How To Shave Like Your Grandpa

by Brett on January 4, 2008 · 346 comments

in Dress & Grooming, Shaving

shaving1.pngProper shaving has become a lost art. Today’s average male has no clue about the fine art of the traditional wet shave that their grandfathers and some of their fathers used to take part in. Instead, they’re only accustomed to the cheap and disposable shaving products that companies market. I’m not sure when or why it happened, but the tradition of passing down the secrets of a clean shave abruptly stopped. Thankfully, this glorious male ritual is making a comeback.

Benefits of the Classic Wet Shave

Reduce costs. An 8-pack of your typical 4-blade cartridge razors can set you back over $20. $20! That’s $2.50 per cartridge. The cost of a double-edged safety razor is no more than $.25. You can save some serious money switching over to a safety razor. Additionally, you can save money by using traditional shaving creams and soaps. A can of the chemically packed gel goop that most drug stores sell can cost you up to $5 a can and it doesn’t even last that long, and they don’t give you a quality shave. On the other hand, traditional shave creams and soaps are made out of natural materials. While their up-front cost may be a bit more than shaving gels, you require less product to get a proper lather. Thus, you end up saving more in the long run.

Reduce environmental impact. Traditional wet shaving with a double-edged safety razor uses less waste than shaving with cartridge razors. The only waste is a single metal razor blade and lather down the sink. Unlike today’s razor cartridges, a double-edged blade can easily be recycled. The tubes and bowls that most traditional shave creams and soaps are sold in produce less waste than those clunky non-biodegradable aerosol canisters that gels come in.

Better, more consistent shaves. Most men today walk around not knowing they have horrible shaves. Electric razors and the latest 5-blade contraptions irritate the skin more than needed, leaving razor burn, ingrown hairs, and redness. Shaving with a safety razor will eliminate the skin irritation and give your face a clean, healthy look because you’re just using one blade instead of several that chew up your face in order to cut your whiskers.

You’ll feel like a bad ass. It’s nice taking part in a ritual that great men like your grandfather, John F. Kennedy, and Teddy Roosevelt took part in.

The Tools

Safety Razor

gilletesafetyrazorvig.jpgSwitching from a cheap disposable razor to a double-edged safety razor is like upgrading from a Pinto to a Mercedes. A safety razor is a machine. It’s nice holding a piece of heavy, sturdy metal in your hand while you’re shaving as opposed to a piece of cheap-o plastic.

You can find safety razors in a variety of places. First, ask your grandpa if he still has his. Chances are he does. If gramps doesn’t have one, try checking antique stores. I found my 1966 Gillette Superspeed Safety Razor in an antique store in Vermont. I only paid $10 for it. If you don’t have any luck there, stop by eBay and do a search for safety razors. You’re bound to find a few there. Finally, if buying a used safety razor doesn’t fancy you, you can always buy a new one from the several companies that still make them. A highly recommended safety razor is from Merkur. They have several types to choose from at varying prices. Look to spend about $40 for a new safety razor.

Suggested Razors
Merkur Classic Safety Razor, Straight-#178- Made in Germany
Merkur Futur Adjustable Double Edge Safety Razor with Satin Finish- #700- Made in Germany
Merkur Classic Long Handled Safety Razor, Straight

Blades

You can choose from a variety of different blades. Each blade has a unique sharpness and cutting ability. Experiment with different kinds until you find the ones you like.

Suggested Razors
American Personna. You can find these in most drugstores. They’re usually marketed as generic brand blades. They’re pretty forgiving for the first-time user.
Merkur Double Edge Razor Blades- Pack of 10 Blades- Made in Germany

Shaving Brush

shave2.jpgIf you’ve never used a brush during shaving, you’re in for a treat. A brush helps hydrate the shaving cream in order to form a thick, rich shaving lather. Using a brush to lather up helps get the shaving cream up under each whisker which results in better, smoother shaves. Plus, it just feels nice on your face to lather up with a brush.

