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Monday, October 11, 2010

What Is A "Shave-Ready," "Shave-Tested" Straight Razor? A Buyer's Guide

The Vintage Shaving Shoppe was one of the earlier eBay sellers to offer "shave-ready," "shave-tested" razors.  Now there seem to be lots of folks slapping that label on their razor auctions...and not on eBay alone.  You are starting to see them almost everywhere on the Web  And you can bet your shaving nicks that if you polled each one of these sellers, they would all come back with slightly different (in some cases, radically different) definitions of the terms.  You owe it to your face and your wallet to query the folks you buy from with regards to THEIR definitions.

While I cannot speak for other sellers, in the interest of clarity, I wish to go on-record about what those terms mean to me and, by extension, if you are my customer, what they will mean when you buy a razor from me.

The term "shave-ready" is bandied about in the wet-shaving world as casually as politicians promise lower taxes.  On its face, it is pretty straightforward: it means a razor that is ready to shave with.  But what does this mean?  If you order a nice new Dovo razor off of Amazon (or off of any number of other reputable commercial sites), you probably assume that it is ready to shave with.  The little brochure inside the "coffin" (the box that holds the razor) will even say so.  So you are good to go.  Right?  WRONG!  I speak from painful experience.

When, on a cold December afternoon, I decide to start shaving with a straight razor, I went online and  purchased a nice new Dovo (a fine German brand) straight razor, a badger brush and a puck of shave soap, went through an elaborate pre-shave routine, including hot towels from the microwave (not recommended), just to make sure that my skin was ready for this new experience.

I proceeded to get one of the harshest, bloodiest shaves of my life.

Now I have to put at least some of the blame on my inexperience and the fact that I was shaving skin yet unused to a straight razor, but still, the razor was catching on my skin and simply not cutting hair as a straight razor should.  After querying several knowledgeable straight razor shavers, I was asked where I purchased my razor.  Next, I was asked "who made it shave-ready and was it shave-tested?"  At that time, these terms were unfamiliar to me.  I replied that I bought it through Amazon from the manufacturer and both the ad and the product insert assured me that the razor was ready for use.

I could almost see the virtual sideways head-shaking when I provided this answer.  It was time for me to get an education.  I was told that razors straight from the factory may be very, very sharp...but they will not provide a close, comfortable shave.  In order to do that, the razor's edge must be "finished" on a combination of extremely fine honing stones and strops (normally, long strips of leather which may or may not be treated with a mildly abrasive paste).  You see, the edges of ALL sharp metal objects are serrated to some degree.  While you can see the serration clearly on most knives, they can be quite literally microscopic on a straight razor.  The fact that they are very small, doesn't mean that they aren't there.  The process of hand-honing a razor on those superfine stones (My finest stone is 30,000 grit. To put that in perspective, a knife will be considered sufficiently sharpened at 1,000 grit), and then on leather, is designed to make those serrations as small as humanly possible.  A factory-honed razor leaves serrations that are way too large for a comfortable shave.  The result is that "Nighmare On Elm Street" look that you were not seeking.

So when I say that a razor I sell is shave-ready, I mean that I have honed it BY HAND on a progression of extremely fine, completely flat stones made specifically for honing razors. I then further reduce the size of the serrations by stropping the blade on diamond-pasted strops made of balsa wood (they are not always leather).  Then, I use a hard wool felt hanging strop lightly pasted with Aluminum Oxide and, finally, on a fine leather strop.

I will not use a razor on my face that has not gone through the aforementioned procedure and I would not expect you to either.

There is no machine that, to my knowledge, can shave-test a razor.  But before I get ahead of myself, let me explain what I mean when I say that a razor is "shave-tested."  It means that I have personally shaved with the razor and it has produced a close, comfortable shave.  This really isn't complicated.  You simply shave with the razor in all three directions:
  • With The Grain (WTG): This means in the direction of hair growth
  • Across The Grain (XTG): This means shaving at an approximate 90 degree angle to the direction of hair growth
  • Against The Grain (ATG): This means shaving against the direction of hair growth
If the razor shaves closely and comfortably in all three directions on both sides of my face using both sides of the razor, it passes.  If it fails any of these tests, it goes back to the hones, not into a shipping envelope, until it passes.  All shave-tested razor are, of course, thoroughly sterilized in Barbicide before they are sent out to customers.

So what shave-tested means to me is that a knowledgable human being has actually shaved with the razor.  Trust me, there are no people at even the finest commercial razor factories that are actually shaving with every razor before they ship.

So now that you have some knowledge, you know what questions to ask the folks that want to sell you a razor.  If they react defensively or evasively, move one to another seller.  Anyone worth their salt will be pleased to show off their pre-sales preparations.

1 comment:

  1. although i only shave with a few of my straights...i prefer to have any in my collection to be "shave-ready". i like this for 2 of course is you never know when you may need to switch one from collectors spot into your shaving rotation.the second reason is the razor ,even if kept just for collecting,feels more complete if "shave-ready" also when buying a vintage razor if it is already "shave-ready" you can see how much more blade you have left until the razor cannot support its purpose.-peter