Choosing a straight razor can be tricky. If you’re a novice, how will you know exactly what you need to be looking out for, anyway? Straight razors may not be my forte by choice, but I’ve spent enough time trying to buy one for other persona that I have to admit (and I’m not being vain): I really know my razors.
Straight razors do have quite a few advantages, but finding a quality one will be advantageous. Straight razors can last a very long time (like a lifetime) with regular maintenance. They are also better for the planet, because you won’t be chucking out disposable razors after just a couple of uses.
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.
• Straight razors are also available in disposable versions now, too. The most popular type is from Japan by Feather Safety Razor Co. Ltd., and it’s perfect for the aforementioned men who want a close shave but can’t be bothered with the preparation and trimmings.
• 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.
When you’re shopping for straight razors, you’ll need to pay attention to quality. It’s recommended that you buy your first straight razor at the shop so you can check out different kinds and see first hand what makes one straight razor better than others.
Don’t spend too much on your first razor though. Let’s be honest, no matter you how much you learn theoretically about straight razors, you still don’t know what you’re doing, plus you’re not even sure yet if this kind of shaving is for you.
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.
If you have to shave anyway, whether it’s to hang onto that job, look hot for a date, or do a little touch up on a disaster facial hair regrowth attempt, you should think about how you shave. You probably know if your routine can get better. If you spend a good deal of time swiping at your face and cutting yourself, learning to use a straight razor may be beneficial to slow you down a bit.
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.
• 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 novice. 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?