New to the World of Straight Razors: My Journey Thus Far, and Straight Razor Recommendations?

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Sep 25, 2021
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Hi guys,

A few years ago I decided to dip my toe into the world of straight razors. I got a very cheap straight razor, or straight razor shaped object, off of Amazon for around $20. And, I've been learning on it occasionally since then.

Being a hobbyist hand tool wood worker, I've got a ton of sharpening experience and water and oil stones. Arks are my go to, so I that's what I took my razor shaped object to.

It did not sit anywhere near flat on the stone, nor did the edge even meet the stone when I got it, so I have spent hours of work grinding and reshaping it such that it has a geometry that can actually be sharpened by hand. I had this process "almost" finished for the longest time, and was using and shaving uncomfortably with it, but I finally got it dead flat and fully in contact with the stone this last weekend, and what a difference it makes!

With the geometry fixed, I sharpened through the following progression of Rosy Red Washita -> Hard Arkansas (the softer hard type, not true hard) -> Surgical Black Arkansas -> Plain piece of leather that I use to strop tools.
I skipped the cheap razor strop which came with my razor shaped object, because I swear it doesn't do a good job.
With this progression, I got an edge that totally surprised me. I've sharpened and used this thing with strops and pastes before, but this was much better: there was no "crunchy sound" or popping as I shaved. The whiskers were just severed, much more silently, and without any tugging. It was smoother and more comfortable even than many professional barbers that I've visited here in Japan (who know their stuff, btw.) Needless to say, I'm even more of a fan of Arks now than I was before. But anyway...

So, I got my first truly comfortable shave, last night, off of a straight razor! I shaved my entire beard, which had grown rather long.

But I still have one problem: My cheap stainless steel razor shaped object gets dull about halfway through shaving. Consistently, and regardless of what I sharpen it with. Yesterday, I had to stop and touch it up before continuing, after which it plowed through whiskers comfortably again.

So, I am guessing that I need to get a better razor with better steel. I have a preference for simple high carbon steels and want something with good edge retention and that is easy to find either vintage, or brand new. Located in Tokyo. I'm not sure how much I should be looking to pay for a good razor, but I don't want anything too terribly expensive because I am still new to all of this. I'm looking for, basically, a good benchmark quality razor that is hard to go wrong with. The quality of the steel and the quality of the grind on it is of top priority for me (I'd rather not have to fix geometry again, and want something that will get through an entire shave without dulling). I'm pretty ignorant of the different razors and brands available, and my initial attempts at researching this have been less than fruitful.
 

Ernie1980

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Apr 19, 2012
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Since you seem to be pretty handle with tools, why not buy a vintage blade off eBay? There are more brands than could be named in one post, but Joseph Rodgers made outstanding razors and are my personal favorite. You might want to check out some of the straight razor forums too- they have classified sections that would be a good place to start looking.
 
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May 19, 2007
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I've not tracked the vintage straight market in a while, so there may be bargains, but be sure to do your research as there are a great many pitfalls to be avoided.

I notice that you do not mention stropping, that could be a part of what's going on, it could also be that your razor just doesn't have the edge stability it needs. Not uncommon, in fact it seems like "good" straights, even vintage ones may have been the minority, and many just toughed it out.

As far as benchmarks, its hard to say because its so easy to go wrong. Many brands have good "windows" where the blades were really good, and then over time quality dropped.
As for resources, try to find older threads, and try to get a good understanding about what is being discussed. Often times "solve my problem" threads are bad because it turns out later on that there was an unaccounted variable that was messing everything up.
Good luck, keep trying!
 

Ernie1980

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Apr 19, 2012
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Email me at smcenerney 1980 at yahoo dot com, I have a link for you with some great starter razors!
 

Make_it_work

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Aug 22, 2021
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I shave with two razors for the reason you mention. Both are high quality Thiers Issard or Dovo units. Just prep them both in advance. Soft or hard steel - I always need two to complete a single session.
 
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I shave with two razors for the reason you mention. Both are high quality Thiers Issard or Dovo units. Just prep them both in advance. Soft or hard steel - I always need two to complete a single session.

