Many say that the best way to achieve a perfect shave is with the use of a traditional ‘Straight Razor.' More often called a ‘Cut Throat' or an ‘Open Razor.'
Its use can be mastered with time and care but as with all things in life ‘practise makes perfect!'
What follows is our advice on how to achieve a perfect shave by honing, stropping and using a straight razor.
Before attempting a successful shave you should have the following equipment:
A good quality shaving brush, badger hair or generation 2 synthetic hair
Shaving cream or soap with glycerine base for a smoother shave.
A straight cut throat or open razor.
A honing stone to gain a sharp edge to the blade.
A leather and canvas or leather and linen strop.
Non abrasive yellow strop paste for daily leather stropping.
Abrasive strop pastes in white, green, black-red combo for honing with strops.
A good quality post shave balm or moisturiser.
Alum block or styptic pencil for nicks to the skin.
To gain the perfect shaving experience skin preparation is the essential factor. The following steps will help you achieve this:
Step one: Rinse your face with hot water, this will help to soften the beard thus ensuring a closer shave. This can be best achieved whilst taking a shower.
Step two: Lather the area to be shaved with a quality badger hair shaving brush using glycerine based shaving cream or shaving soap. By using a circular motion with the bristles of the brush an even lather will be made. This motion lifts the hairs by going against the natural growth of the beard and produces a rich, creamy lather that ensures the blade glides effortlessly across your face.
Straight razors produced by the Dovo of Solingen, Thiers Issard and Revisor factories always arrive sharpened to the highest degree and shave ready to use. However, some traditional wet shavers believe it is good practise to sharpen the new blade prior to its first use. This is best achieved by the use of the honing stone or a leather strop and abrasive paste.
To achieve the best results form your straight razor requires practising not only the art of shaving but also the constant care of your razor by maintaining a keen sharp edge. To achieve this correctly you must be able to hone and strop correctly.
You must always remember that honing refines the sharp edge of the blade, this is best achieved with the use of a honing stone.
Step one: Wet the honing stone with plenty of water.
Step two : Grip the wooden handle with your left hand and rest the honing stone securely on a flat surface to ensure safety.
Step three: Hold the shaft of the blade with your thumb and forefinger. Place the blade flat on the hone in the start position. (Fig. 2)
Step four: Draw the blade towards the hone handle with the edge side leading. If the blade is wider that the width of the stone the blade should be angled and drawn downwards as it travels along the stone. This way the heel and the point of the blade are sharpened in one movement.
Step five: Once you reach the end of the hone stop and roll the blade over on its spine and draw the blade away with the edge side leading. (Fig. 3)
Repeat this process several times. Remember to use equal pressure and ensure that both the spine and the edge of the blade are in full contact with the honing stone throughout the process.
Is it sharp enough?
There are several methods to testing the sharpness of a freshly honed blade; these are the thumb test, the hair test and the shave test.
The thumb test: Run the edge of the razor over a moistened thumbnail, if the edge clings or drags then the blade is deemed sharp enough.
The hair test: hold up a single hair and place the edge of the blade against it. If the hair is cleanly severed then the blade is sharp enough.
The shave test: Only the shave will tell if the edge is keen enough. What is sharp for one man may not be sharp enough for another. It is only through trial and error that you truly establish the correct sharpness to suit your beard. We recommend this test.
How often should I hone?
If done correctly honing will be required every few months. Only when the blade becomes dull and pulls during shaving does it require honing. If daily stropping does not bring the edge back to a sharpness level that suits your beard you will have to return to honing on either honing stones or pasted strops. It is possible to extend the time between honing if you use a pasted strop. This is a strop with abrasives on it.
You must remember that the purpose of stropping is not to remove material but to straighten and align the microscopic teeth that are at the edge of the blade.
Nothing maintains the mirror edged sharpness to your straight razor like a fine quality leather and canvas strop.
Shaving strops come in several forms:
Leather and canvas hanging strop: This is used for daily stropping prior to shaving. Use the canvas side for coarse edge alignment stropping, with or without white paste. Next the leather side for fine edge alignment stropping prior to shaving. The leather side may be used with or without the yellow non-abrasive paste. This maintains the quality of the leather and prevents it drying out.
Handheld leather strop: This is ideal for travel as it does not require securing, just a steady flat surface. The handheld strop has two leather sides; one for daily stropping and the reverse green leather side for use with a green or red-black abrasive paste. Stropping with an abrasive paste when the edge of the razor becomes dull can help extend the time between honing.
Handheld leather strop with honing stone: This is not used on a daily basis but for honing – see our guide to Hones and Honing. It is also used for stropping with an abrasive green or red-black paste to help extend the time between honing.
With a quality leather strop and the correct stropping technique your blade will not only retain its sharpness but will last for generations.
The following steps are meant as a guide to your daily stropping techniques prior to shaving. We recommend that you develop a method or technique that works best for you.
Step one: Attach your hanging strop securely to a wall. Chest level is advised for ease of use.
Step two: Rotate the strop so that the leather side is uppermost. This would previously had been prepared with a non abrasive yellow strop pate.
Step three: By using the handle of the strop ensure it is fully taunt to gain maximum effectiveness whilst stropping.
Step four: Fully open the razor, grip the shaft with your thumb and forefinger. Place the blade on the strop closest to you with the spine of the blade furthest away.
Step five: Begin to stroke the blade away from you with the spine of the blade leading.
Step six: At the end of each stroke flick the blade over and return with the spine of the blade leading.
In the event of the blade being wider than the strop then a figure of 8 or an X technique should be used much in the same way as honing. This ensures that all of the edge of the blade is stropped evenly.
Having followed the guide to skin preparation and you brand new straight razor has been honed and stropped you are ready to begin shaving.
Step one: Open the razor by gently gripping the shaft with thumb and three fingers. Ensure the open handle points away from the face. Place your small finger in the crook of the blade. This enables a secure and stable grip and also provides maximum control of the blade whilst shaving.
Step two: Wherever you start to shave it is important to hold the skin taut with your free hand to provide a flattened surface. This enables the blade to glide smoothly and freely for a closer shave.
The angle of the blade will vary from person to person. We recommend a slight angle of 30 degrees to start until you find your ideal way to shave with comfort and ease. This comes with practise and experience.
Step three: The strokes of the blade should be in the direction of the grain of the beard, deliberate and approximately 1-2 inches. Movement of the blade throughout the stroke should be from point to heel of the blade to achieve the best result.
A good tip is to always begin a little way away from the prominent parts of the face such as the chin. Simply work over to these areas with steady strokes.
Step four: To get the smoothest shave possible it is usually necessary to go over the face a second time. This time lathering takes a shorter time and the strokes of the blade should be against the grain of the beard.
Step five: Once the shave is complete, rinse your face with clean water. Post shave is purely down to personal preference. We recommend a moisturising balm or skin food to cool, soothe and moisturise the skin.
Step six: Remember to rinse the razor thoroughly with warm water and carefully wipe dry before storage.
In the event of any minor nicks occurring apply a moistened alum block or styptic pencil to the nick to stop the bleed.