Learning how to shave with a straight razor seems daunting for some men, but believe me when I tell you that it's well worth the effort. Once you learn how to use a straight razor you will never turn back.
Just check out any straight razor community forum and you'll see what I mean. It's a way of life for most men who practice this lost art of shaving and of which you will be proud to be a member of.
What you need to start Straight Razor Shaving
First thing first, however. Let's go shopping for the right equipment.
Hold out on the urge to purchase an elaborate razor. It has been known that the majority of novices will dull it while stropping or honing the razor.
A bigger, more heavyweight, more rigid razor will be gentler for you to use to begin with. You’ll notice your moves looser, in addition to maintaining it flat whilst stropping.
To begin with you ought to start out with two razors. Get both in shave ready state, and keep one for comparison intentions. Whenever in doubt about whether you shaving razor is in reality shave ready, refer to the sharpness of the spare one.
When purchasing from a respected reputable source, learn to accept the fact that the razor is shave ready in spite of your individual discrepancy with that verdict. It’s enticing to blame initial frustrating experiences with the blade, but in most cases, it is lack of know-how, or prep work.
When purchasing from a classified advertisement, make sure you understand the advertisement. Classified advertisements in general offer a higher success rate for unskilled purchasers than antique markets or online auction stores; it’s eventually up to you and the seller whether you will consider the purchase a success.
Sterilizing a razor is always a solid idea, as long as you realize the dangers related to that. Purchase mineral oil, and utilize it. My first problem I had with my first straight razor was that within the first week my razor developed rust spots. So use mineral oil a great deal.
Go for function, not appearance. A simple brush of suitable quality will permit you to try out both creams and soaps, whereas a more pricey badger brush will make it hard for you to acquire a proper lather out of soap.
Invest your money in a operable bowl or scuttle, instead of an overpriced brush. It will heighten your shaving experience to a higher degree than the brush alone could ever do.
Don’t work up a personal relationship with your first strop. You’ll nick, and even slice, it.
While occasionally the harm can be mended, generally this strop will wind up as a glued together strop.
If you can’t withstand the urge to purchase a pricey strop, find one with exchangeable parts.
I would suggest you get one that comes with a mediocre quality strop for a small sum of money.
Don’t purchase pastes for your first strop. Palm grease will work well. Pastes are normally used for edge upkeep, and you should be a couple of shaves away from needing that. At any rate, pastes will have to be applied to another strop, unless you invest to a great extent into a many-sided paddle strop.
For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, we get into the basics of Stropping further below.
Don’t purchase them if your razor comes shave ready. Acquaint yourself with the razor, finish your first few shaves.
Study about hones first. Take your time, and make certain you realize what the several hones do before you purchase. Keep an eye out for a low-cost finishing stone, such as a barber hone. Unless you intend to restore razors, this will be the sole stone you’ll ever need. A pasted strop is believed to be a feasible option to hones, and it will most likely be less pricey.
Creams and Soaps
Until now I've hammered on about going for the lower priced items, however in this case, I say get superior quality. I’d go as far as saying, spend significantly more on creams and soaps than you would on your first razor, brush, or strop.
How to Shave with a Straight Razor - Step by Step
Before you get started, make note that a great deal of concentration is utterly crucial until you master manipulating a straight razor. So, practice with a light touch, take your time, and shave alone.
1 ) First, Strop your blade between thirty- forty times and preform a hair test to determine if your blade is sharp enough.
2 ) Preferably take a warm shower before starting the shaving process as this helps open the pores as well as relax the muscles in your face. If you are not able to take a shower before you shave, just place a hot towel on your face and leave it on until it becomes cold.
3 ) Prepare the lather. Generally speaking, I use a mug with shave soap and a badger shave brush to create the lather, and most veteran straight razor users would suggest to use those tools also. However, if you’re tight on cash use normal shave gel or foam.
Again, I’d strongly advise against it but its entirely up to you. Using the tools I just recommended also helps soften your whiskers as well as opens the pores on your face as opposed to just smearing shaving cream on your face with your fingers and hands.
