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

  • how to use a straight razor
    Sheffield steel blades are highly desirable and always marked "Sheffield, Eng."
    Photo by John D. Meek
  • how to use a straight razor
    Above: About six strokes to a side from the back toward the edge of the razor should sharpen it. Keep thumb of hand holding stone down.
    Photo by John D. Meek
  • how to use a straight razor
    Cup and brush. Any cup will do but a badger hair brush (find one second-hand) is best of all. Right: Wet the brush in hot water and swish it around in the cup until you get this. You needn't do your whole face at once as the lather will sometimes dry out before you get to it.
    Photo by John D. Meek
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    Safety razors come in many styles and materials, but the author only had one when he started learning how to use a straight razor.
    Photo by John D. Meek
  • how to use a straight razor
    This is what is meant by "hollow ground" : Note the Y shape of the blade. Razors not ground this way are tough to sharpen.
    Photo by John D. Meek
  • how to use a straigh razor
    2) Lathering up. Especially at first — when you're going to be shaving very, very slowly — it's probably best to lather and shave only a small section of your face at a time. 3) Start on the neck and shave upward first.
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  • how to use a straight razor
    (6) Shave upward on left side. Note position of hands and handle. Shave like this to the sideburn and NEVER move blade along its length. (7) Shave downward on left side with jaw stretched tight and fingers out of the way.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • how to use a straight razor
    (4) Shave downward to catch all the whiskers. Keep skin stretched tight and note position of razor's handle in each illustration. It's not necessary to re-lather when going over an area the second time, if the skin is still wet. (5) Rotate razor's handle to keep it out of the way. Balance the blade and shave the other side of neck. Handle positions shown are not absolute, whatever feels best to you will work best, so long as the thing is out of the way.
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  • how to use a straight razor
    Strop your straight razor before each shave. The stroke runs toward the back of the blade.
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  • how to use a straight razor
    (8) Shave right side upward first. (9) downward just like you shaved left side. Be careful around the mustache, it took a while to grow. The stroke used on the chin is like this one, parallel to the jaw bone.
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  • how to use a straight razor
    (10) Trim under mustache by holding it up away from the blade and shaving up to it. Again, keep skin as tight as possible. (11) The underside of the chin is done by stretching the head back to tighten the skin and shaving upward against the grain. Finish by sticking out jaw to hold skin and shaving upward under lower lip.
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  • how to use a straight razor
  • how to use a straight razor
  • how to use a straight razor
  • how to use a straight razor
  • how to use a straight razor
  • how to use a straigh razor
  • how to use a straight razor
  • how to use a straight razor
  • how to use a straight razor
  • how to use a straight razor
  • how to use a straight razor

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?

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3/9/2015 1:58:25 PM

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Jacqeu
6/21/2014 11:17:33 PM

You definitely need a good straight razor to shave with or else you will get some pretty bad scratches on your face. If you guys need any good reviews, you can check out www.mensgroomings.com


Dan
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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