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Straight Razor, Shavette & DE Safety Razor – Rediscovering Close Shaves

I recently rediscovered shaving with a straight razor, a shavette, and a DE safety razor. The experience lead me to enjoy a daily shave – and throw my cartridges into the bin.

Shaving – that’s the activity most men secretly hate. The activity so unpleasant that you keep deciding that you won’t do that today – although you know that it will only get worse the longer you push it into the future.

A traditional straight razor - good for shaving, and hurting people. Including yourself when you are not careful.
A traditional straight razor – good for shaving, and hurting people. Including yourself when you are not careful.

Like almost any man I know, I learned the “art of wet shaving” with that modern thing called razor – a piece of plastic with something between 3 and 30 blades. And foam, of course, which similar to polyurethane foam comes in metal cans. Shaving always hurt me. I don’t know whether my facial hair was just so thick (I could never use a blade twice either), or whether it was my skin (I did get a lot of irritation from my shaves).

But that is in the past now – because recently I went back to more traditional (and supposedly dangerous) forms of shaving. I now use a shavette (straight razor with disposable blade), double edge safety razors and traditional shaving soap.

And it’s been a mindblowing experience.

Why Switch Back To Older Forms Of Shaving?

Shaving with an open blade is dangerous, right?

Well, maybe – if you are suicidal already. If not, you should be fine.

Modern DE Safety Razor
Modern DE Safety Razor

Why did I want to try shaving with open blades in the first place? Because I didn’t get along that well with modern cartridge razors. Irritation and razor burn meant that shaving was a very unpleasant experience – and I would simply shave as little as possible. Using one cartridge per shave is also expensive. And results were never very pleasant, close shaves.

A couple of years back I got a shave at a barbershop in Spain.

Wow – I didn’t know my skin could feel that way! No irritation, no burn, just bbs (baby butt smooth) skin.

But hey, compared to a barbershop even cartridges are cheap – I neither have the money nor the time to go to one every other day.

Double Edge Blades
Double Edge Blades

And using an open blade yourself is dangerous, right? That fear kept me away for ages. Until recently, when I decided to just try it – and risk losing some blood. I got myself a shavette (basically a blade holder in the form of a traditional straight razor that takes double edge blades). We also had a traditional double edge safety razor at home anyway. A brush, blades (100 blades for €12 – are you kidding me?) and some shaving soap and I was ready to go.

A Short History Of Shaving Toolsets

According to Wikipedia, the first razors made from copper were “invented” sometime around 3000BC. That may also have been the time when the idea of removing facial hair as a hygienic and aesthetic statement was born.

Yes, shaving is old. And for literally 1000s of years, us men have used some form of straight razors – so basically extremely sharp knives.

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Parker Shavette – 12 bucks at Amazon.

The first change started to happen around 1900 when King Camp Gillette invented his double edge safety razor – which allowed men to achieve a supposedly equally good shave with disposable blades. But the breakthrough for this type of shaving didn’t happen until the first world war.

For a soldier in war it is not very practical to carry a set of shaving knives around – and protecting the knives in a warzone and keep them sharp wasn’t a high priority. The company Gillette managed a deal wit

Th the US army to supply all troops with their new double edge blade safety razors – and the breakthrough happened. Soldiers would bring their razors home after the war – and shaving changed.

While the double edge blade was an innovation – it also introduced a new sytem: The real profits in shaving were in the blades – not the actual razor. A concept that was even extended with the invention of the cartridge razor – which has gradually made shaving more expensive since the late 60s. Today a typical cartridge has between 3 and 5 blades, and a five pack of cartridges costs about the same (or more) than the razor.

So, How Is The Experience?

Shaving in this way is a ritual – a pleasant one. You start by either having a hot shower or washing your face with hot water. After that, you can either roll a hot towel around your head for a couple of minutes to soften your skin some more, or you start with the foam right away. After that you shave (3 passes – new foam in between). Than you wash your face (cold water), then aftershave, then you are done.

If you want to try this form of shaving – get yourself prepared, otherwise this could get either a frustrating experience or come with a loss of blood (or both – bleeding to death in your own bathroom can be frustrating I believe). But don’t despair: Youtube is full of tutorials that perfectly explain how to shave with a straight razor, a shavette or a DE safety razor. Here is one for instance.

The Barber Shop Experience - trust the man with the straight razor?
The Barber Shop Experience – trust the man with the straight razor?

Watch them. Learn how to hold the knife. Especially with a straight razor or shavette. Learn how to create shaving foam from soap or cream (that was my biggest fail in the beginning – finding the right consistency for the foam).

The biggest surprise with these types of shaving was for me that you shave in two to three passes: With the grain, across the grain, and maybe against the grain.

Once you get the hang of it, the knife will glide over your skin aided by the soap – and magically take the facial hair with it. The first couple of days my skin got slightly irritated – but nothing that wouldn’t go away over night. After that – I was pretty much ok. It takes a couple of days to find the right moves that perfectly adjust your shave to how your facial hair grows, but that is to be expected – everyone’s facial hair grows in slightly different directions.

The aftershave will burn – but even that becomes pleasant, as you feel your skin warm while your pores close up. Of course it burns more when you’ve cut yourself.

Good point: Did I cut myself? Well, yes… but not really. At least not the kind of cuts everyone is afraid of: Nothing that stayed with me for more than a day. Nothing that ever lost me more than one drop of blood, literally. The blades are so sharp that I only noticed the cuts when I put the aftershave on.

How Does It Feel Afterwards?

Great!

The whole ritual makes your skin ridiculously soft – and with the complete removal of your facial hair, you will find out what is meant with bbs (baby butt smooth). But not only that – the ritual is a very calming experience.

The shavette or straight razors are for when you have a little more time – while the DE safety razor is at least as fast as shaving with a cartridge razor.

There is also the price: The shavette cost me 11 €, blades are depending on brand (in my experience Feather and Astra have the best blades – but experiences vary for different people) 10 bucks for 30 to 10 bucks for 100 blades. Compare that to a cartridge razor. Soaps are between 1 € and up to 10, 15 or more – but they last forever.

I didn’t get one of these, but there are sticks that will stop the bleeding if you cut yourself – decide for yourself whether you need them.

Why I Decided For The Shavette Instead Of A Straight Razor

The shavette is a simpler form of the straight razor: You don’t have to sharpen it, you don’t have to hone the blade every time you shave, you just snap a disposable blade in two and put it in. It’s also cheaper – by far. Straight razors start at around 60 bucks – which wasn’t an investment I wanted to make just for trying it out.

Will I try a real straight razor? Probably – but as lazy as I am I don’t see me using it all the time. Straights need to be taken care of, and there is a science behind keeping the blade at its best.

There are also higher class shavettes – which is something I would like to try in the future. Things like the Feather Artist Club series – or the IBC shavette. These are probably more my style.

Final Words

Realistically it’s clear that this form of shaving is more dangerous than cartridge shavers. But flying is safer than driving – and that doesn’t mean we take a plane if we can drive in half an hour, right?

Shaving with a single blade that glides over your skin is a much more pleasing experience, a better feeling on the skin – and a better overall shave. By far.

And the experience is very pleasing – it got me to shave almost every day.