Prior to growing a beard for charity and never going back, shaving had become almost a hobby for me. In my youth I had used the common, three-blade razors without much thought. But then I discovered the world of traditional shaving. I became obsessed. Looking at all of the equipment, comparing razor blades…it felt so much more manly and involved than just grabbing whatever was on the shelves in the local supermarket. I would still recommend this method of shaving to you if you were to ask me, and I still use it now when maintaining the lines of my beard. In this post, I’m going to tell you why.
Okay…just to be clear, I’m not talking about the cut-throat, straight razor shaving. That’s something I leave to the barber and those far braver than I. I’m talking about something called a ‘safety razor‘ (see below) which is a T shaped, usually metal handle, that encases a ‘double-edge (or ‘DE’) blade’ . Part of the blade is exposed and goes directly against the skin.
The Benefits of Traditional Shaving
So. Before we talk equipment, lets discuss the benefits of using this method of shaving:
- Number one has to be the fact that, without a doubt, it’s a far more manly way of shaving. The preparation, the weight of the handle…the added element of danger…the fact it’s the way your grandad or great grandad used to do it…all adds up to a better experience. This might sound sexist (sorry ladies), but on many occasions I’ve offered my wife the use of my safety razor and she has rapidly declined it. The safety razor is a tool; a piece of precision engineering, and learning to shave with it takes a bit of skill.
- Single razor blades are much cheaper than the the modern cartridge type. They range from around £1.50 to around £4.50 for a pack of 10. Because of this you can afford to change them more often which means you get:
- A closer shave
- Less skin irritation and ingrowing hairs.
- The creams and soaps are said to be better for your skin than modern gels, which can contain harsh chemicals.
So…this is what you will need for that traditional shave (please be aware that I’m part of the Amazon Affiliate programme, so if you buy anything through the links provided, I may get a percentage. This helps towards the blog and I only ever recommend things I have used):
A Safety Razor – this is, obviously, the main part of the kit and can range greatly in price. Although you can get some relatively cheaply, I do recommend doing a bit of research and getting something decent. Think of it as an investment. The two that I own are both Merkur and are quite heavy, which is good for this type of shaving, as I’ll explain later. This one is the Merkur 34C HD which was the first razor I bought of this type and is a good place to start. I also have a Merkur Futur which has an almost legendary status. You turn the handle to adjust the exposure of the blade. I’d recommend it but only once you have a bit of experience. Other makes that I’ve not used, but seem to have a have a good reputation are Edwin Jagger and Muhle .
Razor Blades: again, fairly obvious, but, similarly, do your research. Not all blades are the same. I’ve had good results from ‘Feather‘ blades, but they’re well known for being ultra-sharp so might not be best for starting out. I also use ‘Gillette 7 o’clock’ which are a bit more forgiving. Other good makes are ‘Derby‘ and ‘Astra’…there are loads to choose from so getting a sample pack and testing them out is often worth while.
A Badger Brush. It wouldn’t be a traditional shave without one. This is used to create a good a good lather. Again…lots to choose from. Invest wisely and it will last. The one I have is this one, by Edwin Jagger.
Shaving Cream or Shaving Soap – This comes down to personal preference and things like how sensitive your skin is and how much effort you want to put in. I prefer a cream which has a soft consistency and you can get a good, thick, creamy lather relatively easily. It also gives a good coverage and its quite easy to see the parts of the face already shaved. Soap, as you might imagine, is like a hard block that you have to mix with water using a wet badger brush.
A Shaving Bowl – These are used for mixing up a good lather. You could use a cup if on a tight budget, but I love the look of these things and it adds to the whole experience. The one I use (pictured below) is this one, from Edwin Jagger.
If you’re contemplating going down the route of the traditional shave, I strongly recommend having a good look on Youtube, as there are loads of good instructional videos on shaving techniques, but the general method I used is as follows:
- I always shave after a hot shower or bath. The hair will be softer so there’s less chance of irritation (I have very sensitive skin).
- Some people like to apply a pre-shave oil, but this is personal preference.
- Let your badger brush sit in warm (not hot) water, and then shake the water out gently.
- Run the badger brush around in the cream (or soap) until you get a good coating.
- Work it up into a good consistency in your shaving bowl adding more water if necessary.
- Apply to the face in circular motion. Really work it in.
- I like to warm my razor in warm water before using it. It’s much nicer than cold metal against your skin.
- Start shaving! Be mindful that this form of shaving is done in a number of “passes”. What this means is that you:
- shave more than once, not going over the same area repeatedly on a single pass.
- aim to reduce the hair more each time, rather than going for a clean shave in one
- You also want to apply as little pressure as possible, letting the weight of the razor do it’s thing (I mentioned weight being a good thing with these razors earlier) using short strokes.
- You then wet the face again, reapply the cream or soap, and go for your second pass. Two passes is usually enough, but a third will give you the best results, particularly if you’re shaving after a few days growth.
- Some people, on their second or third pass, will go in a different direction with the razor, such as across the face (strange I know), or against the grain. I would recommend contemplating this once you have a bit more experience.
- Once I’ve finished shaving I use something called an alum block. This is a hard block made of ‘potassium alum’ which has an antiseptic property. It’s good for reducing bleeding of any nicks, and soothes the skin. You simply wet it and run it over your face.
- After that I use a good moisturiser. Again I have really sensitive skin so, personally, I avoid things like aftershaves.
And there you have it. Shaving the traditional way. Please leave a comment if you have any tips you want to share.