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The Complete Beginners Guide to Straight Razors

The Complete Beginners Guide to Straight Razors

Does the thought of a razor sharp blade on your neck make you reach for the nearest blunt old safety razor? 

Fear not! Follow the steps in this guide and you’ll be enjoying a close shave and not worrying about flashbacks from Sweeney Todd.

This guide will start with the basics and go through just how to use a straight razor. If you are looking for more detail, read through some of our blog posts on individual shaving topics.

Any and all equipment that you need to get started can be found at the Cut Throat Club shop.

Here is what we will be covering:

  1. What gear do you need
  2. How to strop your razor
  3. Preparing your face
  4. How to hold your razor
  5. How to Shave with your razor
  6. The three pass shaving method
  7. How to hone your razor
  8. The pyramid honing method

Let's jump in:

 

What Gear Do I Need

For a straight razor newcomer it can be daunting to figure out exactly what you need - strops, brushes, razors, honing stones, soaps. It sounds like a new language!

My Story

When I first started using a straight razor I was hoping to spend as little money as I could and get the least amount of equipment as possible... and I got (razor) burnt for it. I bought a cheap razor that was blunt within a few weeks, and as I didn’t have a honing stone I couldn’t keep it sharp. But if you have the equipment you need you can avoid my mistakes.

It was a disaster! So I am hoping to get you from avoiding my mistakes.

I have split this into three categories - absolutely essential equipment on day one, long term equipment that you will not need on your first shave but will need by day 50, and finally nice to have that will make your shave much easier and more luxurious.

Essential Equipment

  • A Straight Razor - Obviously... of course there are a variety of types and styles you can pick from.
  • A Leather Strop - Used before every use to keep the razor clean and sharp.
  • Shaving Soap/Cream - Just like with a supermarket-bought razor your new straight razor will do a better, and safer, job with a lather of shaving cream or soap on your face.  And the best way to apply is it with ….
  • A Brush - Depending on what soap/cream you use a shaving brush is essential to build a thick lather. This helps lubricate your face and provides a barrier between your skin and the blade resulting in a closer and safety shave.

Long Term Requirements

  • A Honing Stone -
  • Your razor will come ready to shave but stropping alone will not keep it sharp. After a period of time – depending on how often you shave – you will need to get a honing stone. Some stores offer honing services, so can be done for you , but I believe it adds to the whole experience of wet shaving.

Please get in touch with what you think is essential for using a straight razor.

We have also put together a quick wet shaving checklist so you can tick off all of the equipment you need.

Stropping Your Razor

How to use a leather strop

You’re out of the shower, ready to shave. But wait! Stropping your straight razor before each use is vital to getting the best possible shave. By running it along the strop it keeps the blade aligned and straight, ensuring you get the best possible shave.

Your strop is made up of two components - a fabric side and a leather side. The purpose of the fabric is that it is coarser and it will remove anything that could damage the leather – things like bits of metal or just leftover soap from last time. The leather has a much smoother surface will do the majority of the work on the razor's surface to keep it straight and aligned. 

Quick Tip

As you will strop each time before shaving, mastering stropping is just as important as mastering shaving itself. 

Keep your strop in good condition:

Your strop should always be clean and smooth. If you find some surface defects, clean or consider replacing it. It is a good idea to keep it in a closed box or cupboard to protect it.

One end of your strop has a hook, use that securely attach it to something in your shaving room.

Hold the other end of the strop in one hand and keep it under constant tension.

  1. In your other hand hold the razor your thumb and forefinger. The main rule in stropping is to do it slowly, carefully, and gently. Concentrate on getting it right to start with, you can go faster as you master the art.
  2. Hold the razor so the blade’s edge is on the leather at the far end of the strop. With the edge trailing, pull it towards you along the strop. By making sure the blade is trailing as you pull it, you will make sure you don’t damage the strop.
  3. Keep your hand relaxed so your movements aren’t strained. It will help the razor glide easily on the strop.
  4. When you reach the end of the strop, rotate the razor on the backside. This avoids blunting the edge.
  5. Repeat 15-20 times on each side - first the fabric and then the leather. As a beginner, you will strop slower, but after some time with stropping, it will not take long.
  6. Make sure you wipe the razor clean after each use.

You can apply a stropping taste to the leather side of your strop to keep it smooth and supple and keep it going for longer.

Prepare your face

Before you shave there are a couple of steps to make the process quicker and simpler.

  • Jump in the Shower

Taking a hot shower before shaving is the easiest preparation. Wash your beard with soap or shampoo to remove the natural oils and don’t dry your face after the shower.

  • Splash hot water on your face.

If you’d prefer to take a shower after shaving, you can splash hot water onto your face instead.

  • Hold a hot towel.

Soak the towel in a hot water and hold it onto your face.

