02-21-2018, 10:37 AM
#1
  • TN4
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  • Ohio
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By the title of this post, I hope to offer some encouragement to those who may be struggling with learning to shave with a straight razor, or are on the fence about whether to "take the plunge". 

First I will offer you a little background on myself. I am in my mid twenties, and picked up wet shaving a few years ago. I have been shaving with DE's since then, and was having the best shaves of my life, but I would always get a little irritation on my neck even though I would make sure to use zero pressure, because may hair literally grows in circles down there. I have always gotten irritation on my neck, and it was much less while using DE's so I was still very happy with my shaves. After spending enough time on the forums, I kept hearing that straight razor shaving was the optimal way to shave for closeness, and reducing irritation. I was a little skeptical, but I eventually decided that I needed to try it. 

I did a lot of research about honing, stropping, which kind of razor to buy, etc. I knew that there could be a steep learning curve, but I decided to commit to at least 100 shaves no matter what, just to give myself a fair chance at this. I was so excited when I went and purchased my straight razor and couldn't wait until I got home that night to give it a try. 

My first shave was.......TERRIBLE!!! When I purchased my razor, it was promised to be shave-ready, and pre-stropped so that all I needed to do was shave with it. Even though this was promised, my first shave was extremely uncomfortable. The razor pulled my hairs instead of cutting them. My face felt raw afterward and when I applied my aftershave my face really burned. Now in my research I had learned all about the proper angle (<30), and about how you need to use little to no pressure when making your strokes. I made sure to do that, but the reality is that even with the blade within one spine width of my face, and with using little to no pressure, the blade just tugged and pulled and it was very uncomfortable. Right then, I thought that there was something wrong with the blade. 

In my research, I had often heard the story of someone thinking there was a problem with the blade, when it was really their technique that was causing issues. Being mindful of this, I decided to continue shaving with my razor for the rest of the week, allowing for some possibility that my angle wasn't really as shallow as I thought it was. Shave after shave was just awful and the results weren't getting any better. I knew for certain that my angle was not too wide, and something was obviously wrong with the blade. 

I decided to sharpen the blade, and my next shave was a "game changer". What ensued was the most comfortable, irritation-free shave I have ever had! I have had several shaves in a row now that have been unbelievably good. I get zero irritation (even on my neck) and the closeness and smoothness of the shaves are unparalleled. I have sensitive skin, so the fact that I can get such close and comfortable shaves in one or two passes is a huge plus for me. With my DE, it would take 3 or 4 passes to get as close as I can with 2 on the straight razor. 

I have related my experience to you to make several points. Number one is that there are many different variables that can be affecting your experience in the early going of straight razor shaving. For me, it was simply that my blade was not sharp enough, but it could be stropping, lather, technique, or a combination of all. You need to stick with it for a while and really give yourself an opportunity to correct for what might be causing you to have bad shaves with your straight. Number two is that if something feels wrong, and intuitively you sense that it is wrong,then it probably is. My razor was guaranteed to be shave ready, but it was not. Not until I sharpened it on my own did I have a razor that could cut my beard. If I would not have trusted my "gut" feeling on this, I still may be shaving with a dull blade and I would still be having terrible shaves. Number three is that even if you are using good technique (low angle and light pressure), there will probably still be a learning curve. For some it will be longer than others, but I have no doubt that if someone sticks with it, they can learn to get great shaves with a straight razor. 

So is a straight razor worth it? In my opinion the answer is a huge yes. I enjoyed shaving with a DE, but for me with my skin type and facial hair type, straight razor shaving is a whole new level of comfort and pleasure. I am admittedly still a very new straight razor shaver, and I will undoubtedly learn much more in the coming years. I am excited about this, because if I am already getting the best shaves of my life (by a pretty big margin), then think of how much better it can get once I really learn what I'm doing! I hope that this encourages some of you who may be struggling. Keep at it, don't give up, and if there seems to be something wrong then do your best to address it. For those of you that are "on the fence" all I can tell you is that, in my opinion, taking the plunge is totally worth it. Just make sure to understand that it will take some time to learn and have fun with it.

