Straight Razors: All You Need to Know

If you’ve ever treated yourself to a wet shave in a traditional barbershop, then you know first-hand that nothing compares to the close shave you get from a straight razor. Also known as a cut-throat razor, shavette razor or a barberette, this type of razor features an exposed blade that folds into the handle. While initially overshadowed by the rise of the safety razor in the 20th century, straight razors have experienced renewed popularity over the last decade, not least because of the iconic shaving scene in the 2012 Bond film Skyfall. While ‘Moneypenny’ may have made it look effortless, the art of shaving with a cut-throat razor takes plenty of practice, skill and patience (and an alum block for good measure). This may be why a lot of wet shavers choose to stick with a safety razor, but for those who are ready for the challenge, it is possible to achieve that barbershop shave from the comfort of your shaving den. Curious to know more? Check out our guide below on shaving with a straight razor and how best to look after your new piece of kit:


Why Use a Straight Razor?

When used correctly, a cut-throat razor gives you a shave that is closer and smoother than any other. With the right angle and pressure, the blade cuts individual hairs much shorter than standard safety razors can, leading to less razor burn and irritation from ingrown hairs. The precision and control of a straight razor means it is more effective at shaping and defining facial hair, making this type of razor hugely popular with those who want a designer beard. But it’s not just about the results. Converts to straight razors will tell you just how pleasurable it is to shave with a cut-throat razor. Using such a beautiful instrument turns a daily chore into a moment of pure bliss. It’s a laboured process but once you’ve perfected the technique, you’ll wonder how you ever shaved without one.


Shaving with a Straight Razor

As any experienced wet shaver knows, prep is key. Before reaching for the shavette, you should take a shower or wash your face in warm water to soften your skin and open your pores. We always recommend using a pre-shave lotion before shaving, and this step is even more crucial when using a straight razor due to the sharpness of the blade. Edwin Jagger’s Hydrating Pre-Shave Lotion prepares the skin, assists with razor glide and reduces razor burn, making it ideal for anyone braving a cut-throat razor. If you want a pre-shave bursting with fragrance, look no further than Proraso’s Wood & Spice pre-shave cream, which evokes a classic barbershop aroma, enveloping you in the warmth of fine woods, with a cedarwood heart and notes of rock rose. 

Now, an important factor to consider when shaving with a straight razor is that this process cannot be rushed. In fact, this style of shaving takes a fair bit longer than shaving with a safety razor or electric razor. Don’t expect to see a freshly shaven face staring back at you in the mirror in under 15 minutes. Your first time will inevitably take longer as well. It’s best to start gently, taking several passes to give yourself more control, rather than trying to cut everything off in your first pass and potentially cutting yourself.

However, once you feel more confident wielding your safety razor, the key to a smoothest and cleanest shave is to shave with as few strokes as possible. The less stress on your skin, the better it looks after shaving so eventually you want to avoid going over the same part of your face multiple times. If you notice some areas that could be smoother, don’t be afraid to re-lather and go over it with a second or third pass, but in general a less-is-more approach is the key to shaving with a straight razor.

Many people are afraid of cutting themselves while using such a sharp razor, but it’s easy to achieve an accident-free shave if you hold the razor correctly. Hold the open straight razor between your thumb and three fingers so that the open handle points away from your face; it should be roughly at a right angle with the cutting edge of the razor. Hold the blade at a 30-degree angle to your face to allow it to cut smoothly through your hairs. If you hold the razor too flat, you could tear your stubble, leading to ingrown hairs and post-shave irritation. If the razor is too upright, you may end up cutting your skin instead. The perfect angle can be hard to gauge at first but an even scratching sound should indicate that your positioning is correct. This may sound daunting, but practice makes perfect and in time holding your straight razor at the perfect angle will become second nature.

Much like shaving with another other razor, it’s best to start from one sideburn and work your way to the other side of your face with short, even and controlled strokes. Adjust your grip as you move to other parts of the face and always pull your skin with your free hand to keep it taut and prevent the blade from dragging, pulling or cutting your skin. You should use the end of the cutting edge for your cheeks and upper lip but switch to the middle of the blade for your chin. Take extra care when shaving your neck. Use your fingers to feel which way your neck hair grows so you can shave with the grain. Trust the sharpness of the blade and let the weight of the straight razor do the work for you — there’s no need to apply pressure and force the blade into your neck.

Remember, shaving with a straight razor is a learning curve and takes time to master so don’t be too hard on yourself or blame the tools if your shave is not quite up to scratch. Soon, you’ll be shaving like a pro and fully understand why so many men have turned to this traditional way of shaving.


Caring for Your Straight Razor

You’ll no doubt want to treat a razor this beautiful with the upmost care. However, there are several maintenance points that you need to be aware of if you’re thinking of investing in a straight razor. Unlike other types of razors, cut-throat razors need to be stropped before use and then honed on a regular basis.

Stropping involves running the blade across a strop—a long, flexible piece of fabric, usually leather—to keep the razor sharp. Using a strop polishes the edge of the razor, corrects any misalignment and reduces the need to hone the blade as frequently. This process should be done before every shave and should not be rushed or done for the sake of it — you don’t want to damage your strop, blade or worse yourself! The English Shaving Company offers an Extra-Wide All-Leather strop, designed for straight-forward stropping, plus a Strop Balm to keep your strop in pristine condition.

If you strop your blade correctly, you may only need to hone the blade a few times a year. However, if you notice your razor dragging and not yielding the usual quality results, it’s time to hone. This is a very similar process to stropping but instead involves a honing stone and water. Working the sharp edge of the blade on the stone in slow, even strokes keeps it as sharp as possible. With proper care, a straight razor could last you a lifetime.

After use, remove any soap residue by rinsing the straight razor with clean, hot water and drying thoroughly (be careful not to touch the blade with your fingers when doing this). Fingerprints, cleaning agents and chlorinated water will all tarnish steel so remember to only use hot water. Once suitably dry, store the straight razor in a dry and well-aired environment.

For more information on stropping, honing and general straight razor maintenance, check out our previous blog post here.


Which Straight Razor Should I Get?


For the Beginner: The Bluebeards Revenge Cut Throat Razor

Our least expensive cut-throat razor, this is perfect for venturing into the world of straight razors without breaking the bank. A great feature of this razor is that the expertly crafted blade can be changed, meaning you can focus solely on your shaving technique and not get bogged down with stropping and honing a reusable blade at the start.


“It is an absolutely amazing piece of shaving equipment and oh so easy to use and get used too.”

“It's decently priced, solidly made and well-balanced”

“An incredibly satisfying shave and I realised it's not as difficult as I thought. A couple of nicks of protruding pores, but that's it”


For the Purist: Dovo Bismarck Straight Razor Ebony 6/8”

This beautiful razor features an expertly crafted carbon steel blade that folds into a genuine ebony wood handle. This blade may require stropping before its first use, allowing you to begin your lifelong love affair by getting extra familiar with the blade from the get-go. 


“Great workmanship and design. Very impressed with the balance and shave”

“Stunning razor. Love the look and shave I get from my new razor.”


For the DE fanatic: Parker 33R Black Shavette Razor

Upgrading to a straight razor doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to your favourite double edge razor blades. This moderately priced shavette features a beautiful stainless-steel handle and is designed to fit replaceable DE blades available online or from supermarkets and pharmacies, giving you the best of both worlds.


“I like the quality of the craftsmanship”

“I was looking for something to travel with and this shavette is the ideal solution”

“Great for those touch ups and cutting in tidy lines in partnership. Well worth a shot I think before jumping into straights fully and looks good in the collection”