1.25.2013

My First Straight Razor Shave

Overview
I did extensive research online (40+ hours) before deciding to dive into the art of straight razor shaving and purchase supplies. My guiding principle was to purchase items suitable towards a beginner without buying anything too cheap or too expensive. I primarily used three online resources to help inform my decisions: Classic ShavingStraight Razor Place and The Superior Shave. Ultimately, I found the best value on the products I wanted to purchase at The Superior Shave and West Coast Shaving.

All of my straight razor supplies (below) were ordered on January 1, 2013 - a fine way to kick-off the new year. In this post, I'll explore the products I used, the steps I took, and my overall thoughts on shaving with a straight razor.

My First Straight Razor: Dovo 5/8" 'Best Quality' Half-Hollow Ground Round Point Razor




The Superior Shave
As you can see, I ordered the bulk of my supplies from The Superior Shave. I found the resources offered by this vendor very helpful, and their prices competitive. Plus, The Superior Shave offers a discount on almost every item if you buy in bulk with other products they sell. Overall transaction process was smooth and easy using Google Wallet, and the staff was quick to respond to my email inquiries. Shipping was free of charge and arrived promptly and well-packed.

I will say that The Superior Shave website is not the most user-friendly of sites to navigate. At times you can get lost in all of the pages. However, adding items to your cart and checking out was a breeze. In total, I spent $204.44 at The Superior Shave.

West Coast Shaving
In full disclosure, I planned to purchase all of my supplies from The Superior Shave. However, after researching strops, I had decided I wanted English bridle and linen given the low maintenance required on those materials. While The Superior Shave supposedly stocks English bridle, I did not see any available at the time I made my order. Thus, I went to West Coast Shaving where I was able to find what I wanted at roughly the same price.

Compared to The Superior Shave, West Coast Shaving offers a more traditional online storefront, though I ran into issues trying to use the PayPal payment method. In total, I spent $87.99 at West Coast Shaving.


Combined purchases across The Superior Shave and West Coast Shaving totaled $292.43. Before switching to the above, I was using the below products.
  • Gillette Fusion Safety Razor
  • Edge Shaving Gel (Sensitive Skin)
  • L'oreal Men's Expert Comfort Max After Shave Balm (SPF 15)
  • Polo Eau de Toilette Spray (Cologne)
As of now, I plan to continue using L'oreal Men's Expert Comfort Max After Shave Balm (SPF 15) and Polo Eau de Toilette Spray (Cologne). Below are photos I took using my iPhone 4S of my new and old shaving supplies.

Dovo #101581 5/8" 'Best Quality' Half-Hollow Ground Round Point Razor (Black, 44g) and Silicone-Treated Cotton Razor Sleeve
 
Omega 643188 Synthetic Badger Brush with Stand
 
Proraso Pre and Post Cream (Green Tea and Oat, 100ml)

Dovo Shaving Cream (Mint)

Osma Styptic Pencil

Osma Alum Block
Walkin' Horse 3" English Bridle with Linen Strop (Dark Brown, 3" x 17")

Belgian Select Grade Coticule Hone 5" (30mm x 125mm) and Coticule Slurry Stone 1.6"

Edge Shaving Gel (Sensitive Skin), Gillette Fusion Safety Razor, Polo Eau de Toilette Spray, L'oreal Men's Expert Comfort Max After Shave Balm (SPF 15)


The Pre-Shave
My first straight razor shave took place Saturday, January 6, 2013 at 9:00 AM. As I would with any shave, I began with a hot shower and scrubbed my beard with hot water and soap. After toweling off, I set-up the aforementioned supplies around the bathroom sink.

I was advised by The Superior Shave to not strop before the first shave since (1) they professionally honed and stropped prior to sending to me and (2) I am a beginner and would likely reduce the quality of the bevel if I stropped before the very first shave. They did encourage that I strop before all subsequent shave sessions. I should also point out that the coticule and slurry stone were tucked away as I won't need those for some time, but the rest of the gear I just purchased was out and ready to see some action.

Following the shower, I re-wet my beard with hot water from the bathroom sink. Then, I rubbed a thin layer of Proraso Pre-Cream onto my beard to further help soften the hair. The scent of this cream helped awaken my senses and felt refreshing. After this, I held the Omega Synthetic Badger Brush under hot water in the bathroom sink for about one minute, and then dipped it directly into the Dovo Mint Shaving Cream and swirled around to build a lather. Dovo Shaving Cream is incredibly dense for a cream and is not something you can really scoop out with your fingertips. Once I built-up a nice lather, I ran the brush across my face and neck by flicking my wrist back and forth until a nice layer had developed atop the entire beard. Then, it was time to for the shave.


The Shave
I picked-up the Dovo razor, unfolded it and then completely forgot how to hold it. Despite all of the videos I had watched online, this was still an unnatural grip at first for me. Once I figured things out, I began to shave the right side of my face beneath the sideburn. This is where utter fear stepped in. I suddenly became very nervous as this exquisitely sharpened blade was brought ever closer to my face. There is something rather unnerving about that initial encounter - when your face first meets the straight razor. I stood staring into the mirror with the straight razor held up next to my face for about 15 seconds before I finally worked up the guts to press forward.

Prior to my first shave, I had read a lot about straight razor shaving as an "art" and I quickly appreciated this description. I immediately discovered that the angle, pressure and motion of the blade across the skin is a very precise exercise, and one that changes depending upon the location and direction you aim to move in. My first several passes with the grain merely wiped off shaving cream but did nothing to cut hair...and this persisted. After about ten minutes I realized that my beard growth had not diminshed one bit along the path I had been shaving. Normally I would have finished shaving my entire face and neck by now and in the kitchen enjoying my breakfast.

