Straight razor shaving is the oldest form of shaving having been around for centuries. While straight razors have undergone many transformations over the millennia, the principle still remain the same.
From sharp edged corals, to bronze and then to crude steel knives, and now new hollow ground cut throat razors, straight razor shaving has definitely made a dent in human history.
The modern straight razors are making a comeback among a select few women and men who cherish the joys of cut throat razor shaving.
There could be many reasons for the switch.
Many people want an irritation free, and close shave. Perhaps they’re wary of razor bumps. Some men love the self-sufficiency that straight razors provide. They take up the art solely because they can sharpen their razor themselves. Others do it for its manliness aspect. It’s undeniable that straight razor shaving is the manliest way to shave! Still others want to save the fragile environment because cut throat razors produce minimal waste compared to other forms of shaving.
At the end of the day its just plain cool!
What are the Requirements – What Tools Will You Need?
The most obvious requirement on how to shave with a straight razor is the razor itself.
Many manufacturers now offer straight razors and Groom+Style has reviewed the Top 5 Best Straight Razors. Currently, there are many semi-custom and custom makers on the market. You can buy vintage razors for hundreds of dollars. Most of the razors look pretty similar, but avoid ones with square points as they can easily poke your cheek. Also stay away from blades that have more than 6/8” inch width, as larger ones are unwieldy. Only buy new razors made in Germany, US, or France. They’re the best!
Aside from the cut throat razor, you will have to buy a strop if you want to use the straight razor for a long time. If you don’t strop your razor, it can go dull within a week or two.
You will want a boar/badger/horsehair brush and some soap (or canned shaving cream if you don’t want the full experience).
Traditional soaps are much better and cheaper than canned shaving creams. Also keep a few first aid items handy. Your first aid should have a styptic pencil and a moleskin or a liquid band-aid. You should also keep an alum block.
If you want to be really self-sufficient, and want to learn a new skill, you should buy a hone to keep your razor sharp. Alternatively, you can send your razor for sharpening. It would cost you a few dollars. This can be a bargain considering you’ll have to spend hundreds of dollars buying the same honing equipment that pros use. You’ll also have to spend a lot of time becoming truly proficient at honing.
Shaving with a Straight Razor
Preparation – Stropping Your Straight Razor
Even if you have a straight razor with a good shaving edge, you still need to strop its edges. A strop is a double-sided strip of leather and canvas used to run the shaving blade backward and forward in two strokes. One backward and forward motion is referred to as a “lap”. For best results, you should lap your straight razor 15-25 times on each side of the strop, starting on the canvas first and then using the leather-faced side. Stropping is important as this process restores the edge of a straight razor between shaves and also removes all residues.
Preparation – Shower, Towel and Shaving Cream
Start off by taking a regular shower as this will open up your skin pores. Many straight razor shavers prefer to use a pre-shaving product or conditioner to ex-foliate the skin and soften the beard before shaving. Keep a towel ready to clean up spills during your shave. Take your time during the first few months of shaving as you get used to the technique.
Shaving soaps and creams are important for getting a good quality shave with a straight cut throat razor. Ideally, never use conventional shaving gel as they offer reduce skin protection. There are many shaving soaps and creams on the market, just pick one that appeals to you.
Start by taking the shaving brush, soak it in hot water, and gently shake of the excess in the sink. Now add a spot of shaving cream on your brush and slowly start applying to your face with moderate pressure in a circular motion until the neck and face area have a fairly consistent coating.
Shaving Technique With the Straight Razor – The First Pass
Now you’re ready to shave with your straight razor. Pull your skin tight using your non-shaving hand and start with a downwards shaving pass on your face. Unlike conventional safety razors, you’ll soon learn that the best shaves with a straight razor come by using skin pulling techniques that you’ll perfect as you go.
Try to tighten your skin with your hand or fingers during each stroke of the straight razor. Shaving on a slack skin can result in deep cuts and snagging. The straight razor should be held approximately 28-32 degrees to the face, perhaps slightly shallower. Anything higher than this will result in possible cuts and poor cutting results.
During the first few shaves using a straight razor, you do not have to complete the whole shave. This will save you a great deal of frustration trying to reach seemingly inaccessible areas, and will also reduce the chances of getting a nick. Here patience is key! Once you’ve successfully completed your first downward pass, you can try an upward pass to get a closer finish.
Shaving Technique With the Straight Razor – The Second Pass
Splash off all the remaining cream from your face and re-apply more shaving cream using light pressure of the brush. Again, use circular motions until your neck and face areas have a good coating of shaving cream. Soak and wipe your razor using the kitchen towel. Now you’re ready to start the second, upward pass. Using the same shaving techniques in the reverse direction, pull the skin on your neck downwards using one hand, and use a 30 degree angle to start the upward stroke, with a gentle and consistent pressure until the entire neck area is done. Now pull the skin downwards from your lower chin area and work up and over your jawbone onto the cheeks.
At this stage, start pulling your skin upwards on your cheek area and maintain your strokes with the straight razor until your cheeks are done. Shave with an upward stroke on the chin areas and moustache, though you should do this only if you really need to, and only once you’re confident in doing so.
Straight Razor Shaving – The Clean Up
When you’ve finished both passes, clean your straight razor with some cold water and use a kitchen towel to remove all moisture from the razor. You can also pick up the razor and blow off any excess water through the gap in the scales as well. This will prevent any water from dripping down into the gaps where the washers and pins meet the blade which is where the majority of rust spots start on a razor if it’s poorly maintained. Thats it! Now you’ve learned how to shave with a straight razor – remember practice makes perfect.
If you are not 100% convinced by straight razor shaving you could always looking into the Top 5 Best Safety Razors – although you will be admitting that you are slightly less cool.