Thursday, 17 July 2014

Shaving the cost of shaving

18 months ago I took the plunge and went for my first ever shave with a straight razor. This was prompted by the many discussions online regarding the benefits of wet shaving. I have not looked back since then.

For many a man, daily shaving seems a chore; waking up a little early to scrape your face to remove the remnants of stubble growth that takes place over night. And the plethora of ruddy shaving equipment on the market makes it all too easy for us to continue to damage our face on a daily basis, just to save a few minutes of our time. And marketeers would lead us to believe that its perfectly fine to have a mediocre shave as long as we buy expensive multi-bladed shaving equipment and some chemical gloop. Nada, no more, I wanted out, I wanted to treat my face better and I wanted to enjoy my shaves.

When it comes to old school wet shaving , there are 2 choices, either the double edged shaving razor or the single edged straight razor, which is even older and perhaps employed by your great grandpa. I chose to go with the latter, having seen Clint Eastwood use it in a movie. (Its not just Clint, many manly figures shave like this).

But either is fine and in retrospect, the double edge razor would have had a lower learning curve for me. I opted for the straight razor, which had quite a steep learning curve. I wanted a razor which used disposable blades, the reasons for this were manyfold; First, looking after the razor would be easier, than the stropping, sharpening and oiling required on a traditional straight razor. Secondly, if I couldn't get the technique right or my face did not take too well to the fine shave promised by the straight razor, I could sell the unused blades or experiment with different blade types. Finally, the initial outlay was a lot lower. A decent Dovo straight razor would have set me back at least £70, then the leather strop, stropping paste, sanding block and so on would have mounted to the cost. All in all, I shelled out £27. Here is what the £14.95 kit included:

  • A stainless steel straight razor
  • Pack of 100 Derby blades
  • A shaving brush (boar hair)*
  • Arko Shave stick
  • Alum sticks (in a cardboard fold out matchbox)**

* The shave brush was rubbish, so I got myself a Vulfix 404, (in black), due to its favorable reviews, at about £10.
** I also got tempted to try a larger alum block, which my barber gave to me for £2 (the same sized blocks are about £6 on amazon)

There is a wide variety of lovely
shaving creams and soaps available
I normally find myself spending about £12 a year on Gillette cartridges and shaving cream cans. So the initial outlay may seem extraneous. However considering that the, razor and brush do not have to be replaced, the ongoing cost, year after year, are just the shaving soap, alum block, and blades.

After 18 months of usage, I can confirm, that I have not had to replace anything. That's right, I have not spent a single penny on shaving since that £27 initial outlay.

Here are what the costs might be once I do run out of replacement blades:

Assuming that I use a blade for 2 shaves before disposing of it, and I shave twice a week. I can stretch 50 blades to last me 52 weeks, so 1 year. The whole pack will last me 2 years. Ebay sellers list derby blades at £4.99 (inc. p&p) for a 100 blades, so yearly that's a cost of £2.50.
The reality is the derby blades are usable far more than that, and I find them dulling after 3 uses, and completely useless after 4 shaves. So, that £2.50 is slightly pessimistic, I expect the cost to be closer to £1.25. The most optimal, sharpest, smoothest shave is either the second or third shave, for my skin and bristles, YMMV.

Again assuming I can use half a shave stick in a year, (the reality is the arko shaving stick is still going strong and I am about halfway through it. It has a lovely smell to it and lathers really well), shave sticks cost 49p in the UK. So my yearly cost is 25p.
(Asda and Tesco both sell palmolive shave sticks for 49p, and from what I hear, it is one of the better shaving soaps out there). 

Alum block is not necessary, it is soothing (and horrendously painful at first, especially after a good sharp shave), but it helps your skin heal and closes up any capillaries you may have opened during shaving. I estimate my £2 block to last me at least 5 years, as it seems like it has not shrunk at all since I have been using it (the corner that I do rub on my face, is slightly rounded). Since I do not use it all the time, I do not think I will add it to my ongoing costs.

I need the half penny to be
reintroduced to measure my shaving costs
My very pessimistic costs, then are £2.75 a year, and shaving twice a week, thats 104 shaves, making my cost per shave equal to £0.026 (or 2.6 pence per shave). And, being optimistic, since I cannot use as many blades and as much shave soap as my pessimistic estimates within 12 months, my current costs are less than 1.5 pence per shave.

My shaving journey has not all been about driving down costs, I have improved the quality of my shaves, I actually look forward to having a shave, as the lathering process and careful shaving is quite therapeutic, and not to mention, having the sharpest bit of metal put to your neck just makes you feel alive and so very manly. The cheaper costs are a side benefit.

At less than 2 pennies per shave, thats a lot of cost shaved off the cost of shaving. Adios Gillette.

If you are interested in learning more about wet shaving, and interesting in putting together your own kit, here are some resources to get you started:

These are the resources I found most useful (in order), I cannot recommend Art of Manliness enough, every article they have is a gold mine of information.
Art of Manliness
the HUKD shaving thread

Other forums you might want to visit, browse and ask questions at:
Badger and Blade
The Shave Den
The Shave Room
Straight Razor Place
Shave my face

And finally, do not forget the power of visual learning, use youtube!

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