If you’re the type who thinks that running a razor sharp blade over your throat in the morning sounds like a great way to wake yourself up, read on. Shaving with a straight razor is an alluring practice. It’s something that connects you to generations of men who scratch built the modern world with blood, sweat, and tears. It’s a powerful connection to the past. The straight razor offers today’s bearded masses a hefty challenge – pick me up and use me if you dare.
Aside from their old-school cool factor, straight razors give you a better and more comfortable shave. With practice they work way better than those overpriced grocery store multi-blade razors. And, there is a something special in the ritual of a good shave the classic way. Simply put, you just won’t get from that modern shaving experience.
Choosing the Right Straight Razor
Learning how to use a straight razor is something that takes a little time. But, starting with the right blade makes a huge difference. What’s more, you can hand down a good blade to your children and on again to theirs. Try that with a used box of Mach III’s. Let’s step back for a moment and take a look at some features you’ll find in a good blade. And then we’ll walk you through a selection of our favorites.
The blade of your straight razor will be measured in eighths of an inch. Top to bottom, from the spine to the cutting edge. Not lengthwise. An 8/8” razor is an inch wide from spine to edge. Which size you choose is up to you, but beginners will usually have most success with a properly honed ⅝” blade.
Feel free to choose a wider blade, but be warned – if you do, you might hit a few snags. Wider blades are heavier, and while this is great for powering through facial hair the thickness of steel wire, it offers less feedback. It is also harder to see what you are doing while you are sculpting those sideburns, and shaving your top lip with a wide blade is not for the faint-hearted.
A ⅝” blade will be easier to maneuver, lighter and easier to see past. The narrow blade will also give more feedback, meaning that there’s less chance of you nicking yourself.
Straight Razor Toe Shape
Did you know your new straight razor has a toe? Well, it does, and it also has a ‘heel’. The tip of a straight razor blade is called the ‘toe’ (as well as being referred to as the tip), and there are many different shapes to choose from.
A ‘spike point’ or square tip can be good for detailing, but beginners are likely to have better results with a rounded tip. A square tip can easily cut the skin if you get the blade angle wrong, and let’s face it – you are going to make a few mistakes at first.
A rounded tip is the user-friendly option, and this type of razor is easy to find. In fact, a lot of vintage razors with a spike point have been ground down in to remove the pesky corner, making them more like a rounded tip. Buying a round tip in the first place will save you the trouble of grinding the spike off in future.
Stainless or Carbon Steel?
A stainless steel blade is the easier option for first-timers. Stainless has less flex and give than carbon steel. This makes it excellent for those with really thick hair, but it also means that holds its edge longer, letting you concentrate on the shaving.
Carbon steel is not as durable as stainless. Ugly watermarks and even rust can be a problem if you don’t carefully maintain your carbon steel razor. However, it’s much easier to put an edge on this type of blade. But, since new users should try to buy a shave ready blade, this is not as crucial.
The grind refers to the shape of the cross-section of the blade. Different grinds affect the stiffness, weight, ease of honing, cost and sharpness of the razor.
The lightest grind is an extra hollow grind. This blade curves in at either side of the spine, becoming incredibly thin at the cutting edge. This wafer thin blade can flex to adjust to the contours of your face to give an extremely close shave. Also known as a ‘singing blade’ because of the noise it makes when plucked, a hollow grind needs a skilled maker and is an investment that will repay you with the most satisfactory shave.
A wedge-shaped grind looks like a triangle in cross section. Because there is more metal left on the blade, the extra weight of a wedge is preferred for working through heavy beard growth. There won’t be as much feedback from this grind and a wedge will also take longer to hone than a hollow grind, as more metal will need to be removed. Wedges are inexpensive compared to a full hollow grind but offer a less refined shaving experience.
Most straight razors will not be sharp enough to perform a good shave straight out of the box. Successful straight razor shaving depends on the sharpness of your blade so you must look out for a blade which is sold as ‘shave ready’ if you are not confident when it comes to honing. When you have gained the shaving skills, then you can try honing – that way you’ll know when the blade is the problem, and when your technique is an issue.
