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Week 2 of Straight Shaving

Just thought I would share my recent experience of straight razor shaving, in the hope of getting some tips and feedback from the experts, and that it might be useful for others in the same position or about to take the plunge...

I started using a straight last weekend (12 days ago), having been using a safety razor (Merkur, Gillette, Ikon, FaTip) for the last 15-20 years. I have dry skin, which is particularly annoying during grim Scottish winters, and am always looking to reduce irritation in my shave. I have a decent pre-shave routine - cleanse, hot cloth, pre-shave balm, brush and soap (usually Tabac or Speick), then one WTG pass with the safety. 4-5 shaves from a blade, usually Feather or Astra.

I got myself an old 'ERN 66' 19mm full hollow straight on eBay, and taught myself to hone it. I eventually figured it out using 1K, 6K water stones, a 12K-ish Welsh slate, followed by chromium oxide on balsa and then a leather hanging strop. I had all the above already for sharpening knives, except the slate (£15) and the balsa and strop. I'm reasonably happy with the honing job, not sure about HHT but it shaves comfortably.

I've now had 6 shaves with it. I initially got some irritation from poor angle and technique generally, but the last two shaves have been decent. No irritation and no missed areas!

Reflections:

It takes me way longer than with the safety - about 20+ minutes rather than 10!

It took about 4 shaves to realise that you can't shave whilst holding your breath! Likewise that good preparation is absolutely essential. You can bash on through crappy lather and a hard beard with a safety, not as a new straight razor shaver, though.

Skin-stretching - this does not seem to be optional.

It is way more satisfying than using a safety, and an opportunity to forget about everything else in life.

I'm not getting such a close shave with the straight as I did with a fresh blade in the safety. I suspect this is down to my developing technique and possibly a slightly agricultural honing job (I now have some 0.5u diamond spray).

The first few shaves are fairly terrifying at times. Long seconds, with the blade hovering millimetres from an earlobe or nostril, certainly focus the mind.

Persistence is key. The learning curve is quicker than I'd expected, though.

Happy shaving,

Niall
 
Very interesting. Good luck on your straight razor shave journey. Getting the best, closest shaves ever is a piece that falls into place later; for me it was in the 80-100 shaves range. A big part of that was acquiring techniques for dealing with a tricky beard map on my neck. Another was multiple rounds of teaching my hands "no, use even less pressure than that."

Skin-stretching is definitely not optional, both for avoiding some kinds of wounds, and for getting the closest shave.

You've put your finger on what was the most troubling part for me as well, when starting out -- the sheer foreignness of holding a sharp blade near your skin, with hands that don't know how to move it in all the ways it could move, to get what you want.
 
Congratulations, it sounds like you are coming along nicely. You are probably at the stage where each shave is noticably better and/or easier than the previous one. Don't be alarmed when improvement is no longer noticable as you are still building technique. Noticable improvement for me came in fits and starts - closer, quicker, more comfortable.

Most straight shavers agree that a wetter lather is better. Coming from DE, that is something you might consider.

Closeness will come with practice and experience. Chasing closeness might not be the wisest move, in my experience you can't uncut yourself. You will probably get to a point where you are almost as quick, if not as quick, using a straight as you are with your DE. A two pass shave typically takes me less than 10 mins, about the same as a DE.
 
You might consider cold water only for your prep and rinse. There are a few here who do that. Personally I do a hot steamy shower with a cold rinse and only cold water after that and my skin is happier for it. I also use argan oil as a post shave which is especially helpful in the winter months.
 
You might consider cold water only for your prep and rinse. There are a few here who do that. Personally I do a hot steamy shower with a cold rinse and only cold water after that and my skin is happier for it. I also use argan oil as a post shave which is especially helpful in the winter months.

That's a very interesting idea, and I will try it out once the learning curve levels off a little. Even in a warmed bowl, I find that the lather is room temperature after the first 5 minutes, anyway. It doesn't seem to make much difference.
 
I keep trying to learn to hone but just can't figure it out. Last attempt started great, sharpest edge yet, but it didn't last through the shave. Fin edge I guess.

In the meantime I really enjoy shaving with one of these AC blade shavettes.

I've also switched to shaving mostly last thing at night when I can relax and take my time. You don't want to rush a straight razor shave...
 
Loosing the edge during a shave is often caused by fin edge and/or shaving at a too higher blade angle.

Fin edge can be cured by pull and short X strokes during the honing and final balsa stropping progression. Shave angle should be just a spine thickness or less off the skin. Don't believe that 30° BS on YouTube.
 
I'm not getting such a close shave with the straight as I did with a fresh blade in the safety. I suspect this is down to my developing technique and possibly a slightly agricultural honing job (I now have some 0.5u diamond spray).

The first few shaves are fairly terrifying at times. Long seconds, with the blade hovering millimetres from an earlobe or nostril, certainly focus the mind.

Persistence is key. The learning curve is quicker than I'd expected, though.

First, congrats for diving in and, yes, persistence is key. The process has been described as rubbing steel on stone, leather and skin. On one level, you just have to keep trying things and honing (pardon the pun) your technique until you figure out and master what works for you.
 
