Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Loss of Innocence Part 3

The old: my Merkur 38 C HD Barber Pole
Per Alicia's request

Note! This is Part 3. Read PART 1 and PART 2 first. 

As much as I liked my Barber Pole razor, I must admit that I was getting no where with it, I was in sort of a stasis of lousy shaves. I decided the razor was too aggressive and broke down and bought the Merkur Progress 510 C. This is the adjustable razor. Amazon had it on sale for $65. So I finally got the razor I wanted, but instead of spending $75, I spent $105 ($40 for the Barber Pole and $65 for the Progress)…smart Sextant! 

Merkur Logo embossed in the bottom plate is bas relief.
Like chrome valve covers with a Hemi name, very cool. 

While I like the looks of the Progress, I have to admit it is not the beauty that the Barber Pole is. The handle has straight fluted design that is not as attractive and more difficult to grip. The adjustment knob is ivory colored plastic which bothers some folks to the point that a small artisan company modifies the razors with metal knob and calling the result the Mergress. I actually kind of like the plastic knob. It gives it a 50s retro (junky?) look, and there is good old Merkur’s head embossed in the very end of the knob and the base plate. High culture indeed. The Progress is not as heavy as the Barber Pole, weighing in at 100 grams. Actually I think it has a bit better balance.  

Gap adjustment on the Merkur Progress
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The razor is adjustable by elevating the blade from the bottom plate while still maintaining tension on the blade. This allows the gap and angle of the blade to become wider or narrower by twisting the knob. Merkur has stamped in some very difficult to see numbers on the metal collar of the knob so that one has a numeric reference for the gap. For fellow presbyopes (ignore that red squiggly it is the noun for one who suffers from presbyopia which my dictionary in an effort to make me feel better states the origins as: late 18th cent.: modern Latin, from Greek presbus ‘old man’ + ōps, ōp- ‘eye.’ ) use of the Merkur Progress means that you now shave with your glasses on if you intend to make on the fly adjustments.

So now I had the solution. I set the razor to 2 for the first pass and 1 for the second. AND…I got just as crappy of a shave as I was getting with the Barber Pole. How can I get a less aggressive razor than this. I tried using only the lowest setting. No better. So I was starting to get a bit disillusioned with the great DE shaving that everyone else on these shaving forums rants and raves about. Then one day I tried setting the razor to 3. Voila!  I didn’t need a less aggressive setting, I needed more. It is counterintuitive but setting the razor gap wider gave me a far closer shave with less irritation and no nicks. At last! I am still miles from the legendary BBS (Baby Bottom Smooth) but at least I am not nicking myself or causing a lot of razor burn. I haven’t developed a steady enough hand for around my lips so I still finish off with a swipe in that area with the Gillette Sensor Excel. I think of it in terms of a weed whacker verses a lawn tractor. Strictly verboten by the purists but then again the purists probably don’t have MS. 

The new:  Merkur 510 C Progress
Also new, Vie Long Cachurro Horse Hair Brush

So here is where I am today. Using the Merkur Progress 510 C with Wilkinson Sword blades on a setting of three or four on the first pass with the grain, two on the second pass across the grain and slowly experimenting with a third pass against the grain in non problem areas. I use the Sensor Excel on the problem areas. It takes three times as long to shave as with the Sensor Excel but there is a certain joy to using a quality razor, albeit not the orgasmic Zen experience described on the shaving forums. The BBS will remain most likely an unattained goal, but the shave is acceptable by my standards. In real world terms, it is somewhere between a hack job and a DFS. DFS? That is shaving forum speak for Damned Fine Shave. Something less than the BBS but quite acceptable by ordinary standards.

I use Van Der Hagen Unscented Luxury Shave Soap in my beloved cheap dark green Van Der Hagen bowl. I tried Mitchell’s Wool Fat, an medium priced soap from England enriched with lanolin (hence the wool fat in its name). The scent of this stuff is right on the border line for me. One degree stronger and it would be in the trash. Unfortunately while it gives a good shave, the stuff irritates my skin leaving my face glowing red and burning. So I retired it to a ziplock bag and I will try it again in a few months. I still have too many variables…new brush, new razor, new technique. The soap may not be the culprit, although as soon as I went back to the VDH Unscented the irritation went away. I then tried Williams Mug Soap again. This is the cheap lemony scented stuff that my father used and was the inspiration for this entire wet shaving fiasco. Hmmmm, second time around after using the VDH Unscented, I decided shaving with lemon Pledge just wasn’t hacking it. Also the stuff dries very fast. I had to lather one side of my face at a time. I vowed to make 10 shaves with it, but I got to where I hated it so much that after the fourth shave I said to hell with this. 