Brushes are made out of two types of animal hair: boar and badger. Boar bristles are stiffer than badger bristles and hold less water. Boar hair brushes are also cheaper. You can find a boar hair brush at Walmart for about $4. If you really want to have a nice shaving experience, splurge and buy a badger hair brush. Badger brushes create more lather and it feels a lot nicer on your face. You can pick up a nice badger brush at any Crabtree and Evelyn. If you don’t have a Crabtree in your area, try Amazon.

Suggested Brushes
Omega Creamy Curved Handle Pure Badger Shaving Brush – #13109
Porter’s Badger Shaving Brush
Omega Brownie Junior Badger Shaving Brush with Stand – #63184

Soaps and Creams

If you’re like the average guy, you’ve probably been getting your shaving cream from a can. This blue/green, chemically laced goop does nothing for your face and smells like a hospital. Traditional shave creams and soaps, on the other hand, are full of natural ingredients that nourish your face and leave you smelling absolutely manly. While these high-quality creams and soaps may cost more than the can stuff, just a dab will create enough lather for you to lather up twice.

Suggested Creams and Soaps

Proraso Eucalyptus & Menthol Shaving Cream 150 ml.
Kiss My Face Fragrance Free Moisture Shave, 11-Ounce Pumps (Pack of 4)
Taylor of Old Bond Street Sandalwood Shaving Cream Jar
Proraso Shave Cream Tube
Body Shop For Men Shave Cream

The Technique

Prep your beard. If you want a clean shave, you need to prep your beard adequately. The goal during beard prep is to soften your whiskers so shaving is easier and causes less irritation. The best way to soften your beard is to to shave right when you get out of the shower. The hot water from your shower should hydrate and soften your beard enough for shaving. If you haven’t showered, at least wet your beard with some hot water. A hot towel is a great way to soften the facial hair.

Lather up. Take a small dollop (about the size of nickel) of your shave cream and place it in a mug. Take your brush that you’ve pre-soaked with water and swirl the cream around until you get a nice thick lather. Apply the lather with your brush in swirling motions. When your face is nice and covered, take a few strokes to smooth everything out.
shave3.jpg

The shave. Unlike shaving with cartridge razors, shaving with a safety razor actually requires some skill and technique. Once mastered, though, you should be shaving effectively in no time. The four keys to a successful shave with a safety razor are: 1) use as little pressure as possible, 2) angle the blade as far away from your face as possible, 3) shave with the grain, and 4) go for beard reduction, not beard removal. This will take some getting used to if you have used cartridges your entire life.

You don’t need to use pressure because the weight of the safety razor is sufficient to cut your beard. If you press down, you’ll end up hacking up your face. To help counter the tendency to apply pressure, try holding the razor by the tip of the handle.

Angling your razor is probably the trickiest part. The proper angle is somewhere between 30 and 45 degrees. To get the proper razor angle, put the top of the razor head directly on your cheek, with the handle parallel with the floor. Now slowly lower the handle until the blade can cut your whisker. Practice on your arm if you’re not comfortable practicing on your face.

While shaving against the grain can get you that smooth feel, you risk slicing up your face and causing ingrown hairs. When you’re first starting out, shave with the grain of your beard. If you lather up and pass the razor more than once over your face, you’re guaranteed to get a smooth finish.

The goal with shaving should be gradual beard reduction, not beard removal in one deft swoop. Most men try to get rid of their beard in one pass of the razor. This hack-and-go technique is what causes the majority of skin irritations. If you want to avoid skin irritation, lather up and pass your razor over your face several times. Your face will thank you.

Post-shave. Rinse your face off with some cold water to close your pores. Treat your face to a nice aftershave. There are several to choose from, so pick the one you like best. Aftershave helps reduce any irritation that may have occurred and will leave your skin looking healthy.

Additional Resources

Several resources exist on the internet on traditional wet shaving. Check these sites out for more information.

