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Let's Get Shaving: The Straight Razor and You

An enthusiastic reader and miserable writer, I hope to translate my interests in language, fiction, and history into interesting articles.

The only thing I ever learned in BoyScouts was "always be prepared." Here, you can see my fully prepped setup.

The only thing I ever learned in BoyScouts was "always be prepared." Here, you can see my fully prepped setup.

Why Would You Do this to Yourself?

If we're being honest with ourselves, safety razors are incredibly simple to use. The innovation of a razor head with multiple blades served to decrease pressure on the skin, limit the risk of cuts, and generally make shaving easier.

But there's something to be said for history isn't there? Since the discovery of copper, and its subsequent use as tools, men and women alike used single blade razors to remove body and facial hair. Plus, given common expectations for working men and women to appear hairless, shaving companies are more than happy to charge exorbitant prices for disposable razor heads that serve for only a few short shaves.

Reasons and benefits abound for both tools, and no one should be begrudged their choice of either. But because I'm particularly drawn to them, this article is about straight razors.

The Tools

I received my razor as a part of a shaving kit, on one fine Christmas when my fiancé decided I wasn't getting a close enough shave. To that end, my blade is from the Art of Shaving, nothing fancy, though with a factory sharpened edge and a wooden handle, it gets the job done. Due to the factory edge, I have yet to sharpen it or pick up a razor strop, so I can't comment on that particularity of the straight razor experience.

The kit also included a few oils, creams, brushes, and general accessories that I'll touch on in terms of their use, helpfulness, and whatever else I can imagine.

First off, the sample kit comes with a pre-shave oil. Ideally designed to lubricate the face and to minimize friction between the blade and your cheek, it can facilitate the whole not shaving off the top layer of your skin. I tend to shave only after a few weeks, so while the oil may help more on a smoother face, I tend to have a problem with too much hair and the oil effectively not adequately penetrating to my skin. That said, it smells nice, and I'm a sucker for making myself smell nice.

Second, you'll find yourself in need of shaving cream. Unlike what I traditionally have used, the shaving cream in my kit (smelling of sandalwood, how manly!) comes in a tube, like toothpaste, and is at times a little reluctant to come out, unlike the aerosols I'm familiar with. The more interesting tool that is paired with the cream, is the badger hair brush, used to distribute the shaving cream across the hair-afflicted area. An added bonus is that it makes me feel like a Victorian lord. Of course, if you're not into feeling like you go pheasant hunting on vast tracks of land with an entourage in tow, then feel free to skip the brush. Hands work fine.

Third, is the aftershave oil/lotion. My skin is particularly sensitive (I have to use children's sunscreen) so you can imagine that after shaving I look like a tomato and my neck and face feel as though I've sat in a particularly focused tanning booth for a few hours. So for me this is a necessity in terms of moisturizing. If you're of a hardier type, which you probably are, then you might be able to skip the it altogether or just use the lotion you'd use for anything else.

I have an additional item that my future mother-in-law bought for me separate from my kit: an anti-septic pencil. It serves to close wounds fairly quickly and I'd recommend everyone get one because you will cut yourself. Maybe you're a sushi chef, or a fencer, or a lumberjack, or maybe you're just preternaturally skilled in the use of sharp tools close to your hands or face or whatever. I am not, and I've needed it more times than I can count, so I cannot recommend its use enough.

Bonus item: there's also some anti-aging oil that came in my kit. Mine sits unused on my shelf. I haven't used it, maybe because of my hubris from being in my middle twenties. Will I regret it when I have crow's feet and laugh lines? You decide America!

Anti-Aging Oil: Necessity or Beauty Product Conspiracy?

Fear No Evil—Let's Do This!

Shaving with a straight razor for the first time is daunting. There is a real threat implied in its edge, and it's worth taking the time to consider your avenue of attack. Hot water is a necessity, as it softens the hair and further limits friction.

Another thing to stop and consider is how exactly you'll hold the razor and position it against your skin. Replicating the angle of your everyday-average safety razor isn't a bad idea, given that you will cut yourself if your angle of attack is too direct. I also hold the razor by the metal neck that connects it to the handle, pinching it between my thumb and index. Sometimes I'll switch to the surgeon's grip (index finger applies pressure from the back of the blade) depending on what part of my face I'm shaving.

I keep my Gillette around in the event that I need to touch something up, or I feel like I can't reach an area with my straight razor without severely harming myself. There's no shame in being careful and I always recommend it in lieu of rushing ahead.

Actually Doing Stuff

Now we're set. We've got our tools, we've thought about how we're going to attack the problem that is our hair. I shower before I shave because, as Patrick Bateman explains in American Psycho, it helps soften the hairs and frankly you'll need all the softening you can get.

I follow the advice on he labels of the products I've bought, starting with the application of that good old pre-shave oil.

Next comes the shaving cream, which I brush on after wetting the brush with hot water.

This leads into the shaving. The hardest hairs on those on your chin and side-burns (thanks again Patrick Bateman!), and so I often leave them for last.

As another general tip, shaving your neck for the first time can be pretty spooky, what with the whole knife right next to your jugular thing (if you shave your neck and all that). Personally, this is where I bring out my safety razor, along with my mustache and chin hair. Having cut my lip open more than a few times, I'm just a little cautious around them now.

Then, once you've sculpted your face into the beautiful hairless shape you want of it, you can apply the aftershave oil and then boom, you've been freed of the burden of your hair.

Of course, the actual labor of it is far harder than this article may make it seem. Take your time, work at it, and remember that your can only get better if you work at it!

All finished! Do pretentious t-shirts help you shave? Probably not. But they do let you feel stately and plump.

All finished! Do pretentious t-shirts help you shave? Probably not. But they do let you feel stately and plump.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Luke Castille (author) from Emeryville, CA on November 09, 2017:


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