Why the Straight Razor is Cut-Throat
The popularity of shaving with a straight razor, also known as cut-throat razor, is growing exponentially, with many gentleman opting for this enormously satisfying and nostalgic, traditional shaving method. For those of us who aren’t fortunate enough to have the guiding hand of a well-versed grandfather however, shaving with a straight razor can be a concerning affair. As you might expect, there’s an element of skill and risk involved but if you follow the simple rules below you will be shaving away safely in no time.
In truth, the single blade shave is often considered kinder on the skin compared to a modern razor as your skin isn’t being subjected to 3 or 4 blades in one pass. Despite its “cut-throat” nickname, it’s less lethal than you might have first thought. Another benefit: you can self-sharpen your blade using a strop (see below), meaning you don’t have to buy expensive razor blades ever again. The only downside? It does take a little more time each morning than whipping a supermarket razor across your face, but once you become more skilled in handling the blade it’s still a swift shave.
- Ensure your skin and stubble are warm. Always shave after a shower as this will ensure your beard hair is soft and easier to shave. As an alternative to a shower you could plunge a towel into warm water, ring dry, then place around your beard for a minute.
- Wash your face using a quality face scrub to remove impurities, raise your facial hair and clear away any dead skin cells. This will help avoid infection and shaving rash from clogged pores.
- Apply a quality pre-shave oil to further soften hair and provide added protection. This step isn’t essential but it’s a good idea if you suffer with shaving rash.
- Apply your shaving cream with a badger hair shaving brush. Lather in a shaving bowl (or the palm of your hand) then work the shaving cream into your beard using circular motions – this will lift hair and produce a rich lather.
How to Shave With A Straight Razor
- Hold the razor in your writing hand. Place your thumb on the underside of the shank, your index, middle and ring finger on top of the shank, and your little finger on the tang. The razor should look like a wide V in your hand and feel pretty sturdy.
- Shaving the cheeks first, stretch the top of your cheek from the bottom of your sideburn upward with your free hand looped over the top of your head (this may look strange but stretch it until it wont stretch anymore). Then put the blade to your face at a 30 degree angle starting at the bottom of your sideburn (too small an angle and you won’t cut any hair and the blade will drag, too much and the worst may ensue).
- Using very little pressure move the blade down the face, never sideways but in a straight line.
- Once you have completed one cheek move to the other. Find a hand/wrist position that will allow you to comfortably shave in a straight line, again stretching the skin with your free hand at all times.
- For the moustache area, contort your top lip down over your teeth and shave with short downward motions. You may also like to stretch your skin at the edge of your moustache. The same technique should be used for the area between your bottom lip and the chin.
- When shaving over the chin try and follow the hair growth as best as possible. This can be tricky at times but as long as you make sure the skin is stretched you should be fine. Use your hand or any obscure facial expression to make sure the skin is as stretched as possible, and use the same blade angle and shaving technique you’ve been using thus far (ensuring straight lines and following the growth). If you have a dimple in your chin you need to use a light scooping action with the blade. Place your razor at the edge of your dimple and lightly scoop the blade, in and out.
- For the neck area, it is essential to stretch the skin and follow the hair growth at all times. Tilt your head up and back, and use your free hand to stretch the skin at the bottom of your neck. As before, shave in the direction of hair growth at all times adapting your hand position and blade to compensate. Make sure you stretch the skin away from your Adam’s Apple.
The King Cutter (above left) has been a classic in the Boker range since the start of the 20th century. With its practical 5/8″ blade, it is the ideal straight razor for every morning, easy to use, and provides a very good shave even for inexperienced users. The non-stainless blade is made from best Solingen Straight Razor, £111 at THE TRADITIONAL SHAVING COMPANY >This Boker strop (above right) for straight razors is made from the finest cowhide and with nickel-plated steel loops for hanging and holding. The back is made from linen picks up dirt and loose steel particles before the leather does. £38 also at THE TRADITIONAL SHAVING COMPANY >
- When you have completed your shave, rinse away residue with warm water. Follow with cold water as this will close pores and help prevent infection. Pat dry.
- Apply an after shave balm to your skin and try to avoid touching your face for a minimum of 20 minutes to allow your balm to absorb and your skin to calm.
- If you cut yourself during the process then use an alum block to instantly seal your skin.
Done right, using a straight razor shave can be an extremely satisfying experience, not to mention cost effective. Granted, the initial outlay will be more than a supermarket razor but the results, longevity and long-term cost saving will be your reward.