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Using A Straight Razor


You'll wanna start with a sharp razor.

To get a feel for using a straight razor, try removing shaving cream from an inflated balloon with a sharp edge, without popping the balloon. In a similar vein, some people recommend practicing by shaving a peach or a tomato.

StroppingThe Razor:

A leather razor strop can be used to maintain a keen edge. You know you're getting close when you can slice a piece of paper with your razor. The blade is designed so that if you lay it flat on a surface, the angle at which the blade-edge contacts that surface is the optimal angle at which to sharpen it. Lay the blade flat on one end of the leather and draw it along the length of the strop WITH THE BLADE EDGE FOLLOWING. Turn the blade over, lay it flat on the other side, and draw it back the other way; again WITH THE BLADE EDGE FOLLOWING. Thus, you should always lead with the dull edge. The dull part and the edge should both be in contact with the strop (the blade is then flat, and you are sharpening at the correct angle -- probably somewhere around 5 or 10 degrees). Repeat this about six times for each side. NEVER LET THE BLADE EDGE COME IN CONTACT WITH ANY METAL, OR ANYTHING AS HARD AS ITSELF.

Stoning The Razor:

Any kind of nick in the blade edge is impossible to remove using the strop. If the blade is exceptionally dull or nicked, the use of a sharpening stone is recommended. Use this once a week to sharpen the edge ONLY if you shave every day AND you have a heavy beard. Otherwise, you'll end up using material, and the razor won't last. After giving the blade only two or three strokes on the stone(or whatever instrument you choose), make sure you have an old, wide belt to strop the blade. How will you know when to sharpen and strop? Usually when you start to get tiny nicks, and generally irritate the skin. You should strop every time you shave, and use the stone once a week if needed.

Razor Care:

The blades of straight razors are usually made of steel; the more recent razors have blades made from stainless steel. Keep straight razors out of water as much as possible -- water will encourage the iron-based blades to rust, and can cause serious damage to many handle materials. Metal polishes, such as Brasso, Silvo, or Autosol should never be used on the blade. As well as damaging the surface, they can leave polish residues which are both unattractive, and can be harmful to the blade and handle (never mind the person on whom the blade might be used!). Some blades are prone to rust, particularly the earlier blades, made before the invention of stainless steel. The rust can be removed using either a soft 3M scrub pad (the white ones), or 0000 (extremely fine) steel wool.

Cleaning The Razor:

Some materials used in the manufacture of straight razors are porous, and may absorb body fluids. Thus, if blood or other body fluids come into contact with the razor, it is advisable that that razor not be used by someone else.

Next, clean the entire surface of the blade with a Q-tip dampened with either ethyl alcohol or rubbing alcohol. This will help sterilize the blade, as well as degreasing it. Then, apply a thin coat of light mineral oil to the blade; let it sit for a short while (10 minutes, or so), and then wipe the excess oil off using a clean, dry cloth. This oil coating will help prevent any further rusting. Use rubbing alcohol to remove the oil before use, and again after use to clean the blade. Use mineral oil to re-oil the blade after use, as well as after sharpening. Be careful not to get any alcohol or oil on the handle.

Shaving Technique:

You'll need to sharpen each time before you shave your face. Shaving is best done after bathing, because hair is saturated with water after 2 minutes contact. The only purpose of shaving soaps is to see where you have been, but they don't influence shaving results or prevent irritation. Remove hair and soap from the razor with a finger and put it on a piece of tissue, you don't need to rinse the razor during the shaving.I often let my hair grow pretty long before shaving, so I sometimes have to sharpen again half-way through to get a comfortably sharp shave. Keep it under 30 degree angle with the skin, at the chin somewhat more steep. Shave always and everywhere with your working hand (writing/dominant hand). Shave twice: one with and one against the grain. Contrary to safety razors, this won't cause bleeding. Start with the cheeks, then upper lip, then the neck, then the chin. Always move the blade in a direction perpendicular to its edge. Any sawing motion will tend to cut into the skin. It is very important to keep your skin tight where you're shaving. You can do this by stretching your skin across your face with your hand, and/or (my preference) holding your head up or sideways so that it stretches itself. I've found that (unlike with disposables) keeping my face still and moving the blade is important. It takes a while to get used to this. Be very aware when taking the edge of the razor off your face, before you turn your head to expose a new area for shaving. Here's the routine:

face still
blade down
blade move
blade up
face move (skin appropriately stretched)
face still
blade down...

Making such a routine of a simple thing like shaving seems irksome, but after a while it comes naturally and the routine fades away. I almost never cut myself when I used disposables, now I draw blood maybe every third time I shave, but they are always micro-cuts that disappear under a little cold water (closure of the pores). Rinse the razor with warm water afterwards, dry with cloth without touching the edge, and store in a dry, ventilated place, not in the bathroom. Use mineral oil to re-oil the blade after use.

The author has made every attempt to provide current, accurate information. The author does not assume any responsibility for adverse health effects or object degradation resulting from the use of any of the procedures presented here.

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