Best Straight Razors for Beginners
Dovo is a much-loved brand, known for making quality straight razors. The mid-range Diamant model has made-in-Solingen quality for a superb shave, and unique bad-boy looks.
The stunning black blade is oxidized – the beautiful dark finish is actually a chemical change in the carbon steel that helps protect it from watermarks and staining. If you dry this blade carefully after use it will return the favor with many years of faithful service. The ⅝” blade is a full hollow grind and features a rounded tip for safety.
‘Jimps’ or ridges on the tang of the Dovo Diamant give your fingers a bit of extra grip for precision handling. Before this straight razor makes its way to you, a professional ‘honemeister’ will ensure a perfect edge – you don’t even need to strop this razor before your first shave.
The warm olive wood handles (scales) of the Diamant contrast perfectly with the black blade and gold markings. They feel solid and slightly heavy in the hand. The entire razor feels well-balanced – ideal for a steady and purposeful close shave.
Dovo’s Diamant model offers incredible looks, and a shaving experience to match.
Dovo Masters Stainless
The Masters model is Dovo’s premium stainless steel straight razor. This blade is made in Solingen, Germany, home of the some of the finest blade steel. Dovo professionally hones the blade on natural whetstones to a precise shave ready edge. After honing the blade is stropped and re-coated in a rust-inhibiting lubricant. Dovo asks beginners not to strop this razor before their first shave – they want you to experience the exceptional shave that this blade has to offer – probably your closest and most comfortable shave yet.
The Masters is a 6/8” wide razor, so may take a little more getting used to for a beginner. However, the rounded tip is learner friendly and the full hollow grind will hug the contours of your face for the perfect finish. Filed jimping on the bottom edge of the tang allows you to control this razor without slipping, and a shoulderless blade design will let you strop and hone with nothing to get in the way.
The classy modern etching on the blade is perfectly complimented by the Grenadille handles. Sometimes known as African Blackwood, this material gives the handles a warm, solid feel, and makes each Masters razor unique. The modern detailing continues with the rectangular end to the handles which features double pinning.
This is a seriously good razor with the looks and quality to put you in a perfect frame of mind at the start of every day.
Boker King Cutter
This is an entry level razor that we think has it all. It’s inexpensive (just in case you’re not one hundred percent sure this straight razor thing is for you) yet high quality enough to show you the ropes. Plus, it’s good looking enough to give you thrills every time you use it.
The 3” long blade on this excellent beginner’s straight razor. It’s ⅝” wide and is made from non-stainless Solingen razor steel. Straight razor fans know that Solingen makes razors of exceptional quality. Boker treats the blade to a hollow grind and rounds the tip for easy shaving. The King Cutter does not come shave ready, so you will need a knowledgeable honemeister to finish it for you before you use it.
When it comes to good looks, we think this straight razor is a winner. The blade etching has a cool old-school vibe, and the stamped shank adds an air of authenticity. The white handles’ scales look like bone but are actually a water-resistant synthetic material which is easy to care for. The scales feel a little on the flimsy side, but for the price, this is still a great buy.
Check out the King Cutter if you want a first straight razor that’s well built, easy to handle, and has a cool authentic look.
Nervous about straight razors? Try a safety razor first.
What Else Will I Need?
Before you set foot in front of a mirror with your new straight razor, you’ll need to gather a few other essentials. You should have a shave ready razor, so honing won’t be a problem for another 3-5 months, depending on how coarse your hair is and how often you shave. You will need a strop, though, to keep the burrs off your blade and stop uncomfortable tugging when you shave.
A decent strop should have a leather side and a canvas side. Abrasive strops are for honing. If you buy a quality strop, it should last you for many years, long enough, in fact, to hand down to the next generation.
Your other essentials are a good shaving brush, a quality shaving cream or soap, and a good aftershave.
Now all you need is a little determination, and you’ll have this shaving thing perfected in no time.