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I’ve been seeing a lot of chatter about safety razors on Twitter lately, men who are either tired of the constant expense of disposables or cartridge razors, or maybe they want some change to their morning routine.
I’ve been shaving with a safety razor for roughly five years now and throughout that whole time, I’ve probably spent a total of $340 on wet-shaving supplies. If I was instead using a Gillette Mach 3, I would have probably spent somewhere around $550. And if I’m being honest, I’ve spent too much on wet-shaving supplies since I own two razors and two brushes. You can get away with the essentials for around $110.
To get started with wet-shaving, you’ll need a few things and maybe want a few others:
- Styptic pencil
- Shaving cream or soap
- Travel accessories
That’s in order from most important to least, with the first three being what I consider “absolute must buys”; aftershave, brush, and shaving cream being “should buys”; and the scuttle and travel accessories being something you pick up later.
First, you’ll want a razor and the name you’ll hear over and over again in wet-shaving communities is Merkur. Safety razors made by Merkur are solid hunks of steel carved down into shaving implements. Compare that to a Gillette Mach3 which is made of mostly plastic and a thin metal veneer. You might be handing down your razor to your kids one day.
There are two razors I’d recommend starting with and they’re fairly close in price.
Merkur 34C, aka HD
The 34C is what most people learn on. It’s the perfect weight for learning to wet-shave since you don’t have to push the razor into the skin or pull it away from the skin to shave. You simply rest it on your face at a 30-45 degree angle and simply let it slide down. The strangest thing about the 34C is it’s size: it’s going to look very small compared to your Mach 3, just hold it loosely by the knob at the end of the razor and you’ll be fine.
You can typically find it for $45 on Amazon.
Merkur 38C, the barber pole
The 38C is what some consider to be the step up from the 34C. It’s both longer and heavier, so you’ll be able to more comfortably hold the razor, but you’ll have to figure out how much negative pressure you’ll need to apply. I’d recommend taking a look at this razor only once you’re comfortable with the Merkur 34C.
You can pick this one up on Amazon for about $53.
Next up are blades and here’s where most people buy what they see first and move on. Don’t do that. If every single razor blade was the same, there wouldn’t be as many brands as there are. Some are manufactured sharper, some smoother, and others duller. Everyone’s face is slightly different so different razor blades work for different folks. My recommendation is to pick up a sampler pack from West Coast Shaving.
After you settle down on a brand, then take a look on Amazon or eBay for the blades you prefer, to get the best deals. With my preferred blade and how often I shave, I pay about $0.04 per shave in blades.
This is a highly personal thing since some people like the burn of alcohol and some don’t. I myself don’t mind either way, but I tend towards the idea that less is more. With that in mind, I’d recommend either using a simple witch hazel or some Nivea Sensitive Skin After Shave Balm.
I’m not going to sugarcoat this one bit: you’re going to cut yourself. Most days it won’t be bad and can be chased away with a splash of cold water, and other days they’ll just keep on bleeding. Styptic pencils are solid blocks of alum which should stop the bleeding and in the process, hurt like a bitch. Hopefully over time you’ll use this less and less, but it does help to have this in your kit.
I’d recommend picking up the Clubman styptic pencil from Amazon.
Brushes vary quite a bit in price and seemingly less in quality. I have two brushes: a Crabtree & Evelyn Best Badger Brush that cost me $35 (and is no longer available), and a Savile Row 3824 that ran me $115. Do I notice a difference? Yes, but when starting out, a lower end brush should be fine.
What you’re looking for is a badger hair brush, as opposed to a boar hair or synthetic brush. Badger hair is softer and holds more water than either boar or synthetic, but you do end up paying a little bit more.
I’d recommend picking up an Omega 63171 for around $32 at Amazon and if you want to splurge, take a look at that Savile Row 3824.
Shaving Cream or Soap
There are a ton of options here, probably more than you want to deal with. First you have to decide between shaving cream and shaving soap. Shaving soap can be a bit more slippery at the expense of drying out your skin a bit more. Shaving cream tends to give you more of a buffer between your skin and the blade and moisturizes your skin more, but isn’t as slippery as the soap.
