How to shave with a straight razor

When researching some of the older and more classic shaving tools that have served men for years, and in some cases centuries, you will typically come across two primarily tools – the classic straight razor along with a safety razor (commonly referred to as a double edge safety razor).

But before you may want to go out and pick up one of the best safety razors currently on the market, it’s important to know a bit more about these two tools – especially if you are on the fence for either one.

Unfortunately, when comparing a straight razor vs. a safety razor, it’s not so cut and dry given all their little nuances between the two.

Beyond just the raw capability of cutting your facial hair, each tool requires two very unique skillsets in order to operate them.

Of course, most men nowadays lean on their favorite cartridge razor given both its raw speed and convenience to operate and with the advent of electric shavers, the options begin to really spiral out of control!

But in this post we want to focus solely on more traditional wet shaving tools: the straight and double edge safety razors.

Breaking Down What A Straight Razor Is All About

straight edge razor

Straight razors have been around for hundreds of years, in fact their beginnings can be traced back to Sheffield, England in 1680.

Straight razors are terrific in that one single blade can literally last you a life time. Therefore, of any shaving device on the planet, their long term costs are going to be the lowest.

But with such a long term savings, there are quite a bit of maintenance requirements that rests solely on the owner’s shoulders.

First and foremost, a traditional straight razor is a single piece of metal (usually stainless steel) that requires honing and sharpening of the blade.

Now there are definitely online retailers that specialize in this work and you may find some local artisans as well (although we find this is quite rare), you can use a razor strop to both straighten and polish the edge of the blade to help ensure a finer edge that should get a clean cut on the hair follicle and ultimately serve a much more comfortable shave.

Strops are typically constructed from leather and should also last you several years with proper care.

Now straight razors have evolved over the years along with other shaving devices.

The most notable advancement with the straight razor is the shavette. Primarily found in barbershops due to their sanitary advantages, shavettes are a straight razor body that houses an ejectable blade.

This design makes for an always sharp blade that can easily get swapped out with each customer while still retaining that classic barbershop look and feel.

Now if you are on the fence between a classic straight razor and a shavette, it largely comes down to personal preference and how you approach your shave routine.

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Beyond the blade, straight razors do have the steepest learning curve of any shaving device. Therefore, you shouldn’t expect to master this tool within a couple of hours. Instead, it’s going to take several attempts and nicks before you really do perfect the technique.

With that said, you will definitely want to have a styptic pencil or alum block handy in order to keep the bleeding to a minimum.

An Explanation Of The Classic Double Edge Safety Razor

merkur 38C barber pole double edge safety razor

Safety razors are a few hundred years newer than the straight razor and a tool that has seen a recent resurgence as of late.

In the age of heavily marketed cartridge razors or even the sudden surge of subscription box programs like Dollar Shave club – safety razors continue to hold a place in many men’s hearts both young and old alike.

Safety razors first came to popularity in the 1900s when the patent was initially awarded to King Camp Gillette and subsequently were a part of the standard field kits for GIs in World War 1.

Safety razors when compared to straight razors, were incredibly much more efficient in achieving a close shave in half the time.

Their unique head that was coupled with a safety bar allows for a bit more leniency with the razor blade which would drastically reduce the chances of being nicked.

But don’t be fooled…

Double edge safety razors still come with a learning curve – however the learning curve for a safety razor is substantially less when compared to a straight razor and therefore you should expect to master its technique within about a week or two worth of shaving (assuming daily use).

Also to note, when learning to use a safety razor, you will still get nicked, so don’t expect a ‘baby butt smooth’ result on the first attempt.

Since these blades aren’t set at the optimal 30º cutting angle that is found in the best cartridge razors, nor does it involve any sort of ‘lift and cut’ technique, additional passes are often required.

Much like a shavette, the double edge safety razor has an ejectable blade that allows you to swap out your razors after about a week’s worth of shaving.

While this may seem expensive from the onset, the costs of owning a double edge safety razor are incredibly minimal in that it only costs a few pennies for each razor blade.

While the long term costs of a double edge safety razor may be slightly higher when compared to a straight razor due to the ongoing costs of razor blades, the initial cost in the handle for a double edge safety razor should offset these expenses significantly.

When reviewing the best safety razors, we found that while costs can vary wildly, they do tend to generally stick to a price tag of less than $50.

