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Jumping in to the bare blade world

I just shaved with a straight razor for the first time today. It was terribly done, because of course it was. I know nothing, or rather my brain knows a couple of things, and my hands know nothing. I'm determined to make this work.

I came to this by a weird path. 20 years ago, I was doing woodworking as a hobby. It turned out that I didn't really want to build any furniture; I just liked working with wood, but what I really liked was sharpening and using those white and blue steel chisels and planes. What I liked even more was sharpening them. Somewhere along the line, I bought a straight razor, partly because I hoped I might use it, partly because of the fascination with a very different sort of edge. Thiers-something. Never did anything with it, put it away and forgot about it.

Fast forward 20 years, and I've gotten serious about sharpening, and all along, I've been serious about cooking, so I have an outlet, knives and Chinese cleavers, but as I've acquired sharpening skills, a desire to climb the ultimate summit of sharpening, the straight razor, has come along with that. Plus, I'd like to be more conscious about this shaving thing I do daily, even though I wear a beard, and the area I'm shaving is limited. Throwing an overpriced 5-blade plastic pivoting head with a strip of lubrication at the top at the problem seems...what, artificial? Unconscious? I'd rather do the thing right, and use some skill in the process, once I obtain some.

So I'm jumping in. I don't need advice, yet. I've read a lot on here, and I know plenty of things to try. But when I hit a hitch, you can bet you'll hear from me. Looking forward to getting this all sorted out.

Just wanted to say hello.
 

ajkel64

The Aussie Bulldog
Moderator
Welcome to the forum and thanks for sharing your experience with us. Head on over to the Straight Razor Forum. The gents there would love to hear from you.
 
Welcome to the gentlemanly art of straight razor shaving. If you can stick with it, it will be one of the better decisions you made in life.
 
I'm going to take the liberty of giving updates on my journey on this thread. Warning: the road may be bumpy, literally.

First shave (Thiers-Issard): Well, I did shave some stuff. And only a couple of cuts. OK, I guess. Wife says it is not a good shave and wonders why I bother.
Lesson of first shave: this straight razor shaving thing seems doable, although I am really bad at it. Let's hope it doesn't take the storied 10,000 hours to get good at it.

Second shave (Dark Stag folding Kamisori): Say, my plan was to try a razor blade thingy first, and work up to the straight. Maybe I should try out this folding Kamisori thing, with these Feather blades.
Lesson 1 of second shave: Do not do this working up thing. I have a natural affinity for using sharp things and considering them an extension of my hand. I felt that, to some extent, with the Thiers-Issard. All that vanished when using razor blades. Also, my margin for error seems much lower with a premade blade, it just seems to thirst for slicing rather than shaving.
Lesson 2 of second shave: Do not ignore the people who say that Feather blades are sharp, but sometimes need a stropping. Do not think you will be exempt from that. Ow, my face. At least I now know what a razor bump is. Didn't need two bumps to teach me that, though. One would have done fine. One side of my neck is red. At least I had sense enough to stop before I did the other side.
Lesson 3 of second shave: An unexpected issue with taking up naked blade shaving is that one's wife may freak out about all the bleeding.

Third shave (Iwasaki Kamisori): A shorter straight seems like a good idea, both for control and because I have such a limited area to shave. Plus, I really like Japanese steels and edges. Some of the knives are just astonishingly good.
Lesson 1 of third shave: Yes, this is my natural home, a Japanese razor with no folding, I like it. Doesn't mean I'm good at it, just that I like it. Crap. Why did I buy all that other stuff?
Lesson 2 of third shave: Do not cover over your razor bumps with lather and shave as though they are not there. They will bleed.
Lesson 3 of third shave: I have a really unfortunate "beard map." After a shave on my neck that feels super smooth when feeling vertically in either direction, there is much rasping if I feel side to side. This direction seems difficult, so I am practicing with the back side of the kamisori before I try it for real. I had not felt that "first 6 shaves fear of the blade" that people have mentioned, but now I do. I like my Adam's apple, and my arteries.
 

FarmerTan

George Bailey Fanboy
EXCELLENT post! Keep it up my friend. You are going to be a lot of fun. Lol: I'm not making fun of you, I appreciate your wit.