I have a little of both and switch based upon the season and the weather. For shaving cream I recommend Proraso for the summer, and Taylor of Old Bond Street for the whole year. Proraso smells a bit like an old barber shop, has a cooling effect and is relatively inexpensive. Taylor of Old Bond Street is a bit more, but doesn’t have a cooling effect–which is good during the summer–and comes in a dozen or so different scents. If you’re having a hard time picking, try the Sandalwood for a woodsy scent, or Mr. Taylor for an old fashioned scent.
When it comes to soap, I’ve only tried one and from what I hear, I only need to. Tabac soap has an odd name, but dries your skin a bit less than most soaps, smells nice and clean, and comes in a ceramic bowl.
Proraso will run around $11, Taylor of Old Bond Street runs around $12-$16, and Tabac is $22.
After a while of getting comfortable with wet-shaving, you’re probably going to need to leave the house for extended periods of time. Shoving your brush and razor into your dopp kit will work, but could potentially damage either. I’d recommend picking up a shaving brush travel case and a razor case for a grand total of $25.
Alright, so you’ve been wet-shaving for a while and you’re into it. What else can you splurge on? Well, my friend, I’d recommend you take a look at a scuttle. A scuttle is a ceramic bowl encased inside of another ceramic bowl. The inner bowl is where you put your shaving cream and the outer bowl is where you put the hottest water you can find. What happens is you make your lather with your brush in the inner bowl and the outer bowl filled with steaming hot water keeps that shaving cream hot for the whole shave.
It’s a complete luxury and is totally unneeded, but it’s fantastic to have and makes a great present for those of us who are impossible to buy for. My wife bought mine from Dirty Bird Pottery and I believe I have the 1.5 Scuttle that’s a bit bigger then the original.
Down to Business
Now that you have all of the gear that you want, it’s time to get started shaving. Everyone has a different face, so my method might not work for you, but it’s a good starting point.
Before you start, note the growth pattern of your hair. For a while you’re going to want to go with and not against the grain. For me that means shaving from top to bottom until I get to the lower part of my neck where I shave from bottom to top. I cannot stress how important this is and how if you don’t pay attention to it, you’re going to end up really needing that styptic pencil.
Another thing to keep in mind is the angle of the razor to your face. You’ll want to keep the head of the razor around 30-45 degrees off of your face. Anything outside of that range and you’ll either shave nothing (closer to 0 degrees) or start raking your face with a razor (closer to 90 degrees).
- Fill your sink with hot water and throw a washcloth in.
- Splash some warm water on your face.
- Create some lather using your shaving brush either directly on your face or in a bowl. Spend a minute or so working it in, but not pushing too hard with your brush.
- Set your brush down and rub the lather into your face using both your fingers and finger nails to really get your facial hair sticking up.
- Rinse your hands and wring out the washcloth and place it over the lathered parts of your face and leave it there for about a minute or two.
- Wipe the lather off using the washcloth.
- Splash some warm water on your face.
- Lather up once again, but only give your face a good coat.
- Take the razor in one hand and lightly hold the end of it between your thumb, index and middle finger.
- Going from top to bottom, shave your face and then your neck going in the direction of the grain. Don’t worry about removing all of your hair since you’ll be making a second pass.
- Rinse your face and then apply another coat of shaving cream and shave your face one more time.
- Rinse your face after your second pass, put on your favorite aftershave.
If you need to do some touch up with the razor to remove some hairs you missed, I’d recommend dabbing on some shaving cream and going across–not against–the grain.
That should be everything you need to get started, if you have any questions feel free to ask me on Twitter.
That’s the thing about delightful details: they’re not just another thing you can add on top. Unless you sweat the details all the way through the user experience, the ones that delight quickly get drowned out by the ones that constantly annoy.
Apple and the Kindle (Aaron Swartz’s Raw Thought)
I hate it when people call themselves ‘entrepreneurs’ when what they’re really trying to do is launch a startup and then sell or go public, so they can cash in and move on. They’re unwilling to do the work it takes to build a real company, which is the hardest work in business.