. How do I know when my lather is wet enough?
Well, after I lather up and take a few strokes with my blade, when I put the blade under the faucet and lightly rinse it, if the lather doesn’t totally wash off the blade I know I need to add a little water to the mix. When it washes off completely, I know it is wet enough.
4 ) Next, take the brush with some lather on it and apply the foam to your face in a swirling motion until the lather becomes nice and concentrated. Do this until you cover your entire face and neck with a nice thick layer and remove any excess foam.
5) The Shave - Begin high up on your cheeks, we are going to be maneuvering the blade and shaving with the direction your hair grows (i.e with the grain). Hold the razor with about a 20 degree angle to your face and slowly shave your whiskers.
Do not force the blade down your face or hold the blade at a 90 degree angle.
Be smart. We’re trying to shave here, not give you serious lacerations on your face.
Keep a towel folded next to the sink, to have a soft place to put down your razor and to keep your shaving hand dry and free from lather… Never hold your blade with a slippery hand.
After you have shaved your cheeks, shave the jawline, and lastly your neck.
To get the jaw, I reach over my head and pull the skin up, so what was below my jaw line is now above it. After shaving, it drops back down. I recently added a regularly scheduled against the grain pass (up the neck and just over the jaw line) and this picks up anything I may have missed.
For under the chin place your non dominant hand to the left of the Adam’s apple and pull the skin tight. That causes the hairs to stand up as much as possible. With your dominant hand shave as much against the grain as possible from right to left. I usually need two passes to get it shaved as close as I like. I use one pass from right to left going a bit upwards, and on going from right to left a bit downwards. This is both ways at an angle of less than 45 degrees with the grain.
For the neck, best thing I can tell you is to experiment, and do it very slowly. Different strokes for different folks. I haven’t found a way to do a complete horizontal cut that’s anywhere near safe, but you can do a nice across the grain once you work it out. I will stretch the skin of my neck down and back. It seems to raise the whiskers enough for me. I’ll do 2 very light passes like that and I’m all done for the day. If I’ve stretched it properly I get smooth as glass.
What about under the nose?
So here’s how I do it. I place the blade almost flat right at the top of my lip, and roll the lip down over my teeth, pushing the hair through the blade. This cuts about half way up so I then move the blade up a little and do it again. I do this all the way across my upper lip and end up with a really smooth shave there.
6 ) Number of passes. This next decision is entirely up to you depending on how close of a shave you desire. Generally speaking, I do three passes with my razor. One time with the grain, the next time across the grain, and finally one time against the grain.
I call it three pass shave “girlfriend smooth” or “date smooth” because personally my girlfriend loves feeling my face after i finish shaving since it is so incredibly smooth. If you decide to give yourself a “date smooth” shave then after the first pass, you would have to re-lather your face and neck, and begin to shave sideways to your hair growth.
Always remember do not force the blade across your face.
Lastly for the last pass re-lather your face one final time but not as much as you lathered the first two times. Since against the grain is a much harder pass you would need to see every thing you are doing, so lather lightly, use extreme concentration, and DO NOT force the razor across your face and neck.
7 ) When you have completed the actual shave, rinse your face off with cold water. Cold water closes your pores as well as stops the nicks you might get from bleeding.
8 ) Finish up with a small amount of alcohol or after-shave lotion and and then go out and convince your friends about a genuinely respectable shave with nearly as little environmental affect as possible
9 ) This last bit of informatin is not necesserily a step, but the first problem I had when i first started shaving with a straight razor was that I did not dry my razor off thoroughly and it began to rust soon after. So dry the razor well after use.... you'll thank me later.
Also when storing your razor try to keep it away from moist areas so bathrooms should not be the optimal storage area for a straight razor, and it goes without saying, keep your razor away from small children.
Congratulations, you had your first shave with your straight razor and will begin to reap the benifits of healthier skin as well as being a badass.
Now here's a handy info-graphic that summarizes what we just said.
Strop your Razor
What is a Strop?
