What Are The Differences in Straight Razors?
This Shaving 101 video features Matt, our unofficial straight razor expert. Matt has been shaving with a straight razor for 18 years, so while he wouldn’t call himself an expert, we’re willing to give him the title.
Let’s talk about differences in straight razors and what might be a good straight razor for you. If you are just starting out on this journey to straight razor shaving, it is important to consider 3 major factors when choosing a razor.
Vintage vs. New Straight Razors
When you are looking at shelling out upwards of $100 for a straight razor, a used option starts to look pretty attractive. And it can be a wonderful choice as these instruments are made to last. Finding a good restored straight razor is a great entry point. However, you might also need to ask yourself: how squeamish are you about using something potentially used by three generations before you? Some people might have a problem with its “shared” nature. (Even though vintage straight razors can be thoroughly disinfected & sanitized, you do risk some loss to etchings, gold leaf, etc.)
Do you want to feel the history across your face? Others might love the nostalgia and opportunity to feel a part of something bigger than themselves.
A new straight razor comes with a new razor price tag, which can be intimidating for those just starting out. Also, be aware that a new straight razor might need some additional steps before it is ready to meet your face. A “factory edge” is usually not “shave ready”. You will likely need to send it out for honing. (West Coast Shaving offers most of our new straight razors honed or unhoned -- depending on whether you want a shave-ready edge or the diy option.) It isn’t recommended that you tackle honing at the same time as trying to learn the techniques of straight razor shaving. Give yourself a break and get it honed by a professional as you get started.
Size of the Straight Razor
The size of the blade (i.e. 5/8th, 6/8th, 7/8th inch) is measuring the width of the blade. The most common blade is 5/8th inch. There is a reason for that. It is a comfortable razor to hold, it’s not very heavy, and it is easy to move around the face. That being said, it is a personal preference, just like for DE users. Many wet shavers like heavier razors made out of stainless steel or other materials, and they may be more likely to choose a large size straight razor with more bulk.
A heavier straight razor isn’t sharper; it just feels different to hold and maneuver. If the grind is the same on both razors, the larger size razor will actually be more flexible (a smaller straight razor stays stiffer). You can feel that difference on your face as you shave. Ideally, you would be able to try out some different razors to get a feel for the weight, maneuverability, comfort, but for most beginners 5/8th inch is a great place to start.
Grind of the Straight Razor Blade
The grind is the hollowness of the blade (seen in the cross section of the blade showing how concave the metal is as it tapers to the shaving edge). The more hollow the grind the more dramatic the curve and thinner the blade.
It takes much more time, skill, and talent to get a straight razor blade to the full or extra hollow state and only the most skilled manufacturing shops in the world are able to do it well. With the resurgence of interest in “cut-throat” shaving, skilled workers/training has not kept pace with the demand for orders. It is often a difficult task to find and keep a top-of-the-line source of straight razors. This also translates into a higher price tag.
The more hollow the grind the lighter it is to hold and easier it is to maintain a sharp edge.
A really heavy beard might require a wedge, which has more metal and is heavier. It will give less flex, but more momentum. Full hollow might be harder to grind but it is easier to hone. Hollow is more nimble. They are sometimes called “singing” razors because you can actually get audible feedback as you shave.
If you are just beginning, the recommendation would be a vintage, 5/8th”, full hollow straight razor.
- Vintage is less costly
- 5/8th” is extremely common, comfortable, and maneuverable
- Full hollow is lightweight, flexible, and easy to hone
What about you? What was your first straight? What do love about straight razor shaving? Let us know in the comments below.