I keep trying to learn to hone but just can't figure it out. Last attempt started great, sharpest edge yet, but it didn't last through the shave. Fin edge I guess.

These videos helped me a lot:

Doc 226 - YouTube

JeffT - YouTube

It's important to 1) use a loupe to monitor your progress, 2) don't move up to the next grit until you have really completed the current grit, and 3) work the entire length of the edge, paying attention to the areas not making good contact with the stone and not undercutting the liquid. 2) will come with experience but testing the edge on the hair on your forearm and on a cherry tomato will help. You also want to pay attention to resistance - ideally finishing each grit with minimal (close to zero) and consistent on both sides of the edge. And you want to finish each grit with minimal (close to zero) downward pressure.
 

steveclarkus

Goose Poop Connoisseur
Whoa - good system. Loving the engineering details around fabricating the strops.
That is the system I’ve been using for more than three years. It works exceptionally well and is cheap. Your speed will pick up as you go along so don’t focus on it - ever. I do a two pass shave in less than five minutes but I never tried to shave faster. It just happens. I have over a thousand shaves by now and it is just shaving. Looking back on it, it was well worth the trip. Just take it as it comes and don’t worry about it. Someone earlier mentioned a shavette and they are a great way to take the maintenance problem away but they are awfully damn sharp. Once you get comfortable with shaving with your straight, you might want to pick up a shavette. I have a Parker half blade and love it and they are just over $20 US. I use it when I’m lazy and forget to prep a straight for the morning. Congratulations and just stick with it; you won’t regret it.
 
That is the system I’ve been using for more than three years. It works exceptionally well and is cheap. Your speed will pick up as you go along so don’t focus on it - ever. I do a two pass shave in less than five minutes but I never tried to shave faster. It just happens. I have over a thousand shaves by now and it is just shaving. Looking back on it, it was well worth the trip. Just take it as it comes and don’t worry about it. Someone earlier mentioned a shavette and they are a great way to take the maintenance problem away but they are awfully damn sharp. Once you get comfortable with shaving with your straight, you might want to pick up a shavette. I have a Parker half blade and love it and they are just over $20 US. I use it when I’m lazy and forget to prep a straight for the morning. Congratulations and just stick with it; you won’t regret it.

I'm now in week 4, and have made a major breakthrough in razor maintenance: I got a small spray bottle of 0.5u poly-diamond emulsion, and have treated the reverse of my 12mm balsa stop with it. I gave my razor 30 strops (progressively gently) on the diamond then the same on the chromium oxide, before stropping as usual on leather. This has transformed the edge quality, and I'm now getting an irritation-free shave.

I have years of experience in sharpening blades by hand on water-stones, but honing and stopping a razor is quite a different skill. I'd advise other newbies to follow the advice of the experienced members on here and get your first straight razor from an established honer.

Thanks for all the advice - Niall
 
Hi Niall!

Like you I have started with my own way of honing and stropping on different surfaces covered in CrOx. For a long time my best results were stropping on a leather paddle strop pasted with CrOx before stropping on clean hanging leather.

Best advice I can offer is to set yourself up with three balsa strops as described in the forum in detail.

After a bit of searching I have found everything you need in the UK from diamond paste, to acrylic substrate, to balsa. If you struggle let me know and I will send you the links to purchase the necessary components. For about the £60 mark you can have everything, and it will be a set-up that will serve you very well for the years to come.

Any other advice you need, just ask, the guys on the forum are very eager to share their knowledge and experience.
 
That is the system I’ve been using for more than three years. It works exceptionally well and is cheap. Your speed will pick up as you go along so don’t focus on it - ever. I do a two pass shave in less than five minutes but I never tried to shave faster. It just happens. I have over a thousand shaves by now and it is just shaving. Looking back on it, it was well worth the trip. Just take it as it comes and don’t worry about it. Someone earlier mentioned a shavette and they are a great way to take the maintenance problem away but they are awfully damn sharp. Once you get comfortable with shaving with your straight, you might want to pick up a shavette. I have a Parker half blade and love it and they are just over $20 US. I use it when I’m lazy and forget to prep a straight for the morning. Congratulations and just stick with it; you won’t regret it.
i actually started with a shaveette and then progressed to a straight razor. once i got one that was shave ready from a friend ive never looken back and only sometimes use the shavette but after todays shave i dont think a DE blade gets as close as a well sharpened straight. i wont say its sharper or not cause i dont know but there is something in the process that gets you a closer shave imo
 

steveclarkus

Goose Poop Connoisseur
i actually started with a shaveette and then progressed to a straight razor. once i got one that was shave ready from a friend ive never looken back and only sometimes use the shavette but after todays shave i dont think a DE blade gets as close as a well sharpened straight. i wont say its sharper or not cause i dont know but there is something in the process that gets you a closer shave imo
I get as close a shave with a shavette but it must be done with caution. I do use a shavette on occasion but much prefer a regular straight razor - much safer in my opinion.
 
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