Back in the old days, disposable razor blades weren’t exactly “a thing”. To be honest, disposable anything was an oddity; but that’s neither hear nor there. Instead, men shaved using straight razors. Carefully honed carbon steel blades that glided through facial hair as a table knife does through warm butter. The iconic images of cream lathered faces leaning back in oak chairs while a man let the barber run that blade along his throat represents a golden ages for barbershops; because back then, men didn’t go to a beauty salon for their cuts. Those who shaved at home were able to strop their blades before each shave (a process of straightening the blade on a piece of leather) to execute a clean, close and skilled shave.
Stropping was a task that didn’t prove to easy when serving in war, though. As American troops shaved with their straight razors and the blades began to dull, they often ended up cutting themselves and suffering infections. Luckily, necessity is the mother of all invention. During WWI to help support our men in uniform, Gillette began producing the first safety razors… and they worked like a charm! The troops stopped slicing themselves, and Gillette revolutionized the industry.
When looking at purchasing a straight razor, most commonly you’ll see 6/8th inch size blades. That is measuring from the spine to the blades edge. However, the bigger you are (think hand size) the bigger blade you’ll probably want. The opposite stands true as well for men with smaller builds. Don’t worry though; “bigger is better” doesn’t apply here. It’s simply what comfortably fits your hand and face.
Not only for nostalgic motives, but when looking at razors consider buying a carbon steel blade. They are the blades our grandfathers used, the most affordable to maintain and easiest to hone. Your other option, stainless steel, is cheaper to purchase and sharper, however they can be extremely difficult to hone and even more expensive to have professionally sharpened.
You’re other option, though, if sharpening your razor sounds like to big of a hassle is a shavette. Shavette’s are straight razors with disposable blades. In fact, they are the only straight razors allowed for professional use in the US (a law that has enthralled razor producers and enraged barbers). You’re probably wondering, “ wasn’t half the purpose of this to stop wasting money on disposable blades?” And in wondering that…you’re right. However, you can buy 100 straight razor blades for about 5 bucks, each yielding about 4 to 5 shaves; you do the math.
Some other shaving accessories you’ll want to check out are a shaving brush, shaving creams and an alum block. The shaving brush, commonly made of badger hair, massages and lifts you whiskers while applying your shaving cream, allowing a closer shave. The shaving creams smell great and soothe your skin against the blade, and if you happen to slice yourself, the alum block helps stop the bleeding.
The men of history that get idolized are those that had diverse skills and capabilities. Ones that you’d image could do or learn anything. It’s completely understandable that our troops were greatly in need of, and aided by, the Gillette safety razor; but do you think you have the time in your day to learn a new skill? If you’re interested in pushing yourself to try something scary and feeling like the raw but sophisticated ancestors we miss, try picking up a straight razor.