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Some Thoughts on "The Basics"

I've had the pleasure of converting a bunch of my buddies to wet shaving, and many of them have similar questions but won't go online to do research. A friend asked if I'd write something down for him, so I obliged. I thought I'd share it with you folks as well. My hope is that it will help a few of you out there who are just starting out. Shouldn't hurt!

A Short Disclaimer:

Now, please note that this is just a condensed beginner's how-to that I wrote for my friends, and is NOT meant to be a definitive guide about ANYTHING. There are tons of ways to do everything, and this is just something I put together to get my buddies started. My goal was to share with them some of the knowledge I've learned from participating in the great discussions here on B&B. So, these are just one person's idea of "the basics" to help get new folks on the path to good wet shaves with a DE. No substitute for experience and all that. It will be easy to find holes here and there and everywhere (I only included lathering tips for face-lathering creams, for instance, and I chose to be generous with loading amounts), but please keep in mind the very narrow scope of this guide. YMMV. Everyone develops their own way of doing things that works best for them, but of course everyone also has to start somewhere. My aim was to make this a simple and effective resource.

Again, most of this stuff I learned from the fine members of B&B and from personal experience, and I can't thank everyone enough for their contributions. I'm very grateful for all of the help I received when I was starting out, and I still learn something new from you guys every day. So if you're new to the forum, please stick around and contribute to this great community! :001_smile

So, without further ado:


Here's a little guide to help get you started. There are obviously a thousand ways to wet shave, but this should hopefully get the ball rolling.

Step 1: Prep

-Take your brush and place it, bristles-down, in a coffee cup full of warm/hot water. The bristles need time to absorb water, so it's a good idea to do this before stepping into a shower. In general, it's wise to shave after showering. The warm water helps soften and prepare your beard. Taking a little conditioner and rubbing it into your beard at the beginning of the shower will help as well. Wash it out before you get out, but leave your beard wet.

-Load your razor with a fresh blade. Most people can get 2-4 shaves per blade. Do a little experimenting, and you'll see when to replace the blade. If it starts tugging, or is uncomfortable, toss it.

-Take your brush out of the cup, squeeze the water out, and give it a couple of shakes. The bristles should still be moist, but not dripping with water.

-Take your tube of shave cream and squeeze out a snurdle onto your finger (a little less than the size of an almond, and yes it really is called a 'snurdle'). Open the bristles of the brush and smear the cream into the breach (bottom/center) of the brush. Close up the bristles. Now take a smaller, peanut-sized amount of cream, and smear it on the tops of the bristles. Your brush is now loaded and ready to go.

Step 2: Lathering

-One of the best parts! Lathering can be a little tricky to get the hang of, but after a few shaves it'll come naturally. First, splash your face with warm water and leave it damp. Now take your loaded brush and start working it into your beard. Get your face fully covered with a light amount of cream (15-20secs). Now, get a handful of warm water with your off-hand and dip the TIPS of the bristles into it and give the brush a gentle shake. Don't get the brush too wet--only the tips. Now, go back to lathering on your face. The lather should increase in volume and get more hydrated (20-30secs). Now, dip the bristle-tips into a handful of warm water again. A little shake, then back to your face for more lathering. Do this process another few times until your face is coated with moist, slightly-fluffy lather and your brush is plump with lathery goodness. Proper consistency should be like meringue. You should also have enough lather left over in your brush to do a few more passes.

-A common mistake made by new wet shavers is to not hydrate their lather properly. If the lather starts drying and floating away like snow, it means it's not hydrated enough. However, if the lather becomes bubbly and thin, it means it has been overhydrated.

-Keep in mind, different creams and soaps will lather differently, and require different ratios of cream/soap to water. So, you may have to modify your technique when you pick up a new product. That's part of the fun of experimenting with new products.

Step 3: The Shave

-The main event! Shaving with a double-edged (DE) razor is quite different than shaving with a cartridge razor. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Blade Angle

-The head of a DE razor doesn't pivot like a cartridge razor, so you have to be mindful of the angle with which you shave. A 30-degree angle is often a good place to start. Here's a good way to test blade angle: hold your hand palm-down, and place your razor upside down on your hand, so the top of the razor sits on the back of your hand, perpendicular to it. Now roll the top of the razor until the blade just touches your skin. Observe that angle, that will be the correct shaving angle.

-When you're shaving don't pivot your wrist. Locking your wrist makes it easier to control blade angle.