My razor collection from top left to bottom right:
Gillette Sensor Excel with wire tie nubs.
Merkur 45 Bakelite.
Merkur 38 C HD Barber Pole.
Merkur 510 C Progress.
Dorco Pace, unhappy experiment from the past.
Top right: Norelco 6948XL/41 cheapie but not bad if I am in a hurry. 

Still convinced by the shaving forums that I need a better soap, I ordered and received some Proraso Sensitive Shave Soap from Amazon. It is claimed to have a mild fragrance. Alas, I disagree. It is way too smelly for me. It has an odd combination of pine, soap, with a hint of wood ash. Quite actually, it smelled like I was shaving with a pine scented air freshener from a spray can. It also seemed to cause some irritation, and I did not like the menthol effect. Too smelly and gooey for me. I won’t be trying it again so if I can’t give it to anyone, in the trash it goes. At 10 bucks a tub, it is expensive trash. The lesson here is that I have to quit trying other soaps. I just have no tolerance for the smell of fragrances and apparently they irritate my skin.

Being a fragrance intolerant cretin, after shave for me has always been rubbing alcohol. It works fine and leaves no scent behind. Spend a few minutes on a shaving forum an you will find out that I am crazy doing that for a variety of reasons none of which I remember. As you can imagine there are an endless list of pricey post shave balms that one should use, and, of course, many of them are smelly and gooey. So my aversion to smelly and gooey spares me from spending untold sums on preps and post shave balms. But I did read about one post shave product that is not smelly, heals razor burn, provides antibacterial protection, stanches blood flow from nicks, and tightens your pores. Plus it has been in use for 2500 years. An alum block. What the hell is an alum block? I never heard of one until about month or so ago.

Osma Alum Block, it looks like a block of quartz
Image Credit:

Alum is potassium aluminum sulfate. It is the same stuff that is used in pickles and as an ingredient in baking powder. It is also one of the main ingredients of a styptic pencil. It has antibacterial and astringent properties. Zero odor. After rinsing the lather from your face, you wet the block and rub it lightly all around the shaved areas of your face and allow it to dry. You then can either leave it be or rinse the slight residue off. Best thing since canned beer. Of course like all things in life you can get a good alum block or junky ones. The good ones are cut straight from a large deposit of pure natural alum. The junky ones are blocks fabricated out of loose alum used in other processes or from less than pure alum deposits. Well nothing but the best for me, so I bought a pair of Osma alum blocks cut from the pure deposits in France…bla…bla….

Hmmmm! The jury is still out of that one. I have tried using it only once. It feels odd on my  face while wet, sort of like cool water that is evaporating rapidly.  It does burn on any place where you shaved a bit too close or on nicks. I didn’t mind the burning, I get about the same from the alcohol. It was the sensation left on my skin for hours after the stuff dried. My skin felt very tight and dried out. My face knew what a grape feels like when becoming a raisin. The best I can describe it was sort of like being wind burnt in very cold weather. I left it on for about 15 minutes and then decided to rinse it off. That unpleasant tightness lasted for hours. I have had the blocks now for about a week and I have not been tempted to use them again. 

Vie Long 04312 Cachurro Horse Hair Brush.
Cruelty free, horse hair is collected during grooming.
Image Credit: 

I have upgraded to a Vie Long 04312 Cachurro horse hair brush, To be honest I love my cheap Van Der Hagen boar bristle brush. It is stiff, has a lot of “scritch” (a shaving forum terminology for a rough scratchy feel) and lathers acceptably. But alas a boar was “harvested” to provide the hair for my brush. That doesn’t fly well with my animal loving wife. Horse hair brushes are made with hair from the mane and tail of horses that are collected through normal grooming, not the slaughter of the animal. So Vie Long sends agents out to all the equestrian barber shops in Spain to collect hair for its brushes. Well that is what I have read and tell my wife. For those who like a softer brush, the horse hair is much softer than boar, but not as soft as badger. I have a fake badger hair brush using synthetic bristles and I hate it. Way too soft. The horse hair is too soft for me, but it keeps peace in the house. I have to admit that part of the reason I chose this particular brush was the metal collet retaining the knot. Very manly! It gives the handle a nice weight.  Alas, one has to use care not to chip the ceramic shaving bowl when swirling up a lather especially when the soap wears down.

My brushes:  left Van Der Hagen Boar Bristle.
Center: Simply Beautiful fake silver tip badger hair.
Right: Vie Long Cachurro horse hair.

