Let’s face it: for many men, shaving is an expensive drudgery.

Currently, a 10-pack of Gillette Sensor Excel 2 cartridges, the model I’ve been using for nearly 20 years, costs around $21. A cartridge usually lasts me about a week before it starts to pull at my face intolerably. I’ve tried the fancier 3-blade cartridges but they’re even more expensive: $25 to $30 for a 10-pack, depending on whether you want the Mach 3 or Mach 3 Turbo flavor. And the super-premium cartridges with even more blades? Fuhgeddaboudit.

I’m probably spending $100/year, then, on cartridges. Your mileage may vary.

So that takes care of the expensive part. Drudgery? I tend not to shave if I don’t have to. And judging by the number of unshaven guys I see in my circles, I’m guessing they don’t care to shave any more than I do.

So mostly I’ve been looking to save some coin on something I have to do nearly every day. And if I can make the task more enjoyable (or at least less toilsome), that’s icing on the cake.

I considered two alternatives to solve the problem:

Dollar Shave Club is a subscription shaving supply service that has attractive pricing (as little as $1/month) and a funny commercial. I’d have given it a try but a couple friends used it for a while and they weren’t all that jazzed about the blades.

What about retro?

Old School: The Double-Edged Safety Razor

If you pop over to The Art of Manliness, you’ll find an article entitled, “Learn How to Shave Like Your Grandpa.” It explains the technique and tools behind “wet shaving” with a double-edged (DE) safety razor. This is, in fact, the kind of shaving my grandfather did: I remember seeing the razor in his medicine cabinet when I was a kid.

The Art of Manliness has a nifty instructional video to acquaint wet shaving newbies with the process:

After doing some quick research at The Art of Manliness, Badger & Blade (a site for shaving aficionados–whom I didn’t realize existed), and Amazon, I decided to take the plunge into wet shaving. The up-front costs may set you back more than when buying into a cartridge system but the long-term consumables are way less expensive. You can spend more or less on a razor, brush, and other supplies depending on your budget and interest.

Here are the tools I’ve chosen:

From what I’ve read, it’s important to experiment with different blades to find the best choice for you. After you land on a favorite, you can buy double-edge razor blades in packs of 100 for as little as $10. Compare that to a 10-pack of modern cartridges for $20 (or more) and you should be able to recover your initial safety razor investment in less than a year.

So How’s the Shave?

While a typical cartridge razor is very forgiving, there’s a learning curve with a safety razor. I’ve used my new safety razor twice. To be honest, I expected that going retro would trade me cost savings for a worse shave. Here are a few observations:

  • The shave is as close as you want it. Already get a good shave with your expensive cartridge system? You can get that close–or closer–with a DE safety razor. I’ve started with the Feather blades (made in Japan) and they’re very sharp. Maybe a bit too aggressive for my face but, again, I’m experimenting.
  • It takes a little more time. It takes me maybe five minutes at the most to shave with my GIllette Sensor Excel 2. The first couple shaves with the safety razor have taken about 10 minutes. Some of that, I’m sure, results from my inexperience. But the process is also a bit more involved.
  • The experience is exquisite. Yes, I said exquisite. It is a sensory-rich experience. The fresh menthol scent of the shaving cream fills your nostrils. Swirling the brush in the lather cup and the feel of the bristles against your skin beats slopping some slimy air-compressed goo about your face. And the razor itself (at least, the one I purchased) has a solid heft to it that makes it feel more like a well-crafted handmade tool instead of mass-produced plasti-chrome gadget.

After a couple of shaves, I’m pleased with both the quality and experience of old school wet shaving. I’ll check in again after I have a few more miles behind me.

Is a DE safety razor for everybody? Probably not. But maybe you’re the kind of guy who’s learned how to tie a bow tie, enjoys quality writing instruments, or appreciates good timepieces. Wet shaving may appeal to you. And if you’re willing to take the time to learn the process and invest in the right tools, you may take your daily shaving routine from drudgery to delightful–and save some money in the long run.