A razor strop is a bendable piece of leather or canvas used to straighten out and polish up a straight razor blade.
Unlike honing a straight razor blade, where a whetstone gets rid of metal bent out of alignment from the blade’s edge, stropping the blade re-aligns the indentations without getting rid of any material.
How do you Strop a Straight Razor?
Note: The direction of the razor in stropping is the reverse of that used in honing.
Grasp the end of the strop securely in your left hand so it can’t droop. Grasp it close to the side, and as high as it is comfy.
Hold the razor in your right hand, well up in the hand. Grasp the razor so that the first finger is on the shank, the second finger is on the handle and the thumb rests somewhat on both parts.
Simultaneously, the first finger of the right hand rests at the edge of the strop.
Turning the razor. Place the razor on the strop, turning it over with your fingers and thumb. Practice the turning action until you have the hang of it.
In stropping the razor, apply a long slanted stroke with even pressure from the heel to the point.
Begin the stroke at the top edge of the strop closest to the pivot
Draw the razor absolutely flat, with the back leaning, directly over the strop surface. Bear just heavy enough on the strop to feel the razor draw.
Don’t worry about speed at first. This will come with continued practice.
When the first stroke is finished, turn the razor on the spine of the blade by rolling it in the fingers without turning over your hand. Now draw the razor away from you, towards the pivot, thus finishing the second stroke in stropping.
If you take accidentally cut a piece out of your strop, you will probably be able to smooth it out with a really fine sandpaper. Once it has smoothed out, rub the strop with a moist cloth and apply strop conditioner to it.
Once each month treat your leather strop with a strop paste to keep it flexible and soft. Like your straight razor, your leather strop can last a lifetime whenever properly maintained.
1. Always, always, always warm up your strop first by running your palm up and down it fast. Leather loves to be rubbed and handled.
2. I roll a glass bottle up and down the strop a few times before stropping the razor. It flattens out the surface and gives it a nice draw.
Some other Info on Stropping
1. A hollow ground razor will make more noise when stropping than a wedge.
2. The leather has grain, so usually the razor makes more noise coming back toward you than going away.
3. The “Draw” noise is not loud, it is quieter than the *bad* noises.
4. You “feel” the draw, rather than hear it. If you hold the spine against the strop and then lower the edge onto it while moving, a properly honed razor will create uniform resistance. Takes practice to feel it.
5. A loud reedy sound means only the spine is in contact with the strop. Check your technique.
6. A loud singing sound means you have lifted the spine. The edge could be damaged. If it was only part of one stroke, then go ahead and finish stropping and try the razor. I have done this and had no damage. Otherwise the razor will need honing again.
I’ve found that a freshly honed razor, stropped a hundred or so times before each shave will improve every time it is stropped for about 3 shaves. After that, 50 strop strokes every shave will keep it shaving for months.
Then the razor will start to go downhill. A good W&B will just start to miss whiskers, and going back over the area gets fewer and fewer of them, until it is a pain. Time to hone.
Hone your Razor
What is a hone?
A razor hone is generally made of stone or a synthetic material, and is used to sharpen the edge of a straight razor.
The primary aim in honing is to get a perfect cutting edge on your straight razor.
How to hone a straight razor?
1) Place the straight razor hone on a flat surface, such as a counter top. The long edge should be horizontal, and the short edge should be vertical.
Dampen the razor hone if addressed by the maker to do so; otherwise, leave it dry. Depending upon what the hone is constructed from, dampening it can ruin the hone and render it ineffective.
2) Grasp the straight razor in your right hand with the blade facing inwards. Put your forefinger on top of the flat part of the shank. Put the ball of your thumb at the pivot of the razor, and place your second finger along the dull edge of the razor. Wrap your remaining digits around the handgrip.
3) Put the straight razor flat against the top right corner of the stone, with the blade pointing inwards. Placing light pressure on the blade, push it diagonally across the hone to the bottom left corner.
