Beginner's guide to straight razor shaving
The purpose of this article is to serve as an overview of the resources available at Straight Razor Place, and to give readers who are interested in the art of straight razor shaving a gentle introduction to the tools, and skills, required. It also contains links to further information where appropriate. We, the SRP community, encourage our readers to peruse the material referenced in this article.
This entry therefore only contains the most basic information, video, and suggestions for when you start shaving with a straight razor. It includes suggested equipment, and equipment we believe you had better avoid. For more information on what to look for when buying, including a list of questions for sellers, refer to the entry on Straight Razors.
Additional help can, and will, be found in our forums and in our chat channels.
Before you begin
Shaving with a straight razor is an art that requires learning. It has a steep, and long, learning curve. Chances are your first weeks or even months will yield results that are, at best, on par with those of a cartridge or even a safety razor. Before you dive into the experience of shaving with a straight razor, you should spend some time familiarizing yourself with the basic concept of straight shaving. This article will cover a basic equipment list, a definition of shave ready, some clarity on selecting a razor; and over-views on stropping, beard preparation, shaving, and post shave practices.
You will find further useful information in the Further Reading Category of this Wiki.
It is also strongly recommended that you understand the concept of The Zen of Straight Shaving. This means, you will need time, and patience. Learning to shave with a straight razor will not yield quick results. If your goal is to get a good shave quickly, you might be better off beginning with a safety razor.
That said, straight razor shaving can be a deeply satisfying experience, and once you have mastered the basic skills, you will most likely find its results superior to any other shaving method. So, be patient, read on, and enjoy your stay with the SRP community.
The following items are considered the basic equipment. Basic means that without either of these items, your shave will most likely be sub-optimal or even painful.
Extended basic equipment
The following items are considered optional, but useful, additions to the basic equipment.
Further useful items can be found in the Equipment Category of this Wiki.
Shave ready razors
- Main article: The Shave Ready Razor
When you see a razor that is advertized as "shave ready". and the razor comes straight from the factory, in almost all cases it is not really shave ready. Unless the razor has been honed by somebody with experience, it will likely need to be honed before you use it. Why? If you are really interested in the reason you can read the detailed explanation. Otherwise just trust us.
Choosing a razor
Choosing a razor is a matter of personal preference. If you must have a brand new razor the quality choices are limited to the three main major current manufacturers: Dovo, Thiers-Issard, and Böker; as well as the custom razor makers. There is also the chinese made Gold Dollar and the razors currently made by Giesen & Forsthoff, which are of a somewhat lower quality, but usually can be made to shave. A brand new razor will still have to be honed.
Fortunately there are many vintage razors which would often be of equal or even better quality than the current production and they will generally cost significantly less. The best place to find one is the Classifieds section of SRP. Most often the razors there are honed and shave-tested by the seller, and this is noted in the ad, but when in doubt you can always ask.
Newbies are strongly discouraged from purchasing vintage razors on eBay because they do not have the experience to evaluate the condition of the razor - in most cases the pictures on eBay do not provide enough details, and even when they do, a newbie generally doesn't know what is important and what isn't.
Nevertheless there are some razors that should be avoided, and even though every purchase is a risk there are few popular vintage brands that are generally good.
You can find detailed descriptions of hundreds of new and vintage razors in our Straight Razor Database (SRDB).
- Main article: Theory of stropping
Before each use a razor needs to be stropped on a flexible strip of leather or canvas. Unlike honing a blade, in which a whetstone removes metal bent out of alignment from the blade's edge, stropping the blade re-aligns the indentations without removing any material. The strop may be a hanging strip or a hand-held paddle. Leather is generally considered to be the best material for strops, but some synthetic strops have been reported to be almost as good.
- Main article: Preparation
Shaving dry whiskers is generally very uncomfortable because dry whiskers are extremely tough. The traditional way to soften your beard is by using lather, which is generated by mixing shaving soap or cream and water using a shaving brush. Generally you should give few minutes for the lather to soften the whiskers before starting to shave. Hot steam towels can provide further conditioning for a luxurious shave. Some people use pre-shave oil or even olive oil in addition to or instead of lather, and even the canned shaving foam or gel is better than using nothing at all.
- Main article: First straight razor shave
Shaving with a straight razor is not very hard, but it is a learned skill. The basics are to keep the blade angled at about 30 degrees with respect to the face surface, and to use extremely light pressure just so that the razor is still touching your face. The razor motion is perpendicular to the edge initially and as you develop a technique you can improve on it by using a slight angle so that the whiskers are sliced better (too much angle will cause a cut). Stretching the skin with your free hand is very important as well. The principle is not beard elimination, but beard reduction - use multiple Passes starting with the grain (WTG) and then possibly adding across the grain and against the grain (XTG and ATG). The recommended approach is to start by shaving just under the sideburns and to slowly expand the area with each shave as you become comfortable and confident with the razor.
- See also: Category:Post Shave
The top level of the skin cells is exfoliated during the shave. Some people find that a good moisturizing soap or cream provides enough skin conditioning to compensate for this. However most find that some post-shave skin care is helpful. This is an area where you have to find what works best for you. The usual products are styptic pencil/alum block, witch hazel, and a whole multitude of aftershave products.
The best places to get more information and answers to specific questions outside of this wiki are the Straight Razor Place forum and the #srp IRC channel on freenode. We have prepared an easy to follow walk through: Using the SRP Chat.
An experienced local barber can also be a helpful resource.