Badger and Blade (This is an excellent resource. I learned most of what I know about the traditional wet shave from this forum.)
Shaveblog
A Guide to the Gourmet Shaving Experiene

{ 332 comments… read them below or add one }

301 Jeff Sandora January 15, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Double-edge safety razors are great. Learn to use one for about a year…preparation, creams, oils, pressures, blade angles, etc. THEN, go buy yourself a bona fide straight razor. If you find you love the DE safety razor shaves, you’ll flip over shaving with a straight! You’ll never shave with another tonsorial implement again.

You’re welcome…in advance.

302 Bob Sawyer January 15, 2014 at 9:38 pm

I’ve been shaving with my dad’s circa late-1960′s Gillette safety razor for several years now. Rather than tubes of cream, I buy a bar of shaving soap and keep it in a large mug. At roughly $4.00 a bar, it last for months. You can find a wide variety of shaving soaps on eBay, or occasionally stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joes, etc. will have some.

303 Cory Kent January 16, 2014 at 6:18 pm

I have trouble with the shaving hurting. I realize I am still using what my family bought me, and what I was taught to use, which is one of those Gillette things with 4 blades and a gliding strip to go across your skin.

But if I am not using a brand new blade, and my whiskers have grown beyond a day’s worth of stubble, the blades catch and pull the hairs, and it really hurts! Does this go away with a double-edged straight blade? Am I the only one who has this problem?

Anyone have any suggestions? :)

304 Global Village Idiot January 18, 2014 at 4:20 pm

Mr. Kent,

The hurting may come from two sources:
1) That 4-blade thingamajig
2) Your whiskers are dry and brittle

As to the first, what the blog post author says of double edge razors is entirely correct. For the longest time I shaved with a Gillette “ATRA” razor which has two blades and that little strip. I’ve since switched to the double-edge razor and won’t look back – the ATRA and the thing you have are a “hardware solution to a software problem.” Good technique works better than mediocre artifacts.

What the author says about saving money is true as well – amazon.com sells razor blades for ridiculously low prices – I just bought a pack of 100 for $10.00 – a dime a blade.

The second arises from the first. The first thing I do in my shaving ritual is fill the sink with the hottest water I can get. I soak a washcloth, wring it out and hold it to my face for about 20 seconds – about as long as it takes to say an “Our Father.” This opens the pores, softens the whiskers and makes for a FAR more comfortable shave. Your face can stand the heat, better in fact than your hands, so don’t skimp on the hot washcloth.

Cheers,
gvi

305 Joel cerminara January 20, 2014 at 5:21 pm

Cory that is a problem of the past with double edge and straight razors. I have been using a Dovo Bergischer Lowe straight razor for just over a year and it takes off two days or two months with the same smooth stroke. Definitely give one of these a try.

306 Geof January 21, 2014 at 12:57 am

For how many daily shaves is one blade typically good for?

307 Vinny January 22, 2014 at 5:17 am

Since converting to safety razor (Mercur), i haven’t looked back. No more hair getting stuck in the 4 blades, doesn’t matter naow how long the stubble is, one swish and it’s gone! washed off the blade easy and no irritation. I’m happy.

308 Carlos January 22, 2014 at 11:54 pm

You can find everything you need at a Mom and Pop Pharmacy. This is great because you can support a locally owned small business!

309 Jay January 25, 2014 at 12:13 pm

I’ve been doing double edge shaving for a couple of years and while you can save money if you want, I’ve spent way more on quality supplies and smell-good stuff. I highly recommend trying this shaving style.

310 Paul O'Sullivan February 6, 2014 at 1:56 am

A friend of mine suggested I try using a straight razor about 3-4 months ago. I always had irritation using the new type razors so grew a beard about 15 years ago. I will always use a straight razor now, my experience has been a revelation and the act of shaving has become a daily ritual I now look forward to. Also for those concerned about these sharp blades, you can opt to have them honed to a finish that you are comfortable using. I bought a 1930s straight razor for $40 off ebay and a friend honed it to 12 thou for me which is perfect…you can honed to 20 and get the edge sharper still with other fancy stuff, but I will wait until I have had a bit more practice

311 Kurt February 8, 2014 at 9:56 am

I’ve been shaving with a old style safety razor for about two years now and wow, the difference is amazing. Even though the up front cost can be higher then a package of cheap disposable razors it quickly becomes cheaper (a bar of shaving soap lasts me a few months, and a big pack of razors will last a year or more).

