Used sensibly and carefully, a straight razor is an excellent means of shaving. Without due care and attention, it is possible to injure yourself, just as with any sharp edged object. If you try out the shaving method described here in, be aware that I make no guarantee, implied or otherwise, that you won’t manage to cut yourself. You will. But you will learn and become proﬁcient, and then you will only rarely nick yourself. Never leave a straight razor where small children, or even unsuspecting adults,might come across it and pick it up.Use your common sense!
Unless you want to sport a full set beard, some degree of shaving is necessary for every man (let us avoid the nice ties of female facial hair). Archeologists tell us of strange and cruel practices performed by our forebears involving carefully knapped ﬂints, obsidian knives and even sea shells. Plucking hairs out singly must have required a dedication that I cannot imagine, even if I wished to do so. With the discovery of metal ores and the gradually discovered ability to mine, smelt and fashion metals, we see the development of the modern razor, which continues today. For a period of over a hundred years, this meant a straight razor, also known as a ‘cutthroať or open razor.This was ﬁne-tuned Seven Day boxed set of Thiers Issard Razors into a tool that excelled at its job, and was available in thousands of models. From the heavy and rather crude wedge blades to half-hollow and fully hollow ground blades it evolved into an ever more eﬃcient tool for hair removal. At one time it was the mark of a gentleman to be shaved by someone else, and even the poorest went to a barber for a shave once or twice a week - certainly once for church on a Sunday. By the end of this period though, most men had their own razor and were instructed by their fathers in its use. But times were about to change at the end of the nineteenth century.The invention of the safety razor by King Gillette in 1904 marked a turning point after which it was the declared objective to make proﬁt ﬁrst rather than serve the needs of the shaver ﬁrst. Gillette’s brilliant idea was to make something (I don’t think he would have minded what, but landed on the idea of a shaving system)that was universally required, and had a limited life span,so the consumer would have to keep on buying. Large companies - really just two giants today -work feverishly to sell us new and improved razors and blades for them.Whilst Gillette’s original double edged razor blade and the razor to hold it were good at their job, recent times have seen them all but replaced entirely by more expensive cartridge razors sporting one, two, three or even four blades. The shaving soap and brush have been replaced for most men with foams and gels in aerosol cans that contain various chemicals. Some even use menthol to half-numb the face so that the user will not feel the discomfort of these less than perfect systems. Shaving has become a chore that it is said that most men hate, and avoid when they can. The electric shaver, ﬁrst invented by Jacob Schick, has become widespread, even though it does a relatively poor job of work. It is convenient, and somehow seems more modern. Why then, are you reading this?
There has been a resurgence of respect for older methods of doing many things in the last thirty years. To some extent we are disillusioned with modern technologies, and are sometimes fearful of them. There is a sense that uncontrolled development may lead us to unknown or unwanted ends. This certainly motivates some straight razor shavers. Others are concerned with the wastage of throw-away cartridges for their razors, or indeed, with throw-away razors. A concern for the environment might lead one to feel uneasy about choking landﬁlls with excess plastic. Men like tools, by and large, and it is hard to have a sense of pride in a plastic razor that must be discarded after a few uses. It is true that modern razors are quick to use, and require a minimum of skill and care to use. There’s no pride to be had in that; how much better to have to carefully learn a skill and be able to apply it on a daily basis- now there is satisfaction instead of resentment. The sheer expense is a source of annoyance for all users of modern razors. There is the question of the quality of the end product - just how good a shave are you getting from your electric shaver or disposable multi-bladed monstrosity? Do you get razor burn? Ingrowing hairs, or the infamous ‘razor bumps’? Dragging a three bladed razor over your face is not exactly good for your skin.What if you could get a really good shave from a single blade? What if most users were to ﬁnd it improved their skin and reduced the number of blemishes and pimples they had? Finally, itis commonplace to say we have no time, and that we are in a tearing hurry. Is there any time more rushed than the few precious minutes between waking up and leaving for work?What if we were forced to take our time over a morning ritual that allowed time to pause,to concentrate on something else, and to give ourselves a real treat? Best of all, it allows us to use all the paraphernalia of a real shave, including the strange pleasure of being able to sharpen an edge to a degree that would make a surgical scalpel blush, and experiment with deliciously scented shaving soaps and creams, and take pride in doing a diﬃcult job really, really well. No wonder there is a growing interest in what is now known as ‘wet shaving’ as opposed to the dry sort conducted with one of the miniaturised electric lawn mowers descended from Schick’s ﬁrst enormous contraption. And of all wet shaving methods, the pride of place is given to the man who shaves with a straight razor.There is an unquestionable romance to using an open blade for a tricky job. It looks dangerous, but with a reasonable amount of care and attention it can be tamed into a thing of beauty, oﬀering little risk to the user. Frankly, iťs not that hard either, but leťs not take away all the mystique: pretend it is very diﬃcult and everyone will think you are terribly brave and clever. Can’t be bad!Truth to tell, iťs not for everyone, as some men will prefer to simply do the job as quickly as they can, not caring about a perfect shave, or they will not be prepared to put in the necessary time and patience to learn to do it right. If you are the kind of guy who likes to work with your hands, to make things, who isn’t afraid to change his own oil or a tire, who likes fountain pens over ball points, vinyl over compact disks, tubes over transistors, who likes his ﬁlm cameras and enjoys the smell of developer and ﬁxer, who thinks muzzle loaders are way cooler than assault riﬂes,then it might just be the thing for you.You won’t know till you give it a try. If you are tempted, be prepared to spend several months getting the hang of it, and depending on your skills probably longer still until you have honing down pat. Having advice on tap, and the support of a community of users is almost essential to keeping going through the rough patches.With internet access,there are many such helpers ready and able to advise you when you get stuck. Here I have to insert a plug forthe best straight razor resource on the web, which is a Yahoo! group called Straightrazorplace. The ﬁrst thing you should do after reading this is to go and join this group, and don’t be afraid to ask questions as beginners are welcome.
