Tutorial Shave Sticking it: DIY Shave Sticks and other stickisms

Discussion in 'Tutorials' started by PLANofMAN, Jun 17, 2012.

  1. PLANofMAN

    PLANofMAN Paperboy

    Article Team
    There is a lot of scattered information out there on shave sticks, how to make your own, how to turn shave sticks into pucks, how to turn pucks into shave sticks, how to store your shave sticks, etc. This is my attempt to distill most of the relevant bits of shave stickisms into one thread.

    Pears Shave Sticks were immortalized by the poet Rudyard Kipling in the poem "The Post That Fitted." The subject of the poem would use the soap from the shave stick to pretend epilepsy and froth at the mouth. I've included the relevant verse here:
    Did he, therefore, jilt Miss Boffkin -- impulse of a baser mind?
    No! He started epileptic fits of an appalling kind.
    [Of his modus operandi only this much I could gather: --
    "Pears's shaving sticks will give you little taste and lots of lather."]

    WHY A SHAVE STICK? Before there were creams, there were soaps (pucks) in a bowl or mug and shave sticks. Shave sticks were the easy way to lather, they didn't take up much room, and they could be easily carried with you. The first shave sticks were created by Francis Pears in 1849. They reached their height of popularity in the 1950’s, shortly afterwards, shave stick use began to decline. I speculate that the growing popularity of new products, such as Burma Shave brushless cream and the appearance of aerosol shave creams were largely to blame.

    More and more wet shavers are turning to shave sticks for various reasons. Some find them economical and less wasteful than a regular puck of shaving soap, some use them for travel, and others use them because their favorite soap only comes in stick form. Still others have found that the particular brand of soap they like to use only lathers well for them if it is in a shave stick. Some shavers just use them for a change of pace or for more variety in the shaving routine. I fall into the latter category. Colgate claimed that shave sticks eliminated waste and prevented germs and dust from collecting on top of the soap in the mug. Of course that did not stop them from selling soap pucks for mugs.

    Some shavers find shave sticks too rough for tender skin. For these shavers, they may find that soaking the tip of the stick in warm or hot water for a few minutes before use makes a world of difference. Another thing to try would be to use a softer stick such as Arko or a homemade stick made from Italian shaving soap.

    MAKING YOUR OWN SHAVE STICKS or MAKING YOUR SHAVE STICKS BETTER. You can’t talk about shave sticks without mentioning Arko. Love it or hate it, Arko shave sticks are “the” shave stick. These Turkish shave sticks are, with Williams shave soap, the cheapest way to wet shave. Arko’s biggest failing is its packaging (and some would also say it’s pungent industrial lemon cleaner smell). Most shave sticks come in a variety of packaging, some better than others. Arko comes wrapped in foil and a paper sleeve. For those who don’t mash it into a puck and keep it in a mug or bowl, most keep Arko in a pill bottle with a few holes drilled in the top. These pill bottles are available from your local druggist or pharmacy, usually for free.

    If you want to make your own shave stick, there are several things you must consider. Is your shave stick going to be Glycerin or Tallow based? If the soap is made from tallow, you must chop up or grate your soap. If it is made from glycerin, the process becomes easier because glycerin based soaps are a “melt and pour” soap.

    TALLOW, TRIPLE MILLED, OR COLD PROCESS SHAVE STICKS. There are three ways to make a tallow shave stick. The easiest way, if the soap is soft enough (Italian style soaps) is to rip it into small chunks and form it into a stick. More on this later. The other ways are to grate it using a cheese grater (use the largest holes), or to use a food processor. Adding a small amount of water (1/2 teaspoon or more) and mixing it with the grated or chopped soap will make forming it into a shave stick easier. The average puck contains enough soap to make two (2) 2 oz. shave sticks. Tallow, triple milled and cold process soap can be melted, but as the results by a beginner typically produce a shaving product that is inferior to the original puck either in performance or scent, I will not go into that process. If you wish to know more, the process is called rebatching and is best left to experienced soap makers. If you want to know more, the link below details rebatching failures, remedies and successes: http://www.millersoap.com/re.html

