First straight razor shave
Originally posted by SRP's founder Lynn Abrams
Shaving with a straight razor is one of life’s great pleasures. Once you become proficient you can enjoy the closest and most comfortable shaves you have ever experienced. You will actually find yourself looking forward to shaving every day instead of considering shaving a chore.
Shaving with a straight razor should be considered an “Art” and like all arts, there is a slight learning curve that will help you develop the skills necessary to become proficient.It is not recommended that you simply purchase a straight razor, lather up and take on an entire shave on your first experience. Patience is a real virtue here. No matter how many years you have been shaving and how familiar you feel you are with your face, shaving with the straight razor will give you an entirely new perspective of the process.
Let’s take a few minutes and explore some basic concepts that will help you get started.
Get to know the feel of your razor. This may seem a very simple task and one not worthy of mention, but it is really of great importance. Every razor has its own feel and balance. Different blade widths have different weights as do different handle materials. You should open and close the razor carefully several times to become accustomed to it. You should experiment with different grips in order to find the one that will work best for you when shaving. A standard grip is recommended, however you should determine this based on your own abilities and what you feel will work the best for you. You may find that you will use several different grips when shaving against the grain or across the grain. If a grip does not feel comfortable, don’t try to shave with it. The grip should also be firm for shaving. You do not want to squeeze the razor tightly or hold it loosely in your hand. A comfortable feel is what you are looking for.
In addition to a comfortable feel the proper angle for cutting hair/whisker with a straight razor is usually 30 degrees or less. This may seem very straight forward, but it is the single largest nemesis in obtaining a comfortable straight razor shave. The tendency for most people is to allow the razor to flatten out to an angle of 45 degrees or more and particularly around the chin, flatten the angle out to as much as 90 degrees. Typically this is what causes the scraping and pulling sensation that is most uncomfortable along with not properly removing all the hair/whisker.
Start with a razor that has been professionally honed. What this means is that the razor you intend to shave with should be shave ready. A shave ready razor is one that has been professionally honed and tested to ensure it will shave. In most circumstances your razor will be packed in some type of oil and will have been stropped prior to you receiving it. You will need to rinse the oil off the razor prior to use. You may have been told that stropping prior to shaving with a new razor is not necessary. It may not be, but would be recommended after the oil coating is removed. A disposable blade straight razor would be considered shave ready.
Stropping your razor should consist of 30-50 strokes on a leather strop prior to shaving. The spine of the razor should lead on all strokes with the strop. This means also that the edge of the razor should be trailing. The stroke should be very even in both directions with minimal pressure on the strop. Both the spine and the edge should remain on the strop throughout the stroke. Do not turn the razor over when you change the stroke direction by rolling the razor on its edge. The razor should only be rolled on its spine to prevent damage to both your strop and razor. It is also important to make sure you do not lift the razor up at the end of a stroke in either direction as you may end up dulling the edge of the razor or damaging your strop.
Beard preparation is also a very important aspect to consider prior to your first straight razor shave. Many people shave after they come out of the shower to ensure that the beard is clean and prepared for soaping prior to the shave. Some people still utilize a hot towel over the face before shaving cream, with shaving cream and then after the shave too. The important thing after cleaning the face and beard is to use a good lasting soap or cream that does not dry on the face quickly. A boars hair or badger brush with a nice shaving soap or cream will go a long way to building a nice lather and working the lather into the face, preparing the beard for the shave.
We are now ready to start to learn how to shave with the straight razor. The anticipation of most people and the expectation of the greatest shave you ever had in your life makes what you will read next very important. It is not recommended that you try to shave your entire face the first time you shave with a straight razor. What you learn next and the time you devote to learning it, will help to make straight razor shaving a lifelong passion for you. Once learned properly, you will find yourself feeling your face all day long as you become addicted to that baby butt smooth feeling.
Your first day shaving with the straight razor should involve a with the grain (WTG) or stroke from your sideburn down to the jaw on the side of your dominant hand. This is where you want to remember that 30 degree angle or less. Very little pressure should be utilized. Be relaxed. Short strokes of approximately one inch should be utilized down to the jaw line and then several little longer strokes can be used to go back and clean up any remaining hair/whisker in this area. Once you have accomplished this, go ahead and use your regular method of shaving for the rest of that shave.
On day two, so long as you were comfortable with what you did on day one, you will repeat what you did on the dominant hand side, using the dominant hand, but you now can add the cheek area on that side from where the beard starts and shave WTG down to the jaw line above the neck. The real key is to get comfortable with the razor and determine how the cutting angle feels for you and then develop a comfort level with the actual shaving by working through sections of your face rather than tackling the whole face at one time. There are many different angles involved in shaving your face and the more you get comfortable with the razor and these angles the easier it will be to develop the necessary techniques to shave the chin and try across the grain (XTG) or against the grain strokes (ATG) should you desire without nicking or cutting your face up along the journey. Always remember, if something doesn’t feel right or you feel a pulling or tugging that you should not, stop! It is much easier to take a step back and sort it out prior to a nick or discomfort.
Now, if these first couple days are going your way the next step will be to add the section of your beard from the jaw line and chin line on that dominant side down to where the beard stops on the neck. Again for now, this will be a downward or with the grain stroke.
The next step will be really fun for most of you. We are now going to start shaving the other side of the face. The fun part here though, will be that you will be learning to use your non dominant hand for that side of the face. Yes you can reach across and continue to learn using your dominant hand, but that does impede your vision a little and in the end you will find that learning to use your non dominant hand will make the overall process much easier for you. Once again, before you get started here, you really want to get used to how the razor feels in the non dominant hand and how the grip feels. This may take a day or two, but it is worth the effort. Once comfortable, with the holding the razor in the non dominant hand, only take on the opposite side of the face from the sideburn to the jaw line again and that’s it for that day. Again, once you are comfortable with shaving this area, you can move to the cheek and neck on the non dominant side over the next couple days using the non dominant hand.
Finally, once you are getting comfortable with shaving your entire face WTG and using both hands and getting nice close shaves you are ready to take on the chin. One thing that you can always count on is that every chin is unique in size and structure. In addition, this is usually the heaviest part of the beard for us. I have always found that the chin is really an area to spend a few days on just learning the best angles for shaving it. I recommend breaking the chin down into three areas. Under the lower lip, the sides of the chin and the chin itself. The chin usually will only need a WTG stroke for that BBS feeling although some people will go back and use an XTG stroke for the chin and chin sides.
The time you have spent up to this point has served to lay a foundation for successful and enjoyable straight razor shaving for the rest of your life. From here you can experiment and decide whether you want to try XTG strokes from each ear to the chin on each side of the face and ATG strokes from the lower part of the neck to the chin line. Remember to use both hands. You should also work with your face to stretch the skin in directions that will pick up those areas where the hair may grow in unconventional directions, like the side of the neck.
Many times a really smooth shave is accomplished with only two full passes and some touch up work. Some people do use three full passes, but you should use caution with this. Multiple passes on any part of the face can cause abrasions to that area.
Like every other aspect of wet shaving and straight razor shaving, you will find that there is much room for personal preference here. These helpful hints are not meant to be the end all instructions or guidelines, but simply and easy way to get started minimizing discomfort.
It is not uncommon for the face to be a little dry or red as it gets use to the straight razor for the first couple days. A nice aftershave balm should feel great.
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