Instructables

Wetshaving for the Common Man

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The process of shaving had remained relatively unchanged since its primeval beginnings--using just one blade stropped and sharpened to the most infinitesimal degree, hot water and a rich lather, a man would cut the hair right off of his face in a few steady, trained motions. It was a ritualistic activity that spawned poems, songs, dances and stories, it was a rite of passage for every boy, it was a luxury, something passed down through common knowledge for thousands of years--and then it died out.

The growth and conflict of the twentieth century thrust the world forward in its ways, pushing it toward horizons of ever-greater efficiency, ease and speed. The conventional straight razor was replaced by the first safety razors, which allowed shaving in just a few seconds without the help of a mirror. Then the stone and strop were replaced by disposable blades which didn't need to be sharpened or cared for in any way. Lather was pressurized and pumped into cans. Then there was the advent of the electric razor--which in turn forced the safety razor to evolve: fist one blade became two, two became three, three four, and four somehow became six--five for reduced irritation of the face and one Precision Trimmer (tm) for those Tough Places (C).

There are some of us who don't enjoy this breakneck progression--these Sensitive Skin razors with blades their numbers rocketing toward the triple-digits, the Arctic Rush gel with invigorating chemicals whose names are sounding ever more like high explosives. That's where the straight razor comes in, that ancient and still-perfect implement, the daily ritual of shaving with it, the rich smell of lather and hot water, the knowledge that what you are doing is very real and not bound by contracts or trademarks. All of us can do this.

It seems like our knowledge of wetshaving (that's what it's called) comes from the movies--whether it's the daily ritual of the murderous Captain Vidal in Pan's Labyrinth or the terrifying act in Sweeny Todd, where your life balances on the precarious edge of the Demon Barber's chased-sterling razor. Trust me, this is exaggeration. You won't accidentally turn yourself into pie while shaving. Nevertheless, it isn't foolproof and you'll definitely cut yourself a few times. I've never cut myself badly--in fact, using a straight razor is very safe if done properly, but:

**This guide is meant for instructional purposes only. You can do this but only at your own risk. I, the author, am not responsible for any injury you inflict upon yourself or others while attempting to do what is herein illustrated.**

Okay, with that out of the way, let's get started.
 
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RugerDude5 years ago
cool I'm 14 so i only have some stiff hair on my upper lip but i have tried it before!
no one has commented on this page since 2010 its a shame when peoples instructables get forgotten about much like the fine art of shaving with an open blade is being forgotten
actually wet shaving has been making a come back recently
Amiga5001 year ago
Holy crap, it's a straight razor! My husband recently fell in love with safety razors, and this is next on the list. Thanks for the tutorial, I'll pass it on.
The Rambler2 years ago
Just letting you know, I also tacked this on the gentlemint.com.
l8nite2 years ago
eeeeeeep !! I just found the SCARIEST "ible" ever !! !
korgoth252 years ago
Nice ible, ive been using a straight razor for about a week now and am just making sure im doing things right, so far only 2 small cuts! Although id say the most "dangerous" part is up high on my cheeks (where i got those two cuts) and not pulling my skin there. If theirs one thing i learned through this experience is pull the skin no matter what you think.
Neat Instructable and nice Dovo. I have been real shaving myself for about 3 years now. No other way.
Nice. I'm more of a DE kind of guy. Check my out instructable at http://www.instructables.com/id/So-you-want-an-old-fashioned-double-edged-safety-r/
did it take you some time to learn to shave with the straight razor or was it easier for you?
Basta (author)  nightninja873 years ago
It definitely took time. Half of it is about getting your shaving technique right, the other half is getting the sharpening technique right.
agis683 years ago
The last decade I learned to use the original razor and now Iam using it always. Recently in a Greek village I visited an old time classic barber shop and the employment show me a trick for making cheap a rich foam for shaving. He used for basis a common soap mixed with water and then he dropped about 2 spoons of cooking soda!!!. The mix was really thick and rich and very good.....When I visited England some years agoI bought exactly the same soap like yours in sandalwood. But now i forgot it could u tell me plz the brand name????
Basta (author)  agis683 years ago
A lot of brands make that one bowl. I can't remember which brand mine was, but The Art of Shaving, Truefitt and Hill, and Taylor of Old Bond Street all make a clone of it. I know for a fact that The Art of Shaving has the bowl and sandalwood refills in their stores and online.
agis68 Basta3 years ago
thnx for your reply...
antagonizer5 years ago
Great shaving instructable. I've been using a straight razor now for about 2 years and would never even consider using disposables again. My only comments, to you, would be that you're sharpening your blade too often. Once every 10 shaves should do it, or else you could 'over sharpen' and simply make a brittle burr. Also, you're stropping too much. If you're using it to refine an edge after sharpening with some jewlers rouge, 15 strokes is good, however stropping should ONLY be done just before shaving, and only 4-5 strokes. The idea is to 'line up' the burr, not put an edge on it. Other than that, fantastic instructable!
Basta (author)  antagonizer5 years ago
Thanks for the comment! I've seen some disparity among peers when it comes to honing/stropping--some seem to think that the razor must be stropped multiple times before/during/after a shave, while others say to only strop every 3-4 shaves. Your method seems to take the middle ground, which I like. I'll have to look it up a little, and I'll probably end up editing that part of the instructable.
I assume by sharpening you mean honing? If so, I don't do that every time I shave--probably more like once a month. I may not have made this clear in the instructable...I'll have to go back and check.
Thanks!
Gksarmy Basta4 years ago
I too agree with antagonizer. Honing should only be done 1-2 times a YEAR as i understand it. But stropping i've heard is good before every shave...so who knows?
Basta (author)  Gksarmy4 years ago
Probably comes down to personal preference. I know that my razor is really hard to put a perfect edge on, but once it's there it wears out in about two months and needs re-honing. I strop before each shave, 10-15 strokes on the canvas side of my strop and 15-20 times on the leather side. Still, I've heard to strop once every four shaves, and others say strop every day, 20 times on canvas, 30 times on leather, and 40 times on newspaper for cripes sake. I don't have that much time in the morning.
finfan74 years ago
This is an excellent Instructable but there is one thing I would mention.  Something my father taught me is that it's really the burr on the edge of the blade that simulates an even sharper blade than the razor actually is.  This means that when you strop you should always strop in one direction only.  This is what builds the burr.
Basta (author)  finfan74 years ago
The burr is a really important part of the razor--without it, the razor would seem very dull. To the best of my knowledge stropping on both sides is to maintain the burr, not to actually sharpen the blade. The burr gets deformed and requires reshaping after each shave, and that's what the strop is for. Most people will also tell you to let the blade "rest" for 24-48 hours after you use it, otherwise the burr can become fatigued and fall off.