I did buy one razor just for the hell of it, a Merkur 45 Bakelite razor. It is made from the first manmade plastic, Bakelite. Weighing in at 15 grams it is very light. It gets surprisingly good reviews. A woman reviewer on Amazon liked it because it did not get hot in the shower. I bought it mostly because I think it looks cool in a very tacky sort of way plus Bakelite appeals to my love for Mahjong sets. Bakelite was a commonly used material for the classic American made Mahjong sets in the early and mid years of the 20th century. So far I haven’t used the razor.

Merkur 45 Bakelite with travel case and blades.
Image Credit:

Well I have sort of run out of things to buy. I am fed up with trying “lightly scented” soaps. I have more razors than I need. Aversions to smelly and gooey spare me from trying all the various preps and after shaves. So about the only thing left to play with is blades. The Wilkinson Sword is my blade of choice, but once I get my technique further refined maybe I will try the Feather again perhaps buy a blade sampler.

So there is only one thing left to do, build a “shaving den.” This is something on the order of exclusive gentleman’s club in London built right into your house for the purpose of pursuing the art and zen of shaving.  Centered in the shaving den of my dreams would be a oversized vanity with an acre of counter space to display my fine collection of razors new and antique, many shelves for the various brushes, bowls, preps, and after shave balms, and of course a toilet (tastefully off to the side and equipped with a reading light) would be available for the essentials. 

A Shaving Den
Image Credit: [URL=][IMG][/IMG][/URL]

 One wall would be devoted to library shelves containing the classics and the Encyclopedia Brittanica in leather bound editions. A 60’s style stereo system would occupy another wall. Another wall would have a writing desk with a well appointed desk top computer with a fast internet connection and a large screen for viewing YouTube tutorials and on the fly emergency consultations to the shaving forums.  Another wall would have a small couch with a coffee table laid out with recent issues of Scientific American, Field and Stream, Hot Rod, Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic, Esquire and the latest Art Of Shaving catalog. 

Not exactly what I had in mind
but you get the idea.  Image Credit: 

 Another wall would display a tasteful Vargas girl pinup shaving her legs with a 1959 Gillette Fat Boy Adjustable. 

The walls, all eight of them, would paneled in the finest mahogany veneers, counter tops all black granite, and lighting a combination of overhead track lighting and Tiffany floor and table lamps. 

Well so much for my dreams. In practical terms I believe that most shaving dens are simply the act of commandeering a powder room and installing good lighting, a good mirror, a bunch of shelves to hold all your gear. This then is where you go to become one with the lather and blade. 

Alas back to reality, being a retired factory worker and not an investment banker, the cracker box of a house that I live in has no powder room and no place for a powder room. So that leaves the bathroom. One thing I have learned in almost 39 years of marital bliss is that the bathroom, especially when you only have one, is a woman’s province. Space will be provided grudgingly for a few manly health and beauty essentials but there is no way my wife is going to tolerate a major invasion of a ridiculous macho shaving den. Hmmm. That leaves the laundry tub in the basement right next to the washer and the cat litter boxes. The cat litter aroma would add to the zen of the experience, take me back to basics, and perhaps mask the fragrance of the stinky shaving soaps!  The simple fact of the matter is that I have no place for a shaving den.

My Shaving Temple
Being spiritually inclined and four dimensionally challenged on this Earth plane, I decided to make a shaving temple. This sits in the (waterless and drainless) corner of the small area that I have claimed for my man cave. While it certainly falls short of a shaving den, being close to the computer, it does provide instant access to all my shaving goods for when I am posting on the shaving forums.

Finally, It occurs to me that most of my readers are women, (except for one notable gentleman in the northern realms who respectfully wishes to remain bearded). 

The Shaving Queen
Image Credit:

 Lest you feel left out, there is a small but devoted contingent of women wet shaving enthusiasts. The Sharpologist has an article by the Razor Queen, Tiffanyanne Pisarcik which lists a variety of wet shaving resources for women.

Sharpologist .com, “Top Resources For Ladies Shaving.” by Tiffanyanne Pisarcik

Pisarcik AKA Tiffany Kosma also appears at the blog What’s Your Ritual 

Well there you have it.  A long journey in a few short months.  Last July I was blissfully ignorant scraping Gillette Foamy red spray can cheapy forumula from my face with a two bladed cartridge Gillette Excel razor.  Now I am shit canning 10 dollar tubs of Proraso because it is too smelly.  I take three times as long to shave, go around with razor burn 50% of the time from my latest failed experiment, and Amazon is raking in a young fortune off my shaving habit.  Ha ha but I am no fool.  Gillette and Schick are not robbing me blind with those expensive 5 bladed cartridges.  