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 02-21-2018, 11:54 AM
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This is interesting, and I'm happy to hear the positive input.  I've been on the fence about shaving with a straight, and here are my five reservations.  Perhaps you (or someone else) would like to comment.  I emphasize that my mind is open.  I'd really like to like shaving with a straight, but I have these things that really give me pause.

1.  I get great shaves (not good shave, great shaves) with a DE or SE.  Any razors and blades that haven't been up to par are gone.  My remaining equipment is totally dialed in.  You can't do better than 100% BBS skin with complete comfort.  If I'm getting that now, are there still advantages to a straight shave?

2.  I have one vintage straight, one Feather AC Kamisori style, one Feather SS, and a Weck Sextoblade.  I've dabbled with each of them.  The shaves aren't even close to acceptably close.  I understand that there is a learning curve, but am I'm really going to eventually get perfectly smooth, perfectly comfortable shaves with the right straight and a lot of practice?

3.  Whenever I use a straight, I can't see where I'm shaving properly.  Fingers or blade obscures the sight line.  After using a "hoe-style" razor my entire shaving life, it seems like a lot to ask that I shave part of my face blind.

4.  Is a straight razor really a better tool, or is it just an acceptable tool that becomes a preferable tool because of its coolness?  The fact that, when given the chance, 99+% of the world's population switched away from straight razors makes me think it might just be a nostalgia thing.  Like a hipster farmer using a horse-drawn thresher.  The coolness of retro.  That's not really my thing.

5.  Stropping and honing.  When Gillette first came out with his razor, the big selling point -- imprinted on every blade -- was "no stropping, no honing."  Now I like the shaving ritual as much as the next guy, and being retired, I have plenty of time to really indulge that aspect of shaving.  But daily stropping; occasional honing....  Man that seems like a lot.

Anyway, thanks again for the excellent report.  It's experience like that that keep me coming back to the idea.

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 02-21-2018, 11:58 AM
#3
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Dude! thank you very much for posting this. IT IS indeed very encouraging!
I had tried a straight razor about a year ago which was also promised to be shave ready, i go for the shave and it's tugging and also leaving my face dry. Granted this was my first shave ever so it's VERY likely that my technique wasn't right. however it was just unpleasant and not fun. the razor also didn't glide at all even though i tried different angles and made sure to have a nice slippery lather. 
I tried it once again for half a shave before i boxed it and sold it!

Well now i am waiting for my second (really my first) straight razor and this time i trust the person who is sending it to have it shave ready. I very much look forward to it. My skin is very sensitive, beard not crazy dense but hair is coarse. I've pretty much mastered my DE and SE razors/techniques so I get an excellent shave from both. BBS in 3 passes, very rarely just two. some irritation on occasion in the neck area. sometimes due to blade, lather, a slip up on my end or simply because my skin is having a bad day!! I am allergic to cats and some dogs, so if i go to my parents (they own a dog) the night before, it's very likely my skin is irritated the next morning by the time i shave!

I am hoping to not have ANY irritation with the straight. This time I plan to give it more time and be patient. 
Again it's good to know that it's working for you now.. hope you continue to enjoy it

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 02-21-2018, 12:16 PM
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How did you approach the honing part?

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 02-21-2018, 01:11 PM
#5
  • TN4
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(02-21-2018, 11:54 AM)BrickHud Wrote: This is interesting, and I'm happy to hear the positive input.  I've been on the fence about shaving with a straight, and here are my five reservations.  Perhaps you (or someone else) would like to comment.  I emphasize that my mind is open.  I'd really like to like shaving with a straight, but I have these things that really give me pause.

1.  I get great shaves (not good shave, great shaves) with a DE or SE.  Any razors and blades that haven't been up to par are gone.  My remaining equipment is totally dialed in.  You can't do better than 100% BBS skin with complete comfort.  If I'm getting that now, are there still advantages to a straight shave?

2.  I have one vintage straight, one Feather AC Kamisori style, one Feather SS, and a Weck Sextoblade.  I've dabbled with each of them.  The shaves aren't even close to acceptably close.  I understand that there is a learning curve, but am I'm really going to eventually get perfectly smooth, perfectly comfortable shaves with the right straight and a lot of practice?

3.  Whenever I use a straight, I can't see where I'm shaving properly.  Fingers or blade obscures the sight line.  After using a "hoe-style" razor my entire shaving life, it seems like a lot to ask that I shave part of my face blind.

