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Getting Started in Wet Shaving

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Photo by Supply on Unsplash

I debated if I should continue an in depth look at brushes, blades and soaps at this point, or take a short break in that to point you to some more practical options. I opted for the latter option, in hopes that your appetite has been whetted enough to have decided to take the plunge and start traditional wet shaving.

Hence, this post will discuss the essentials for getting started in wet shaving, putting together a couple of great starting kits for you. Obviously, we’ll continue our in depth look at brushes, soaps and creams, razors and blades in the next posts, so consider this one a nod to being practical.
What do you actually need to get started?

A full wet shaving kit would include four elements:

  1. A shaving brush
  2. Shaving soap or cream
  3. A razor (double edged, single edged or straight – we’ll start off with a Double Edge, for simplicity)
  4. Blades (unless you’re opting for a straight, which I wouldn’t recommend for starters).

I’ll be making two assumptions for this post. The first is that we’re looking to start our journey with good equipment that is, on the one hand, not niche super luxury but that will be, on the other hand, high quality and fully serviceable for years if you choose to stay with it. The second assumption is that given the learning curve associated with wet shaving, your second piece of equipment in each category will be a far more individual choice, to be better made as you move forward in your journey (and in our series exploring wet shaving).

So let’s get started:

Shaving Brush

There are essentially three option for getting started: Boar, badger and synthetic.

Classically, you’d get started with a boar brush, and that would be my personal recommendation. However, synthetics have made great progress over the past few years, and a good synthetic brush would be an equally good place to start, possibly even a bit easier to start with, though probably not as much fun. Badger would be a more expensive option, and I’ll offer a recommendation for two of those as well. One of my next posts will look into badger brushes.

Let’s start with boar. Boar’s advantage is that it will teach you to do things the right way for wet shaving. You’ll actually learn to lather, get to experiment, enjoy the progression of the brush as it breaks in. The disadvantage is that the brush has a break in period and a learning curve, and needs about 10 minutes of soaking in warm water before you use it. If you’re up for the challenge, go with a boar.

My specific recommendations would be:

Semogue 1305 or the Omega 20102 would be great choices to start off. The 1305 is probably my favorite normal grade boar brush, and once it breaks in, it’s a real pleasure to use. The Omega Professional is also a joy, and was actually the first real quality brush I had and the one I used daily for about three years. It still looks new, by the way.

With synthetic brushes, my own personal experience is more limited, as I don’t enjoy using them as much as boars or badgers. The main advantages synthetics have is that they have no break in period, they need no soaking and they dry quickly. They also lather very easily and quickly. The disadvantages are that they tend to be more floppy than boars, they don’t really retain moisture and heat (from the warm soaking water), and are, in some ways, “too easy” for learning how to lather. They also feel, well, synthetic. Nevertheless, they are good options for getting started, and I’ll recommend larger sized synthetics (probably not less than 24 mm, though I’d probably choose a 26) so they retain more backbone while lathering.

I’d recommend buying brushes made either by Maggard Razors or by Razorock, specifically Maggard’s 26 mm Granite or Razorock’s Big Bruce.

Finally, for those of you wanting to start off with a badger brush, my recommendation is to forgo the cheaper brushes, as they tend to be set in the handle in a way that makes them too floppy. Yes, there are brushes out there in the $40 range, but you’re better off with a boar than with a really floppy brush. Thus, I’ll recommend two brushes I have actually owned, both in the $100 range: The first is the Simpson Duke 3 Best Badger and the second is the Semogue Owner’s Club Best Badger. I will mention that Semogue has an Owner’s Club brush that combines the best of both badger and boar, that is the mixed brush (Mistura in Portuguese), which would actually be a wonderful choice and one I most highly recommend.

Lather – Soap or Cream

This brings us to the soap or cream. Here I’ll just recommend two great value brands, each of which have a multitude of scent options. These are not necessarily my favorite artisans, just a great place to start your wet shaving journey.

For a cream, I’d start with Taylor of Old Bond Street. This English brand has been around for over a century and a half, and makes high quality and very easy lathering cream. The creams come in tubs, and each should last you some six months of daily use. My personal favorite scents are Royal Forest, Avocado and Coconut, but the TOBS Sandalwood is one of the most iconic scents they make, and would be a good place to start. Another great option is ordering some samples, each giving you 5-7 shaves, to narrow down your preferences.

For a soap, I’d start with Stirling Shaving Soap. The generous 5.8 oz. jars will last you quite a while, and all soaps have a matching aftershave splash or balm you can get. Stirling also has 1 oz. sample pucks you can try, just make sure to order a can to hold the puck and use for loading your brush. My personal favorites from Stirling are Varen, Ozark Mountain, Pharaoh’s Dreamsicle and Bergamot Lavender, but there are literally dozens of scents available.

Razor and Blades

For a razor, I’m going to make a single recommendation for a double edge razor. I feel that this razor is a great starting point, and given the mind-blowing richness of options in this field, I’ll go with my own tried and tested starter razor. There are two German manufacturers who use an identical Mühle head, the 89, and mount it on several different handles at different price points. Hence, either the Mühle R89 or the Edwin Jagger DE89 would be the place to start, and simply choose the handle you’d prefer.

Lastly, you’ll need blades. Blades are very individual to your own face, and what works best for me may not be very good for you. Thus, you really need to try several brands and find what works for you. All retailers offer blade sample packs with boxes of 5 or 10 blades from an assortment of manufacturers, and that to me is the way to start off.

You’ll also need a mug or bowl to soak your brush, and possibly the bowl to lather. There are some fancy ones out there, but honestly, any mug or bowl you have in your cupboard will do.

There are numerous tutorials on Youtube on lathering and on shaving with a double edged razor, and I recommend watching a couple before you start. I would like to give some specific tips, though:

  1. Many beginners tend to load too little cream or soap on the brush. If you’re using a harder soap (like the Stirling) load it for about 20 seconds. If you’re using a cream, you’ll want an almond sized dollop on your brush.
  2. Try both bowl and face lathering, and get good at both, then choose your method.
  3. Use shorter razor strokes on your face, and don’t apply pressure on the razor. In fact, it’s best just to guide the razor on your face holding pretty loosely and from the bottom of the handle.
  4. Wet your face in between passes, before you reapply the lather for the next pass.

Enjoy your journey, and I’d love to hear about and see what you chose, and answer any questions in the comments.