Well off to the forums to see if I can find an unscented prep.  


  1. All right! Stick it to the man -- the one at Gillette and the one at Schick too!

    1. Mean while the Germans are cleaning my clock with yet more cool razors. I am helping Jeff Bezos build his space program.

      I do expect this to settle down shortly and I shouldn't have more expenses than blades...52 per year at about 25 cents a blade if I buy them in bulk. Van Der Hagen Unscented Soap runs 5 bucks a puck which lasts about 3 months. I get at least three years out of a bottle of rubbing alcohol, so for about 34 dollars a year I can be shaving. Gillette Fusion blades run about 38 bucks for 12 blades. If you get a month out of one cartridge your cost is 38 plus shaving cream plus after shave. DE wet shaving can save you money, but not if you are going to build a shaving temple.

      Off to Ebay for classic 1959 Fat Boy Adjustable for $150!

      Again Olga's razor cuts sharply! Thanks for the ironies!

    2. Remember the Sprint "Its my way of sticking it to the man" commercial?

  2. That last paragraph sums it all up perfectly! I think I am going through the same thing as you only in trying to find the perfect mascara!

    Thanks for posting the picture of the Barber Pole shaver. Very nice! I like the brushes too. Thinking maybe they might work for powder.

    I love the work you put into this post and even though I do not know what adventure is next for you I look forward to it!

    1. Alicia, it is sort of like what Tammy Faye Bakker told Ted Koppel on Night Line about the misappropriation of PTL donations "Its only money Ted! What's the big deal?"

      That perfect mascara and the perfect shaving soap are out there, we just have to remain steadfast in our search!

      The next topic may be American Standard Champion 4 toilets. An engineering wonder. It will flush a bucket of golf balls in one flush. Its rated at a 1000 grams of "matter" with 1.6 gallons per flush. For an old clogger like me that is impressive!

      Alicia, an honor as aways, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  3. Sextant, I got lucky when I bought a Merkur 38c. Exactly the right aggressiveness for me. If you are scent sensitive you may find the horsehair brush a bit "gamey" for a while. If I get any weepers I love the alum block. Have you tried witchhazel as an aftershave? Not much scent and it dissipates quickly, very soothing. If it seems drying add a touch of glycerin to it, but just a touch.

  4. Randall as they say YMMV. I think not only is the gap adjustable on the 510, but the blade sits at a slightly different angle as well. Strange, I tried a Van Der Hagen blade for the first time in it last night. The VDH worked nice in the 38C. Either this was a bad blade or they just do not work in a 510 C. The new blade was far worse the the Wilkinson Sword with 6+ shaves on it. So even with myself YMMV. Then I put that Feather blade that I had one use in. Wow are they aggressive. I managed to hack my self up again, although not as bad as with the 38C. Although I do have a good bit more skill now.

    I have two Vie Long brushes, one I just got. You are right they smell gamey or what I call wet dog smell when they are wet and new. The Cachurro took about 2 maybe 3 weeks to clear up and it smells fine. The other one of the low end with lots of tail hair and a good bit stiffer is still in the process. I only use shave soap to clean them out. I have read various processes and I wonder if some of those processes do not lead to the unhappy reviews about shedding. What will amaze you is that with my particular fragrance problem, foul natural odors are far more palatable than excessive artificial so called pleasant fragrances. As such I find the wet dog of my brush to be far less offensive than the Prorazo soap, or Febreze which as their commercials indicate I have come to associate with excessive in poorly cleaned hotel common areas and rental cars. If you want it to smell clean use Pine-Sol not Febreze. And yes the Pine-Sol if used properly is a hell lot more work. (Unfortunately I associate that with janitors cleaning up vomit in elementary is a bitch.)

    I find that rubbing alcohol works fine for weepers and burn and doesn't leave my face feeling like I am a prune. But the witch hazel does sound worth a try. My guess is that I will be unhappy with the scent, no matter how slight. As you can see anyone who prefers wet horse to Prorazo Sensitive with a fragrance so mild that it creates bitching on the shaving forums, has a real psychological problem with fragrances. At least my wife can blame migraines.

    What kind of blades do you use in your 38 C? I am going to experiment more with blades, although I am pretty settled on Wilkinson Sword. Sharp without the brutality. Good manly name!

    Randall thanks for the tip on witch hazel and thanks for stopping by and commenting.