4.  Is a straight razor really a better tool, or is it just an acceptable tool that becomes a preferable tool because of its coolness?  The fact that, when given the chance, 99+% of the world's population switched away from straight razors makes me think it might just be a nostalgia thing.  Like a hipster farmer using a horse-drawn thresher.  The coolness of retro.  That's not really my thing.

5.  Stropping and honing.  When Gillette first came out with his razor, the big selling point -- imprinted on every blade -- was "no stropping, no honing."  Now I like the shaving ritual as much as the next guy, and being retired, I have plenty of time to really indulge that aspect of shaving.  But daily stropping; occasional honing....  Man that seems like a lot.

Anyway, thanks again for the excellent report.  It's experience like that that keep me coming back to the idea.

I'll attempt to answer your questions. 

1. If you are getting BBS shaves and zero irritation, then I can't imagine that a straight would offer you anything in the way of improving the actual shave. I will say that the feel of the blade is totally different on your face than with a DE or SE, but you may or may not like that. 

2. If you have a properly sharpened blade, AND your technique is good, then I can guarantee that you can get BBS shaves with a straight. As mentioned in the first point, BBS is BBS, so whether your getting that with a DE or a straight is just a matter of personal preference. 

3. When I had the first few shaves with a straight, I also could not see certain areas. If you use a straight consistently, over time you will learn different ways to hold the razor and stretch the skin that will really help this issue.

4. This is totally my opinion, but I think it is a superior tool. I think people change their products often times because there is just something new on the market. I imagine it was that way with DEs and cartridge razors when they first came out. Having said that, I again go back to the fact that BBS is BBS so I'm not sure that straight razor shaving just for sake of using a superior tool is justified. However, it is kind of cool to know that I could shave with one single blade for the rest of my life, and that I could pass that on to my son, etc. 

5. I actually enjoy the stopping and honing part of the experience. Honestly, if you strop properly, you should be able to make a good edge last for months. Stropping only takes about 2-3 minutes a day for me, so its not like it costs me a lot of extra time. And like I said, once you get the hang of stropping, it is actually kind of relaxing/enjoyable (which is true for the whole ritual of straight razor shaving).

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 02-21-2018, 01:12 PM
#6
  • TN4
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(02-21-2018, 11:58 AM)snowman Wrote: Dude! thank you very much for posting this. IT IS indeed very encouraging!
I had tried a straight razor about a year ago which was also promised to be shave ready, i go for the shave and it's tugging and also leaving my face dry. Granted this was my first shave ever so it's VERY likely that my technique wasn't right. however it was just unpleasant and not fun. the razor also didn't glide at all even though i tried different angles and made sure to have a nice slippery lather. 
I tried it once again for half a shave before i boxed it and sold it!

Well now i am waiting for my second (really my first) straight razor and this time i trust the person who is sending it to have it shave ready. I very much look forward to it. My skin is very sensitive, beard not crazy dense but hair is coarse. I've pretty much mastered my DE and SE razors/techniques so I get an excellent shave from both. BBS in 3 passes, very rarely just two. some irritation on occasion in the neck area. sometimes due to blade, lather, a slip up on my end or simply because my skin is having a bad day!! I am allergic to cats and some dogs, so if i go to my parents (they own a dog) the night before, it's very likely my skin is irritated the next morning by the time i shave!

I am hoping to not have ANY irritation with the straight. This time I plan to give it more time and be patient. 
Again it's good to know that it's working for you now.. hope you continue to enjoy it

That is exciting! If you are patient, and really commit to shaving with it every day for a month, I'm sure that you will have a good experience. As far as getting rid of the irritation, I would say that a light stroke, shallow angle, and going with the hair growth is essential. Stretching the skin on your sensitive areas is also important. Good luck!

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 02-21-2018, 03:00 PM
#7
  • nikos.a
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  • Athens, Greece
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Great post.

I've never shaved with a straight. Mostly because I'm a bit afraid of using them and don't have the time to learn from the beginning all the important stuff to enjoy my shaves. But I admire those who take the time!

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 02-21-2018, 03:34 PM
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(02-21-2018, 01:12 PM)TN4 Wrote: If you are patient, and really commit to shaving with it every day for a month, I'm sure that you will have a good experience. 