Das Tumblr, Steve Jobs on Startups
He was never embarrassed about working hard, even if the results were failures. If someone as smart as Steve wasn’t ashamed to admit trying, maybe I didn’t have to be.
A Sister’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs
My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him all good things—trout as well as eternal salvation—come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.
Norman Maclean via Best Made Co.
One of the surest tests [of the superiority or inferiority of a poet] is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.
Great Artists Steal the Future
Effectiveness is that which you do that gets you closer to the goals you want to achieve. Efficiency is how quickly you can get things done, whether it is important or not.
Rick Ellis | Journal | Efficiency Vs. Effectiveness
Do I need to buy this? Are there alternatives? How long will this last? These are things I think about when buying anything. Questions fly through my head when I start to think about buying something. It’s been trained into everyone by our society and whether you like it or not, the vast majority of people approach stuff this way.
One time when my then-fiancee (now wife) and I met my parents, my wife brought up my expensive tastes and my father chimed in, “Wes doesn’t want much, but what he wants is high quality.” Ever since then, how I approach buying things has made far more sense. I’m picky and I’m exacting and if it’s not what I want and it’s not good enough, I’ll most likely gnash my teeth until I realize I simply shouldn’t buy it.
When I start thinking about buying something, I need to know two things:
- How long do I plan on owning or using it?
- What levels of quality are available to me?
If I don’t plan on owning something for a long time, I start to question whether or not I should even buy it. Maybe I can get away with borrowing, renting, substituting or just doing without it. However, if I need to buy something and I don’t plan on having it for a while, then I’ll get the lowest acceptable quality available. I don’t want it falling apart, but I can skip the archival quality.
However, if I do plan on owning it for a while—and most things fall into this category for myself—then I start looking at quality a lot more. How long will this last me? Will it still be in good quality when I’m done with it?
For example, my safety razor is a very solid piece of steel that has been molded into something that I can shave with. Between the look and the heft, I have a feeling it’s something my kids will ask me about one day. Also, my shaving brush is a hand made ordeal, carved, stuffed created by someone else’s hands, not a machine. These things will last.
In the same vein, I tend to buy hardback books these days because if I’m going to lend it to a family member or a friend, or hand it down to my children, I want to know that it’s not going to fall apart between now and then. I want a book that won’t fall apart after a handful of readings.
At the end of the day, I want things that will pass the test of time and be around and be useful in the future. I want something that has heft and an obvious feel that it’s creator loved making it. I want something of quality and substance, if only because so many things these days are made to last only long enough for us to either forget about them or move on to something new.
Motivation, productivity, efficiency—these things are not constants. In my experience, they come in waves. They ebb and flow, and there’s no sense in fighting it. The key is to recognize a productivity surge when it appears, so you can roll with it.
Jason Fried, Co-founder of 37signals, on How to Get Creative
In the process of making the film, we reviewed the material every day. Now this is counter-intuitive for a lot of people. Most people—imagine this: you can’t draw very well, but even if you can draw very well, suppose you come in and you’ve got to put together animation or drawings and show it to a world-class, famous animator. Well, you don’t want to show something that is weak, or poor, so you want to hold off until you get it right. And the trick is to actually stop that behavior. We show it every day, when it’s incomplete. If everybody does it, every day, then you get over the embarrassment. And when you get over the embarrassment, you’re more creative.
Getting over embarrassment in order to get things done | ProtoShare BlogProtoShare Blog
When you are solving a difficult problem re-ask the problem so that your solution helps you learn faster. Find a faster way to fail, recover, and try again. If the problem you are trying to solve involves creating a magnum opus, you are solving the wrong problem.
You Are Solving The Wrong Problem « Aza on Design
So, can you make do with a ZipCar instead of owning a car? A gym membership instead of buying that treadmill? What about just borrowing stuff from friends? The less frequently we use something, the stronger the argument for valuing access over ownership. Sure, valuing access over ownership usually requires a bit of forethought, but you’re trading that effort for flexibility and lightness.
