When first starting out, it can be a bit overwhelming trying to figure out what all is required to wet shave. Lots of new terminology, equipment, and the nagging fear that you are missing something. Today we are going to lay out a basic shaving routine from start to finish. It would be impossible to list every variation for each of the steps, so I will give a few examples that people use and why they like them.
Your shaving routine can be broken down into three distinct phases.
- Phase One: The preparation of your shaving gear and yourself.
- Phase Two: The act of shaving.
- Phase Three: Clean up and maintenance of your gear and yourself.
Phase One: Preparation
In phase one we prepare our shaving gear and ourselves for a quality shave. First of all select your equipment (for some people this is the hardest part of the process). If you have a shaving brush
featuring a natural knot then place it in water to soak (synthetic knots don’t soak up water so a soak is not required). This can be done in an old coffee cup, the sink, or your shaving bowl. If you are using a hard soap or croap (soft shaving soap) place a little water (⅛” of so) on top of the soap and let it sit. This is referred to as “blooming” your soap. This hydrates the soap and allows it to load the brush easier. If you are using a cream shaving soap this is not required.
Select your razor for the day and make sure it’s ready. If you are using a safety razor give it a quick once over and replace the blade if needed. For a straight razor, after a visual check to verify no obvious issues, give it a good stropping. This usually consists of around 30 laps on linen and 60 laps on leather (these are not hard and fast numbers as personal preference and stropping technique plays a big role here).
Our gear is ready to go, so lets take care of ourselves now. One of the most common ways to prep your beard is to take a shower. The act of taking a shower preps your beard by stripping the natural oils from your beard (allowing water to penetrate the follicles) and hydrating your beard making it easier to cut. What is also nice about this method is that it allows your brush and soap to soak in the water while you are showering.
If you don’t have time for a shower you can use the hot towel method or a pre shave oil. Take a hand towel or kitchen towel and place it in the sink and douse it with the hottest water you can get. Some people will put them in the microwave for a short burst to really heat it up. Place this towel over your beard and hold it there. The heat and water will soften the hair follicles and clean the oil, dirt, and dead skin cells off of your face. Shaving oil is another option that is often used as a preparatory step. May feel that it adds slickness to the shave but some people swear by it. Another variation of the towel method is to lather your face, place the towel on top of the lather and let the towel do its thing. You then wipe the lather off with the towel. You would then re-lather for your shave. This is particularly nice if you have a shaving soap with beneficial properties for your skin. Many people use variations of the shower, towel, shave oil, and pre lather prep routine. Mix and match to your hearts content.
At this point your beard is primed and ready to go. Time to whip up a bowl full of creamy lather goodness.
Take you brush from where it is soaking. Dump the water from the container and squeeze the water from the brush. Do not try and get all of the water out of the brush by flicking it as we need the water to create lather. Dump the water off of the soap and load brush for a full 30 seconds. Proceed to create lather in your preferred method (bowl, face, hand, scuttle…). There is a LOT that goes into creating a good lather on a consistent basis and I don’t want this post to ramble on longer than it needs to. [UPDATE: Check out Different methods to build lather with shaving soap. ]
A lot of people like to save the water used for blooming the soap to use while creating the lather. This “wastes” less of the soap. Many people will lather with pre-shave oil on their face to be a little more efficient with their time.
Phase Two: The Shave
Our preparation is done and now its time to for the main act. First things first, we apply the lather. I know some people would consider this to be part of the prep phase, but in my my mind lathering
and shaving go hand in hand (especially because you re-lather between shaving passes).
Wet your face thoroughly (because this IS wet shaving) and start to lather your face. If you are a face latherer then you get to build up a lather and apply it all at once. Due to the bulk of your beard being removed on the first pass (WTG) it is often recommended to build a thicker, more formidable lather on your face for greater lubricating properties.
I am going to assume that you know the direction of growth of your beard. If not, take a minute and run your hand over your face and note which way the hair lays. This can change on different parts of your face. This is an essential bit of knowledge to successfully wet shave.
