Choosing a correct straight razor

In last article, we discussed the origins of the straight razor.  But, how does all this tie into choosing your straight razor?  Obviously, you won't be raiding a museum for your premier choice of facial cutlery.  

There are three basic considerations when choosing your straight razor: balance, width, and shape.  There are certainly quite a few more details to get into for the experienced shaver, but these are good places to start. 

Shape (Concave or Linear)

As covered in the previous article, the most recent advent to the straight razor is the introduction of a hollowed steel blade.  This allows the angle of the sharpened steel to be better aligned towards scooping lather and stubble.  It's concave versus the traditional flat, linear blades. 

Linear blades were some of the first razors in existence.  It was extremely difficult to forge the sort of concave surface we get in concave straight razors now. 

There's a big difference between what you're looking for in a good safety razor and what you seek in a straight razor shave.  The straight razor needs to finely cut the hair follicle at the surface of the skin and scoop it up in the facial lather.  A linear blade isn't as effective at this.  They were, however, reintroduced into shaving with the advent of the safety razor.  However, those blades were never designed to last a lifetime.  A good concave straight razor is. 

Conclusion

  • - Linear blades are better for hair and beards.
  • - Linear blades are used in safety razors.

 

Width

The width, in this case, refers to the distance between the back of a blade and the shaving edge.  In a weird hold-over from imperial measurements, it's still measured in eighths of an inch.  Thus a 5/8ths blade means that there is roughly 16 mm between the shaving edge and the non-shaving end.

Considerations

  • - Every sweep you make across your face with that blade is going to dull it. 
  • - Reduced width of a blade means it can scoop less before needing to be rinsed. 
  • - Narrower blade equals more precision.
  • - Wider blades are better for long sweeps. 

 

Thus, the art of shaving incorporates making the fewest possible sweeps.  For a beginner, however, an 8/8ths blade is completely unnecessary.  That is an extremely wide blade.  A 4/8ths to 5/8ths blade is ideal.  It's the perfect balance between versatility and scooping ability.

Narrower blades, such as the 2/8ths to 3/8ths, are great for getting at hard to reach places such as below your nose and around your ears.  If you have very angular features on your face, narrow blades allow you to artfully curve across them.

Balance

This can refer to one of either two things: longitudinal stabilization or the razor's balance itself.  We're predominantly worried about the former in this article.  The blade's balance is our primary concern.

The balance, in this case, refers to the curvature of the blade between the shaving edge and the spine.  Full Hollow are extremely prized and sometimes a bit expensive as they can be difficult to craft versus a Quarter Hollow which produces a coarser shave and needs to be sharpened more frequently. 

As you bring the blade across your face, your facial hair is going to be pushing against the razor's edge that is dragging upon it.  If you have short, manageable stubble, this likely won't be a big problem.  If you have a full lumberjack beard, you can destroy a good Full Hollow straight razor if you're not careful.  Both will need to be sharpened and maintained regularly but a Full Hollow is certainly an ideal blade balance to get a nice, tight shave every time.  A Quarter will still do.

Conclusion

  • - Full Hollow is great for a close shave
  • - Quarter Hollow is better for coarser work
  • - Half is a good balance between the two
  • - Full Hollow is generally more expensive.

 

There are certainly many more possibilities and considerations when choosing a straight razor.  In general, these three basic things will give you an idea of what sort of razor will suit you best.  Details such as different blade styles and workings will likely be discussed in the future. 

Remember: A blade is just a tool.  It's the person who wields that decides how well it works.