Category Archives: Our Favorite Shaving Gear

Hard Water Lathering Problems – You Should Try Filtered Water

All of us want a better lather right?  In our search for a better lather, we have found RO water to be far superior to tap water.  Now, if you live in someplace like Hawaii, where the water is pristine, fresh, and is not hard… well, we hate you.  But for the rest of us, hard water is a cold hard reality.  Hard water makes for a less than stellar lather, does not produce as much lather, is not as slick as it can be, and is hard on your brush(es).  The solution is filtered water.  Removing all or most of the calcium and fluoride will make for a much better lather, and keep your brush cleaner, longer.

Why Hard Water is Bad

First, we must examine what hard water is. Hard water is water that has a large amount of dissolved minerals, such as calcium and magnesium. The more minerals in your water, the harder it is. In fact, the term hard water originated from our forebears having difficulty lathering with said water. It was, and still is, “hard water” to lather with. Getting even more technical, it is the Group 11 alkali earth minerals (particularly calcium or magnesium) which make the water hard. Learn more about them here. These minerals are either missing or in significantly reduced concentrations in soft water. I don’t know why its called soft water other than its the opposite of hard.

So why do the minerals interfere with the lathering process? Well, believe it or not, hard water makes lathering any soaps harder. Including your daily hand, dish, and body cleansing soaps. Soap is made from sodium byproducts, the result of combining animal or vegetable oils and fats with lye in a process called saponification, that easily bubble into a full lather when combined with pure water. When combined with soft water, the soap serves as a surfactant. The Calcium and Magnesium molecules interferes with this process. Instead of producing rich, bubbly lather, hard water makes a white precipitate (soap scum) instead. “This effect arises because the 2+ ions destroy the surfactant properties of the soap by forming a solid precipitate (the soap scum).” Wikipedia.

Thus, hardness is scientifically defined as the soap consuming properties of a water sample.

While there are many methods used to combat hard water, from boiling the water to using baking soda. The best method by far is to use enhanced water. Enhanced through actual filtration or through a soft water system.

Filtered Water

I really like RO water, but understandably, most people do not have RO systems in their houses, and they are expensive. Bottled water would be ridiculous. A water filter from Brita or Pur is not particularly expensive and will produce good results. Either the over the faucet or pitcher model will work well. And you get to drink better tasting water!

If you want the same results as RO water without the expense, go to your store and pick up a gallon of distilled water. It should only cost a dollar or two. Otherwise, buy a half gallon. Distilled water is very inexpensive and will produce the same effects as RO water. If you live in a hard water area, you really need to try soft water. It makes lathering so much easier and enjoyable.

Our Must Have Straight Razor Shaving Products

These are my tried-and-true RECOMMENDED products for NEW or OLD STRAIGHT RAZOR USERS. From the razor to the soap, I’ve listed the best of the best. I have personally tested and used each of these products. Follow the advice in my blog, use these products, and you’ll experience the joys of a traditional straight razor wet-shave every morning. As a bonus, I’ve also included some top rated pre and post shave products as well.

Sure they’re a bit pricey, but they’re all one-time costs. Even the soaps last for years and years. The razor, brush, stand and strop will last your whole life and those of your grandchildren! Divided over 50 years, your paying pennies on the dollar! Compared to the popular cartiridge razors, you’ll end up saving a ton of money in the long-run! Plus, you’ll be creating less waste and saving the environment!


J.A. Henckels Stainless Steel Straight Razor

Fromm Premium Straight Razor Leather Strop

Semogue Silvertip Shaving Brush

Omega Brush Stand

Geo F. Trumper Soap

Proraso Shaving Cream

We Also Recommend: 

Neutrogena Men Face Moisturizer
Proraso Pre Shaving Cream 3.6oz
The Art of Shaving Pre-Shave Oil
Styptic Pencil (Pack of 6)
Alum Block
Norton Combination Waterstone 4000/8000 Grit

Straight Razor Wet-Shaving Equipment: The Only Guide You Need

Below are lists of the equipment you should have in your straight razor shaving kit. Starting from the absolute minimalist to the full kitchen sink, we’ve got suggestions for every straight razor user and their commitment/budget level.

