When you decide to ditch crappy disposable blades and electric razors in favor of indulgent wet shaving, there’s an initial, unavoidable ramp-up cost: You need to acquire a good razor, a good shaving brush, good shaving soap, and ideally, an alum block. But none of that stuff is useful without good blades.
When I started wet shaving a couple years ago, I bought a Merkur Model 180 Long Handled Safety Razor, which I still use and love. And since I was buying a Merkur razor, I figured it made good sense to pick up some Merkur double-edged razor blades, too. So I bought 50 of them, for about $30. (I now know that I can make a blade last about a week, so that was essentially a year’s worth of blades.)
The one problem: I hate the Merkur razor blades. They hurt my face.
As it turns out, the decision of which blade to buy is a pretty personal one. It depends upon which razor you use, how tightly you tighten the razor after installing the blade, and your shaving angle. Different blades perform differently in different razors, and on different beards.
The solution, then, is to try many blades. But how?
The sampler pack
You want a sampler pack. These are, unsurprisingly, assembled by folks who buy numerous blade packs, and mix and match the results to put together a scattershot collection of blade brands. You can buy 100 blades for $25, which is kind of a steal. But once you get the sampler pack, you’ll want to use the right process for determining your favorite brand.
Pro-tip: The right process isn’t trying a new blade each time you shave until you find your favorite.
Instead, try this approach: First, pick a blade brand at random from your sampler back, open the box, and get started. You’re going to use the new razor blade brand for a couple weeks. You want to average out all sorts of potential blade hiccups—extra beard growth if you skip a day, the occasional rogue bad blade, your own bad shaving prep one day, and so on.
If it all possible, you’ll want to avoid the urge to experiment with your shaving soap and brush prep; rather, keep all other things equal as you experiment with your new blade brand.
After you know the shave with that blade well, switch to another brand. You don’t need to take notes or keep a log, either. Just start using the new blade, with the same basic prep, for another couple weeks to average out all those same variances. Then, answer for yourself one question: Is the shave with this blade brand better?
Define “better” however you like. I look for a solid combination of feel and effect—that is, how the blade feels on the skin, and what kind of shave it performs. If a shave looks great but feels awful, I’m not interested in the blade. And if the shave feels delightful on my face, but leaves me with an 11:45am shadow, I’m similarly disappointed.
Use the new blade for a couple weeks, and decide whether it’s, to your judgment, superior or inferior to the first. If the first was superior, go back to that blade for a couple weeks again, so that you can get your face used to that experience once more. If the newer blade’s the better option, you’re ready to try the next brand from your sampler.
Continue the process without rushing it: Try new blade brands for a couple weeks at a time, and decide whether they’re better or worse than your previously-selected favorite. If they’re better, try the next brand to compare. If they’re worse, go back again to your current favorite for a couple weeks. And I’ll stress once more that you shouldn’t experiment with the rest of your shaving ritual—razor, brush, soap—during this process.
My favorite won’t be yours
And while I’m repeating myself, it bears extra emphasis: There is no one perfect blade; the one that works best for me may well not work best for you. Again, it’s entirely dependent on your face, your razor, and your angle.
Some folks swear by Feather blades, which have a reputation as being very sharp, mostly because they are very sharp. I find that the downside to Feather blades is that, no matter how patiently I shave, I end up with neck nicks when I use those blades in my razor. All that extra blood helps me get a smooth shave, but nobody makes me bleed my own blood.
In my experimentation, I found that—for now, at least—Rainbow blades are my favorites. Of course, they come with a couple significant downsides: They ship in cardboard boxes, not the sturdier plastic sleeves that include space for disposing your old blades; they have a higher rate (though still a very low one overall) of dud blades; and—perhaps worst of all—it doesn’t appear that Amazon is selling them right now. (You can get them elsewhere.)
Once you have a favorite blade, you can—and should—still experiment with other blades from time to time. You’ll have plenty left from your sampler pack, and as your shaving technique (and supplies) evolve, it’s worth revisiting other blade brands to see whether your perspective and preferences change.
Now, at some point, we should talk about making great lather. But let’s save that for another time.