With the Grain: Straight-Edged Shaving
By Melissa Conroy
For centuries, men had to hold a straight-edged razor to their throats to rid themselves of unwanted hair. The shaving game changed in 1847 when William S. Henson submitted the first patent for a safety razor. Safety razors took off when King Camp Gillette was granted a patent for his safety razor in 1904 and earned a large contract to supply razors to the military during World War I. Safety razors grew in popularity, especially as women began shaving their legs and under their arms. The first electric razor was patented in 1928, and disposable razors hit the market in 1974. With more convenient and quicker ways to shave, straight-edged razors eventually fell out of popularity.
Today, however, straight-edged shaving is making a comeback. There are plenty of websites such as StraightRazorPlace.com and BadgerandBlade.com devoted to the art of shaving. A growing number of barbershops around the U.S. offer straight-edged shaves, an experience complete with hot towels, assorted lotions, soaps and boar bristle brushes. A man wanting to swap out his five-blade disposable razor for a straight edge has a variety of razor styles, brushes, shaving bowls, strops and other gear to peruse.
Straight-edged razor aficionados claim that an old-fashioned blade gives better results than an electric or safety razor. Less razor burn and irritation, smoother skin and no five o’clock shadow are all touted as benefits of shaving with a straight edge. The website HeritageShaving.com calculated that the average man could save $465 dollars in five years by switching from disposable safety razors to a straight-edged razor. For many men, the appeal of straight-edged shaving is its high manliness quota. The website ArtofManliness.com states, “Putting razor-sharp steel next to your throat every morning reminds you that you’re alive.”
The first step toward a straight shave is picking the right razor. ArtofManliness.com suggests that a beginner shaver select a 5/8 size razor with a rounded point made of well-tempered steel that does not have a full concave (a hollow on each side of the razor). A good-quality razor costs around $250, but properly cared for, it will last a lifetime. In fact, some men shave with razors that were passed down from their grandfathers.
To maintain your razor, you need a hone and a strop. A hone is a whetstone that you use to sharpen your razor, and a strop is a piece of leather and canvas that puts the finished edge on your razor. A razor must be stropped every time you shave, so pick a good quality one and maintain your edge.
Other tools are important to a proper straight-edged shave. A classic boar or badger hairbrush whips up a nice, creamy lather and spreads it evenly on your face. You will need a shaving bowl or mug to make lather. You can omit the Barbasol: straight-edged razor enthusiasts prefer high quality creams and soaps such as Body Shop for Men Shave Cream or Taylor of Old Bond Street Sandalwood Shaving Cream.
Straight-edged shaving is a process: there is no rushing things when you have a razor perched on your chin. Begin with softening up your beard and skin by wrapping a hot towel around your face. Soak your shaving brush in hot water, whip up your lather and apply the lather to your face with the brush. Shave with the grain, not against it, holding your razor at a 20 to 30 degree angle. Apply very little pressure and let the weight of the razor do the work.
Techniques for shaving vary. Some tutorials recommend making only one pass while others suggest shaving first with the grain and then across the grain. Most recommend pulling your skin taut for maximum closeness. YouTube has a variety of shaving tutorials, and a little research on the Internet will unleash a host of advice.
Interestingly enough, straight-edged shaving is not just for men. There are some adventurous women who tackle their leg and under arm hair with a straight-edged razor. Obviously, leg shaving involves more surface area as well as some interesting contortions, but it is possible. As proof, watch this wonderful YouTube video entitled “Sharp Ladies’ Shaving DE and Straight Razor Shaves” where two lovely ladies demonstrate how women can use a straight edge on their legs.
Not quite ready to plunk down a few hundred dollars on a straight-edged razor and equipment? For starters, you can try an old-fashioned safety razor to get a feel for straight-edged shaving. One of these razors will cost about $20. If you like the shave you get with a safety razor, you can then take the plunge and invest in a nice Le Grelot Red Stamina or Dovo Red Wood Straight Razor.
For a better shave, less razor burn and several upticks in your cool dude persona, an old-fashioned straight razor is a great substitute for your Gillette Six Blade Aloe Infused Pro Stick. It takes some time, patience and precision, but a straight-edged shave can be a meditative, classy and just plain awesome way to start your morning.
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