I’ve seen a number of movies and TV shows depicting scenes of earlier times with gnarly whiskered leading men, shaving with a straight razor, some feeble mirror hung on a nail, maybe a pan of water at hand. They make it look so simple and easy! If you’ve ever used a straight razor, you’d see some very obvious mistakes. In most scenes, a strop is nowhere in sight, and the water is never hot. The honing stones necessary for keeping a keen edge are never in sight.
I am quite familiar with the subject since I’ve been shaving with a straight razor since the fall of 1972. While getting a haircut, I professed some interest in the razors sitting on the shelf of the soon-to-be-retired expert. By the end of my trim, I’d bought two, plus a strop. Both razors were high-quality steel, and the leather strop was in good condition, though worn from many years of use. For the first decade of my own use or more, I hired a professional service to hone my razors as needed.
How many times did I nick myself before learning to use it skillfully? None at all. Actually, an open blade is surprisingly easy to use without cutting yourself. Back when I used to use a double edge so-called “safety” razor, I did nick myself occasionally. It’s easy to get careless with one since you know you can’t physically cut yourself too deeply. Part of the behavior in using a straight razor involves your instinctive carefulness while using it.
I’ll not say I’ve never nicked myself with a straight razor over the years. It has been seldom, something like once every year or two. One lesson knife users know well is that you’ll usually only cut yourself when your blade becomes dull. I almost invariably nicked myself when I became a bit too lazy to hone it as often as I should have.
Not for one moment did I believe that I’d save money shaving with one, even though, at the time, I only paid the barber $20.00 for the lot. As with many things I do, it was a novel idea and a challenge. I did spend $35.00 early on for a badger hair brush and a shaving mug with soap and nearly $100.00 for a set of stones. I could probably have bought a lifetime supply of “safety razor” blades for that, but where’s the fun in that? Generally, a new straight razor and tools run at least $250.00 for quality items. Razors alone can run over $400.00 if you aren’t on a budget.
Why do I persist in using a straight razor that needs stropping with each use and a 30-minute honing every so often? Every time I shave, I truly enjoy using a skill I value highly, one lost by the average modern man. I find satisfaction that it has a low carbon footprint, and I know that if I pass the skill and my tools on, they can be used for many decades without ever needing to be replaced.
Be brave, be daring – try straight razor shaving. You, too, can say, “I did it, and I lived to tell about it!”