4) Turn over your hand so that the opposite side of the blade is against the hone. Push the blade up to the top left corner. Placing light pressure on the blade, push it diagonally across the hone to the lower right corner. Cross the path of the first stroke in an “X” pattern.
5) Flip over your hand so the first edge of the razor is against the hone once more. Push the blade up to the top right corner, and push it diagonally across the hone. Repeat, alternating the razor before each stroke,until the razor is sharp.
6) Examine the razor after each “X” is finished on the hone. Moisten your left thumbnail and gently pass the razor over it, being cautious not to cut yourself. When the razor slides smoothly over the nail but digs slightly, the razor is absolutely sharpened. If the razor does not mark the nail, it is still too dull.
How to shave your head with a straight razor.
For those of you out there that shave their head, you can easily do this with a straight razor also, but it's better if you get your technique right.
So let's get right to the steps;
1. Split your head into shave areas: top, back, behind ears.
2. Reapply lather regularly.
3. The top of the head is probably the easiest part so I suggest you start there.
4. Be careful around the top of the ears. Your head skin stretches, so pull the skin up and away from your ears when you shave there.
5. For the back of the head I generally use my sense of feel. Be careful and don’t force the blade through the stubble. It’s easier to start the stroke on the crown of the head and go down the back of the head. This way you can see where the blade is at the start of the stroke.
6. Be really careful when shaving hair behind the ears. All the cuts I’ve acquired while shaving my head with a straight razor have always been there.
7. Be systematic. Try to make your strokes overlap to avoid thin strips of unshaven hair on the back of your head.
Tips for Straight Razor Shaving
Here are a few pre-shave tips I have encountered over the years while straight razor shaving.
Using olive oil in your pre-shave routine.
Olive oil and a straight blade were all the ancient Romans used. They were doing something right. I’ve found that using olive oil helps the razor glide over your face easier thus leaving little to no irritation afterwards.
Problem with lather, face drying out.
There is little I can say about this one except to practice making lather, watch YouTube videos on it. They helped me out big time.
Keep water hot?
Use a hot pot. My sink just doesn’t get hot enough for me. What I like to do is float the latte cup in the water, and when you re-lather, you have the hot brush head and hot lather. I don’t get the water boiling hot, and I only put the bristles in the water for three seconds max.
You can get a hot pot from anywhere for relatively cheap, no need to spend more than $10 and a latte cup should set you back $2 or so.
Hot towel tips
I generally get my towel wet and put in the microwave for a few seconds on a large plate. If I’m in a rush I just bypass the hot towel and just take a hot shower. Works just as well as using a hot towel
Soap vs. Cream
One thing I’ve notice is that soaps have a tendency to give slightly better glide, whereas Creams tend to give better cushion. The choice is yours with this one, but personally I prefer soaps.
Creating Good Lather with a soap puck
I Put some water on the soap to soften it while I go about other morning business. I soak the brush in hot tap water at the same time. Then shake out all the water from the brush. I dump the water off the soap. I then load the brush with soap by swirling it over the soap until it gets pasty. Then I go right to the face and work the soap into my beard using circular and paint-brush type strokes.
Usually, the lather is still a little dry/pasty at this point, so I quickly pass the tips of the brush under some running water and go back to working the lather. Work the lather for a good couple of minutes and add water again if needed.
The trick is, to not be afraid to use more water. Most likely you’re not using enough. Making a good lather just takes a lot of practice.
Canned shaving cream anyone?
Don’t use it… There’s nothing in a can I’m aware of that’s anywhere as good as a mug & brush cream/soap.
Some Additional Tips
Shaving Using Both Hands
As with anything in life this takes practice. Get used to holding the razor with your non-dominant hand. It feels very foreign and unnatural at first. Slowly, with lots of concentration, shave the easy spots like the cheeks.
For Sensitive Skin
If you have very sensitive skin then DON’T shave against or even across the grain. It’s better to do more than one pass with the grain than to do an across or worse, against the grain. My advice is to experiment on this one and see what works best for you.
- If you’re not doing so already, try shaving on alternate days.
