OK, this is simply my attempt to collate and answer some commonly asked shaving questions from people starting out.
Q1: What is changing to safety razors like?
If you have been using an electric razor wet shaving with a safety razor is very different. Preparation is the key to a good shave and allowing the time to do it properly – you will not need to rush as you will begin to enjoy the process. There will be an initial learning curve but after a little while you can expect to receive a far closer shave with far less irritation.
If you have been using a multi-blade cartridge system you will probably need to unlearn some bad habits, such as dragging the pivoting head roughly around your face, but if you are already building a decent lather with a good shaving soap you may already have some good habits too. Once again the techniques are a little different but after a little while you can also expect to receive a far closer shave with far less irritation.
Q2: How long will it take to learn to shave properly?
Some would say a lifetime – but most people are not THAT obsessed. In all seriousness you can probably expect to have a decent technique going within a month of starting to shave with a safety razor, straight razors may take longer I’m told. After about a year it should be pretty automatic if you just want to stick with a tried and true method. Of course part of the joy of this process is experimentation and learning and developing your technique with different combinations
Q3: Will you cut yourself?
Yes. But safety razors are called safety razors for a reason – you will not inflict life threatening damage.
You will not look like Norman Gunston (try Google if you are too young) and you will not be bleeding all day. When you are starting out with a safety razor you are likely to nick yourself – but it will be just a nick and a styptic pencil and a bit of pressure and it will stop within a couple of minutes. Important job interview or wedding day? Don’t decide to start shaving with a safety razor that morning.
Start on a day when you will not be worried about the result and you can enjoy the process
Q4: Will I enjoy shaving?
There are LOTS of forums full of guys who now enjoy shaving – is that sufficient proof?
Q5: What do I need to start?
There are a few options, each with various pros and cons.
Starter kits: offered by most suppliers usually have a razor, brush, shaving soap/cream and a sampler of blades. These are a convenient way to start but are often a compromise in quality being put together at a price, although you do tend to get savings off the combined price, and not always the best of everything. Check out the offerings at The Stray Whisker or Mensbiz for starters.
If you want to do it yourself you have some options –
Budget combination: You can put together a relatively low price, $50 – $100 starting combination picking entry level products, possibly from a variety of sources. You will invariably want to upgrade later. A budget kit might contain items like:
- Feather or Parker DE razor
- Entry level synthetic or boar brush
- Common shaving soap like Proraso
- Blade sampler or pack of 100 Astra SP or similar
Bang for buck combinations: While lacking the convenience of a starter kit after a little research, and feedback from here, you should be able to put together a quality kit where the main items, razor and brush, could last you almost a lifetime without you needing to purchase any alternatives. Expect to spend $100 – $200 but you can probably get at least half of this back by selling the razor and brush if you decide it is all not for you (but you won’t)
The full kit: Right, let me guess. It is your birthday and your significant other wants to spend a lot of money on buying you the best shaving bling money can buy. The ornate stand/bowl/brush/razor all look VERY nice on the vanity – but you may realise after a little while you don’t use it all and you really would prefer a different brush or razor. Apart from the dollars involved your significant other will be offended if you don’t use that expensive present. Do yourself a favour – get this important person in your life to buy you your SECOND brush and or razor – when you know what you want (no extra charge for this relationship advice).
Q6: What type of brush should I buy?
What football team do you support? OK, maybe there IS a little more science to choosing a brush – but each has their fans –
Boar – many people suggest that it takes around 30 shaves or so for a boar brush to ‘break-in’ and reach its final softness and effectiveness – this can vary by brand. Until then it can be a little scratchy. Once broken in they can provide a good a lather as any other brush at a generally lower price point.
Synthetic – at a low to mid price point, with no break in period and generally providing a great lather easily a decent synthetic brush is often a good choice when starting out, and may still be your favourite for life! Earlier synthetics, and cheap and nasty Chinese eBay specials, can be horrible, and price is not necessarily an indicator of quality – so ask around on forums like Paste & Cut for some reputable brands to choose from.
Badger – traditionally the most popular and higher quality choice. All the luxury or traditional brands of brush makers have badger brushes. A decent one does cost a little more, the lower end ones are generally rubbish. Particularly when starting out the different ‘grades’ of hair, styles of brushes and density of the knot can be confusing – and you can get lather just as good from the others. A great second brush.
Horse/Combination – there are some other options including some exotic ones, but ignore them when starting out.
Q7: What is the difference between soaps and creams, and which should I start with?
Both do the same job but some harder soaps can be more difficult to lather for beginners. A good soft soap or cream may be the best bet, and there are lots around. Some well loved and widely available soaps/creams include:
- Proraso – the menthol and eucalyptus is a classic but all in their range are solid and reliable
- Cella – the archetypal ‘Italian soft soap’ – a strong marzipan/almost scent
- Taylors of Old Bond Street – traditional UK manufacturer, easy to lather
- Geo F Trumper/ Truefitt & Hill – more UK manufacturers, slightly higher price point
- Squadron Soap – an Australian artisan soap – well loved for their great performance
If you are going with the Taylors of Old Bond Street/Geo F Trumper/ Truefitt & Hill get creams rather than soaps. Many of their soaps have been reformulated and are less effective.
Q8: I got a kit with a sample of a whole lot of blades, which should I use first?
Blades samples are both good and bad. Good in that you can try different blades, bad in that you don’t really know what to look for at the beginning of your shaving journey. While opinions vary greatly about the best blade and people have different favourites the general view is that Merkur are rubbish, Feathers are the ‘sharpest’ and that Astra Superior Platinum, found in almost all sample packs, are probably a safe first blade.
Q9: I have a razor, brush, soap/cream and blades – do I need anything else?
If you are concerned about nicks get a styptic pencil. If you want to enjoy the experience or want to take a little more care of your skin get a post shave product – aftershave or moisturising balm. While not essential it does add to the enjoyment.
Q10: Those cut throats look kinda cool, should I just get one of those?
It depends. Straights DO take more effort but can produce a better result. The learning curve is longer and you will need to learn to strop your razor to keep the edge on it. You can learn to hone yourself or send it out for honing. Straight shaving is not for everybody but it might be for you. Most, but not all, straight shavers started with safety razors and subsequently moved to straights.