Monday, July 27, 2015

Grandad's Tips: Shaving Technique

Holding the Razor

Of course there's no law about how to hold a razor, and to each his own. However, you don't see a surgeon ever hold a scalpel like she's about to gut a deer, and there's a reason for that. Surgeons hold their cutting implements in the tips of their digits (that is, fingers and thumb) to have an appropriately light touch with the essential control. I recommend that anyone using a double-edged razor do the same. I even wrote an article about how to hold a DE razor. Check it out.

Pressure on Face

Light pressure is the way, the light, and the truth. If one has been shaving with a multi-bladed cartridge razor, which allows the user to press pretty hard with impunity, he may think when he's doing his first DE shaves that he's using no pressure, but actually may still be using too much. Also, if one starts DE shaving with a very mild razor that has a negative blade exposure (meaning the blade edge is within the protective cove of the top cap and safety bar/guard), this too may encourage using more pressure of razor against face than necessary.

That said, I don't care for the common expression of let the weight of the razor do the work. After all, technically speaking, weight is dependent on gravity, and since we shave surfaces that are mostly vertical, the weight of the razor may cause the implement to drop, but has little to do with pressure on the face. It might be more accurate to say let the mass of the razor do the work, but this isn't entirely helpful either. After all, I've used some very light razors that shave just fine.

I would leave it this way: use just enough pressure of razor against face to ensure that the razor stays in contact with the face and isn't skipping and bounding over stubble. Rely on additional passes, not additional pressure to get a closer shave.


There are two basic types of DE shaving strokes, direct and oblique. A direct stroke is where the direction of the stroke is perpendicular to the blade edge. An oblique stroke is where the the stroke direction is slightly askew in relation to the blade edge; that is, the blade edge is not quite perpendicular to the direction of the stroke. One should be aware of this difference and not mindlessly make oblique strokes while assuming that they are direct strokes. Direct strokes are less likely to bite -- all other things equal. Oblique strokes, however, can slightly  increase the aggressiveness of a given razor (except slant-bar razors), and can slightly increase the effective sharpness of a blade.

For more information about direct and oblique strokes, review my article that I dedicated to this subject.

Advanced strokes include buffing and J-hooking. I suggest doing an Internet search for videos on these techniques. I don't often use J-hooking, but I routinely use buffing strokes against the grain on my cheeks during my second, final pass. I can to this because my razors are relatively unaggressive and my cheeks are rather flat.

Number of Passes per Shave

I admit that what got me hooked on DE shaving was the closeness of the shave after multiple passes. This approach of valuing closeness over comfort often left my face smooth, but irritated and often wounded. I would take three and sometimes four passes.

If I were to do it all over again knowing what I know now, I might instead start with two-pass, with-grain-then-across-grain shaves. They would look acceptable and be fairly close. But importantly, they would also be not terribly abusive; they would be reasonably low risk. When I could do that consistently with no wounds or irritation, I would move on to three-pass shaves or experiment with two-pass shaves that are against grain on the second pass, which, of course, I currently do on early work days or when otherwise short of time.

Happy shaving!


  1. As I lurked around straight razor sites, getting perspective on the problem of newspaper-stropping my Lord blades, "scything" strokes came to my attention. Seems like "j-hooking" is just another case of modern men misinterpreting the cave drawings.

  2. +1 on the Two pass shave, game changer for me :)