Sorry for the long post everyone! In fact it's too long to submit as a self-post so had to host it here. Just thought I'd describe my first DE shaving experience. Hopefully some useful info for anyone looking to start DE shaving
I've never been happy with the performance from popular cartridge razors. I found that they constantly tugged and pulled at my beard, and I could only achieve a close shave after applying a lot of pressure and scraping over the same areas multiple times, not to mention the outrageous expense of replacement cartridges. Also, the ugly, plastic Gillette razors were just so charmless and tacky. The final straw was the cold, unpleasant, chemical shaving gel in a can which I had assumed was my only option. I had never even considered DE razors as an alternative before stumbling across this subreddit quite by accident. And to be honest, I didn't even know what a safety razor was until a week ago (in my defence, I'm young, and my father has never used them. They're just not something you see very often, unfortunately).
After being completely glued to the posts here for the past week, during which time I have bought my first DE shave kit, watched dozens of YouTube videos, and read Leisureguy's Guide to Gourmet Shaving cover to cover, I've just had my first ever DE shave. I thought I'd share the experience with you guys, and give a quick, novice review of the products I used. I did several hours of research before settling on these products, and I'm very happy with the choices I've made so far. Here's what I used for the shave: http://imgur.com/ptAaF
Edwin Jagger DE86 with an Astra Superior Platinum blade
EcoTools Bamboo Finishing Kabuki Brush
Proraso Shaving Cream
Bloc Osma Alum Block
The most difficult choice for me was the shaving brush. At first, I got it into my head that a real badger-hair brush was the best way to go. However, I simply couldn't find a badger brush that was inexpensive enough for a starter kit (ideally it would be less than £20), but also of high enough quality to be a pleasure to use and last a long time. I was baffled by the dizzying array of options, and hesitant to commit to something which might not be right for me. After seeing Leisureguy's enthusiastic recommendations of the EcoTools Kabuki brush, I bit the bullet and ordered one from Amazon for £8. I was worried that such an inexpensive item that wasn't even designed as a shaving brush wouldn't be up to the job, but when it arrived this afternoon I was relieved at the quality. It is small and light, but feels fairly robust and well-made. Even better, the bristles are extremely soft and feel wonderful on the face. I was hopeful it would be up to the task.
Before shaving I had a hot bath and thoroughly soaked my beard to ensure the hairs were as soft as possible. After that, I filled the sink with hot water and warmed a ceramic bowl to mix the lather in. I opened the tub of Proraso cream and had a sniff. It has a mild menthol scent which is very refreshing and pleasant. I put an almond sized lump into the bowl and began mixing with the damp brush, carefully adding small drops of water using the methods I'd seen in several YouTube videos. I was happy to see that both the cream and the brush performed excellently. I had actually made a couple of practice lathers earlier that day, and using what I'd learned everything seemed to come together very well for this try. The lather was dense and creamy, with nice peaks when I lifted the brush, and it had a nice sheen in the light, just like in the videos I'd watched. As I put the lather on my face I immediately thought that no matter how the DE razor performed, I was never going back to canned shaving gel again. The sensation of applying the warm, dense lather with the soft brush was so relaxing and pleasant that I look forward to it being a part of my everyday routine from now on.
I really want to sing the praises of the little Kabuki brush. Even though I've nothing to compare it to, I have to say this brush is really fantastic for the price. It holds plenty of lather for at least a 3-pass shave, absorbs water very nicely, and feels absolutely lovely on the face; soft and gentle, but just stiff enough to work the lather into the beard. I can see this little brush lasting me a long time very happily, and can't imagine a better shaving brush for such a low price. Highly recommended, especially for a beginner. Thanks to Leisureguy for the great tip.
The Proraso cream is also very nice in my experience. I chose it because it seemed to be a quite highly regarded as an "everyday use" cream. Good quality but not too expensive. It created a thick, creamy lather despite my lack of skill. And it leaves a lovely, refreshing tingling sensation on the skin and a pleasant scent. I had no idea how it would perform with the razor, but up to this point it seemed very nice.
I then picked up my razor to go to work. The choice of razor was an easy one. Even a cursory browse of this subreddit will show that the Edwin Jagger DE8x models are regarded as a superb choice as a first razor, and is easily the most commonly recommended razor here (at least for a starter kit). Plus, it has literally hundreds of glowing reviews on Amazon and YouTube. There may be cheaper razors out there, but I felt that for a high-quality item that would last a lifetime, £20 was an absolute steal. I'm always willing to pay a little extra if it means getting an item that will really last and perform well. For an item you hold and use every day, it just doesn't make sense to skimp, especially considering I could always sell the razor on eBay if DE shaving didn't work for me. I chose the DE86 model because I liked the look of the black handle contrasted with the shiny chrome, and when it arrived I was not disappointed. Holding it in my hand, feeling the weight and seeing the flawless finish and manufacturing confirmed to me that I'd made a good choice. I could easily believe a razor like this costs £40-50, so I think it's a real bargain.
I anxiously raised the razor to my temple, not sure what to expect. I should mention at this point that I hadn't shaved in about 5 days, so I had a fair amount of scraggly, long hair on my jaw. This is exactly the sort of growth that would be a nightmare to shave with a Gillette cartridge. Any time I've left it this long to shave, I've found myself wincing in pain as I dragged the five blades through my beard, yanking and tugging horribly as they went. I was extremely curious to see how just one blade would do with this usually unpleasant procedure. I carefully angled the razor to what I thought was correct, and began the short strokes with the grain of the hair.
