A close shave

I’ve been shaving with a double-edged safety razor for a few months now. While I generally focus on technique, a BBS (baby’s-bottom smooth) shave is always a goal. And I frequently get large BBS areas, but even after some touch-up, there is always a spot or two that interrupts the otherwise pristine landscape. But I know that a true BBS shave is possible, at least.

My usual experience is rather Zen-like. With no hearing, I thought that I was focused on the tactile feedback of the razor, while enjoying the scent of the soap or cream of the day. I watch the brush whip up a lather in the ceramic bowl, and enjoy the silky smoothness of silvertip badger as it glides across my face while applying the lather.

I took a deep breath this morning, and put on my processors before my shave.

The first thing I noticed was all the noise that the sink makes – water shooting out of the faucet, and gurgling down the drain. With a dollop of Musgo Real shaving cream in a ceramic bowl, I started whipping up the lather. The hardwood handle of my brush makes a pretty loud clink when it hits the ceramic! And my wedding ring makes a smaller clink when I adjust my grip on the bowl.

The brush is surprisingly silent as I apply the lather. Maybe a coarser brush would make a little bit of sound. And I notice the scent of the cream more than usual. It feels like the whole experience is in color rather than in black and white. I can hear tiny bubbles pop on the left side, but not on the right. It’s time for a tune-up visit to the audiologist.

Now down to business, starting with a WTG (with-the-grain) pass. My 1947 Gillette Aristocrat razor has a 4-day-old blade in it (this wasn’t planned ahead). The first thing I notice is that it is easier to get the handle angle correct for this pass. The razor is mild enough that I never feel a single hair get cut WTG. But with the sound turned on, I can adjust the angle until I hear the whiskers getting cut.

Normally I skimp on the XTG (across-the-grain) pass, but gave it a shot today. The cutting sounds are like a credit card sliding across some cardboard. But what is this? I can focus more closely, and hear bunches of hairs getting cut. Even more closely, and I can hear the individual hairs contributing to the chorus!

The big test is the ATG (against-the-grain) pass. I don’t think of the sounds as the razor singing or scraping. At this point, each whisker (OK, small area of beard) has its own voice. Thicker parts of the beard have a coarser sound, while thinner parts, such as near the base of my neck, sound smoother, quieter, and more gentle. I’m not exactly blade buffing, but the sound of the whiskers is an immediate feedback signal telling me whether to take another swipe or move on to the next area.

As I type this, my hands keep wandering up to feel the silky smoothness of my face. This is truly the first completely BBS shave I’ve ever had. And it would not have been possible without the auditory feedback. Being able to hear truly enriches my life in ways that continue to surprise me.

– Howard Samuels

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