Some tips in addition to what was presented…. I use a bar of soap in a mug, so I’ve found that it is best to put some very hot water from the sink in the mug with the bar of soap before I get in the shower. This softens up the bar of soap and makes it much easier to create lather.

I’ve also found that rubbing some conditioner in my beard while I shower makes it easier to shave.

It takes a few tries to get the technique down, but once it is the experience is far more enjoyable then shaving ever was before (I used both electric razors and disposable).

312 Howie February 15, 2014 at 10:51 pm

The cost of multi-blade cartridges is almost offensive, which is what led me to this site. I currently shave with a 5-blade unit that has the battery/vibrating contraption. I’d love to get away from this for ALL of the reasons already listed. Here is my concern, I work way too much, have a new daughter that I want to spend as much time with as possible, and currently shave while in the shower. I’ve given up on shaving cream years ago, and use the same soap I wash up with. Time management has never been something I’m good with. So my only hesitation is shaving taking yet more time of my day. I know that some people genuinely enjoy shaving, and find it peaceful, serene, blah blah blah. Thats not me, and never will be. I’m not looking for the “sales pitch”, I’m already here. I’m looking for realistic answers, timing, etc. Is it realistic to shave in the shower with a traditional style safety razor (knowing that I currently shave in the shower with a disposable)? I’m using ordinary soap now to shave, is it reasonable to continue doing so with a safety razor? Lastly, everything I’ve read on here addresses shaving a face. what about general ‘grooming’? I’m a keep it simple type person, but I want to be considerate of my significant other, as I hope she is of me. Currently all of my grooming is done with the same razor, is it practical to do so with a safety razor? Thanks in advance for everyone’s input.

313 SRJ February 18, 2014 at 10:15 am

I’m a woman, but the scene in *The Parent Trap* (the original one) where the dad yells at the mom for dulling his razor blade has stuck so fast in my mind that I’m about to try a red Bakelite screw-opening Merkur doubled-edged safety razor. It’s the only razor on the market still made of Bakelite (It’s brand-new from Amazon.com, but it feels like some of my grandparents’ grooming implements and bracelets/cufflinks, because it’s Bakelite).

It looks like the red granite Doric column supporting the roof of some old municipal building, post office, library, or bank.

Wish me luck!

314 samantha February 22, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Howie, if you’re not having significant problems w/disposables & time is your concern, stick w/those.

Ill put it this way, man-scaping *can* be done w/double/straight edge razors, and it will produce a fabulous shave, but its a time consuming thing to master. my husband will do it if its a special occasion (in his mind), we’re out of disposables, or he’s bored.

He does a lot of ppl w/the str8 edge when he cuts their hair & they all love it, he uses any cream on them. for his own face, well, he uses the rearview mirror, no shaving cream & does it on the highway or in traffic. so while it is possible, its not reccomended and he has spent countless hours practicing his technique. HE ALSO HAS VERY NATURALLY SOFT HAIR.

If you shave in the shower now, chances are you have a mirror & good lighting already. if you want a double edge, do this:
-do w/e you normally do in the shower for 1/3 the time it takes you
-about 1/3 in, take your wife/gf’s HAIR CONDITIONER (something w/silicone & decent moisturizing is key- pantene works great, look for dimethicone or cyclomethicone or cyclopentasiloxane in the ingredients, this helps friction) put that on your beard. leave on a min of 1-2min
-make sure there is still conditioner left before you shave. add more if you need to.

This will work w/cartridges too, and any part of your body but be really careful shaving anywhere else. you don’t want to get startled when your shaving down there w/a double blade so cartridges are your best bet for those places.

Take additional precautions if your hair is really dark or coarse. you’ll need more moisturizers & time. Thank you for being one of the guys who bothers trimming up- your spouse appreciates it, I promise!

