So you’ve got yourself a straight razor and there you are, stood in front of the bathroom mirror, gazing dubiously at this object in your hand that is the stuff of legend. Will you still have both ears after you’re finished or will you end up looking like you’ve been in a fight in a Marseilles waterfront bar? The truth is that the worst that is likely to happen is you ending up with a couple of nicks. And because the blade is so sharp you’ll find a touch from a styptic pencil will stop the skin leakage pretty much instantly. That’s not to say you can’t cut yourself with a straight razor - you can, and badly. So here are a few tips for shaving with a straight razor for the first time.
There are many sources on the Internet to tell you how to shave with your straight razor but the first time can be a bit, well, tense. This is definitely a rite of passage during which you do not need interruption so try to arrange it so you have a bit of time alone. Lock the bathroom door. Here we go.
Make sure you have the following:
- Your razor (of course!)
- Your razor strop, hung from a handy point.
- A shaving brush
- Shaving soap and mug, if possible.
- Styptic pencil (just in case)
Fill the shaving mug with warm water (about hand hot is best). If in doubt, have it cooler rather than hotter. Stand your brush in the water and go take a shower or busy yourself for a few minutes, this gives time for the brush bristles to soften a little. If you’ve taken a shower as well, your facial bristles will also be softened, giving an even better shave.
Run some warm water into the basin. This is for rinsing the razor. Use your brush to work a lather up on the soap. If you don’t have a shaving mug and soap, use a good quality shave cream but do try to use a brush and soap if possible - they are much better, trust me. Work up a lather with the tip of the brush - don’t ‘scrub’ at it - until it’s good and creamy. Lather your face well. Take your time - straight razor shaving is not to be hurried! Try to lather up a couple of minutes before you start to shave - your face will thank you for it.
Now strop your razor as described elsewhere on our website. You’re ready! I would suggest you start with the easy bits - your cheeks, as they are pretty flat and accessible. Don’t try fancy tricks like shaving against the grain or the coup de maitre just yet! Remember that your razor is, essentially, a push cutter, NOT a bacon slicer. It does not rely on any slicing action to cut your stubble! DO NOT try to ‘slice’ your stubble off - you’ll take a flap of skin with it! Instead, hold the open razor so that the handle is upward and the thumb and fingers rest comfortably on the tang. Stretch the skin slightly with your free hand, always keeping it behind the cutting edge. A good place to start is at the base of the sideburn (assuming you don’t sport big sideburns) and draw the blade gently down your cheek. The angle of blade to skin to aim for is about 20 degrees - about two widths of the razor’s spine. Deeper and you’ll tear the stubble. Shallower and you risk a cut. You may then need to repeat the process again, possibly twice, depending on your technique, beard type etc. It takes practice! Don’t be disappointed if you first shave leaves you with stubble. It isn’t a quick fix. A most important rule: let the tool do the work. If you don’t get a close shave, do NOT apply pressure, thinking that this will work. It won’t and you’ll be left, probably, with a bad cut.
If you’re still unsure about shaving technique, have a look at www.youtube.com entering ‘straight razor’ for the search - there are quite a few videos showing how it’s done.
This example below is included with the owner’s kind permission and shows this very experienced user’s routine:
It’s all about practice, technique and, above all, patience. Take your time. Enjoy it. Soon you will be leaving the bathroom with a smooth, glowing face, smug in the knowledge that you have tamed the tiger. You can go into work and know that you have the skill - and courage - to apply three inches of the sharpest steel known to your face - and live.
Further information about choosing, using and caring for a straight razor may be found here