When it comes to masculine images, there are few more powerful than a guy shaving with a cut-throat razor. Hell, even James Bond got in on the act in 2012’s Skyfall, and you don’t get a much better endorsement than that! But what is the continued fascination with what is essentially a short metal blade and, perhaps more importantly, are they any good?
A brief history of cut-throat razors
The fact is, that cut-throat or “straight” razors saw centuries of use before the Safety razor was patented by Gillette sometime around 1900. The straight razor is a long, finely-honed blade that is used in a similar way to a modern safety razor but it doesn’t have the benefit of a guard around the sharp edge, adding an air of adventure to the morning shave. However, despite the seeming inherent danger – you would normally steer well clear of anything with words like ‘cut’ and ‘throat’ added together in its name – these razors are experiencing something of a renaissance, as they are seen as a purer tool and just so damned well masculine!
In truth, it is possible to get a good – in fact, a very good – shave with a straight razor, but it will take time and practice to do so, and there is a fair risk of getting nicks along the way. But even if that happens, the sheer kudos of telling your friends and work colleagues that you did it with your straight razor is worth any pain and tears it may have bought on. The fact is, straight razors are so damned cool, we should all be using them!
If you fancy a go with one, there is a lot more to it and using one is akin to a ritual rather than a shave, so it is best done when you have time rather than when you are in a rush to get out of the door.
What are the different types of straight (cut-throat) razor?
Straight razors now come in two distinct forms; a traditional one-piece honed blade, or a sprung blade that will accept a standard razor blade.
The first type must be sharpened (or honed) before each shave to give the best performance while with the second type, you just replace the blade periodically, just like you would with your safety razor. The first type are the uber-cool ones.
How do you properly use a cut-throat razor?
To get the most out of your straight razor, you need to have it sharp – really sharp – and that is achieved by ‘stropping’ it against a leather strop to put a finer edge on it. Stropping a razor is a real skill and one that you need to practice just as much as actually shaving with it.
There are plenty of on-line tutorials available, or you ask your local barber for a demonstration… followed swiftly by another, as you won’t get it the first time.
The other crucial element is lubrication and lathering your face properly. You need to have plenty of shaving cream, and lots of hot water.
To actually use the razor, hold the it in your dominant hand, with your thumb on the underside of the shank against the shoulder. Your index, middle and ring fingers should be on the opposite side (I.E. the top) of the shank. The handle should be between your ring and little finger, with the little finger resting on the crescent shaped tang.
With your other hand, stretch the skin as tight as you can get it. It is recommended to hold the blade at a 30° angle to the skin otherwise you'll get nicked. Use very little pressure and apply even strokes with the razor in the direction of the hair growth. Try to cut only once!
Straight razors are great for your skin and look good too, so try one if you are feeling adventurous, and don’t forget to finish off with hot towels and some post-shave balm.