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Recommend a Straight Razor starter kit

The last few weeks I’ve been keeping it simple with the same setup as I try to finish off a tub of cream. I’ve been using some of my least expensive equipment but, to be honest, the shaves have been as good as anything else in my den. A vintage Solingen razor, small trans ark, basic horsehide strop, best badger brush and tub of cream have been getting the job done nicely. I looked at my kit today and thought “Geez, you really wouldn’t need anything more than this.” The whole kit cost less than my average SR.

I thought it would nice to start a thread where experienced members gave their recommendation for a straight razor starter kit. Everything you need to get started and maintain a straight razor indefinitely. What would you have started with if you knew then what you know now?
 
I used to make the occasional basic kit for local newbies, which consisted of a shave ready vintage razor, a beginner strop, and a CrOx balsa strop. And really, that is all you need to keep you going for a good long while.

Personally, I might spend a bit extra and use a natural finishing hone instead of the balsa, maybe a slate oilstone would be a good economical choice, but obviously there are degrees. Lots of ways to skin that cat.



P1000449.jpg
 

rbscebu

Girls call me Makaluod
1. Shave-ready SR
2. Kyrgyzstan calf-hide leather strop
3. Palmolive shave stick or cream
4. 0.1μm pasted balsa strop
5. Chinese generic synthetic brush

All can be had for under USD 100 total. It won't keep you going indefinitely. The shave stick/cream will need renewing every 2 to 4 months and the balsa strop might only last you 10 to 20 years.
 
My recommendation aims to offer top performance and ease of use. The recommended items are readily available and offer good value for money. This might not be the cheapest kit but it offers good bang for your buck. You won’t need to rush out for an upgrade anytime soon.

1. Heirloom, 3” Plain Vanilla Horsehide strop

A solid strop that doesn’t break the bank. While your at it, you may want to order a replacement leather piece with you original order. The artisan veg tan horse hide would be a good choice. Many noobies nick their first strop but, if you’re careful and go slow, there’s no need for that to happen. If you can, go for the flax linen secondary component. As you get going you will read about the supposed benefits of flax linen over cotton. You might as well get the flax linen now or you will wish you did later.

I list the strop first because this is the first thing you should buy. It’s no good having a razor without a strop. You won’t be able to use it for long and your learning will loose momentum if you don’t have it.

2. A shave ready razor that you like the look of

5/8 - 6/8” is a good place to start. Avoid razors with a sharp point to start with. If pressed to recommend a brand, I would suggest a new Ralf Aust razor that has been honed shave ready by a trusted dealer. Used and vintage razors are a bit of a gamble. They can have all manor of issues that can make honing more challenging for a beginner. By buying a new, reputable, modern razor you can avoid many possible pitfalls.

3. Dan’s Black Arkansas Whetstone

Natural whetstones are widely recognized for producing the most comfortable shaving edges. Sadly most of the best stones are no longer being quarried. There is also the issue of natural variability from stone to stone with many varieties.

Arkansas Novaculite is an exceptional finisher. The top stones from the big names are also incredibly consistent. Many say that Dan’s stones are flat enough to use straight out of the box. Further lapping in this case is optional. Arkansas Stones are also incredibly hard. Normal razor use will not dish them in a hurry (ever?). This means that you can save yourself the upfront expense of lapping equipment. Wet Dry sandpaper and a granite surface plate are the ideal equipment for keeping an Ark flat and conditioned. At this stage they are very much optional.

Buy the biggest stone you can afford. 8x3x1” is ideal for learning. With a little practice 6x2x0.5” is also a very nice size. Going with a 1/2” stone will save you a fair bit of money but you may need a base of some sort to hold the stone up while honing.

4. 3M, Plain backed, Aluminium Oxide, Lapping film and flat substrate.

