The Feared Shave: Straight Razors
A month ago, we did a post entitled “The Elusive Perfect Shave.” This weeek we’re going to take it one notch extreme with the feared and revered “straight razor.”
Not only was the straight razor Sweeney Todd’s weapon of choice, but these notorious razors have showed up all over film & popular culture:
– In The Matrix Reloaded, the Twins use straight razors to fight Neo’s entourage
– In Kill Bill Vol. 2, when Uma Thurman’s character is buried alive, she uses a straight razor to cut the rope that binds her
– In the film Reservoir Dogs, Michael Madsen’s character, Mr. Blonde slices off the ear (off-camera) of kidnapped LAPD Officer Marvin Nash in one of the film’s most memorable scenes.
– In an episode from The Simpsons, Homer Simpson is forced to live in house that only allowed the use of items from the 1800s. This forced him to shave with a straight razor, resulting in a bloody mess.
– Stories circulate as to how gangster Al Capone got his nickname Scarface: attributing it to an irate barber, who allegedly cut him with a straight razor.
With the proper disclaimer set in place, courtesy of popular culture, let’s dive right into this…
The Cut-throat Razor
Also called open razors or cut-throat razors (quite the comforting name), straight razors require a considerable level of skill to maintain and master. However, contrary to popular fears, there is very little risk of seriously injuring yourself while shaving if you exercises proper method.
Although you barely see them anywhere now, straight razors were the most common form of shaving before the 1900s. Back then, Barbers were specially trained to give customers a thorough shave with a collection at hand.
So the question remains, why bring back an ancient tool?
For many straight razor shavers, it’s a nostalgic hobby or a masculine ritual. For some, it’s the economic benefits from not having to buy disposable blades. But many claim that the straight razor provides the closest thing to the elusive “perfect shave.” Shaving with a straight razor covers much more area per stroke due to the fact that the cutting edge of a straight razor is much longer than other types of razors.
Then there’s the simple cool factor of using an incredibly well-crafted knife to cut the hair that you used to grind out with a stick of some plastic contraption.
Or is it the allure of the danger? that childish symptom of wanting to touch the fire and get away unharmed? Perhaps. But there seems to be a method to the madness, a consistent way of cheating the potential consequences and be left with a sense of accomplishment each day, each shave…
The video below shows exactly that…
Straight razor in action:
(video courtesy of shaykai)
Sharpening the blade: Honing & Stropping
The key to getting a good shave with a straight razor is keeping it extremely sharp. Almost paradoxically, you’re more likely to cut yourself with a dull blade than an extremely sharped one. In order to sharpen the blade, you need a hone like the one below:
You can learn more about the different types of hones here.
The next equipment you’ll need is the strop. Whereas honing re-establishes the fine edge of the razor by removing metal from the razor, stropping aligns and straightens the edge.
You can see some the prep work / method in the video below:
The safest route from Safety to Straight:
If you’re a newbie, moving up from a safety razor to a straight razor can be a scary jump. James Whittall of MensEssentials recommends starting with “safety zones” by isolating your use of a straight razor to just your sideburns, shaving the rest of your face with your normal safety razor, and expanding to more parts of your face as you get more comfortable.
Recommended razor brands:
– Theirs Issard
A good razor can cost anywhere from $30 to several hundred. For those just starting out, consider a solid entry blade such as the “Dovo Stainless Shavette” which is both economical and effective.
If you’re interested in trying it out, it’s highly recommended to pair it with a quality shaving cream/soap. You can find my recommendation in our last shaving article.
Caveat: This is just a introduction to straight razors. Straight razors can cause cuts, and even serious injuries, so I highly advise you do your research before you dive into the world of Sweeney Todd and “friends.” Here’s a great resource if you’re interested in learning more about the straight razor.
Looking in the mirror and seeing the best shave of your life, no cuts, and a dangerously beautiful looking blade in your hand can be quite satisfying. However, for those of you who want to take the dive, understand that what we covered today touches on the extremes of grooming. 99% of the guys out there will never own or shave with a straight razor (and may never need to), but for that 1%…