- Wash your face morning and night and follow with a moisturizer suited to your skin. If I don’t put moisturizer on, my skin becomes very tight, dry and flaky. This is apparently a prime cause of ingrown hairs.
Shaving around your goatee.
I shave my cheeks as close to the sides of my goatee. When my cheeks are mostly done, I go across the grain with the razor vertical to establish the sides of the goatee. When my razor hits the beard proper, it usually stops on its own.
For the underneath part where the goatee rounds under my chin, I continue with the horizontal technique but making very small strokes and rotating the razor slightly with each stroke to create the round.
Skin slipping when trying to make your skin taught.
I shave immediately after shower as well, having already stropped my razor and lathered. So I have a towel wrapped around and can wipe my hand dry with a quick swipe on the towel before I stretch.
I get plenty of friction against my skin for yanking and stretching that way. I only attempt to stretch the parts of my face that are free of lather. Also I’ve heard that if you rub your fingers against an alum block helps as well.
I have a friend who is a pharmacist who noticed my razor burn and advised me to put Visine on it to “take the red out”. Surprisingly it worked perfectly. Five minutes later it wasn’t red anymore. Visine is a vasoconstrictor and it reduces the size of capillaries, thus making them harder to see.
Razor burn results from abrasion. You can get skin sensitivity with a sharp razor but not razor burn. The sensitivity comes from shaving off a little skin and exposing sensitive skin.
Technique problems arise in three areas: excessive razor pressure, an excessive blade angle, and aggressive shaving. The pressure should be as light as possible, just enough to cut. The spine of the the blade should be about 2 spine widths above the skin. Large angle make the blade act like a scraper.
That brings us to aggressiveness. I wouldn’t worry as much about the number of passes as how aggressive they are. Don’t try to cut down to skin on the early passes. Don’t worry about what you’re leaving on your face as long as you’re down to a fine stubble by the time you start the 3rd pass. Learn the grain of your beard and make sure you do with and across the grain passes first. Go against or partly against the grain only on the 3rd pass, and then do it with as light a touch as possible. Don’t shave over a spot after you’ve shaved off the lather.
Think gentle. If you’re feeling discomfort while you’re shaving you either have poor lubrication or are being too aggressive. Shaving should feel smooth with no drag.
Use the Alum block after splashing cold water on your face and wet the bar before application. Drag it across your face. It will feel like dragging an ice cube across your face. It will let you know where there is a little irritation and take care of it.
If you find your face excessively shiny now, I would suggest that you use Talcum powder. It’s an old barber’s trick, and works great for the really pale skinned
Healing razor burn?
I’m not sure what everyone else uses after their shaving, but I found that the neutrogena Men Post Shave Lotion is great stuff. I also find aloe Vera is inexpensive effective. Also while you have razor burn, if you prep with a good shaving oil before the application of soap, the oil will protect the sensitive areas and allow the blade to glide over the burn gently.
I almost never get razor burn anymore because of these tips.
To make your brush less crusty shampoo works fine. Also a nice Borax cleanse every 6 weeks makes the cleans most brushes well.
Newspaper has held a place in my honing regimen for a long time now. I love it. You can’t over-hone on it. Here is the process that I’ve used many times:
I look for either the comics section or the movie section, something with a lot of ink (no it doesn’t get on the razor just as it doesn’t get on glass if you polish a mirror or window with newspaper).
I use two sheets (“two-ply”) and select a flat surface to tape it down to. Usually for me, it’s my Chinese 12k stone. I wrap the newspaper sheets very tightly around the stone’s top and then the sides taping each edge of the paper to the bottom of the stone. Sometimes you have to re-stretch before you tape down to make sure there are no wrinkles on the surface. For me, two sheets gives just the right amount of cushion. I do not use more than two sheets because too many sheets, I’ve found can cause edge rounding.
Then, it’s stropping time (edge trailing). 50 passes are good to start. I do this after polishing on my last hone/stone. Then it’s test shave. If I feel I want to try for an improvement, I go back to the newspaper and go 100 passes. After newspaper I always strop on plain leather before a shave.
