How to Shave with a Straight Razor

Posted by Emily Wheeler


Using a straight razor is one of the most traditional methods of shaving. If you wanted a classic, superior wet shave, you would go to a barber and they would give you a shave using a straight razor. While this practice has decreased in use over the years, it is still one of the most effective ways to get the closest, smoothest shave possible. 

Learning to shave with a straight razor take time, practice and patience. It has a longer learning curve than cartridge or safety razors. Straight razors are incredibly sharp and the blade is completely exposed, making it very easy to cut or nick yourself. Because the blade is so exposed, you can cut yourself pretty bad if you're not careful. That's why it is important to spend the necessary time to learn how to properly shave with a straight razor. Take your time and go very slow at the beginning. Give yourself enough time so you are not rushing while shaving. It will take some time and practice, but once you have mastered the technique you'll be able to achieve the closest and smoothest shave you have ever experienced. 

You are much less likely to experience razor burn or ingrown hairs when you shave with a straight razor. With the right technique, you should achieve an incredibly comfortable shave without any skin irritation. Straight razors can also be a more cost effective option. With the proper care, your straight razor can last for years and years. Plus, you don't have to purchase blade refills as with other razors. 

The first step is familiarizing yourself with the razor and learning how to hold it properly. Use a firm grip to hold the handle. As with any razor, you will want to let the weight of the razor do the work. Don't apply a lot of pressure, rather let the blade do the work for you. You will need to practice to know how much pressure to apply. There should be enough pressure so that the blade is effectively removing the hair, but not too much that you cut yourself or are too aggressive. This will mostly depend on the weight of the razor. Straight razors are available in different weights. Knowing the weight of the blade will help you determine how much pressure you need to apply. If you choose a lighter blade, you will need to apply a little more pressure. If you choose a heavier blade, you will need barely any pressure at all. Taking the time to practice and getting to know your blade will give you the best results. 

Next will be learning the angle to use. The general recommendation is to hold the blade at a 30 degree angle against the surface of your skin. If the angle is too flat the blade will simply pull and tug at the hair without actually removing it. If the angle is too sharp, you are very likely to cut yourself. Depending on the direction your hair grows and your shaving preference (with, against or across the grain) you may need to hold the blade in different positions depending on what area of your face or neck you are shaving. 

When you are ready to start shaving, begin your shaving process like any other shave. Take a shower or apply a warm towel to your face to soften the skin and hair and open your pores. Create your lather with shaving cream or soap using a shaving brush. You may need to reapply lather during your shave, so make sure you have enough. With a straight razor, you use shorter strokes compared to a cartridge or safety razor. Use very short strokes at first while you are still learning to use your razor. Make sure to gently pull your skin taut with one hand and then use short strokes with the blade to shave. It is very important to make sure your skin is tight to create the perfect surface for the blade to easily glide across your skin without getting any nicks or cuts. 

Because the blade is completely exposed, it is able to get much closer to the base of the hair than other razors. This gives you a much closer and smoother shave. If you need to do additional passes, rinse or wipe the blade then reapply shaving cream or soap before your second pass. It is important not to apply too much pressure trying to get everything on the first pass. Remember, let the razor do the work. Especially if you are new to using a straight razor, it may take time and practice before you have the technique down. If you need more passes, you can always go over it again. Try to avoid doing too many passes though to prevent irritation or razor burn. As with other razors, make sure to rinse the blade often during your shave to remove hair and shaving cream or soap. The cleaner the blade, the closer the shave will be. 

As with other razors, it is important to properly clean and care for your straight razor. In order for the razor to be effective and past a long time, you will need to take care of it. Maintaining a straight razor is fairly simple though. Make sure to thoroughly clean it after every use so there is no leftover soap or hair stuck to the blade. Wipe the blade clean with a dry towel to remove any water. Leaving water on the blade can cause it to rust. Make sure you place your razor somewhere where it can fully dry. 

To maintain your razor you will need a strop and a wet stone for honing. Stropping is the process of sharpening and aligning the blade. You will need to strop the blade regularly to keep it aligned, sharp and working best. Depending on how often you shave, you may want to strop the razor every week. Once you have practiced a few times the stropping process should be pretty simple. You will also need to hone the blade using a wet stone. You should not have to hone the blade very often, only occasionally or when you notice it is getting dull. Honing the blade with a wet stone is the proper way to sharpen the blade so you get the best shave possible. There are even services where you can send them your blade and they will hone it for you if you don't want to purchase a wet stone or are unfamiliar with the process. Learning how to hone the blade with a wet stone can be a great way to be more involved with the process and learn to care for your razor yourself.