So if a person is already getting a much more than good experience with DE or SE razors, what is to be gained from a straight that would justify a 30 day commitment?  What's the added benefit for a person already getting great shaves from a DE or SE razor?

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 02-22-2018, 04:49 AM
#9
  • Steve56
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  • Knoxville, TN
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My early experiences with straights mirrors what TN4 wrote. As far as sideburns, the neck, etc goes, as you gain experience you'll find ways to make those work just as well as anything else.

A straight razor shave to me has been better than anything else, but if your skin/beard type is such that a DE works as well for you, the argument for a straight razor does diminish. If you get 2-pass BBS with no irritation at all there's less of an argument for a straight. If you have sensitive skin, a properly honed straight razor with proper technique is hard to beat.

Advantages of a properly honed straight razor using proper technique:
- very mild on the skin
- cheaper in the long run, once you have a strop and possibly a touch up hone, nothing else to buy, ever, except soap (but you will!)
- your blades can't be discontinued/changed
- with decent care (mainly keeping it dry) it will probably outlast you
- blade angles infinitely adjustable
- more variety in grinds, lengths, widths, styles - you can get some very nice custom razors! Mostly cosmetic though.

Advantages of a DE/SE:
- no honing or stropping
- probably quicker overall because no post-shave stropping/less cleaning
- selection of agressive/mild razors and blades (you have some latitude with straights but probably not as much)
- less of an overall learning curve (honing, stropping, etc), learning curve to optimum with a straight was for me almost a year to get the very best shave out of it, not just very good
Note: I was learning to hone straights at the same time since I already had suitable jnats which very likely extended the learning time.

Cheers, Steve

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 02-22-2018, 06:17 AM
#10
  • TN4
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(02-21-2018, 03:34 PM)BrickHud Wrote:
(02-21-2018, 01:12 PM)TN4 Wrote: If you are patient, and really commit to shaving with it every day for a month, I'm sure that you will have a good experience. 

So if a person is already getting a much more than good experience with DE or SE razors, what is to be gained from a straight that would justify a 30 day commitment?  What's the added benefit for a person already getting great shaves from a DE or SE razor?

I think that Steve56 had a great response, but I'll go ahead and respond directly to you. If you are getting perfect shaves with a DE or SE razor, then there is very little to be gained from learning straight razor shaving. For me personally, I have sensitive skin and facial hair that grows in circles in some places, so I have actually gained a considerable amount from learning to straight shave. Everyone's skin and facial has is different, and if you can get perfect shaves with your DE then that's fantastic! If that is the case, then the only reason you may want to try straights is just for the sake of learning something new.

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 02-22-2018, 06:19 AM
#11
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(02-21-2018, 12:16 PM)lloydrm Wrote: How did you approach the honing part?

For me, I didn't really need to do a full re-honing. I just needed to do a few laps on a cotton strop treated with diamond spray. That totally did the trick for me, and I was amazed at how much of a difference it actually made. If that would not have sharpened the razor enough, then I would have dropped down to a 12K stone.

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 02-22-2018, 07:38 AM
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(02-22-2018, 06:19 AM)TN4 Wrote:
(02-21-2018, 12:16 PM)lloydrm Wrote: How did you approach the honing part?

For me, I didn't really need to do a full re-honing. I just needed to do a few laps on a cotton strop treated with diamond spray. That totally did the trick for me, and I was amazed at how much of a difference it actually made. If that would not have sharpened the razor enough, then I would have dropped down to a 12K stone.

Interesting. I had the opposite experience as I was spoiled with excellent edges very early in my str8 journey. Now trying to replicate them but am far, far from it.

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 02-22-2018, 07:39 AM
#13
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(02-21-2018, 11:54 AM)BrickHud Wrote: This is interesting, and I'm happy to hear the positive input.  I've been on the fence about shaving with a straight, and here are my five reservations.  Perhaps you (or someone else) would like to comment.  I emphasize that my mind is open.  I'd really like to like shaving with a straight, but I have these things that really give me pause.

1.  I get great shaves (not good shave, great shaves) with a DE or SE.  Any razors and blades that haven't been up to par are gone.  My remaining equipment is totally dialed in.  You can't do better than 100% BBS skin with complete comfort.  If I'm getting that now, are there still advantages to a straight shave?