The group was founded by a gentleman named Lynn Abrams, who has done more than anyone to bring back the straight razor way of shaving. Other groups have split oﬀ from this as the word has spread, and others still are concerned with wet shaving in general, or with the associated soaps and creams. I’ll list some usefull links at the end. All in all, even if you never meet another straight razor user in person, you will be part of an online community that has some really nice people in it.
In order to be able to talk about straight razors, we have to agree on some terminology for the various parts of their anatomy. In the photo below these parts are named. Thisis a basic razor,similar to most that you will ﬁnd, except forthe blade,which is made of damascus steel .
The blade will usually be made of carbon steel, but sometimes you will come across stainless steel blades. Most users would agree that the carbon steel is easier to hone, achieves a sharper edge and is more prone to rust. Stainless steel is harder to hone, and generally doesn’t ever get quite so sharp, and isless prone to rusting - it still can and needs the same care to avoid this. Rarely, razors like the one in the photo are made with true damascus steel blades, but these are not for the beginner since the extreme hardness of this steel makes honing a challenge, and they are also very expensive. The handle, or scales, might be made of plastic, wood, celluloid, bone, horn, ivory (old razors only), steel, or even mother of pearl. This is where razor manufacturers could go to town, producing ever more beautiful scales to attract customers. For now, we will leave these matters to collectors, as the quality of the blade has to be the ﬁrst consideration for a user, and especially so for a new user. As well as the kind ofsteel, a razor will have its blade described by width from spine to edge, and this is traditionally expressed in eighths of an inch. The commonestsize is 5/8” though some will prefer a bigger broader blade up to 7/8” or rarely 8/8”. Narrower blades of 4/8” are easily found, and a few even smaller than this. A broader blade will allow more lather to accumulate on the blade before you have to pause and rinse or wipe it oﬀ, but will be less nimble at getting into awkward spots such as under your nose. Some men ﬁnd the heavier blades to be better shavers asthey encourage the shaver to allow the weight ofthe blade to do the work - more on this later.The point of the blade can be shaped in several styles, the commonest being the round point and the square point (or ‘spike’), but there are also half-round, oblique, notched and French points. The sharp corner on the square point razor is useful for exact work, say, around the edge of a moustache, but it is also easy to cut yourself with, so most beginners will want a round point as this is more forgiving.Perhaps the most important part of the blade is its grind. This refers to how much hollowing there is in the side of the blade. The ﬁrst straight razors were simply wedges of steel hammered thin at one side to make sharpening possible. The thickness ofthe spine would allowthe razor,when resting on a hone,to be sharpened at exactly the right angle. You will easily see that if a blade has a triangular cross-section, then there is quite a lot of metal to be removed in honing, as a layer of steel needs to be taken oﬀ allthe way from the edge to the spine. Such a razor will be hard to sharpen, but once sharp it will hold its edge for a long time. It will also be heavy, and collectors refer to these wedges, especially in 7/8” or 8/8”size as‘meat cleavers’ - but they are often great shavers and quite unlikely to cleave anything important! I said earlier that the straight razor evolved, and it is mostly in the matter of hollow-grinding that I meant this. Using grinding wheels it was found to be possible to scoop out the side of the blade, and with the proper steel, the right abrasive wheel and a skilled operator the blade can be ground away to a thinness that is quite astounding. The relative amount of hollow grinding can described by a rather confusing system of fourths, where 4/4 means a fully hollowed razor, but it is easier if we call them by descriptive names. So awedge refers to a razor with either none or only a very slight hollowing, a full hollow has the most metal removed, and you can probably guess what a half hollow might be. The beauty of this idea is that the spine and edge are the only parts of the blade to contact the hone when the blade islaid upon it. This controls the angle of the tapering metal that will form the edge, but means that no great amount of metal need be removed from the side of the blade as with a wedge. As the edge is gradually worn away by repeated honing, so is the spine, thus maintaining the geometry of the honing angle. Some full hollow razors will ‘sing’ - they ring like a bell when the edge is gently plucked (very nice, butthe plucking isn’t good for the edge!)Practically all modern straight razors, and a large majority of those made over the last 130 years are fully hollowed. This makes them lighter,quicker to sharpen, and allows a very sharp edge to be put upon them. But there are disadvantages too. They are more easily damaged by both a knock and by the little pits of corrosion that will happen if a razor is not dried well after use. They do not keep their ultra sharp edge as long as a thicker blade, and being thinner are more prone to distortion as they travel over your face. My own preference is for the half-hollow, which is a compromise between these attributes. The main reason why I like them is that I ﬁnd them the most comfortable razors to shave with, which I believe to be a result of the thicker blade distorting less.So how does a beginner choose his ﬁrst razor? This is plainly of the utmost importance, as you will either persevere and learn the art or give up depending on the quality of your experiences with your ﬁrst straight razor. You certainly shouldn’t do as I did, and buy a brand new razor - and a stainless steel one at that! I don’t claim to have tamed that