Old-fashioned straight razor shaving is in a bind: business is too good. Straight razor sales are on the upswing globally, and the industry can barely keep up with demand.
“[About ten years ago,] we were producing less than 8,000 straight razors per year,” says Jens Zeitvogel of Dovo Solingen, which has been making straight razors for 110 years. “The tradition of straight razor manufacturing had almost come to an end.” Now, the brand has orders for 110,000 products. Lead time for production is three years long.
Dovo says the straight razor scene in the 2012 James Bond film Skyfall formed a crest of popularity that built into the wave of sustained overdemand that we’re still riding today. That increased demand led to a cottage industry of new bladesmiths, leather crafters, and potters. And why not? Straight razor shaving offers more control and a smoother shave than electrics, cartridge shavers, and safety razors, and it’s better for your skin. Plus, after a couple years of not having to buy cartridges and replace burnt-out electrics, you’ll start saving money.
Here’s some of our favorite gear for new acolytes of straight razor shaving. This stuff is so good that you’ll probably be able to pass it on to your grandkids.
Spending upwards of $150 gets you a fancier design, maybe an exotic wood handle and gold-plated lettering, but it won’t shave any better than its cheaper competitors. Just buy from a bladesmith with a good reputation, such as Dovo or Thiers-Issard, and you’re golden. A razor that costs between $80 and $100 will be more than adequate.
The blade material does matter. Carbon-steel razors are cheaper and easier to resharpen than stainless. As long as you dry the blade and oil it like you should, you won’t need the rust resistance of stainless.
You’ll want to sharpen the razor on your strop (more on this below) before or after every shave. Every two or three months, you should send it to a pro to be honed (hardcore resharpening) on a stone. Buy a spare razor before then to use while the first is out getting honed.
Dovo Best Quality
Thiers-Issard 1937 Special Coiffeur
Boker King Cutter
If you’re just getting started, go with an inexpensive $50 strop. Chances are you’ll mangle it a few times as you learn how to use it, so start cheap and buy a better one once you stop knicking it. Strop your razor every time you shave.
Clip one end of the strop to a towel bar (or something equally sturdy) and hold the other end so the strop is taut. Lay the razor on its side so that it’s almost flat against the strop, tilting it slightly so the sharp edge is just barely kissing it. Don’t push the razor into the leather; let its weight hold it down as you drag the blade along the strop. The razor’s blunt side should be moving forward, with the sharp edge dragging behind. If you do it the other way, you’ll skin your strop. When you get to the end of the strop, flip the razor over and drag it in the other direction. Do this 30 times, for a total of 60 passes.
Demote your non-shaving-specific bowl to holding soup. You’ll want a bowl with ridges on the inside walls to build lather. Better yet, buy a scuttle—a fancy shaving bowl within a bowl. Through a hole, you fill the space between the two bowls with near-boiling water, which warms the soap lather in the smaller vessel. The warmth makes for a closer, smoother shave.
Georgetown Pottery G12
There are four grades of badger-fur brushes: Pure, Best, Super, and Silvertip, ranked in ascending order. The better the grade, the more bristles and stiffness. The best brushes build and hold more lather in your bowl and feel damn nice against your skin. But they’re also expensive, coming in at $100 and up. We recommend spending around $50 for a Best, in the middle of this range, because it’s a significant step up from Pure without a significant cost.
If you’re not into fur, consider a synthetic brush. They’ve gotten a lot better in the past five years, and a few now offer Super performance at Best prices. There are also boar-bristle brushes, but they don’t hold water as well. They’re an acquired taste that some people never acquire, so ease into wet shaving with badger fur or synthetic.
Mühle Synthetic Silvertip
Edwin Jagger Best Badger
Use a brush stand. Water won’t drain out of the brush properly unless it hangs after each shave. If your brush is resting on its side all day, the bristles will deform at the handle, which means it won’t last as long and will start to stink. These things cost from $5 to $15, so no excuses.
Omega Chrome Shaving Brush Stand (Make sure the opening fits your brush.)
Canned shaving creams like Barbasol use all kinds of weird science-fiction ingredients with 40-syllable names. Avoid them. You can buy bowl or tube shaving cream at a shaving-specific shop, or you can go with shave soap.
Soap takes more effort to work into a lather, but it smells subtler than the potent creams and moisturizes better. Old-school straight razor shavers tend toward soap. Glycerine-based soap is okay, but tallow-based is better.
Mitchell’s Wool Fat Shaving Soap
D.R. Harris Almond Shave Soap
Taylor of Old Bond Street Shaving Cream
If you keep a beard, you’ll need a trimmer. Straight razors are much easier than safety razors for trimming up those edges so they’re baby-butt smooth, but you’ll need an electric to maintain the length. And if you have to go electric, you might as well get a high-quality model like the one below; it’ll last two decades.
Andis Master Hair Clipper
Oh, and a Few More Things…
When you’re done shaving, spread a few drops of oil along your razor blade to prevent rust. You can also store the razor in a silicone-impregnated cloth sleeve for rust resistance.
Diamond paste and diamond spray are exactly what they sound like—stuff with diamond grit in them. Once you work up to a nicer strop, take your old one and work some paste or spray into it. It’s permanent, so this will no longer be your daily strop, but a backup that you break out when you feel the razor catching on your scruff and regular stropping doesn’t help. You’ll be able to go a little longer between honings.
Before shaving, soak a face towel with hot water and hold it to your face. Remember, warmth stands up whiskers.
Straight razor oil