The male grooming world has been a mere witness for several different types of razors for shaving until today, but probably the oldest and most primitive one is the straight razor. Surprisingly enough, straight razors are still used by many to this very day because undoubtedly the kind of shave that it provides is matchless, even by the latest Mach5 and it’s equivalents.
The straight razors were very famous, and perhaps the only used method known for shaving till 1950s, when safety razors were introduced. Even though a better and smoother shave is guaranteed by straight razors, shaving with it can be quite dangerous. This danger is augmented if you are new to it or don’t know much about the art of shaving with a straight razor, which actually is an art in itself.
You would have to learn the right technique before you can actually use it on a regularly basis frequently, or else you just might end up cutting yourself on the face or neck, which can easily spill disaster. Before we get into the meat of the guide and explain to you an exact step by step on how to use a straight razor, let us first get a couple of facts out of the way.
The Benefits of Straight Razor Shaving:
Better Shave Quality and Experience
– While most people feel that the modern razors like the famous Mach5 gives the ultimate shaving experience, there is still something that is left to be desired. Your opinion would change immediately as you start shaving with a straight razor. When done the right way, it ensures much closer and better shaves, and gives a much smoother feeling to the user.
Durability and Affordability
– While initially you might have to spend a bit to get the proper straight razor gear, after that you can be sure that it would last you a long time. There would be no need to buy razor cartridges or blades ever again. The only thing you would need to do is strop and hone your razor as you will see below. So really, the only expense that you would really have is just on a shaving cream or foam once every month or so.
– This one isn’t discussed as much but is actually pretty important. Using modern razors produces a lot of waste because every time you buy a new razor or cartridge, you throw away the old one. The new tools come with a lot of hard plastic packaging material that is just left to rot for eternity. Using safety razors produces less waste than those disposables, but straight razors produces essentially no waste at all. The only real waste is the shaving scum, which in itself is biodegradable.
– Now this final one might seem absurd to many who have not tried shaving with straight razors before, but once you start you will soon realize that your concentration and focusing powers will greatly improve. You would almost be in a Zen-like state of mind when shaving with a straight razor because a simple mistake can lead to a really severe cut that can really render an emergency. Don’t be frightened by this though, with a bit of practice and experience, it becomes a pretty consistent affair.
Tools That You`ll Need To Start Shaving
Now that you know the many benefits of shaving with a straight razor, we must go through the tools that you need to get started.
One important thing that needs be mentioned here is that you should not buy a cheap straight razor. It would end up being more irritating than you ever thought, and would make the general impression of shaving with straight razor a very bad one. After all, there are plenty of decent priced Dovo straight razors available at a bargain of what the price should be.
Ideally though, you should take your pick from one of the top 5 straight razors to get a very high quality shave right from the start. Not only can a cheap razor give cuts and nicks numerous times while shaving, but it would also lead to a very coarse shaving experience that is unlike the smooth experience that you should be expecting. A top notch straight razor with high quality steel is always the ideal choice. It would last for your lifetime if maintained well with periodical honing and stropping so why not invest correctly from the start.
Shaving Brush and Shaving Cream/Soap
The three common types of shaving brushes are boar hair, badger hair, and synthetic. Badger hair is a bit more expensive and of higher quality for the purpose of shaving so if you want the richest lather than this is the one to pick. There are different type’s of badger brushes depending on the quality of the hair used as well. You can read about it fully in our shaving brush guide.
I would avoid boar hair altogether and just get a synthetic brush if you don’t want a badger brush. Each whisker does its job by picking up the lather efficiently and spreading it onto your face gently and adequately to prepare for the actual shaving.
Aside from a shaving brush, you will also need a proper shaving cream/soap. Skip the type of shaving cream that you use with disposable razors and go straight for the quality creams and soaps that are all natural. They are much more effective for wet shaving and last longer than their chemical made counterparts. You will probably get made fun of if you use the mass produced creams with a straight razor (really don’t do it).