beast by my superior powers - I gave up on it pretty quickly and did the smart thing. I bought an old razor from an experienced straight razor user on Straightrazorplace. If you want to start with a real razor, this is deﬁnitely the way to do it (yes, there is an alternative, but just wait a minute). You will not get a pretty razor this way, though you may think it so since iťs yours! What you will get is one that has been honed for you, and this is most important. Learning the straight razor shave may take from a few weeks to a few months before you feel conﬁdent and can do a reliably quick and close shave, but learning to hone is harder still. Straight razors are still being manufactured, but are not ready to shave with as they leave the factory, whatever the packaging may say! Trying to shave with a blunt razor is simply torture, and you won’t want to come back for more. If your razor has been sharpened by someone who has the knack of it, you won’t have this worry, and you will have a benchmark to compare with as you try to hone another razor on your own. The only way to buy a new razor, and avoid this problem is to buy it from Classic Shaving (see appendix for the website) and have them send it via their sharpening service (consisting of the aforementioned Mr Abrams). You’ll have no worries at all if you do that. Once you know how to hone, you can start looking for razors in antique shops, ﬂea markets, garage sales, and like everything else, on eBay. Iťs rather hard to avoid acquiring rather too many of them, and this will lead your loved ones to question yoursanity, but by this time you won’t care anyway. I know.I mentioned an alternative to a ‘reaľ razor, and this will be a good way to learn for some. If you have ever had a barber shave the back of your neck at the end of a haircut, he was probably using a Shavette, which is made by Dovo, one of the two main straight razor manufacturers still in production. This is a rather lightweight and ﬂimsy version of a straight razor that takes one half of a snapped double-edged razor blade and mounts it where the sharpened edge would be in a normal straight. Dovo isn’t the only company making these, another is from a Spanish ﬁrm, Filarmonica,that used to make straight razors and still supplies their version of this device to barber supply houses. There is also a much more expensive disposable blade straight from Japan, the Feather Razor, that is meant for those who intend to continue using a straight without the bother of honing and stropping. It uses its own proprietary blades. The Shavette is easily bought and is quite cheap. Classic Shaving sell them for less than $30 US. It will let the beginner try his hand at a straight shave with no worries about sharpness. Once again, there is always a ‘buť - in this case it has to be said that the Shavette is very light, and a double-edge blade is very sharp. You will manage to make a few little cuts with it because of this combination, but if used carefully it can give the ﬂavour of a straight shave for very little outlay. Some users strongly recommend them for beginners, but I would suggest that you might as well use the realthing from the start. If you are going to be a straight shaver you are going to have to learn to hone sooner orlater,so why waste time?Talking of which....
Assuming you are going to do as I have advised, and buy a ready-honed razor you may want to skip this part until after the shaving part, which is the bit you can’t wait to get into. But if you are an organised kind of guy, and are doing all the research ﬁrst, here we go....The basic principle of honing is that the razor’s blade must be gently laid ﬂat on a hone, and moved with the edge foremost. It really is that simple. And yet, itreally is that complicated too. Everything else follows from this.Leťs begin with the hone. The hone that you already have for sharpening your knives is no good at all here. It will be far too coarse, and it probably isn’t ﬂat. You will have to buy a hone of some sort, and there are three main ways you can go. Firstly, a modern wetstone from a woodworking shop, such as that made by Norton (the 4,000/8,000 combination would be best) or Shapton will be fairly easily found. These must be well wetted in cold water before use, and the coarser side is used ﬁrst, and then the ﬁner. The razor is placed on the hone holding it on the shank by thumb and foreﬁnger, and slid along the surface with the sharp edge leading. Because the blade is longer than the width of the stone, it is necessary either to angle the blade so it ﬁts across the width of the stone, or draw the blade downwards as it travels along the stone, or simply move the blade on alternate passes across the stone, so that the heel is sharpened, and then the point. A widerstone can be bought which avoids this. Both the spine and the edge must stay in contact with the hone at all times. On reaching the end ofthe hone,stop whilst the blade is still on the hone, and roll the razor over on its spine so that the edge is now facing the other way and go back in the other direction. One pass in each direction (a ‘round trip’)counts as one stroke of the hone. The main thing is to maintain even contact with the surface, with as little pressure as possible being used to do so. The harder you press, the less sharp your razor. The knack of doing this is what takes more time to learn than any other part of straight razor shaving.The second way to go isto use old-fashioned ceramic hones known generically as ‘barber hones’. These can be found fairly cheaply on eBay, and were once made in huge numbers and goodness knows how many styles. Generally, they are less coarse than the Norton wetstones, so cut more slowly and require more strokes to sharpen your razor. They can be used dry or wetted with water or even lather. They are usually small, and make even more contortions necessary to sharpen all the edge of a blade evenly, butthey are easy to use and give excellent results. My favourite one is an American copy of the most famous ofthem all -the Swaty,so named after its European manufacturer.
