Rory wants to be better cleanshaven
August 19, 2010 3:59 PM   Subscribe

Straight razor vs. safety?

Right now I'm using crappy orange plastic razors because my Gilette broke. And I figure, hey, why not use this opportunity to learn how to shave better? And I've been reading though Ask MetaFilter, but nobody seems to have asked this before.

I love the idea of shaving straight. I'd like not having to buy constant new razor blades to insert into a safety razor. I also kind of enjoy the thought of having a single good blade that I don't have to constantly replace. But I'm really worried about slashing my face up. I've got steady hands, I'm a quick learner, I'm patient, but it seems like a lot of people warn about cutting yourself severely while shaving the first bunch of times.

So I'd like to hear what proponents of each razor type have to say. What're the best reasons to get either? What are the things to be careful of, speaking to a guy who's got no experience shaving any way other than crappy? Which one is more enjoyable? Which one gives a better shave? Or are the two so similar that it really doesn't matter either way?
posted by Rory Marinich to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (28 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
If I shaved with a blade, I'd use a safety razor. I have this one (though I haven't used it in forever). I was never a good shaver, and I picked it up rather quickly. Double-edged razor blades are much cheaper than cartridges, and no upkeep with a strop like you'd need with a straight razor.

That said, I've never used a straight razor, or had a barbershop shave, so it's entirely possible that I just don't know what I'm missing.
posted by supercres at 4:05 PM on August 19, 2010

The biggest con of going straight is how long it takes to shave. Seriously. 20 plus minutes. If you work in an office and you need to shave every morning.. that's a dealbreaker.

Safety razors are my compromise. Love them, and the replacement blades aren't expensive at all. I got enough for 1-2 years for less than 20 dollars on amazon. You will love it. Just check out some forums on the topic and you'll be good to go.
posted by lakerk at 4:06 PM on August 19, 2010

You can pick up safety razor blades in bulk normally (I got a pack of 100 off ebay that should last me a while yet), so I wouldn't worry too much about the constant buying/replacing. Switching out blades takes like 30 seconds, which I guess is less time than you'd need to spend keeping the straight blade sharp.
posted by muteh at 4:08 PM on August 19, 2010

Safety razors are really nice, and don't incur the risk that a straight razor does. I buy my blades from West Coast Shaving, which will also sell you a razor and anything else you might need. Start with a variety pack of brands of razor blades, and pick from that what you like best.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 4:16 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

nth the 'buy a ton of safety razors off ebay' idea. I can't remember when I bought them, but I've got a bag of, erm, some large number that's lasted me at least a couple of years.

I've only had a straight-razor shave in a barber shop, and am quite happy with safety razors.
posted by pompomtom at 4:17 PM on August 19, 2010

I've tried both straight razors and safety razors and I now use a safety exclusively.

Learning to shave with a straight razor isn't difficult per se, but it is stressful. Straight razors reward confidence and punish hesitation, but it's hard to be confident with a length of razor sharp steel to your throat. As lakerk says, the biggest drawback is the length of time it takes. I did enjoy doing it, but it just wasn't a practical way to shave on a regular basis.

I now use a lovely Merkur safety razor with Feather Hi-Stainless blades. It gives a closer shave than any of the multi-blade disposables and like lakerk, I bought a few years' supply on ebay for about 20 bucks. There is really no reason I can ever think of that would make me go back to using a more modern razor.

I still occasionally have a barbershop shave with a straight razor, and the quality of the shave isn't noticeably different to my straight razor, albeit perhaps not quite as close.
posted by tim_in_oz at 4:18 PM on August 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

I tried using a straight razor (one of my grandfather's) for a few months and found that it wasn't anywhere near worth it. It's a lot more effort and anxiety for not much benefit.
posted by ecurtz at 4:19 PM on August 19, 2010

Safety. I started out in my slight shaving nerdiness by wanting to use a straight razor, but every opinion I found said that the advantages of closeness and control were far outweighed by the ease of use of safety razors. Straights apparently take a long time to learn. For what it's worth, "danger" is apparently not a good reason to avoid straight razors, it mostly comes down to technique, which takes much more time with a straight than a safety.
posted by rhizome at 4:23 PM on August 19, 2010

