Commercials for modern shaving products often portray shaving as a daily hassle – something you have to get over and done with so you can start your day. The electric shavers and plastic disposable razors in those TV ads are easy to use. However, they can’t provide you with the luxury, sensory ritual of a traditional wet shave.
The straight razor is a throwback to years when shaving was not merely a routine, but one of the pleasures of being a man. A wet shave with a straight razor is a self-indulging experience that feels and smells incredible. If you know how to shave with a straight razor, it also improves your skin’s appearance.
Stop hacking up your face with cheap plastic razors. Read on to learn how to use a straight razor and make shaving the highlight of your day.
How to Sharpen a Straight Razor
As you shave, your facial hair microscopically curls the edge of your straight razor blade back, making it dull. If your blade is too dull to cut your whiskers, you will feel the blade scraping your skin and pulling out your hair. This is called “tugging” and a tell-tale sign that your blade needs sharpening.
There are two techniques for sharpening your straight razor, namely stropping and honing. As a wet shaver, you will have to use both methods at different times to sharpen your straight razor blade.
How to Hone a Straight Razor
Honing is a blade sharpening technique that uses a stone to create a cutting edge or bevel. Ideally, you should have 4,000-grit honing stones for sharpening, an 8,000-grit for polishing, and a 12,000-grit for finishing. If you are new to wet shaving, a high-quality synthetic combination waterstone should be sufficient.
To hone your blade, soak the stone in water for fifteen minutes. Then, place the blade on the stone with the cutting edge facing away from you. Run the blade up the stone while applying equal pressure and keeping the spine in contact with the stone surface. It’s best to hone your razor every 60 to 70 shaves.
How to Strop a Straight Razor
Stropping is the realignment of your blade’s cutting edge before every shave using a hanging, loom, or paddle strop. To strop your blade, attach one end of the strop to a fixed surface and pull firmly on the other end. Place the razor flat on the stropping surface with the cutting edge facing towards you.
Run the blade lightly from the strop end you are holding to the far end. When you reach the far end, roll the blade, so the cutting edge faces away from you. Then, draw the blade back to the starting point. Repeat this process around fifty times if you have a leather strop.
When to Use a Stropping Paste
If you are an experienced wet shaver, you can use an abrasive stropping paste to postpone honing. Alternately, use non-abrasive yellow strop paste to prevent your leather strop from cracking.
Ready to Buy? Here are some recommendations:
- DOVO Straight Razor
- BearMoo Whetstone Premium 2-IN-1 Sharpening Stone
- Straight Razor Strop
- Fromm Strop Dressing
- VIKINGS BLADE Shaving Bowl
How to Shave with a Straight Razor
Straight razor shaving is worlds apart from cartridge or safety razor shaving. For one, straight razor shaving is a time-intensive process. You not only have to prepare your blade but also your skin to prevent irritation.
There is a learning curve to straight razor shaving. It takes most newcomers around three weeks to master the routine.
All the various straight razor shave techniques include blade sharpening and the pre-shave routine. You also have to learn to hold the razor and move it along the side of your face at the correct pressure and angle. With a straight razor shave, you have to follow a specific post-shave routine to tighten your pores and moisturize your skin.
How to Prep Your Face Before a Straight Shave
Start your pre-shave routine by washing your face using warm water and a regular facial cleanser. You can also use shaving soap. Cleaning your face is critical to remove the sebum and dirt on your skin, which can lead to post-shave irritation and acne.
By using warm water, you open your pores and soften your stubble for a clean, comfortable shave. You can also take a shower before shaving to get the same effect.
After cleaning and warming your face, it’s time to moisturize. Massage a pre-shave oil into your beard. Shaving oils don’t act as lubricants, but they make your skin supple and pliable, which reduces cuts and irritation.
Next, wrap a hot towel around your face. Most wet shavers don’t have the towel steamers that barbers use, but you can soak a towel in hot water and wring it out. Place the warm towel against your skin for a minute or two to warm the shaving oil and soften your facial hair.
Building a rich shave lather is an integral part of the pre-shave routine. Create a shaving cream by filling your scuttle with hot tap water and placing your badger or synthetic hairbrush in the water to saturate the bristles. Then, remove the brush and pour the excess water out.
Carve a small piece of shaving soap and place it in your scuttle. A little goes a long way, and you don’t need a lot of soap to build a rich and dense shaving cream. Take the wet brush and use it to make foam from the carved soap in your scuttle using circular motions.
After a minute or so, the foam in your scuttle will have a frothy appearance with large bubbles. Keep stirring the foam with your brush until it has a thick and dense consistency – similar to that of beaten egg whites. If your notice that your shaving cream starts drying out, feel free to add a little hot water.
When you have a rich foam, apply it on one side of your face and work your way around your jaw to the other. With a slight painting motion, apply the lather over your mouth and upper lip. Lastly, make figure-eight motions with your brush over your face to smooth out bumps, then use your thumb to remove the foam from your lips and sideburns.
You are now ready to begin your straight razor shave.
How to Hold a Straight Razor
With the correct grip, straight razors give closer shaves than a high-end safety razor. The first rule is always to use your dominant hand or the hand you usually use for shaving, ensuring complete control over the blade.