Theoretically you will not need a honing progression if you have a shave ready razor and a finisher. In practice a small mistake on the finisher or strop can mean that you need to go back and do some mid range work to get the razor shaving again. Like having a set of jumper cables in your car, you will be happy to have an emergency back up progression on hand when you eventually need it.

Lapping film in 30, 15, 9, 3, and 1 micron sizes is about as cheap a progression as you can get. It’s also very effective. For an item that you won’t need to use very often the film takes up very little room. For a flat surface you can either use your Arkansas stone if you went with a larger size or buy a 12x3x1” piece of acrylic. The lapping film sticks to the surface with plain water.

5. Quality Shaving Soap

Slickness is particularly important for straight razor shaving. For hard soaps Mitchell’s Wool Fat, Martin de Candre and Saponificio Varesino are excellent choices. Creams worth considering include Baume, Santa Maria Novella and Aqua di Parma. There are many more viable options. If you already have a soap you like, start with that.

6. Shaving bush

Of all the items mentioned, the saving brush will have the least effect on the quality of your shave. Even a cheap brush can make good lather. A Simpson Duke 3 in Best Badger and a Semogue Owners Club Boar both bat well above their price tag. If you want to save money this is the best item to skimp on.

0184C971-B785-49C7-8BC1-6A5B7B9FC932.jpeg
 
This is the simple kit that inspired this post. The total investment for these bare bones essentials is about $300 USD. Apart from the soap and balm, this is likely all the shaving equipment that I would ever need.

Vintage Solingen ERN Razor
Lapped Vintage Trans Ark 6x2x0.5”
TM Old No. 2 Horsehide Strop
Simpson Duke 3 Best Badger
Soap and Balm

Razor, strop, finisher, soap and brush. Easy…

0D6EEC93-31E4-4803-8746-D29023A71DA9.jpeg
 
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This is the simple kit that inspired this post. The total investment for these bare bones essentials is about $300 USD. Apart from the soap and balm, this is likely all the shaving equipment that I would ever need.

Vintage Solingen ERN Razor
Lapped Vintage Trans Ark 6x2x0.5”
TM Old No. 2 Horsehide Strop
Simpson Duke 3 Best Badger
Soap and Balm

Razor, strop, finisher, soap and brush. Easy…

View attachment 1419372
While I agree with the sentiment of that kit, I could probably halve the cost of it and get an equal shave.

That is a kit for someone who wants to drive a Mercedes, and nothing wrong with that. But a Ford or Toyota will still get you to work each day, and last about as long.
 

rbscebu

Girls call me Makaluod
....
That is a kit for someone who wants to drive a Mercedes, and nothing wrong with that. But a Ford or Toyota will still get you to work each day, and last about as long.


I most be a small motorcycle sort of bloke.

That reminds me. I may be buying another motorcycle tomorrow, a Honda CB500FA. That will be my 10th motorcycle. I have more SR's than motorcycles.
 
While I agree with the sentiment of that kit, I could probably halve the cost of it and get an equal shave.

That is a kit for someone who wants to drive a Mercedes, and nothing wrong with that. But a Ford or Toyota will still get you to work each day, and last about as long.
All suggestions are welcome.

For me this is a simple, middle of the road option that represents good value for money. It’s easy to go cheaper and it’s also easy to go a lot more expensive.

As stated, the lowest possible price is not my objective. There’s an assumption that all noobies are after the cheapest possible set up. While that might be true for some, I don’t think that’s necessarily true for everyone. Hopefully this thread will present a few different options so that people can get some ideas about what’s possible and what might work for them and their budget.

Maybe someone will recommend the cheapest possible starter set. While I wouldn’t recommend a Gold Dollar and newspaper strop, it would be interesting to see what’s possible on a shoestring budget.
 
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All suggestions are welcome.

For me this is a simple, middle of the road option that represents good value for money. It’s easy to go cheaper and it’s also easy to go a lot more expensive.