Saftey razors are pretty great, I used one for a few years, then switched to a straight razor a few months ago. I've found it amazing thus far – only takes me about five minutes to shave with it, and it is by far the closest, smoothest shave I've ever had.
posted by james.nvc at 4:24 PM on August 19, 2010

I shave using a Parker 90R with Shark blades. I didn't test other blade/handle combinations. The Parker came with some Shark blades and I figured they worked well enough. It's enjoyable. Previously I used an electrical razor but switched on a lark.
posted by mge at 4:36 PM on August 19, 2010

Straight razors aren't as daunting as they seem. I had a bit if a cut the 2nd time I tried, but by time 4 or 5 it started to be second nature. Once you get the hang of it, the whole ritual is actually really very enjoyable and relaxing. That said, I do skip it on says when I'm in a rush...
posted by .kobayashi. at 4:39 PM on August 19, 2010

And by says, I mean days. Stupid tiny keyboard.
posted by .kobayashi. at 4:40 PM on August 19, 2010

I have a merkur also and absolutely LOVE IT!!! There are a couple of things you have to get used to though, shaving after showers with your face still hot/wet, shaving with the grain (always for me). But the shave is fantastic and I/my wife loves the smell of the shaving soap. I also stay cleaner a little longer- as in I can let it go a day or 2 before having to shave again. I've never tried a straight razor and don't think I will.

I will say I'll never go back. I find I cut myself about the same amount as when I shaved with crappy razors. They aren't any worse. You will also find that there's a difference in shave between blades. I haven't found the blades I really like yet, but I really haven't searched too hard.
posted by TheBones at 4:52 PM on August 19, 2010

Straight razor: aside from getting used to, and constant honing, not easy to travel with and use; that is why Gillette got into the game for WWI soldiers.

I discovered that if I use the multiple blades, the blades in fact last longer so extra expense works out.
Most important finding: canned lather not nearly as good as inexpensive brush and inexpensive soap.
posted by Postroad at 6:03 PM on August 19, 2010

Vote #100 for safety razors. I have the Merkur that is linked by a few people above. Rarely get cuts, never get ingrown hairs. I have a beard, which means blades last longer (less to shave), but I'd say I buy 1 or 2 boxes of blades a year. I'll try eBay, as some people suggested, and I expect to have 'em last forever!

Seriously, straight razor is a hassle, though it sounds cool. Much more effort and time.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:52 PM on August 19, 2010

I think you are discounting how much maintenance a straight razor takes. Have you ever tried to sharpen a pocket knife? That, times a million.

I've tried all the fancy safety razors, and they don't work worth a shit for me. I suppose if one has soft, thin facial hair they work fine. But if one has bristles that protrude at every angle, it is an exercise in agony.

For a tough shaving face, the trick isn't in the razor. It is in the facial preparation. The closest, most comfortable shaves I get are when I purposely don't follow the rules. Do not "let the beard soften". The razor is quite capable of cutting unsoftened hair. All that does is soften the skin and make it easier to slice off the top layers. Mix up a batch of lather (I prefer the very greasy stuff in the tubes, like toothpaste), smear it on, and then water it down on your face with your other hand right prior to cutting. If your face isn't slippery, you will cut yourself or get razor burn.

Then, when you are done, rinse off and apply some alcohol based aftershave to kill any bacteria that might want to infest your shorn face.

(Those Merkur Feather blades are sharper than hell. Beware.)
posted by gjc at 7:09 PM on August 19, 2010

I'll throw in another vote for safety razors. I have a 40's gillette superspeed that I got for 10 bucks on a shaving forum. After trying out various blades, I settled on Derby's for my daily shave (with some feathers in a gillette ball-end tech to mix it up). As far as closeness, I can get a super smooth shave in about 20 minutes. The key is to shift your routine. Instead of shaving before work in the morning, take a shower at night, spend some time and get a nice shave. If you do it before bed, you'll be plenty smooth for the next day, or if you have a slow beard like mine, you can go two days between shaves.

The safety razor shave (with accompanying badger brush and hot lather) completely eliminated the ingrown hairs on my neck, and turned a crummy thing I hated to do (Mach 3 shaving) into a hobby that I love.

