Straight Shaving for Beginners – Selecting a Straight Razor
Switching over to a straight razor from disposable razors is an extremely rewarding experience, but it can be intimidating for any beginning.
This is a brief explanation about the different kinds of razors available and how to pick the best one of you.
Razors can be split up into several categories:
- Disposable razors – these are what you are probably using now. They are available at most supermarkets. They blocks easily, are only good for a single shave, and leave a rough stubble behind. This is what we are trying to avoid.
- Double edge razors – these have a similar shape to a disposable razor but use a disposable blade on a permanent handle. They use a similar technique to what you are presumably used to and as such as a great stepping stone for beginners. They are extremely cheap to shave with as only the thin blade needs to be replaced instead of the entire razor.
- Shavette – a shavette is a straight razor with a disposable blade. They can be trickier to shave with because of the thin razor blade, but they do not require any maintenance such as stropping or honing. Simply shave, replace the blade, and you are ready to go again.
- Straight razor – a straight razor is the epitome of wet shaving. They have a permanent blade attached to a rotating handle. They give the closest possible shave because you can sharpen them regularly using a strop or honing stone. Although there is some maintenance required they will last a lifetime and may very well be the last razor you ever buy.
Naturally, our favourite type of razor is a straight razor, and even within this category there are numerous variations available.
Anything from the blade height, blade angle, tip shape, handle weight, and steel type can be different between razors.
- Blade Height – the most common straight razors come in anything from 4/8th of an inch to 7/8th of an inch. The larger the razor the heavy it is and can be more difficult to access tight areas such as under the nose due to the size of the back of the blade. We recommend 5/8th of an inch for beginners.
- Blade Grind – Also known as concaves these represent the angle of the blade and also influence the razor weight. These range from wedge which has the thickest and heaviest blade to hollow which is extremely fine and light. A beginner should start with a medium ranged grind such as a ½ hollow razor.
- Tip Shape – The shape of the tip can vary from square, round or barber’s tip. The sharper the tip the easier it can be to access tight areas such as under the nose, but they are more likely to cut. A beginner should start with a round tip to avoid cuts until you have mastered the technique.
My one piece of advice would be to purchase a high quality razor – there are a large number of razors available online that are of a very poor quality, are extremely cheap, and are blunter than a butter knife.
I have seen beginners purchase a cheap razor as a test but the experience was so poor that it puts them off wet shaving altogether. A quality razor may cost more initially, but the shaving experience and the maintainability will really justify the expense.
If you have selected a straight razor then a strop is also a requirement. A strop should be used before every shave to ensure the blade is sharp by aligning the metal edge. Most strops are made from both leather and fabric. Consider the width of the strop and whether it is suitable for your razor.
There are a few different stropping options:
1) Standard leather and fabric strop – the most common type of strop and the most suitable for beginners are a combination of leather and fabric. They are often narrower than the width of the razor blade and hence need to be used with an x-directional pattern.
2) Wide leather and fabric strop – made from the same material as the standard strop but a wider base. This removes the need to use an x-directional pattern technique.
3) Paddle strop – a paddle strop has the fabric and leather material attached to a wooden paddle. This can be used without the need to attach one end to the wall to tension the strop. The downside is the size and that it takes more space to store.
Getting started in the world of wet shaving is an extremely rewarding experience, and is a great way to turn a daily chore into something fun.