Although I shave with my grandfather’s old Rolls Razor (known as a “straight razor on a stick”) more often than with my straight razors, I most definitely prefer the quality of the shave you receive from a traditional straight razor. In my opinion you get a better shave from a 100-year-old straight razor than from the latest Gillette Mach 25-whatever cartridge razor. I’m serious. If you don’t believe me, book a shave at your local barber shop.
Aside from giving an epic shave, the straight razor has a few other benefits too…
1. It’s hardcore. You’re dragging a surgically sharp 4 inch exposed blade down your pretty face, under your sensitive nose and over your vulnerable throat. All it would take is one accidental sideways slice… If the risk doesn’t get the blood pumping the first time you try straight razor shaving then all I can say is you lack imagination. I call it adrenalin shaving – an extreme sport in which you can partake every morning – in your bathroom, wearing only a towel. Sadly, it does become routine, but while it lasts, the buzz is great.
2. It’s good for the planet. How many cartridge or disposable razors does a man buy over his lifetime? How much energy has been expended in the manufacture, packaging, transport and retailing of those items? A man with a straight razor (or a Rolls Razor) and the skills to maintain it can opt-out of the razor economy for good if he so wishes, while still looking good.
3. It’s good for the bank balance. How much does a man spend on cartridge or disposable razors over his lifetime?
4. It’s a big fat “screw you” to the Razor-Razorblade Model, a business model whereby the peddler peddles dependent goods for different prices – one good (say, a cartridge razor handle with a “starter” blade) is sold at a discount, while the second dependent good (a packet of razor blade cartridges unique to the handle in question) is sold at a considerably higher price. Once you’re hooked, you’re locked in as a victim of this business model until you’re able to claw your way out of it kicking and screaming.
#4 above is a big one since it has completely warped male grooming and turned it on its side in order to make profit off an activity (shaving) which most men HAVE to do every morning.
5. 110% of the time it will lead to unexpected sexual encounters with attractive women who are inexplicably expert at barber-style straight razor shaving.
I learned to shave with a modern cartridge razor. My dad learned with a double-edged (DE) razor (disposable blade Gillette razor) and so did his father before him. I am the first in three generations of my family to learn and practice the ancient and honourable art of daily shaving without lining a large corporation’s pockets.
How did the ancient Egyptians ever shave without modern cartridge razors? What about the Romans or the Chinese? They didn’t need cartridge razors, neither did any of the well-groomed men throughout history up to the wide proliferation of Gillette’s Razor-Razorblade Business Model in the 1910s. In 2013/14 we don’t need proprietary cartridge razors either. We can still grab a razor with one blade which will last us a lifetime. All it takes is some spare change and a willingness to learn.
So what do you need to begin straight razor shaving? I use the full kit, but as a bare minimum when starting out you’d need the following:
A shave-ready straight razor.
Very few factory razors are shave-ready out of the box. That goes for Timor, Dovo, Gold Dollar and all the rest of the modern brands. You can check places like eBay for vintage razors which have been honed by an expert and are ready to go. Or you can purchase a vintage one in good condition (look for a later post on this topic) and send it to a local “honemeister” – google it – who can make a decent razor shave-ready for a small fee. You can “cheat” and pick up a “shavette” instead to test the waters. This is a straight razor which takes disposable blades. If I didn’t know how to hone and strop my own razors to make them shave-ready, I’d bite the bullet and visit Whipped Dog and pick up one of his “sight unseen” shave-ready restored vintage razors for $40 or so. Remember, a good razor is one-time investment.
I use Proraso soap, which is a dedicated wet-shaving soap which needs to be applied and lathered with a shaving brush. If you buy this stuff, you need a shaving brush as well. If you want to keep the outlay to a minimum while you try-before-you-buy, then simply use your existing shaving cream straight out of the can as normal.
Badger bristle brushes are the best, followed closely by some of the nylon offerings and then boar bristle and horsehair. My home shaving setup includes a badger brush, but for my travel kit I prefer a boar bristle brush. I’m not that pedantic about brushes – get whatever you can most afford or find locally. Obviously if you’re vegan, go for the nylon brush.
For a couple of years I simply used an ex-army steel canteen cup, so you can see this is not a critical choice. Just use an old coffee mug or tea-cup.
Aside from hot water and a towel, that’s the basics. You can apply pre-shave oils or aftershave and moisturizer, but they are the icing on the cake. The four simple items above will take off your beard in a manly, forthright and traditional manner.
For more information on what you’ve seen in this post, I encourage readers to visit “The Shave Den”, a discussion forum which specialises in the topic of traditional shaving. Link appears in the links column funnily enough.
If you want to skip ahead, here’s the book from which I learned just about everything I know about traditional shaving and razor maintenance – “The Art of Shaving – What Every Man Who Shaves Ought To Know”
Next post in this series will look at shaving with a straight razor without the requirement for post-shave corrective surgery.