Frankly, I am astonished that DE razors aren't massively popular, because I'll be damned if that one blade didn't glide over my face without an ounce of resistance. It was incredible. The thick, creamy lather gently cushioned the head of the razor as I pulled it through the hair. For a second I thought I must be doing something wrong, as it seemed to be moving too easily, but as the cream parted I saw that the hair was indeed being removed. The biggest help was the sound of the blade. I angled the razor gradually until I could clearly hear the blade slicing through the hair, and then used that as my guide for the correct angle. I moved the razor down towards the thick growth around my jawline, and it cut through easily. The difference between this and a cartridge razor was night and day. No yanking, tugging, pulling or clogging. Just clean, gentle slicing.
The Astra blade seems to perform very well for me, although it is the only one I've tried. Based on this initial positive experience, I think I'm going to stick with this blade until I've improved my technique and can consistently maintain angle and pressure. After that, I will experiment with various blades to find the absolute optimal combination.
Once I completed the first pass, I assessed my face. After confirming that I was in fact ugly, I looked at the beard. The first pass had handily removed all of the most obvious growth. But I still had a fair amount of stubble, as was to be expected. I re-lathered for my second pass, across the grain. This was a little tricky, going across the grain I found it more difficult to maintain the proper angle, and with less hair to cut through, there was less auditory feedback to guide me. Also, every time I lost concentration or focused too much on the angle, I found I would revert to my old cartridge razor ways and apply far too much pressure with the blade, having to consciously remind myself to relax and ease up. Still, I muddled through the second pass without a single nick or cut, and had a pleasant experience altogether.
I felt my beard again. My cheeks were perfectly smooth, as was most of the area around my upper jaw. There was still quite a bit of stubble on the tricky neck area and under the chin, and particularly just beneath the curve of my jawline. Not so much stubble that it was really visible to the naked eye, but very easily felt when rubbing my neck against the grain. Against recommendations for a beginner, I decided to go for a final, against the grain pass (cue dramatic music).
I re-lathered and went at it. This was where I encountered problems. Holding the razor upside down made it very difficult to maintain proper angle and pressure (precisely why against the grain isn't recommended for a beginner I assume). As I shaved the difficult curves of my jaw and chin, I noticed a tiny speck of blood appear on my chin; my first nick. In my unrealistic desire to get a perfectly smooth shave first-time, I ended up applying way too much pressure, and even going over the same area multiple times without re-lathering. This resulted in a couple more tiny nicks, and some slight irritation to the skin. Luckily for me, I don't appear to have sensitive skin, and despite this rough treatment and poor technique, the irritation quickly subsided. I think the preparation of a hot bath and very carefully mixing a dense, creamy lather really helped here. I finished my against the grain pass and had a feel of my skin. There was still some noticeable stubble in the area underneath the right side of my jaw, but large portions of my face were perfectly smooth. I took this as a big victory. I figure that if so much of my face was perfectly smooth, then with enough time and practice, I'll eventually beat those tough areas under my jawline for a perfect shave.
I had a bit of redness and irritation in the areas I had been too aggressive on, so I applied the alum block at this point. I was worried that the block would sting badly, especially over the small nicks on my chin. But it was actually extremely mild and pleasant. There was a slight stinging when going over the nicks but nothing too bad. I'm really glad I bought the alum block, as it left my face feeling wonderfully smooth and fresh, and quickly sealed up any small cuts and reduced redness. I will definitely be using this after every shave, it's a wonderful sensation and I highly recommend the Bloc Osma brand.
Finally, I applied some Nivea Sensitive balm, which gave a great cooling and moisturising sensation, and reduced any lingering heat or redness left over from my over-zealous facial pruning. My skin quickly felt smooth and moisturised, and very well cared for. All in all, despite a few persistent areas of stubble, my first DE shave was a huge success for me. A relaxing, indulgent method of shaving, and one which I'm sure will produce a spectacular shave after some practice.
I just want to say a big thanks to Leisureguy for producing his wonderful book. It was my best source of information, and is an extremely comprehensive and enjoyable guide for anyone thinking of starting shaving with a safety razor. I highly recommend it, as do many others.
Also, I want to endorse my local shaving shop, The Gentleman's Groom Room in Dundee, Scotland. While I ordered my razor and brush from Amazon, all other supplies came from there. The owner is a really friendly and helpful guy, with a wonderful little shop featuring a great range of quality soaps and brushes. I got a few brands of blades and soaps there today, plus my alum block, and the owner threw in a couple of free samples: http://imgur.com/Ruvql
If you're ever in Dundee or near the area, you should check it out.
Hope my experience can provide some useful insight for any beginners like me out there. I feel that DE shaving is going to be a really enriching hobby for me. One that will add a lot of pleasure to my everyday routine. I love technology and gadgets; I'd never be without my smartphone or laptop, but recently I've found that there is an incredible richness in more old-fashioned pursuits. A nice fountain pen and a leather journal, making a fire while camping out in the wild, carving a slingshot from a tree-fork. All simple, tactile pleasures that a lot of people miss out on. I think traditional wet-shaving is a part of that group, and something more people should be aware of.
tl:dr DE shaving is good