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How to Buy a Straight Razor Part 2: German v.s. French v.s. American

February 26, 2021 4 min read

How to Buy a Straight Razor Part 2: German v.s. French v.s. American

With the overwhelming popularity of straight razors in the modern day, so many new and old manufacturers are popping up, and it can be difficult to make a decision on which one to buy your blade from.

At Kent of Inglewood we only sell straight razor brands that we truly believe in. We have tested each line that we carry by shaving our own faces, and whether it be a 180-year-old brand from Germany or a new company from Portland, we know that all of our partners offer a fantastic product. We sell no mystery steels, no movie replicas, no soft imitations of straight razors that will dull quickly. We only sell the genuine article so you can’t make a bad choice.

With that said, let’s help you narrow it down a little better.

German Razors

The Germans have long been known for their excellent steel. The mark “Solingen” taken from the name of the German steel town has been a recognizable mark for decades, if not centuries. In the modern day very little steel is made in Germany but the old german makers continue their craftsmanship with high-quality Swedish steel. Some smaller producers such as Wacker and Ralf Aust still source out german steel for their blades.

Swedish steel is a great starting point for straight razors. It is workable, easy to sharpen and repair, but it keeps an edge better than softer steels from China and will therefore shave you for months without needing to see a whetstone. We carry two lines of German razors made with Swedish steel, Dovo and Boker, and while Swedish steel may not keep its edge as long as steel from Japan, it offers a very competitive price point. If you want to step up to higher performance, Wacker and Ralf Aust are both smaller manufacturers using German steel. Their edges tend to be much better from the factory, and they keep a brilliantly sharp edge. German razors tend to be very consistent in their construction and finish.

French Razors

After the invention of the current straight razor design several centuries ago in Sheffield, England, French manufacturers picked up on the trend and began their own workshops emulating what the English were doing. In 1884, Pierre Thiers started his own company known as Thiers Issard in the french steel town of Thiers. Pierre was fanatical about making straight razors, and passed the company onto his descendants. To this day Thiers Issard is one of the best razor manufacturers on earth, and quite possibly the only one left in France.

While French steel was originally used, Thiers Issard now buys an incredible proprietary steel blend from Japan, known at Carbonsong 135 or C135. They choose this steel for its extreme 64 HRC hardness, which should be capable of holding an edge twice as long as most Swedish steels but is a little more stubborn when honing and stropping. Thiers Issard president Gilles Reynwaeter proudly boasts that Thiers Issard takes extra steps in the grinding, polishing and finishing of their razors, creating a more “artisan made” product than other brands.

American Razors

For decades, old-world manufacturers have held the monopoly on straight razor production but in 2013 Scott Miyako stepped onto the scene with the Portland Razor Co. He was quickly joined by Hunter Leah and together the two — then amateur — razorsmiths trained themselves quickly. They re-invented the way straight razors were made, changing the game with new techniques, modern materials and higher standards than just about anybody else. The Portland Razor Co. is known for their extreme attention to detail and the incredible shave that their razors offer. Not satisfied with disrupting the status quo in one sphere, they have started a program of training American barbers to use traditional straight razors in their barbershops. They are available for education on the proper use, maintenance, and most importantly, sanitization of straight razors in the barbershop setting.

Portland Razor Co.originally made razors with 01 carbon steel, they have now added a new material to their production called “Cascade Steel”. Cascade Steel was chosen for two criteria. First, it’s stainless and will not react with the harsh chemicals needed to safely disinfect barbering tools. Second, it sharpens, holds an edge, and shaves just as well as the super-dense 01 carbon steel, if not better. Portland razors may be stubborn on a stone (especially when chipped) due to their thicker grind, but they strop beautifully and shave better than most. Perhaps the best thing about a Portland Razor is the extreme attention to detail on the behalf of the razor-smiths, it truly makes a difference.

Hopefully, now that you are armed with this information, your choice on which razor is right for you will be easier. It can be tough to choose with so many inspiring options, so just remember - it’s okay to have a collection. I have several straights at home, and I’m always searching for my next straight razor.

Read Part 3: New vs. Vintage.