Interesting. Maybe we just have particularly thick whiskers / soft skin that requires a super keen edge?

I have two supporting bits of evidence for this hypothesis:
1. At least in my case, I've had even professional barbers who know their stuff have difficulty shaving my beard
2. I've seen people on YT and the like even shave with edges off of a 1k or 1.5k, which is totally impossible for me.

The area around my chin and mustache are the most problematic and require an absurdly keen edge, which, when I have it, is comfortable, but as it looses its keen-ness it becomes totally impossible to shave that area.

I'll try your two razor technique. And maybe shaving the sensitive areas first, instead of the sideburns / cheeks first, which do not need such a keen edge.
 

Make_it_work

Gold Member
Joined
Aug 22, 2021
Messages
12
Interesting. Maybe we just have particularly thick whiskers / soft skin that requires a super keen edge?

I have two supporting bits of evidence for this hypothesis:
1. At least in my case, I've had even professional barbers who know their stuff have difficulty shaving my beard
2. I've seen people on YT and the like even shave with edges off of a 1k or 1.5k, which is totally impossible for me.

The area around my chin and mustache are the most problematic and require an absurdly keen edge, which, when I have it, is comfortable, but as it looses its keen-ness it becomes totally impossible to shave that area.

I'll try your two razor technique. And maybe shaving the sensitive areas first, instead of the sideburns / cheeks first, which do not need such a keen edge.

I do the bulk with one razor, and then the fine details with the other.
 
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There was a running joke on SRP a long time ago that everyone had baby sensitive skin and steel wool for facial hair. As for what someone on youtube will shave off of, well, I'm sure some can, but 8k is often considered a minimum for bevel setting and 12-20k is more common for finishing. Also, youtube, not exactly a bastion of truth and honesty.
Prep and technique are going to be pretty major factors. If you are doing good prep, then it should be very easy to shave with a quality DE or even cartridge razor, even more so than with canned goop. And as for technique, make sure that you know the easy parts of your face well first, then worry about the tougher spots. There are a lot of reasons why some faces are a bit more difficult to do than others, and so you'll just have to learn yours. As for me, chin and mustache are also "tough" spots (mustache area dries faster due to breathing, so make sure you are doing good prep) and I often find the edges of my lips have a few strays. Those are the hardest parts though, almost universally, so just keep practicing, and it will come along.
One common bit of early advice I was told was to not try to straight shave too often. Daily is not appropriate for almost anyone, and for a beginner, two to three days between shaves is more ideal. If you need to be clean shaven, then stick to a tried and true technique and straight shave only once or twice a week, building up as you get better at it. No two ways about it, it takes time to develop the skill, even if the blade is sharp. Sometimes its a loss of keeness, so mid-shave stropping is okay (shouldn't need to hit the stones for that) but also technique and prep are just as likely to be major factors, which will make it seem like the blade is going dull, when it might not be.
Make sure you have a good comparison point, without that, you are just guessing, and that makes it far more difficult than is needed.
 
Joined
Sep 25, 2021
Messages
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There was a running joke on SRP a long time ago that everyone had baby sensitive skin and steel wool for facial hair. As for what someone on youtube will shave off of, well, I'm sure some can, but 8k is often considered a minimum for bevel setting and 12-20k is more common for finishing. Also, youtube, not exactly a bastion of truth and honesty.
Prep and technique are going to be pretty major factors. If you are doing good prep, then it should be very easy to shave with a quality DE or even cartridge razor, even more so than with canned goop. And as for technique, make sure that you know the easy parts of your face well first, then worry about the tougher spots. There are a lot of reasons why some faces are a bit more difficult to do than others, and so you'll just have to learn yours. As for me, chin and mustache are also "tough" spots (mustache area dries faster due to breathing, so make sure you are doing good prep) and I often find the edges of my lips have a few strays. Those are the hardest parts though, almost universally, so just keep practicing, and it will come along.
One common bit of early advice I was told was to not try to straight shave too often. Daily is not appropriate for almost anyone, and for a beginner, two to three days between shaves is more ideal. If you need to be clean shaven, then stick to a tried and true technique and straight shave only once or twice a week, building up as you get better at it. No two ways about it, it takes time to develop the skill, even if the blade is sharp. Sometimes its a loss of keeness, so mid-shave stropping is okay (shouldn't need to hit the stones for that) but also technique and prep are just as likely to be major factors, which will make it seem like the blade is going dull, when it might not be.
Make sure you have a good comparison point, without that, you are just guessing, and that makes it far more difficult than is needed.