I once took a razor and stropped on newspaper for 100 passes then shaved. I shaved with the same razor each morning, and each night I stropped another 100 passes. At the end of the week, 700 passes overall on newspaper on one razor. No negative effects. Neither, however, did the razor get “7 times sharper” Each shave was super from the first day to the last.
***Make sure the flat surface is TOTALLY clean. Even the smallest grit, speck, etc will be felt when stropping on the newspaper. Not good.
Homemade after shave recipes
What post shave lotion to use?
I apply a generous amount of Nivea Extreme after putting on aftershave and my face feels amazing. Having said this, there are lotions which you can easily create at home from ingredients you can buy at a supermarket.
Here are four examples.
Alcohol-Free Softening Aftershave.
2 cups witch hazel extract
2 ounces rose water
2 ounces aloe vera gel
1/2 ounce vegetable glycerin
A few drops of an essential oil of your choice (such as peppermint and eucalyptus), if desired Combine the ingredients in a jar, and shake to blend.
Pat on the face after shaving.
Makes 2 1/2 cups.
Here is a second recipe:
1oz Avocado oil
4 drops lavender
4 drops R. Chamomile
2 drops grapefruit
2 drops tea tree
Alcohol-Free Softening Aftershave
2 cups witch hazel extract
2 ounces rose water
2 ounces aloe vera gel
1/2 ounce vegetable glycerin
A few drops of an essential oil of your choice (such as peppermint and eucalyptus), if desired Combine the ingredients in a jar, and shake to blend.
Makes 2 1/2 cups.
75 ml ethyl alcohol
25 ml water
1/2 tsp. glycerin
20-25 drops bay essential oil
Rookie Mistakes to Avoid When Shaving
I just thought I’d plug my story on switching to shaving with a straight razor-mostly because I fumbled through a few things that I never saw discussed.
Tip #1=So when I first started I bought a few very cheap razors, a strop and 1000/6000 stone. I practiced with the razors before the stone arrived–just to get the angles and the hand holding part a little more familiar. The lesson I learned in the next few months—cheaper can get you in trouble–but not always. The first few new cheapo’s wouldn’t hold an edge–the blades felt too thin–almost like a razor blade that you throw out after a few shaves? I won’t plug brand names but I ended up buying two new German straight razors and wow—they were down right dangerous. I also picked up a few vintage blades off of ebay–one of them turned out to be a decent blade with plenty of steel left to make a good shaver.
Tip #2=Strop-STROP STROP STROP. It is ALL the difference between a razor that glides through the beard or tears through the beard. I use a linen cloth/leather combination and that really opened up a whole new world. Sharpening with the 1000/6000 is, of course, important-but I saw ALOT on the web about how to do that and the importance of it. But stropping seemed a little in the grey area. But basically I shoot for an edge that will glide through the hair on the back of my hand (my girlfriend finds delight in teasing me about how I have no hair on my knuckles or hands becuase I test out my razor) and a solid stropping is the difference.
Tip #3=Three pass shave. It was about 2 weeks before I tried the third pass and WOW. THAT really makes your skin come alive.
Tip #4=Aftershave. I’m a big fan of an old fashioned “liquid fire” type-burns like the dickens but the skin settles right down and is soft, smooth and ready for lotion.
Tip #5=Once you start shaving with a straight razor–give your beard a few shaves to get used to the cut and the grain will change to accomodate the new shaver. You’ll see electric razors say the same thing-and straight razors are no different.
Just my pointers for those who are trolling for tips and pointers. I’ve been shaving with a straight razor about 4 months now and have thrown my old safety razor out! It really has turned a chore into a hobby!
A couple more random tips:
6. Don’t try to get everything perfect on the first pass. You’ll do more harm than good if you keep going over the same area.
7. Stretch the skin!!
8. When you’re a newbie, don’t use the straight when you’re in a rush. Take your time, and concentrate on technique.
9. If you’re taking a long time, don’t let the lather dry up. If necessary, rinse and re-lather (even within the same pass)