Home StyleShaving Tips How to Shave With a Straight Razor

How to Shave With a Straight Razor

by nick

A while ago I wrote a post, How to Shave Your Face the Right Way using a double edged safety razor. Lately I have been experimenting with straight razor shaving after getting one at the barbers a few months back. So today I thought I’d provide a beginners guide to straight razor shaving. There’s a lot to cover, too much for a single article in fact, however I’ll outline the essentials below to help get you started so you can experience one of the most comfortable and closest shaves ever!

Introduction to the Straight Razor

Also called open razors or cut-throat razors, using a straight razor requires a great deal of practice, patience and skill to maintain and learn the art. Although most men now use a safety razor, straight razors were the most popular form of shaving before the 1900s. So the question needs to be asked… why bring back the straight razor? Let’s take a looks at the benefits!

Benefits of Straight Razor Shaving

Perfect shaves. When I purchased my Merkur Double Edge Safety Razor, I thought my shaves couldn’t get any better. I was so wrong. The first time I experienced a straight razor shave was at the barbers. I couldn’t believe how smooth and fresh my face felt.  This encouraged me to buy my own straight razor and give it a go. Now my shaves are the best they’ve ever been.

Saves money. Yes, the start-up costs can be a little on the expensive side, but once you’ve purchased all the tools, there’s not much else to buy. You’ll never have to buy razor cartridges or double edge blades again. Shaving cream is the only occasional cost that you’ll incur.

It’s good for the environment. In today’s throw-away society, we are continuously creating waste. When you’re finished with a cartridge, you throw it out. When you buy new cartridges, you’re left with a load of packaging. Shaving with a safety razor reduces this needless waste.

It offers a zen-like experience. Shaving with a straight razor requires extreme amounts of focus and concentration. You need to shut out the rest of the world and enter a zen-like state, focusing on the razor, the feel, the angle and the shave.

It’s manly. Nothing suggests manliness more than a straight razor. It’s a skill that a lot of men never master. Doing so will make you feel more masculine – trust me!

Tools You’ll Need

A straight razor. There’s nothing more important than a quality straight razor. Buying one should be considered an investment. If maintained a quality razor can last for years. Selecting the right razor for you is a matter of personal preference. You can purchase straight razors either new or used.  Only those that have experience of shaving with a straight razor should consider buying one that’s in a used condition. Newbies generally lack the knowledge to evaluate the condition of the razor and are often unaware of what is important and what isn’t. A quality razor can cost anywhere from $30 to several hundred.

Recommended straight razors:

Dovo Black Micarta Straight Razor 5/8

Thiers-Issard  Bocote Wood Handle Straight Razor 5/8

A hone. The key to having the perfect shave with a straight razor is keeping it extremely sharp. Surprisingly, you’re more likely to cut yourself with a blunt blade than an extremely sharp one. A razors edge has several points that resemble saw teeth. When a razor becomes dull, these teeth are uneven and point in different directions. Honing a blade restores these teeth to their original condition.

Recommended hones:

Norton 4,000/8,000 Grit Combo Whetstone

A strop. Whereas honing re-establishes the fine edge of the razor, stropping aligns and straightens the edge. Stropping is required to smooth the rough edges off your blade and sets those teeth in perfect alignment.

Recommended strop:

Edwin Jagger Strop

A brush. A brush generates more lather, lifts hair on your face, opens up your pores, and naturally exfoliates your skin which results in better, smoother shaves

Brushes are made out of two types of animal hair; badger and bore. Badger hair brushes are considered the best type for shaving as its soft, flexible and comes in different grades. In comparison, bore hair brushes are stiffer and hold less water. They’re also cheaper. If you really want to improve your shaving experience, splash out on a badger hair brush. Badger hair brushes create more lather and lubricate the skin for a very close, non-irritating shave.

Recommended brushes:

Edwin Jagger Traditional English Faux Ivory Best Badger Hair Shaving Brush
Edwin Jagger Handmade Imitation Ivory Shaving Brush Super Badger Hair with Drip Stand

Shaving cream or soap. If you’re like most men, you probably get your shaving cream from a can. Traditional shave creams and soaps are full of natural ingredients that nourish your face. Using shaving cream and soaps result in a much closer shave compared to the chemically laced gunk from a can. While these high quality creams and soaps may cost more than the canned stuff, just a small dab will create enough lather for you to lather up twice.