Your Shit, My Stuff, Goldilocks, and Making the Bed You Sleep In
What I Wish Someone Had Told Me 4 Years Ago | Amir Khella
There’s so much good tucked into this one small post, but I have to at least mention a few things:
The magic moment really happened when I made peace with the fact that I’d just wasted a good deal of time learning things I didn’t really need, believing there was a magic word someone would utter that would launch me into action. Every event, every conference, and every blog post was just another excuse to postpone action one more day. I made peace with it and moved on with a beginner’s mindset, believing that I will figure out what I need along the way.
Just start work and learning will follow.
I taught myself through small projects. I broke down ideas into small manageable chunks, and gave myself deadlines to finish each of them. Projects and experiments are amazing teaching devices, because you learn as needed, and you learn first-hand.
Small projects are how I learn, I need to take a small steps towards my goal that aren’t necessarily my goal at all.
I first got things done, then I got them done right. I learned (the hard way) that momentum mattered most. If I can’t take action right away on my idea, chances are I never will. Whenever I get an idea nowadays, I do something to pin it to my reality, and to make it tangible. I do it in a quick and ugly way, then figure out how to do it better, and learn only what I need for that.
Start with something, anything because I know I’ve spent far too much time spinning my wheels with what if’s. Try something, take a look at the result, refactor, and move on.
The secret of success turns out to be so incredibly simple: Work your ass off. Really care about what you’re creating, not the fame or fortune you’ll get. You’ll succeed.
Farming vs. Mining
We all read for different reasons, some of us read to wind down and strip back the problems of our day. Others read for inspiration. But I want to talk about the people who are reading to learn, more specifically the people who are trying to improve.
These folks see themselves as lacking something, imperfect in some way. They’re constantly striving to find the next book, the one that’ll help them finally get out of that funk they’ve been in: the holy grail of self-help books that will prove all of the other books wrong and will help them become the person they’ve always thought they could be.
So, they read the book, scribbling notes in margins, highlighting passages, and committing key tenants to memory. And for the next few weeks, they’re riding high, feeling as if the world is theirs with a feeling that they can do anything; all because the last book they read said so.
But talk to these people a month or so after they finished the book and see how they feel about it. More frighteningly, see what they’ve absorbed and remembered. Even worse, see what book they’re reading now. Typically, the most important—and most difficult—parts have been forgotten first. They openly admit that they’re not following the system verbatim, but they’re doing a pretty good job and they still feel as if it’s helping. They also confide in you that they’re planning on starting a new self-help book this weekend, one that promises to do what the last one did, but this one applies the methodology to another deficient part of themselves.
This is the crux of the problem. It’s not that reading self-help is always a bad thing, I don’t believe it is. The issue is determining when to stop reading and take what we’ve learned and apply it to our lives. We keep going back to try and find another solution, because finding solutions is easy, actually using them is incredibly hard.
To understand why people keep going back to the bookstore, it might be helpful to see how the self-help industry functions and it all begins with a very successful formula:
- Show that the reader is broken in some way, whether or not the reader came to you with this problem. You’ll typically find this problem on the cover (front or back) or in the introduction.
- Explain that you have the cure to this problem. A scrap of the solution—or maybe the whole thing—will be on the cover as well.
- Explain the cure and show them that life is better on the other side. This is the majority of the book.
This formula works because the book tends to do a good enough job of instilling a sense of inferiority because we don’t know the fix to what ails us, but this author does. Why else would they be a published author? After we buy into the problem, we begin to see the fix, but just a small part of it and this fix gets us exited. We start thinking of all the things we’ll be able to do after we’re no longer broken: getting a promotion, reading more, living a happier more fulfilling life, or whatever else is being sold these days.
But why does this formula exist? Why are there are so many self-help authors with too much snake oil to sell? Easy, in 2008 alone, the self help industry generated $11 billion1. These authors, and self-help as an entire industry, have gotten greedy. And this greed is producing two kinds of people:
- Believers: those with a voracious appetite for self-help who don’t know when to stop. These people never feel improved ‘enough’ and always feel like there’s something else to learn, something else they need to know before they can “get started” with whatever they want to start. Your author was—and to some degree still is—one of these kinds of people.
