The straight razor. Not as clumsy or random as an electric. An elegant tool, for a more civilized age. Once the only way to get a shave, the skill needed from a barber was so developed that very often the town surgeon was the same man - who else knew how to so well wield a blade? It has certainly reduced in popularity today. Since the introduction of the double-edge safety razor, which democratized shaving and made blade maintenance a less essential skill, the straight razor has become a rarefied tool, shrouded in legend and mystique.
Did you know that Edmonton’s Le Marchand Mansion was paid for by the sale of hundreds of second-hand razors inherited by a Parisian valet? There are countless memorable scenes in films of straight razors as a sign of manliness or refinement - such as Moneypenny’s suggestive shaving of Her Majesty’s most famous secret agent in Skyfall. This is all not to mention the straight razor as the weapon of choice for notorious demon barber, Sweeney Todd.
But far from a lost art, the straight razor is enjoying a modern revival. After hitting a production low in 2006, Dovo has increased their output four-fold since 2012’s Skyfall. As society becomes more conscious about waste output, and concern for the environment grows, alternatives to disposable plastics are actively sought out. Even as we are still coming out of a recession, the relative expense of a straight razor is offset by the huge long-term savings.
As a service to you, our dear customer, who may be new to the straight razor, I have crafted a list of some of my favourite straight razors to give you an idea of where to start.
One of my straight razors is the Bergischer Lowe, and is it ever a gorgeous blade. The 5/8” height is comfortable for both a first-time user, and a seasoned wet shaver, as the most common blade size. It’s full hollow grind (which is to say, extremely thin) produces an edge that surprises with how gently it handles the hair on even the coarsest of beards. The Bergischer Lowe is also an object of nearly unmatched beauty: the horn scales are different on every single razor, each possesses unique patterns, highlighted by a stylized spine that has been plated in 14-karat gold.
Young guns in the straight razor game, Portland Razor Co. hand crafts their blades from O1 tool steel - which means they’re very hard, which by extension means your edge is going to last longer. They offer razors with both a square and a round point, and with a selection of wood scales, so that you can cater your razor to whatever your style is, rustic or modern. The thickness of the Portland lends itself to plowing through your beard and asserting itself as a great shave.
Don’t let its morbid name worry you, you’ll be just fine. Perhaps you need a mordant joke to wake you up in the morning, anyway. It’s a little taller than the previous two razors, coming in at 6/8”, and is fittingly held by scales of pitch-black ebony wood. Thiers-Issard has a pedigree stretching back to 1884. Their handmade razors are second to none, and you will shave with the weight of 133 years of history. The Throat Cutter is also exclusive: Thiers-Issard produces it just for Kent of Inglewood.
“Arbolito” is Spanish for “little tree,” and this razor celebrates Boker’s market in Central and South America, where the company is known casually as Arbolito because of the fact that their logo is — a little tree, of course. The Arbolito is incredibly lightweight, super thin, and sports a handsome Spanish tip for extra control and nimbleness. Pick up this razor next time you’re in one of the shops, and marvel at its construction, and the love and precision that goes into each one of Boker’s 120 steps crafting it.
How does one even begin to discuss the pedigree of Iwasaki’s straight razors? Kosuke Iwasaki literally wrote the textbook on Japanese metallurgy, and is responsible for many of the names of steel you’ll hear tossed around the shop and over at Knifewear (blue/yellow/white steel).
The Kamisori is a thoroughly Japanese style of straight razor, in its history, its simple-but-elegant design, and its hand-forged craftsmanship.Kamisori is Japanese for razor, and is a style of straight razor unto itself. Though the style is hundreds of years old, after revitalizing traditional sword-making in Japan, Iwasaki pursued the perfect razor. It is this razor that was my entry into the world of straight razor shaving, and it is this razor that turned me from my wayward faffing about to the straight razor evangelist you see before you today.
At a full inch tall (in razor parlance, 8/8”), the Max Sprecher razor from Ezra Arthur is a true work of art. Despite the size and ferocious appearance, this razor is one of the gentlest shaves your author has ever had. Its balance is perfect, and it’s almost sharp enough to make hair pop off your skin just by staring at the edge. Max Sprecher works out of his forge in a garage in Las Vegas, where he turns raw steel into some of the finest shaving tools available. The blade cannot be equalled for quality and craftsmanship. It’s the classic car, the trusted instrument of the straight razor shaver.
All of the above razors are carbon steel. This means they can rust. While there are some stainless steel razors out there, carbon is far and away the preferred steel for straight razors. You want to be cautious when storing your razor: make sure you have completely dried the steel, and don’t store it in a humid place, such as a poorly-ventilated washroom, or the middle of a rainforest (NB: if you live in a rainforest, good news, there’s a wonderful product called Remedy Blade Oil which will keep moisture from harming your blade!). If your razor begins to rust, don’t panic. Bring it in. We have the tools and know-how to clean up most minor rust. Please, please, please, do not shave with a rusty razor. Tetanus is real thing that exists.
The straight razor is the absolute king of shaves: your skin will never enjoy greater smoothness, as little irritation, or as much pampering as it will with a straight razor shave. Hopefully some of the mystique has been stripped away and replaced with inspiration - the straight razor is an accessible and superior shave, and this is a great place to start.