 Click on any of the pictures to purchase.

Bare Bones Minimum

This setup is recommended for the man who just wants to try a straight razor shave before jumping in. All you need in this setup is a shave ready straight razor. We cannot emphasize this point enough. Razors from Pakistan are not shave ready and never will be. Only some razors from China can be made shave ready. Fromm straight razors need to be professionally sharpened before use. Dovo and Thiers Issard usually put a decent edge on their razors from the factory, but it is still advisable to get them professionally sharpened. If you purchase a used razor, you definitely need to get it sharpened unless it is sold by a reputable seller you trust. Assuming you are already shaving, you should already have at the very least, canned shaving cream. Follow our guide on inexpensive strop alternatives and I’m sure you’ll find something you can use lying around the house or for free. Now, all that said, going this route is not a long term solution. Without proper stropping, the razor is going to go dull much quicker than it should. Expect the razor to last a week or two at most. So, if you just want to try straight razor shaving, try to figure out if you are going to stick with it after the second or third shave. Then buy a strop or sell the razor for close to what you paid for it.


The Minimalist

Wet shaving with a straight razor is a fantastic experience and places you among a select group of men who refuse to follow the flow. If you decide to join our club, you should do it right. That means buying a good straight razor, a decent strop (or making your own), a good brush, and shaving soap/cream/stick. The wet shaving gear is necessary because if your going to straight razor shave, you should do it right. A straight razor shave using canned goop is no real straight razor shave. Shaving with a straight razor is a ritual of sorts and should be enjoyed to the fullest. This means hot water, warm soap, great scents, and relaxation. There is simply no substitute for a good brush and soap. It will bring you back to the days of our forebears. Days when men used to go to the barber for a full service shave.

Enough cannot be said about why you need a strop. Unless you want to sharpen your razor yourself every other week, not using one really isn’t an option for the long term. Lets look at it this way: a beginner can expect three to six months of good straight razor shaving before the razor should be resharpened. A veteran can expect six to twelve months of daily use if he/she strops correctly using a cloth/leather strop. As you can see, the benefits of stropping are great and the cost isn’t terribly much. Especially if you make your own by heading to your local leather store, buy a 2.5″ x 14″ strip of leather, punching a hole in one end, and threading a leather thong through it. Check out our guide to stropping part 1.

Check out Shaving 101’s similar recommendations for the minimalist setup.


The Deluxe Kit

In addition to everything in the Minimalist Kit, the serious straight razor user should add the following: an alum block, a styptic pencil, liquid bandaid, aftershave, & SPF facial sunscreen. The alum block is a natural antiseptic and is used right after the shave to cleanse the skin and stop any weepers or nicks. A styptic pencil is for stopping more serious nicks so you can apply the liquid bandaid afterwards. Or you could use a regular bandaid, but trust us, the liquid version looks a lot less inconspicuous. SPF sunscreen should be used for obvious reasons. Not only does it normally come with a moisturizer, but the SPF protects your face from premature ageing. I know, I know, men shouldn’t worry about it. Okay, well, it still protects from melanoma, which is deadly serious.

The serious straight razor user may want to seriously consider a second straight razor. The reason being that you’ll want to send the razor out for resharpening when it gets dull. Or you can spend hundreds of dollars and the same amount of hours learning to hone your own razor. The second razor serves as both a backup razor and also prolongs the time period between sharpenings. By using the razor half as much, it dulls half as quickly. We recommend a sharpening schedule something like this: send each razor out every six months, but alternate the months when you send each razor. For example, on month three send the first razor; on month six send the second razor. Then wait until month 9 to resend the first razor. Repeat.

The serious straight razor needs a serious strop. No one makes a better strop in the US than Tony Miller. There are copies, but the original is still the best. Some strops from other countries are just as good or better, but they also cost substantially more. Whichever strop is purchased, it should have a cotton/linen and leather component. Ideally you would be able to take the strop apart to both replace components if you damage the leather and flip the cloth side over. Webbing is used in some strops, but we don’t really like the webbing and cannot recommend it. Buy the cotton version. The serious straight razor user may also want a chromium oxide or diamond spray for periodic touch ups in between professional sharpenings. Read our article about how to use these components for more information.

