Adventures learning to use a straight razor

My straight razors

I first encountered the art of shaving with a straight razor on a blog called The Art of Manliness (which real kiwi blokes’ probably don’t read) in a post called Shave Like Your Great Grandpa: The Ultimate Straight Razor Shaving Guide. I was particularly attracted by the idea of not having to keep buying disposable razor cartridges at $5 each and the inherent waste disposable stuff:

Today’s modern shaving racket creates needless waste. When you’re done with a cartridge, you have to throw it out. When you buy new cartridges, you’re left with a ton of packaging material.

Then there were the promised benefits of a better shave and You’ll feel like more of a bad ass”.

I ditched the shaving foam in a can many years ago as it is stupidly expensive and results in empty aerosol cans heading to the landfill. So in some ways it made sense to take another step towards reducing cost and waste by using a razor that simply requires re-sharpening rather than throwing plastic cartridges away every week.

Then there is the appeal of using such an old school’ shaving method, a sort of re-establishing of links back how men have shaved for many hundreds of years before the invention of disposable razor blades. In opposition to the hurried, unthinking approach to personal grooming fostered by electric shavers and blister-packed blades with instant foam from a can, everything about using a straight razor forces me to take my time. With a blade sharper than a surgeon’s scalpel placed across your throat comes undivided focus on the task!

Believe or not, there is actually an entire web forum dedicated to straight razor shaving (Straight Razor Place). This is an excellent resource for learning what to look for in a razor, how to strop the razor to fine-tune the cutting edge and tips on how to shave without removing ears, nose or otherwise slicing your face to bits. The folks posting on this site extoll the virtues of straight razor shaving, claiming it to be the closest shave you will ever achieve.

Learning what gear is needed was one thing, getting it in New Zealand meant yet more scouring the internet to find retailers to buy from. Thankfully ordering online enables us to get stuff that would otherwise be difficult to obtain here.

So in mid-March my honed and stropped shave-ready’ razor arrived and I opened it eager to venture into the world of an extraordinarily close shave with no razor burn… and on seeing the blade thought, this is insane!” The idea of putting anything that sharp near my face freaked me out.

However, money talks — I had already paid for the razor and bought a strop so was committed. I needed learn how to use this gear in order to recoup my costs.

I began with baby steps, shaving my cheeks, the only flattish part of my face, finishing the rest with a regular razor. Over the next week I progressed to being able to shave my whole face without too many cuts. Shaving under the nose is particularly awkward, I can now see why Lord Voldemort got rid of his nose — it must make shaving much easier!

Puncture repair kit

After four months using a straight razor most days, I am usually able to do the job without drawing blood. At least when a razor like this does cut it is fine and clean so heals easily. However, a puncture repair kit consisting of an alum block and styptic pencil does come in handy for moments when I’m not concentrating.

Is it a brilliantly close shave? It can be. With care and multiple passes, I can get a very smooth shave, though this carries a risk of nicks by trying too hard to get an ultra smooth shave. To be fair though, if I do the same preparation and take my time with a regular cartridge razor I can also get an equally close shave. Overall though, I like having to take my time and be careful — shaving has become one of life’s little pleasures rather than the chore I previously viewed it as.

Pros & cons of straight razor shaving:

  • Overall cost savings
  • Minimal waste
  • ‘Meditative’ shaving experience
  • Nostalgia
  • Time required for each shave and care of razors
  • Upfront cost
  • Learning curve

For a lighthearted but not overly useful video, see How to Shave With a Straight Razor. For a more useful video, check out one of the recognised experts: Straight Razor Shaving for Beginners

Some NZ retailers for shaving gear:

A useful way to save on razor blades without going to the extreme of a straight razor is to get blades by mail order from Razor Blades NZ for around $12 per month. Another worthwhile approach is to use the old style double-edged safety razor’ which was the predecessor of today’s cartridge blades. By sourcing the double-edged (DE) blades online the cost becomes very reasonable.

Puncture repair kit

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