Alexander the Great told his soldiers to be clean shaven so that the enemy couldn’t pull on their beards in battle. And how did ol’ Alex and his boys do it? With a straight razor. You’ve seen the straight razor in your barbershop, and you’ve felt your barber use it on the back of your neck. Now you’re ready to give it a try — on your face. Straight shaving isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s not out of your reach, and it’s a cool way to clean up. So set aside a little extra time in the morning and have a styptic pencil on standby.
1 Prep your blade. Make sure that your razor is properly honed and stropped. If you don’t know what those terms mean, then ask your barber; he’ll show you. A dull blade won’t cut your hair, but chances are good that it will cut you. You want your blade surgically sharp and free of burrs.
2 Prep your face. The best time for a straight shave (or any shave for that matter) is right after a hot shower. Never shave a cold face. Don’t have time for a shower? Run a towel under the hottest water you can stand, wring it out and wrap it around your face for five minutes. Once your whiskers are warm and docile, apply a pre-shave oil. This will allow the blade to glide over your skin more smoothly, cutting your hair without cutting your face.
Oh man, that kinda hurt. Where’s that styptic pencil thing? (Wonder what styptic means? Sounds like cryptic. Intentional?) Ouch. OK, how bad am I actually cut? Somewhere between stuck pig and quit-your-bitching. Well short of Old-Faithful-on-a-good-day, and decidedly far from the elevator scene in The Shining. Nice. Let’s hit this sucker with some water to wash away the blood. Bye, blood. Now, just dip the end of the pencil in some water, then press it to the cut…
3 Lather up. If you use an aerosol shaving cream and have no intention of switching, stop reading this; you’re not ready. The quality of your lather will absolutely make or break your shave. Notice we said quality, not quantity. You don’t need a lot of lather on your face; you need a rich, dense, full lather that will get under the hair enough to lift it off of your face. Get a real shaving cream like this. Put some cream on your fingers, add some hot water, and start working it into your face. Want to lather up like a pro? Use a badger-hair shaving brush that you’ve soaked in hot water. Get an even coating on your face, then put the brush down. You don’t need to spend ten minutes getting the cream perfectly plumb. You’re about to shave it off.
4 Shave. Open the razor into an “L” shape and hold it with the blade going upward and the handle going away from your palm (for right-handers, this should be a backwards “L”, to be exact). Place your pointer, middle and ring fingers on the “spine”, or the back of the blade. Place your thumb on the other side of the steel, on the “shank” below the blade itself. Your pinkie should rest below the handle, on the on the “tang” or protruding bit that sticks through the handle. (This picture from our friends at Art of Manliness helps.) Use your free hand to pull your skin down tightly while you shave with the grain. Take short strokes with the blade at a thirty-degree angle from your face, and whatever you do, don’t plant the blade — meaning don’t let it sit still on your face. When the blade is touching you, keep it moving. Let the blade sit, and it will cut you (we know, we’ve done it). Don’t try to go down over your chin: it’s round, and the blade is straight. Instead, go across your chin. Go down your neck, but go around your Adam’s apple, pulling the skin over top of it to one side or the other to get the hair off. If you want to go straight over your adam’s apple, then have your wife preemptively dial 911 and give her this script to read: “My husband just severed his larynx.” Once you’re finished, you could lather up again and take a second pass across or against the grain, but if you’re just starting, then leave that to the vets and just be happy you survived this.
5 Post shave. Splash cold water onto your face. When we say cold, we don’t mean tepid: we mean cold. Pat dry with a towel and inspect for any nicks or cuts. If you cut yourself, reenact the above sidebar. Use a cotton ball to apply a light toner and then immediately pat on some moisturizing after shave. Don’t rub it on, pat it on; your skin is sensitive enough right now. Let your wife kiss you on your smooth-as-hell cheek, and then go to battle like Alexander the Great.