Then again, I've never tried stropping one side of the blade. It could definitely work, though I've never heard of it in practice.
Nick112554 years ago
very nice, i will definitely ask for a set for my birthday... just went on ebay and the razors are either $5 or $300 watev thanks
Basta (author)  Nick112554 years ago
Ebay can be a great place for razors, as long as you look for the right thing. Best are old used ones still in god shape, like this: http://cgi.ebay.com/COLUMBIA-CUTLERY-STRAIGHT-RAZOR-BLADE-GERMANY-WOODEN_W0QQitemZ170449122545QQcmdZViewItemQQptZLH_DefaultDomain_0?hash=item27af8f34f1
But new production razors can be tricky. Cheap razors are made of stainless, and that's bad. Always go for carbon steel. Dovo (the brand of my razor) makes some really good ones.
SeanPatrick5 years ago
When my dad taught me how to shave (it's been awhile) he told me that if you shave against the grain you'll get ingrown hairs. Has anyone experienced this? I've always just shaved with the grain.
Against grain/with grain depends on length of beard/mustache. If longer, shave w/the grain 1st then on the 2nd pass shave against the grain for a smooth shave; believe me, it's the closest shave a man can get. FYI: It helps to add a heated towel to the face 1st to soften the hair & make the skin more pliable to movement b/c it takes precision to shave w/a traditional blade as it is extremely sharp. It's also nice to add a bit of man-scented lotion to the face to prevent drying out the skin. A manly scented non-greasy oil is best but I'm not sure if anyone sells it anymore.

Basta, thanks for adding these directions. Shaving w/ a straight blade, strop, brush, & lathering soap has become a lost art-form. I'm glad to hear someone still uses it. Maybe someone will read your instructions & pick up true shaving again then convince others to try it too. I'd like to see this type of shaving come back.

An elderly man in the neighborhood where I grew up developed Parkinson's, which caused his hands to shake so bad from the tremors he couldn't shave himself as he had since he was a young boy. Since I shaved my paternal grandfather using this method, I offered to shave him & even trimmed his hair when it needed it. I learned to shave w/a straight blade by applying lathering soap to a blown up balloon. Once I should shave consistently w/o bursting the balloon, I could shave any man who wanted a straight blade shave.