Great info!

Haha. Well, who knows, maybe we all DO have baby faces and steel wool whiskers, and there's just some tendency for people like us to self select and gravitate towards straights? ;)

I do think that a lot of it is, as you say, partially due to my lack of experience / skill, and prep. But as for the razor not holding an edge, I can say pretty confidently this is what's happening -- I've shaved with it quite a bit now and am good at isolating factors like this. Like you said, I can usually just hit the strop and finish shaving, but its ability to hold an edge is, I think, a result of the steel just being subpar. It was really cheap, so to be expected I guess.

You make a good point about having a good comparison point, though. I have not put significant effort into the full "by the book" prep routine. My goal is to eliminate all factors, so, I should definitely do as you say and learn to prep properly, in addition to also getting a good quality razor, in order to eliminate both of those factors, after which it's just down to skill and experience.
 
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At one stage there was a guy importing razors from china and then running his own final QC on them, so the cost was high (50$ for a $5 razor) but you got a shave-ready and tested blade. There are still some guys doing work on restoring razors as well. I'm sure that you can hunt down who's still doing good work and has a good reputation. The trouble is that info like that has a pretty short shelf-life.

I'm sure that you'll find what you are looking for. There is also nothing wrong with going new. The reputable brands have good quality. The main thing I think is to watch for blades that were made in the 60s to 90s of unknown maker and are likely "show piece" items also known as "Razor Shaped Objects".
 
Joined
Oct 14, 2021
Messages
3
I used to not understand how people in the 21st century still use a straight razor. Until I tried it myself)) It's just a fantastic experience. I read cryptoine that using a straight razor prolongs youthful skin. At 38 years old, that's relevant))
 
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Oct 16, 2021
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Since you are in Japan, you may want to look for a high quality Japanese Kamisori straight razor. I have never tried this style but have heard only good things. Once you make a commitment to dive into this hobby further and get your quality razor, since you are in Japan I would suggest that you shop for one or more Natural Japanese Stones. Try to find a seller who will let you try the stone before purchasing since not all stones are created equal and not all stones produce a smooth comfortable shave. I have certain stones that work better with certain razors. Once you find the right combination, your shave should be smooth through out your shave. Keep in mind, sharpness doesn't always equal comfort. I have stones that will produce an incredibly sharp hair popping edge but will give me a harsh shave. This hobby is a learning experience on many levels. Take your time and have fun.

It has been many years since I have shopped for a new razor. If you do your research, eBay can be a good place to find vintage razors. Depending on budget and how willing you are to chase some of the more collectible razors, there used to be a wide selection of razors. Finding the right seller can be just as important as finding the right razor; try to find a seller who is knowledgeable and focuses on straight razors. Since you are just starting, you may want to consider looking for some vintage razors out of Sheffield England. I purchased a large Frederick Reynolds and a Non-XL Joseph Allen & Sons off of eBay years ago and I am very happy with them. Some vintage razors to look if you are wanting a more collectible razor, look into the Filarmonica 14 ; the Filarmonica 13, the C-Mon razors and the Double Duck razors.
Good luck
 
Joined
Oct 14, 2013
Messages
83
You my friend are in the Mecca of straight razors. Look around locally for a western style Japanese manufactured SR. Some brands to look for: Iwasaki, Cape, King Pelican, Feon.

If you’re not looking at Straight Razor Place forum and the Shave Den forum, start reading and studying.

When I was huge into SR’s I used to fantasize about living in Japan to get the good stuff. You’re in the place to get some really fine equipment.
 
Joined
Oct 16, 2021
Messages
20
I have not seen one, but I am new to the BladeForums' site. You may need to go to one of the razor specific sites like Straight Razor Place site. I never purchased a razor through the Straight Razor Place site, but I did make a good contact and purchased several Jnat stones.
 
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