As stated, the lowest possible price is not my objective. There’s an assumption that all noobies are after the cheapest possible set up. While that might be true for some, I don’t think that’s necessarily true for everyone. Hopefully this thread will present a few different options so that people can get some ideas about what’s possible and what might work for them and their budget.

Maybe someone will recommend the cheapest possible starter set. While I wouldn’t recommend a Gold Dollar and newspaper strop, it would be interesting to see what’s possible on a shoestring budget.
I understand. My penny pinching hopefully doesn’t come at the expense of performance. For example, where I live an ERN razor is quite expensive, where as a Bengall that (IMO) will do the same job, might cost 30% less. A vintage trans ark might cost 2x what a decent slate of the same size might cost. You might be able to live without a cloth strop component, and a shave stick and a Yaqi badger brush will be a-ok.

IMO none of those options are slumming it. There is always a level up. But my options will last years, and provide a good result.

I’ve spent many thousands of dollars trying and exploring all the various options, but a lot of my go to products have ended up being pretty pedestrian.

But I’m not trying to argue with other choices. YMMV, and spend what you are comfortable with.

But for a beginner I would suggest spending the minimum that will do a good job, until you decide that it is all for you. Which I assumed was the point of the thread.
 
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My recommendation aims to offer top performance and ease of use. The recommended items are readily available and offer good value for money. This might not be the cheapest kit but it offers good bang for your buck. You won’t need to rush out for an upgrade anytime soon.

1. Heirloom, 3” Plain Vanilla Horsehide strop

A solid strop that doesn’t break the bank. While your at it, you may want to order a replacement leather piece with you original order. The artisan veg tan horse hide would be a good choice. Many noobies nick their first strop but, if you’re careful and go slow, there’s no need for that to happen. If you can, go for the flax linen secondary component. As you get going you will read about the supposed benefits of flax linen over cotton. You might as well get the flax linen now or you will wish you did later.

I list the strop first because this is the first thing you should buy. It’s no good having a razor without a strop. You won’t be able to use it for long and your learning will loose momentum if you don’t have it.

2. A shave ready razor that you like the look of

5/8 - 6/8” is a good place to start. Avoid razors with a sharp point to start with. If pressed to recommend a brand, I would suggest a new Ralf Aust razor that has been honed shave ready by a trusted dealer. Used and vintage razors are a bit of a gamble. They can have all manor of issues that can make honing more challenging for a beginner. By buying a new, reputable, modern razor you can avoid many possible pitfalls.

3. Dan’s Black Arkansas Whetstone

Natural whetstones are widely recognized for producing the most comfortable shaving edges. Sadly most of the best stones are no longer being quarried. There is also the issue of natural variability from stone to stone with many varieties.

Arkansas Novaculite is an exceptional finisher. The top stones from the big names are also incredibly consistent. Many say that Dan’s stones are flat enough to use straight out of the box. Further lapping in this case is optional. Arkansas Stones are also incredibly hard. Normal razor use will not dish them in a hurry (ever?). This means that you can save yourself the upfront expense of lapping equipment. Wet Dry sandpaper and a granite surface plate are the ideal equipment for keeping an Ark flat and conditioned. At this stage they are very much optional.

Buy the biggest stone you can afford. 8x3x1” is ideal for learning. With a little practice 6x2x0.5” is also a very nice size. Going with a 1/2” stone will save you a fair bit of money but you may need a base of some sort to hold the stone up while honing.

4. 3M, Plain backed, Aluminium Oxide, Lapping film and flat substrate.

Theoretically you will not need a honing progression if you have a shave ready razor and a finisher. In practice a small mistake on the finisher or strop can mean that you need to go back and do some mid range work to get the razor shaving again. Like having a set of jumper cables in your car, you will be happy to have an emergency back up progression on hand when you eventually need it.