    GLYCERIN SHAVE STICKS. Put the glycerin shave soap in the microwave and nuke it. This is best done in a pyrex or other glass container with a pour lip. Glass Pyrex measuring bowls are ideal. Heat it for 10-15 seconds at a time. When the soap has mostly liquefied take it out of the microwave. If you wait for a few minutes the remaining chunks of soap should continue to liquefy. If you leave it in the microwave too long the soap will begin to boil. When this happens volatiles are lost. The first thing to go is the fragrance. If you don’t want your house to smell like your soap or worse, your soap to just smell like ordinary soap, you will not let the soap boil. Boiling soap can lead to burning soap. Soap on fire is not good… If you like to experiment, toss a puck of Williams in the microwave for a few seconds and watch it turn into a marshmallow. There is a reason why we only use glycerin based soaps for this. (TSD Soaps are glycerin based and can be used in this method!)

    REMOVING THE SOAP FROM IT'S ORIGINAL CONTAINER. Getting the soap out of the original container is often a difficult task. If you have trouble, often putting it in the freezer for a while to make the soap contract will work. If it still proves to be stubborn, running warm water over the container can cause the container to expand and will often help to dislodge the stubbornest of soaps.

    DIY CONTAINERS. You no longer have a puck. You are ready to make a shave stick! Now for something to put it in. You have a lot of options.

    Reuse, reduce, recycle. Empty push up deodorant stick containers work well, as do empty chapstick containers. You may want to clean them first. You can pack in the tallow sticks, adding a little at a time and pressing firmly. If you are working with melt and pour soaps a different approach is needed. The empty containers should be placed in the freezer for a time so they are nice and cold. This serves two purposes, first the cold contracts the plastic which will let the soap contract as it cools. This should make getting the soap to come out of the container when you want it to an easier process. Second, hot things are less likely to melt cold containers. Plastic doesn’t like stuff over 160 degrees F. As Sara pointed out in the comments below, letting the soap cool for a few minutes is a good idea. Glycerin soaps stay liquid for ten to fifteen minutes at room temperature and soft for up to thirty minutes. Twist up deodorant containers don’t work well because most have perforations at the bottom. If you don’t mind seeing liquid, rapidly hardening soap spreading all over your counter, be my guest. As Williams Warrior pointed out below in the comments, layering the bottom in tinfoil will overcome this problem.

    The metal or plastic tube. A short length of plastic or metal tube in the diameter of your choosing is what we work with here. A solid object slightly smaller than the tube is also used. Place the tube on a hard, flat surface and slowly fill with soap, pausing at intervals to tamp it down. When you get the desired length, push it out of the end of the tube with whatever you were using to tamp it with. Wrap with tinfoil or place in pill bottle or both. If using a melt and pour soap, use common sense. Put a cap on the bottom before your pour and wait for it to cool and solidify. Skip packing it down. Push it out the same as you did for the tallow soap. See Bill's comment below for another variation on this method. Wrap it in tin or aluminum foil or toss it in a pill bottle or…

    Reuse shave stick packaging. Some shave sticks come with plastic bases and plastic or cardboard covers. One of the nicest are the Lea shave sticks from Spain. The Lea shave stick is o.k., but the packaging is excellent. They come with a white base and a clear plastic cover that has holes in the top. The only label on the shave stick peels off with no residue. It’s great for travel! (This great package may not be available for long, I have read that the company that makes Lea shave sticks has gone to a more “retro” style of plastic packaging). This makes for a classier looking package than the pill bottle.

    Buy new containers. There are several sites that sell new containers that will work for shave sticks. There is only one that has many sizes and styles, and that is http://www.elementsbathandbody.com. They also have the best prices.

    THERE ARE MANY WAYS TO USE SHAVE STICKS. Most people (men, anyway) apply shave sticks to a wet face until a thin soapy lather appears. They then proceed to use a damp brush and face lather. Others prefer to load their brush on the tip of the stick and then bowl or face lather. You can use the end of a stick, side of a stick, whatever works best for you. Hanzo pointed out another method as well. Take the brush's knot and grip it in your hand so the bristles are tightly packed together and just poking out past your thumb and forefinger (like the tip of a broom handle), rub the stick directly on the end of the brush. At this point, you can either bowl or face lather the soap.

    If you can’t get your puck of soap to lather any other way, you might want to consider turning it into a shave stick. Williams and Mitchell’s Wool Fat Soaps are among the most popular shave stick converts.

