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Buying a Straight Razor Part 1: Kamisori vs Western

Most people go to work everyday and while at work they deal with a plethora of arbitrary rules dictated by whatever company they work for. While this may be a necessary evil, we have allowed work to invade our homes and transform certain aspects of our lives, effectively turning them into small extensions of work. I think this is why shaving is considered to be a chore by so many people. What used to be about looking good, taking care of your skin, and mastering a skill, has been relegated to the same realm as ironing. In turn we spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year on the latest “innovation” hoping that it will do a passable job in the least amount of time possible. The problem here is that we are not talking about a work appropriate shirt; we are talking about your face! Doesn't your face, your only face, deserve more care and consideration than mindlessly rubbing a cartridge over it everyday? Hell, doesn't it deserve the best? If you think it does, than wet shaving is for you.

Whether you choose a safety razor or a straight, a cream or a soap, a splash or a balm; wet shaving gives you the ability to tailor a shave directly to your needs. You are no longer locked into some corporation's standard of what a good shave is. You have a good shave because you did a good job shaving, ultimately giving you the final say in how your skin looks, smells, and feels. Wet shaving isn't about nostalgia, it is about giving you the best possible experience that you can have every single time you decide to shave. It is about actually getting what you pay for, thus, transforming the shave from a chore into a hobby. It is time to take back the shave.                            

Getting into wet shaving is kind of like taking a boat out on to the ocean, it's pretty easy to get lost and if you don't know what youre doing you are not going to have a good time. Hopefully, this blog will give you enough information to help you navigate through all your choices and give you the smoothest journey possible. As the whole point of a straight razor is to have it be one of the last (if not the last) razor you ever buy, it is important to consider each type of razor that is available before you buy, that way we can get one that is perfect for you.

There are two main categories within the world of straights, namely the Western design and the Japanese or Kamisori design. Considering most films and shows of the past showcase the use of a Western razor it is the one most people are familiar with. This tends to help curb the learning process as most people have a general idea of what a shave with one should look like before they start. The long handle of the Western razor allows for easy adjustment in the hand so you can find the most comfortable grip while maintaining the appropriate angle (25-30 degrees). The blades come in a variety of different steels, shapes, and sizes, although all of them will have a handle of similar weight to the blade in order to help balance it in the hand and control the amount of pressure applied. Really, all of these factors just help give a smooth and consistent shave. 

The Kamisori is a whole other animal who, once trained, gives an amazingly fun and efficient shave. Characterized by the wrapped steel handle, the Kamisori was originally designed to shave other people. Its smaller blade and front weighted design make it very effective at getting into the small areas of the face and are especially suited for detail work. The grind on the blade makes it seem as if it is designed for shaving only on one side, but in reality both sides of the blade are used. The truly unique thing about the Kamisori is that it is handed, meaning there are left and right handed versions. If you have never tried a Kamisori shave, it is very smooth and fast due to the expert blacksmithing that goes into making its two steel type blade.                      

So the question remains; which should you buy?

Well, both types of razors can rust and require stropping before use, so the amount of care associated with both types is the same. The decision should boil down to some simple questions:

  1. Do you keep a beard? If so a Kamisori is the best detailing razor available. It is small enough to easily avoid cutting side burns and moustaches.
  2. Do you want an ornate handle or tons of steel options? If so than a Western razor is for you. There are many options available as far as the look of the razor as well as the type of blade.
  3. Do you have very coarse hair? Than a thick/heavy bladed western razor or a larger Kamisori is the way to go. The heavier and less flexible the blade the smoother your shave will be.
  4. Do you live in a very humid or wet climate? A stainless steel Western razor is probably the best choice for you, as stainless will hold up to moisture and prevent rust from occurring.


ED Note: Next week Chris will go over whether you should go for a vintage straight razor, or if you should splash out on a new one. Stay tuned! 

Chris Herbert
Author: Chris Herbert

Chris returned from Newfoundland, where he was living with the seals, learning their ways. Although we are not as flippered, he assures us we make fine replacement colleagues. If you're looking for him, find the guy who smells like Floris No. 89.