This lack of progress continued and eventually morphed into confusion, frustration and some touch of anger. Despite having only committed to a "with the grain" shave on my first straight razor endeavor, this process somehow amassed a staggering 90 minutes of my time - yes, it took me 90 minutes to shave my first time with a straight razor, and it was probably the worst looking shave of my life. There still remained uneven beard growth across various parts of my face and neck. Speaking of the neck, that area - along with the chin - were just brutal. For the life of me I could not figure out how to cut any hair going round the chin, and the length of the straight razor blade does not lend itself nicely to the contours of the human neck. Plus, the neck is just a very sensitive area. This resulted in about four small nicks along my neck, primarily the left side.

Speaking of the left side, wow. It was almost as if this was my first time using my left hand for anything, period. I had read that many guys advocated learning to shave the left side of your face with your left hand, but of course it comes down to personal choice. My left hand displayed a complete inability to maneuver the straight razor in any direction that my brain asked of it. Aside from lack of control, it seemed my left hand was unable to apply the amount of pressure needed to cut hair. As a result, I did a lot of two-handed action to gain some momentum. This sounds frightening in retrospect.


The After-Shave
Once the 90 minute madness of my first straight razor shave had concluded, it was time for clean-up and damage control. This began my splashing cold water on my face and neck. Cold water helps contract the skin and close up pores, in addition to wiping off any remaining cream (and dare I say, blood). After lightly toweling off my face and neck, I thoroughly rinsed the brush under hot water to remove cream stuck within the bristles. Once I gave it a good squeeze to drain the water, I placed the brush on the stand and set it on the counter in open air to dry. Then, I ran the straight razor blade under hot water in the bathroom sink and used my fingers to wipe off excess cream. Be careful doing this (if you should even do it at all), as it can easily lead to slicing the skin on your fingertips (which I did). Then, I folded a piece of tissue paper in half and dried the blade, exterior of the handle, and ran it through the interior gap of the handle to ensure the entire thing was completely dry to avoid rust. Once the razor was back in its sleeve, I rubbed a touch of water on the alum block and ran that over my face and neck. While it stings a little, it's a nice way to soothe irritation and also gauge the closeness and evenness of your shave. Afterwards, it was time to close up the nicks. This can be accomplished by wetting the end of the styptic pencil and dotting it onto the wounds. It works pretty much instantly and may leave a small white coat depending upon how heavily you dab it on the skin - a really great way to stop the bleeding. With my wounds touched-up, I applied a layer of after-shave balm across my face and neck to moisturize and soothe the skin after that long and arduous session with the metal blade.


Final Thoughts
My first straight razor shave was pretty rough. It took exponentially longer than expected, was difficult to determine the necessary angle, pressure and movement of the blade, and ultimately did not result in a very close or even shave. Honestly, I walked away from the first shave wondering what I had gotten myself into and if I just threw away $292.43 that I spent on all of the supplies.

In an attempt to assuage my emotional pain, I took to the forums of Straight Razor Place to read if other newbies had a similar first shave experience. After reading several threads, it became clear that my experience was by no means unique, which gave me some hope. Throughout the shave I kept wondering, "Is this blade really shave-ready?" I was questioning its sharpness. In reality, the trouble was not with my blade, it was with my technique.

That night, I vowed to not give up and keep at it. Since that day, I now have 11 straight razor shaves under my belt. That first week I would shave every 36 hours to give my skin time to rest, but quickly grew tired of showering again at night just to shave. Thus, I switched to just shaving every 48 hours after my morning shower. In the past I would shave every 24 hours but I figure it's probably not a bad thing to let my skin rest and adapt to life with a straight razor. On the topic of skin, one area I did want to touch upon is that of cuts. I think one of the fears shared by many is that you could severely cut yourself with a straight razor. While that's certainly true, you'd have to really do something crazy and irregular for that to happen.

I can honestly say that my straight razor shaving ability has improved exponentially since that first shave nearly three weeks ago. The most important thing I would tell any beginner is to stick with it. If you apply yourself, it does get better - way better. In full disclosure, I wake-up one hour earlier than I normally would on days that I shave. But, I get faster each time while getting an even better shave. Now, 11 shaves in, I am regularly doing all three passes - with the grain, across the grain and against the grain - on my face and part of my neck. I still struggle a bit on parts of my neck and around the chin, but I get better with every shave. In full disclosure, I still use my Gillette Fusion Safety Razor with Edge Shaving Gel after each straight razor session to clean up the chin and neck, but it's having to do less and less work each time.

Even though I'm a bit tired when I first wake-up, there is something really exciting knowing that I will be doing a straight razor shave that day. The feeling of a good stroke of the blade is really something special, and certainly puts one in rare company these days. Despite the challenges of my first straight razor shave, I feel really great about the decision to switch and look forward to further mastering the art of the straight razor shave. 

3 comments:

  1. I stumbled upon your blog and have enjoyed what I've read so far. I too just purchased my first straight razor set and am excited/nervous for my first shave. It will be this week.

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  2. Sounds like your first encounter with a straight blade razor was quite the ordeal! I find it interesting that straight razor shaves are coming back into style. My brother asked for straight razor supplies last Christmas because he wanted a better shave. He's gotten pretty good with it too! I don't know I'm willing to spend almost $300 for my husband to get a straight razor right now, but maybe in the future. http://www.vintagebladesllc.com/shop/Straight-Razor-Sets/

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  3. Thank you for taking the time to publish this information very useful!
    Dovo Straight Razor Reviews

    ReplyDelete