Honing on a Swaty, leading with the edge, and a very light touch!The third way is not to use a hone at all, but to use a set of microabrasive sheets that allow you to use ever ﬁner abrasives to achieve the edge you want. These often have adhesive on the back and can be bought at woodworking stores. Hand American make their ‘Scary Sharp’ system for this purpose, and this seems like a good way to get all you need in one go. The abrasive papers need to be replaced after awhile, but iťs not a big expense.Now for the details. How do you know when enough is enough? This is hard for the beginner, and the usual mistake is to hone too much. You might think that the more strokes the razor makes on the hone, the sharper it will get. Well, itistrue, but only up to a point. Steel is a ductile metal, and the stroking of the hone not only abrades some of it, but it also gradually works some of it out into a thin ﬁn extending beyond the point at which the plane surfaces should meet at a theoretically inﬁnitessimal edge. If you hone to the point where this develops, it will bend and fracture very easily, giving a rough edge known as a ‘wire edge’ and this is overhoning.There isn’t a simpleway to know when you have done enough; the best way is to hone, shave, hone and shave until it seems as good as it needs to be. Some people pluck a hair from their head and use itto draw acrossthe edge and see if it catches and is cut, but this doesn’t translate well into shave-worthiness, as an overhoned edgewill pass this test. The traditional way is to draw the edge of the blade across a wetted thumbnail. Ifthe edge is blunt there will be little drag as the blade doesn’tsink into the nail,where as when sharp there will be some drag. Iťs true as well,that there is a special feel of the blade on the hone when it is about right - often described as ‘suction’ it is when the ﬂat strip of metal adjacent to the edge is smooth enough to be reluctant to lift away from the hone. Iťs quite subtle, unless you are using the hone with lather, and then is less reliable. An overhoned edge is said to give a gritty stop-and-start sensation when drawn across a nail. I ﬁnd that I can judge fairly well when a blade is ready for a trial shave by dry shaving some of the hair on the inside of my left forearm. These hairs, which are less tough than beard hair, should fall down easily when they meet the razor’s edge, and you are judging by the amount of resistance to the razor-there should be almost none if the razor is ready to strop and try out on your face.If you want to get technical,small microscopes are available to aid in honing.A hand-held 10x microscope is cheaply available from Radio Shack, but it is hard to see the wire edge with this, and it can only tell you when you have gone too far.Abattery powered hand held 10-60x is also available from the same source, but at full magniﬁcation the quality is poor. Bench microscopes are expensive (except for some surprisingly decent USB scopes that connect to your computer) but still are best for conﬁrming when you have overhoned. There really is no good way around this, you just have to learn to get the feel of it. What do you do if you realise you have overhoned? Some advocate backhoning, where the blade is drawn across the hone with the sharp edge trailing instead of leading. I ﬁnd drawing the blade across a small piece of wood like a match stick so as to cut a groove across the wood is very good at removing the ﬁn, and allowing a fresh start on the honing.When a razor is well honed, and correctly stropped, you may be able to go several months before having to use the hone again. Each stroke removes a little metal that can’t be put back, so don’t overdo it! Having said that, iťs still true that a straight razor will shave two generations or more if cared for properly.Keep in the very front of your mind as you hone - Go gently, go slowly and don’t go too far. Good advice for all sorts of situations, but since this isn’t a self-help bookwe’ll let that thought go!Strops, some diﬀerent abrasive pastes (plain, chrome oxide, diamond, titanium oxide)After honing, there is the process of stropping. The strop doesn’t sharpen the edge of the razor at all, but simply aligns the edge keeping the very thin metal all pointing in the same direction. Hanging strops usually consist of two parts, one leather and one canvas orlinen. The linen istreated with a ﬁne chalk paste and it does have very mild abrasive properties. The leather may have a dressing on it, but not usually one that contains any abrasive. Chalk, or white paste and the plain tallow known as yellow paste are made by Dovo and can be bought from Classic Shaving. The best way to clean the leather side of the strop is with a liberal application of the kind of waterless hand cleanser used by mechanics to get grease oﬀ their hands. This should be massaged into the leather and the surpluswiped oﬀ with a paper towel. It will do very well instead of the yellow paste too. Itis usual after honing to ignore the linen side and strop on the leather. Between shaves however, the linen side is used before going on to use the leather side. You probably can’t do any harm by overstropping a razor, as long as your technique is correct. I usually use ﬁfteen round trips on the linen and ﬁfty round trips on the leather. The actual mechanics of stropping are just the opposite of honing. Holding the razor by the shank with your thumb on one side and two or three ﬁngers on the other side, the blade is laid ﬂat on the strop and drawn along it with the sharp edge trailing, NOT leading as when honing. Again it is important that only a light pressure is used, and that the blade stays in contact with the strop both at the spine and at the edge. If the spine lifts oﬀ the strop the edge will be bent over and spoilt.The strop must be kept taught, or it will assume a curved shape that will tend to bend the edge out of alignment. A sharp razor will both make a characteristic rasping sound on the leather when stropped, and there will also be some drag which you will come to recognise as a sign of sharpness. Again the razor is rolled over on its spine at the end of a pass to face it in the opposite direction - to do this the shank is rolled between your thumb and ﬁngers just like rolling a pencil. There is no great virtue in doing this very fast, like a barber in a movie, this will tend to mean less control of the razor, and some risk to yourstrop and ﬁngers.
Stropping on the linen and leather sides of a hanging strop.Paddle strops have a leather surface mounted on a wood backing that has a handle formed at one end. They are sometimes better for travel, and are also used by some for abrasive pastes. The beginner needs only the hanging strop. Whilst mentioning abrasive pastes,there are many kinds that can be applied toa strop dedicated to this purpose - do not put such pastes on your everyday strop. If you ﬁnd it hard to get just the edge you want on the hone alone, a strop with, say, 0.5 micron diamond paste will add the ﬁnishing touch before going on to use your plain strop. Thisis not for everyday use, just after honing, or to refresh the edge occasionally between honings. A good general purpose paste is the diamond paste made by Thiers Issard and sold by Classic Shaving. You will only need a tiny bit on the strop if you should ever use it. Traditional pastes include chromium oxide (green), hematite (red) and lamp black (guess!)Paddle strops (balsa on wood) with hematite, diamond and chrome oxide pastes.You may by now be realising why it isn’t such a bad idea to start out with a ready honed razor.There’s lots to learn when it comes to honing and stropping, and you want to make it easy for yourself to get to the most enjoyable part -the shave. There will be times when you get frustrated, so be prepared to put the stubborn razor to one side for a while; the last thing to do is to say to yourself that you will show that razor who is boss and then mess it up by pressing too hard or overhoning. Honing can be a surprisingly relaxing, soothing activity once you know how. Sometimes you will have to resist the temptation to hone for the sake of it and when you get to this point, start on the kitchen knives rather than overhone a razor.Otherwise the care of a straight razor is largely common sense. If one is to be put away for a while, some light machine oil to prevent rust is a good idea. Bathrooms are humid places, so keeping the razor in the bathroom may encourage rust. After shaving it is imperative the razor be rinsed in hot water (to promote drying) andwiped dry. I hope I need notsay to keep them well out of the reach of small ﬁngers - an inquisitive child could suﬀer serious injury from handling a straightrazor.