Recommended Creams:

Taylor of Old Bond Street Sandalwood Shaving Cream
Proraso Shaving Cream Jar
Proraso Shaving Cream tube

How to Shave Using a Straight Razor

Prep your beard – This step is the most important and often the most overlooked. If you want a clean shave, you need to prep your beard first. The main aim during beard prep is to soften your whiskers, so shaving is easier and causes less irritation. The best way to prepare your skin for a smooth shave and soften your beard is to shave right when you get out of the shower. The hot water from the shower should soften your beard enough for shaving and open your pores. If you haven’t showered, then splash your beard with hot water before exfoliating.  A hot towel is another option. For those with especially tough beards or sensitive skin, shaving oil may be applied to further soften the beard and reduce razor drag.

Lather up – Take a small amount of your shaving cream and place it in a cup. Soak your shaving brush with water and swirl the cream around until you get a nice thick lather. Using your shaving brush, apply the cream in a circular motion.  When your face is covered, take a few strokes to smooth everything out.

Pick up and hold your straight razor – For beginners, how to hold the straight razor is usually one of their first questions. There are various different grips, and each will depend on your experience and personal preference. Most users use the three or four finger grip. Most straight razor grips position the scales in between the middle and ring fingers. Others straddle the scales between the pinky and ring fingers.

The shave stroke – Start with slow, even strokes and shave in the direction of your beard growth. Hold the blade between a 20-30 degree angle. Any more than this and you risk cutting yourself. Any less and you won’t cut your whiskers. With every stroke, apply as little pressure as possible and let the razor do the work to avoid getting any nicks and cuts.

Shave the right side of your face – Since most of us are right handed, we will start with the right side of the face. Reach over your head with your left hand and stretch the skin upward with your fingers, keeping the skin taut. Shave downwards, until you’ve covered about half of the right cheek. Then slide your left hand down until your fingers are in the middle of your cheek. Stretch the skin upward again. Continue until you’ve shave the right side of your face.

Shave the left side of your face – If you’re right handed you have two choices. Either switch hands or continue to use your right. If you switch then mirror the instructions above for shaving the right side of your face. I personally continue to use my right hand as I’m not so skilful with my left.

Using your left hand, place your fingers in front of and just above your left ear. Pull upward to stretch your skin tight. Grasping the razor in your right hand, with the tip of the razor pointing upward, reach across the face and shave downward. Then repeat the process as you would when shaving the right side of your face.

Shave under your jaw – Starting on the right side, tilt your head back and slightly to the left, exposing the skin under the right of your jaw. With your left hand pull your skin downwards to make it tight. Shave with the grain. Then move onto the left side. Tilt your head back and to the right. Pull your skin downward with your left hand and shave in the direction of beard growth.

Shave your chin –  Start by shaving under the chin. Tilt your head back and raise your chin. With your left fingers pull your skin just above your throat downward.  Be extra careful when you shave. The skin under the neck is much more sensitive and prone to nicks and cuts. Then draw your lower lip up as much as possible to make the skin tight, and shave downwards. If you’re a beginner, don’t shave too close for the first few attempts. Just finish off using a double edged safety razor.

Shave your upper lip – Draw your upper lip down as much as possible to tighten the skin and shave downwards.

Multiple passes – For maximum smoothness, you’ll have to make multiple passes going across and against the grain. It total you’ll make three passes:

1) With the grain. The aim is beard reduction, not removal. You should be left with a slight shadow if you do this pass correctly. It is recommended to stop at this point for your first few shaves. However if you feel confident, move onto the next pass.

2) Across the grain. Again the aim is beard reduction. An across the grain pass is when you shave at a 90 degree angle to that which the beard grows.

3) Against the grain. This is the final and hardest pass of the three. Basically you shave against the direction your beard grows.  Your aim is to remove any hair that is left during this pass.

Please note it’s essential that you wash your face and re-lather before you perform each pass.

Post shave – After shaving, rinse your face off with cold water to close your pores. Gently pat your face dry with a soft cloth and apply a good post shave balm. Avoid using products that contain alcohol as they can cause drying of the skin and unnecessary irritation.

When you first start straight razor shaving, it is likely that you’ll cut yourself. Don’t let this put you off. You will get the hang of it eventually. You can treat most nicks and cuts using a styptic pencil or alum block.

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