There is no doubt that “Traditional Shaving” or “Classic shaving” as it’s sometimes referred to, is making a strong resurgence. And a fair question often thrown up by blokes from later generations is “What is a safety razor?
Now I have a confession! Up until I started looking into shaving with a safety razor, I had absolutely no idea what it was, let alone how to use one. When I was around 8 years old, I think I may have seen one sitting in a box in my Granddad’s old garage, but I’m not 100% certain. Anyhow, it was more interesting checking out what other treasures I might find in my Redback infested paradise!
As I was growing up, Dad tended to change between electric & disposable type razors. At the time, the advertising of both was unrelenting. The newest & best disposables on the market, pitted against, electric razors that will shave “as close as a blade, or your money back.”
When I began my adventure into manhood, shaving in particular, I decided to follow Dad’s lead by using disposables. I did try the electric razor a couple of times, but it never felt quite right.
Anyhow I digress. After decades of using disposable & cartridge razors, I stumbled upon the world of “classic wet shaving.” In all honesty, I didn’t now there were men out there still intentionally using traditional shaving methods…besides my local barber.
A Brief History
Let’s have look at Wikipedia’s description:
“A safety razor is a shaving implement with a protective device positioned between the edge of the blade and the skin. The initial purpose of these protective devices was to reduce the level of skill needed for injury-free shaving, thereby reducing the reliance on professional barbers for that service and raising grooming standards.
The term was first used in a patent issued in 1880, for a razor in the basic contemporary configuration with a handle attached at right angles to a head in which a removable blade is placed.”
It’s definitely fair to say that the safety razor has experienced a number of innovations during it’s metamorphosis. However it wasn’t until a patent granted to American businessman “King Camp Gillette” in 1904 that the safety razor embodied the double-edge design we now know & love.
There are a number of components in the safety razor we can go into extreme detail about. And a search on Google will give you an in depth analysis on every external & internal facet of the safety razor.
This article however, is for beginners. For those of us just embarking on their wet shaving adventure, who want an overview of the parts of the safety razor & how to put it together.
There are three basic designs to a safety razor:
- One Piece – Also colloquially known as a butterfly or TTO (twist to open) because of the way you access the blade, has no removable parts. It is opened simply by rotating the knob of the handle. This in turn opens the plates allowing you to insert your blade of choice. This is probably the simplest method for blade replacement, however the mechanism in the head may wear over time due to improper cleaning, or just continuous use.
- Two Piece – Having more in common with the three piece design rather than the butterfly, this is very popular amongst classic shavers around the world. In my article introducing some of the most respected safety razors for beginners, I speak about the Merkur 34C, one of the most well known two piece designs available. One drawback of this design is that because the cutting head base plate is permanently secured to the handle, cleaning is made a little more difficult.
- Three Piece – Again a very popular type of razor. This is a more traditional design, and although it has the most removable parts, this razor also remains the easiest to clean. You can easily attack the top & bottom parts of the cutting head with an old toothbrush & detergent to bring your pride & joy back to mint condition. You do need to be careful however, if you over-tighten the handle, the thread may become damaged.
There are a few considerations when choosing a razor to reflect your skill level, experience & desired result.
- Open Comb – As there is no bar to push the whiskers down, an open comb razor is considered to be particularly good when shaving a longer growth. There are also less instances of clogging your razor, as your soap & whiskers are more easily rinsed from the cutting head. Open comb razors can also tend to be more aggressive, so correct technique is paramount.
- Closed Comb – These razors have a safety bar. Often considered a great choice for beginners to wet shaving, they are generally the least aggressive of the various razor types. For the same reason, this also makes this type of razor attractive to men who suffer from sensitive skin. Although it really makes no discernible difference to performance, some styles of closed comb razors have scalloped bars. When you have a lot of lather on the head, closed comb razors can at times, need more rinsing than their open comb cousins.
- Slant Bar – Although a little odd to look at, slant bar razors function a little differently. Although you hold your razor at the same 30 degrees (or there abouts), because the bar hits your whiskers at an angle, they tend to slice through your beard more cleanly. If you have particularly coarse hair, a slant bar would be a fantastic option for you. Beginners could have a crack at using these, however because they are slightly more aggressive, they are more suited to the seasoned aficionado.
- Adjustable – Some razors are also adjustable. This means they have a number of different settings so you can adjust the aggressiveness of your razor.
There are also hundreds of different handles in the world of safety razors. Grips, textures & designs vary greatly. An example is a review I did of a popular Edwin Jagger range, which give you a few options. It’s often a matter of personal preference as to which handle you’ll choose.
My Rookie Mistakes
Yes, like many starting out with safety razors…I made mistakes! So in no particular order, here they are!
My Lather Sucked
I’d heard so many stories about not making my lather too wet. Unfortunately, this drove me in the opposite direction. Although I corrected it quickly, my lather consistency was far too dry, rather than having the more desired soft, creamy peaks in my bowl.
No Soap, No Shave
When your learning, finding that right angle can be tricky. When you make your pass, you’ll take the lather along with it, regardless whether the angle is perfect, or in my case…crap. Don’t try to shave over the un-lathered area again if you make a mistake. Make note of it, and correct it with your next pass.
Poor Brush Technique
In a nutshell, I was just painting my shaving cream onto my face rather than using the brush tip to massage the lather into my face & hair. After correcting this, my face was fare more receptive to a cleaner shave.
Pushed Too Bloody Hard
After my first pass was performed so smoothly, my confidence level grew disproportionally for the second. I applied far more pressure than I needed to, resulting in a couple of bleeders. Lesson learnt! Let the weight of the razor do the work.
Growing up I heard more times than I care to remember, “slow down! it’s not a race!” The same could be said for safety razors.
Take the time to learn your face & improve your technique. By all means, try different blades & creams, but getting the fundamentals right will give you more consistent shaves time after time.
Correct Water Temperature
Just finally, this isn’t a mistake as much as it is an exploration. Now it won’t suit everybody, but I personally found shaving with cold water to give me an overall more pleasant shaving experience. As I mentioned however, it won’t endear itself to all wet shavers, but it may be worth giving it a go if you suffer from razor burn, sensitive skin, etc.
If your’e new to traditional shaving, I hope this has given you a little more info about safety razors & my rookie mistakes in general.
If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.
Time to get your shave on! 😉