Did you know that dry hair is tougher to cut than wet?You know how soft and silky your hair can feel after washing it?Well the same istrue on yourface, and the razor can tell the diﬀerence. If you have ever had the treat of a barbershop shave you will know that this begins with hot steamed towels being wrapped around your face to soften the beard. The combination of heat and water is whats oftens the beard, and the water must penetrate into the hairshafts. This means they must be degreased with soap, and time allowed for the water to soak in. Now iťs not practical to heat wet towels in the microwave and then risk burning your face with them, so what are you going to do instead? If you shower in the morning before shaving then you’re home and dry. Make sure you wash your face with soap and hot waterto take skin oils oﬀ the hair so the water can get into it. The hotter water the better, and you will ﬁnd that your face can easily stand water a lot hotter than your hands-try it! DO NOT shave in the shower. Not only will you waste a lot ofwater, your wet hands will drop a razor. You may feel that the loss of the toe it lands on is a small price to pay, but consider what else may be damaged by the razor asitfalls, and worst of all, you will damage the razor. Don’t do it.We aren’t trying to be super quick here, we are trying to make a luxurious ritual out of the shave, and hopping out of the shower with a bleeding toe (or worse) just isn’t digniﬁed. If you choose not to shower before shaving then you will have to do your preparation at the sink.It should go something like this. First run a sinkful of water as hot as you can stand to put your hand into.Also use hot waterto ﬁll your mug with soap in it, or the bowl you use for lathering up shaving cream. Put your brush into the mug or bowl to heat and soak.Wash your face with your usual soap, and then rinse numerous times with handfuls of hot water. If you like you can soak a facecloth in the hot water and wring out the excess. Hold it against your face so that it heats and moistens the skin. It is said to take four minutes for the hairto become saturated with water, but even spending two minutes doing this will help yourshave be more comfortable and much closer.There are some wrinkles that you might use. Some people ﬁnd an extra softening eﬀect from rubbing a hair conditioner into the beard and leaving it to soak in for a minute and then rinsing. This is just like using one on your hair after washing it. There are some products designed to help the shave that should be mentioned here. Firstly, shave oils are sold for use at this time, and are touted as making the shave smoother. This may be true, but there are concerns that such oils might be damaging to your brush, which is going to shortly be applying lather on top of this. Secondly, an excellent product, Trumper’s Skin Food is sometimes suggested as a pre-shave treatment for sensitive skin. I don’t ﬁnd it useful to apply to the face before a shave, but do recommend it highly for afterwards. It can be used, as you will see later, to enrich the latherfrom a hard soap.The main thing to remember about preparing your face for any wetshave, and especially one as close as a straight razor shave, is that you need lots of very hot water applied long enough to soften the hair of your beard. Keep this in mind and you’ll dowell.
Now I need to tell you about the brush you will need to apply either the shaving soap or cream that you are choosing to use. For a shaving soap or cream to be used for shaving, it has to be mixed with water and air bubbles. The lather that is made needs to keep the wetted hair moist, to be stiﬀ enough to make each hair stand up so the blade can catch it, and finally lubricating enough to allow the blade to glide overthe skinwithoutscraping oﬀ too many skin cells. Iťs actually quite a lot to ask, and there is no doubt that using a good brush will help your chosen soap or cream achieve allthis. By theway,that part aboutscraping oﬀ skin cellsis no joke; one of the reasons why a straight shave is so smooth afterwards is because of the (look out, trendy word coming) exfoliation it does for you. It lifts and separates (as Playtex says) lots of dead skin cells from your face. Most straight shavers ﬁnd they get a lot less pimples and such like blemishes as a result- allthat drossis no longerthere to block up your pores.Shaving brushes come with three sources of hair - badger, boar bristle and synthetic. The synthetic ones will only concern you if you are a vegan; they may be ignored otherwise. You may choose a bristle brush for reasons of economy, until you ﬁnd outif you like shavingwith a straightrazor, but itwon’t have the same performance as a real badger brush. Even if you are uncertain about yourskill with a straightrazor, using a brush and a propersoap or cream will allow better than ever shaves with any other wetshaving tool. Iťs hard to imagine anyone trying this out and not choosing to go on using a brush,whatever kind ofrazorthey go on with,so I would recommend a badger brush from the start. The badgers concerned are not the North American badger, or the European, but are from China. Odd sources of meat are used in Chinese cuisine, and if a badger is to be skinned and eaten, we may as well not waste the skin. I am told that they are not endangered. There is no truth to the idea promulgated by one website that sells brushes that the hair is obtained by shearing the badger; these badgers will not be growing another coat at all. But a good quality brush will last for many years of daily use, so iťs not likely you willthreaten the species.Badger hair is available in three grades, and in ascending order of quality these are Pure, Best, and Super (also known as silvertip). The hair comes from diﬀerent parts of the animals coat, and the better grades hold more water and tend to be softer against your skin. There is a good deal of one-upmanship in the world of badger brushes, and bitter arguments over whether one brand of brush contains true silvertip or not. This need not concern you now: a best or super brush will suit you well. The next question is how big a brush do you need? They come in various sizes, and both too small and too big are worth avoiding.When you think about it, the brush needs to be big enough to work up enough lather to last through your shave, and you may as well know now that this involves more than one passage of the razor; you will be re-lathering and doing it again in diﬀerent directions. On the other hand, it wastes your soap or cream to make too much lather and then end up rinsing it down the sink. Looked at another way, you need a brush big enough to get a proper hold on with a big wet hand, but not so big you can’t apply lather to your upper lip without getting it up your nose and in your mouth! If you want speciﬁc recommendations, a good beginners brush might be the Dovo Handmade, available from Classic Shaving, one ofthe smaller Saville Row models or a Kent BK4. Vulﬁx also make very reasonably priced brushes that are well regarded. The handle of your brush isthe leastimportant part, but occasionally the most expensive. Simpsons have been known to obtain old pre-ban ivory billiard balls and turn them into handles. By the way, Simpson brushes are among the most expensive, even when no billiard balls are harmed in their manufacture, and a sizeable section of the wetshaving crowd feel that no other brush can be their equal. Atthe