2.  I have one vintage straight, one Feather AC Kamisori style, one Feather SS, and a Weck Sextoblade.  I've dabbled with each of them.  The shaves aren't even close to acceptably close.  I understand that there is a learning curve, but am I'm really going to eventually get perfectly smooth, perfectly comfortable shaves with the right straight and a lot of practice?

3.  Whenever I use a straight, I can't see where I'm shaving properly.  Fingers or blade obscures the sight line.  After using a "hoe-style" razor my entire shaving life, it seems like a lot to ask that I shave part of my face blind.

4.  Is a straight razor really a better tool, or is it just an acceptable tool that becomes a preferable tool because of its coolness?  The fact that, when given the chance, 99+% of the world's population switched away from straight razors makes me think it might just be a nostalgia thing.  Like a hipster farmer using a horse-drawn thresher.  The coolness of retro.  That's not really my thing.

5.  Stropping and honing.  When Gillette first came out with his razor, the big selling point -- imprinted on every blade -- was "no stropping, no honing."  Now I like the shaving ritual as much as the next guy, and being retired, I have plenty of time to really indulge that aspect of shaving.  But daily stropping; occasional honing....  Man that seems like a lot.

Anyway, thanks again for the excellent report.  It's experience like that that keep me coming back to the idea.

I'll chime in here.  My experience so far does not mirror that of the OP, so this will be a slightly different point of view.  Mind you, I started using an open blade razor (Feather SS kamisori) on December 30 of 2017.  That was my first try.  I used it every day for 31 days, then got a straight.  I have been shaving, at least partially, with a straight razor now for only 21 days.  Some of that experience has been good and some has been, frankly, very frustrating.  With that in mind, here are my newbie answers to your questions: 

1) There is probably no advantage of a straight razor for a person who is already dialed in and happy with their DE/SE shaves, in terms of the shave itself. 

2) All indications are that if you work at it long enough you would, indeed, be able to get perfectly comfortable shaves with a straight.  I certainly haven't gotten anywhere near that yet, but I'm brand new.  Some people learn slower than others, too.  It was 4 or 5 months before I feel like I maximized my shaves with a DE, so I may just be slower than most people. 

3) Visibility is an issue, but perhaps not as big an issue as you think it is.  I had real trouble with that for about the first week or so.  Over time you just get a better feel for where the razor is, even if you can't see it perfectly.  You also learn ways of moving and turning your head that allow you to see stuff that you couldn't see before.  

4) Opinions vary about whether a straight is a better tool or not.  I think the idea of infinite adjustability is pretty cool.  I also find that, in general, shaves with open blade razors seem to be gentler than shaves with DEs or SEs.  You can vary the angle and the pressure completely, and change it depending on what you need at a certain place or time.  I believe that people who get really good at it can get shaves that are less likely to be irritating to sensitive skin, but that goal is a long way off for me. 

5) Daily stropping isn't much at all.  It takes a couple of minutes, max, and I strop slowly and carefully.  There may be a lot of reasons to not want to get into straight razor shaving, but stropping should not be one of them, in my opinion.  It's actually kind of enjoyable in its own way.  Honing I don't do, and I don't know anything about.  I've been told that if you start with a good edge and you can strop properly, you can go months between honings.  If I continue for any length of time using a straight, I plan on sending my razors to be honed by somebody with a lot of experience.  
You can touch up an edge if it begins to tug by using pasted strops (balsa with CrOx, FeOx, diamond pastes, etc).  When I bought my razor, I bought a paddle strop that has four sides:  two are leather, one is balsa with CrOx and one is balsa with FeOx.  When the razor no longer feels sharp, I can just strop it on the CrOx side, wipe it down, strop it on the FeOx side, wipe it down, and then strop it on the leather and it is back to sharp and ready.  The whole process takes about 5 minutes, and I have been doing it about once a week.  I'm told that as my shaving and stropping skills improve, I won't have to "touch up" the edge as often.  

I hope this was helpful.  Please do bear in mind that I am just learning, and that my opinion could change radically within the next 3 or 4 months, depending on how things go.

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 02-22-2018, 07:50 AM
#14
  • Steve56
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How you hone depends on what you're trying to do.

