Straight razor shave - undercover report
Looking to start wet shaving with a straight razor? We went undercover with Instagram shaver @jj_shaves to chat about straight razor shaving issues for the new shaver. Here he gives his thoughts:
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Firstly, there are three main aspects to remember when considering a straight razor:
1. Straight razors are sharp!
Yes, “razor sharp” is a very good way to describe them. The second you ignore this or take it for granted when shaving, you will be punished and have a red stripe on you face for a week. Seriously. No seriously, I'm not joking!!!
2. A straight razor fragile.
Although seen as a deadly weapon of choice for Sweeny Todd (and similar), in life a straight razor is incredibly fragile. Drop on a tiled floor and there’s a good chance it’ll shatter. Knock the edge on a sink and it’s damaged. I have a flannel that remains dry throughout the shave and the razor sits on this. It is used to wipe the edge during the shave. Stropping is very light, the edge should just touch, if you apply pressure the edge will roll and be damaged.
3.Straight razors hate water.
Yes, a razor that hates water! Most new wet shavers come from cartridge or a safety razor. You might be used to rinsing your razor in the sink. Some even use warm water to warm the razor for a nicer shave. Do this with a straight razor and in a week it’ll rust. Store it in the bathroom and in a week it’ll rust. Going back to aspect one and two the edge is invisible to the naked eye, if you can see rust in the razor imagine what you can’t see on the edge!
Straight razor care
Oh yes... no swapping dull blades here, you have to look after this bad boy! As soon as you purchase a straight razor you need to clean it with a clipper oil, I use clippercide, this will clean the razor, sterilise it and protect it. This is sprayed on and wiped off with a cotton pad.
Before you use a straight razor it will need stropping every time. This will become part of your shaving routine and a decent 50 laps is what I use.
After your wet shave it is wiped with the flannel (end of shave I rinse lather/stubble off, wring it out and wipe razor), sprayed with clipper oil and wiped with a cotton pad. After that it comes out of the bathroom, into a case and onto the top shelf of my wardrobe, as being surrounded by clothes will insulate and stabilise the temperature, preventing condensation build up. Fountain pen cases are great for sets of straight razors.
Stropping your straight razor
This is it, this is the most important part of straight razor use. So what actually is stropping? Stropping is using a strip of leather, canvas or denim fabric to polish and straighten a straight razor blade.
Many people apply pressure to improve their results, this will only make it worse, damage the edge and potentially damage your strop. The first thing I do when I set up and get ready is ten laps with my hand, before I get them wet (as long as they are clean). This cleans the strop, applies a little oil from your hand and keeps it supple. When I get a new strop (what I advise all new shavers to do) I do 100 laps with the spine down and edge pointing straight up at 90 degrees. This is totally safe as the edge is well away from the strop. You will get the feel of the strop, build muscle memory and know how much you need to move.
When stropping do not lift the razor off the strop, when doing the spine down practice do not lift it. Once this feels comfortable and natural just roll the straight razor so that the edge is just touching the strop. Spine leads, edge trails and all the strop does is buff the edge and remove microscopic imperfections making it as sharp as possible. The type of strop is determined by many aspects, price being a huge factor. I like a 3” as it strops the whole edge easily.
The actual technique is a case of pushing out and pulling back for one lap. Place the spine down, roll the razor so that the edge is just touching and push away, stop at the top of the strop. Roll the razor so the other side of the edge it touching, keeping the spine in contact at all times, pull the razor back and call out “One”, stop at the bottom of the strop. Then roll the razor so the first side is just touching again and repeat calling “two” on the return stroke. Repeat this for fifty laps. I do a hundred laps when the razor starts to pull and get uncomfortable, this will usually bring the edge back for a while before a hone is required. I strop every day, when I hone I do a total of 250 laps across three strops per razor and count every lap, I follow that exact technique, I have done for many years.
Wet shaving with a straight razor
Wet shaving with a straight razor is a huge area to cover and I advise you find someone willing to teach you. If you do not have someone in person, then YouTube is a great starting point. I have just launched my two minute shave talks to my channel John June - which would be a great place to start to learn basics of traditional wet shaving.
My advice is to start with your thighs. Yes, not your face, your thighs! Your razor should cut hanging hair, so zero pressure. Lather up using a shaving brush with a traditional shaving soap. Find the right angle for the razor and guide the glide, letting the edge do the work, you are just guiding it. The space between the spine and your skin should be twice the thickness of the spine to start, as a rough guide. Practice on thighs, while sat down, and use free hand to pull skin taught, pulling back from behind the razor. This lifts the hairs (anywhere on body) and stops them folding over as you try to cut them. As far as actual technique, order, stroke direction and growth pattern goes, this is far too big to cover now and hopefully you have shaved long enough to know this or will research these aspects separately to improve your shave.
Perhaps find a local barber that does hot towel shaves, have them shave you and ask them for tips on how to shave your growth pattern... this will allow an expert to see exactly what your growth pattern is and how best to shave it. I still see my barber every month and get a hot towel shave (although I am missing this currently due to Coronavirus restrictions!) we exchange tips and discuss straight shaving.
I hope you have found this undercover insight into wet shaving with a straight razor informative! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. If you wish to ask any further questions, find out more about straight razors, you can find John over on Instagram @jj_shaves - he is happy to help!