Having a healthy and well-kempt-looking beard takes a lot. Besides having the right skills, you need to have the right tools to do the job (if you prefer to do your own grooming).
Straight razors remain the most effective of shaving tools and owning one will take your grooming to a new level.
They are, however, not easy to use and you might struggle for a while before you get the hang of it. When you do, however, it will be the most rewarding experience of your time.
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What Is It
What comes to mind when you think of a manly way of shaving? The chances are that’s your grandpa’s choice of tool – the straight razor!
Straight razors have come a long way and they are the most popular tools among wet shave enthusiasts.
If you’ve ever thought of owning one, you must have realized that they are not cheap and not to mention the technique is just not that easy to learn.
A straight razor, however, like when using a shavette, allows an incredibly close and precise shave.
While new straight razors do an incredible job, it’s nothing compared to what the older models offer.
Vintage straight razors refer to these older brands that you have to work on to restore to their original glory.
If you are looking for a vintage straight razor, it will probably be more of the same razor that your great grandpa used back in the day.
Just like with every other vintage thing, vintage straight razors are preferred because they hold so much history and, in some cases, are of a higher quality than the newer models.
Benefits of Using
Having a razor with ultra-glide blades is great, but it’s not the same experience as using a vintage straight razor.
If you buy a vintage straight razor, the chances are that you are getting a razor of the highest quality.
Most vintage straight razors will be made from high-quality steel that won’t just get damaged at the slightest mishandling.
Part of a Tradition
There is just something poetic about shaving with a straight razor. It’s a shaving tool that men have used for decades and by owning one, you become a part of this tradition.
Straight razors last from one generation to another and if you are getting one, you will likely pass it on to the next generation of men in your family.
Provides a Clean and Close Shave
Most men assume that you can only achieve a close shave if you use the world’s best electric head shaver.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. The design of straight razors helps you achieve a clean and close shave every time.
Straight razors are great for men with sensitive skin. Why is this? The razor causes less irritation since the blade doesn’t need to go over the skin multiple times.
Straight razors are expensive to acquire and the price will usually be higher than that of cartridge or safety razors.
Unlike these other razors on the market, straight razors are worth every dime because one razor can last you a lifetime.
How Do Vintage Straight Razors Work
A straight razor is often referred to as a straight-edge razor, an open blade, a cutthroat, a straight blade, or a straight edge.
They are composed of an opening mechanism that opens to reveal the blade. The blade opens at a 180-degree angle.
When you purchase a straight razor, it will usually be shave-ready. However, after a few uses, the blade is bound to get blunt.
Unlike other kinds of razors, you don’t need to replace the blade with a straight razor when it gets dull. Sharpening it will simply do the job and you can either do that by stropping or honing the blade.
Pros and Cons
- When you shave with a straight razor, you are assured of a close and clean shave at the end of the day.
- Since you don’t need to go over several times when shaving with a straight razor, it limits the risk of developing irritations thereafter.
- Straight razors are a worthwhile investment. While a straight razor will cost you a lot to purchase, the cost is worth it since, with proper care and maintenance, the razor can last you a lifetime.
- Vintage straight razors come at an advantage because most of them are made of high-quality steel that is rust-free.
- Shaving with a vintage straight razor is never easy, especially if you are used to other shaving tools.
- If you damage a straight razor, you will be forced to buy a new razor that is not cheap rather than replacing a few parts.
Types of Vintage Straight Razors
A round point straight razor has a semicircular appearance. The blade of such a razor doesn’t have any sharp ends.
Compared to other types of straight razors, this one is much easier to use, including with beginners.
A square point vintage straight razor usually has a straight point profile that translates into a sharp point that lies perpendicular to the blade’s cutting edge.
The design of the blade comes in handy when you are shaving smaller areas.
What this means, however, is that it is not the best blade for beginners. Rather experienced barbers are likely to find it easier to use.
The barber’s notch straight razors feature a small concave curve located at the blade’s sharp point.
The barber’s notch is added when the blade is customized to make it easier to open the razor.
This modification is particularly convenient for barbers who have to flick open so many razors throughout the day.
A French point razor blade has a profile that is designed to resemble a quarter circle.
The razor has a sharp point at the end, just as the one found on a square point razor. It is sometimes referred to as an oblique point.
A Spanish notch on a straight razor has a more aesthetic purpose. The Spanish notch has a small rounded tip that comes off the spine and curves into a concave end.
Like the French point, the Spanish notch provides the much-needed precision that makes it easy for the user to see where they are shaving.