To maintain a shave-ready razor, there are tons of cheap options. A 12k stone or finer, lapping film (cheap), a good vintage barber hone, a razor-grade coticule or jnat, or a pasted strop will do. Pasted strops will eventually round the bevels and necessitate a trip to a stone or lapping film though. But you could say, use CBN or diamond on lapped balsa and go for years on that according to the folks who are experts with that system.

I do a lot of razors, ebay, Gold Dollars, etc. No re-grinding, but my factory Gold Dollar/geometry correcting/chip removal stones are Shapton Glass 500 and 1000. My main sequence are Shapton 2k/5k/8k Pro stones and a jnat finisher. I could easily drop the 8k with a jnat. I'm experimenting with a Shapton Glass 4k and like what it's doing.

Now the above are two different hardware scenarios, but you also have to learn to hone, not too bad just for maintenance. It's all muscle memory and just like shaving and stropping, it isn't hard but you do have to learn and practice. I love to hone and the jnats, and that helps of course except with the budget. The biggest thing you'll have to learn is that you can't use anything close to knife pressure, especially with thinly ground razors.

Cheers, Steve

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 02-22-2018, 08:24 AM
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This is a very useful thread, and I think TN4's posts will be very encouraging to the new SR shaver.

My experience has been this: After 40 years + of wet shaving, I had, like BrickHud, gotten to the point where I was getting daily BBS shaves with no irritation. I took up the straight razor in earnest about 4 months ago, because I wanted to learn it and see what so many SR shavers were raving about.

It DID take a lot of effort to get to the point where I even got a DFS with a straight. In every case, the improvement came when I improved my technique-angle, pressure, stretching, etc.

Now, after two passes with a straight, I'm just about done. Very close to BBS, except for a few spots. I'll do a 3rd pass with the straight that's mostly touch up and have a very comfortable BBS. If I want a super-close BBS, I'll do some finishing and buffing with a DE. 

The big question is if it's worth the effort. That's a personal decision. For me, I've grown to love the process of stropping, my beginning efforts of honing, learning about the different blades and grinds, all of that. No hipster retro sentiments here, just an appreciation of the blades and the process.

Charles Roberts used to say to me that King Gillette changed the world, and I always thought this was Charles being hyperbolic. But when I consider the savings in time that the DE razor brought to the average man who could get a wonderful shave with a DE razor, with no maintenance of the blade, no stropping, honing, all of that, I think he may have been right!

I can enjoy a DE shave, an SE shave, and now a SR shave. Like with a cup of tea: sometimes, I'll make a cup of tea with a simple tea bag, sometimes I'll steep the leaves, and sometimes, I'll take the time to use powder, a tea bowl, and a whisk. It's all very, very good.

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 03-19-2018, 12:53 PM
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I actually started shaving with a straight (shavette, really, a cheap rust-prone one from Sally's Beauty Supply—the only store I knew at the time that sold them).  That was about twenty years ago.  The problem was that the blade tended to rust into the metal frame, making it impossible for me to change it out.  And then when I enlisted in 2001, I was forbidden from using straights because of the rushed nature of recruits' morning shaves increasing the likelihood of serious cuts.  When I got out I was using cartridges, Mach 3 and then Fusion.  I returned to wet shaving in 2016 with a badger brush and bowl from China ordered cheap on Amazon, and last year I made the leap to safeties beginning with my Van Der Hagen/Weishi and ultimately accumulating a Fatboy, a Merkur 34c, and some vintage razors that need re-plating before I can use them.

Now, I did get a hold of a vintage Wusthof and used it a couple times before stupidly leaving it wet overnight and finding it rusted in areas.  It's not too bad, but enough that I don't want to risk doing further damage until I can send it in for restoration (in the meantime I keep it coated in mineral oil).  I'll probably keep that and get myself another Wusthof or perhaps a Dubl Duck.  When I used the straight after so many years, I remembered my technique and had no irritation or nicks.  It probably helped that my use of safeties allowed me to hone said technique.

I highly recommend that wet shavers get at least one good straight, forgetting the shavettes, and keep it in rotation for those weekends when you don't have to hurry through your shave.  Properly honed, it'll give you the best shaves even over safeties, as the original post attests.

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