winners overall and time will tell which sticks.
This is the gear I went with for a travel setup. Everything but the leather cover and soap are commercial and readily available. I wanted something simple, reasonably priced and good quality.
Razor: Merkur #25c (Link)
This is a mild, long handled, open comb DE Safety Razor. It’s good quality and works well for me. Perfect for what I need and want in a travel razor.
Parker Travel Shave Brush (link)
This is a really nice, badger hair shave brush. It is small, collapses down on itself and is vented. A great, self protecting brush for travel. The venting is a nice touch. It’ll let you pack it up before being 100% dry without having to worry about mold.
Leather Razor Case (link)
I have yet to receive this product. However, it’s sold by Above the Tie as well. I don’t want to delay this post by a month while I wait. So… in due course I’ll be posting more about this product in a dedicated post.
Naked Pink and Gray Soap (link)
My preferred soap for shaving. The lather is a little less stable/dense than I’d like but if I lather and shave in ‘zones’ it works really well. My skin feels great and the slip while shaving is amazing. This is the soap that made me stop using commercial shaving cream/soap/etc.
Aluminum Tin for Soap (link)
A simple tin to hold soap while traveling. Not much to say other than ‘it just works’.
This is the gear I went with for home. At home I’m willing to spend a little extra time shaving. It’s ‘forever’ gear and meant to last a lifetime. Some of these items may not be ‘cheap’ but they are very high quality and have personality. On top of that they make the little bit of extra time effort put into shaving even more worthwhile.
Above the Tie Windsor Copper Handle (link)
A Tellurium Copper 145 handle for DE Safety Razor heads. Heavy, well machined and elegant. I have a soft spot for copper products and couldn’t resist this handle.
Above the Tie Stainless Steel R2 Open Comb Head (link)
A 303 Stainless Steel safety razor head. This is a mid-aggressive head and very well built. It’s a bit spendy but I won’t have to buy another, ever. It’s also super simple in look and great in function. Perfect for my utilitarian predilections.
Copper Brush/Bowl Set (link)
Hand pounded and great accessories. I keep a bit of Naked Pink and Gray in the bowl and use the brush for my lather needs. It’s well made and does the job. It’s also copper which, again, I love. I got this set to compliment the razor. Beauty, form and function are all present with this set.
Leather Razor Cover (link)
A simple leather cover for a DE Safety Razor head. I bought this to ensure that my razor doesn’t cut people rooting through a drawer when not in use.
Naked Pink and Gray Soap (link)
My preferred soap for shaving. The lather is a little less stable/dense than I’d like but if I lather in ‘zones’ it works really well. My skin feels great and the slip while shaving is amazing. This is the soap that made me stop using commercial shaving cream/soap/etc.
This is the gear I went with for when I’m feeling lazy. When I feel lazy I just do a quick, no frills shave in the shower. I don’t even bother with soap/cream/gel when feeling lazy. This gear is not cheap but it’s very high quality and different than the usual DE Safety Razors you’ll see. I went this route for something different that can provide a quick, easy, no frills shave.
You’ll also notice I built this razor entirely from pieces and parts. This is not uncommon in the world of safety razors.
One last note: I ordered 3 different styles of blade despite having to buy 20 blades at a time. This setup isn’t for the faint of heart or thin pocketbook. I splurged and my wallet felt pain.
Above the Tie Bamboo Aluminum Handle (link)
A bamboo inspired 7075 Aluminum handle in Anodized Black. A lot easier to hold on to in the shower than most. Even if it slips a bit the handle won’t slip through my fingers thanks to the ridges along the length.
Above the Tie Stainless Steel SE2 Plate (link)
An open comb, mid-aggressive 303 Stainless Steel razor head. Single edged and a little different. Great for a quick and lazy shave while not paying 100% attention to what I’m doing. I went open comb because they tend to be a bit better for how my hair growth. I also selected stainless for the plate to ensure the razor head had some heft to it and wasn’t ‘too light’. There is an aluminum variant of this plate available if you’re looking for something lighter/cheaper.
Above the Tie SE2 Aluminum Cap
A 7075 Aluminum razor cap in Anodized Black. At the moment the cap isn’t available as an individual purchase. I re-purposed the cap from the SE1 head (link) in order to get what I wanted. It’s a nice accent to keep the final razor all black except the plate.
I was a little disappointed I couldn’t find sample packs of blades (at the time I was shopping) but I figured there are only a few options so I may as well go all in. I’ve come this far…
Feather AC Professional (link)
These are on par with a straight razor from what I can tell. They offer some forgiveness but you shouldn’t forget these are on the more aggressive end compared to typical DE Safety Razor blades. They are also sharp. Do not mess about with these blades.
I will be using these blades over the others that I tested. They are sharp and are less prone to nicks and razor burn for me. Scary but I find the shave to be worth it.
KAI Captain Titan (link)
These blades are a solid competitor to the Feathers. They aren’t as aggressive but still yield a good shave. I’d recommend these blades if you’re looking for a middle of the road aggressivness in a blade.
Feather AC ProGuard (link)
These blades are another I found that look very interesting. They have a guard on the blade that helps with nics and cuts. Because of the guard they aren’t as aggressive as the standard Feathers. I liked them but they weren’t as close as I like in a shave. I’d recommend these if you’re just starting out and want to nail down technique before getting into more aggressive blades.
They aren’t bad, just not for me.
The above may be a long read and heavy on my opinions. However, I hope it has given you some pause, something to think about and hopefully sets you down the Safety Razor path. Safety Razors have been a great thing for me and I hope you can share in it.
I’d also like to repeat: the above is what works for me. I totally expect you, the reader, to adapt this information to your needs and desires. I wouldn’t expect my choices to be for everybody.
Take some time, research and jump into the wet shaving pond. You’ll appreciate it in time, trust me.