"The Tortoise & The Hare" - a tale of hard vs. soft shaving soaps

Hard Shave Soaps vs. Soft Shave Soaps

While one can be fans of both, this issue sometimes causes some confusion. The biggest difference, however, is simply a matter of lathering speed. Black Tie No. 13 Shave Soap is considered a hard soap and, as a result, may take just a bit longer to lather.  However, when you get there it's as thick, has tons of cushion, and is as slick as any soap around.

What makes soap either hard or soft?

To understand this we need a little background in the chemistry of soap-making. Soap is the result of a chemical reaction called saponification which is just a fancy term for turning fatty acids into soap (from the Latin "sapo" meaning "soap") by mixing them an alkali base (aka Lye). Fatty acids come in two forms, vegetable and animal, and basically any animal or vegetable oil/fat can be made into soap by combining with Lye. Lye comes in 2 forms, sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and potassium hydroxide (KOH) and the hardness of the resulting soap is determined by which Lye is used in the soap-making process. NaOH produces a hard soap while KOH produces a soft soap. Black Tie No. 13 is produced using combination of both types of Lye in the process. No. 13 soap is on the harder side of the scale (like a Williams, Tabac, etc.) by design. 

Why is Black Tie No. 13 a hard soap?

That's a really great question that we are often asked. The rationale is really two-fold. When we began development of our soap, one of the requirements was to make a soap that could stand alone in puck form. We experimented with the ratio of NaOH to KOH quite a bit until we found the desired hardness while maintaining performance. It was during this process that, in parallel, we hit upon the idea of scenting our soap with a shave oil, added during lathering, instead of embedding a scent in the soap itself. Whether by luck or by design, the hardness of our soap is conducive to this concept. A softer soap would absorb the scented oil making it less suitable to our system which allows for changing of the scent on a shave-by-shave basis while using the same base soap.

What's the bottom line?

It seems that a lot of artisans are making softer soaps and croaps these days which are usually very quick to lather, aka the Hare Approach. That's all well and good and there are a lot of great soaps available in this category. Although a bit contrarian by today's standards, we have chosen to make a harder soap which requires a bit more time to lather but works well with our scenting system, aka the Tortoise Approach. Let's be honest though, we're talking about time in terms of tens of seconds, not minutes. As with the proverbial "Tortoise & The Hare" the Tortoise is rewarded in the end. You're reward, a smooth great shave, with easy scent flexibility.