Arko Is Not Better Than Williams

This week, I took a pass on the most interesting possible antique brush. Like my grandfather's, but nearly new. It was really nice to see it in original form, marble white instead of butterscotch; bulb shaped, not a nub. I thanked the proprietor, but bid farewell without purchasing; and also at a couple of other places that I've regularly looked in on over the last year-and-a-half.

Believe it or not, I think I've finally reached the acquisition turning point. My last razor purchase may be in the mail as we speak: the $20 slant from Italian Barber, representing the only general kind of DE I haven't tried, and seemingly appropriate to my recent prep advances. I figured I might as well try a sandalwood soft soap to justify shipping. I tracked my package today, after putting off shaving as long as I could. Gah, Monday -- I would have driven to Rochester, rather than wait all weekend! (No, not really.)

Anticipation... An-ti-cipa-a-tion... what a great ketchup ad that was, eh? Thankfully, Pandora and the passage of time have brought the artist, Carly Simon, back to the foreground in that instance of mental fornication. Both she and the advertisers surely knew that there is more to anticipation than waiting. Something shavers need to recognize, too, especially when accumulating massive quantities of soap and cream. What are you waiting for?

Arko is not better than Williams

Without directly addressing the contemporary soap marketing machine, or even the moral hazard that is glycerin (this time), I think the logical heart of acquisition disorders can be addressed on this point. Williams is the purest shaving soap, to which Arko is often compared. Arko is easier to lather and more slick. Comparing ingredients, it seems to be sort of pre-dissolved, with "stearic acid" instead of the usual stearate salt, and maybe a higher proportion of water. It also features mineral oil. If you treat your skin with some oil as well, a lipid bilayer forms that even the beginner's blade can hardly penetrate. For similar reasons, Arko takes longer to dry out than Williams. It's all good, especially for noobs.

But once you've gotten into the swing of things: found suitable hardware, aligned your attack on the hair and gotten traction under control -- I think the balance of judgment shifts. I can glide an edge more easily through Williams' aqueous lubrication than Arko's thicker emulsion. It rinses cleaner, for a drier, more comfortable post shave. Furthermore, when lathered properly, Williams is more cushioning; to the touch, and to the blade. Only in its opaque appearance may Arko be considered thicker.

Yes, even in hard water. I still cannot kill the remnant of Williams in my little medicine-cabinet bowl. Looking at the thick outer edge of the ring, I guess it may be some months still. Just for this post, because I know I am vastly outnumbered by puck soakers, I tested a puck fresh out of the box. I, too, thought perhaps the old soap had been chemically altered, over time. Nope; it's simply different than other soaps, in that it is the least adulterated.

Why would I say that?

I love both Arko and Williams. My point is, Williams isn't really any more difficult to lather. It merely defies expectations that thwart learning... which are difficult to overcome. For my failure with the first puck, I blame the producers themselves. Lathering this soap has jack squat to do with putting water in a mug. Yeah, the internet may be bullshit, but I would never have turned to it in the first place, if advertising hadn't already betrayed me.

By my second puck (this one), I had already moved on to popular glycerin soap and creams that could be lathered any which way: wet, dry, with air in them... applying what I learned to Williams, I could get "a" lather, but not the full potential. To have the best lather, you need to expect it, and work for it. What could any reasonable person expect, after hearing what the ignorant, spoiled shavers of today have to say about Williams?

Only after being practically forced to lather it in my palm for an extended period, because of how my overall technique was developing, could I finally "get" it -- which is to say, how to lather shaving soap. The same story, in various stages, is repeated all over the internet, and in reality, it's tragic. It's as heartbreaking as Carly Simon.

The simplest remedy, in the form of free advice, would be to insist that you must learn to lather this soap. One other solid soap would be allowed prior to Williams, or a few drops of Humphreys may be applied to Williams for a short training period. After that, if you can't figure it out, you lose. Grow a beard.


But of course, failure is not an option. Because I think that what you're really looking for in your acquisitions, what we're all looking for and cannot be denied, is a shave that leaves your face completely unharmed and natural-feeling. Williams is absolutely your best shot at that. I will therefore describe my method to the best of my ability.

How To Lather Williams

Wet the brush moderately (dip only the canopy for synthetics and badger; wet more, but less than dripping, for boar). Holding the puck in your other hand, gently melt one of its surfaces with the brush tip, as if it were watercolor paint. Little to no water should be running off the puck, unless you overloaded the water. Lift the resultant soap solution into the brush, also like paint. Then reapply to the puck (like paint) repeatedly, until all the water, now a thicker fluid called "protolather," is consumed by the brush. Don't add any water to the puck, or any air to the brush.

When the puck has thus been cleaned of liquid, move the contents of the brush to your palm and start whisking, carefully mixing any thin fluid trying to escape from the side of the (synthetic) brush. Add water incrementally, looking for a sheen that persists after thorough mixing. More importantly, feel for the brush-tip sensation to recede markedly, and rub your thumb and finger together to check that you cannot feel your fingerprint. Then, just whip it up to the airy thickness that you like. It really can compare to canned cream, though I don't think that helps it to endure.

What will help it last longer is to presaturate your skin with whatever sticks to your hand, after the brush is loaded. Place a soaking wet cloth over that, and wipe. Now, when the lather is applied, no part of it will try to migrate into your face, causing the lather to break down.

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