Wetshaving Technique

  • Blade Angle — 30 degrees or less

  • LOTS of hot water
  • Very light touch 

Learning to shave with a straight razor (and to a lesser extend, a traditional safety razor) is kind of like learning to drive a stick-shift.

You already know how to shave, but you don't REALLY know how to shave.

When I teach people to use a clutch, the first thing I tell them is to let it out so slowly that the car is eventually moving without the benefit of any gas.

Now let the clutch out slightly faster.  Eventually the car will stall.

That's okay, it's part of the learning process, and in real world situations, you can't just ease the car into motion without using any gas.  Not where I'm from, anyway, where the threshold of patience is reached within .35 seconds.

Likewise, you can't baby your shave forever.  Eventually you'll want to be on-time to work again.

So when you become comfortable using a straight razor, and time becomes a factor, you WILL cut yourself.

That's okay, it's part of the learning process.  Accept it as fact and know it going in.  A sharp, unguarded blade is eventually going to get away from you just enough to earn you a small badge of honor.

I've read advice where people claim that you don't ever have to cut yourself, that it's completely reasonable to take your time and use proper technique and avoid cutting yourself all together.

Bullshit.

You're going to cut yourself.  I'm not saying that because I did and I see it as a failing.  I'm saying it because it's gonna happen bub.  Best to get that hang-up out of the way and view it as an eventuality.

You may even want to give yourself a little nick just to get it out of the way, much the same way as I immediately put a cigarette burn into a new fleece or drop a new piece of electronics.  There, now the pressure's off.

So now you're standing half-naked in front of the bathroom mirror with a bunch of stuff you've never used before.

Start slowly.  If you're using a brush, let it soak in some hot water for about thirty seconds, then hold it upside down until it's down to a slow drip (you don't want it to be too wet).

Whisk it around a cake of soap until you get a small amount on the tip of your brush, and build the lather.  Some people like to use a shaving mug, a bowl, their left palm, or just build the lather directly on their face.  I like a mug, for no particular reason.

Whip that lather up until you have enough to sustain itself (this'll take practice) and whisk it onto your face in a circular motion, using just the tip of the brush.

Get a good lather going, but return often to the mug.  Face, mug, face, mug.  If the lather gets to dry, dip the tip of the brush into some hot water and keep going.  If you're using cream instead of soap, just glob some into the mug (or whatever) and start from there.

Let the soap do whatever it does to your whiskers for a couple of minutes, and then start shaving.

The biggest challenge you're going to face (ahem) is going to be the angle of the razor.

Too steep and you'll slice into your skin.

Too shallow and you'll drag the whiskers out by their roots.  Both will hurt like hell, so if you're shaving pain-free then you're doing it right.

I've seen a lot of people recommend keeping the blade at about a 30 degree angle.  I personally go even sharper than that.  That is, I hold the blade as flat against my skin as I can with slicing into it.

Exceptions exist everywhere, of course, and the biggest one in my opinion is the neck.  When going up the neck, lay the blade as flat against your skin as you can and glide super-lightly.

The other major difference, technique-wise, between a cartridge razor and a safety razor is the amount of pressure needed to hold the blade against your skin.

Cheap plastic disposables require a lot of pressure, safeties require almost none.

Just enough to keep the thing in constant contact is all you really need – any more and you're risking nicks and cuts.

This is why you'll never see a real safety razor made out of light-weight plastic – it just wouldn't work.  A razor made from metal with a heavy head will glide easier and do most of the work for you.

So, blade angle and pressure are now important.  Keeping those two principles in mind, shave as you normally would, first in a downward motion, then in an upward motion (after splashing on more hot water and re-lathering) to clear the last of the stubble.

If you're not used to shaving in multiple passes, get used to it.  We're not swinging for the fences here, we're using a progressive reduction approach.

I can usually get it done in two passes, but there's nothing wrong with grazing over the same area three or four times.  As long as you're using a light touch and plenty of hot water, you're not going to irritate your skin. 

And that last south-to-north pass will leave you looking young enough to get carded.