Time for your first pass. In this pass we are going to shave with the grain (WTG). Start up at your side burns and cheeks and work towards your chin and nose. You can use either hand and can switch hands as needed. Then proceed to your neck and work from one side to another. Use your free hand to stretch the skin when needed. This is particularly helpful on your neck, chin, and jawline. While shaving make sure and remember to use light pressure. You are not trying to remove all of the hair in one pass, pressure is the number one cause of a painful shave.
Now that you first pass is done, rinse your face with water and apply more lather. If your lather is a bit week you can add a drizzle of water to the brush and work it on your face to refresh your lather. Time for your second pass. In this pass we are going to shave across the grain (XTG). Once again start on one side of your face and work to the other. If you can’t perform a true XTG pass due to the way your hair grows then get it as close as possible. Personally I can only shave with a bastardized XTG pass on my neck due to the hair direction.
At this point in time many people will rinses their face, feel for any spots they missed, perform a touch up on those spots and call it a day. There is nothing wrong with this and you will have a damn fine shave (DFS). Some people with particularly tough beards will perform another XTG pass going from the other direction to knock down their beards before attempting anything more.
If you are seeking the ultimate shave then we go for the against the grain pass (ATG). Wet your face again and re-lather. Proceed to shave against the grain. Be aware that the razor will feel like it is “grabbing” a little bit more. This is normal for an ATG pass. Use very small strokes of the razor, if you try for long strokes of your razor you may cause the razor to “skip”. Make sure and use very light pressure as this is the pass that can cause the most irritation. This can be particularly difficult pass to perform on your upper lip.
Rinse your face with water and run your hands over your recently shorn face. Congratulations on a job well done. Take a minute and feel your face to see if you missed anything. If you missed anything you can perform a quick touch up of the area. Don’t overdo it as this increases your chances of causing razor burn.
Phase Three: Clean and Maintain
You have now successfully prepared for and executed your shave. Now we will be taking a few minutes to take care of our equipment and pamper our skin. First off, make sure and rinse off all of the shaving cream from your face. While your face is still wet take a slightly wet alum block and run it over the area you shaved.
This serves three purposes. It is an astringent that will help stop any weepers, it is an antiseptic which will help kill any bacteria on your face, and it will sting ever so slightly when you run it over an area of your face that you scraped raw. This stinging is an excellent way to judge your shave. It shows where you are using too much pressure, bad razor angle, too many passes or a combination of the three. If you prefer the astringent and antiseptic benefits but don’t want the stinging then try some witch hazel. Another option is to use a favorite aftershave or talcum powder.
Before we take care of your equipment, check to see if you nicked yourself and are bleeding. Cutting yourself is not uncommon when learning to wet shave. If the cold water and alum did not stop the bleeding then try a touch of toilet paper and some pressure. A styptic pencil works as well.
While leaving the witch hazel or alum on your face take a moment and rinse out your shaving brush. Work all of the lather out of the brush until the water runs clear. Squeeze the bristles to release the water and shake the brush to get any loose water out. Many brush aficionados then dry the bristles on a towel with a painting motion and run a comb through the bristles before putting the brush up to dry.
Time to clean up your razor. For the safety razor users, thoroughly rinse out the razor to remove any lather and hair residue. You may need to remove the blade to ensure you get it all. Many people will dip the razor in isopropyl alcohol and then let it dry. This drives any water left in the razor out of the nooks and crannies and kills any bacteria that may be present. For the straight razor users, use a clean bit of T.P. or cloth to thoroughly dry the razor off. Strop the razor 10 to 20 laps to ensure the edge is completely dry. Store in a dry environment. Some people will put a drop of oil on the blade as a rust preventative and/or use isopropyl alcohol to disinfect the blade.
Rinse out your shaving bowl/mug and put it up. Close up your shaving soap and put it away.
Rinse your face to get rid of the alum. At this point you can apply a cologne, lotion, or balm to your skin. Take a second and wipe down the sink area. You can also wipe down whatever else looks like it could use it (trust me, your wife will appreciate it).
What do you think of the (brief) walkthrough of how to wet shave? There are a multitude of variations to the basics outlined above. I plan on writing more in depth articles on different aspects of shaving and linking them back here. I hope you have found this article to be helpful.
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Have a great day and a smooth shave!