Information Guide: How to Shave with a Straight Razor and Get the Smoothest Face Possible
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This isn’t just shaving like your grandpa. This is shaving like your great great great grandpa. Straight razors really are the first razors ever used to shave your face. Granted, the first straight razors probably looked more like a jagged rock thousands of years ago, than the stainless steel marvels that you might see today. When it comes to wet shaving, the difference between straight razors and other traditional shaving methods, is that there is no guard, and there is a lot more upkeep and tools to help with the maintenance of your blade. This makes a huge difference in the actual shave itself, but also on your wallet as well. Here is an overview.
Why Straight Razors?
Much Cheaper: So, the first razors you ever used were probably disposable razors. You used them a few times, and then threw away the razor, or the razor blade. That might have been relatively cheap at first, but you go through a TON of blades over the course of a year, how much, lets do a little math. Disposable razors and blades are going to cost you between $20 and $50 a month, depending on how often you shave. So $240 to $500 a year, just to shave your face! Ever wonder why homeless people typically do not shave? Its because they don’t like to, it gets expensive!
Using safety razors, its much cheaper. You will spend about a fifth of that a month on DE blades. Straight razors however, are not disposable at all. They are the blade, and once you purchase them, you are set for life! You can use them over and over again, although granted, the cost for the initial gear might be more expensive.
Best Shaves: Remember all of the reasons why we prefer to use traditional shaving methods? Cleaner faces, no ingrown hairs, smooth faces? Well, when you move up from safety to straight, your going up a notch on the quality and closeness of your shave as well. Removing the guard, you can get incredibly close to your skin, although there are obvious risks and a huge learning curve to achieving this process.
Its Relaxing: There are meditative properties to shaving every day, which you typically don’t think about. Why should you care? Well, whether it is shaving, or doing dishes, or professional yoga, meditative like actions help to rest your bodies focus and refine its energy levels. Another way to think of this, is that most people throughout their day have many highs and lows, kind of like a heart rate monitor, this isn’t good for your stress levels and can really wear you out. Meditative practices like shaving, even if it is just for 10 minutes, is like a steady stream of positive energy, no valleys or crests. This is like the staging area of where you prime your masculinity for the day ahead.
What Will You Need?
There are fewer moving parts when it comes to the construction of the razor itself, however, there are many more tools when it comes to the upkeep because you still have to maintain your equipment. Here is what is required.
Your Razor: Obviously your most important and vital tool, you need to put a lot of time and thought into this. Your straight razor is going to last you the rest of your life, are you going to be okay with a cheap one which is questionable? I wouldn’t, although that doesn’t necessarily mean running of and buying the most expensive thing on the shelf either.
A cheap straight razor is likely to be poorly constructed. Poor razors will irritate your skin, and be a ton of trouble in terms of upkeep and all around performance. Nobody likes nicks and cuts. A quality blade however which is well maintained, and will have none of these issues.
Its up to you how much you want to spend on these, but you can even purchase used blades from an antique store or eBay (I personally wouldn’t). These blades might have imperfections that you have to deal with, but should be cheaper, and you can hone them yourself or have it professionally done. A new straight razor however is going to cost you over $100 for a quality blade. You can check out my DOVO straight razor review here.
Some additional attributes and tips, when looking for your blades:
1. If your new to using a straight razor, you should consider the degree at which the blade is hollowed. Hollowing is a process that places a concave angle on each side of the blade, this makes it sharper, lighter, and a lot easier to handle. A full concave straight razor has the sharpest edge form hollowing, but unless you hold the blade perfectly against your face, you are very likely to cut yourself.
2. The width of the blade is very important. While you don’t want a super thin blade, because you still have to have enough material to shape over time, having a razor that is too wide is difficult to handle, and doesn’t follow the contours of your face well. A size that is 5/8 is perfect
3. The quality of the steel is very important, and a good temper will sharpen much better than poor quality steels.High quality stainless steel is what you should go with, but if your shopping about, you can also flick the edge of the razor. If it gives a clear and steady ringing sound, it is likely well tempered.
4. The last bit to keep in mind, is the point of the razor. It can either be pointed, or round. There is no practical purpose of having a pointed edge to a straight razor, and it is more likely to cause accidents, to purchase a round tip to avoid accidents in the future.
