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Beginner Tips on Straight Razor Shaving

Updated on February 2, 2015

Why Shave With a Straight Razor?

The advancement of the safety razor, and later, the cartridge razor were inventions that yielded a lot of convenience, and time. And, in terms of purely a cutting standpoint, they offer more safety. One does not need to possess the same type of skill to avoid a significant cut when using a safety or cartridge razor. However, the trade off is the quality of the shave. A safety razor can yield a very high quality shave, and overall is a very good choice, if that is what you want to use. The same cannot be said for cartridge razors. Compared to a safety razor, the shave quality is low, and especially with the multiple blade cartridges, have the highest incidence of both bumps and razor burns.

While a safety razor is more than adequate, none of these more recent inventions can give the quite the same quality shave as a straight razor, in the hand of a competent user. The smoothness, and the minimal to lack of burning and bumping leaves the face with a cleaner shave without the post-shave complications.

A straight razor.  Learning to use this tool correctly will give you the best shave possible.
A straight razor. Learning to use this tool correctly will give you the best shave possible. | Source

Equipment

  • A high quality razor. Not all straight razors are created equal. Do not buy the cheapest kind. Metal of lesser quality is less responsive to proper maintenance.
  • A shaving brush. Two basic kinds of shaving brushes are boar and badger. It is highly recommended that you buy a decent quality badger brush. They hold water better, and are softer on the skin. Prices range from below $25 all the way to almost $1,000. It is not necessary to get one anywhere near the highest end of that scale. Those tend to be expensive due to the craftsmanship of the handle, and not because they do a superior job over a $100 brush. However, it is not recommended to buy the cheapest, either. You will want one that costs at least $40.
  • Shaving cream or soap. Avoid anything that is pressurized out of an aerosol can. Buy a high quality, traditional shaving cream.
  • Razor strop. Your razor will most likely need to be stropped either before or after every use. The strop constitutes the everyday maintenance of your razor.
  • Pre-shave oil. This is somewhat optional, but highly recommended at least for beginners. It will provide additional gliding ability along with the lather.
  • Honing or sharpening stone. This is optional. If you don't want to hone your razor, you can send it out to be honed. However, if you shave regularly, that means you will need two razors. For regular shavers, honing will need to be done every 3-6 months.

The Shave

Before undertaking this new strategy to shaving, if you haven't already done so, map your beard, so you know which way is with the grain, against the grain, and across the grain. This is a very important aspect of a comfortable, bump-free shave.

After you have adequately prepped your beard, by washing with soap and hot water, keeping it wet for at least three minutes - the first thing is the grip of the razor. With experience, you may try a different grip and see if another works better for you, or is more comfortable. The suggested grip for the beginner is to have the first three fingers on the back, also known as the spine, of the blade. The pinky should be on what is known as the tang - the curved part on the other side of the handle.

Unless you feel very uncomfortable doing any shaving with your non-dominant hand, it is recommended that you hold the blade with the right hand when shaving your right side, and the left hand when shaving your left side. This is due to two reasons: it is easier to handle the razor on the same side of your face, and the opposing hand is used to stretch your skin upwards.

Reach over your head with the opposing hand, or if you are not that flexible, or your arm isn't proportionally long enough, arc it in front of your forehead, high enough so your fingers are facing downward on the other side of your face. Draw the skin upward.

An important safety measure is to dry your hand after prepping your face, and when you finish a pass, and wet your face again, and apply the cream, dry your hands. Holding the razor with a wet hand can make your grip slippery, which can result in dropping the blade, or slippage, both of which can result in a cut.

For the stroke, the blade should be held at a 30 degree angle, give or take a few degrees. This is where the skill is developed. If your angle is too low, it will not cut the hair. But, if it is too high, you risk cutting yourself with the blade. If you err, do it on the side of "too low". You can gradually move it upwards until it begins to cut. Use short strokes, and as you move down your face, move the stretching hand lower. For the goatee area, draw your lips in to give your skin an added stretch.

Always remember to shave with the grain, at least for the first pass, until your face is visibly clean. Then you can do an across the grain or against the grain pass if you wish, to finish it with the smooth closeness, depending on your skin's level of comfort. There may be some areas of your beard where you can't ever shave against the grain.

When you shave the neck, tilt your head back and towards the opposite direction of the side you are shaving. Place your stretching hand at the jawline, and once again draw it upward.

After shaving, rinse your face with cold water to close the pores. Apply a lubricating aftershave. Alcohol based products are not recommended, as they have a drying effect on the area. The object is to moisturize it. An alcohol free balm with both hydrate your skin and leave it feeling moist for a while, resulting in a smooth, pleasant feel without the burn.


Do you shave with or would you consider switching to a straight razor?

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