315 John Crider March 1, 2014 at 10:21 pm

I changed to a safety razor a little over a year ago. Best decision I ever made. This post had a lot to do with it. Now I just wish I could find the one my Grandfather had before he passed away. Next up, a straight razor…

316 Orin Sampson March 4, 2014 at 9:12 am

Shaved with my new safety razor for the first time yesterday. It truly was a glorious experience. Probably would have never gone this route if I didn’t come across this article. Thanks.

317 David March 4, 2014 at 5:15 pm

As an old an confirmed shaver of some 42 years, I have used a safety razor for most of my life. Moving to any other sort of blade literally does not cut it!
One thing that has not been mentioned is that the strokes you use to move the blade over the skin should be short strokes with the skin held in tension over the surface of the jawline by either the other hand or simply flexing the jaw. This will produce a very satisfying and very clean, smooth cut and best of all no nicks.
To those just discovering the sensation of properly cut skin, enjoy. You will never go back to the complicated, and very unsophisticated multi-blade/gel smoothing/face pampering contraption marketed by some company wanting you to use a new multi-blade device every time you shave. Their only motivation is their company profit.

318 Erica March 5, 2014 at 10:39 am

I run a barber shop in New York and you’d be surprised how many people come in and don’t know about the warm wash cloth on your face before shaving will enhance the pleasure of shaving tri-fold! Also, since we’re talking about side burns… Back in the day sideburns used to look not so professional… But they are starting to come around and women are loving them more and more! I’ve actually created my own blog on how to do your sideburns so they don’t look messy but very professional. Have a great year guys! By the way, keep up the great articles so I can keep learning more and more and sharing what information I know in them as well!

319 dave March 8, 2014 at 11:52 pm

will this cause ingrown hairs. im black and them mostly when i use disposables .

320 JSworth March 10, 2014 at 2:47 pm

I just started using a DE safety razor a week ago today. My wife purchased me one of the ones advertised by the Pawn Stars guy. For what it cost I couldn’t be happier. I get a great shave. Close, no irritation. Best part though is that I’ve gone from having to shave twice a day to having to being able to shave once every other day. Only down side is that she didn’t know to get a brush and shave soap. So I’m still using canned stuff until my order gets here from Amazon. And as for blade life, I use a 3 pass shave (with across against) and have gotten four shaves with one blade so far and it is still cutting rather then pulling.

321 Sweden March 11, 2014 at 10:08 am

Proraso is good product (shaving cream). I’ve been using it quite a while. I just discovered an old Spanish (Catalan) brand thanks to my father. It’s called Floïd.
It’s very good (shaving oil and aftershave), cheap and has long history. What else you need?

322 Chris Meservey March 20, 2014 at 1:49 pm

Ive been at the safety razor technique for a couple of months now and have to say I love it. I use a Merkur Razor and toggle between the Proraso (Green) and the Old Bond Street Sandlewood Creme followed by the appropriately paired balm of the same brand. I defnitely feel I get a better shave after a hot shower and its almost a meditation for me. A reminder to relax and start my day off stress free and unhurried. Since I am new to it, I am still working from a sampler pack of blades I picked up on Amazon. This was some great advice I followed as I have defintiely discovered some blades perform better, last longer, etc. For me, the feather blades seem to work the best with Gillete blades close behind. This is one article every guy should read, and try at least once. Glad I did.

323 Kevin March 24, 2014 at 11:08 pm

Ok, I tried my safety razor for the first time tonight and it was basically disastrous. When I stepped out of the shower it looked like a crime scene. lol. Hopefully I’ll get some tips but after reading this I already see some things that I’ve done wrong.

I tried going with the grain but honestly it didn’t feel like any hair came off at all. I tried passing the razor over the same area multiple times and I couldn’t tell the difference at all. I’m sure part of it was the angle I was holding it at and I think that will get better over time as I learn.

Also, does the type of lather/soap really make a difference? With my cartridge razors I just took a regular bar of soap (Ivory) and lathered up my face as much as I could and went to town.

Finally, the worst thing I could’ve done I guess is I went against the grain. That’s when things finally started feeling smooth but I’m assuming that’s what caused my face lacerations?