The Complete Setup

The following products are not only for completionists, they are for the serious wet shaver. As a bonus, following this routine will immensely increase your skin health and vigor. Okay, but on to the actual products. Start with a facial scrub. You should be soaking your beard before you shave anyway. Washing your face is one of the best ways to do this. Using an exfoliant scrub is recommended by some wet shavers, but any gentle facial cleanser will do. Alternatively, you can wrap a hot towel around your face. OR you can do both! The hot water and cleansing action will open the pores, soften the hairs, and remove excess oil and skin; allowing for a closer, cleaner shave.

Follow this up with a pre-shave oil. The pre-shave oil will soften the hairs even further and provide additional glide to the shaving soap. The benefit of pre-shave oil over just water is that the oil will stay on your face longer and won’t dry out as quickly. They are also advertised to help protect the skin. In addition, pre shave oil helps with the prevention of ingrown hairs, razor bumps, and weepers. The best pre-shave oils and creams use natural oils, such as coconut, sunflower, olive or other oils drawn from plants. Unlike mineral oil, natural oils are low on the grease factor, so they won’t clog pores and cause damage to your skin. Also, keep your eyes open for pre-shave oils that contain antibacterial agents; these will help guard against breakouts and painful cuts.

Post shave, wet shavers recommend a post shave cream or oil. Aftershave can also be used, but aftershaves contain alcohol which dries out the skin. Not to mention, you should be using the alum block anyway, so you have no need for the alcohol. Post-shave products will relieve burn, dryness, razor bumps, and some will even help heal cuts. In addition, they re-moisturize your face. To make it simple, look for aftershave balms and gels that contain vitamins C and E, natural oils to moisturize and aloe to help heal the skin. Post-shave products with built-in sunscreen are also a solid purchase.

The final ingredient to the complete setup is


Everything & the Kitchen Sink

This one isn’t really a recommendation, so much as an extension of razor addiction. Unfortunately straight razor use carries the risk of a slight desire to buy more. And who can blame us? Straight razors are a collectible after all. They can last for lifetimes and they look amazing (at least to the straight razor community). Anyway, on to our recommendations for the person who has it all. The kitchen sink is pictured because this person will probably be using that sink to learn how to sharpen their razor.

This person is going to want at least one other razor. Another razor is desirable for a number of reasons. By using your razor half as often, it needs to be honed half as often. No, the fin does not grow back over 48 hours, that is just hogwash and an old wive’s tale. Another benefit is that when you send the razor out to be honed, you still have a straight razor on hand to shave with. A definite benefit. Follow our recommendations above in the Deluxe Kit. A seven day set is not unheard of. In fact, they are quite possibly the coolest straight razor sets.

This person definitely wants at least one other brush. Not only does having an additional brush cut down on the wear & tear on your brushes, but it changes up the shaving experience ever so slightly; keeping things interesting. A second brush also allows the first brush to completely dry out in between shavings. This helps reduce moisture problems such as mold or smell developing. Three brushes are even better. Four brushes might be overkill, but perhaps a seven day brush set isn’t that far fetched considering they exist for straight razors. We recommend buying different brands to keep it interesting. We like Semogue and Shavemac. Penworks also makes great brushes.

And the kitchen sink setup cannot be complete without several soaps, creams, pre-shave products, and after shave products to choose from. From every scent D.R. Harris and Geo F. Trumper produce to the entire Penhaligon’s line of EDTs, this person has it all. And why shouldn’t we have a huge variety of scents. Variety is the spice of life after all. Changing the daily routine is a great way to keep things fresh.