risk of being assassinated by a brush fanatic, Iwillsay that I don’t agree. So there.To use a brush, it must ﬁrst be soaked in hot water. Filling the mug in which you keep yourshaving soapwith hotwater and sitting the brush, bristles down, in thiswhile you prep yourface is a goodway of doing it. If you use cream with a bowl for working it into lather, then ﬁll this with hot water and soak the brush the sameway. If you simply like towork up lather on yourface then soak the brush in the sink as youwash and prep yourfacewith hotwater. Bewarned that the ﬁrst few times you wet the brush it will smell like a wet dog! This delightful scent is soon gone and forgotten, and if you really don’t like it then wash the brush outwith any soap orshampoo a couple oftimes.Now what are you going to use the brush upon? There’s no law in the world to say you can’tshavewith a straightrazor and use some foam or gel in a can to do it, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Modern shaving foams and gels are remarkable substances, but they don’t provide much of either of the two essentialsfor a good shave -water and lubrication. Besidesthis, youwould miss out on one of the special treats of traditional shaving. If you are beginning to feel a bit uncomfortable with the notion of using, God forbid, scented products, relax! For hundreds of yearsthere have been scented shaving soaps and creams, and lots of hairy chested real men have used them. Iťs going to be your loss if you skip this part,so stickwith me. I promise you’ll like it.Hard Soap in an oversized cup - more useful than a wooden bowl.Leťs assume you are using a hard soap ﬁrst. This might be a cheap drugstore soap likeWilliams Mug Soap (yummy lemon verbena scent), a glycerine-based soap like Colonel Conk’s Bay Rum, or a traditionalshaving soap from one ofthe elite British ﬁrms like Trumper’s, Trueﬁtt & Hill, or Taylors. Crabtree & Evelyn do a nice sandalwood soap too. My own all-time favourite hard soap is Trumper’s Sandalwood. Back to business - drain the water from your mug, and drain the brush until itstops dripping.You might ﬁndwith experience that you need to make one or two gentle ﬂicks of the brush to remove excess water at this point. Then start working the brush with a circular motion on the surface of the soap. Some lather with big bubbles in it will soon form. Keep going and as the brush works more air into the lather and breaks up the bubbles you will ﬁnd that there are smaller and ﬁner bubbles in it. The idea is to keep going until the bubbles are small enough that the lather is a little stiﬀ, and forms peaks that can stand up as you withdraw the brush. If it seems to go too thick and sticky, you haven’t got enough water in the mix, so gather up a few drops on your ﬁngers from the sink and drip them into the lather and rework. Each kind of soap has a certain amount of water that can be worked into the lather before it goes runny, at which point it is no good to us. I ﬁnd that having hot waterin the mug priortoworkingwith the brush allowsthe surface ofthe soap to soften a little and it becomes easy to make rich lather. If you are using a glycerine soap you may ﬁnd you have to limit the exposure of the cake of soap to the hot water, as it will melt away very quickly with too much heat and water. One really neat trick is to put a couple of drops of glycerine from a drugstore, or a couple of drops of Trumper’s Skin Food onto the soap before using the brush. Either will enrich the lather and increase lubrication. With practice you will soon come to know what works best for you. The lather should be slightly shiny, but not really glistening as it goes on your face. It should be thick enough that you can’t see the skin through it, but need not be thicker than this. But beforewe getinto applying it, leťs getthe cream users to catch upwith us.Shaving creamsfor applicationwith a brush are the Rolls Royces ofthe shaving world. They oﬀer great lubrication and lots of moisturising beneﬁts along with some intoxicating scents. They cost more than hard soaps, but make a great treat even if you don’tsee yourself using one daily. They began to be made over one hundred years ago by the top gentlemen’s barbers in London, and have been a success eversince. Usually they come in either a tub or a tube, and a dab aboutthe size of an almond is enough to make allthe lather you will need for a great shave. The three T’s (Trumper’s, Taylor’s and Trueﬁtt & Hill) make good examples, as do Coates, and Salter. The shaving cream made by Crabtree & Evelyn isn’t quite up to the same standard, but might be available locally.Thereare also some creams that come from other shaving traditions,such as Proraso from Italy, Musgo Real from Portugal and Tabac from Germany. You might even find a tube of Palmolive cream in the drugstore, but you owe it to yourself to try atleast one top notch cream. I would be hard pressed to choose between Trumper’s Sandalwood, Trumper’sViolet and Taylor’s Rose as my favourite.The lather needsto beworked upwith a brush, just aswith a hard soap.This can be done on the palm of your hand, but a lot of lather will fall oﬀ this way. Using a bowl will also have the advantage of letting you make warm lather. So, leťs assume you have had a small bowl or a latte cup ﬁlled with piping hot water as you prepped your face. This is emptied and the brush drained exactly as described for a hard soap. Then you scoop up some cream from the tub, or squirt it from the tube until you have the amount above - the size of an almond. Err on the generous side until you know what you are about here. Wipe this onto the tip of your wet brush and put the lid back on the tub or tube. Then work the brush with a circular motion again around the bowl or cup until you make a satisfactory ﬁne-bubbled lather. Again, you can add a few drops of water as you go along. You should know that a good cream can hold a great deal of water before becoming runny, and, mostimportant,the maximum amount of water is not the best amount. You can get the lather to hold more water than is good for you and your shave. Stop adding water as soon as you think there is enough lather to use. You can always add more later if you need, but once you have made latherthat will be too thin to protect yourface as you shave you can’t do much except start again. If you ﬁnd by the time you get to be scraping oﬀ the last of the lather on each pass of the razor that it is drying out, this is a sure sign you need to add more water to it. If this happens, don’t hesitate to apply more lather on top with your brush. There’s nothing as bad as trying to shave with dried out lather, unless you try to shave with a potato peeler.However you made your lather, now iťs time to apply it. Use the brush with gentle circular motions on your face to both apply and work the lather into your beard. This both feels nice, and smells nice! Furthermore, iťs helping to get the lather to soften the beard hairs as much as possible, and working the lather under them to make them stand up so the razor can get at them. Once the latheris distributed all over yourface, use a few painting strokes, and twist the brush as you make them,to deposit a thick enough layerso that you can no longer see any skin through the lather. You don’t need to use all the lather in the brush, nor all that in the mug or bowl - you will need some for subsequent passes ofthe razor.Ok, you’ve gotthisfar. Iťstime forthe moment oftruth.