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Now when looking at different double edge safety razors, they can vary in design. While some more popular ones have started to take off on Kickstarter – many double edge safety razors stick to these basic design types:

  • Two piece
  • Three piece
  • Butterfly
  • Adjustable

And for the head types you can find the following:

  • Open Comb
  • Close Comb/Scalloped Safety Bar
  • Slant Head

Each design can have different advantages and disadvantages in the overall shave comfort and ultimate closeness of the shave.

Reviews of the best safety razors.

Comparison Between The Straight Razor vs. Safety Razor

To truly understand how both of these tools differ significantly, we put together a handy table to demonstrate their core advantages and disadvantages. Just for comparison sake, although we don’t significantly cover the tool in this article, we also threw a cartridge razor into the mix:

Straight Razor Double Edge Safety Razor Cartridge Razor
Learning Curve High Medium Low
Cost of Ownership Low Low/ Medium High
Time Required to Shave High Medium Low
Risk of Cuts High Medium/High Low
Razor Blade Control High Medium Medium/Low
Susceptible To Clogging? No After Significant Beard Stubble Yes
Air Travel Safe? Requires Bag Check Razors Require Bag Check Safe
Manliness Level High Medium/High Low

Which One Should You Get?


When it comes to deciding between a straight razor vs a safety razor it largely comes down to personal preference.

Generally, among the wet shaving community, most men find that a traditional straight razor shave is more of a lifestyle rather than a necessity.

By that, we mean men who pick up a straight razor approach it more as a relaxing and generally therapeutic process that they might do once every few days.

Safety razors are great for being extremely cost efficient when compared to a cartridge razor. Many men often state that when using a safety razor, they experience a much more comfortable shave overall (i.e. no razor burn or bumps on neck).

So if you are one of those busy guys that never has time to even grab a bite to eat before heading out the door to the office in the morning, a safety razor is likely going to be a better fit.

Reviews of the best double edge safety razors.

However of course, if you are retired and have the time to invest or you want to fully embrace your inner-manliness, then no shaving tool will ever beat the straight razor.

Reliance On The Supporting Cast Of Products Is Essential

how to get a close shave

One truth holds true regardless of the tool you end up using – and that has to do with the all the essential products that you use in tandem with the straight razor or double edge safety razor.

To achieve a close and comfortable shave, you always want to ensure that you aren’t relying on products that will dry out your skin, or just generally don’t perform that well.

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When it comes to getting a close and comfortable shave, products like pre shave oil and shaving creams/soaps can make an enormous difference.

Pre shave oils, applied once you get out of a shower and dry off your face, will provide a slick lubricated base that rests between both your skin and shaving cream. Pre shave oils are typically constructed from a careful mixture of carrier and essential oils that will complement the natural sebum oil your skin produces along with the oils found in top-notch shaving creams.

Pre shave oils will help increase the durability of your skin in order to reduce any skipping of the blade or tearing of your skin with each pass. In addition, pre shave oil will also help to get a cleaner cut on the base of the hair follicle.

Reviews of the best pre shave oils.

Beyond a pre shave oil, one of the most critical components to any shave is of course the shaving cream.

Shaving creams play a pivotal role in not only giving another layer of lubrication on your skin through its silky texture, but to also help retain in both the heat and moisture on your skin.

This retention will help to ensure that the hair follicles remain soft in order to achieve a smoother and easier shave for the razor along with increasing the overall comfort for you.

Therefore, when using a quality shaving cream, assuming your technique is on point, should help to reduce the occurrence of skin irritation.

While we talk extensively on the difference between creams and soaps in this article, I just want to make mention of shaving soaps quickly.

Shaving soaps do come in different forms and grades. Shaving soaps are typically better suited for men who use a straight razor as they tend to provide a more lubricated layer when compared to shaving creams.

In addition, shaving soaps do tend to come in at a slightly lower price point.

However, these two products are largely a personal preference among men.

Reviews of the best shaving soaps.

Whether you end up purchasing a quality shaving soap or shaving cream, one product that is also required will be a shaving brush.

While shaving brushes can vary wildly in fiber types and grades, which we outline here, generally speaking they are much more effective at generating a lather than your hands ever would.

Not only can shave brushes whip up a rich lather, but they can also help to provide a gentle exfoliation before you shave to ensure that all pollutants and bacteria are flushed out of your pores before a razor blade touches your skin – this helps to reduce post-shave skin irritation.

Reviews of the best shaving brushes.

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