Developing Touch

After describing the linear function of a DE safety razor with the belt transmission model, I projected that a thorough review of trigonometry would be required to define an angular function. That is, the theoretical means by which cutting power could be optimally applied to hair, instead of skin, in terms of the razor's various control inputs.

Luckily for me, who only learned pre-Calculus, there is an alternative, purely experimental approach: assigning extreme or constant values to isolated variables, for the sake of learning how to adjust the others. Consider this your master class in the art of shaving.

Institutions of Learning as Second Intent

On Badger and Blade, the Excalibur "club thread" was dedicated to shaving with dull blades. These guys didn't say much about how they did it, partly because they were doing something very unusual, and the terminology didn't exist. But I, for one, believed their claims: more than 100 legitimate great shaves from a single DE blade; against normal beard; without unusual effort or pain. So I joined, got about a month of shaves per blade... and will have to share my conclusions here, as I am now excommunicado, after making too much sport of the shavewiki article on pitch selection, and a troll's question about electric shavers.

I had jumped on a prior bandwagon to snap the safety bar off a Tech clone. "Guardless" was not walled off in a special section away from newbies, but originated in an epic, buried thread. Just as well: it wasn't a very good idea. But, exposing very steep and very shallow angles of pitch did teach me to team the fingers of my free hand with the razor, like a barber, eventually leading me to the tension-power formula. Which of course I also tried to share; but my original diagram was expunged to spite this blog's attribution right.

Even the most contrary misdirection offered by the B&B newbie clinic, in this light, could be viewed as a useful exercise. Wielding a DE like a cartridge, at a constant pitch of 30 degrees, a single trial would demonstrate the importance of not pressing the edge into your skin. That would never produce an acceptable shave, however, for those who have already deliberately turned away from modern razors. Traction forces alone are often sufficient to remove the stratum corneum.

Do we not deserve our own golden city, a shining example of freedom and justice for the rest of the world? Trying to elevate commerce to parity with education is not the kind of equality that liberates people. I would go so far as to say it is "ungentlemanly" to defer to such ignorance. And at a certain age, one naturally acquires sufficient character, that the epithets conferred by a marketing cult are no longer pertinent.

Member or no, tolerating pain was never the point of these exercises. But let me be the first Excalibur ex-member to acknowledge how painful learning itself can be. I've made my eyes jitter, trying to compute shaving solutions, knowing the condition of the blade waiting for me in the morning! I intend to help you avoid that, too. This isn't supposed to be a mental form of hazing. Please, always test tools and techniques in terms of their value to YOU. If your results vary from "everyday BBS," allow your skin some latitude and take a shadowy shave. The valor lies in trying again.

Bottom line: change technique before blade. Using a very sharp brand in Excalibur fashion taught me to use oblique strokes everywhere, and the true function of comb guards. My perfect medium blade eliminated XTG as a valid concept, as the most useful skew angles were always aligned with the grain (ATG or WTG). But my smoothest brand, the least acute blade that can shave at zero degrees of skew without bottoming out in the follicles, brought it back. Finally, it revealed what may be the ultimate truth, a grand unified theory of shaving. The Holy Grail, if you will...

Spamelot: not worthy.

Tension Alignment Theory

The problem with really dull blades is the careful balancing that has to happen between an ineffective cutting force, in the direction of skew, and an increasingly significant shearing force caused by friction along the direction of motion. This compounds a descriptive limitation of conventional guidance, of not specifying which control -- skew or motion -- should be aligned to the direction of growth. Usually it's the skew; trouble is now, neither works. Whichever you choose, the hair is twisted, the follicles are damaged, the skin distressed. NOW can we dispose of that blade?

No! Instead of specifying control variables in terms of convention, we should have referred directly to reality. The power function describes a line, and the hair follicle has a linear axis. For the first time, we can clearly sense the key variable of the linear function, tension against the stroke, as tugging on the hair. The "direction of growth" is thus perceived as the actual, three-dimensional orientation of the hair root, which is a far more accurate guide than a two-dimensional projection, or map, of the emergent stubble. Focus on that sensation, and use leverage to pull straight out of each follicle, so that all the energy of your shaving stroke goes into breaking hair.

Tug and Cut

The result is a classic, "tug-and-cut" shave. I can finally confirm that the knights' boast about these shaves being relatively effortless was truth. My free hand has a lot less to do, holding skin taut, with tension elevated to the third dimension. Strokes in the jaw corners that had always been a bit backward and mysterious, like the retrograde motion of planets in the sky, can now be recognized as simply natural. ATG strokes have less need of pressure.

As a beginner, being treated as a commodity by the only available sources of information, you would have been smart to regard tugging as the mark of an inferior product. Catching the hair too high, or repeatedly striking at an incorrect, fixed angle, as modern razors are inclined, does pull the hair. But when precisely directing a well broken-in blade at the base of the hair, using a safe angle of pitch and the proper skew, tugging is a wholly different beast. The only faith required to tame it is in your own senses.

Half a brain, in educated terms. Speaking of which, with the glory of true freedom finally shining before you, I offer this final warning. I've hurt myself very badly trying to apply DE principles to open blades. There's a reason they're always sharpening those things!