Best $20 Father’s Day gift for peak oil

man shaving with a safety razor

Unless dad wants to look like Mountain Man Jeremiah Johnson, he'll need a way to shave after peak oil. Photo: RLHyde via Flickr.

For $20,000, what peak-aware dad wouldn’t want solar panels installed on the roof? Or, if you can pony up $500, and your man has got a more outdoorsy-survivalist bent, a shotgun would make surely him smile.

But for less than $20 you can help Dad build resilience in his daily life by giving him an old-fashioned razor that he can use no matter what the future brings.

Forget about Sweeney Todd

Along with barber shops, old-timey razors are making a comeback among the urban hipster crowd. And they’re just as safe as modern razors, if used properly (always have to get that part in there, doncha?).

My wife got me a straight-edge razor (I think in Britain they’re called “cut-throat” razors, a wonderfully ominous name) at an antique store. It’s made from Sheffield steel and must be about a century old, so it’s gotten a bit dull. I tried it a couple times, but it clearly needs to be sharpened more than you can do at home with a whetstone made for kitchen knives. So, next time I go to the barber (regular haircut: $11) I’ll ask them to hone it. I’ll report back on how it goes.

Meantime, I’ve been using another old-timey shaver that I got at the same antique place, a 1940s safety razor. With a usable shaving brush and a pack of ten blades in their original box, it was $14.

Of course, a safety razor is not as peak-oil-ready as a straight-edge, because you do have to buy blades and replace them every week or ten days. But as an intermediate step from an electric or multi-blade cartridge razor, a safety razor is a good transition tool.

  • Conservation and cutting waste: First, it’s non-electric. Second, the disposable part is only a single thin steel blade rather than a plastic cartridge with two, three or even five (!) blades. Since they’re not entombed in plastic, single metal blades can even be recycled.
  • Cost: Electric razors can cost $100 or more to buy and they add to your electric bill (probably negligibly now, but in the future, who knows?). Cartridges for modern hand razors can also add up to $100 a year or more. But you can get a year’s supply of single blades, which are available at many hardware, drug and grocery stores, for under $20.
  • Resilience: If you wanted to prepare for the peak-ocalypse, you could add a stash of single-blade razors to your food supply in the basement, and be assured that dad could shave for many years into the future with his safety razor, as long as he could find hot water and some kind of soap.

But what about the shave?

The first couple times I used my safety razor, I did get a few nicks. But after I learned a few tricks from a 10-minute video, “How to Shave with a Safety Razor” — preheat the razor and brush by soaking in hot water for a few minutes, be sure to properly hydrate your beard with soap, don’t pull the blade across your face but lightly grasp the handle and let gravity do the work as you guide the handle through short strokes — it was great.

Then, after a couple weeks experience, the safety razor gave me my best shaves ever: Smoother and closer than an electric and fewer nicks than a cartridge. Best of all, the safety razor has mostly cleared up the shaving bumps that I’d resigned myself to suffering since I began shaving as a teenager.

For the cheapest and most eco-friendly safety razor, try antique or junk shops. Even razors from the 1940s or 1950s should take today’s single blades and a well made handle will last for decades. Or, if you want something new and are willing to spend a bit more, check out the well regarded Merkur Model 180 Long Handled Safety Razor from Germany for $32.

While any facial soap in a mug will do, it’s very nice to use special shaving soap — my wife got me some luxurious concentrated shave cream from J. Peterman. But whatever you do about soap, don’t forget the brush. Shaving cream from a can just doesn’t say “resilience.” Once dad gets used to it, creaming up with a brush is more fun. For me, the brush made scraping my face with a blade into a satisfying ritual.

Again, go for a used one at the antique store (about $5) or go online for a new one. You can get kit with a brush, shaving soap and a bowl from Van Der Hagen for $12. A nicer brush will set you back a bit more: Parker sells a 100% badger bristle brush for $33.47.

I used to think of shaving as a chore. Now, I look forward to it.

— Erik Curren

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  1. says

    Leaving aside the thought that Mr. Gillette singlehandedly invented the throw-away society and his spirit still haunts us in every cheap desktop printer requiring outrageously priced cartridges, here is a way for Dad to sharpen his safety razor blade if transition finds him before he finds it:

    Place the blade – sans razor, against the inside of a a water glass with the cutting edges vertical, press a finger to the middle portion of the blade and “hone” the edges by rotating the glass.


    • says

      Pops — Thanks for the great tip. And thanks for reminding me about the role of Gillette too. His company’s model of selling a cheap razor handle to create demand for ongoing purchases of cartridges has been a model for many businesses that hook buyers in to ongoing consumption, especially cell phones and other electronics.

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