    For those who want a wide variety of scents in a shave stick, but don't want to make their own, Mama Bears Soaps http://mamabearssoaps.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=2 has a large selection of handmade shave sticks (17 scented plus 1 unscented).

    LATHERING WITH SHAVE STICKS. This thread will teach you how to lather anything. It helped me refine my own techniques.
    A special note regarding shave sticks. Visualize how long you load a brush on a puck of soap. Triple that time, that is how long you should be rubbing a shave stick on your face because you are loading soap off of a smaller area.

    At some point, I may add pictures. I believe that most of this information can be found in scattered threads that contain pictures with a minimum of searching. That is part of the fun, after all. I will also continue to update this post with new information.

    As a side note, this post marked my change from Active Member to Well-Known Member!
    MelC, Carson West, Mike-R41 and 24 others like this.
  2. Sara-s

    Sara-s This Pun for Hire

    Twist-up deodorant tubes are great for this, because yo can also retract them. You can save an empty one or actually purchase unused empty ones from suppliers that sell soap-making supplies. But I would remind you that if you are pouring melted soap into any kind of plastic tube, let the soap cool a bit first. If it is too hot, it can crack the plastic.

    For the house, I prefer a puck, in a shaving soap dish, but for travel, my husband & I both like the stick form.
  3. Williams Warrior

    Williams Warrior Well-Known Member

    For the perforated bases of many twist up deodorant tubes I've lined the base with aluminum foil and it works great. All you do is twist it up to the top, cut a small piece of foil to size and push it over the center post and mold it over the base and then your ready to load it up with soap.
    Carbide Mike and PLANofMAN like this.
  4. gregindallas

    gregindallas Rolls Razor Revivalist

    Big fan of the shave stick. They're still available in their original state but somewhat limited compared to there glory days. Somewhere, I saw an advert proposing that Napoleon Bonaparte was a big proponent of the stick. In the US, I think their popularity kinda died out after WW1. Shavers were just using bar soap (and that works as well). In Europe, the stick held on way into the '50s so the traditional shave stick containers continued and advanced a little.


    Today we have a whole new breed of “deodorant can” shave sticks so the 200 year tradition is still alive and well. I, personally, am a traditionalist so I stick with the plated brass cans of yesteryear but I’ve tired the new stuff and they work perfectly with less fiddling than the old ways. So if you haven’t tried a stick or two, you should.


    Even so, Long live Arko! Long live Palmolive! Long live Valobra!
  5. swarden43

    swarden43 "It's your shave. Enjoy it your way."©

    Excellent write-up, although I don't care for shave sticks myself. I grate 'em up and press 'em into a bowl.
    The only two I've used are Speick and Irisch Moos. Love the scent and lather of both.
    Carbide Mike, PLANofMAN and alpla444 like this.
  6. PLANofMAN

    PLANofMAN Paperboy

    Article Team
    Thanks for all the great responses! I really like your pictures Greg. This is one post that I'm going to continue to update, so don't be surprised if you see the original post getting longer over the months to come. I don't as a rule use shave sticks often, but I use them often enough to believe that threads like this one are useful and helpful to new shave stick users.
  7. Indiexsunrise

    Indiexsunrise Well-Known Member

    I love arko, I used tweex recently it's great too. I seem to not use much other than the arko though for the last 2 weeks
  8. PLANofMAN

    PLANofMAN Paperboy

    Article Team
    You are lucky that you like Arko.
    I used Williams once. That was enough for me. When I found out that Arko smelled like Williams, only stronger, I resolved to never use it. I know several members have said that leaving an unwrapped Arko stick out for a few days does much to eliminate it's odor, that is still not enough justification for me to use it. Perhaps someday I will change my mind, but since I shave for enjoyment first and necessity second, I suspect that day will be long in coming.
    Carbide Mike likes this.
  9. alpla444

    alpla444 That's sweet!