Malegroomings recommended brushes:
1. Escali Pure Badger Shaving Brush ( A decent and cheap starter brush made of the lowest quality badger hair ).
2. Ambroley Badger Hair Shaving Brush
Malegroomings recommended shaving cream/soaps
1. Proraso Eucalyptus and Menthol Shaving Soap
2. Jack Black Supreme Cream Triple Cushion Shaving Lather
A Whetstone Hone
The hone is used in primarily in woodworking and sword sharpening, which really exemplifies just how manly straight razor shaving really is. The most common razor hone is made from whetstone and it is easily available. The barber’s hone is made out of ceramic and is usually harder to find and really not that necessary at all.
The purpose of a hone is to sharpen the teeth on your blade when they become dull and uneven, which occurs after continued use of the razor. Usually a strop is enough to sharpen your razor for a while, but after about 6-7 weeks you will need to hone your razor to get it back to it’s maximum ‘sharp state’. Here is the detailed process of honing your blade.
Malegroomings Hone Recommendations:
1. Norton 4,000/8,0000 Grit Combo Whetstone
The Leather Strop
The leather strop is used as the most frequent means of sharpening your razor. It should be done prior to every shave and even after honing your razor every 6-7 weeks. The purpose of the leather strop is not just to sharpen your razor, but also to smooth out the edges of the saw teeth on your razor so that they can be even next to each other.
The strop that you want to use is the regular hanging one. It is great for beginners and can be latched onto a drawer by the hook for simple use. Since you will be using this before every shave, you should really invest in a decent one that is made of higher quality leather. This way, your razor will last much longer and the potency of each shave will be enhanced.
Malegroomings recommended strops:
1. 30 Degree 3″ Red Latigo Leather Straight Razor Strop
- The first thing is that you should know that during the first couple of months of shaving with a straight razor, a cut or nick somewhere is expected. It is perfectly natural and has happened to just about anyone when they started shaving. Don’t make it sway you away from this incredible experience.
- Before you get started, you need to prepare your beard. You can either take a hot shower immediately before shaving, or just soak your beard in a hot towel for 3-5 minutes, preferably twice for safer results. This would make your beard ready for the shave and ensure a smooth experience as well without much resistance from your pores. Be sure to read our fully detailed guide on developing a proper routine prior to shaving. If you decide to take a hot shower, make sure to condition your beard and let the water run through it for more optimal results, and always do that if you have sensitive skin.
- Once your beard is ready for the shave, the next thing to do is to take almost boiling water in a bowl and soak your badger or synthetic brush in it.
- After a couple of minutes when the brush has softened up a bit, use the shaving cream or gel of your choice and create a nice, rich lather with identifiable ridges inside your mixing bowl. Make sure to squeeze out any extra water in the brush before putting gel or foam on it.
- Wetting the face before creating lather with the brush would help in lathering up quickly.
- Make sure that you lather up all the hairy regions on your face and till the foam is thick and making stiff peaks.
- Letting the foam stay on the beard for a while, for about 2 minutes, can be helpful in ensuring that the shaving experience is smooth. This is particularly helpful for people whose hairs are a bit coarse or long or for beginners who are just getting started. Once you get used to straight razor shaving, you will probably skip this step like many others do.
- Once you see thick lather sitting on the beard and it has not dried after a few minutes, it’s time to clear the lather where you have no hair; first off the top of your cheeks, then the top of your sideburns, and lastly the bottom of your neck so that you can have a clear and straight viewing path to commence shaving.
Holding a Straight Razor Properly
There is a lot of debate on how to hold a straight razor properly. The truth is that there is no “correct” way and advanced users usually have different techniques ways they hold the razor, also varying on how they are shaving (whether it be with the grain, against the grain, against tough spots on the face).