This isthe biggestthrill,thatstill gives me a little shiver after allthistime -the moment when you put the blade to the skin and get to work. I think everybody must do this with trepidation at ﬁrst, butitis easierthan you think. But before we do that, I’m going to give you a momenťs reprieve. Before you ever get near a straight razor, or any other kind of razor, you should know how the hair grows on your face. There are diﬀerences between one guy and the next here, so study your own face. Try rubbing your hand over the beard when you need to shave. Which way does the hair grow? - check which way the greatest ‘stubbliness’ is felt. Usually, this will be downwards on the cheeks, and sideways on the neck, but there may be patches of beard that grow out horizontally along the jawline, and even upwards on the neck. Find out for yourself what happens on your face and neck, otherwise what I say will make little sense to you.Done it? Good. The reason why you just went through that exercise is so that you can shave the hair properly. Some people are happy to shave with the grain of the hair growth only. This kind of shave will look OK, but feel stubbly. By the middle ofthe day itwon’tlook that great, but you might just be happywith that. The next step up is to shave one pass with the grain, and then one across it (after re-lathering, that is). This will look good, and feel good to the examining hand. It issafe to rub your cheek against that of the woman in your life after two passes. There will be stubble by evening, but it will still look decent. The truly obsessional shaver will want to do three passes, with the grain, across it, and a third against it. This will leave a glassy smooth skin that has no stubble even when you rub in any direction, will look ﬁne by evening and will still feel decent to an examining hand in the evening. Now there is a trade oﬀ between closeness and comfort. Not all skins will tolerate three passes (remember all those skin cells being scraped oﬀ?) To get the closest shave, you need a well-sharpened razor, a well-wetted beard, a lubricating lather, well-applied, and a gentle touch with the razor. Given all ofthese,which you can achieve with practice, I don’t believe there are too many men who can’t enjoy the ultimate shave. By the way, if you try this protocol with amultiblade cartridge razor, you can expect trouble. If you remember those advertisements showing one blade lifting the hair and the next cutting it, so that you are cutting the hairs oﬀ below skin level, you will realise that this can lead to ingrown hairs, that is, hairs that make a wrong turn trying to grow up to the skin again. These kind of ‘razor bumps’ are like pimples that don’t want to go away, as the hair coils up under the skin. Scarring is the end result. Stick to a single blade and youwill be much lesslikely to see any ofthese.Back to the shave - hold the razor with your dominant hand. Put your thumb on the underside of the shank, your index, middle and ring ﬁngers on top of it, and your little ﬁnger on the tang, so that the scales stick up between the ring and little ﬁngers. Before the blade touches the skin, leťs clear up a couple of things. The optimum angle between blade and skin is about 30º- too little will pull on the hairs without cutting them, and too much will encourage the blade to dig in. The other thing is that the blade is safer when kept moving it is sharpenough that if the edge is left on your skin in one spot, and the angle is too steep or the pressure used too great, it will sink in. This is counter-productive, to say the least. So don’t be afraid to move the blade on your face, but do be sure to move it in a direction at right angles to the edge, NEVER sideways, or parallel to the edge of the blade. You will cut yourself this way. We will change hands for the other side of the face. The easiest way to begin is to lay the razor ﬂat on your cheek and then lift the spine slightly and straight away start moving down the cheek to shave the ﬁrst pass. Use very little pressure. Be sure to use the ﬁngers of your other hand to stretch the skin - this gives a smooth surface for the razor to glide over and reduces the chance of a cut, closens the shave and makes it more comfortable too. I remember the tremor in my hand the ﬁrst time I did this, but I knew it could be done, and indeed was done by every non-bearded man in the world at one time. These photos are all taken in the mirror, so they resemble what you will see:
[attachment=1]Shave right jaw[/attachment]
[attachment=4]Shawe left jaw[/attachment]
After completing the ﬁrst pass, you should put the razor down and rinse the face with hot water from the sink. Then re-lather just as you did for the ﬁrst pass. The second, acrossthe grain pass,requires a little more care, and you will know if your razor isn’t sharp enough at this point; it will pull if it isn’t. Assuming itis, proceed with the second pass. Try to lead with the point a little - ifthe razorisslightly oblique to the direction oftravel each hair will meetthe blade at an angle which allows it to slide to the side a tiny bit, and thus the blade cutsit more easily asitslides along the edge in a tiny slicing action. Ifthe razor seems to catch, don’t keep on pushing it through, but lower the spine a little closer to the skin and then proceed. Here is the sequence for going acrossthe direction of hair growth on my face:Notice how I am going upwards on the sides of my neck; this is because the hair grows laterally here, so this is actually across the grain. Where the hair grows downwards underthe chin,the razoris moved acrossit.Once again, put down the razor and rinse and re-lather. The ﬁnal passrequires a very lighttouch, and you must be aware ofwhatthe edge is doing at alltimes. Don’t daydream, or you will be cut. Remember to drop the spine if it seems to be catching; never push on through. Again