The initial outlay CAN be expensive, but it doesn't have to be. I got a very good badger brush from this company (mine was on SUPER sale for $30 for father's day) but before that, I had a serviceable brush from Amazon for like 25 bucks. As others have mentioned, I got a 100 pack of derby blades LAST YEAR for 10 dollars and I'm only about halfway through. Also for Soap, I use a great shave cream from Bath and Body Works called, "CO Bigelow" (it's actually proraso green, but whatever) and a Tabac Puck that I got a year ago (it is PHENOMENAL soap).

On the other hand, I've also had AND LOVED a straight razor shave at a barbershop, but one of the reasons it was so nice was the prep and ceremony of it. I briefly flirted with the idea of shaving with one myself, but the initial outlay for that can be dauntingly expensive. Not to mention the hassle of learning a new way of shaving and prepping the blade (you have to strop before every shave, and get it honed every so often). Too much work if you ask me, I'd just as soon leave it to the professionals.

One word of warning, if you get serious about shaving, it can be a slippery slope of collecting :-D I would probably still be buying brushes and razors, but I don't have the money anymore :-D. Also, if you go the route of saftey razors, don't immediately jump to the merkurs and parkers, check out old gillettes, which many many people believe offer superior shaves for much less money.

If you have any questions, by all means, feel free to memail me!
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 7:21 PM on August 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Listen, I'm gonna tell you about my Dad real quick. He's one of these guys that's had a full on dad-stache since he was 17 years old. He has a garage full of tools, sleeps with his chainsaw under his pillow, and can kick your ass just by glancing at you and raising his eyebrow. Last year he went out and got himself some cancer, just so he could kick it's ass in record time. He also bucked and split 15 cords of wood that year. That's the kind of man we're dealing with here...

I found his straight razor up in my parent's attic a few years ago and said "Hey dad, this is sweet, I'm gonna learn how to shave with this thing!" He just looked me in the eye, serious as a heart attack and said "Son, please, don't do that... You have no idea how dangerous that thing is." And I figured, hell, if this thing can scare my insanely badass dad, there is no way I'm gonna put it up to my own throat!
posted by Glendale at 7:37 PM on August 19, 2010 [11 favorites]

My analogy of razors as bicycles: disposables are the crappy department store bikes, DE razors are your first real road or mountain bike from the local bike shop, straight razors are the fixies. Since you are on the crappy department store bike now (disposables), start out with a DE for a while and then re-evaluate the straight razor. If you want a minimal investment, read this:

A guide to the gourmet shaving experience

then start with a Merkur Hefty Classic, buy a generic shaving brush, use a coffee mug for a shaving cup, a sample pack of razor blades, and some Proraso shaving cream. This will still set you back some money (like $80 or something), but this is a minimal investment to get you started and will give you a chance to start forming some opinions/preferences on blades and on shaving cream. By comparison, a good straight razor will run you something more like $250.

You may find that a DE is plenty good enough. After a couple of years and a medicine cabinet full or razors, my go-to is a Hefty Classic Slant Bar loaded with Feather blades. I don't *want* a closer shave than that.
posted by kovacs at 8:06 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm always amused at how many old-school shavers come out of the woodwork almost anywhere on the Net when someone posts a question like this.

Me, it's a 1960s Gillette adjustable razor using, these days, Iridium Super blades (made in St. Petersburg) and, in a departure from purism, Proraso canned foam or even Gillette Sensitive Skin gel.
posted by Creosote at 8:37 PM on August 19, 2010

It's a balance between time and passion. If you're interested in traditional shaving as a hobby, then you may well enjoy buying, learning, and upkeeping a straight razor. However, even as a hobby, you ought to start with a safety razor. The Merkur linked above is great, although I use the longer-handled, non-slant version and am very happy.

As a hobby, wow, go wild like any other hobby. The Badger & Blade forums are, perhaps, the best community of traditional shavers and ridiculously helpful. (They have subforums for straight razors and safety razors, and many others.) I'd start with a good safety razor, and remember not to skimp of the brush! This hobby is a rarity in that it is all about a guy pampering himself.

As a daily shaver, stick with a decent, basic safety razor. If you enjoy that, and want to pursue the romantic, hobby aspects, look into a straight razor, and all the many, many things you'll need to keep it up properly.