Don’t Forget the Hones

Finally, the kitchen sink needs sharpening stones. And we say the kitchen sink because outside of a sharpening pond, there really isn’t a better place to sharpen knives and razors at. The reason being that sharpening requires a water source. A spray bottle works with some stones, but for the most part, the kitchen sink provides both drainage and a steady source of water. For this person, it is hard to beat the Norton 4k/8k stone pictured above. While not nearly as good as what professionals use, the edge off the 8k stone is shave ready. Its good to go. The added benefit of this combination stone is that it comes with a stone holder/storage container. Its also beefy enough to not require an additional holder to bring it up to the correct level. For the truly serious straight razor person who wants to sharpen their own razors, the 16k stone from Shapton is hard to beat. Purchase the stone holder too for optimal performance. Other stone holders don’t work too well with the glass/ceramic Shaptons. Again, the edge can get better but at that point, your possibly losing money compared to just sending it out for professional servicing.

The Survivalist

The survivalist’s end of the world scenario probably doesn’t include shaving at all. But the self sufficient attitude will permeate into daily life. The straight razor is the only choice for the self sufficient male. Unless this same person can forge their own razor, they’ll still need to buy one in the open market. This man will make his own strop out, preferably out of the hide of an animal he’s killed himself. There are tanneries that do this. Alternatively, he can strop on the palm of his hand and on the pants he’s wearing.

When the end of the world comes, shaving is an absolute luxury. A brush and soap is going to last a lot longer than canned shaving gel. We have no specific recommendations for the end of the world, but a boar brush might be more rugged than a silvertip shaving brush. Omega makes a nice one. Any soap should do; the problem would be finding water. The end of the world is going require the survivalist to maintain his knives and razors himself. Consequently we recommend the Norton 4k/8k or a Coticule. Either stone is incredibly versatile and can sharpen both knives and razors.

Liquid Bandaid – Every Man Needs This in His Shave Kit

Click to Purchase


Ever since they started marketing liquid band-aids I’ve been intrigued. The concept was always so high tech and neat. The military’s been using the technology for a while now. No more problems with water, falling off, or looking funny. That said, the tech really isn’t any different than superglue. The problem was always the same as superglue. Once you opened it up, the stuff dried out and was useless. Most other brands of liquid bandaid come in single use superglue-like tubes. This stuff comes in a bottle. A bottle that can be re-used over and over again. For thousands of cuts. And trust me, it even works for cuts so bad you think you might need stitches. Yes, I’ve had to do that when I cut my finger extremely badly and I didn’t have medical insurance. Well, I still don’t, but hopefully I’ll have insurance again soon.

Over the past few years I’ve been using New-Skin liquid bandage. You would think that I would be cut more often from sharpening razors. But the truth is that I can’t even remember the last time I cut myself actually sharpening a razor. I cut myself grabbing one of my razors to be sharpened, but never while actually sharpening. No, I’m actually kind of clumsy and cut myself on stuff like broken glass and scratch myself. My accident prone self loves this stuff. It is so much more aesthetically pleasing and permanent than regular bandaids. This stuff belongs in every man’s shaving kit.

The largest advantage is that it comes in a reusable bottle. No more drying out and becoming useless. The antiseptic makes this even better. I’ve been using it to treat everything from small nicks from shaving to pretty deep wounds from being careless. To any teenagers reading this, it also works great to seal up a pimple you’ve just popped. I should note that the stuff does sting when you put it on. I feel that its the products way of telling us its killing all the cells in the area. Sort of like rubbing alcohol. Nevertheless, I prefer to stop the bleeding and sanitize using alcohol soaked toilet paper. If the bleeding persists I use a styptic pencil. The rest is common sense. All in all, for $5 this is a great addition to the first aid and shaving kit.

How to Use

Using this stuff is pretty self explanatory. However, I’ll briefly go over how I use the stuff. I should also note that this product works best in combination with a styptic pencil or alum block. First things first: stop the bleeding. If its a huge gash, see a doctor. Or if you can’t afford one, use pressure and sterile gauze to soak up the blood. For small nicks and cuts from shaving follow these simple steps: 1) Sterilize the cut with soap and water, and then a topical disinfectant. 2) Stop the bleeding using a styptic. 3) Wait for the styptic to work. 4) Unscrew the bottle, wipe off excess liquid bandaid using the lip of the bottle and apply to the wound.