 

Apply Lather

Soak your brush in hot water. Use a small amount of shaving cream or soap and mix it with the brush into a lather. Completely cover the area you want to shave with lather using a swirling motion. Leave lather on your face for a short amount of time before shaving.

Shaving cream lather

 The Right Way to Hold a Razor

Now we are getting into the good stuff! One of the most important things to get right is how to hold the razor. It sounds straight forward but it can be tricky to figure out.

The first thing to understand is what the individual parts of a straight razor are called.

Straight Razor Component Name

Now, pick up your razor with your first finger on the shoulder of the razor and your thumb just outside the heel. Follow this so that your first three fingers rest on the tang.

Keep the handle pointed up and place your little finger between the tail and the handle as in this photo.

How to hold a straight razor

Holding your razor like this will let you get the closest shave while maintaining safe and secure control over it.

 

Shaving with a Straight Razor

Everyone has their own tricks and tips on how to deal with a straight razor, and soon enough you will also have your own way. But here are the main steps on how to get the closest shave.

Quick Tip

Hold the razor at a 30 degree angle from your face. Run it along your face in the direction of your beard’s growth, taking slow strokes and applying little pressure. Let the razor’s sharpness and weight do the cutting.

The illustration below gives an example of the order and direction of each stroke to shave your face in 14 strokes.

How to Shave with a Straight Razor

Cheeks

Starting on the right hand side of your face, softly pull the skin upward with your non-shaving hand to make a smooth shaving surface. Shave downward across half of your cheek. Move your fingers down, pull the skin upward and continue shaving.

After your cheek is completed, tilt your head left and back to expose the skin under the right jaw. Keep the skin tight by softly pulling with your fingers and continue shaving based on your beard’s growing direction.

Repeat on the left hand side of your face.

Straight razor shave first pass

 

Upper lip

Stretch your upper lip downward and shave in the same direction.

Chin and under the chin

Stretch your lower lip upward and shave the chin. Tilt your head back and elevate the chin, while drawing the skin down and shave.

How to Use a Straight Razor

Multiple passes

For those new to straight razor shaving one pass should be sufficient. But if you want the closest possible shave then you can do multiple passes.. Remember to wash your face and apply lather for any repeat passes. First, shave with the grain, then across, and finally against the grain.

There are a few different techniques that can be used to get that baby-bum smooth face. The most common is the 'three pass shave' technique.

    • Pass #1 - With the Grain

This is the most common way to shave and is best place to start with straight razors too. Shaving with the grain removes the most hair in the easiest way. In easy to understand terms it means running the razor in the same direction as the hair is growing.

    • Pass #2 - Across the Grain

For some people directly from with the grain to against the grain can be irritating or painful, so shaving across the grain is a great in-between step. Shaving across the grain goes from the side of your cheek towards your mouth and nose.

    • Pass #3 - Against the Grain

The final pass in this technique goes against the grain - the exact opposite direction to going with the grain. It gives you the smoothest shave due to the change in razor angle compared to the angle of the remaining stubble.

    • Do what works with your face

Everyone's skin and facial hair are different. Some people find that a three-pass shave gives too much irritation so opt for just one pass.

To work out your answer for “how to shave” you need to know how much your skin can take, and how close of a shave you ideally want. Like all shaving techniques, practice makes perfect - do not expect perfection in your first go.

After Shave

When you’ve finished shaving, rinse your face off with cold water. Then apply any aftershave cream or gel that you usually use.

And that is all! Now you the steps to use your new straight razor, but remember it takes time to master a new talent. With patience and experience you’ll be getting the best shaves of your life in no time.

 

Honing Your Straight Razor

Unlike a cheap supermarket razor that needs new blades every week your straight razor is built to last a lifetime. You just need to give it some attention to make sure it stays, ahem, razor sharp. Using your leather strop will help keep the edge aligned, but it won’t sharpen the blade. To do that you’ll need a honing stone.

Honing stones come in various different grades, which is called grit. These can range anywhere from #500 grit to #12,000 grit, the higher the number to finer the stone. To take a completely blunt razor from dull to sharp you would begin on a low numbered honing stone and work up.

For a straight razor, we would recommend a #4000 and #8000 grit honing stone to bring a normal razor back up shave ready. An extremely blunt razor may need a coarser stone, to begin with.

How to hone a straight razor

Practice is required to become a razor honing master, so take things slow and let the stone do the work.

  1. Wet the stone and make sure the surface is clean. Any imperfections in the stone will result in imperfections in the razor.
  2. Place the razor on the top of the stone facing towards you.
  3. Pull the razor back towards you on a slight angle to ensure the entire length of the blade is drawn across the stone. Keep the razor's edge flat and do not apply any additional pressure - let the weight of the razor and the grit of the stone do the work.
  4. At the end of each stroke turn the razor around making sure that the edge is not drawn across the stone which can blunt the edge you have just formed. 
  5. Follow the X pattern shown in the graphic below.
  6. Repeat depending on how blunt the razor is - you will get a feel for this over time. 

