How to Shave with a Straight Razor Part 2: Tips for Using Your Blade

by Nathan Harley Gareau Last updated: April 09, 2019

Once you have prepared for your shave, it’s time to use your blade. While mastering the technique takes practice, following a few important tips will help you shave like a pro much faster and takes the guess-work out of the experience.

Stretch that skin!

Tight skin makes shaving smoother and easier. By using your opposite hand to pull your skin, you are creating a tight, flat surface. This helps your hair to stand up taller. Another benefit of stretching your skin, is that it is less likely to snag the blade and get cut. If you find your hand slipping, rub slightly damp fingers on your Alum Block, and this will give you extra friction when pulling your skin.

When you’re working around awkward angled areas, you can often pull the skin away from them to create a flat surface that is easier to shave than a curves one. This trick is especially handy around a sharp jawline, but works great on Adam’s Apple, chin, ankles and really anywhere else!

Keep your angle low, and you're pressure light.

You always want to keep your blade in the “Goldilocks” zone. Not too much angle, and not too little. If your blade is flush to your skin it won’t shave very closely, but if the angle is too high you’ll just scrape it across your face. I find about 15-20 degrees is perfect, but try out some different angles and figure out which shave you closely without irritating your skin.

Much like angle, pressure is a matter of “just enough, but not too much”. I describe the ideal pressure as confident, but light. If you simply let the blade do the work, it will glide or skip over hairs, while pressing too hard can give you razor burn. If you start on a hairless patch of skin and glide down into the hairline, it is easier to get the correct pressure. You’ll notice that I lather quite high up on my cheek, so I can start on a smooth surface and move into the beard at my own pace.

Keep your lather wet

Shaving with a straight razor isn’t about speed, it’s about stopping to smell the roses and enjoying the journey. Throughout the process (especially as a rookie), your lather will get dry. This is fine. Dip your brush in a little water, grab some more lather and touch it up! I find a scuttle is very helpful to keep my lather warm, but you can even go for another hot towel mid-shave or lather in sections to make sure that your face is in ideal shape for shaving.

Change your grip often

If holding the blade seems awkward, change your grip. Shaving with a straight razor is all about comfort, and contorting your wrist at awkward angles is never comfortable. I always start with the basic grip show on the video, but depending on the direction I’m changing I might rotate my wrist, shave back-hand, flip the blade upside down or hold it more like a kitchen knife. Take your time and experiment.

Don’t be afraid to look like a fool!

Shave like nobody is watching. Often, the only way you can closely shave around the mouth and chin it to contort your face like Jim Carrey, so go for it. Making silly faces can seriously help you reach tricky spots, and it’s fun!

Wipe your blade on a damp towel

A rookie mistake is running the edge under the tap to rinse, which all too often results in a collision and a chipped blade. By wiping shaving cream and hair on a towel, you avoid disaster altogether. You can read more about proper razor care here.

Finally, don’t worry about being perfect

Nobody is a natural when they start. I sure wasn’t. Focus first on shaving with the grain, and getting one good pass over your entire face. Once you get good at this, then you can worry more about getting a smooth shave. Some people make a second pass against the grain, while others shave in different directions. Some go over in three different directions, while other only make one pass. I have sensitive skin and somewhat tough facial hair, so I shave along the grain, and perpendicular to the grain on my second pass. I never go against the grain in order to avoid ingrown hairs and razor-burn, but everybody is different. Take your time, try different techniques out, and just worry about being a little better than last time. You’ll get there before you know it.

Once you have completed the shave, a little aftercare is important. You can learn about that here.

Nathan Harley Gareau
Nathan Harley Gareau

A famed cocktologist and axe man, Nathan stands at the helm of the Calgary store. Ask him about his world-famous Three Cherry Manhattan. Nathan also sits on the board of the Inglewood BIA and does his part to drive the neighbourhood forward. In his spare time Nathan can be found sharpening his axe, sabreing Champagne, or completing the fastest straight-razor shave around. He doesn't slur his words, he speaks in cursive.



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