An Introduction to Straight Razors
I concede that in a collapse situation, personal grooming won’t be a top priority. But just because it’s TEOTWAWKI doesn’t mean you won’t want to be able to shave. Maybe you will choose to grow a beard. But wouldn’t it be nice if that was your decision, not one made because you ran out of disposable razor blades? Also you ladies–you need to decide–how important is having shaved underarms and/or legs to you?
People have been shaving for a long time. Razor blades, made of copper, were first used around 3000 BC. Alexander the Great was a strong advocate of his soldiers shaving (in the 4th century BC) to avoid “dangerous beard-grabbing in combat”, and because he believed it looked tidier.
The ‘modern-day’ folding straight razor has been around since 1680. It was used from that time until the early 1900s; then, in 1901, Mr. Gillette invented the disposable safety razor. By the end of World War I (after millions had been issued to the troops) most men were shaving with a disposable razor. In the 1920s, women too began using the disposable razor; shaving their legs when dress hemlines began to rise and show more skin.
I had thought about trying a straight razor for a some time. Last year I read a post on TSP form, How to get out of a consumer marketing trap with a straight razor, and finally decided to go ahead and do it. Sarah thought I was crazy, but she was supportive; she watched me the first night, phone in hand, ready to call 911 in case of severe bleeding. There were several nicks in the beginning weeks, until I got the hang of it, but nothing serious. The honing and stropping were a hassle for me to figure out; I finally realized that I had to hold the razor at a flatter angle than I do when sharpening a standard knife. Now, almost a year later–though I still have to concentrate more–it takes no longer than a disposable razor, and is routine and smooth (pun intended). I strop the edge each time before I shave, and hone it each month.
Why use a straight razor?
- It’s the ultimate self-sufficient shaving tool
- The nostalgia of using a traditional method
- The larger blade covers more surface with greater control
- You don’t have to rinse as much and clean up is easier
- It prevents skin razor bumps that are caused by multi-edged razors
- Once you master it, you’ll feel very cool
To get started you’d need (as shown clockwise in the photo): the straight razor, a leather strop, a boar bristle shave brush, a bowl (or mug) for the soap, and the shaving soap. (The above links are to the items I own; they were suggested on TSP forum post as a good basic starter set).
Many resources are available to help you learn how to use your new razor; it does take effort to become proficient. I like this YouTube video, he narrates it well and uses the right hand/right side, left hand/left side technique that I think works best. The Art of the Straight Razor is a good written resource.
Anciently, before copper razors were available, hair was sometimes removed using two shells to pull the hair out. So if you still want that clean look if the SHTF, either invest now in a straight razor or stock up on those shells.
(Friday: What I Did This Week To Prep / What I’m Thankful For)