    Yeah that was a great write up, when I started out on this forum I saw people use shave sticks, and I had seen them in shops many times but didnt know how to best use them, I found my answer via the internet, as being new and not knowing how friendly this place is I didnt want to ask (what I thought was a stupid question)
    I love my Palmolive shave stick esp at the current UK price 49p and ease of purchase.
    I also have a few of the crome plated containers from shave set of yesterday so cheap and so well made.
    Carbide Mike and PLANofMAN like this.
  10. Hanzo

    Hanzo Well-Known Member

    I was watching a Turkish Barbering video on youtube and the barber used the shave stick in a way I have not thought of. He just bunched up the knot of the brush in his hand and rubbed the stick on the brush's knot to build lather. I have tried this with Arko and Palmolive and it works great, seems like I can load more soap on the brush than I can by rubbing the soap on my face.
  11. tomnat

    tomnat accepting applications

    Great write up, Ryan! Excellent information. I have two sticks that I enjoy right now; one being Arko and the other Spieck. I love 'em.
    Carbide Mike and PLANofMAN like this.
  12. Billr

    Billr Mix Master Mighty White!

    I have been converting some of my puck soaps to sticks also. Mostly because I have been pretty busy lately and face lathering has just been faster for me. So far I have made a shave stick from TSD Malachite, Col Conk's Lime and an unknown soap i got from the grab box awhile back. My method has been a little different since I messed up and made soap stalactites in the microwave and forgot to clean them up . SWMBO was not happy at all!

    It took me a while to come up with a mold for my sticks and then one day while using my Arko it hit me. I cut the bottom off of a pill bottle and I put the cap on and fill it up with the grated soap and pack it in good and then nuke some water in a Pyrex bowl for about a minute and a half and stand the pill bottle in the water. Then after the soap gets good and squishy I push down on the top to push out any air bubbles and then I put the pill bottle in the freezer. One it is all good and solid again I run hot tap water over the pill bottle and turn the cap off and push out the shave stick. - I love it but the wife thinks I am nuts!
  13. kaiser

    kaiser Member

    I own only one stick - Palmolive European stick. Maybe I'm doing it wrong, but I find face-lathering it a bit messy - soapy water splatters to the sides (SWMBO hates finding traces on the walls :angry019: ) and I find it a bit hard to make consistent lather. Maybe my Omega boar brush isn't suitable for that, or maybe it's just to wet.
  14. bittermormon

    bittermormon Active Member

    I wonder if you could use PVC with an temporary cap on the end to pour soaps into to make your own stick?
    Carbide Mike and 178-bplatoon like this.
  15. Indiexsunrise

    Indiexsunrise Well-Known Member

    Sounds like it would to me, it would probably be easy to find a wooden dowl to fit the diameter of it too to pack it down.
    Carbide Mike and 178-bplatoon like this.
  16. swarden43

    swarden43 "It's your shave. Enjoy it your way."©

    Don't feel bad. I'm not a big fan of face-lathering. That's why I've grated all my sticks into a bowl.
    It's not the brush's fault. No brush out there is labeled "FOR FACE-LATHERING", or "FOR BOWL LATHERING". They all work, some folks just have preferences. You just gotta figure out how to use the brush you have. I do think you're on to something with the brush being too wet.
    Carbide Mike and 178-bplatoon like this.
  17. Billr

    Billr Mix Master Mighty White!

    I think that would work well - I have thought of that (since on of my past jobs was landscape irrigation systems installer) and see how it goes. If you try it let us know!
    Carbide Mike likes this.
  18. PLANofMAN

    PLANofMAN Paperboy

    Article Team
    It would be easy, just take some tinfoil and wrap it around the end, you could secure it with a rubber band. Pour a little bit of soap in and dunk the end into a glass of ice water to seal the end quickly. Pour in the rest of the soap and you are set. You can use a dowel or a broom handle to push the soap out.
    Carbide Mike likes this.
  19. Pablojoven

    Pablojoven New Member

    Very helpful! Thanks.
    Carbide Mike and PLANofMAN like this.
  20. Old School

    Old School *$&%@#~

    When I was checking my local haunts for a fat boy I came accross a shave stick holder I guess. I didn't know what it was, but the lid unscrewed (didn't look like it would've, it was kind of a slick looking tube). Inside there was actually a swastika engraved in the bottom with some other stuff i didn't recognize. It was only like 10 bucks and i passed. It would be a hunt to find it again in this shop, but maybe i'll give it a try.
    Carbide Mike likes this.

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