Styptic Pencils – A Shaving Kit Must Have

Click to Buy!


Styptic pencils were once found in every shaving kit. Since the decline of the DE razor, styptic pencils have disappeared off store shelves. The good news is they’re still being made. The bad news is that they’re a little harder to find. Nowadays you would be lucky to find these in the mom & pop pharmacy down the street. Don’t worry too much though, Amazon has them for a little over $1/pencil  for a pack of 6. Click the link above if interested.

The styptic pencil is an anti-hemorrhaging agent. Meaning, it stops bleeding. Great for small nicks and cuts obtained while shaving. Any veteran straight razor user will tell you that straight razor shaving is not fool-proof. Small nicks and cuts are not as rare as I would like them to be. Especially if you have adult acne or bumps on your face. The styptic pencil stops the bleeding quickly and easily. It is also an antiseptic. The bad news is that styptic stings. It also leaves a slightly white residue on your face and it feels weird on your hands. The good news is that styptic washes off with water and soap. The feeling may stay, but the styptic washes off unless you used way too much.

How to Use

Its not necessary, but it is a good idea to disinfect the area with 70% alcohol first. Even though styptic is an antiseptic, its still a good idea to wipe away excess blood and disinfect. To use the pencil, cup a little water in the palm of your hand; rub the tip of the pencil around to get it wet; and apply to the area. You don’t need to apply liberally in most cases. For a shallow cut, the bleeding usually stops on its own with a splash of cold water. A light application of styptic will stop the bleeding right up. For deeper cuts, multiple applications may be necessary. In a little while the bleeding should stop. Wash off the styptic pencil under running water to clear away any blood that got on the tip. It probably won’t do anything other than look bad, but the only downside is you lose some styptic with the tap water.

After the foregoing, you need to wait a little bit for the bleeding to stop. A second application may be necessary, so don’t wash off the blood quite yet. Once the bleeding has stopped, you need to seal the wound. A bandaid is old school tech. I highly recommend this liquid bandaid. It will both keep the wound sterile and its waterproof.

While certainly not a true necessity, at $1/pencil, you really should have this in your shaving kit or den.

ASR Endorses Tony Miller Strops

Besides from the fact that Tony Miller is perhaps the nicest person to talk to (whether on the phone or over email), he makes the finest strops in the US. And that pretty much sums up this endorsement. Tony shouldn’t be confused with Neil Miller of StropShopUK. Neil looks like he makes some fine strops too, but we haven’t been able to get our hands on any examples, being across the pond and all. But on this side of the world, Tony is the undisputed leading craftsman of strops. He uses the best materials and puts in a labor of love that is evident in all his work. Even when he made padfolios and quit making strops for a while.

Tony uses the best materials possible and it shows when you use his strops. His cotton and linen are superb and is superior to any alternatives we’ve tried. The leather Tony uses has always been superb. From his latigo, to his horsehide, to his “nodovan.” Each leather performs fantastically and does the job with flying colors. Stropping on the horsehide is pure joy, the nodovan is slick like real cordovan, and the latigo has draw for those who like it. That so many have copied his strop design speaks to its brilliance. The leather handles is quite simply better. Some people prefer D-rings, but unless you have big fingers, there’s enough space to put a finger or two in between the hardware.

The problem is that Tony doesn’t always have the strop you want in stock. In fact, you have to show up on the right day, at the right time and order while he’s still selling what you want. Click here for his ordering page. Tony is a true craftsman; he makes what he wants, when he wants to. He doesn’t make stuff that is junk just because people want it. He has pride in his work and you can tell in the finished product. As of publishing date, he’s only got his new “steerhide” leather in the works. This new leather is a great replacement for latigo. The waxy feeling always bothered us and made it hard to use.

We’re going to end this article with a note about strop width. Three inches allows you to strop without an X-pattern. However, it only works if your razor’s edge is perfectly flat and don’t purchase any new razors with a curve. Otherwise, you have an extra 1/2″ of leather that never gets used since you’ll be doing X’s anyway. That’s why Tony didn’t offer it until this new batch of strops, 2.5″ is the better strop and more versatile. Once you’ve mastered the x-pattern, it becomes second nature and you’ll find it does a better job of stropping the entirety of the blade, regardless of whether its smiling or not.

