Cutting Edge — How to Use a Straight Razor

This is my son Matt's straight razor and shaving cup, soap, brush and strop.  He says that using a straight razor produces a cheaper and better shave, although it takes three times longer than with an electric razor.

This is my son Matt's straight razor and shaving cup, soap, brush and strop. He says that using a straight razor produces a cheaper and better shave, although it takes three times longer than with a cartridge blade or an electric razor. Link to Straight Edge Razor Father's Day card at the bottom of this post.

                                                                                                                                                                                           My son Matt and his friends love metal — and I’m not talking about music.

They love steel, silver, iron — anything they can forge, hammer, bend and weld. They use words like anneal, temper, ductile, malleable, hone, forge.

They’re fascinated with bladesmithing, such as the labor-intensive process of forging the katana, the long sword the samurai carry.  Matt bought a couple of replica katanas when we visited Japan, but it’s just not the same as the real thing.  They had no cutting edge — all show and no go.  (But they were so much cheaper!)

Matt and two of his friends have brought their appreciation of a sharp edge to their daily routine by using a straight edge razor to shave.  Matt ordered his online, while one friend got his at a pawn shop. 

“I think of my razor as a really high quality knife,” Matt says.  “It’s generally about as sharp as a knife can get.”

Japanese Katana Sword.

Japanese Katana Sword.

Matt bought a DOVO Black Star with a pakkawood handle, made of high carbon tempered steel with a blade that’s five-eighths of an inch wide. It’s full hollow ground, which means that the faces of the blade are ground to make it as thin as possible.

“I wanted a better, cheaper alternative to normal shaving,” Matt says.  “The choice was between a straight razor and a safety razor.”

Matt likes to learn new, unusual skills, so that was another factor.

“How long did it take you to get the hang of it?” I ask.  The thing looks dangerous.  I’ve seen what a straight edge razor can do in “Sweeney Todd”.  (Matt says that a true fan of a straight razor would never ruin a blade by using it like that.)

“It took about three weeks to stop cutting myself at least once every shave,” Matt says.

This is from an advertisement for a DOVO razor.  The guy looks pretty calm, considering someone else is holding a razor to his neck.

This is from an advertisement for a DOVO razor. The guy looks pretty calm, considering someone else is holding a razor to his neck.

Matt describes the basic procedure:  “Strop your razor a dozen times, first on the canvas side and then on the leather side.  I usually skip the canvas side unless my razor isn’t honed enough. 

Shaving is best after a shower. You want your face to be as wet as possible, so don’t use a towel.  Soak your brush (more on brushes below) in hot water and then swirl it on your bar of soap for ten or so seconds.  Now whip your brush in a bowl that contains a small amount of water.  Whip for 30 to 90 seconds to create a lather.  Apply lather to your face. 

Always shave first in a downward motion with the hair growth.  The chin and upper lip are the hardest parts.  After one pass downward, you can re-lather and shave perpendicular to the hair growth, or shave against the hair growth.  Two or three passes are generally required to get a close shave.  One with the grain, one perpendicular and one against.  I generally only do two passes, one with the grain, one against.

After shaving, splash warm water on your face to remove all of the soap residue, then splash cold water on your face to close your pores.  Then pat dry.  Never wipe dry, or you’ll dry out your skin too much.  You can then apply a facial lotion, if you want.”

What does this Samurai have to do with shaving with a straight razor? Not too much, except that he's cool and used a really sharp sword. This samurai is on display at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas CIty. Pardon my reflection.

What does this Samurai have to do with shaving with a straight razor? Not too much, except that he's cool and used a really sharp sword. This samurai is on display at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Pardon my reflection.

In the long run, shaving with a straight razor is cheaper than disposable razors and blades and shaving cream in a can, and there’s a lot less waste.

“My bar of shaving soap, which cost ninety-nine cents at Wal-Mart, will probably last for dozens and dozens of shaves.”

Do the guys still shave as often?  One friend still uses the straight razor — when he shaves.  “He tends to grow beards for a while,” Matt says.

“I still shave about as much as I used to, but if I go for several days, and my facial hair gets long, the razor has no problems cutting through it,” Matt says.  “It doesn’t clog like a normal razor does.”

He admits to using a disposable cartridge if he’s pressed for time.  He may get a safety razor for those times when he’s in a hurry. (Which is probably every time he’s heading to class.)

“But if I have an extra fifteen minutes, it’s certainly more fun to use a straight razor,” he says.

Am I a convert?  Considering  I have more area to mangle and mutilate, I don’t think so……..

There are three grades of badger brushes — pure, best and the top grade of silvertip, Matt says.  Matt has the best badger, which is the middle level.  Badger brushes are softer and hold more water than the cheaper boar hair or synthetic brushes.   

Clean the brush thoroughly after each shave and shake it dry.

“Badger smells like wet dog for the first ten times,” he warns. 

For more information,  go to www.classicshaving.com  and www.shavemyface.com  There’s a whole culture of shaving out there!   For a straight edge razor shaving greeting card using this photograph, go to Straight edge razor Father’s Day card.

 

 

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9 Comments

Filed under Family, Health, Howto, Humor, Life, Personal, Shopping

9 responses to “Cutting Edge — How to Use a Straight Razor

  1. alwaysjan

    The photograph is SO beautiful it almost makes me want to…no, I’m not going to finish that thought. When my friends were visiting from England they used the word “stroppy” to describe someone who was “on the edge,” I think. My eyes crossed and they insisted I look up the word in the dictionary to see that it was indeed a real word. Now, here it is. Coincidence? I think not!

  2. You always entertain me with your stories! I remember my grandpa using this style of shaving. When I think back on it and see his shaving brush, the smell of his shaving cream still fills my memory. Such a “fancy man” thing.

  3. Catherine Sherman

    I’d never used the word strop before, so yes, I think this is more proof that there are no coincidences. You and I must be on the same wavelength…..Cue the Twilight Zone music. Whatever coincidences are, I love them!

  4. Father’s day is fast approaching and this is the best gift one can give!

  5. Very well written! Your son really picked up quickly!!

  6. Very interesting and informative post Catherine. My dad used a shaving cup and soap for shaving, but his blade of choice was the classic double edge (which he probably carried as a soldier in WWII.) I went through a retro-shaving stage in college and gave the soap and brush a try, but never a straight razor. That seemed like an accident waiting to happen. Anyway, bravo to your son. With a little focus, anything can be a meditation. ~James

  7. lisaelskerarvid

    😃Kult😃

  8. Excellent post. Took me back to watching my dad shave, standing on the back verandah. He was a BoilerMaker Welder so mum required him to wash up and shave in the laundry, out the back. He always had a distinctive smell and despite his labour intensive job his smell was always interesting too me. The soap he used also had an excellent aroma. Smells are so evocative of the past. What fun dogs must have with all those aromas wafting in for miles around!

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