I ran into the elderly man I used to shave back in the day some yrs after I left home. He was w/a nurse helping him shop b/c he had Alzheimer's; it was fortunate for me that he wasn't sun-downing b/c while he couldn't remember my name, he could remember all those times I shaved him & cut his hair. He told me how much he appreciated my taking up time w/such an old man when clearly I probably had better things to do; however, I told him it was not only my pleasure to help him, I enjoyed spending time w/him, hearing stories of his childhood & young man days, & well - his life story. I adored him. When I told him this, he broke out in tears, wrapped his arms around me, and hugged me tightly. He said I did for him when neither of his two children could be bothered. I was more like his daughter than the daughter he had. That made me cry. It was nice to know I made such an impact on his life considering the impact he made on mine.
Basta (author)  paise4 years ago
That's a wonderful story. I think there's also something about the ritual of shaving the old way that resonates more deeply with us than the modern, topical method does.

I've heard about the balloon trick. Never tried it, though. I HAVE tried to shave the fuzz off a peach, and that's tricky to say the least.
I have never gotten ingrown hairs by shaving against the grain. I've also found that shaving with the grain produces an extremely poor shave, mostly because you are essentially just flattening the hairs that have grown.
Not everyone gets ingrown hairs by shaving against the grain, but it does happen.

If your experience is that you're just flattening the hairs when shaving with the grain, then one or more things is happening. One is that you're not lathering correctly... especially in the case of a wet shave... as the lathering process encourages the hairs to stand up and the shave soap holds them that way. Another could be that your razor is slightly dull... even out of the packet, most cartridge style razors fall into the dull category compared to a properly kept straight razor and if your facial hair is of substantial thickness a cartridge razor can be made useless after one or two passes (I've actually chipped the edges of Gilette Fusion razors before I switched over to a straight razor). Finally, it may just be that you're sporting facial hair that's still too close to peach fuzz for a razor's edge to bite into when going with the grain (a problem I had when I first started getting facial hair, I never could have anticipated the wire brush that grows out of my face now)
I really don't have a grain. The hair on my chin grows like moleskin. 0_o
dmcgraw74 years ago
Nicely done. I am ready to give it a try. Thanks.
Jake-off5 years ago
great instructables. i just bought one and i was very thankful for this. but what do you do with the lather on your blade?
Basta (author)  Jake-off5 years ago
You mean during shaving? Just rinse it off under running water. Don't get the rivet point wet as water can stay under there and rust the tang area.
Jake-off Basta5 years ago
ok thanks, I was just curious, i was watching monty python meaning of life and i saw john clease just wiping it off on a cloth
That works well too. I just use the washcloth that I'm going to use to wipe my face later. I recommend putting the spine into the cloth when you do that, for obvious reasons.
Thanks for the sharpening tips! I have a vintage straight razor, just picked up a stone and strop. Tried them out, but didn't have the right angle. Thanks!
Lesenthe5 years ago
Great instructable. I've been using a straight razor for awhile now. Nothing's more manly than shaving with what amounts to a really sharp knife. :) The one piece of advice I can add here is not to try it on your scalp. I prefer a smooth dome, and tried it just the once. It's a pity I didn't take pics, because the damage was pretty impressive.
Larzid5 years ago
Excellent instructable, i read somewhere that in ancient times they used olive oil instead of lather, any way, i did it a few times with the most unlikely equipment, a German steel utility knife (when i was in culinary school i used to have my knives really sharp and used a strop instead of a steel) and the olive oil and always got a perfect shave. the reason i did this i because you had to come into class with a clean shave every day or they would make you shave with those nasty 10 razors for one buck things and water (horrible shaving experience).
Basta (author)  Larzid5 years ago
That's cool, I never really thought of using oil but I'm sure it would work. Maybe I'll try it some day. I can imagine using a small French chef's knife, too--I used to work in a restaurant and even their cheap pressed blades could reach close to a razor-sharpness honed correctly, at least enough to skim the hairs off your arm. I'm glad I don't go to a school where they force you to shave.
awoodcarver5 years ago
Very nicely done ...I learned with a straight razor and still use mine .... my son now 14 is starting to grow a few whiskers and I have pulled out a old razor and need to put a new grip on it and show him how to sharpen and strop it as well as shave ... I do agree with Ant you seem to be stropping too much ( but we all are taught / learn differently )....I may take pics and do a Instructable on the grip as well as cleaning rust off old blades ... your sharpening of laying the back and front on the stone was right on it is a built in angle guide ..I do find my straight razor gives a better closer shave then disposable but these old safety razors come in a very close second
I'd love to see that instrucable, I have a couple razors I picked up at a junk shop and they shave great but they could do with a good cleaning and one needs a new handle
Thornburg5 years ago
Nice job, just that ever since Sweeny Todd, I haven't been much of a fan of shaving like this. Good work though, very nice details.
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