I’ve been promising a summary of my three-month foray into Method Shaving, but have been postponing it, probably because I have a love-hate relationship with Charles Roberts’ self-proclaimed “only” wet-shaving system in the world. It is that type of hyperbole and unsubstantiated claims that have driven Method Shaving from an interesting niche concept a few years ago, to a marginalized “cult” following where even the cult-members appear increasingly less-committed to their “religion”. This is unfortunate because I think Method Shaving caries with it some important ideas and approaches that can make for a better shave – but, a dramatic improvement in shaving outcomes it is not!
First then, the theory in normal-speak (as opposed to Roberts’ convoluted, jargon-rich, pseudo-scientific sounding drivel).
1. Water is the key to a good shave – the more water you can keep in contact with the beard, the softer it will be and the better the shave;
2. Traditional shaving soaps and creams can’t hold the copious quantities of water required, and only rare, difficult-to-source, “natural” substances can do so (totally unsubstantiated by any research or supportive documentation).
3. The shaving brush is key to holding and gradually dispensing the required amounts of water to the lather as it builds. To this end, a very thick, large brush is essential in developing a good lather with Roberts’ Hydrolast products.
4. The resulting lather from these natural products must be matched to the qualities of the blade, i.e. if you plan to use a very sharp blade, you need a very good lather for performance and protection.
5. The beard is gradually reduced following a set of “forms”, usually numbering from 4-6. The beard is never cut against-the-grain as this is very irritating to the skin. Some “free-forming” is possible in the final stages, although not encouraged.
And that’s really about it! Although some of the above seems intuitively reasonable, Roberts’ provides absolutely no scientific evidence for any of the claims in his 75-page manifesto; his “experience” and intuition providing the vast majority of the authority for the statements. On the other hand, by using a very extensive and elaborate scientific-sounding jargon of his own invention, we are seduced into believing that there is something more here than personal opinion. A survey of the discussion boards shows that Roberts’ almost religious zeal and proselytizing have been the biggest turn-offs for people who have tried and ultimately abandoned Method Shaving. Second has been the perceived complexity of the whole process.
My own experience with each of the 5 statements above has been as follows:
1. I agree that using a good wet lather is important to softening the beard and getting a smooth and easy shave with a DE blade.
2. Bull! There are some pretty awesome traditional soaps and creams out there that put Hydrolast products to shame – Castle Forbes, Institute Karite, Palmolive (green) shave cream, etc. are all magnificent regardless of price-point.
3. A good brush helps, but I’ve had success with all types and sizes of brush, including the minuscule Simpson Wee Scot. Some work better with different products and you need to experiment to find out what works best for you. BTW, I do really like Roberts’ Shavemaster brush but mainly for its ergonomics which work very well with my sasquatch-like hands.
4. Absolutely true…if you want to use a very sharp blade, you need a very good lather. But, Hell, even if you want to use a crappy blade…you need a very good lather!
5. Anything more than 4 passes leaves my face very irritated (YMMV). I find the three classic passes (WTG, XTG, ATG) plus a 4th finishing pass with a good, thin, shaving oil, to be just right for me. And free-forming with any pass is fine if it doesn’t cut or irritate you – its a great way to get at the little tough bits of stubble that seem to elude the blade if you stick with a prescribed form.