It would be fun to hear more from your wife!
 
New shave journey update.

Pre fourth shave catastrophe: I dropped my Iwasaki Kamisori into the sink! The bottom front corner folded over! Maybe 4mm of this beautiful artisan razor now looked like a dog-eared book page. I wasn't even shaving, just practicing some passes. I should have used a pen or something.

I probably should have taken a picture, but I was really busy with the self-recriminations and all.

The good news is that this is a crisis that I am equipped to deal with. I made a nice rounded corner on the front with my diamond stones. No problem. Hey, it might even be better for me to have a smaller edge length.

It was surprisingly easy and fast. I guess razor steel is pretty soft. There is, at this moment, a vendor who is selling a quite old Iwasaki Kamisori dating back to early days, not long after WWII maybe, made of blue steel. I love blue steel. It makes great knives and chisels and plane blades that will take an amazing edge. But I can guess why it did not survive as a razor steel. Even the softer white steel did not. I strongly suspect that the soft character of the edge is an essential part of the game.

Which brings us to the fourth shave. I brought two lessons to it, from my reading and video-watching:

(1) Your beard prep is Not Good Enough. Ignore your hyperactive insistence that sitting under a hot towel for three minutes is an intolerable imposition, and do the full-on Kyle's Prep. Wow, it really helps make things easier.

(2) Back off on the pressure. Someone here said to just act as though you're not trying to shave, just trying to scrape off the lather. That turned out to be the mental hack I needed to back off properly.

And then there was the third lesson, that I came up with on my own: stop trying to imitate the long passes of the truly skilled. Just do short little passes, like the ones the skilled people do when they get to their chins, and skip any angle you're not ready for. In retrospect, trying to do things like "up the neck, 90 degree turn to do the under-chin" right out of the gate was not so bright.

Which brings us to:

Fourth shave (restored and shortened Iwasaki Kamisori)
Actual example of success: No bleeding at all
Mitigating circumstance: I only partly shaved. I mean, I covered my whole shaving area, in some fashion, but I only took some little short runs at the tricky parts, and not at all the angles at which they need to be attacked.

It could be counted as a victory for cowardice, yes, but I am inclined to take it as a win. Sneaking up on the goal seems like a better, and less bloody, strategy, then boldly forging into areas I'm not able to tackle yet.

I am now eager for shave #5, knowing that I need not push things, just do what I am comfortable with, knowing that the scope of what I am comfortable with will naturally increase.
 
OK, Shave #5 was either a wuss-out or an exploration, take your choice. I decided to take a break from the straight, mostly because I wanted to try out a theory, and a piece of equipment.

Fifth shave (Feather razor with Feather blade)
This time, I had enough sense to strop the Feather blade, my face having not completely healed from Shave #2. It worked out OK, no complaints. Not a perfect shave, but a decent one. Everything worked, it's just that I have not gotten used to needing multiple passes in different directions to get the job done. And, I have to admit, did I ever check out my 5-blade-cartridge shaves with this level of detail? I did not. I just flung the thing at my face and called it good. Maybe those shaves were no better.
Lesson #1: Kyle's Prep continues to serve me well. Yes, it takes time, but the payoff is considerable for me
Lesson #2: DE shaving works. I can do it, although I'm sure I could get much much better at it. But I can't really get excited about it. Ok, I save some money on blades. OK, I can get a good shave that way. But do I look forward to shaving, as I do with the straight? I do not. I think I've found my fork in the road, and the straight is it.

Sixth shave (Iwasaki Kamisori, restored)
I was surprised to find some success here. No, I did not get a good shave, objectively speaking. But I did not cut myself, and while I shied away from some of the more challenging angles, I did find the razor to feel somewhat natural in my hand. Sometimes I tried angles without really thinking about them. Also, I have learned to not rest the razor on my face (blood), not to apply pressure (blood), and to feel the blade cutting the hairs. Heck, when I reach the side of my neck, I can hear the hairs cutting. Cool. Turns out I missed a lot of spots. Or rather, I missed doing them on any but the first pass, because I was using absence of lather as a way to judge when I was done.
Lesson #1: One of those two "shave bumps" was a mole I've had on my neck for my whole life. I guess I must not be a narcissist, since I did not really notice it for so long.
Lesson #2: The straight razor is it for me. As soon as I was done shaving, I thought wistfully of the next shave. I have never before in my life looked forward to shaving.

