Two years ago my quest for the most eco-friendly shave led me to the Straight Razor. I bought a reconditioned 70 year old razor to give it a try, and was soon convinced of its supremacy. Although they are sometimes called “cut-throats” by people who wish to denigrate their safety, there is no better way to shave.
I wanted to share my findings and some of the useful information that helped get me started, but thought it best to wait until I was sure that I could actually use a straight razor day after day. It didn’t take me long to decide that my straight razor was here to stay, but shaving with it became such a normal everyday activity that it hardly seemed newsworthy.
But then, on a weight-restricted cycle adventure, I temporarily switched back to disposable razors.
It was terrible. The silly plastic handle felt all flimsy in my hand. The shave was sloppy. The pathetic little blades got all clogged up after every stroke. The plastic safety frame made it difficult to trim edges, and didn’t stop the razor from cutting me regularly. On top of all this, I had to throw it into landfill after just a few shaves. The experience convinced me that straight razors certainly are worth writing about.
Disposable razors are inherently distasteful for anyone trying to minimise their resource footprint and live sustainably. When Gillette invented them in the early 1900s, he sold the razor handles at a loss and then made his money off the disposable blades. In other words, his business model depended on the inherent generation of waste.
And disposable razors come in award-winning levels of gratuitous packaging that also gets thrown straight out.
My original thought had been to try and find a traditional double-edged safety razor, which only needs new blades rather than bulky cartridges. But I quickly came to the same conclusion as this Sydney Morning Herald article: why not go all the way to a straight razor?.
Of course, like anyone else who calls a double-edged safety razor “traditional” I had absolutely no idea about where to start with straight razors.
I went looking for help. This Mother Nature article about how to use a straight razor was helpful, as well as being a fun read. A website called the “Knifecenter” provides solid instructions for straight razor use, and includes some useful details about razor types. However, it’s probably hard to go past RazorCentral for the definitive straight razor reference.
After a false start with an old razor on eBay that needed lots of work (and I still haven’t sharpened to a usable state), I found reconditioned shave-ready razors at The Invisible Edge. In the same parcel I bought a strop and some Kent (“by appointment to Her Majesty the Queen”!) shaving soap. There is no stronger protest against the disposable culture than a vintage razor!
Here’s a casual visual guide to shaving.
And that’s all there is to it. Obviously practise helps build these skills and increase speed. At the beginning I would lock the bathroom door to make sure that nothing could disturb my serious concentration, but now I can plan the day while shaving half on autopilot.
There is no big punchline here to finish on. I’ve already given my verdict right at the top: I think straight razors are the best way to shave. They are long lasting and environmentally friendly, they give the best possible shaving results, they are fun and rewarding to use, and are interesting and elegant tools.
I’m going to keep on shaving with my razor till it wears out. Considering that it’s already had one round of three-score-and-ten years, I could be in for a long wait.