To wetshave or not to wetshave?

Someone asked me today to think about how and why I got into wetshaving and restoring razors.  I must admit, I was taken aback by the question. It's obvious isn't it?  Not just obvious, but obviously obvious.  But is it, though?

Like many others, I was brought up to look up to generation of men who were clean shaven and reasonably well groomed.  If you were born before 1985, you'd have to agree.  Except for Magnum PI, and the Bandit, most of the good guys in sport, the movies or on television were clean shaven and had visited the barbers recently.  Think about it. the only guys with stubble in the movies were bad guys, soon to be billets for bullets.

I must admit, I have always respected clean shaven; I have always respected a beard.  Stubble, made me think of eating beans in the heat of a desert, waiting for the good guy to shoot me with his .45 for stealing his gal / horse / homestead / best lines.


In case you need help in identifying the good and bad guys. Tip: who reached for the razor first?


Like many others, my reasons for shaving are probably difficult to analyse. When I was younger, few sported beards; today it's popular to do so. Some of my earliest memories of my father were sitting watching him shave. It was a special time for us, a male ritual in an otherwise female dominated house. He'd be there, brush in hand, soaping then making funny expressions as he shaved with his Gillette Slim. Over time, his shaves got quicker and our talks became briefer when the first cans of shaving foam arrived in our houslehold. 

Next year, I will be 46 years old, the same age as he was when he passed away.  Seeing what shaving choices he would have made as he got older is (seriously) the least of the things I missed as I grew up without him.  That said, I am sure that had he lived, he would be back with his Gillette, popping a new blade in and dialling it up to an aggressive shave.  I wonder what he would have made of the soaps available today? 

I remember finding my father's box of five or six straight razors.  He had developed an interest in them when in his early twenties.  To me, they were weird looking things with old plastic handles.  Somehow, I managed to put them back without touching the edge with my fingers.  In fact, I'm surprised that I managed to avoid the opportunity to do something dumb. 

When I mentioned them to him, he got all serious and explained that I was NOT to touch them again. They were SHARP and they were DANGEROUS. 

I liked the sound of that; I was hooked. My interest in straight razors was ignited.



Let me introduce you to an open combed, beast of a razor. It's my grandfather's razor. He bought it in 1939, just before the outbreak of WW2.  He gave up using a straight razor for this.  He shaved with it every day, until he bought a Gillette Mach 3 in his late seventies. This razor survived Dunkirk, like him, having received some attention from German aircraft.  My grandfather's face was usually covered in bits of tissue paper when he shaved.  Looking back, I've realised that he didn't stretch his skin. Had he realised that, he would have saved a small fortune on toilet roll. 

He used to joke, that he lost more blood with his razor than he did at Dunkirk.  That's not true, by the way.  Many years later he was in hospital when a young doctor asked, evidently concerned about the x-ray of my grandfather's legs asked him if he could account for the dark shadows in his leg. "Sure", he said, "they're the property of the German Government".  It was shrapnel.

So, I recognise my grandfather's influence on me being clean shaven too.  It's a family thing, it's what the men around me did. It's a cultural thing.  I grew up shaving every day.  Now, I am not implying that it was a pleasure. I just didn't feel as if I had a choice in the matter.

That's the peculiar thing. Most of our lives are made up of the repetitive and the ordinary. So, why not enjoy the repetitive and ordinary experiences?  Why not enjoy shaving? 

The usual things drove me to wetshave with soap, brush and a proper razor.  Well, except for the fact that living in a rural community, the old shaving tools never really went away; plus they were cheaper.  Palmolive, Ingrams, Erasmic, Wilkinson Sword, were all brands that an old-fashioned chap like me could find locally.  So, in many respects, I never really didn't shave 'properly'.  That said, my skin improved through not using cartridge razors like the Mach 3.  Sometimes, I feel a bit sickened by the memory of how long I used to hang onto a cartridge razor - I am sure that somewhere in the world there are scores of rusting cartridge razors with enough of my DNA to build an army of clones.  The really bad news is that those bits of plastic will last forever.


That's the real reason I love wetshaving - it doesn't hurt this wonderful garden of a planet of ours. Plastic razors are bad news.  A straight razor is the ultimate counter-disposable culture item.  They just last and last.  Take this razor as an example.  It was made around 1860.  Today, its latest owner is shaving regularly with this razor. That's well over 150 years of usefulness.



If I had a son, I would advise him to make up his own mind. Shave real or grow a beard.



Just be a good guy. Live a meaningful life.










  • I wet shaved for the first time with a disposable razor like my father used. I couldn’t wait. At 15 my tender beard had been growing in and even though I was proud of that, it wasn’t looking very nice yet. So it was time to shave. I bought a cartridge razor and some shave cream and proceeded to test shave a very small postage stamp sized spot on my jawline to see how my skin would react. It didn’t take long. My skin was sensitive to shaving with a cartridge. The itching happened immediately. Then the razor bumps and ingrown hairs. That was it for me. It was electric shapeup trimmers for the next 27 years. I was never “clean” shaven During that time. Then I read an article about straight razors. I was always fascinated by the razor I only saw used in old movies. The article said that straight razors were great for sensitive skin. So I bought my first straight razor, a genco, on Etsy. It was tarnished but in great shape. I stropped the razor and shaved with it. It was love at first shave. No bumps. And I believe the best thing of all was how relaxing the whole ritual was. From putting a hot cloth on my beard, to carefully making sure I didn’t cut any bologna off my face, the whole thing was a meditation. I wished my first shave as a 15 year old was with a straight.

  • Evening Huw, yours is a fascinating journal. Please keep it up.
    I look forward to another of your fine razors in time.
    All the best, Tim

    Tim Hieghton-Jackson

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