I would love to introduce my male friends to the wonder of the straight razor, if only to see that shining blade holding court on the bathroom sink. But clearly I do not possess the skills to make such an introduction.
Enter Lynn Abrams, founder of StraightRazorPlace.com, the first wet shaving forum on the internet. Lynn was kind enough to take some time away from his straight razor advocacy to answer some of my most pressing questions . . . in incredibly helpful detail.
Newbies, read and learn:
What tips can you give a novice straight razor shaver?
I always tell new people that learning to use a straight razor is something that takes a little time to learn [patience, people]. It is an art that can transform the chore of shaving every day into a pleasure that you can't wait for every day [you don't say!]. We encourage new people to watch shaving videos on SRP and on YouTube as well as reading all available information that they can. Learning to use the straight razor works well when you take on a portion of your face at a time to learn the dexterity and tactile skills necessary to be successful. We encourage new people to start off with a good brand of razor that has been honed and is shave ready. It can be new or vintage, so long as it is in good condition. We also encourage them to learn about beard preparation. A good strop [had to look this up. From Wiki: "A razor strop is a flexible strip of leather or canvas used to straighten and polish the blade of a straight razor, a knife, or a woodworking tool like a chisel"] is also recommended for daily use before shaving with the straight razor. People can start off with cheaper brushes like Boars Hair, but normally most upgrade to the comfort of badger brushes. New people should be encouraged not to rush and not to expect the best shave of their life first time out. And is always recommended to have an experienced straight razor shaver available to show you the way -- this minimizes the learning curve dramatically [read: seek out a straight razor mentor]. I get asked a lot to give shaving classes at barber shops that do shaves and at regional gatherings and I will be doing them regularly at our shop when the shaving spa opens. [oh! We need details on that shaving spa and will you be coming through NYC any time soon?]
What's the scoop on products for straight razor shaving?
As for products, pre-shaving oils work well but it takes a couple weeks of use for them to give the full potential of their benefits [who knew?]. The skin gets used to them as well as the straight razor. I like the shaving soaps and creams that produce a very nice, thick lather with as much cushion as possible. Castle Forbes, Carecini, Mitchells Wool Fat, DR Harris, Truefitt & Hill, Fitjar, Coates, Cella, Penhaligons,Coates, Proraso, Trumpers and a few others are excellent in this regard. You want products that will not be drippy or dry out on your face. Straight razor shaving takes a little longer than a DE [Double Edge. Yup, looked it up] or more modern razors and these types of products work well with the process. There is also a large number of boutique soap makers out there these days making a variety of very nice soaps. There are some great glycerine and triple milled soaps and a lot of buzz on all the forums regarding the personal preferences of many people.
Common mistakes made by newbies?
The most common mistake new guys make are:
1) trying to do the whole shave the first time out 2) using too steep an angle on the razor 3) using excessively long strokes 4) applying too much pressure
When people hold a straight razor in their hands, normally the hand will bend backward at the wrist opening up the shaving angle from 45 to 90 degrees. The razor needs to remain vertical in the grip and the shaving angle should be 30 degrees or less to cut whiskers optimally. People should use short strokes with virtually no pressure and then follow up with longer clean up strokes.
Most people are amazed at how straight razors seem to get sharper as they learn to shave and how well things go when they learn proper preparation techniques. Once a person learns to use a straight razor, most are hooked for life. That silky, baby-butt-smooth feeling after a great shave is like nothing else in the world. You just can't keep your hands off your own face.