    Straight razor hone stone technique

      The Pyramid Honing Technique

      The Pyramid Honing technique is a method of alternating between two different grit honing stones. The beauty of the pyramid is that you can start at different points depending on the razor and just work all the way down.

      A few explanations of how to follow the pyramid:

      • One stroke includes running both sides of the blade's edge on the stone.
      • The fewer strokes the better.
      • Choose your starting point based on razor steel and how blunt it is. For example a stainless steel razor takes fewer strokes but they need to be honed more often.
      • Work your way down the pyramid.

       

      Starting Point Strokes on #4000 Grit Strokes on #8000 Grit
      Very Blunt Carbon Steel Razor 25 25
      Blunt Carbon Steel Razor 20 20
      15 15
      New Carbon Steel Razor 10 10
      5 5
      Stainless Steel Razor 3 3
      1 3
      1 5

       

      Honing a straight razor is as much an art form as shaving with one. It requires practice and patience, so don't expect to be perfect straight away.

      Check out Cut Throat Club Member Scott’s honing setup in the photo below. It includes Shapton honing stones and even uses a USB microscope for inspecting the blade's edge.

      Straight Razor Honing Stone Setup

      You can send your razor into sharpening professionals - who undoubtedly can deliver a superior sharpness – but that learning how to maintain your own razor is part of the joy of wet shaving with a straight edge razor. It does take time to learn but shaving with a sharp razor is worth all of the effort.

       

      Phew!

      That is everything. All in one place.

      If you are interested in started wet shaving then check out the Cut Throat Club's product range.

      We would love to get your input on any differences of opinion you have or other lessons you have learned that new beginners would value.

      13 comments

      • Axle

        China razor, sharpened it to 1000 grit. Cut myself five times. I watched my grandpa from Italy shave all of the time. It looked effortless. I guess I need practice! Thanks for the helpful forum!

      • Peter R Kramer

        I have taken grit vs micron data from 180 – 1200 grit, and then using a power fit obtained an equation to relate grit to particle sizes. With the equation I then extrapolated out to 20,000 grit. I would be willing to post my findings at this site, if you’re interested.

      • Alain Bastien

        Great documentary.

        I am 62 and it is my first experience with a Straight Razor.

        Hope I don’t cut myself

      • Sharon Cumbee

        Looking to buy a straight razor . Where can i find one with a permanent blade. ?

      • Reynaldo

        How do you know what angle to hold the blade against your face?

      • Cut Throat Club

        He Pedr, I would definitely recommend getting a strop early in your process. It keeps your blade clean from soap and will help it stay sharper for longer. One of the key pieces of equipment in protecting your razor.

      • Pedr ap Ioan

        I’m a Welshman currently living in Sweden, so not exactly in your back yard, I’m a complete novice. I have managed to pick up a pre owned / ex shop display Dovo Straight Razor, 6 1/4" closed
        3" carbon steel razor blade with “Prima Silver Steel” blade etch, made in Soligen, Germany. I have no brush or any other part of the shaving kit yet. However I presume that the sharpening strop must be a fairly important part? Before I buy a strop, do you have any advice ?

      • Mike Maidment

        Gday fellas,
        I just recieved my self built cut throat razor kit from you guys. It includes the Boker " Waldorf " a paddle strop, badger brush, shaving creams and large " Cut throat club "razor box.
        Im impressed, i bought the Boker Waldorf because i have a beard and have no desires shaving it off. Quite simply i just need the razor to tidy my face up around the beard.
        Thanks for the safe packaging and prompt delivery.
        Hopefully i will get this beard trimming and tidying up to scratch and be able to post pics n updates as i go.
        Ill be watching every video you guys have before i get shaving.
        Cheers fellas
        Mike

      • Douglas Girardi

        Thank you so much for sharing this post with us, It’s very inspiring when you are thinking you need to shave :) Just, check this out – Active Shaving

      • Luke

        When honing, is there a certain angle to hold the razor? ie 30°

        Very good write up, easy to understand and follow.

        Cheers in advance.

      • Cut Throat Club

        Hi Shaun, I would definitely recommend sharpening your China razor. Every cheap razor that I have seen has been as blunt as a butter knife. Make sure it is sharp so that you don’t end up cutting yourself.

      • Shaun Crocker

        I just bought my first straight razor. I bought it thru a internet site, and it came from China. Should I sharpen it first before I try shaving with it.

      • Frank

        Thanks a lot for all this info, I just startes in this and i just love it.

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