The most compelling feature of a cartridge razor is that it’s made to work as a one-size-fits-all solution as a hair removal device. From the first-time shaver to the shaver with decades of experience, the cartridge razor provides a simple, easy solution for facial hair removal without the risks of cuts and nicks. But the cartridge razor’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. The lost art of straight razor shaving has many looking for ways to not only improve their shave, but also enhance their skill required to completing this regular, manly task.

Straight Razor Shaving For the Beginner

Like any skill, straight razor shaving is a learned art–which has been unfortunately almost disappeared over the last several decades. Luckily, more recent consumer shifts are taking us back toward this traditional form of wet shaving.

As a beginning wet shaver, do not be overly-intimidated by the process of shaving with a straight razor. Certainly there is a wrong way and there is a right way, but the difficulty in shaving with a straight razor is overcome with a little instruction and even a bit more practice. Even if you have tried in the past and felt like you have failed, we hope what is included here will provide a good basis for experiencing one of the best shaves of your life by shaving like your granddad.

Visual and written instructions on how to hold a safety razor when wet shaving

How to Grip Your Straight Razor

The above illustration should provide an even more clear instruction than words could likely do, but we will attempt to do both.

Take the handle of the razor and swivel it back past the heel of the blade. Your first three fingers rest on the back spine of the blade while your pinkie finger rests over the crook at the end. Your thumb will rest and steady the blade on the side and near the middle. The razor will be under your complete control while you have it in this position with the handle acting as a weighted balance against the blade itself. Your are best positioned here to avoid cutting or injuring yourself–either your hands or your face.

Maintain this same position and grip throughout the shaving process. Certain areas of the face may require some adaptation in your grip and style (e.g. under your neck and jawline), but for the most part this position should be maintained throughout the process so you remain in complete control of the razor. Experienced shavers may develop and adapt a different method that works for them, but for the beginner it is best advised to follow this simple razor handling format.

The Straight Razor Stroke

Individual preferences often dictate the exact methodologies one might employ to actually cut the hair. Where to start, which direction to go and razor stroke speed are all areas that will be adapted greatly depending on the individual. Practice and further experience will dictate an individual’s personal preferences and the shave stroke patters and habits are likely to adapt over time, especially as you become more accustomed to shaving this way.

At the outset, the beginning straight razor shaver should at least be aware of some key principles in shaving with a straight razor:

  1. Keep it Slow. There is no rush. Protecting yourself against cuts is your first and foremost priority. You can get to the baby-butt-smooth shave as you progressively improve your methods, but keeping things slow and steady at the outset is advised. Speed will grow naturally with practice and as you become more proficient.
  2. Maintain Little to No Angle. When starting out, hold the razor nearly flat against your face. The greater the angle the higher likelihood of cutting yourself. As your comfort level in your own skill improves you may increase the angle of the blade, but do so gradually as you progress. You will eventually find the sweet spot.
  3. Shave with the Grain. Similarly, do not pull the razor directly down against your facial hair. It is best advised (at least for your first pass) to cut the hair in the direction the hair grows. This will help you to avoid skin irritation and in-grown hairs. You can expand out to against the grain strokes as you move to more passes and more beard reduction.

A simple diagram showing with the grain (WTG) and against the grain (ATG) strokes


The Straight Razor Shave

While this tutorial is meant to provide you with the details you may require to shave, no shave is efficacious in its effects unless there is proper shave preparation. We will not delve into shaving preparation here, but be aware the quality of your shave is more often dependent on the preparation of your skin and hair than the razor itself. Yes, both are important, but please do not skip the important step of shave preparation. Also, keep in mind that preparing your straight razor shave will also require the preparation of your straight razor. Be sure you strop the straight razor before and during your shave.

This tutorial is written for the right-handed man. Please feel free to invert the instructions if you are left-handed. The ideal shave is completed by someone who can do so as an ambidextrous shaver, using the first couple of steps in an inverted fashion on the left side of his face with the opposite hands.

How to shave the right side of the face with a straight razor

Shaving the Right Side of the Face

Use your left hand to pull the skin upward on the right side of the face by reaching over the top of your head. Pulling the skin taught will ensure the blade as smooth a shaving surface as possible. The less inconsistent the shaving surface, the more likely you are to experience a less-than-perfect shave. Shave downward slowly, keeping your strokes small and tight. Do not vary the angle of the blade. Continue downward until you are able to move your “taughtening” left hand downward, repeating the exercise of maintaining taught skin as you shave across the remaining surface of your right cheek. Continue this process until the entire right side of the face is shaved clean, including the initial portion of the jaw and chin.


How to shave under the right side of the jaw with a straight razor

Shaving the Right Side of the Face Under the Jaw

Slightly elevate the chin. Continue to use the left hand to hold the skin taught just above the area that will be cut. Shave downward, maintaining the same angle relative to the surface of the skin. Keep the skin drawn as tight as possible, helping to prevent cuts by providing a clean uninterrupted surface for cutting.

Keep in mind, that some men have chin and jawline hair that may not grow downward. If this is the case, make sure this first pass is executed in the opposite direction, depending on the growth direction of the hair. Again, never shave against the grain (ATG) on your first pass.


How to shave the left side of the face with a straight razor

Shaving the Left Side of the Face

Use the fingers of the left hand to draw the skin taught just above the ear. Press upward with the left hand to draw the skin smooth on the upper left cheek. The left hand will continue to be used down the face to draw the skin taught as the shave progresses. In some cases, using a “puffing” technique by filling the cheeks with air, can help to keep the skin taught and prepare it for a great shave.

How to shave under the left jaw with a straight razor

Shaving the Left Side of the Face Under the Jaw

Lift the chin to an elevated position as before. Elevate the head toward the right, getting the skin in as tight a position as possible using the left hand as the tool. Shave downward (or in the direction of the hair growth, whatever that may be), progressing both hands down as the shave progresses.

Shaving the Upper Lip

To shave under the nose, draw the lip down as much as possible, using the facial muscles only. In most cases,you will not need your hands to pull skin taught. Shave in a downward direction.

How to shave under the chin with a straight razor

Shaving Under the Chin

Tilt the head backward, elevating the chin and drawing the skin tight under the neck and jaw. Again, use the left hand to pull the skin taught. Shave downward, keeping the skin drawn and the angle of the razor at a consistent position relative to the surface of the skin, ensuring you are not using an angle that could potentially cause a cut to occur.


How to shave against the grain (ATG) with a straight razor

Shaving Against the Grain

If you’re looking for that baby butt smooth shave (BBSS), then a second (and even a third) pass will help to reduce the remaining stubble down closer to the surface of the skin.

At this stage you will want to run the razor over the strop a couple of times to ensure it’s adequately sharp for your shave. A face re-lather with your shave brush and shaving soap/cream will also be necessary to protect the face from nicks and cuts.

In the second pass, be sure to shave against the grain, simply reversing the shaving direction of the instructions listed above.

Be aware that a second pass is not advised for all shavers. In some cases–particularly when the hair is course and thick and the skin thin and sensitive, a second pass may prove to be more irritating to the skin than it’s worth. In addition, those with curly and course facial hair may be more susceptible to ingrown hairs and razor bumps if they perform more than a single pass.

All of these considerations are important, particularly for the main who wishes to use his straight razor shave as a means for completely customizing the shaving experience–something shavers cannot get if they choose to shave with a disposable cartridge razor.


Adapted from:

What the Man Who Shaves Ought to Know



Copyright, 1905
The 20th Century Correspondence School

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