How to Use a Straight Razor: Tips for Shaving with a Straight Razor Like a Pro Barber

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There are a couple of reasons that would explain why the straight razor is still relevant in this modern age of technology.

Well, other than the obvious fact that you look incredibly badass using one, a straight razor has been proven to achieve other benefits.

For instance, barber razors result in a closer shave, are environmentally friendly, and the slow, gradual process has some meditative advantages too.

Plus the fact that you’ll never have to purchase any more cartridges eventually translates to reduced costs in the long run.

But then again, the thought of that sharp, double-edged blade pressed against your neck can be quite intimidating at times … okay, most times. But fear no more! With the just a few of the steps below, you too can wield your very own blade, and achieve that nice close shave at the comfort of your home.

It is important to note that the process is quite labored and might take some time to get the hang of. But with enough practice, you’ll be doing it like the pros in no time.

Before We Dive In…

If there’s one thing you need to have in mind, it’s that using a straight razor is a really delicate process that should not be rushed. It is way slower than your ordinary electric shave or cartridge.

So, if you are not willing to put in the effort and time, then this might not be for you.

Also, the straight razor has been proven safe for use, even on sensitive skin. You are advised, however, to prepare your skin first, and work through each step slowly. Afterward, you should condition it after the shave, and you shouldn’t experience any problems.

Okay, with that public service announcement out of the way, let’s get down to the nitty gritty of shaving with a straight razor!

Related: How to Choose the Best Type of Electric Razor

The Process for a Perfectly Smooth Shave with a Straight Razor

So now that you’ve had an idea of the basic prerequisites, you should be psychologically prepped enough to dive into the process. Ideally, most straight razor blades will have a similar design, so this process should suffice for almost any kind of blade out there.

Prepare Your Face and Lather Up That Beard!

This might very well be the key factor in guaranteeing a clean, painless shave. The main intention here is to open up the pores of your skin and soften your bristles. Therefore, first and foremost, you will need to jump into the shower and wash your face using warm or hot water.

You can also do it the barber way by wrapping a hot towel around your face for a few minutes. Thereafter, continue by massage your beard or stubble with a shaving cream of your choice to condition the skin. You can use your fingers or a shaving brush to make sure that the cream goes in deep and evenly into the beard. For a straighter cut, you must not allow the lather to dry.

How to Hold Your Straight Razor

Your blade will likely have a plastic or wood handle that might be tempting to hold on to. You are advised not to. Instead, place your thumb beneath the blade’s shank (the piece of metal connecting the blade to the handle). Afterward, place your ring, index and middle fingers on the opposite side of the shank, and let your pinky rest on the tang (the small metal piece on the handle)

When shaving, experts suggest that the best hold is at a 30-degree angle from your face. If the razor is held too flatly, it might tear up the stubble, and if held too close, it will cut your skin, and you don’t want that do you? Ensure that your grip is always firm, only adjusting it as you go over different sections of your face, like chin and upper lip.

The secret is to pull on your skin taut using your free hand, or through stretching your neck, then applying gentle pressure using the blade. With this, you will keep your face and fingers safe from cuts and nicks.

How to Shave with a Straight Razor: The Initial Strokes

When dealing with a sharp blade, you want your strokes to be short, even. They should also move in the direction that your beard is growing. Don’t worry; the blade is sharp, so it will surely do its work. Choose one side of your face, and begin with the sideburns, then gradually move downward. Try and do this in one smooth motion while avoiding any chopping movements or jerks.

When done with each stroke, rinse your blade using hot water and proceed. Try not to drag or pull the razor. Again, it is imperative that your skin stays taut throughout, so use your free fingers to pull on the skin.

If you experience any cuts, which is bound to happen from time to time, just press your skin together and hold it for a few minutes, then apply styptic powder (make sure it’s for humans not pets) or use a styptic stick to stop any more bleeding.

Shave Your Chin Area and Lower Lip

Start by adjusting your mouth in such a way that the skin that is around our lower lip is tight and wide. The easiest way to follow through will be to continue with a motion from the sides of the face.

The region here should be relatively easy to cut, so be gentle. Use short strokes as you move to the center of your chin. Also, you can tighten your lips so you can easily cut around them. If any hairs remain, you can get rid of them using short, gentle upward strokes from the start of your chin all the way to your lip. The keyword here is ‘gentle.’

Shave Your Jaw Area Down Your Neck

Here, you’ll do it the same way you did your sides. Start by tilting your head back, then pull your jaw using your free hand, finally, follow this up by short downward strokes on the skin under the jaw. After you are through with the jaw, you can move on down your neck.

Video: How To Shave With A Straight Razor

Using a straight razor takes practice but it’s worth it. | Courtesy of Cremo Company

Lather Up and Repeat the Process!

You’ll probably have missed a spot here and there in the first pass, which is why you’ll need to do a repeat. Identify any missed patches, then shave either across or against the grain on your face this time around. Don’t forget to moisten your skin with hot splashes water and re-lathering with more shaving cream for protection against cuts.