My facial hair doesn’t grow very fast but todays was about 2 1/2 days worth.

So other then me not going against the grain anymore….just keep passing it through more than once….what else can I do? Should I try the real shaving cream soap?

Thanks!

324 Mike Fig March 25, 2014 at 8:26 am

Just started with a safety razor. I have a very large adam’s apple, and i slice it pretty good since ive ever been shaving. I was hoping that the safety razor would help. however, last night i still cut my neck at my adam’s apple. Any advice? granted it was my first time with a safety razor. My facial hair grows really fast. So i’m trying to find a way to keep a smooth face, without cutting myself up. Thanks everyone!!

325 joe March 25, 2014 at 1:02 pm

im 47 yrs old and have used a safety razor ever since I first started shaving when I was in my teens. I remember when the el cheapo disposable first came out. I tried it one time and hated the results. I threw it in the trash can and have never bought or used another one, I just don’t like them. the safety DE razor is what I started out using and I see no reason to stop now. my dad used one and my granddad used one and I use one, the only problem I have is you cant find them in the stores no more. the store do have the blades, the cup, the shaving soap and even the brush, but not the razor itself. now where is the logic in that?

326 Joe March 26, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Kevin, just a few things that might help:
1. what type of safety razor are you using? If you are using a butterfly one than ignore, if you are using a 3 piece one like I have make sure the bottom part is in the proper position. If you invert it you are covering up the razor.
2. You need to use a proper shave soap or cream with glycerin. Always use a shave brush, preferably badger hair.
3. Treat beard with warm to hot water or towels. I always wash with a facial scrub pre-shave.
4. consider using a pre-shave oil
5. I recommend 1st. pass with the grain, 2nd. pass across or against the grain. Lather up between passes.
6. Post-shave- witch hazel, an old school after shave like Bay Rum, or a nice after shave balm.

327 Jonathan March 28, 2014 at 9:27 am

Anybody has a good guide on how to straight shave someone else?

thanks

328 Martin April 1, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Ok. So I’ve been considering the switch to a DE for years. My issue is that I also shave my head. Anybody else on here shave their head? What issues do you have?

329 Josh April 2, 2014 at 11:12 am

I just started using a safety razor in December and its now April 2nd and I just today changed out my soap cake. I’m spending literally 1/4 of what I was shaving with a Mach 3 I love it.

330 Lynn April 3, 2014 at 3:03 pm

I am very new to the DE scene (1 week). I had no idea where to find one locally, then happened into a Sally’s Beauty Supply while looking for a hair brush. They had one model of DE razor handle as well as several models of straight razors. I shave in the shower, and it has worked great using the DE. I kept expecting to cut myself up, but so far so good. One thing I have done for years is keep the heads of my razors in a cup of baby oil(mineral oil) between shaves. It keeps air and water off of the blades and extends the life significantly since the blades do not corrode between uses. I don’t have a heavy beard, so I probably get more shaves than many folks because of that, but this tip might extend the life of the blades for those who want to try it. I have heard that the blades get dull more quickly due to corrosion during storage than from the actual shaving. Thanks for the tips everyone!

331 Martin April 7, 2014 at 2:03 am

Luckily you can still buy safety razors in the supermarkets here in Abu Dhabi. But, they are not very high quality brands (e.g. you can buy one generic brand for ~2$) Should I buy one or keep looking for a better one?

332 keen April 16, 2014 at 10:57 am

While I do aspire to wield a safety razor some day (still intimidated – I have found that applying some of the techniques in the article above and others like it w/ modern razors still yield good results. Maybe using a safety/straight razor forces some of these but it seems like I am getting by… anyone have a similar experience?
1. Prep your face and beard well.
2. Go slow
3. Use no more pressure than needed
4. Stay w/ the grain
5. Keep the goal as “beard reduction” not elimination
I even suspect it may be possible to get BETTER results using the above methods in conjunction with some modern razors (blasphemy! I know!) I’d be happy to hear contrary inputs…

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