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

Sheffield steel blades are highly desirable and always marked "Sheffield, Eng."


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.

alexander frost
3/22/2009 9:21:55 AM

I'm looking into using a straight razor for the first time, and I'd have to say that I'm pretty disappointed that this is the first article that comes up on google. Well done on getting that number one spot, but don't you think it might be nice to update to an article written less that 35 years ago, when something other than a safety razor was the height of shaving technology.

matthew aldridge
8/14/2008 11:50:44 PM

I must say I use a staright razor and have foe a while not that I am an expert but this information is somewhat flawed on it suggestions. The only rhing of value is the blade material and the enviromental issues it rasies. Razor: DOVO or Thiers Isard, top quality razors avaliable from $60 (not bad for a razor that lasts a life time) Soap: High glyserin content is a must Hone: Norton whetstone two sided 4000/8000 grit $100. you can always send the razor out ot be hones and depending on your hair growth and coursness will be infrequent, the barber hone which costs $2 - $5, small awakward and unless you get trained will damage your blade if your starting out, use something a little more forgiving or japanese whetstones... Strop; $30. miras covered the technique spot on and as for using alcohol, good idea if you want to look old fast! This is a realistic setup cost still cheaper than buying gillete blades the rest of your life.. lots of you tube video on honing, stropping and shaving check those out.

1/4/2008 8:34:11 PM

Hey, I'm a thirteen year old kid who wants to shave like in the old days. Ever since i saw my barber use it i have been waiting for the time when i start to grow hair. Well thanks mr. John, and now i know how to shave. I also want to show off that i can shave with a straight razor

12/8/2007 7:21:19 PM

NEVER shave against the grain, this can cause skin irritation and ingrown hairs.

9/9/2007 1:32:04 PM

Having used a straight razor for quite a while, I continually endeavor to integrate my experience with suggestions from a range of other publications seeking to improve my experience, and ease of shaving and razor maintenance. Unfortunately, this article incorporates a number of wholly inappropriate suggestions as well as inadequate explanations, preventing individuals from evaluating them. Among other things, the espoused means of holding a razor is dangerous--always avoid holding the protective handle while shaving by opening the blade to 270 degrees and hold the blade itself--thunb underneath, first two fingers above in front of handle, and ring finger on the curved finger rest. the ninety degree instruction leads to excessive scrapping--angle of blade to skin should remain between 30 and nearly 90 degrees (the latter steep angle is for scraping the upper lip and around the chin). 45 degrees is often ideal when moving across the cheeks. Stropping and honing instructions are absent--and must be discussed in order to maintain a razor (i.e. does one use abrasive rubs on the strop, should one avoid them and stick with fat/oil based strop conditioners, what grit is ideal for a honing stone, what is the angle of incidence when stropping and honing, especially for hollow ground razors, etc.). Also, good quality shaving soaps are ALWAYS needed for a straight razor--foams and gels are designed to aid our modern 2-4 blade razors in moving cut beard out of the way, not properly lubricating and conditioning the skin. Rather than alcohol (instead of after shave), if you want to save money, the environmment, and your face, usee mild astringents like witch hazel. Rather than go on further, I would advise readers to look elsewhere and site managers to update this article with a much better one. Also, new razors are not that expensive and worth the investment.....

2/28/2007 1:08:24 PM

This is one of the best instructions I've found on the matter of handling and using a stright razor. Shame the pictures are missing though but it's still a very good if one read carefully. Thanks JOHN D. MEEK (even if this article is pretty old) and thanks Mother Earth News for sharing it. MOTHER EARTH NEWS RESPONDS: You can view the pictures in the Image gallery at the top right of the article under "Related."

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