- Skeptics: people who actively shun self-help, who sneer at it’s polished veneer and it’s authors who grace the covers of their respective books. These people may or may not have the right answer, but they feel that they’ll learn it one way or another.
It’s easy to accept that there are skeptics, every industry has them. But how can that same industry also create a group that feels like they have a problem, fixes said problem, and comes right back for another serving of self-help?
the most likely customer for a book on any given topic was someone who had bought a similar book within the preceding eighteen months.
- Steve Slareno, form self-help book editor for Rodale Press2
Therein lies the irony of self-help, your biggest customers are those that have already “helped themselves.” Yet, why would these people keep going back, over and over, creating an industry that rakes in billions each year? One simple idea:
[…] if your life does not get better, it is your fault—your thoughts were not positive enough.
The self-help industry sells improvement, yet when you don’t see the improvement, it’s not their fault, you didn’t try hard enough. It’s obvious that you need this improvement, otherwise why would you be buying this book? So, since you haven’t improved at all, you’ll just need to keep trying until you truly improve. That’s how this industry survives, that’s how they can continue selling the same ideas with different packaging.
You’d expect with all of this improvement that these people are seeing, that they’d lead happier and more fulfilling lives. However, I’d argue it’s doing quite the opposite. All of this reading is introducing doubt, instilling fears and belittling people. That’s how it builds interest in ‘the cure.’ It seems that those skeptics mentioned above might be the happier group: they have no problem ignoring a book that is telling them that they’re broken.
What about the believers—the customers—are they truly broken? I don’t think so, I think they may have been living happy and contented lives, but through the right combination of self-doubt, a desire to improve, and good timing, they determine that they are in fact broken. They need a cure and this book promises it and what is printed must be true.
Speaking from experience, this is the road to unhappiness, the wrong path: this search for weaknesses will eventually break you. If you want to obtain the happiness that these authors are promising, my advice would be to do what you love and improve what you’re good at. Don’t ignore your weaknesses, but don’t focus on them either.
If you can’t tell yet, I’m a recovering self-help ‘addict’. Writing this essay has been a cathartic exercise. At one point in my life I wouldn’t bat an eye at buying a stack of self-help books all telling me that I’m broken and how they’re going to fix me. After reading each, I’d feel two conflicting emotions: a sense of growth and motivation; and a proverbial slap-in-the-face, cautioning me to never read anything like this ever again. After which I’d pick up the next book in the pile and start the process anew.
I realize how stupid this sounds—how naive I was—to just keep reading the same thing over and over again, only with a different schtick this time. Yet, it was a way of life for at least two years. I’d peruse Amazon, looking for the latest in self-help. When I found something I liked I’d sometimes add them to my wish list, but more often I add it to my cart.
It was when I looked at my bookshelf and saw more than a handful of unread self-help books that I realized that I might have a problem. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe books are intrinsically bad, quite the contrary: I love books. My problem comes from the content of these particular books. How many times does one person have to tell you the same thing? How many ways do you need to learn to not procrastinate before you get off your ass and actually do something? It’s a hard lesson to learn and doing things is a hell of a lot harder than reading about them.
So far, my ‘recovery’ has been a long and winding road filled with doubt as to whether I’m doing the right thing and frustration after realizing that these books aren’t actually helping. My recommendation is to do what I did:
- Take all of the books that you might consider self-help off your bookshelf and put them on the floor.
- Categorize them according to what you think they might improve; keep the categories broad and try to only have three to five categories total.
- Pick one or two books from each category that you’re going to keep and get rid of the rest. (I got rid of mine through Amazon and PaperBackSwap.)
If you need help on figuring out which books to keep and which to get rid of, I’d recommend looking at negative reviews on Amazon—they tend to be the most honest.
