I've been studiously poring over the forums for 3-4 weeks now, as I am a history major and am well accustomed to doing my research. I've read numerous times about the importance of prep work, but get lost in the mumbo-jumbo about exactly what a good prep routine involves. Speaking for myself, I shave after I shower. While I'm in the shower, I let my bowl and brush soak in hot water. Upon completion of the shower, I do not dry my face off, but rather leave it soaking wet. Upon stepping in front of the sink and mirror, I empty out the now-lukewarm water out of the sink and proceed to refill it with a fresh batch of the hot stuff, as this is what I use to rinse between each pass. And that's basically my routine - I make sure the bowl and brush are hot, I shower first, I rinse with hot water between each pass, and I apply the lather on top of the layer of hot water attached to my face. I have never used pre-shave, and my readings on this subject tell me it's a matter of opinion. On another subject here - specifically, creams and soaps and getting good lather - I started with Proraso and have been happy with it, as well as using it as a benchmark to gauge the other brands I've bought. As for the other brands, I bought Col Conk soap first and had some bad luck b/c I wasn't making the lather correctly. Getting rather PO'ed with the whole soap mess, and quickly getting caught up in the product trap, I went out yesterday a.m. and bought a couple creams - Kiss My Face and Tom's of Maine. Last night, I read a post for newbies about learning how to make proper lather - a post which talked about practicing first by adding a 1/2 tspn of water at a time, so you can learn the difference between too little, just right, and too much, as well as how different brands and different scents of brands require their own unique ratio. Perhaps you've read it. I've also watched Mantic's videos on the subject, but try as I might, I have yet to make lather that looks anywhere near as good as his (and I know that the cheap boar hair brush isn't the only problem). I then spent a goodly amount of my evening standing at the sink and making bowl after bowl after bowl of lather with all of my products, including the soap which I dug out of the trash. So here is where I iterate my dilemma. I tell myself that I figured it out but am really not sure. I know what it looks like when there's not enough water - i.e. the cream is just being pushed around and not really lathering at all. I also know when there's too much water - the stuff is runny. Therefore, somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot. So this a.m. I formed up some lather with the Kiss My Face stuff, just like I did last night. It looked good in the bowl and had no holes in the brush, but went on my face kinda thin and dried out pretty quickly. Being a logical person, a thin lather sounds like I used to much water, but if it dried out too quickly, that sounds like there's not enough water. Any suggestions? BTW, during my experiments last night, I reached the conclusion that the KMF brand required more water than Proraso or Tom's, even though it's not nearly as thick coming out of the tube as the Proraso or Tom's - and that makes no sense. So I'm calling on my more experienced comrades to bail me out, because I'm feeling kinda lost on this one.