If you are looking to ditch your cartridge razor routine in favor of getting a classic barber shave in your own bathroom, then you’re not alone. The world’s best barbers always keep a straight razor in their arsenal in order to maintain the detailed lines along a gent’s neck and beard. As beards have grown in popularity over recent years, so too have straight razors. Not only does a straight razor look much better on your sink than a disposable piece of plastic, it will also provide a much smoother shave once you have refined the skill. In this article we’ll detail the benefits of using a straight razor and a step-by-step for how to master the art of the straight razor shave.
A straight razor is a long blade set in a handle that folds open and closed. Straight razors were invented in 17th-century England and were the primary tool for manual (as opposed to electric) shaving until the rise of the “safety razor” in the mid 20th century. However, recently straight razors have been making a big comeback, and for good reason. They offer many benefits and advantages, including:
- A closer shave: Used properly, a straight razor can provide even a closer shave than a multi-blade safety razor.
- A smoother and cleaner shave: This may sound counterintuitive but straight razors, used properly, can actually be safer and smoother than safety razors, because you have more control over how they make contact with your skin. Think of it like stick-shift driving versus manual: stick-shift takes longer to learn but gives you more control over the car.
- Affordability: While a straight razor initially costs more than a safety razor, when you factor in all the replacement cartridges and blades you need to buy over the lifetime of a cartridge razor, straight razors end up being less expensive in the long term.
- Environmental friendliness: Since they last years, and use minimal packaging, straight razors end up being much easier on the environment than cartridge razors.
- Old-school style: It’s tough to beat the classic look, feel, and weight of a straight razor.
- Meditation: Since they require more focus and concentration than plastic razors, straight razors tend to turn shaving into an act of meditation and a true “art”. Indeed – shaving can be quite relaxing.
Learning how to properly use a straight razor will allow you to reap all the benefits mentioned above. The learning curve is steeper than that of a safety razor, of course, but it’s like riding a bike: once you know how to do it, you never forget.
The Straight Razor Method
Here’s a step-by-step guide to using a straight razor:
Apply a pre-shave oil to soften up the hair follicles and help prevent post-shave irritation. Lay a hot towel on the beard/shaving area to soften the follicles even more and open up the pores. Leave the towel on for about a minute.
Open up the razor all the way until it’s at about a 90-degree/diagonal angle to the holder. Hook your pinkie or ring finger over the “tang”, the very end of the blade piece that is now sticking out from the other side of the holder, place your thumb on the lower part of the cutting side of the blade and your index and middle finger on the top of the blade’s dull side. Hold the blade at a roughly 30-degree angle to your face. If the angle is too flat it will tear the stubble, and if the angle is too steep it will cut the skin. With your free hand, pull the skin taut in the opposite direction in which you will be moving the blade. Shave “with the grain”, meaning in the direction your hair grows. It’s important to apply very little pressure and make smooth, short, even strokes without jerking or chopping. Rinse with cold water, and then re-apply the oil and the lather to repeat the process, only this time shave against the grain. Rinse with cold water again and apply a post-shave moisturizer.