With razor heads constantly increasing in complexity and number of blades (we recently unearthed a Korean razor head with SEVEN blades – a little excessive) a lot of guys are reevaluating their whole shaving routine. The complex razor heads and new shave gels and technological shaving accessories are attracting a large portion of the male population, but there are those of us who have gone the opposite direction in the face of these novel advances, getting back in touch with tradition and exploring our shaving roots.
Reviving a Tradition
Recently, a large contingency of us have revived the old ways. We have forsaken shaving gels for old fashioned lather, we have brought back the badger-hair brush to apply our crème and we have traded in our four-bladed (or more) razor heads for a classic straight razor.
Now some may balk at this seemingly archaic instrument of stubble subtraction but what a lot of men have found is a recharged enjoyment in their shaving ritual by reverting to the tools of their grandfathers. Not only that, but a straight razor, when wielded correctly can actually produce a closer shave and when your skin is properly prepared can be healthier for your face as well.
Embracing the Ritual
It is the procedural, almost ritualistic nature of the classic shaving method that has attracted so many men. The warm, wet towel on your face opening your pores and softening your hairs; the sand paper scrape as you massage the pre-shave oil into your stubble; the light strokes of the badger-hair applying a hot lather to your face; the soft scrape of the razor as it drags across the strop polishing, straightening the blade; and the similar scrape as the single edge of the straight razor whisks away your unwanted hairs with a comforting precision. A gentlemanly rite, unparalleled in ceremony.
Beginning Your Straight Razor Journey
Many recognize the appeal and hold a desire to experience this revival but are timid about where to start, perhaps nervous about the single blade or simply afraid of change and shy about establishing a new routine. Do not worry!!! We have prepared a list of the best straight razors available for the new students of this discipline. Because in order to feel at ease with this rite you first must feel comfortable and confident using your razor.
There are a lot of straight razors out there to choose from but we want one that is the perfect introductory tool, then once you have mastered its use and know specifically what you are inclined towards you can trade in your learning tool for a master’s model. This process may take some time to learn well, but remember, this is an art (we are searing the perfect filet, not flipping ground beef here) so be patient with it and you can add an invaluable (and impressively practical) skill to your repertoire.
What to Look For
- 5/8 inch straight blade (this is the perfect starting size, allowing you to get comfortable with the blade and deciding if a longer or shorter straight razor will be your eventual masters tool)
- “Shave Ready Blade” (this means the edge has already been professionally honed and sharpened and is ready for use)
- Rounded Edge (this is really dealer’s choice, but compared to a square edge or a French edge this is the best choice for a beginner)
- Don’t go overboard on the price! Remember, this is an initial buy to find out what is most comfortable for you. There are many lengths and widths and weights and edge types out there, so let’s start with the basics and once you know what you like we can invest a little more in our purchase
The BEST Straight Razors for Beginner
We tried to pick a variety of straight razors for you to choose from, selecting different brands and different styles so you can pick the blade that will best suit YOU. So here they are!
5/8” Straight Razor – Full Hollow Carbon Steel by Dovo
This is one of our favorite straight razors for beginners from one of our favorite companies. Dovo is a German establishment that has been making straight razors for over 100 years and we must say: experience counts for a lot. The years of craftsmanship show through in this blade, a 5/8” edge constructed from hollow ground Swedish carbon steel. Now, while carbon steel is sharper than stainless steel it is also more pliable and will require some stropping (still a shave ready blade, it just needs some face time with the strop to smooth out the post shipping and handling kinks). An overall great purchase that is both economical and a quality product.
SR1 Stainless Steel Straight Razor by Parker
The most cost-efficient straight razor on our list, the Parker SR1 is also a unique pick because it has a replaceable single blade system. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, we would not recommend this unit as your life-long straight razor (there are much better ones out there). However, this blade is perfect for those of us who are curious about switching over to a straight razor and want to try our hand at this endeavor without committing too much money to the project. With all that being said, this is still a good system, and the changeable razor blades (we recommend the Shark Super Edge Razor Blades) are the perfect shave ready option for the beginner who doesn’t want to commit quite yet to getting a strop and other straight razor accessories.
275 Special-Coiffure by Thiers-Issard
This is our LEAST economical option (for the student that is, there are impressive and impressively pricey craftsman blades out there – be patient) but totally worth the price. Another 5/8” inch blade made from half hollowed carbon steel (do you see the pattern?), this hand-crafted French razor has a rounded edge and a wonderfully light weight that is perfect for the novice hand. The edge itself has already been honed and is ready to use (again, take the strop to it – work out those micro crooks) and enjoy as you learn the fundamentals of this great art.
Never Stop Learning and Refining Your Craft
As we said before this traditional technique of shaving is a skill, and one that you will continue to hone as you progress in ability with your first straight razor. Then, after mastery of the basics you can move on to a more sophisticated blade (if you choose, the Thiers-Issard and Dovo are great for just about anybody) as you progress and begin to dominate the more nuanced forms and functions of this great ritual.
