Check out our definitive guide on picking your first straight razor, courtesy of Shaver Hut. We look at the variables you need to consider before purchasing.
The straight razor is an iconic implement that harks back to a simpler time; when things were made to last and shaving was more of an art than a tedious chore. In our fast paced, throwaway society, many men are looking to recapture seemingly lost traditional values by switching to shaving with a straight razor. Others, however, are intimidated by the steep learning curve and lack of information. The following is a breakdown of the basic characteristics of straight razors, and a basic guide to choosing your first razor.
The first and most basic choice you will have to make when purchasing your razor is that of material. The two most common materials are stainless steel and carbon steel. Each material has its pros and cons, so it ultimately boils down to a matter of personal preference. Stainless steel will, self-evidently, stay shiny and free of stains wile a carbon blade is prone to staining such as oxidation and watermarks. Although it is easier to put a fine edge on a carbon steel blade, stainless steel keeps a fine edge for a longer period of time. If you are looking for a small razor, carbon is a better choice as it has more bend and will better adapt to the contours of your face. Stainless is the way to go if you are after a larger razor. Carbon steel is cheaper than stainless, but the latter will require less maintenance during its lifetime.
The width of the blade is of paramount importance when choosing your first straight razor. Blade widths are measured in eighths of an inch, with 5/8” and 6/8” being the most common. It is advisable for beginners to opt for a 5/8” blade as it is easier to control and maneuver. Once you have mastered the technique, the blade size will becomes a matter of personal preference. Light razors are better for those with less facial hair, while large heavy blades are ideal for those with heavy beards.
The grind of a blade is nothing more than its basic shape. The most prevalent grinds are full hollow and half hollow, but there are also extra hollow and wedge-shaped blades available. The “hollow” refers to how much the blade has been ground down from a wedge shape. A hollower blade is recommended for beginners, as it is lighter, easier to use and provides a closer shave thanks to its flexibility. Those with heavy, dense beards might be better off with a wedge grind, as they can deal with thick hair far more easily than hollow blades.
There is a lot of choice when it comes to point style. The most common are square points, round points, barbers’ notch, Spanish and French/Irish. The round point is highly recommended for beginners, as it is the most user friendly and has the least potential for unwanted nicks and cuts. The square point razor, also known as the spike, is unsurpassed when it comes to more detailed intricate shaving, but are not forgiving when it comes to beginners’ mistakes.
Stropping is commonly confused with sharpening, but the two are completely different. While sharpening consists of removing material to achieve a sharper edge, stropping is in essence used for straightening and aligning your straight razor. Strops are made of durable leather, while backings can be cotton, linen or webbed fabric. Stropping is first carried out on the backing, before moving on the leather side. This is in order to work out burrs or small discrepancies so as to not damage the leather side. Beginners are recommended to use a strop that is the same width as their razor. If the strop and razor are of different sizes, an advanced x/y pattern technique is required.
Switching from conventional disposable blades to a straight razor can be a very satisfying, rewarding and enjoyable experience. Furthermore, if you take good care of your razor it can easily last you a lifetime. Try to avoid buying used razors online without first seeing the product first hand, as there can be nicks and damages that are not visible on the pictures in the advert.