-When gripping the razor, try to pinch it at its base. Don't hold it near the top. It's easier to maintain your blade angle and use less pressure this way. If using a longer or heavier razor, this doesn't necessarily apply.

Beard Direction

-It's really helpful to know which direction your beard grows on each part of your face/neck. That way you can know exactly when you are shaving with the grain, across the grain, and against the grain. A good way to figure this out is to wait a couple of days, and use a credit card to scrape around your beard. Or simply spend a minute or two in front of the mirror.


-It's incredibly important to NOT USE PRESSURE when shaving with a DE. This is not a razor you can mash into your face and scrape away, like you can with a cartridge razor. Just maintain a good blade angle and slide the razor down your face with minimal pressure. Let the weight of the razor do most of the work.

Beard Reduction/Multiple Passes

-When shaving with a DE, the way to get super-close shaves is to use multiple passes, rinsing and re-lathering between passes. Your goal is to reduce the beard with each pass, not to get everything in one go. The use of good technique and very light pressure is necessary to prevent irritation.

1. Most people start with a with the grain pass first. This usually means starting under your sideburns in a downward direction, etc. Whatever you do, DO NOT go over an un-lathered area with the razor. This is okay with a cartridge razor, but it will really chew your face up if you do it with a DE. When you're finished, rinse your face and reapply lather with the leftovers in your brush.

2. Next, many people like to do an across the grain pass. This usually means starting sideways, at your ear, and shaving inwards toward the center of your face. Make sure to maintain correct blade angles. When shaving your chin/mouth it can help to stretch the skin a little bit with your off hand to give your razor a flat surface to shave. This technique can be especially helpful when shaving your neck and your adams apple.

3. Next, some people like to relather and do another across the grain pass going the opposite direction. This is optional, but if you're planning to do an against the grain pass it helps to reduce the beard as much as possible first. Then rinse and relather.

4. For your final pass, the way to get the closest shave is to go against the grain. Some people don't like to do this because it gives them irritation. That said, if you have a sharp blade, good lather, and your beard is reduced enough, feel free to give it a try. Don't forget to watch your angles! When you're finished, rinse your face and feel for any stubble left. If you find any, relather that area and touch it up. NOTE: if an against the grain pass is too much for your face to handle at first (irritation, etc), don't worry about it! Give it a week or two, and as your technique improves try it again if you like. Some forgo the ATG pass entirely. Choice is up to you. Personally, this is my favorite pass.

So, in summary:
1. With the grain
2. Across the grain (one direction)
3. Across the grain (other direction)
4. Against the grain/touch-up

That's it! Now, rinse your face with water and apply an aftershave. Alcohol-based aftershaves sting a little, but they sterilize the skin after shaving to prevent infection. I like those with a little menthol in them, they feel nice and cooling on the skin. Proraso makes a fantastic one that can be found on the web. Balms can also be used to help moisturize the skin when weather is cold or dry.

Step 4: Maintenance

-There are just a couple of things to keep in mind to maintain your shaving gear. First, after shaving, rinse your brush out thoroughly and shake it dry in the shower. Try to get the bristles as dry as possible before putting it up. Some people like to give their brush a little wash with shampoo and conditioner every month or two. I've noticed this can help if you have hard water. Light maintenance and your brush should give you many years of use.

-Second, when you change blades, it's a good idea to rinse and wipe down your razor. That way, soap scum won't build up and damage the plating on the razor.

Hopefully that's not too much information to think about. It may seem complicated, but it's all very intuitive. There is a bit of a learning curve, and it can take a little while for your skin to get used it, so don't get discouraged if you have a few poor shaves at first. As your technique improves, you will soon be getting the closest and most comfortable shaves of your life. Good luck!
I just skimmed it, some great useful information in there for sure!!

One comment though, about ATG final pass, I'm sure there are some that can, but I would recommend someone starting out to not even think about attempting ATG for at least a few weeks, or more. I don't think I saw that in there.
I just skimmed it, some great useful information in there for sure!!

One comment though, about ATG final pass, I'm sure there are some that can, but I would recommend someone starting out to not even think about attempting ATG for at least a few weeks, or more. I don't think I saw that in there.

That's a very good point. Many aren't able to go ATG early on. It requires confidence and the best technique you can muster. But many folks do try it relatively soon after they start, myself included. If you try it and it gives you too much irritation, set it aside for a while. You can always try it again after your technique has had some time to mature. Kind of like my thoughts on Feathers. :001_smile
Nice post for the new guys, especially anyone a few weeks in who might need a quick summary (we all forget things).
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