Seventh shave (Iwasaki Kamisori, restored)
This is the first shave I might call successful. I still have not sorted out the horizontal cut that my whiskers seem to want, across my Adam's apple, but the razor felt like an extension of my hand. I could feel the edge cutting hairs through my hand. I often tried angles that I had not practiced, but which suddenly felt natural because I was in tune with the tool. Also, I found myself sometimes looking for the optimum angle, naturally, despite my previous resolve to stick to the lowest possible angle that would scrape the lather off. But my neck was red for 5 hours after the shave. Too high an angle? Something else?
Lesson #1: Oh, yeah, straight razor 4 life
Lesson #2: I need to learn how to not abuse my skin
 
OK, Shave #5 was either a wuss-out or an exploration, take your choice. I decided to take a break from the straight, mostly because I wanted to try out a theory, and a piece of equipment.

Fifth shave (Feather razor with Feather blade)
This time, I had enough sense to strop the Feather blade, my face having not completely healed from Shave #2. It worked out OK, no complaints. Not a perfect shave, but a decent one. Everything worked, it's just that I have not gotten used to needing multiple passes in different directions to get the job done. And, I have to admit, did I ever check out my 5-blade-cartridge shaves with this level of detail? I did not. I just flung the thing at my face and called it good. Maybe those shaves were no better.
Lesson #1: Kyle's Prep continues to serve me well. Yes, it takes time, but the payoff is considerable for me
Lesson #2: DE shaving works. I can do it, although I'm sure I could get much much better at it. But I can't really get excited about it. Ok, I save some money on blades. OK, I can get a good shave that way. But do I look forward to shaving, as I do with the straight? I do not. I think I've found my fork in the road, and the straight is it.

Sixth shave (Iwasaki Kamisori, restored)
I was surprised to find some success here. No, I did not get a good shave, objectively speaking. But I did not cut myself, and while I shied away from some of the more challenging angles, I did find the razor to feel somewhat natural in my hand. Sometimes I tried angles without really thinking about them. Also, I have learned to not rest the razor on my face (blood), not to apply pressure (blood), and to feel the blade cutting the hairs. Heck, when I reach the side of my neck, I can hear the hairs cutting. Cool. Turns out I missed a lot of spots. Or rather, I missed doing them on any but the first pass, because I was using absence of lather as a way to judge when I was done.
Lesson #1: One of those two "shave bumps" was a mole I've had on my neck for my whole life. I guess I must not be a narcissist, since I did not really notice it for so long.
Lesson #2: The straight razor is it for me. As soon as I was done shaving, I thought wistfully of the next shave. I have never before in my life looked forward to shaving.

Seventh shave (Iwasaki Kamisori, restored)
This is the first shave I might call successful. I still have not sorted out the horizontal cut that my whiskers seem to want, across my Adam's apple, but the razor felt like an extension of my hand. I could feel the edge cutting hairs through my hand. I often tried angles that I had not practiced, but which suddenly felt natural because I was in tune with the tool. Also, I found myself sometimes looking for the optimum angle, naturally, despite my previous resolve to stick to the lowest possible angle that would scrape the lather off. But my neck was red for 5 hours after the shave. Too high an angle? Something else?
Lesson #1: Oh, yeah, straight razor 4 life
Lesson #2: I need to learn how to not abuse my skin
Lesson #3: Kyle's Prep works even if you don't shave right after stepping out of the shower. This is good. I think I've been shaving at a time when the caffeine has not fully kicked in.
 
OK, I a diversion from my incompetence, or, by courtesy, my slow progression toward competence, at shaving my face with a straight. I'm going to talk about some stuff I actually know things about.

I will say that my 8th and 9th shaves were blood-free, and the 9th was more comprehensive than the 8th, though not so comprehensive that my wife could not find places I neglected. There are still some neck angles I need to work on, and I still need to feel in some particular directions on particular places there, to notice what I've missed. Still, progress.