The Hone: Honing is the process of reshaping the edge of a blade, in order to get it sharper and to cut easier. In actuality, your straight razor does not simply have one edge, but thousands of microscopic edges. When you first purchase one, they are all pointed in one general direction, but over time, they will get distorted and point in many directions. However, if you hone your blade, you can re-point these edges in the same general direction.
Whetstones are the tools that we use, in order to hone our blades. In order to maintain an edge of a blade with the sharpness that we are talking about, you will need a quality whetstone, with a very fine grit of about 4,000/8,000 combination. These can be found at woodworking stores or online, or you could go after a barber hone.
The Strop: Although honing a blade might sharpen it, it is still unfit to use on your face, because it is still far too rough. Stropping is the process of smoothing the blade so that the edges aren’t too rough for your face, it places the rough edges of your blade in alignment.
Strops vary considerably in price range, but the most popular type are hanging strops. Leather varieties are cheaper, but I would advise against purchasing these since they don’t perfectly align your edges, and they are too rough on the blade. Don’t go cheap here.
Brushes: You can check out our brush guide here, but just like safety razors, you will need a brush in order to properly create the lather necessary to shave. I personally prefer high grade badger brushes with the firm bristles, because they can hold a lot of water, but this is one area that you can afford to be thrifty on price.
Creams and Soaps: There are two types of lathers that you can use for your face(well three actually, if you consider the aerosol junk), shaving soaps and traditional shaving creams. The difference between the soap and the cream is that the soap you have to stir up longer, but both help to nourish your face and properly prep your whiskers for shaving.
Suggested Soaps and Creams:
Preparation and Technique
How Do you Hold it?
If you’ve never held a straight razor before, you might be asking, “Where am I suppose to start?”. Well, first thing is first, you have to get the grip down, and it is going to take some getting use to. The grip also changes, depending on which part of your face you are shaving, and whether you want to shave towards the grain of your beard, or against it. For beginners however, you can start with a basic grip.
First, you’ll need to take three fingers, and rest them on the back of the blade. With your pinkie, go underneath the blade and touch the tang(end that sticks out). Your thumb then rests near the bottom/middle of he blade, right below the edge. Your remaining index, middle, and ring fingers can go directly on the other side, and with that position you can form a grip. What this does is it aligns the center of gravity perfectly to your fingers, and you
will have nice control of the razor to certain parts of your face.
Preparing Your Whiskers
You’ll have to prepare your face, before show it the wrath of your blade. This is wet shaving after all, and like the name suggests, you don’t want to just start slicing and dicing. Start off, by either taking a hot shower, or using a brush or hot towel to soak your beard in hot water.
Once your beard is nice and wet, lather it up. A small dollop of shaving cream should be plenty enough to cover your face, so place that in your mug, or your soap cake. Now, use your brush to mix up the cream and soap inside your bowl, the more you mix, the more lathered up your brush will become. Now, apply the lather to your face by pressing your brush onto your whiskers in swirly motions, what you are trying to do is push up the lather underneath every whisker until your face is covered completely.
The Technique, and the Art of Shaving
To start, begin by slowly and gently cutting in even strokes the way that your whiskers naturally grow(towards the grain). Cut only small patches at a time, maybe 1/2 inch or 1 inch. Go even slower if your a rookie. Just like a safety, hold the straight at a 30 degree angle so that you are not cutting towards your skin, but away from it. If you want to use a deeper angle, you risk cutting yourself. Also, no pressing! Your razor is heavy, it should take very little pressure from you to do the actual cutting, your mostly just guiding the edge.
Unlike with other methods, when cutting different areas of your face, you’ll have different ways of exposing your skin. When shaving your sides, with your free hand, you grab your facial skin and move it upwards, away from the direction of the cut(always cut with gravity, downwards). This stretches the skin and frees up whiskers for a closer shave. Continue with this method until your done with both sides of your face.
When you are cutting your jaw, the whiskers naturally point at a different angle, so tilt your head to the right if your are shaving your left jaw, and to the left if you are shaving your right jaw. This same strategy applies to your chin and the rest of your face as way, simply tilt your head and stretch your skin, but take extra when cutting around your neck, as it is much more sensitive. Continue until your whole face is done!
Your done! Now, you can shave again to make sure that you’ve shaved everything off, but this is usually enough. If you decide to cut again, go across the grain, or against the grain as your more likely to pick up extra whiskers that way which you might have missed, but be extra cautious as you are working in different directions than you were when working with the grain.
When your all done, splash some cold water onto your face to seal the pores, and then some of your favorite aftershave.