Last updated on November 28th, 2018 by Garrick Dee
Out of all the razors available in the market, the straight and safety razor are most popular – if you’re a purist.
These two razors will give you the closest possible shave but will require more skill in doing so.
The question is which is better? And let’s dig in deeper to see the difference between the two.
I’m guessing you’re not familiar with a straight razor and that’s the reason why you’re looking for some info on it.
What’s the difference?
A straight razor is what it is. It is a straight piece of sharp metal with a handle.
In a lot of aspects, it looks and acts like a kitchen knife. And it cuts like one too that’s why a lot of folks refer this as a “cutthroat” razor.
One big difference would be size and the handle.
It is much smaller and has a pivoting handle that doubles as a protective case for the blade when not in use.
It’s something that old school barbershops use to shave.
If you’re old enough, I’m sure you’ve seen it in old classic movies.
A man on a chair, face full of shaving cream with the barber holding a piece of metal, slowly shaving facial hair.
That piece of metal the barber is holding is a straight razor.
A little history lesson
Before safety razors where invented in 1900, a straight razor was the only option for shaving.
And since then the popularity of the straight razor is been on a steady decline to a point you can only find this in barbershops.
But recently it has been making a comeback thanks to Vloggers like GeoFatBoy and Nick Shaves making videos about wet shaving in YouTube.
Whereas a straight razor looks like a knife, a safety razor looks and functions like a cartridge and disposable razor.
Cartridge and disposables use plastic frames that are light.
A cartridge razor has a reusable frame and disposable cartridge that houses the blades. When the blades get dull, you’ll have to replace it with a fresh set.
You can’t reuse a disposable razor. When the blade dulls, you throw the whole thing away. And this is the allure of a safety razor – reduced costs and less waste.
Will be cheaper in the long run
Most safety razors use metal frames and you’ll only need to replace is the blade. A decent brand will cost less than 10 cents.
I’ve written an article that covers this topic in detail so check it out.
The beauty of this interchangeability is that you’re able to pick and choose different types of blades that’ll suite your needs. Men with sensitive skin will benefit from a sharp blade.
Got a thick beard growth? Then a blade like a Personna would be able to mow it down in just two passes.
One big differentiator for both razors is the blade size. Straight razors utilize a much longer blade compared to a safety razor that has the same blade width as a cartridge and disposable.
The difference in size and design will require a different technique.
Handle a straight razor will require you to rest two fingers at the top of the blade, ring finger over the tang and the thumb at the bottom side of the blade.
Safety razor technique
Technique for a safety razor is similar to that of a cartridge razor with three fingers on one side of the handle and thumb on the opposite side.
If you’re using razor with no knurling, rest the pinky at the bottom of the razor so it doesn’t slip.
Make sure to lock your wrists as you shave and let the weight of the razor do the work.
If you want to find out more how to shave with a safety razor, read this article and find out more.
If you’re using a safety razor, you will need to buy a bunch of double edged blades (or DE blades) to replace blades that go dull. The beauty of a DE razor is that you can pick and choose a blade depending on the need.
DE blades will vary in sharpness and smoothness depending on the brand.
For straight razors, there’s nothing to replace (unless you’re using a shavette but that’s another topic).
But you’ll need a strop to keep it sharp for the long term. Or ask someone to do it for you but that’ll cost more in the long term.
Straight razors are precision cutting tools that will last for decades if you take good care of it.
Once you’ve bought one, the blade will last a lifetime, unless you buy a Shavette.
One important skill that you need to master to maximize this benefit is honing and stropping the razor which takes time. But once you’ve mastered this, you’ll not need to spend another cent on blades.
You’ll need to sharpen it once every 6 to 12 months.
The 3” wide blade will cover a lot more surface area compared to a safety razor. You’ll need less strokes to shave the whole face but during the initial period where you’re mastering technique, it make take longer.
If you’ve made up your mind to buy a straight razor, make sure to check out our list of the best ones in the market.
Using a straight razor takes a lot of skill and a steady hand. If you’ll be using this for the first time, expect a lot more nicks and cuts compared to using a safety razor.
There’s almost no room for error using this because there is full blade exposure. Also be careful when handling this because if you damage the blade, you can’t change the blade.
Stropping and honing are skills that you’ll need to develop and this also takes time. Another option would be letting somebody else do this task for you but that’ll cost money and downtime.
