Scuttlebutt

Part of the problem with shavegeeks is that most of the guys who’re into this trip don’t understand the difference between “classic” and “olde-timey”: Classic = using a hand-cranked churn and elbow grease to turn ice and rock salt into the kind of ice cream that makes you spit “feh!” the next time you taste store-bought. Olde-Timey = ordering the Pig’s Trough at Farrell’s and thinking that you’re somehow kickin’ your butterfat dollar old-school by patronizing a genuine turn-o’-the-century “Ice Cream Parlour” despite the fact that you’re eating Sysco instutional ice cream (same as inmates get) in a Japanese-owned chain restaurant that’s only been around since the mid-1960s.

Another straw—sorry, styrofoam boater-based example: Classic = King Oliver. Olde-Timey = every local “Dixieland” band, everywhere (extra points awarded for one or more members with round-rimmed glasses and if the banjo player’s got an electric pickup running into a Peavey Bandit and/or Roland Cube amp, and triple double bonus if (if?) the entire band also works at Farrell’s and in fact met there while running Pig’s Troughs out to the 8-tops while humming “Who Let The Dawgs Out?” on kazoos).

Which brings me to shaving mugs. Those cool-man Old Spice mugs from the ’50s aside, I’ve always felt icky about shaving mugs. They served a purpose and served it admirably back when lather meant whipping a wet brush over a cake of hard soap, but it’s 2006, and most men, even hardcore shavegeeks, use soft shaving cream. And if you shave with cream, you don’t need a mug.

What you do need is hot lather. Oh man do you need hot lather! Hot lather is why men fight wars, son. Not for democracy. Not for oil. We fight wars to decide who gets to shave with hot lather and who doesn’t. If you’ve never shaved with hot lather you won’t understand, and if you have, you do. Hot lather can only be had with a heater of some sort — no matter how hot the water is when you soak your brush, it cools off almost instantly the moment you start lathering cream on your face. Companies like Con-Air have been doing electric hot lather machines for use with canned foams and gels for ages now, but you know better than to shave out of a can, right?

The classic Lather King hot lather dispenser works with high quality shaving creams, but I hunted down one of these beasts to try and I have to say it’s not really worth the rigmarole. Yes, it makes hot lather, but the quality isn’t all it could be, plus you have to smear it on your face with your fingers, not a brush, and the heat disappears the moment the cream touches your skin. It’s there for a fraction of a second, and then it’s gone. You go to all that trouble and leave the @%#$ machine plugged in and running 24/7, and all you get is a few picoseconds of hot lather. Barbers use these things because they spew lather all day long on a tankful of cream, but for home use, they suck.

Recently, in an attempt to finally solve the problem of long-lasting hot lather, noted shavegeek Dr. Christopher Moss of Novia Scotia, Canada came up with a novel spin on the age-old “shaving scuttle” used with hard soaps:

A traditional shaving scuttle like the one pictured above has a shallow holder at the top for a cake of shaving soap, and a wide-mouth spout on the side for water and brush access. Men used to fill these scuttles with boiling water from a tea kettle, and then periodically dunk their shaving brush into the spout to heat it up before swirling it around on the soap resting in the receptacle on top. Works great with soap, not at all with shaving cream, because of the little drain holes beneath the soap that keep it dry between shaves. Use cream with a traditional scuttle and all the lather drips down into the hot water.

But what if there were no drain holes? And what if the front spout was done away with entirely, replaced with a mere slit of an opening for the hot water, to keep the cool air from cooling off the hot water inside the scuttle? Dr. Moss drew up some diagrams, faxed them to his friend the noted potter Sara Bonnyman, and the Moss Scuttle was born.

Now, I’m not a mug guy — I think I’ve made that abundantly clear at this point. But after using this thing for a week, I never want to shave without one again. It’s that simple. And here’s why you should buy one, too, immediately: warm lather. For the entire shave. Every time you raise brush to puss, the lather warms your skin and stays warm, and your last lathering is just as warm as the first. It feels so good I add an extra pass or two to my shave, which I don’t even need but who the hell cares — like Pia Zadora said in “Butterfly”, if it’s right, it’s good.

Here’s how you use the Moss Scuttle:

First you fill both the inner chamber (note the small spout) and the cup with hot tap water, as hot as your tap will get.

Then you let your brush sit in the water while you Q-tip your ears, slather your pits, splash warm water on your face, put your nipple rings back in, etc.

Dump the water out of the scuttle and refill only the inner chamber with hot water. The hot water inside the Moss Scuttle surrounds the cup and heats it for the entire shave.

Dap a small bit of shaving cream on the tips of your wet brush, and begin swirling it around in the Moss Scuttle — you should get an instant eruption of thick, rich lather that covers your brush.

That’s it. Lather your face and neck, and then return your brush to rest in the Moss Scuttle as shown, so the hot water inside the chamber keeps your brush and lather heated.

I love this thing — at $40 Canadian (about $35 USD), the Moss Scuttle’s a steal. Unlike the traditional scuttles which frankly look like a medieval precursor to the Pocket Pal, the Moss Scuttle is a beautiful piece of hand-crafted pottery (comes in brown or cobalt blue) that looks great on a bathroom counter. And once you try it, you won’t want to shave without it again.

In terms of keeping shaving cream lather heated (and when I say heated, I mean warm, not “hot” — the lather is noticeably warmer and feels much nicer on your face than room-temp lather, but it is not burning hot) for the entire shave, the Moss Scuttle works even better than I expected it would, albeit with a few adjustments I needed to make to get the best out of it.

For starters, my favored Simpson Wee Scot brush was just too small for the Moss Scuttle, even though Sara sent me the small Scuttle (she makes two sizes, small and large, same price) — the handle on the Wee is so wee I ended up with lather up to my wrist. Subbing a longer-handled brush like the Vulfix #2234 worked a lot better, and in fact this brush and the small Moss Scuttle are a match made in heaven.

I also found that certain shaving creams worked better with the Moss Scuttle than others. All of the old-school English creams from Taylor and Trumper worked fantastically well, better in fact than I’ve ever experienced with these creams. But the more modern-type shaving creams I like to use like Nancy Boy, Acqua di Parma, and Maine Shave didn’t lather as well in the Scuttle as they do when I lather up straight from the jar to my face. The English creams were a much better match with the Moss Scuttle, and the combination gave me a new appreciation for creams like Taylor’s Rose and Trumper’s Violet, which I thought I knew about as intimately as you can know a shaving cream. But the sustained heat raised these creams’ performance to new heights I didn’t know they were capable of.

Ever since I got into all this shavegeekery, I’ve read about guys who came up with all sorts of crazy kludges to get hot lather. Microwaving glass bowls. Floating metal dog dishes in a sink of hot water. There’s even a shavegeek subset that, sigh, actually keeps an electric kettle in the bathroom to pour scalding hot water onto the brush before lathering (is it right to call it “skewering” when the dumb beasts throw themselves onto your pointy stick?)

None of these schemes works. The Moss Scuttle, on the other hand, works like a charm, is easy to use, looks gorgeous, and is priced right. Who’d have thought someone could reinvent the shaving mug and actually make it better? If you shave with English creams, you need the Moss Scuttle. You can order the Moss Scuttle here.