So to conclude, Tony Miller’s strops are truly heirloom strops. They are built to last and they look fantastic. Any truly serious straight razor user should own one. But not until they’ve mastered stropping. You don’t want to nick one of these beauties.

ASR Reviews: Tabac Shaving Soap

Ah, Tabac. No other soap elicits such diametrically opposed feelings. Sold in a 4.4 oz puck, Tabac is one of the cheapest $/oz tallow soaps. But for all its praises, Tabac has one severely fatal flaw. But if you can get past the one middling side effect of Tabac use, you will enjoy some of the best lather to be had.

Let me start off with the good. Tabac makes some excellent lather. In fact, in terms of lather quality, I cannot think of a single soap that exceeds the cushioning, slickness, and ease of lather that Tabac exhibits. Tabac easily lathers up using hard, soft, or filtered water. The shave quality is excellent, providing a very slick lather and does not dry out terribly quickly. This is not to say that Tabac does not dry out, you probably want to re-wet your lather after shaving half your face, but if you are quick, you can do an entire pass without re-wetting the lather. Which brings me to cushioning. The cushioning of Tabac is everything a tallow soap should be. Which also means that you shouldn’t buy this if you are a vegetarian.

Finally, we get to the negative part. And after such a glowing review, you must be asking yourself “what could possibly be wrong with Tabac?” Well, that would be a good question if this were any other soap. It isn’t the price. Dollar per ounce, Tabac probably represents the best value for performance out of any shaving soap. Yet, for all its glowing qualities, Tabac has an extremely odorous scent. I’m not saying it smells bad. But I am saying it has a strong smell. Now, that said, some people actually really love the smell of Tabac, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, Tabac’s scent is…unique, for lack of a better term. This unique scent is extremely powerful as well. Lather up a fresh puck of Tabac and you are instantly assaulted with the smell of…well, Tabac! I really cannot describe the smell. Some say it smells like old man, some say it smells like baby powder, others say it smells awful. I just call it Tabac. It is unmistakable and very pungent.

The good news is that if you can get past the smell, Tabac is one of the best shaving soaps available. The even better news is that the smell eventually dies down, although unlike a new badger brush, the smell is very pungent for months. The weird news is that you might actually like the scent.

Bottom line: Best bang for your buck shaving soap.


ASR Endorses: Tallow Soap

Soap is an essential part of the wet-shaving experience. Along with a good brush, soap makes or breaks the shave. Yet there are thousands of soaps to choose from and many independent soap makers. Most soaps today are made from glycerin. While good, there is something about tallow that makes for a better lather for straight shaving. Tallow soap is slicker and adds a layer of cushioning. The slicker the lather, the better the shave. And there is just something about the tallow that leaves the skin feeling better.

If you don’t already use tallow soap, we highly recommend you buy a puck. Not too many makers still use tallow shaving soap. Only a handful of major manufacturers still list tallow as the main ingredient. Tabac is certainly one of the cheaper brands, very reliable, but it has a very strong and unique odor. That said, tallow isn’t for everyone. It is made from the fat of animals, so it is not vegetarian friendly. But if you can get past that, it makes an excellent soap.

List of Current Confirmed Tallow Soaps

Arko – Shaving Stick

Cella Crema – da Barba Shaving Soap; Sapone Shaving Soap

Czech and Speake – No 88 Shaving Soap; Oxford and Cambridge Shaving Soap

DR Harris – Hard Shaving Soaps & Sticks

Mitchel’s Wool Fat

Palmolive – EU & Fiji Shaving Sticks

Ralph Lauren Safari Shaving Soap

Sir Irisch Moos Shave Stick


Valobra Shaving Stick

The Art of Shaving lists glycerin as the main ingredient in their soap on their website, but instore boxes still list tallow.

Erasmic Shaving Stick lists glycerin as their main ingredient on Amazon.

Wilkinson Sword has glycerin listed as an ingredient at West Coast Shaving.