Also, search YouTube. There are a lot of videos demonstrating the proper techniques that will also help you determine what you might be into. Many of them are by Badger & Blade members.
posted by gilrain at 8:46 PM on August 19, 2010

And one last thing: if all you really want is a quick,l close, comfortable shave, then I'd strongly advise not bothering with any of this. It used to be that the multi-bladed razors were almost uniformly awful. Fortunately, almost bittersweetly, the latest marketing monstrosity for Gillette is actually pretty good, even according to die-hard wetshavers.
posted by gilrain at 8:54 PM on August 19, 2010

Straight razors are pricey, demanding, have a steep learning curve and are time consuming to use. But it is an interesting and novel skill to develop. If you want to dabble, go to Sally Beauty Supply and get a Fromm Hair Shaper. They are basically inexpensive straight razors that use these disposable single edge blades (also sold at Sally) with a removable comb over the blade edge. Slide off the comb and it's a straight. They cost like $5. If you really want to get the hang of maintaining a blade, you can even strop the disposable blade.

There are lots of decent double edged safety razors on the market. Merkur makes nice ones. But some low end ones like the Egyptian made Lord brand are also very good. I even like these one piece semi disposable plastic ones that seem to go by various names... Gillette Click, Laser Click, Lord Click, etc.

The only used razors I'd consider, at least until you have a very good idea of what you want, would be an old Gem razor, which take single edge blades, resembling common paint scraper blades, only much sharper. And the only reason I'd consider those if seeking used is, that they are long discontinued, quality shavers. And not very expensive on places like ebay.

However, this can be a very personal decision for lots of folks. Different razors can cut with different levels of aggression. A few fancier safety razors allow you to dial in the degree of aggression. And once you start trying different blades, you're really heading down the rabbit hole. Over the years, I've found the biggest factor in getting a good shave is a nice, smooth lubricating shaving cream or oil that agrees with you, applied to well softened whiskers, such as you'd have when you get out of the shower. This just seems to be a real equalizer of hardware. Doing this prep allows even cheap disposable razors a great job on my face.

Speaking of disposables, the common old orange Bic Sensitive is a very consistent, inexpensive, decent shaver that performs about as well as any safety razor, I find. When I don't feel like performing a ritual, and just want a good shave, I use a disposable. Oddly, the local 99 Cent Store used to carry these double bladed Laser disposables in a fifteen pack that really worked well for me. I guess the point is, don't dismiss the disposable.

I've given up on the soap/cream/oil search, another rabbit hole. I've settled on plain Dr Bronners liquid soap when using a disposable, and Noxema cold cream (yes, not shaving cream) for the safety straight. These do sufficient lubrication when shaving and also seem to eliminate any need for an aftershave for me. Which I really like since I hate most perfumed products. And I find they are forgiving to apply and easy to rinse off.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:14 PM on August 19, 2010

The Badger & Blade forums are, perhaps, the best community of traditional shavers and ridiculously helpful.


I tried a straight razor for a little while when I was first getting my shave geek on. I enjoyed the challenge, the learning curve, the danger... However, I didn't enjoy doing it every day. I got rid of it pretty quickly. I get incredible shaves with my small collection of DE razors (highly recommend the Merkur HD as a starter). Have fun playing around with different combinations of blades, soaps, creams, and other fun gear. It's great hobby and, more importantly, you get better shaves.
posted by bluejayway at 9:22 AM on August 20, 2010

How long does shaving soap last? How long will a few ounces last?
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:55 AM on August 20, 2010

The soap I have now is pushing 2 years, it started out at 3.5 ounces and has at least half of it left. Now mind you I only shave every other day during the week and not on the weekends.
posted by nulledge at 5:03 PM on August 20, 2010

The Tabac soap I linked above was purchased July 09 and I just used it this morning. I think it's still got about 2/3 left. You don't need much soap from the puck. I use more shaving creme (the CO Bigelow), but that's because it's pretty inexpensive and I like the cooling menthol action. I got a big tube at Bath and Body Works and it lasted around 6 months.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 7:10 AM on August 21, 2010

does anyone know of a shop in portland where i can go hold a few of these safety razors? see what feels good. know what i mean? i've got a beard going on now that it's winter but i know i won't keep it. i never do. i'm tired of paying for goddamn mach 3 blades that cost a fortune and get dull waaay too fast.
posted by rainperimeter at 9:52 PM on November 10, 2010

« Older Help me be an amazing executive assistant!   |   Zzzzzzzzzz the chicken has a machette. No mummy I... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.