Lapping film in 30, 15, 9, 3, and 1 micron sizes is about as cheap a progression as you can get. It’s also very effective. For an item that you won’t need to use very often the film takes up very little room. For a flat surface you can either use your Arkansas stone if you went with a larger size or buy a 12x3x1” piece of acrylic. The lapping film sticks to the surface with plain water.

5. Quality Shaving Soap

Slickness is particularly important for straight razor shaving. For hard soaps Mitchell’s Wool Fat, Martin de Candre and Saponificio Varesino are excellent choices. Creams worth considering include Baume, Santa Maria Novella and Aqua di Parma. There are many more viable options. If you already have a soap you like, start with that.

6. Shaving bush

Of all the items mentioned, the saving brush will have the least effect on the quality of your shave. Even a cheap brush can make good lather. A Simpson Duke 3 in Best Badger and a Semogue Owners Club Boar both bat well above their price tag. If you want to save money this is the best item to skimp on.

View attachment 1419369
@Tomo How does the Black and Trans Ark compare? Also, how often would you need to go back to the Ark instead of just regular stropping?
 
A shave-ready razor
A small felt-lined paddle strop, one side plain leather the other sanded and covered with red paste
Some kind of small (no.7 or no. 8) coticule bout
A small (18-22mm knot) shaving brush
A cake or stick of shaving soap
A bottle of witch hazel
 
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There's also the "working backwards" route by gradually increasing kit when the need arises.

Start with a razor with a good edge. A modified Gold Dollar is a great way to start, and still use mine from time to time.
Get a cheap strop to nick up.
Learn how to strop/shave.

THEN after some time goes by

Send that razor out once or twice and not worry about honing
When the time comes- upgrade strop
Buy a Naniwa 12k and learn to refresh or any other kind of finisher.

THEN after some time goes by

If you're competent on refreshing your razor and want to start honing yourself, pick up a 5k and an 8k and use that for a while. Don't worry about a bevel setter yet. Get one such as a Chosera 1k when that time comes.



Figuring a lot of guys who are going to dabble into straight razors and participate in this board already has their brush/soap of choice. It's a lot less taxing financially to gradually increase your kit instead of just putting down a few hundred bucks at once. That's just the way my mind works though, and perhaps someone reading this may benefit from that sort of thing.

Just throwing around an idea / another train of thought to the mix. :)
 
There's also the "working backwards" route by gradually increasing kit when the need arises.

Start with a razor with a good edge. A modified Gold Dollar is a great way to start, and still use mine from time to time.
Get a cheap strop to nick up.
Learn how to strop/shave.

THEN after some time goes by

Send that razor out once or twice and not worry about honing
When the time comes- upgrade strop
Buy a Naniwa 12k and learn to refresh or any other kind of finisher.

THEN after some time goes by

If you're competent on refreshing your razor and want to start honing yourself, pick up a 5k and an 8k and use that for a while. Don't worry about a bevel setter yet. Get one such as a Chosera 1k when that time comes.



Figuring a lot of guys who are going to dabble into straight razors and participate in this board already has their brush/soap of choice. It's a lot less taxing financially to gradually increase your kit instead of just putting down a few hundred bucks at once. That's just the way my mind works though, and perhaps someone reading this may benefit from that sort of thing.

Just throwing around an idea / another train of thought to the mix. :)
As someone who is pursuing establishing his SR kit, I like this approach the best.

For me, I wasted a lot of time on a poor strop. One needs to have two strops at the beginning: a practice strop, and a good strop. First, cut up the practice strop to learn. Then move in to a good strop, which prevents premature deterioration of the blade edge.

Second, keeping the edge sharp is something I’m still trying to dial in! Having an Arkansas Black is not enough (I don’t have the answer to what is, however). If you make it to 100 shaves, you need to learn how to do this.

So… one needs two SRs. Sound extravagant? One is to use, and he other is ready with a keen edge. Sometimes, the alternate is off getting a honed, or you need to freshen up that edge but shouldn’t be in a hurry. You need something to shave with daily.

