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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Shaving Control Test

After a few more shaves with the safety razor and brush, I think I have finally gotten the hang of it. Since I got past the first couple of rough cuts, so to speak, I've been getting consistently close, comfortable shaves. In fact, it seemed like they were better than I remembered from my Gillette Fusion razor. Going into tonight's shave I still had some unanswered questions, though:
  • Is it the razor or the brush that's making the biggest difference?
  • Is it just my imagination that the old razor is doing better than the Fusion, given that the last time I used the Fusion was with a well-worn cartridge?
  • Would the gentler, wetter technique I've learned with the old Gillette improve my shaves with the Fusion as well?
So, with those questions in mind, I decided that I needed to perform a control test, using the new brush and cream along with the Fusion razor (yes, I'm aware that I need to test several more combinations -- let it go). For the record, I hate the stupid power vibrating crap on the Fusion, so I didn't use it.

In order to make the test as fair as possible, got a new set of Fusion cartridges. I consider it a justifiable expense not only in the name of science, but because we're going out of town soon, and modern cartridge razors really do travel better. Plus, if it really worked better, I'd be able to keep using them.

While picking those up ($12 for 4 - ouch!) I noticed that Wal-Mart does carry blades for safety razors ($2 for 10 - nice!). I'm not sure what the quality is like, but given that basic razorblade manufacturing probably hasn't changed much in about 50 years, they should be about as good as anything else.

My expectation was that, using the same techniques, the Fusion would produce a better shave. After all, there had to be a good reason that everyone quit using safety razors in favor of cartridges, right? Yes, the article that inspired all of this did make the point that safety razors are the same type of razor that "Cary Grant, Lee Marvin, JFK, and John Wayne used." That sounds impressive, but it's also pretty darn silly. Why? Well nobody is claiming that the old razors are sissy, quite the opposite in fact, so it's kind of a straw man to present paragons of masculinity as proof that the old ways are best. Plus, JFK didn't exactly have a choice. The other guys did, though, and I kind of wonder what they used toward the ends of their lives. Teddy Roosevelt probably used an old folding straight razor. Well, bully for him, but I ain't gonna!

Therefore, since nobody I know who lived during the safety razor era still uses one, it seemed reasonable to expect better performance from a five-bladed modern marvel than from a 50 year-old antique.

So when I got ready to shave tonight, I followed the same prep procedure I had used with the safety razor (hereafter referred to as simply "the Gillette"): long pre-soak, wet brush, good lather, and plenty of water. I also adopted the same slow "light touch" style I've learned from the Gillette. I took my time, kept my face wet, gave the Fusion a chance to work, and....

....I'd call the shave I received from the Fusion completely inferior to the Gillette by nearly every conceivable measure: it was less comfortable, not as close, missed more hairs, irritated my neck more, and left my skin stinging far more than the Gillette.

I was shocked.

Now, admittedly, there are some more variables at play here. For one, the Fusion wasn't really designed with the light-touch, letting the razor work method in mind. It expects and demands a little more pressure. I also wonder if the Fusion might not actually do better with a modern aerosol shaving gel, since I certainly don't remember it ever hurting that much previously.

Where did the Fusion win? Well, the flexible head is nice when it comes to the jawline and chin. I suspect that may be a temporary advantage, though, since I've been getting better at handling the Gillette around those areas, too. The other great thing about the Fusion is the little single blade on the top, which makes it really easy to trim under my nose and around the corners of my mouth. I still have a hard time executing detail work with the Gillette, but more experience may help that, as well.

Where did the Gillette win? Everywhere else. It cut closer, it cut cleaner with less tugging, and afterward my face hardly stung at all. It even won on speed, since I wound up having to go over my face twice with the Fusion (and it still wasn't as close).

I think my preliminary conclusion is that, while the Fusion makes it really easy and fast to get a mediocre shave, it makes it much harder to get a really good one. The Gillette, on the other hand, makes it somewhat harder to shave overall, but it doesn't take much additional effort to improve from a mediocre shave to an exceptional one, just better technique, which is pretty easy to learn, at least in my experience.

As I was rubbing on some aftershave, this was the synopsis that I came up with, although it will only appeal to my fellow geeks (a similar analogy using cars is an exercise left to the reader):

The Fusion is like Java or .NET: It is easy for users with average skill to do an average job, but it makes it harder for users with great skills to do a great job.

The Gillette is like Ruby or Python or Smalltalk: It's a little harder to learn how to use, but it allows a skilled user to do great things.

For the record, I'd say that electric razors and classic straight razors are like Visual Basic and Lisp, respectively. An electric razor makes it really easy and fast for absolutely anyone to do an adequate job, but nearly impossible for anybody to do better, while a straight razor makes it possible for a master user to do some incredible things, but it's also possible to cause a staggering amount of damage with one. ;-)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey man, I like your blogpost.

I'm a recent straight razor convert, went from double-edge safety razors previously.

There are good DE blades, and bad ones. Feather and Wilkinson Sword are considered the best DE blade makers, but are also wickedly sharp. Some would say that they rival a straight razor in sharpness. Both will pass the "hanging hair" test.

I went to a straight because of the added control, as well as not having to change blades (you do have to strop and occaisionally hone it, but at the least there's no blades to worry about disposing of properly).

If you didn't already use a brush and either a tube or tub of shaving cream, or a shaving soap...consider it. Target has the Proraso brand of products in the Spa section which are fantastic products. I use their brush and their shaving soap myself, and it has helped greatly in overall comfort and closeness of my shave.

...and for my favorite cartridge razor? TracII. No frills, name brands ones are very sharp, and with proper lather, lend to very comfortable shaves.

8/14/2006 6:47 AM  

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