How then are we supposed to improve if we can’t read self-help books? Start doing. If you want to write, start writing, don’t spend time reading a book that explains why you aren’t motivated enough to write. If you want to have a better outlook on life, start thinking about everything that makes you happy, don’t read a book that explains that a mission statement might make you a happier person. And for the sake of everything that is good in this world, don’t listen when someone else says that you’re broken and they have the cure for it, especially when that person is trying to sell you something.
Experience is one of the best teachers out there. No book can kick you in the ass as hard as experience and no lesson will stick with you as long as that kick in the ass. Hard lessons like these will make you a better person both personally and professionally. Ask anyone you consider to be truly great how they improved the most? Was it by reading the latest self-help book or was it by actually getting out there and doing something and learning from the results? My bet is it’s the results and I think Theodore Roosevelt might agree:
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.3
Live your life as if the man who wrote that is watching.
Rinse and Repeat
Even considering all that I’ve mentioned, the self-help industry is going nowhere. Next year will be a better year than the last. Books covered with grandiose statements will still litter bestseller lists and you’ll still see far too many books with the author’s likeness plastered all over the cover. People will still be told that they are broken and that the fix is neatly packaged into an affordable $25 book or, worse, a $6,000 life-changing retreat.
So, like the skeptics, should we doubt every single self-help book we come across? I don’t think we should, but maybe we can learn something from our skeptical friends:
- What does this book really talk about?
- Is the concept new to me or have I read something like it before?
- Why am I excited about this? Is it just because everyone else is excited?
- Would I be better served by learning through experience?
- What do people I know and trust think of it? Have they read it?
My bet is that if you ask yourself those questions, you might find yourself putting that book back more often than not. Real self-improvement starts with figuring out what you want to improve and trying to improve it through hard work and experience, not by sitting down to read a book about it:
A hard thing is never done by reading an article about doing it.
- Michael Lopp via Twitter
I would add the same for books.
Dunning–Kruger effect - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
If you’ve ever wondered why that beginner thinks they know more than you do, the Dunning-Kruger effect is in play. It comes from the amateur not knowing what they don’t know and the expert knowing that there is a lot they don’t know. Combine those two and you have overconfident beginners and self-deprecating experts.
I’ve been a fan of Tumblr for a while now. When Posterous popped up, I wondered why bother, Tumblr does all the same things and it’s starting to build an active community that feeds on the Network Effect.
Lately, however, I’ve noticed that Tumblr has roughly the same effect as Twitter on my writing: it’s becoming shallower, my posts are just links, quotes and videos. There’s no real thinking going on, just repeating what someone else said.
With that in mind, I wanted to rebuild my blog, get back to quality writing and thinking. So here’s the plan: this blog will serve as my repository for all long form articles. I hope you’ll come to expect a high level of quality and research from what I write here. My other blog, mynameiswes.com, will be a dumping ground for what I’m thinking about and—most likely—what I’ll be writing about soon enough.
This is all an attempt to start thinking deeper about things, to dig into what interests me instead of taking a swipe at it. To escape from the drive-by mentality of things like Twitter and Tumblr—even though they are great services.
Good writing experiences are self-discovery. Each word pulls back the veil a little more.
Tweeting and Writing and Deflating Like a Balloon
This is the reason why I’m writing these days.
Listen to your customers, but don’t let them tell you what to do. Let me explain. Consider a feature request such as “GitHub should let me FTP up a documentation site for my project.” What this customer is really trying to say is “I want a simple way to publish content related to my project,” but they’re used to what’s already out there, and so they pose the request in terms that are familiar to them. We could have implemented some horrible FTP based solution as requested, but we looked deeper into the underlying question and now we allow you to publish content by simply pushing a Git repository to your account. This meets requirements of both functionality and elegance.
Ten Lessons from GitHub’s First Year
After that fateful first meeting, it didn’t take too long for me to figure out one key characteristic of Jim’s: he didn’t like stupid people. And by stupid, I mean people who don’t think for themselves, end up asking dumb questions, and are more into creating excuses for not getting work done instead of just doing it.
Contempt and Caring - Cognition: The blog of web design & development firm Happy Cog