I started with Razor Emporium’s starter SR. Only $50. It was good enough to allow me to determine if I wanted to get into SR shaving.

To address the original question:
  • Two SRs (don’t go too cheap or you’ll have a “keeping the edge sharp” problem)
  • A good strop (mine is leather and linen)
  • A set of stones (or balsa strop) for refreshing
  • Shave brush (synthetic) and a bowl
  • Water spritzer (this is a me thing — I use it to keep my face wet during the shave)
  • Towel
  • Creams, soaps, balms, toner — whatever consumables you need for the actual shaving part. Quantity goes up or down based on skin sensitivity
 
My SR starting kit was:
A set of two of Famous Essx vintage razors - £28. Still in use.
A combo 3k/8k King stone I already had, but can be bought for less than £20. Upgraded to 3k,8k,12k Naniwa Superstones.
A XL Windrose strop - currently selling around £30. Upgraded a few times, but currently using only my DIY Spanish shell Cordovan strop.
DIY leather paddle strop made from scraps I had, pasted with CrOx. Currently in use to strop kitchen knives.
A Yaqui synthetic brush that I still love and use daily £17.

Excluding consumables, hardware only, I spent less than £100. Unfortunately that was only the start, I don't want to calculate what I spent afterwards.

Got the job done, although I must admit it would not have met my current standards.

Once you have dabbled with pasted balsa, you appreciate how sharp a razor can really be!
 
@Tomo How does the Black and Trans Ark compare? Also, how often would you need to go back to the Ark instead of just regular stropping?
I find the difference to be purely cosmetic. Both are exceptional razor finishers once the surface has been properly prepared.
 
I understand. My penny pinching hopefully doesn’t come at the expense of performance. For example, where I live an ERN razor is quite expensive, where as a Bengall that (IMO) will do the same job, might cost 30% less. A vintage trans ark might cost 2x what a decent slate of the same size might cost. You might be able to live without a cloth strop component, and a shave stick and a Yaqi badger brush will be a-ok.

IMO none of those options are slumming it. There is always a level up. But my options will last years, and provide a good result.

I’ve spent many thousands of dollars trying and exploring all the various options, but a lot of my go to products have ended up being pretty pedestrian.

But I’m not trying to argue with other choices. YMMV, and spend what you are comfortable with.

But for a beginner I would suggest spending the minimum that will do a good job, until you decide that it is all for you. Which I assumed was the point of the thread.
Nothing wrong with those items. If you know what you’re looking for in the slate and Bengal you’ll be golden.

One paradox of straight razor shaving this that the more you know the less you need to spend. There are bargains out there if you know what to look for. I never stop being amazed by the scores that some of the rock hunters on this site keep finding. Premium stones, covered in gunk and bought for peanuts that clean up to A grade razor hones. The hones are often worth 10-100x the purchase price. The same goes for the vintage razor clean ups. Making a strop is achievable for most people with some basic tools too. With a bit of time, knowledge and skills it really is possible to put together a cracking vintage straight razor set for next to nothing.

I guess I came to it from the point of view of going for easy to find, off the shelf, reliable options that are still in modern production. Admittedly you pay a premium for the convenience and piece of mind by going this route.
 
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-Soap & brush of choice
-Shave-ready razor
-Decent strop (Illinois 361)
-Soft wood block loaded with 0.5 green or white paste
-12,000# Shapton Kuromaku
-5,000# Shapton Kuromaku
-600# Atoma Lapping plate
-32mm photo loupe for magnification
 
You are in college, and ain't got a job:
  • Unused vintage Union Spike 9/16 inch near wedge
  • Heirloom Razor 3" Horween Horsehide Plain Vanilla Strop
  • Vermont green slate 6 x 2 x 3/4 (direct from the quarry)
  • Omega 10066 boar hair brush
  • LEA cream
I paid $125 for the above and let me tell you that this little package shaves like a dream.
 
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