The inward curve also offers more protection from nicks when you are shaving.
How to Choose the Best Vintage Straight Razor
Buying a vintage straight razor is just like buying a specialized beard comb.
At the end of the day, there are certain factors that you need to consider so that you can get a razor that is easy to use, whether you are a beginner or an expert.
When buying a vintage straight razor, there are so many brands that you have to choose from.
Some manufacture high-quality razors, while others don’t meet the same expectations when it comes to quality.
When buying a razor, besides checking for the quality of the blade you are getting, you also need to make sure that you are buying from a respectable brand.
Most highly respectable brands have years of research and experience to back them up, so you are sure that what you are getting is quality.
The high-quality straight razors have subtle differences that would make you go for one razor over the other.
Round point straight razors, for instance, have a blade point that is semicircular and devoid of any sharp ends.
Such a blade is easy to use and it is the best choice for beginners looking to learn the art of wet shaving.
On the other hand, square point straight razors have a more straight point profile that translates into a sharp point perpendicular to the razor’s cutting edge.
Such blades are better used by an experienced person and are very good at shaving smaller areas.
Finally, a French point blade is designed to look like a quarter circle with a sharp point at the end like the one found on the square point.
The blade size on a straight razor is the width of the blade which is the distance between the cutting edge and the back of the blade.
Thus width is usually expressed in terms of 1/8 increments such that an 8/8 blade will be an inch wide while a 4/8 blade is half an inch wide.
Straight razors are either designed from stainless steel or carbon steel. Stainless steel is usually cheaper and lasts longer compared to carbon steel.
Carbon steel straight razors, on the other hand, are of a higher quality but come in at a higher price tag.
Because of this reason, most men would prefer going with a stainless steel blade to a carbon steel one due to the quality and affordability that comes with it.
The blade grind is the concave indentation that is found on a straight razor. A razor with a full hollow grind tends to be lighter and sharper.
One with a less hollow grind will not be as sharp and may not be suitable for beginners.
The scale materials of a vintage straight razor will either be acrylic, plastic, or wood and, in some cases, ivory, bone, gold, and other precision stones.
When you buy a vintage razor, the last thing you want is the scales touching the blade edge because this will dull the razor prematurely.
If the scales on the razor are made of unsealed or untreated wood, you need to replace them.
If you don’t replace them, the untreated wood will release acids that will start corroding the metal parts of the blade.
The temper on straight razors refers to the ability of the blade to retain sharpness and the blade’s ease of sharpening.
Straight razors come in three tempers that include soft, medium, and hard.
A hard tempered razor retains sharpness longer, while a soft tempered razor will be easier to sharpen.
How much you pay for a vintage straight razor comes down to the razor’s craftsmanship, with most straight razors falling in the range of $100 to $300.
However, if you are looking for a high-quality vintage razor, it could end up costing you more than this.
So you’ve purchased a straight razor and can’t wait to use it. Before you do that, however, you need to be aware of the post-purchase tools you will need.
For instance, it would be in your best interest to purchase supplies such as a strop that you will be using before you shave.
A strop is vital in straight razor maintenance and while at it, blade oil is not also such a bad idea. After you’ve purchased a straight razor, you might also want to have a professional look at it to assess if the blade is of the right quality and shave-ready.
If you are a beginner, it can’t hurt to take a few lessons to be comfortable using the razor when that time comes.
How to Use It
Step 1 – Hydrate using hot water
Step 2 – Apply pre-shave oil
Put a few drops of pre-shave oil or premium beard oil in your palm and massage the oil into your beard. Allow the oil to work for about 30 seconds before you begin shaving.
At this point, you might also want to consider using a stubble trimmer to achieve your desired trim length if your beard is too long.
Step 3 – Hold with the thumb and three fingers
The art of wet shaving with a straight razor comes down to how you hold the blade.
Place the thumb on the shank that sits below the blade and then the index fingers and the ring finger on the opposite side.
Step 4 – Hold at a 30-degree angle
The last thing you want is the blade lying flat or directly against the skin. Instead, turn it slightly so that the sharp section faces down and lies against the skin.
Step 5 – Stretch the skin with the other hand
When you are shaving with a straight razor, you can start with any side of the face. Use the free hand to pull the skin for a smoother and cleaner shave.
Step 6 – Shave in the hair growth direction
With the razor at a right angle, begin saving the cheek area paying attention to the direction the hair grows.
Use smooth and guided strokes in a downward movement and be sure to rinse the razor in between shaves.