The beginner friendly way that many recommend is the following:
1. Keep your thumb on the side of the blade.
2. Index, ring, and middle fingers should be holding on behind the blade.
3. Pinky should rest on the tang of the blade, which the part that is connected to the blade.
Keep trying this until you have a comfortable and solid grip of the razor. If you don’t, you draw a much higher risk of getting cut while actually shaving. Keep in mind that as you switch to different parts of your face, the way you hold a straight razor will change. There is no secret method here, just keep practicing different grips and see which one you are most comfortable with when shaving that respected part of your face. Here is a great video that will give you a clear visual if you are having trouble with this part:
Technique of Shaving With A Straight Razor
Finally, here we are to to the final part of this guide and perhaps the most important: the technique. Before we begin, keep in mind these two things.
1. Applying any pressure is not suggested, because the lather would guide the blade automatically. You just need to have a firm hand, and move along the direction where the beard is in a very soft and cautious manner.
2. It is essential that you pull the skin while shaving, so that the skin is tight and the shave is smooth.
Now that we have that cleared up, let’s begin.
Shave the Cheeks Down To The Jaw first
Begin with the left cheek if you are right handed and the right cheek if you are left handed. Grab onto your skin near the ear on the side that you are shaving with by using your non-shaving hand and pull the skin upwards. Then make short, slow passes going downwards on your cheek to your jaw. Start from next to your ear and go towards your nose. Make sure to tilt your head slightly while shaving closer to the jaw line, so that you get a clear view in the mirror. You should probably use the same, dominant hand for shaving both sides of your face to ensure that you do not cut yourself unless you trust your dexterity and are able to use both hands.
Shaving the Chin and Mustache Area
Move onto your chin by grabbing and pulling your lower lip upwards. Then make the same slow, small passes downwards. For your upper lip and mustache area, grab onto your upper lip and pull downwards. Then make downward passes under your nose. Be very careful here and make sure your tugging hand doesn’t slip off your lip.
Protip: Take a small rugged stone and wipe your fingers on it for a couple of seconds so that your grip will be super strong and not slip off even through all the lather.
Shaving Your Neck and Lower Jaw Areas
For shaving the left area under your jaw, tilt your head to the right and grab onto the bottom of your neck to pull downwards. Shave downwards with the usual short and slow passes. Repeat for the right side of the face by switching tilting your head to the left this time.
For your neck, it must be said that it is the most sensitive area and also the most dangerous to shave. You should take extreme care and immediately stop if you draw any blood. Now that you have that warning loud and clear, you can begin shaving the neck area from under the chin.
First, tilt your head upwards and slightly back. Make sure that you have vivid vision of the mirror at all times. Then, tug downwards with your non-shaving hand and begin making super slow, careful, and small passes going downwards. Repeat until you are finished.
Concluding Thoughts And Things To Keep In Mind
1. If you choose to do multiple passes, use the three pass method: Start with the grain ( North to South ), then across the grain ( From your ear, across to your nose ) , and lastly finish up against the grain ( Either from the nose across to the ear, or South to North ) to get a super smooth, baby face shave. Going against the grain yields a much higher risk of getting cut, especially if you are going South to North. You should probably avoid doing the three pass method until you are more comfortable with straight razor shaving. Give it a month or two before you do three passes. If you are using a safety razor instead, you can get away with using the three pass method on your very first shave even.
2. Once you have finished, rinse your face with water and apply aftershave lotion. Applying talcum powder is also something that can help relax your skin but is not mandatory.
3. Keep an antiseptic lotion ready, just in case you run into any nicks and cuts while shaving.
We hope that you found this guide on shaving with a straight razor helpful. As you see, there is a lot that goes into this art and it does take a lot of practice, time, and experience until you master it. It does take a little bit of practice, but with time and experience, you will master the art.
While this type of shaving has greatly faded over the years, it still remains as an artistic practice of the manly man. Just think about; if you have to hone your razor with the same stone that swords and knives are being honed with, it surely must be manly!