Rinse Off Your Face with Some Cold Water

Once you are done shaving, wash your skin once again with cold water. This gets rid of the lather and tightens your pores. You can also apply some aftershave to reduce the irritation feeling. In this case, you should pat it instead of rubbing it in to avoid any further irritation.

Clean Your Blade and Store It Away

The way you store your blade is what stands between it lasting for years of service and getting worn out and rusty. Therefore, start by completely drying it using a soft cloth or some toilet paper. Ensure that it is completely free of moisture.

Then cover it with some blade oil (camellia oil, for instance). Gently rub the oil on the blade, and then store it somewhere dry. If your blade does get rusty, you shouldn’t re-use it. Instead, get yourself a new one.

What to Look For When Buying A Straight Razor

As with any other product you’ll find out there, straight razors come in different types, made out of different materials which consequently lead to different results. You have the option of getting a used or new razor, but used ones are likely to have some imperfections which may need honing.

Other than that, it is important that you also check out the following factors.

The Steel Quality

You’ll find that a razor that has a good temper sharpening better than poor quality steels. To check if your blade is well-tempered, start by catching the point of your blade under your thumbnail, then let it slip off really quickly. If you get a nice clear ring, the blade is likely to be well-tempered. If the blade doesn’t give off a good ring, then the tempering was likely done unevenly.

The Shape of the Blade

Most of the modern-day straight razors will have some kind of hollow incorporated in their design. This places a concave on both sides of the blade, making it sharper, lighter, and easier to handle. There are different degrees of hollowing. In this case, full concaves give the sharpest edge but are not suitable for beginners. This is because, when the edge of such contacts a stiff beard, it might bend and result in a cut.

The Width of the Blade

When it comes to the width, you will want to avoid buying a straight razor that is too wide. The ideal size would be about 5/8 inch because it is easy to control. It also follows more closely the contours of your face.

The Shape of the Blade’s Point

There are two main types of points on a straight blade. It can either be sharp or rounded. Since sharp points tend to nick and cut, you are advised to go with a rounded point.

Some of the best quality and sharpest straight edge razors come from brands such as Parker Safety Razor, Feather, and Dovo Solingen (who makes both affordable and premium straight razors). Thiers-Issard is a high end brand which will cost you a few hundred bucks, but their premium blades will definitely last you a lifetime.

Related: Best Straight Razor Reviews

Shaving Essentials

Also, there are a few essential items you’ll probably need to make the experience a little smoother. They include:


How to Maintain Your Blade on Your Straight Razor

A quality straight razor is an investment. The money you put up front will be more than disposable razors. And depending upon what you get, the cost less than or within the same ballpark as an electric razor (some of which will actually cost a lot more). But in the long run, you’ll spend less because a well-maintained straight razor will last longer. Not to mention the fact that you’ll get a much cleaner and smoother shave.

Stropping Your Blade

As we’ve seen, it is vital that you strop your blade before each shave. And mastering the process is almost as fundamental as the shave itself. It will typically involve running the blade along a strop to make it as straight and aligned as possible.

A typical strop is composed of two sides – a leather side and a fabric side. The fabric is specially made to be coarse, so it gets rid of anything, like metal bits or leftover soap that might damage the leather. The leather, on the other hand, has a smoother surface, and it is where you’ll do the majority of the stropping, keeping your straight razor aligned and straight.

For best results, you should clean your strop regularly, ensuring it is as smooth as possible.

Video: How to Strop a Straight Razor

Straight Razor stropping with Dovo razor and Fromm Strop. | Art of Manliness

Honing Your Straight Razor

Since a straight razor is built to last, it is likely that it will stay nice and sharp for a really long time, provided you do the regular stropping. However, the stropping only helps to align the blade. It doesn’t really sharpen it. For this, you will need a honing stone.

Now, honing stones are not all the same. They are actually graded into units called grits, which range between 500 grit to 12,000 grit. The higher the grit, the finer the stone will be. If your razor is completely blunt, you’ll need to work your way up from a low graded honing stone to a higher one. If it is not so blunt, we recommend anywhere between 4000 grit to 8000 grit to bring it back to shape.

You might need a couple of practice rounds to get the hang of the honing art, but we shall outline the basic steps to get you a head start.

  • Start by wetting the stone and ensuring the surface is free of any particles that may damage your razor
  • Then place the blade on the stone while facing towards you
  • Pull the blade towards you while on a slight angle, so the ensure blade goes across the stone. Also, make sure that the blade’s edge is kept flat without applying any extra pressure. Simply let the razor’s weight and the stone do the work.
  • After each stroke, turn the blade around while ensuring the edge isn’t drawn across the stone. This might blunt the edge that you’ve formed.
  • Repeat the process depending on just how blunt your razor is.

Alternatively, if you are not quite accustomed to the process, you can always send your straight razor to professionals. But ultimately, learning how to maintain your tools is part of the joy of the process. It might take time, but in the end, you’ll definitely find it worth it.

Well, folks, that just about covers it!

All that is left now is to get your shaving pants on, your blade stropped and shave away! Unless of course it’s November!

Related: No-Shave November: 5 Manscaping Survival Tips