The Contour Plus twin-blade cartridge has been my standard razor since the early nineties. Lately though I've been using the cheaper compatible cartridges from Morrisons, Boots or Superdrug. They're slightly bulkier and don't have quite the range of movement, but seem to shave pretty much as closely and are considerably cheaper. This is still my standard for a quick shave: pretty close, unlikely to break the skin except with a bump, accurately shaves tricky areas around the nose and mouth. Replacement cartridges are 20p to 25p each
Wilkinson Sword 4-blade Quattro
The four blade revolution got much hype, but I found it disappointing. Doesn't shave detectably closer than a twin blade, but the large head makes it unwieldy, leaving about a quarter inch of Hitler moustache under my nose. Cartridges are staggeringly expensive at over a pound each (£1.37 in Superdrug). However as advertised it seems to be almost impossible to cut yourself with it.
Double edged safety razor
Standardized by King Camp Gillette in the early Twentieth Century, this has a double edged replaceable blade mounted perpendicular to the handle. This shaves extremely closely: the closest home shave I'm aware of, though not as close as a barber shave. It takes care and practice to avoid cuts: must be dragged very lightly over the skin, but they become rare with practice. However the large head makes tricky areas like that under the nose a bit fiddly to shave, though it's not as bad as the 4-blade Protector.
Replacement blades are 20p to 25p in shops, or around 10p if bought online.
Shaving Shack Shavette
The Shavette has the folding form of a traditional straight razor, but takes replaceable blades so there's no need to hone and strop. Either dedicated blades, or conventional double-edged blades snapped in half can be used.
Despite the cult popularity of the traditional cut-throat, most actual barbers seem to use some form of Shavette.
Another disappointment. Even on the easy, even sides of the face it seems no closer than a double-edge. Moreover, with no other surface in contact with the face, cuts are frequent when the blade stutters. These cuts are much deeper than the usual, can keep bleeding for up to an hour, and leave visible red cuts a day later, while DE and cartridge cuts usually heal quickly and invisibly.
Not sure how real barbers do it: probably they just have more skill. However last time I was shaved by a barber the Shavette he used had a different design to mine, where the blade was slotted into a gap rather than clamped in place: possibly the design makes a difference.
There's a common misconception that the purpose of lather is to "soften the bristles". In fact the chief purpose is to hold them in place so that the blade can slice them. In general the thicker and gunkier the better: gel is better than foam, tube cream better than gel for a naked blade, though the last can clog the gaps in a multiblade cartridge.
Using shaving soap and a brush takes a bit longer than gel, but does provide a closer shave, both with cartridge and bare blade razors. However, the difference was not noticeable until I used gel on one side of the face and soap/brush on the other.
Shaving oil can be used either as a substitute for conventional lather, or applied before the lather and used as a kind of undercoat.
Applied underneath, it seems to give a smooth shaving experience, but doesn't appear to shave any closer.
Applied alone, it's not quite as close a shave as canned gel. However since you only need a few drops it can be deployed in very small containers, so it could be useful for travelling with.
If used after a shower in either way, it seems to leave a thin film behind even after the lather has been rinsed off. Some might like that feeling, but I found it unpleasant.
Electric shavers are inherently less close than wet shaving, at least at present. A thin mesh is used to protect the skin from the moving blades, so they cannot cut the hairs any shorter than the thickness of the metal.
If you have thick stubble, they also take longer, since you have to keep going over the same area until each hair has finally been pushed through the mesh and intercepted.
Their big advantage is that since they store the cuttings, they can be used anywhere. So even though they take longer, you can wander around or watch TV while you shave.
I used a design with a single oscillating blade in my mid-teens: it worked fine on fuzz, but not very well on adult stubble. Designs with multiple rotating blades like the Philishave are much better for the fully stubbled.
Overall, mostly useful when bathroom time is limited by competition, or for light shavers. If so, it's well worth investing in a rechargeable cordless version for convenience.
My optimum shave
If there's time, I find the best way is to lather with soap and brush, then use a twin-blade cartridge razor to shave with the grain, and do the tricky areas. Then re-lather with the same brush, and use a double-edged razor to go over against the direction of stubble.
This provides a close shave, includes tricky areas, makes cuts unlikely and still takes less than five minutes. Blades should be replaced every two days for optimum sharpness: it's still pretty cheap.
If very hurried though, gel and twin-blade alone provides reasonable results.
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