Also, Declaration Grooming's um, "Blood of the Innocents" is a remarkably good shave soap, as long as the case art does not get me dragged down to the infernal regions.

But I'd like to talk about straight razors and steel. I'm in a very happy place with sharpening my Kamisoris, and it did not take long to get there. By treating them like a Japanese knife with an especially delicate edge, I've found success very quickly. Make a bevel on a Shapton Glass 1000, then to an Aoto, then soft Suita, then hard Suita, then Asagi, then Kiita, then strop on horse stuff. Straightforward, and, except for the Kiita and the horse, and the extra care and extra passes when stropping, just how I'd treat a Japanese knife.

So I thought that the Thiers-Issard would be about the same. Nope. First, I realized that it was not entirely unmarred by its 25 year storage in its box. A 12X loupe showed pitting on the bevel, and some ragged places on the edge. Amazing I could shave with it (a bit) on that first shave. Now that I was paying attention to the thing, I could see that it was a much more stainless-y steel than the Iwasaki, which means gummy, which means persistent burr, and likely little affinity for natural stones, at least the Japanese ones. Can't say about Belgians and Arkansas stones, never owned one.

So OK. Shapton glass 1000 (it didn't need the 500), 2000, 6000, and then, a drawer stone I bought in my woodworking days, but which seemed well-suited. It's a baby blue soaker, and I am almost positive it is a Naniwa 10000. It behaved like one, giving good feedback, a sort of soft touch, and it seemed to be the perfect cap to the problem of sharpening this steel.

Except there was still this pesky burr. The kind of burr that, when you take a few edge-leading strokes on one side, just switches to the other side. Very unlike the Kamisori. So I went down to a one-side, then the other side leading edge pattern, and at least got the thing down to a tiny wire.

So I guess I've reached the moment of truth now. It's strop-ready, but I have to decide where to go next. I am very tempted to try the ScienceOfSharp denim/metal polish idea, but these supplies have not reached me yet. Denim and Flitz has scanning electron microscope photos backing it up and everything. Or I may just see if plain leather can deal with this burr. Or I may try balsa and diamond (0.5 micron, then 0.1). Or I may decide my roo 0.5/balsa 0.1 is good enough, and I don't need to paste a new strop. Decisions, decisions, and all I want is to get rid of this darned burr. But this is fun stuff, so I'm in no hurry.
 
No major shave news of note. I've got about 4 more shaves under my belt. I've learned to really hydrate the lather, and still find myself splashing a bit more water on when attacking an area. Cut myself a couple of times, but in very small ways, and only by doing something stupid, like adjusting the razor position horizontally while it's on my face. What's good is that I've caught myself a couple of times before drawing blood or even breaking skin. Something doesn't feel right, and I pull back.

Two challenges face me now, other than continuing to keep my blood on the inside: getting the best edge, and shaving the challenging areas.

The edge one, I'm on top of. It turns out that the pasted balsa strop is really effective, and I've been using the 0.10 micron a lot, routinely, between shaves, and before the leather. Definitely seems to help keep things keen. My purist view would like to believe that a JNat (asagi) and then unpasted leather would be ideal, duplicating what I enjoy about Japanese kitchen knife edges so treated, but I yield before facts. Tomorrow, the Flitz polish arrives, so I can try that on the denim strop that arrived today, to see what the Science of Sharp-approved shave is like.

The challenging areas are more, well, challenging. I finally realized that I could not attack hollows in my neck by stretching, which only made things more hollow, so I did the opposite: pushed from the side to make the skin push up so that I could get to it. I haven't read about anyone else doing that, so maybe it's really wrong, but it's the only thing I could think of. Then there's the fact that most of my neck beard grows horizontally. Maybe someday I will find a viable horizontal cut, but in the meantime, I've been trying to get as much angle as I can into the South-North strokes. It's a work in progress. I've got the cheeks nailed, but I gather that a three-year-old could do that, if he had facial hair, so I don't really take any pride in it. The neck is the frontier, and my manifest destiny is to conquer it.
 
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