Step 7 – Go over the area again
Rinse off the hair and then apply soap, shaving cream, or shaving gel for a pleasant shaving experience and go over the area once more, this time shaving against the grain.
Step 8 – Apply aftershave
Once you are satisfied with the results, you can go ahead and apply an aftershave, but first, you need to clean your face with cold water to close up the pores. The aftershave moisturizes the skin and prevents any irritations.
How to Maintain
Step 1 – Strop the razor before every shave
Stropping is vital when it comes to the maintenance of a straight razor. If you buy a vintage straight razor, one of the things that you need to get is a strop.
Stropping should be done every time before you shave. When stropping, take your time to ensure that you don’t damage the strop or even the razor itself.
Step 2 – Honing the razor
Besides stropping, a straight razor also needs to be honed occasionally. There is no rule on how often you need to hone your blade.
However, frequent stropping reduces the honing frequency and, just like when stropping, takes your time honing the blade.
Step 3 – Storing a straight razor
Straight razors are susceptible to rusting. To prevent this, dry the razor completely after use and store it in a dry place. It might also help if you applied oil to the blade.
How to Sharpen a Vintage Straight Razor
Step 1 – Set up the strop and hold it tightly
If you are using a hanging strop, attach it to a sturdy surface. Pull the strop tightly so that the leather lies flat against the blade.
Step 2 – Place the blade correctly
Open your razor at an angle of 180 degrees and then place it at the base of the strop so that the blade faces towards your body.
If your strop is wide, the blade should be lying at the center and against the strop by the shoulder if it’s too narrow. You want the blade plus the spine to lie flat against the leather.
Step 3 – Run your blade down the strop
Run the blade down the strop applying light pressure and make sure that the blade remains flat against the strop.
When doing so, take all the time you want. You don’t want to damage your strop or blade in the process.
Step 4 – Roll the razor
When you get to the far end of the strop, turn the razor such that the cutting edge faces away from you. To roll the razor, turn it using your thumb and forefinger so that the cutting edge rises and faces you.
Step 5 – Drawback the razor
With the blade still facing away from you, position it on the strop the same way as when you started and then draw it back in a controlled movement.
When you arrive at the end, roll it again so that the blade faces away from you again and then reposition it for another pass.
Does More Spending Mean More Quality
Most straight razors cost between $100 and $300. Vintage straight razors, however, will end up costing you more.
So, that begs the question; is the higher price tag worth it? When it comes to vintage razors, more spending does mean more quality.
With most vintage razors, the more you spend, the higher the quality of the razor you are getting.
Do’s and Don’ts
- When you are restoring a vintage straight razor, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, especially when it comes to using power tools and wearing protective wear.
- When you are using your power tools, make sure that you don’t damage the hardness and temper of the metal by applying too much heat.
- Avoid buffing or sanding the cutting edge of a straight razor when you are restoring it.
- When you buy a vintage straight razor, avoid anything chipped, especially near the cutting edge.
- When you store a vintage straight razor, make sure that you dry it completely and store it in a dry place away from moisture.
- Always strop your vintage straight razor before you begin shaving since this makes maintenance easy.
- Don’t buy a vintage straight razor with burns and any other notable discolorations, as this could mean heat damage.
- Don’t also buy blades that have deep pitting and substantial rusting near the cutting edge.
Are old-fashioned razors better?
Old-fashioned straight razors, in most cases, are way better since they come in at a higher quality than the modern ones. It is also quite satisfying to restore an old vintage razor from scratch.
How do you sharpen an old straight razor?
An old straight razor is sharpened the same way as a modern straight razor. You sharpen it by stropping it before you shave and honing it occasionally to get it shave-ready.
How often should you strop a straight razor?
There are no set rules on how often you need to strop a straight razor. Generally, after four to five shaves, you will notice that the razor needs stropping.
Does stropping sharpen a razor?
Stropping doesn’t necessarily sharpen a straight razor. What it does is polish it and straighten the microscopic fin that can be damaged when shaving. In short, stropping is more about aligning the razor than sharpening it.
How long does a straight razor last?
There is no definite time on how long a straight razor should last. How long yours serves will depend on the care and maintenance you put in place. A well-maintained straight razor can last for decades and be passed on to the next generation of wet shavers as a vintage razor.
If you are a fan of old things and wet shaving, then a vintage straight razor should be your next purchase. Bear in mind that a vintage straight razor will take time and effort to restore it to its original glory, but it is a process that is worth it in the end. Such a razor requires tender care when restoring, however. If you are a beginner, you are better off perfecting your wet shaving skills using a modern straight razor before buying a vintage straight razor.