Close Call

Isn’t it time you tried a straight razor?


My face was on fire, and it felt awesome. My first shave with a straight razor had left a bracing pain stabbing at my throat, cheeks, jaw, and moustache area – all borscht red as though I had hosed my face with sulphuric acid. It took a dozen more shaves – each more painful and bloody than the last – to realize my near-fatal mistake: I hadn’t sharpened my sword. Still, with a shave that was so oddly exhilarating, I didn’t care. I was addicted.
Straight razors almost went the way of the crank engine and ringer washing machines, but by God they’re back. At Ray Dupont’s, the world’s largest retailer of straight razors and accessories, business is hot. “In our first two years, business doubled every month. Now business is tripling,” he says. It seems that in a time of space-age, four-bladed “shaving systems,” men have begun gambling with their jugulars to rediscover the pleasures of an old-school shave. “Absolutely nothing is more masculine than a shave tool that can take your head clean off,” says James Whitall, proprietor of, in Aylmer, Quebec, North America’s largest online men’s grooming-products business.
But the blade is back for more reasons than machismo. If used right, it invigorates your skin and gives you a baby-smooth face. I no longer get those annoying little zits that disposable razors used to leave above my Adam’s apple, since I’m wiping my blade clean after every few strokes, avoiding the spread of bacteria. (I like to wipe it on wax paper – a tip I picked up from my barber.) Now that I’ve been using a “cutthroat” for a couple of years, I wouldn’t dream of going back to disposables. For straight-blade newbies, here are a few things to consider before you get started:
1) You’ll need a good sword and a few other basics. Check online or at a barbershop supply store – ask your local barber where he shops – for a high-quality blade, a thick shaving cream and, for sharpening, a strop and honing stone. Maintain your blade’s edge by stropping eight to twelve times on the linen side of the strop, then five times on the leather side before each shave.
2) Soften your whiskers with a hot, wet towel for a minute or two before getting started, or shave after your shower. Apply shaving cream.
3) Stroke downward on the first pass and upwards on the second. The blade should be angled thirty degrees away from the face. DO NOT slice it across your skin. Also, watch your fingers.
4) Always keep it sharp. Your blade shouldn’t ever pull and drag. “If you don’t have a good edge, you can’t possibly get a good shave,” says Dupont. After you’re done, dry off the blade with a dozen to fifteen strokes on the leather and rinse your skin with cold water. Hone your blade four times a year with half a dozen strokes to reapply the blade’s edge. You will probably also need to hone and strop a new blade.
Be patient. Your first tries will be frightening and possibly painful, but with practice you can be done in ten minutes. The point, however, isn’t to speed through it; it’s to relax and get in touch with your face. As Whitall cautions, “Rush the job and you’ll be reapplying your Adam’s apple with Krazy Glue.”