Straight razor anyone?
September 28, 2005 1:05 PM   Subscribe

I have read several posts here on shaving and have recently decided that I would like to give the straight razor a try. Before I do so I have a few questions.

1. Is there a good substitute for a leather strop, or does the very nature of a straight razor require the strop to be leather? Is there an alternate tool that can be used in place of the strop?
2. What other tools, supplies etc. are need to start shaving with a straight razor.
3. Any tips for switching from using a Mach III type razor?
4. Any tips or general comments about your straight razor experience? (quality brands/models, etc.)

I am not looking for the cheap way out on this. My skin is sensitive and I'm willing to spend what I need to spend to keep from tearing my face up and to keep my wife happy with a smooth shave.

I prefer that all goods are animal cruelty free/not tested on animals, made by socially responsible companies.
posted by horseblind to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I tried to start the straight razor thing. But have not continued. FYI, if you have sensitive skin, I don't think the straight is for you. I found that the straight was a bit rough on my own slightly sensitive face. That being said, answers to your questions (consider that I've done some research on the subject):
1. I know of no other substitute for the leather strop. Also most strops have a cloth side as well - cloth for a finer honing of the razor.
2. I also purchased a Norton sharpening stone as well. With use, the razor will get dull, and stropping should only be done on a sharpened blade (stropping will not resurrect a dull blade).
3. Technique is very important; proper grip and angle of blade. My problem is, most of the time when I'm using the straight, I can't see what I'm doing. YMMV.
4. Get a quality blade. Do not skimp. Dovo makes some good ones. There's also Thiers-Issard.

For more info check out this Yahoo group (you have to sign-up to get to some stuff). For purchasing, has a lot to offer.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 1:48 PM on September 28, 2005

Response by poster: ORM: Thanks for the info. Some very good stuff for me to consider. Exactly the kind of info I'm looking for.

All: Further info: I have done some research into the subject. The facts are easy enough to find but I am looking for real life experience, thoughts, feelings and solutions on the subject. I come here because I trust MeFi folk to give honest answers such as ORM gave.
posted by horseblind at 2:06 PM on September 28, 2005

I used to use a straight razor, even on my head (I used to shave my head). Here's some tips off the top of my head:

1. I can't think of a substitute for a leather strop. When a razor is properly sharp, the edge is very thin, and shaving even once actually causes the edges to 'roll.' The leather strop lays the edge back flat. A stone (even the finest) leaves the edge too rough, and you'd wear out the blade if you tried sharpening with the stone as much as you'd need to. If you're worried about the cruelty-free aspect, just do what I did: go to a thrift store and get yourself a thick, wide used leather belt (smooth, not suede or nubuck). You can use the buckle to loop the belt around a towel rack. You might go through a couple learning to keep the blade flat. Be patient.

2. Use a good brush and shaving soap. I've been using the same shaving brush for about seven years, but then again it is made from animal bristles (built to last!). A vegetable or synthetis bristle brush is possible, but I imagine not ideal. I use Williams Mug Soap that I get at the grocery store for about 69¢ a bar, and a bar lasts me about two years. (Ooops, its made with tallow.) Body Time makes a shaving soap that's glycerin based, but I far prefer the Williams for comfort and closeness of shave. I use a plain old mug that I got from a thrift store.

3&4. Be patient. As I said, I used to shave my head with a straight razor, even in the back. It's all in the feel, and you'll pick that up once you've slashed yourself a few times. I actually switched back to using a double-edge Gillette razor (the old kind–I use my grandfather's old WWII–era Gillette) as it got harder to find good straight razors that had enough edge to be useful. I would get them used at the flea market, but the used ones, I learned, are usually sharpened to the point where you can't get the proper angle against the stone when you're trying to sharpen them. You'll want to learn to sharpen and keep it dressed yourself, as most knife sharpeners aren't used to working with a straight razor, and they'll often end up grinding all the meat off of your blade pretty fast. At least learn to do the strop part, and find a good old guy whao can do the stone work once in a while. I didn't want to go looking for a new straight razor, so I use the Gillette. Not much difference in closeness, or comfort, really. Suit yourself.

Happy shaving!
posted by al_fresco at 2:09 PM on September 28, 2005

After seeing it mentioned in another shaving thread, I picked up a jar of Kiehl's Shaving Cream. It is hands-down the best hygeine product I've ever used.

I recommend you check it out.
posted by dobbs at 3:34 PM on September 28, 2005

I don't know, but it sounds like a Knife Steel does essentially the same thing that the strop is doing. Is there a reason that a razor needs a strop and couldn't just use a steel?
posted by willnot at 5:00 PM on September 28, 2005

I'm a brush and mug guy, myself. To me that is the key to getting a good shave. And make sure the soap has clay - makes the razor (straight or otherwise) glide more smoothly. This place has good soap, but you can also get a very good, unscented, inexpensive soap at most supermarkets or drug stores called Williams. And my favorite aftershave? This witch hazel Facial & Body Toner (scroll down to #mn-fbt).

More straight razor info here. And a couple more places to buy stuff here, and here.

Happy shaving!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 5:00 PM on September 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

willnot - My understanding is that the edge of a straight razor is very thin (due to its extreme sharpness), and somewhat delicate. Using a steel would damage it. The edge also has very small metal "fibers" that the leather strop forces back down. I've seen illustrations online, but I can't find them now. Sorry.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 5:17 PM on September 28, 2005

Don't do it.
posted by Methylviolet at 5:39 PM on September 28, 2005

I use Kiehl's shaving cream as well- it's awesome.

Any brush recommendations (I know about the Art of Shaving)?
posted by mkultra at 6:46 PM on September 28, 2005

My straight razor uses the typical disposable blades.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:52 PM on September 28, 2005

Best answer: Just a thought: avoid barbers named Todd or Lovett....
posted by rob511 at 2:23 AM on September 29, 2005

Charles Roberts has a lot to say on the subject. He believes the brush is the key (I think it's soap with clay), and he sells Simpsons. But they're a bit pricey.

A good place for brushes and sets is Shavemac (a German company). I have one of their custom sets, and love it (got one for a friend as well, and he loves it). The Gentlemen's Shop (UK company) also has a good selection.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 6:29 AM on September 29, 2005

I use a merkur safety razor myself. Shaving brush and soap is the way to go. Something about the hot water and the glycerin makes for the ultimate clase shave - or so I've heard. Plus - if your going for the straight razor I imagine ritual counts for something. Mind you - even being a 30 yo man - I only have to shave about once every four days, so the time factor is not really prominent in my considerations.
posted by prettyboyfloyd at 9:04 AM on September 29, 2005

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