As always, remember to take care of your skin first and foremost. Along with your new straight razor fetish explore the traditional accompaniments to this art form as well. Discover the best pre-shave oils and post-shave balms, learn about the best lathers and shaving soaps. Adorn your bathroom with strops and shaving bowls, badger-hair brushes and straight razor display cases. Fall in love with the ceremony of shaving!
If you’re not the kind of guy who maintains his razor well, then this is probably not the best option. You’ll need to spend a little time on it to keep it working at its optimum performance level (a straight razor needs to be very sharp to work its best), but it’s worth it—really. Here’s why:
- You’ll have that traditional edge. If you’re into bespoke suits, oxfords, and pipe smoking, and you’re still using a disposable razor, for shame. Straight razors are like a rite of passage into respectability.
- Using a straight razor is a skill. If you always sprout a 5 o’clock shadow and you never can get a great shave, you may want to check out this method. A slightly closer shave can give you a few extra hours’ leeway in the PM.
- Reducing waste. Why not? You’re getting a better shave out of the bargain, anyway.
The temper of your straight razor is important. Straight razors are available in either soft, medium, or hard temper, and they all have their selling points and negative points. A hard tempered razor is more likely to keep its edge longer, but a soft tempered razor is much easier to sharpen. A specialist can discuss which one is best for you according to how maintenance-minded you are and your shaving requirements.
Look for straight razor with the best balance. Optimum ones are balanced equally when the weight of the handle and the blade are equal, and will make a real difference when you’re shaving.
Check out the grind of each blade. You can choose between concave and wedge grinds. Concave grinds are “Barbers’ Choice” because you can feel the resistance of your beard with each stroke of the blade. Wedge grinds are great for guys who sport a heavy beard from time to time, but they can be tricky to sharpen properly. They may not be ideal for the novice!
Make sure that the razor is professionally honed and ‘shaving ready’ before buying it. Later you may learn honing your razor if you happen to stick with straight shaving.
Most importantly never buy a razor that looks nicked or scratched prior to purchase. No matter what the salesperson says, it’s not the same thing as one with a smooth blade. Why buy damaged merchandise when it could damage you?
Shaving with a Straight Razor
Shaving with a straight razor can be a little scary at first, but the results are worth it. Plenty of men swear by their straight razors because they provide a smooth, reliable shave that they can control with the right sharpening techniques.
Strop the Edge
If the first thing you thought when you saw “strop” was “forget about the straight razor, I don’t even know what the words mean,” hang in there. This isn’t as complicated as it might seem.
Stropping the blade is essential before you start shaving, and if you have coarse facial hair, you may have to strop it in the middle of a shave. Get ready to strop by stretching out the leather with the white linen side up. You can pass the blade along the strop 10 times on one side and 10 on the other at a natural angle.
Next, flip over the strop so that you can use the leather side. Some people will tell you that you can use a pair of jeans as a strop, but with both a fabric and leather side to the strop, you really can’t beat it. After the linen, you will stroke the blade along the other, leather side in the opposite direction you stroked it on the linen. Aim for 60 round trips, and all the nicks get ironed out very well with this technique.
Tips for the Shaving Process:
- Take a shower before you shave. You’ll open those pores when everything gets steamy, which means that your facial hair can get cut down much closer to the skin. When you’re ready to start shaving, forgo the shaving cream and go for the real deal. A shaving cream can is more trouble than it’s worth—and expensive—so look for something more traditional.
- To use a brush and cream, you’ll first need to soak your brush in hot water. Once you wait until it has been saturated, allow it to drip a bit and then swirl it around on top of the shave cream or shave soap. Twirl the brush on the soap and you’ll see a bit of lather forming. This is good. You’ll want to apply the lather to your face using just the tip of the brush and using side-to-side strokes. (Guide to shaving cream warmers)
- Stretch your skin as your shave with a straight razor, and cut facial hair at the 20 degree angle. When you begin shaving, remember that you should never use a “slicing” motion. Um, for obvious reasons. Never hold a straight razor a 90 degree angle to your face and do anything with it, basically.
- Cut upwards at 45 degree angle, using short passes of the razor.
- Begin shaving in the direction of hair growth, making one long stroke after around six short ones.
- Lather your face again and shave it sideways to the grain to ensure smoothness.
- Correct shaving mistakes with styptic pencil.
While stones are common purchases for straight razor aficionados, they aren’t particularly recommended for the beginner. When you need to give your straight razor a new edge, you can visit a barber to get firsthand instruction on the whole thing. Better yet, you could visit the best barber you know and solicit a training session with the strop, stone, and the whole shaving thing, too. Why not learn from the best?