Back in the day, shaving was an art that required attention and patience. For many, shaving was a daily ritual requiring mindful preparation and the use of high-quality shaving tools including a straight razor. Those who didn’t want or need to shave daily went to the barber each week for a classic shave. Either way, thanks to the straight razor and classic wisdom, the resulting shave was always clean and close.
As cheap, disposable shaving tools entered the market promising convenience, the art of classic shaving quickly faded out of existence, along with the secrets of a clean shave. You can’t apply classic shaving wisdom to a disposable razor, so passing down that wisdom has virtually disappeared.
It’s time to get familiar with the straight razor
You’ll never get a clean, close shave with a disposable razor, but for many, that’s the only razor they know. Razor bumps, rashes, and dry skin give new shavers the impression that it’s difficult and often painful to get a clean shave.
If you want to get a close shave the way your grandfather did, put down the disposable cartridge razors and learn the lost art of shaving with a straight razor.
To shave with a straight razor, you need a few tools:
- A high-quality straight razor. Get a razor with a well-tempered steel blade. The wrong razor will irritate and nick your skin.
- A leather/canvas strop. After several shaves, the edge of your razor will become feathered and misaligned, which makes the blade less effective. Stropping realigns the blade’s feathered edge.
- A hone. This is what you’ll use to sharpen your blade.
- A shaving brush. It’s best to create and apply lather to your face with a shaving brush. The bristles from a good boar’s hair brush will work the lather into your whiskers more thoroughly than can be accomplished with your fingers.
- Natural shaving soap or cream. Shaving cream in a can is convenient, but most shaving cream will dry out your skin. Use a natural shaving soap instead. You’ll need to work up a lather, but that’s part of what makes shaving an art.
- Pre-shave oil or butter. To get a smooth glide across your face, pre-shave oil or butter is necessary.
- A scuttle. A scuttle is a little bowl you’ll use to create lather from your shaving soap.
Prepare your beard. To get a close shave, you need to soften your whiskers and create a surface that helps your razor glide smoothly over your face. A hot shower is the best way to soften your whiskers, and applying some pre-shave oil or butter helps even more.
Create your lather. Soak your brush in hot water for a couple of minutes to absorb as much water as possible. Swirl the brush around on your shaving soap several times, and transfer that soap to your scuttle. Slowly add some water, and whip up some thick lather like you’re making whipped cream.
Lather up your face. Using your brush, apply the lather to your face with a swirling motion, making sure to cover your entire beard.
Grip your blade properly. There are several different ways to grip a straight razor. Start with this basic grip demonstrated by the Art of Manliness.
Shave. Using your free hand, pull the skin of your face tight to create a smooth surface for your blade to glide over. Hold your blade at a 30-degree angle, and with slow, even strokes, shave with the grain. Shaving against the grain on the first pass can cause ingrown hairs and razor bumps. It’s easier to cut yourself when shaving against the grain, too.
If you’re new to shaving with a straight razor, keep shaving with the grain. As your dexterity improves, you can take additional passes against the grain.
Be sure to use only a small amount of pressure to avoid cutting your face. Get in the habit of using several passes with the razor to gradually reduce your beard rather than trying to eliminate it at once.
Once you’ve shaved one side of your face, start shaving around your jaw. Remember to shave in the direction of your beard growth.
When shaving your upper lip, draw your lip down to tighten the skin. When shaving your chin, pull your lower lip up to tighten the skin.
Rinse off. When you’re done shaving, rinse your face with cold water. Splash on some aftershave that makes you smell like a lumberjack.
Be proud. When you go about your day, be proud knowing you’ve just revived the lost art of wet shaving with a straight razor.