lead with the point - the pictures show what I mean by this. The trickiest part of the face is under the chin, and with most of the hair gone in the ﬁrst two passes this part should be easy on the third. I will be going against the direction of hair growth in these pictures, so the razor travels sideways towards the midline on my neck, upwards under the chin and on the face itself. On the upper lip I don’t go directly against the grain, but obliquely upwards. Here itis:Notice the oblique upwards stroke on the upperlip.There are bound to be a few tiny nicks after your ﬁrst shave this way, so after the third pass put down the razor and splash very cold water onto your face to rinse oﬀ the remaining lather. The cold water will constrict blood vessels, and halt most tiny nicks from bleeding. A styptic pencil should be at hand for touching on those that aren’tstopped.Thisstingsfor a moment butworkswell. You will very rarely need it at all once you have the hang of it! Then pat yourface drywith a towel.Rinse out your brush in coldwater, and squeeze itto get most ofthewater out. Flick it vigorously to get out the rest. Either hang the brush up in a stand, or simply stand it uprightif you have faith in yourscience lessons and understand that capillary action will keep the water remaining from sinking down into the knot of the brush. Rinse the razor under the hot tap being very careful to avoid touching the edge against the tap or the sink. A ding of this kind is a major repair on a straight razor and you aren’t ready to undertake that just yet! It doesn’t mattertoo much whether you strop the razor now, orjust before the nextshave.You did it! Hopefully you are still in one piece and not too weak at the knees. Next, we have to ﬁnish up with some soothing balm to ensure your skin forgives you for dragging a razor overit.
As stated above, shaving removes dead skin cells, and up to a point this is a good thing. The lower layers of skin cells might be a little tender when ﬁrst exposed, and iťs true too that having lots of soap on your face will tend to remove oils from the skin, making it dry. The last thing you need in this situation is a good splash of an alcohol-based aftershave; not only will it hurt, butitwill also tend to dry the skin further. If you are going to go on having this kind of fun with a straight razor we have to make sure your face is up to it. So what do you do?There are no end of products available to be used after shaving that are supposed to be moisturising and soothing and so on. As with shaving gels, some contain a hefty slug of menthol to ‘combat razor burn’ - presumably the peculiarsensation of menthol on raw skin issupposed to distract you from the burn. A good shaver will not get razor burn, because he knows his blade is sharp, he uses it gently, and does not over-shave any area of the face. Burn is something you will leave behind when you know what you are doing. Nonetheless, you do need something to moisturise and seal the skin. My ﬁrst and best recommendation is Trumper’s Skin Food. This is a mixture of glycerine and rosewater, with a little gum (and yes, even this has a tiny bit of menthol in it, but not enough to notice) so that a small amount rubbed into the face will soon set on the surface. If you use too much you will look shiny.The glycerine is very kind to the skin, and the rosewaterissaid to have some anti-inﬂammatory action,though I can’ttestifyto that. Many folks who get seborrhoea (dry red skin across the nose and onto the cheeks), ﬁnd that glycerine and rosewaterworks very nicely forsuppressing it,so perhapsiťstrue. It comesin two scents- Limes and Coral (which isrose). The latter is by far the better scent to my nose. Once this has dried some people will put a moisturiser on top, but I don’t ﬁnd it necessary. Another product worth mentioning here is Taylor’s After Shave Gel - the sandalwood is gorgeous. This is a sticky gel that again is used in a small amount to seal the skin. It is less moisturising than the glycerine-based Skin Food, but makes a nice change. The scent ofthe Skin Food fades within a minute ortwo, and you will be left mostlywith the scent ofthe shaving soap or cream on yourface.You may want to use a cologne, after shave or eau de toilette now if you fancy smelling good today.Alittle dab should be put, not on the justshaved skin, but below the ears, and at the bottom of the front of the neck. There are traditional scents to explore here too, and there are far too many choices to have any rational discussion here. You should look out and sniﬀ some sandalwood, some bay rum and others until you ﬁnd what you like. If you do want suggestions, send for samples of Trumper’s Sandalwood, Eucris and Spanish Leather, along with Taylor’sSandalwood and Pecksniﬀ’s Oriental Woody. This is a personal thing, and you may not like my choices at all, but thaťs ﬁne; you are trying to please yourself and those around you.Now you can go on with the day, with that special confidence that comes from knowing you are well shaven, with smooth healthy skin and a great scent. You will find yourself stroking your cheeks with wonder at how smooth they are -though don’t ask total strangers to feel too; it isn’t always appreciated for the generous gesture you mean it to be. If you persevere with the straight razor, you will ﬁnd that you become quite quick and deft with it, and no doubtwillstart acquiring others and have allthe fun oftrying out diﬀerent kinds. Some of the best might be old razors that aren’t much to look at, but shave beautifully. Collecting these, and associated items like shaving mugs and brushes can be fun quite apartfrom the shaving aspect.So there you have it - the basic straight razor shave. If you’ve read this far, I knowyou’re interested -so go and gettowork! http://www.artofmanliness.com/2009/10/0 ... zor-shave/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;