How to Use a Straight Razor

Every wanted to know how to use a straight razor? Here's some advice from a man who took up the skill after electric razors proved unsatisfactory.

| March/April 1972

It seems probable to me that many men spend a certain share of their lives engaged in that most ridiculous of Western Man's cultural rituals, shaving.

OK, some of us have to do it for one reason or another: to hold that job until the Time comes, or to keep from having a scraggly growth on the face because we can't grow a good beard, or whatever.

But let's give the problem some thought. Short of electrolysis (preferably at an early age), there are only two basic methods of depilation: the electric razor and the blade. Each has its advantages: fewer cuts with the electric, a closer shave (in spite of what the electric razor manufacturers say) with the blade.

But there are disadvantages to each, too. Electric razors needlessly support the power companies, are initially rather expensive, and require maintenance (which often involves sending the blamed things to the factory) from time to time. And suppose you want to go out into the woods for a while without coming back looking like one of the animals. What then? That electric razor is about as useful in the forest as a refrigerator. Very few trees come equipped with outlets.

Now consider the safety razor. Any male who's ever used or thought about how to use a straight razor will attest there's nothing safe about it. The first shave on a new blade leaves your face looking as if it's been gone over by someone in hobnail boots, and when the blade gets dull, the last shave is just about as bad as the first with the sole difference being that it hurts more. And what do you do then? You cuss, replace the blade, and consign the old one to that little slot in back of the medicine chest.

How many tons of steel are consumed each year in this way, never to be seen again until and unless the house is torn down? I'd love to know how much steel and other less common metals we consume annually in the form of blades. The manufacturers are using platinum now and claiming 10 or 15 shaves per blade, the same number claimed for the stainless steel cutting edges when they were introduced seven or eight years back. This is an improvement?

3/9/2015 1:58:25 PM

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6/21/2014 11:17:33 PM

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11/25/2013 1:56:30 PM

Nice read, although I could beg to differ with a few small details. I had a barber straight razor shave back in 1971 and I loved the experience (and the two-day shave). After subsequent years of hating to shave with double edged blades, cartriges and electrics I grew a beard and wore it for 40 years. I shaved my neck, unhappily, once a week or so. Recently I got a bug in my bonnet and bought an old straight razor, a broad Sheffield blade in great shape (save for one small chip), for $25. I got a few stones, learned how to set a bevel (nothing in common with knife sharpening, by the way - nothing), hone and strop. I ground out the chip, sharpened the blade and, with help from some related web forums, learned the drill. In a month I was getting very good shaves with three passes (with the grain, across the grain and against the grain) in 20-30 minutes; in three months the shaves were excellent in a relaxed 10-15 minutes. If time isn't on my side, two passes can be well done in 10-minutes or less. I'll stick with a great shave and the pleasure of knowing the art and sharing with anyone who's interested. If you can shave hair off your arm with a knife, you can shave your face with a straight. Smooth as silk. A real pleasure to experience.

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