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A Straight-Edge Fling

Shaving your face the old-school way

Nov. 27, 2013
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I wanted to shave with the straight razor in my twenties, but life got in the way and I started in my sixties. So it is never too late. All you need is a shave-ready straight razor and a strop, plus plenty of patience and perseverance, because there is a learning curve.

How long it takes to master the straight razor depends on you. Generally it takes about 100 shaves to be good enough. By then the straight razor might even become an obsession, and a sweet one, at that. It is for me.

I rotate some 35 straight razors with a different one used each day. Most are coveted early-20th-century vintage razors, including Puma, Friodur, Tuckmar, Schlieper, Fontana, LouPer and Guillermo Hoppe, among others, with about a dozen or so new-production Thiers-Issard, Wacker and Ralf Aust models.

To start, choose a modestly priced current production Thiers-Issard, Dovo, Boker, Wacker, Revisor and Aust, available from reputable online shops. Straight Razor Designs, Fendrihan, Thiers-Issard UK, Shaving Shop, Revisor and Royal Shave list them.

Used current-production and vintage razors are also available at usually reasonable prices in the classified sections of shaving forums, notably Straight Razor Place (straightrazorplace.com) and Razor and Stone (razorandstone.com).

Be careful buying straight razors from eBay, antique shops or flea markets until you know something about straight razors. That inexpensive razor you buy might need costly restoration and honing. Occasionally the Brass Rooster, in Bay View, has some vintage razors. The Art of Shaving no longer sells straight razors at the Mayfair Mall store, but you can order from the web store.

Straight razors with replaceable blades are an option. Japan’s Feather Artist Club tops the list in quality and price. To experience the joy of straight razor shaving, however, go with the traditional straight and embrace its colorful ritual.

For that, you also need a strop ideally 2.5 or 3 inches wide with either linen or canvas coupled with a leather component. Stropping before each shave is essential—stropping does not sharpen your razor, but, rather, it reconstructs and refines the edge from the previous shave. You’ll do well to also master your stropping skill, because bad stropping will kill the edge on your razor.

A quality badger hair or boar bristle brush and a quality soap or cream to make lather on your face add much pleasure to what’s already a knock on heaven’s gate. Thater, Simpson, Vulfix, Mühle and Rooney make fine badger brushes. Semogue and Omega excel in quality boars.

Martin de Candre, Castle Forbes, Xpec, Penhaligon’s, Truefitt & Hill, Trumper, D.R. Harris, Mitchell’s Wool Fat, Tabac, Proraso, Cella and Valobra offer a variety of quality soaps and creams. 

For your first straight razor, consider a new model or vintage that is shave ready. I find most new-model razors with the factory edge need touching up. If not experienced in honing straight razors, do not attempt to hone yours because you will probably ruin the edge. Nor should you apply knife-sharpening techniques. Honing a straight razor requires a different method.

I hone my own straight razors, and others’ professionally. Some vendors touch up new-production razors in house. Many from the classified sections of shaving forums are also listed as shave ready.

Straight razor blades are measured in 1/8 of an inch in width. The 4/8, 5/8 and 6/8-inch blades are ideal for beginners, because they are more maneuverable than sizes bigger or smaller. No matter the size, you’ll have to spend time mastering your skill and sharpening your technique.

Map out your face to determine beard growth direction; then shave in passes, usually three—with the grain, across the grain and, if your skin allows, against the grain. In general, a 30-degree blade angle is ideal for most spots. Use short strokes, and stretch the skin to create a clear path. Keep the pressure light to avoid nicks and razor burn.

I recommend switching hands—right side right hand, left side left hand, and hands reversed upward on the neck. That requires training your non-dominant hand. Otherwise the dominant hand can shave both sides.

Too much work, you say? Nah! Once into traditional shaving with the straight razor you’ll love every moment and never look back. That’s how it is for me.


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