February 09, 2022 5 min read
It’s undeniable: Using one sharp blade is the best way to shave. A safety razor or straight razor will provide you with the closest, smoothest shave of your life with a bit of preparation and practice. But which is better? I’ve used both for nearly a decade, so let’s discuss the pros and cons of each!
First, I’ll state the obvious: both give phenomenal shaves. You can’t go wrong with a safety or straight razor if you’re willing to put a little time into learning to use them. More importantly, make sure you’re using the right gear. Dragging any razor across cold, dry skin will give you a lousy shave. Prepare your skin, lather up with a shaving brush and cream, and use an appropriate aftershave product. But which razor is right for you?
|Safety Razor||Straight Razor|
|Ease of Initial Use||Requires a bit more work than a cartridge razor, but easy to get the hang of. In a couple of weeks, you'll have it down 100%.||A constant learning process, you'll continue improving for years to come. The first few shaves will be slow and awkward, set aside time and keep another razor handy for cleanups.|
|Closeness of Shave||Very close, depending on shave direction. Different brands of blades yield different results, so try them all!||Very close depending on angle, direction, and preparation. Learning to stretch your skin and find the right angle is key.|
|Good for Sensitive Skin?||Some blade brands will be more irritating, some more forgiving. Experiment to find the right one, and you'll get a smooth, irritation free shave.||High, at the start. Keep soothing aftershave handy, and focus on using good preparation and finding the right angle to avoid irritation. With practice, you'll get a comfortable, close shave.|
|Precision||8/10. Allows much more control than cartridge razors, but can be difficult around facial hair and noses.||10/10. The tip can be used to pick off individual hair, the best tool for trimming a beard or moustache. Square-point blades are even more precise, but can be a little scary.|
|Total Shave Time||3-10 minutes, depending on skill and how much you like to stop and smell the roses.||20-40 minutes, and hour when you're learning. Even for a skilled shaver, precision takes priority over speed.|
|Learning Curve||Minimal. Learn to push less, and follow the curvature of your skin and direction of hair growth.||Steep. In addition to learning about your skin and hair, you'll need to focus on good stropping technique, how to hold the razor, blade angle, and stretch the skin constantly.|
|Maintenance||Change the blade every 3-5 shaves, clean razor monthly.||Strop before every shave, clean and dry well, store safely, and hone 1-2 times/ year on whetstones.|
|Razor Lifetime||Blades are replaced regularly, a good quality handle should last decades.||A good straight razor will last well over a lifetime if cared for properly, possibly several lifetimes.|
|Total Cost||$50-100 for a quality starter handle, $400-$2500 for a lifetime of blades, depending on brand and shave frequency.||$300-500 for a top-notch razor, $100-200 for a solid leather strop. Honing is $20, and a decent set of lifetime stones can be had for $200-400.|
|Gratification||A superb shave, with a stress-free razor that looks classy on your countertop.||There is an immense pride and satisfaction that comes from using a straight razor. It calms your mind, and you walk a few inches taller after your shave.|
I hope the table above doesn't scare you away from using a straight razor. My goal was to set realistic expectations and share my experience learning to use both at the same time. All of the hassle and time was absolutely worth it, and given the chance I would do it all over again.
The most significant difference between safety and straight razors is the effort they require. Safety razors win handily in the convenience and time category; the angle is easy to set, you’ll learn to use them quickly, there’s little to no maintenance needed, and when the blade dulls, just swap it for a new one! If your priority is efficiency, stick to using a safety razor.
Where straight razors pull ahead is in romance and precision. Straight razor shaving is an art meant to be savoured and continually refined. The attraction for many is that it requires a good half hour, making it a meditative process and much as a practical one. You must strop the blade before every shave, take your time around curved areas, and pay close attention to the angle of the edge on your face. When I use my straight razor, I get great joy from identifying every bump and curve on my face, each change in hair direction of my beard. There is no better tool for beard trimming than an ultra-precise straight razor; I can pick off individual hairs from the edge of my moustache with laser precision until I achieve perfect balance.
If this laborious process sounds terrible, don’t get a straight razor. You’ll get quicker, but you never want to rush a straight razor shave. I reach for my straight on leisurely weekend mornings or the rare evening I have to myself, and when duty calls, I snatch up my safety razor and get the job done in a matter of minutes. If you ask me, everyone should have both. They provide very different paths to the same result, and both are a joy to experiment with and master.
Straight razors are incredibly cool and collectible, and provide an extremely satisfying shave.
Regardless of your eventual goal, I would recommend everyone start with a safety razor. It’ll get you used to using a sharp, single blade and teach you a ton about your skin that you never knew: its curvature, sensitive spots, problematic areas, and which direction the hair grows in. All vital information when using a straight razor and mistakes are less substantial if you learn with a safety first. By training this way, you’ll have a serious leg up getting started with your first straight razor, and you’ll get the hang of it much quicker. The shaving process will already be second nature, so you can focus on getting to grips (literally) with a somewhat awkward blade, perfecting your angle, and mastering the strop.
Additionally, it’s advantageous to have a safety razor handy to clean up your first several straight razor shaves - trust me, they won’t be your best. Even when you master the straight razor, the safety razor is a valuable travel companion and perfect for that inevitable last-minute shave when you have to rush out the door.
I hope this helped your selection, and if you want to talk it through further, visit us in-store or shoot us a message here! We’re always happy to help, and our staff are experienced with a wide range of razors. If you’d like to do more reading, check out our other shaving articles here!