When it comes to essential human skills, knowing how to shave the old fashioned way is very much like building a fire, running a barbecue, and understanding the offside rule. But like knowing how to mend your own socks, it is a skill that seems to be dying out. Back in the days when a cut-throat or “open” razor was the only tool a man had to help him achieve a smooth chin, patience, skill and dedication were prerequisites for shaving. The advent of the safety razor in the 1890s made things a little easier by allowing removable blades to be fitted into a handle that even the most nervous razors could master. But once disposable razors debuted in the 1960s, it seemed like the gentleman’s art of traditional wet shaving had started to decline. But it’s a skill worth rediscovering. Try shaving with a cut-throat razor – or a traditional safety razor if you’re a little suspicious – and you’ll not only get a really close shave, but you’ll also achieve something even more important: you’ll gain a new skill you can boast of going down to the pub. Here we identify the pros and cons of traditional shaving methods.
The cut-throat razor, “straight” or “open”
The modern battery-powered razor might seem like the perfect way to get rid of stubble, but it’s not exactly eco-friendly as the entire kit and caboodle will eventually end up in the landfill. On the other hand, if you upgrade to a cut-throat razor and take care of it, it should last you a lifetime and you will no longer be at the mercy of expensive marketing gimmicks from the manufacturers. As well as being more environmentally friendly, they’re great for tackling those delicate lumps under the nose and around the neck. And they are in fashion: “After the release of the Bond film Skyfall – which featured a cutthroat shaving scene – there was a huge increase in sales of cutthroat razors. “ explains Daniel Davies, Managing Director of Pall Mall Barbers in London, explaining the resurgence in their popularity. “They certainly provide a great shave, but you have to be extra careful when using them! “
What to use
The price of cut-throat razors can vary wildly, and while there is a lot to choose from, we suggest that you prioritize brands like Mühle, Thiers-Issard, Dovo of Solingen and Revisor.
Remember, you’ll also need to invest in a thong (the leather or canvas strap that you run the razor blade over to polish and straighten it) to get the best shave possible. It is also a good idea to use a sharpening paste like Dovo of Solingen soft sharpening paste to optimize the process.
If the very thought of stretching out leaves you a bit cramped, consider purchasing a Dovo or Bluebeards Revenge ‘Shavette’ instead. A close relative of the cut-throat razor, a shavette has disposable blades, so there is no need to strotter. They’re just as sharp but are much easier to maintain, which means you can save a few minutes in your grooming routine as well:
Start with a safety razor (see below) before moving on to a cutthroat. “It will get you used to a different way of shaving” Davies said. Consult the experts. “Using a cut-throat razor takes a lot of skill. “ Davies warns. “So my first tip would be to have a shaving lesson. “ Due to the recent surge in interest in traditional shaving techniques, many institutions now offer shaving courses or schools and there is no better way to learn than from a master barber. Try Geo F Trumper for 1.5 hours open razor course priced at £ 75. Pick your moment. “You can’t shave quickly before working with a cut-throat razor. I recommend people try it out when shaving on a Sunday to get used to it and also to get used to the angle required to do it properly ”, Davies said. Cut your blades before each shave and prep the skin by lifting and softening the hairs with a shaving cream, which has been whipped into a foam with a brush. The strop usually comes with instructions and there is full of youtube videos this will give you an overview of the process. As with all shaving techniques, preparation is everything, so apply a good shaving cream like Pall Mall Barbers Sandalwood & Clove Shave Cream whipped into a lather using a brush. If you’d rather not use a badger hair brush, try a synthetic alternative like Mühle’s Small Synthetic Fiber Badger.
Stretch the skin as much as you can with your free hand (this is absolutely crucial when using throats) and hold the blade against your skin at a 30-35 degree angle. Anything steeper and you might cut yourself. Finding the right angle will take practice, but you’ll be surprised how quickly it becomes second nature. Use short, gentle strokes, letting the blade do the work. You are not quite Edward Scissorhands remember. Always shave in the direction of your beard growth, making sure to rinse the blade frequently with hot water.
Halfway between open razors and cartridge razors like the Gillette Fusion, safety razors are the perfect way to switch to what Davies calls a more “advanced” shaving method. First-time safety razors compare shaving with them to riding a bicycle without stabilizers – and it takes a little getting used to. “With safety razors and cutthroat razors, I always recommend that men start with a butterfly razor – where you twist the base and insert the blade – then lock it in. “ Davies said. “They offer better control and make sure you can maintain the correct shaving angle. There is no room for the blade to be offset, so it is also much safer, easier and cleaner to use.
Besides looking better in your bathroom (there is something timelessly stylish about a well-made safety razor), safety razors are also economical in the long run. The main benefit of a safety razor is the “cost of ownership”. “A pack of ten blades can cost as little as £ 1 to £ 5. “ Davies said. “This is compared to large, mass-market razors which can cost around £ 10 for a three-pack – this makes safety razors particularly cost effective. “ According to Davies, they’re also suitable for people with sensitive skin, as your skin only has to fight against a single blade. “Using razors with three or five blades can make the skin more irritated, because going through the skin twice effectively means you’re shaving your skin with six blades, which is way too much for most people. “
What to use
The German company Mühle offers an excellent range of safety razors, as well as the blades to go with them. Taylor of Old Bond Street also produces premium quality kits. If you’re on a budget, the Timor Double Edge Safety Razor (£ 16.99) is a good buy, but if bling is more your thing, you might want to take a look at the Gold Plated Futur Razor. from Merkur (£ 85). If you’re looking for something compact for your suitcase, meanwhile, Thomas Clipper (thomasclipper.com) Travel Razor, which folds up into a matchbox, is perfect. Newbies to safety razors should opt for a razor with a fixed head – razors with adjustable heads allow you to customize your shave and the angle of the blade, but fixed heads are easier and safer to use.
As with the cut-throat shave, prepare the skin well. “Ideally, apply a shaving cream using a brush to hold the hair in place” Davies said. Using a scrub before shaving is also a good idea as it helps lift hairs and remove dead skin cells that might clog the razor. Try the Pall Mall Barbers Pre-Shave Scrub or something like Kiehl’s Energizing Facial Scrub.
Shave after the shower. “Heat and steam do wonders to soften hair” Davies said. Stretch the skin and shave in the direction of the stretch. If, for example, you shave your neck, put your neck back, stretch the skin, and shave in the direction of the stretch. “Grain shaving is as important with a safety razor as it is with a cartridge razor. And stretching the skin is the best way to minimize the risk of nicks and cuts. Find the right angle. Start by holding the razor perpendicular to your face and tilting it until the blade makes contact with your skin. Adjusting this angle slightly will create a better (or potentially worse!) Shave. You will have to experiment a bit to find the best angle for you and your type of thatch, but, as a general rule, a 30 degree angle works best. Do not press too hard. If you’re used to using a razor like the Gillette Fusion, you’re probably comfortable pressing down on the skin with it, but single-blade safety razors require a more dexterous touch. Holding the razor towards the base of the handle rather than higher is a useful way to avoid pressing too hard. Position the razor so that the blades come in contact with the skin, then use gentle movements 2 cm long, rinsing the blade every two to three strokes. Not all blades are created equal, so experiment with different brands until you find the ones you’re comfortable with. As an after-shave treat, Davies recommends putting a damp flannel in a sandwich bag in the fridge the night before. “When you are done shaving, apply some aftershave balm on the face, then apply the flannel to close the pores and refresh the skin” he says. “Not only does it help the skin, it’s amazing too! “
Have you tried shaving with a cut throat or a safety razor? Let us know your experiences and share your tips using the comments box below.