Start by placing your index, middle, and ring finger on the blade’s shank, so your ring finger is right next to the pivot pin. Then, put your pinky finger on the blade’s tang curve next to the pivot pin. The handle should be between your pinky finger and ring finger.
Place your thumb on the opposite side of the shank, so it presses the blade against your middle finger. With this grip, you can start shaving your face and jaw.
Shave Your Face and Jaw
While maintaining the correct grip, hold the blade at a 30-degree angle below your sideburn. Place two fingers on your sideburn to pull the skin up. Then, start shaving your face using short and sharp strokes with the grain.
Keep in mind that you are not using a disposable razor, so you don’t have to apply pressure to your skin. Instead, let the blade’s shaving angle and weight do the work. If you apply too much pressure, you risk cutting yourself.
If you are new to wet shaving, go easy and remember to keep the skin tight in the direction you are shaving.
Shave Your Chin
When shaving your chin, tilt your head back to tighten the skin. Pulling your head back will also allow you to see what you are doing while shaving underneath your chin.
Newbie wet shavers often go against the grain when chin shaving to get a closer shave. However, shaving against the grain is guaranteed to cause skin irritation and cuts. It is also not necessary, as a straight razor gives a smoother shave than cartridge razors.
Use short strokes when shaving your chin to ensure that you have sufficient control over your speed, pressure, and shaving angle.
Shave Your Upper Lip
Once again, tight skin is the key to upper lip shaving. Open your mouth and curl your lips in to pull the skin tight. Make sure that you remove all the hair on your upper lip. One of the advantages of open razor’s straight-blade style is that you can safely and easily remove the hair directly underneath your nose.
Shave your Lower Lip and Neck
When shaving below your lip, pull your lower lip into your mouth to tighten the skin. Neck skin is particularly susceptible to irritation, so it is critical not to apply more pressure than is necessary. Also, use short strokes while stretching the skin.
If you have a protruding Adam’s apple, pull the skin to the side, so you don’t have to shave over it. When shaving your neck, read your hair’s growth pattern and shave with it, even if it is an intricate and time-consuming process. If you make up or down strokes with no regard to the grain, you’ll see ingrown hairs, red bumps, and skin irritation within a day.
Make Several Passes
A multi-pass routine is a process of gradually shortening your facial hair with controlled strokes, little pressure, and re-lathering between passes. Several passes are ideal if you are new to wet shaving, as it will achieve a close shave without the risk of irritation. You are also less likely to cut yourself or develop ingrown hairs.
What to Do After a Shave
After your last pass, it is time for post-shave care. If you skip this step, it increases your risk of irritation and dryness.
Put your razor down and rinse your face thoroughly with cold water to remove leftover lather and close your pores. Cold water is more effective at preventing irritation than warm water.
After rinsing your face, apply a moisturizer to replenish your skin’s natural oils. Then, use an alum block to seal in the moisture. Your straight razor is like an exfoliator, and, like all exfoliation treatments, you have to moisturize afterward. When you are done, apply a nice aftershave to your face to prevent skin irritation and give your face a fresh and pleasant smell.
In addition to caring for your skin, you also have to care for your razor. Use tap water to clean the blade and wipe it down with a soft cloth. Then, dry the inside of the scales and the area around the pivot pin, as these areas are susceptible to moisture damage.
Store your razor in a dry place, preferably your bedside drawer. If you want to store it in your bathroom cupboard, consider using silica gel packs to absorb moisture.
FAQ’s on How to Use a Straight-Edge Razor
Is it Better to Shave with a Straight Razor?
A straight razor is better than a cartridge or safety razor as it can give you a smoother feel that lasts longer. Using this type of razor also limits your risk of razor burn, which is why your local barber uses this technique.
However, to derive optimal benefit from your razor, you have to keep the blade sharp and care for your skin. If you don’t have time to strop your blade, build a dense lather, or moisturize, a cartridge razor may be better suited to your lifestyle.
Can You Shave Every Day with a Straight Razor?
Whether or not you can use a straight razor every day depends on your skin’s tolerance for abrasion. If you are currently dragging a four-blade razor across your face daily, you will probably be able to use this single-blade razor every day without any discomfort. On the other hand, if your beard grows slowly, it likely won’t be necessary to use the straight razor every day.
Is it Hard to Use a Straight Razor?
If you are used to a cartridge razor, you may find a straight razor somewhat awkward at first. With time and practice, however, your technique will improve. After a month or two, your razor will feel like an extension of your hand.
To improve your technique, pay attention to how you are holding your razor. The correct angle and pressure will develop over time.
How to Not Cut Yourself with a Straight Razor
Many people find “cut-throat” razors intimidating, as no safety shields are covering their blades. To ensure that you don’t end up with a gash in your face:
- Hold the razor correctly
- Pay careful attention to what you are doing
- Don’t apply more pressure than necessary
- Shave with the grain
Practice Makes Perfect
Initially, shaving with a straight razor may be challenging. However, with practice, you’ll become more comfortable.
Straight razors are environmentally friendly, cost-effective, and healthy. As your technique improves, you’ll enjoy better shaves and a luxury morning routine to start your day the right way.