The straight razor is like the men they shave — seemingly so simple, yet so complex, but very effective. The complexity is within the details of the blade.
Why the move toward old practices? Is it really worth your time? Is it worth the trouble? The results are astounding compared to the modern marvel — the store-bought disposable cartridges and blades. At least, that is what keeps drawing modern men back to the age of their great grandfathers.
Sure, performance is great. But you might suspect even more men turn to the old straight razor because, honestly what’s more manly than sharpening a knife that you use minutes later to shave your face? Drinking a beer at a baseball game afterward?
When you go old you may never come back. Here’s why. The straight razor can be sharpened. As long as you buy a sturdy, high-quality blade, you are perhaps set for life. Beyond sharpening, you will only need to think of buying some shave cream and maybe after shave, depending on your personal preferences and needs.
There are many points of interest on the straight razor. Maybe you have one left over from a grandparent, and just socked it away in a shoe box as a memento.
The blade itself pulls out of the scales at a pivot, which swivels away from the blade. The tail sticks out back behind the pivot swivel point.
The back of the actual blade is the spine or back, and the shoulder of the blade leads into the tang, which leads back to the pivot. The very tip of the blade, is the tip or toe.
It all comes down to understanding how the best angle measurements achieve both strength and sharpness in a straight razor. Razors come in two varieties, dual bevel or single bevel. They are identified by whether both sides are angled, which creates a side-view like an isosceles triangle, or just single-angled.
The single-angled is straight one one side and angled on the other. When talking about sharpening blades to a particular angle, the sharpening needs to occur equally to both sides of the dual-angle blade.
For instance, the ideal shave is achieved with a 15 to 20 degree bevel angle. Say you want a 15 degree angle and have a dual-angle blade, you would sharpen to 15 degrees on both sides.
In total 15 degrees on either side equals 30 degrees in total. Now, when you are sharpening your knife blades, the 15 degrees tells you at what angle you hold the knife to the sharpening stone.
Many Asian blades are only beveled on one side. Many are dual-bevel. It just takes a closer look at your blade to know what kind you have. Though, the Asian blades do well when sharpened to 17 degrees.
Deciding what angle to sharpen a knife depends largely on functionality. If you are paring an apple on a camping trip, or filleting a fresh-caught fish, it will be different angles than you would use on your face.
What determines the hardness of the knife you buy is the measurement of the steel according to something called the Rockwell-C Scale. It is basically how well the steel stands up against fractures and breakage is what determines its measurement along the scale.
Basically, a knife maker balances two characteristics — hardness and toughness — when they heat the steel. If the blade is too hard, it breaks more easily. If it is too soft, the edge will not stay. That means lower angles work well for slicing through soft items.
Straight edge razors have the lowest angles of roughly 7-8 degrees. They are surprisingly delicate. Though, you would not use a straight edge for anything hard.
The 10-17 degree is very small as far as angles go. Did you know that most kitchen knives stay within the 17-20-degree angle?
Because this is a tool you will use for life, the subject of the quality of the steel is the most important. It is more responsive to your efforts to sharpen it. Flick the blade against your thumb nail. If it gives a ring, it is music to your ears that you have a good quality steel.
In addition, many knife makers hollow either side, which means you will notice the blade is concave on either side. It makes the blade sharper, lighter, and a simpler to handle. Stay away from a full concave blade until you master the art of the barber shave.
One other measurement to seek is the width of the blade. Go for a precise 5/8 width sized blade. It works better for working with the contours of your face.
Then there is the matter of the rounded or sharp point. The rounded is preferred because sharp is as it sounds, and therefore likely to cut you.
Learning the new lingo is an exercising in manning up to the task of shaving with nothing but you and the blade. It takes focus and a degree of slowing down to make a clean shave, but it is worth it.
A one-time investment into a good blade means a lifetime of shaves. It costs less than a lifetime of cartridges and disposables. Make the switch and see how you like it