Topics related to traditional wet shaving, which is ecologically friendly (very little waste to discard), less expensive than using canned foam and multi-bladed throw-away cartridges and razors, and a fun and interesting way to turn shaving from a chore into a pleasurable daily ritual.
One wise reader suggested that bloggers like me try things and write about them so that readers may not have to. So this begs the question about my on-going experiment with the Parker SRX barbers' straight razor: did I save you time and trouble?
The Parker SRX replaceable-blade straight razor. Hefty, high quality, and nice looking.
Clearly I don't know about you, but I do know about my feelings regarding my little experiment. Although there came a point early that I thought I was nuts for going along this path of using a no-safety razor, actually I am glad that I gave it a try.
The most important thing I've learned about a straight razor to this point is the truth that angle (not size ;-) matters. The low blade-to-skin angle available with a straight razor -- lower than the common ~30-degree angle of a DE razor -- does offer a skin-friendly-shave opportunity. The only impediment to that skin-friendly shave is one's skill with the razor: having the appropriate light touch combined with the ability to keep razor against skin consistently to remove all whiskers.
I have developed the light touch, and am much more at home in using it. I actually enjoy using my Parker SRX, and on those days when I leave it in the drawer, I do so with a pang of regret. However, I've slowed down my learning time table, and am in no hurry to achieve a baby-smooth result using the straight alone. This is because to rush the skill acquisition is counter productive.
In this situation, slow and steady wins the race -- just like the tortoise and the hare. Impatience and rushing will yield skin insult and frustration. Patience over time will produce results.
So if you're tempted to give a barbers' straight razor a whirl, I say go for it. Just do so with the proper attitude, which is that this isn't an over-night process. Enjoy the gradual learning curve. Have a light touch. Shave mindfully and happily. Don't over reach.
The oblique stroke might also be called a skewed stroke. In DE shaving circles it is commonly called the Gillette slide. The Gillette slide is often thought of as a shaving technique for the advanced, more experienced shaver. However these days I don't believe one needs be particularly advanced or experienced to put the oblique-stroking technique to work.
First, the Gillette Slide with a DE
The frequent misunderstanding that seems to be causing the difficulty may be traced back to the early Gillette drawings that show the oblique stroke, the so-called Gillette slide, with the DE-razor edge parallel to the floor and the stroke direction being diagonal across the cheek. This has led generations of men to try to make a rather slicing stroke, which in fact is difficult to do. The difficulty comes from a backwards approach to the oblique stroke. By trying to emulate the Gillette drawing, with its diagonal, cross-cheek stroke direction and blade edge oriented parallel to the floor, this turns a simple technique into something more difficult and down-right dangerous.
The simple and safe mind set to using the oblique shaving stroke is to decide what direction you are going to stroke the razor. For example, in a first-pass stroke on the cheek, the with-grain stroke direction would commonly be vertical -- straight downward. Fine. So to make this stroke with oblique-stroking technique, instead of having your DE razor oriented with blade edge horizontal (that is, perpendicular to the vertical stroke direction and thereby parallel to the floor), angle the razor head slightly so that the edge orientation is off-perpendicular to the stroke direction. Then simply stroke downward!
It's all about how one conceives of the stroke. Instead of trying to stroke the razor so that the razor motion causes a slicing effect on the beard, it's much simpler (and safer) to make your usual stroke motion but with the razor's edge slightly askew. Ultimately either approach aims to get the same result, but trying to slice one's way to a Gillette slide may be hazardous to one's health. Simply turning the razor slightly and making a normal stroke in the usual directions is easy peasy.
Oblique Strokes with a Straight
Old barbers' manuals on how to shave with a straight razor also advise using oblique strokes; this idea didn't likely originate with Gillette. I have run across this more than once in my leisurely perusal of such documents over the years.
Oblique strokes with a straight razor aren't difficult or dangerous either. Again, it's all about how you conceive of their execution. For example, when making with a straight razor the same with-grain, vertical stroke on the cheek (as discussed above in the context of using a DE), instead of stroking downward with the razor edge parallel to the floor, simply angle the razor slightly such that the heel of the blade leads in the stroke just a bit. It's really easy and very effective as well.
In other areas of the face and neck it may be simpler to orient the razor such that the toe of the blade leads in the stroke. In either case, the whole key to safe, effective oblique strokes lies in stroking the razor in the direction easiest and most appropriate. Simply fix the razor angle so it's slightly off perpendicular to to the stroke direction. Strangely enough, this is much more easily done than setting the blade perpendicular to the direction in which you would like to stroke, but then actually stroking on a diagonal to that desired stroke direction. Mechanically the desired outcome is the same, but more easily done with the recommended mind set.
Even with a new blade in my Parker SRX shavette, I have noticed a huge difference in the ease of safe stroking when I apply this oblique-stroke advice. The resistance to the blade is noticeably reduced when using oblique strokes, and especially with a straight razor, lower-resistance strokes mean safer strokes.
A shavette is a straight razor -- just a straight with a replaceable blade, not an old-school traditional straight razor that needs to be honed and stropped.
Much is made of the huge differences between "true" straight razors and shavettes. In reality -- though there are clear differences -- they are often exaggerated, overblown by reactionary traditionalists, straight-razor snobs and those who actually don't know what they're talking about.
The major differences between a shavette (in particular, those that use half-DE blades) and traditional straight razors are as follows:
The weight and balance may be different. Shavettes are generally lighter, although many such as my Parker SRX are made of substantial stainless steel throughout including the scales, and therefore may have a weight more like a traditional straight -- though the balance may be different because more of the razor weight of the SRX is in the scales.
The cutting edge is shorter in a shavette and longer in a traditional straight.
The cutting edge is generally sharper in a shavette due to the sharpness of a DE blade, and therefore, the shavette may be more "tricky," more tempermental to use -- meaning they may be more likely to nip and cut.
So the reality is that a shavette may have a bit longer learning curve due primarily to the sharpness of the edge.
The other differences can be accommodated by slight adjustments in the user's technique and "feel" for a given instrument. However, none of these differences should be an insurmountable problem because, after all, barbers use shavettes regularly without any difficulty.
I would suggest that for many, using a shavette is more of a mental hurdle to overcome rather than a purely physical one. That is not to say, however, that traditional straight razors and shavettes are directly interchangeable without some adjustment.
For example, the weight balance of shavettes like my SRX may be accommodated by keeping the scales more in line with the shank of the razor when in use. Many straight-shaving demonstrators suggest a grip of two fingers on either side of the scales, and keeping the scales at about a 90-degree angle to the shank of the razor. This may work when most of razor weight is in the blade and not in the scales, but for those razors with heavy scales, the shank-scale angle may be better at a more obtuse angle such as 135 degrees. The grip to achieve that is more easily done with three fingers on the shank side of the scales and just a pinky on the tang. Incidentally, this seems to be the grip that barbers (the real pros) tend to use more often than not. It seems that the amateurs are the ones that seem to more often favor the two-fingers-on-each-side-of-the-scales grip.
A second physical adjustment I might suggest is corking a new half-DE blade when initially inserted in the shavette. The amounts to literally drawing the edge of the blade through cork -- literally cutting into it. This corking process can consist of one or more cuts -- the number depending on the sharpness of the new blade and one's tolerance of or requirement for that sharpness.
Another suggestion has been to dull the edge ends (that is, the corners) of the half-DE blade -- both the toe and the heel of the edge. That way the user is less likely to catch the corner of the blade on skin and thereby cause an injury.
Other than those differences and accommodations, the differences in using a shavette as compared to a traditional straight razor are small and subtle.