Here are the top two picks of GEB…
- Feather DX Folding Wood Handle – check the current price here
- Velvet Forge – check the latest price here
Biggest advantage of a safety razor over a straight razor would be the learning curve.
It’ll take less time to master shaving with a DE razor compared to a safety razor and it’s much safer to use.
When you compare it to a cartridge razor, it’ll be cheaper to use a safety razor. After the initial $30 to $50 investment, DE blades are much cheaper compared to cartridges.
A single blade will last between 2 to 5 uses depending on the type of razor used, facial hair coarseness and how often you shave.
Each blade will cost around 5 cents when you compare that to a Gillette cartridge that cost over $3, costs will add up over time.
If you’re thinking of trying out a safety razor, please check out our list of the top safety razors in the market.
Aside from not feeling more “manly” for not using a large piece of sharp metal on your face, you’ll spend more buying blades over time. The blade on a straight razor will last a lifetime. And once you’ve mastered the technique of stropping you’ll never spend another cent on blades.
Here are some safety razor recommendations to help you get started…
Both razors bring something unique to the table.
A safety razor won’t take as long to master using compared to a straight razor. It’ll provide you with a tool that’s relatively safe to use provided that you master the basics.
If you’re old school
Straight razors will fit to purists who want the purest form of shaving.
Men who are willing to put the time and go through some loss of blood in order to master the technique required to use this razor effectively.
This razor will give you the closest shave possible even compared to a safety razor because you have full control. But one wrong move can be painful and bloody.
Compared to a cartridge or disposable, safety razors will be cheaper to use because DE blades cost much less than cartridges.
A straight razor is the cheapest to operate in the long haul because you don’t to replace anything. You’ll need to strop and hone this once or twice a year to keep this sharp.
Why a safety razor?
Safety razor is also capable of giving you a close shave with less skill needed.
The safety bar on top and bottom of the blade exposes just a small part of the blade so there is less risk for nicking yourself.
It’s actually something that you can use every day because it does not require as much focus.
And you have the option to change the blade depending on your mood or need. If you’re in a hurry and want to knock off a 3 day growth in just 2 passes then you can go with a sharp Feather blade.
Otherwise, you can opt for something smoother if you’re after a relaxing shave on a weekend.
And this is something that’s not possible in a cartridge or disposable because their blades aren’t as good.
So whatever you pick, both razors will be capable of providing a world class shave. Technique for both razors will vary greatly because the design is different.
For those of you who haven’t touched either one then I suggest you go with a safety razor because it’s much safer to use and the learning curve isn’t as steep.
But for those who’ve been using a safety razor for a while and are looking to take a leap to straight razor shaving, you could start by practicing with a shavette.
If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a cross between a safety and straight razor. This product has the same design as a straight razor meaning it has a pivoting handle and blade. The only difference is that it uses a disposable blade.
What makes it a good option is it’s cheaper and the disposable blade does not necessitate a strop. Once you’re comfortable with the technique then the transition to a straight razor wouldn’t be as hard.
Now that you know the basic differences between these two products let me give you a brief summary of what we’ve discussed.
Safety razors are great because…
- Buying a good safety razor isn’t as expensive as a straight razor
- Shallower learning curve – if you’re using a cartridge or disposable, transitioning to a safety razor would not be as hard
- It is safer to use
- You won’t be spending as much on a cartridge refill or another bag of disposables
- It’ll give you a close shave day in and day out without the irritation
Straight razors are great because…
- It is the purest form of shaving you can get – if you’re a purist then this is the tool for you
- This will give you the closest shave
- You won’t need to buy any more blades after the initial investment
- This will entail a steeper learning curve
- Higher initial investment on a good straight razor
- Risk of cuts is higher
Next step would be checking out our in-depth guides in safety razors and straight razors.
Choosing between these two razors will boil down to personal preference. For purists or experienced wet shavers looking to take it to a higher level then a straight razor should be a strong consideration.
It is the highest form of shaving that you can boast about to your friends. An icebreaker in conversations with the new people you meet.
Folks who may want an upgrade from a disposable or cartridge that may cause irritation should consider a safety razor. Another benefit would be cost savings in the long run because DE blades are much cheaper than cartridges.
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Garrick spends his days researching and writing about grooming. When he’s not in front of his computer, you can find him hanging around with his wife and son.