Ok. So your new restored razor from Rasals has arrived. The package opened, your razor is in your hand. It looks great. You know that the razor is ready to shave. But are you?
That's when it dawns on you. How exactly is one meant to shave with such a beautiful piece of history?
If you're wondering about that, then this Blog Post is for you.
By now, you may be wondering, why in this age of the Tube, am I bothering to write about how to shave with a straight razor. There must be a couple of thousand videos on YouTube on shaving with a straight razor. So why am I writing this?
Well, it can sometimes be easier to imagine a concept if it's written down. Plus, no other generation of straight razor shavers had access to videos. Meet this guy, he didn't need YouTube and, truth be told, neither do you.
The unknown star of a 1905 Shaving manual called Shaving Made Easy.
Before listing my top tips for shaving with a straight razor, here are the instructions provided with a Victorian Wostenholm razor.
Finest Sheffield Razor
Now you know what a Victorian owner of an IXL razor knew. So, here are some tips to give you an edge over our ancestors!
1. The cutting edge.
Take a look at your razor. See any similarity to a chain saw? No: there is none. So, there is no need to be anxious about your razor. If you drive a car or own a cat, you deal with much more dangerous things daily.
Notice how the blade is a whole lot wider than the cutting edge. This means that only a small proportion of the blade has the capability to shave you. The cutting edge itself is comprised of a triangle, expertly honed into the edge. The experience of over 30 years of sharpening steel has gone into making that edge. Why am I telling you this? Read on and you'll see.
2. A Soap Opera.
The most important stage of a straight razor shave is actually the soap and the lather. This is probably not the time to discuss how to make a great lather from the many fine soaps available today. But, it's my duty to tell you: a great shave could be ruined by poor lather. Don't tell me that you've not been told.
Remember, apply lather as often as you feel is necessary. There's no rule that states that you can't apply lather in between passes.
3. A workout.
Let's get physical. Put your left forearm over the top of your head and touch your right cheek near the top of your right ear. Got that? Now, with the fingertips of your left hand gently pull the skin of your cheek upwards. Obviously, if you're a southpaw, use your dominant hand.
Now relax. What you just did there is the most complicated that straight razor shaving gets. It's called stretching your skin. You need to do this to present a flat surface for your razor.
See the picture above? He's stretching his skin with the tips of his fingers there too. Remember: stretching pulls your skin flatter, which as you're shaving with a straight edge is a good thing, making it easier to shave.
Have another look at the well dressed shaver from 1905; he is performing the same manoeuvre as that described above.
4. Wipe, don't shave.
The most important tip for a good straight razor shave is don't try to shave. Just focus on wiping the lather off. Simple.
Why? Well, the moment you try to shave as in shifting your focus to removing facial hair, you stand a good chance of sabotaging your own shave by applying too much pressure, or screwing up the angle. So, in practical terms, lay the razor on your skin, almost flat, then slowly think about wiping the lather off your face with the edge. That's shaving.
Also, don't use long, sweeping strokes. You're not mowing a lawn or a football pitch. Use shorter, repetitive strokes, think more along the lines of brushing your teeth. Shorter strokes are controlled strokes.
Remember reading about the cutting edge of your razor being triangle shaped? I only mentioned this to introduce the topic of angles. A lot is talked about on the internet about the correct angle for a straight razor shave. Ignore it.
If your razor can wipe off the lather then your angle's probably good enough. You can always adjust the angle of the razor as you shave. Most will find the sweet spot unconsciously. It's really difficult to think about angles whilst shaving, unless you keep a set of mathematical geometry instruments handy. Of course there's no need for that. Listen to the razor, it will give you feedback.
Stay focused on wiping the lather off and you'll keep your touch light and smooth.
Shaving with a straight razor is remarkably intuitive. It's easier than you would ever imagine. That being said, you need to practice it. Remember that you're not a Jedi (unless you are) and the razor is not a light-sabre. It's one blade. You're going to have to learn to use it, just like any other skill that's worth mastering. Not only that, but the quality of the shave will also depend on your ability to maintain the edge by stropping (another thing that you'll perform imperfectly at the start).
- Every shave will improve your shave;
- Every shave will improve your own knowledge of your face;
- Every shave will improve your confidence.
You will be surprised at the contours of your own face.
The most important thing is to enjoy it. With a well prepared straight razor from me you can rest assured that you have everything you need for a great shave. Just add practice.
A waistcoat is purely optional.
If you want to read the 1905 manual, Shaving Made Easy, have a look here.
If you have any questions, just get in touch!