How To Shave with a Safety Razor

How To Shave with a Safety Razor - He Spoke Style

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Always best to start with a fresh blade. I prefer Feathers.

How To Shave with a Safety Razor - He Spoke Style

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Shave with the grain to start. Go against for the second pass, if you please.

How To Shave with a Safety Razor - He Spoke Style

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A fresh blade is a must.

How To Shave with a Safety Razor - He Spoke Style

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Easy. Easy!

How To Shave with a Safety Razor - He Spoke Style

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Use short strokes. You're not starring in a shaving commercial.

How To Shave with a Safety Razor - He Spoke Style

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Use the comments to chime in with your safety razor shaving tips!

A very good alternate title for this post would be: How do I shave with a safety razor without cutting myself?

The name ‘safety razor‘ is actually pretty oxymoronic. When do you ever see the words ‘safe’ and ‘razor’ used together? Only in this instance. And what happens is that it lulls you into this false sense of security about how easy it will be to shave with one.

For those who remember their first attempt at shaving with a safety razor, it’s probably a bit of a gruesome tale. I definitely went through a bunch of styptic that first time.

However, I think our contributing whiskey/cigar editor, Chris, takes the cake for worst first-go with a safety razor. I clearly remember the photo he texted me. Looked like he’d been mauled by a bear. I don’t think he shaves with one anymore.

Now, there’s no guarantee that your first try with a safety razor will go off without a hitch (or nick), but if you follow these tips, you will drastically increase those odds.

How to shave with a safety razor

1. Prepare your skin properly. Wash, exfoliate and use a good shaving cream or soap. Best to shave right after getting out of the shower, but a hot washcloth on the beard area for a minute or two will do the trick as well.

2. Always use a fresh blade. Now, this may sound like a recipe for cutting yourself but…

3. Let the blade do the work; don’t use excess pressure. This is where 100% of people screw up. Multiblade cartridges have conditioned us to being okay with pushing the blades against our faces. A gentle touch is all you need for the blade to lift and slice the hair.

4. Use short strokes. Forget what you’ve seen in shaving commercials with dudes taking those long, jaw-length strokes with their razors. It’s not the proper way, plus it greatly increases your chances of nicking yourself.

5. Go with the grain. You should already know which direction your beard hair grows – make sure you’re shaving with the grain on the first pass. Note that it may grow in different directions on different parts your face.

6. Re-lather and go against the grain. If you want. I generally forego the second pass, especially when I’ve got to shave a few days in a row. One pass with a fresh blade gets my shave plenty close.

7. Rinse your face with cold water. Use a little styptic, if needed. (I like this liquid version.) And apply an afershave balm.

Have any safety razor shaving tips (or horror stories)? Chime in!

Stylishly Yours,

Brian Sacawa
He Spoke Style

Need some more advice? Check out the Men’s Style Advice section! What’s that, you say? Your question’s not there? Send it in and we’ll get back to you!

Photography by Rob McIver Photo


Chime In

  • Jerry

    Great article for those wanting to try wet shaving. I have used a safety razor for many years. I too prefer the Merker, but also use my grandfathers Gillette razor from the 40’s, as well as a Gillette Fatboy. You are right, it takes a bit of practice at first, but I enjoy my daily ritual of lathering and using a brush and then taking my time with my safety razor. As fast paced as everything is today, it’s nice to enjoy a few moments for yourself and to feel that connection to the past. I know this close shave is worth the few extra minutes and my skin is soft afterwards. Sometimes the old ways are better! Plus it’s very economical as well. No expensive lathers and blades needed for this type of shaving.

    • Brian Sacawa

      Well said, Jerry. It’s the ritual of it that I love as well. Cheers.

  • Tom B

    Great article once again, and great photography! I’ve started shaving with a Merkur about 10 years ago and never looked back. A relaxing ritual, and a super-close shave at a fraction of the price and hassle of the multi-bladed monsters that have taken over the world. For what it’s worth, some tips for anyone getting started:

    -Instead of taking one pass over your face with a three-bladed gizmo, you take 3 passes (lather each time) with one blade. Simple! Just keep the blade at 45 degrees or less angle to your face and let the weight of the razor do the work, don’t force it. My advice – start with Derby Blades, then maybe Merkurs. Don’t use Feather Blades until you are an expert, they are ultra-insane sharp. That being said, they are The Best. You’ll know when you are ready.

    -A heavier handle is better.

    -If the blade starts pulling (you feel resistance) then replace it. Blades are cheap. OK, if you are really in a pinch, flip it over, you’ll get another shave out of it.

    -Invest in a good badger brush, and store it hanging upside down (you can make a stand out of coathanger if you want). I like ProRaso (Bigelow) shaving cream out of a tube, but anything that lathers will do (see my next point). A bar of soap, if you have to. The advantage of shaving cream is that you can dole out as much or as little as you want (changes the density of the foam). Also, although a nice shaving mug is great fun (I have a handmade pottery one, fitted to my hand by a local potter), you can work up a lather by just putting a pinch of cream into your very wet brush and then lathering against your face. A pro tip (from A-G, see below), pinch the bottom of the bristles when you hold your brush, it fans them out and stiffens the brush. Do it both for lathering and then spreading foam on your face.

    -You lubricate your face with WATER, the blade glides over a layer of water. Everything else – premoisturizers, foam, etc – is to hold the water close onto your face. Don’t believe me? splash some water on your face and take a small swipe with the blade. You’ll see it’s the same as shaving with foam. Not that you want to shave with just water (although you can in a pinch), but the secret to wet shaving is water (doh!). And plenty of it… Keep that brush wet, you want a wet foam. Don’t have pre-moisturizer? Rub some water on your face. Best time to shave? Straight out of the shower. Basically, for any problems, just add more water!

    -Witch-Hazel. Right after shaving and rising (more water!), clean your face and close your pores with witch-hazel, the ordinary stuff from the drugstore. Unscented or Lavender. Then, if you want, rub on an after-shave BALM of your choice. Maintain moisture. Cologne, etc is for fragrance, not after-shave care.

    -There are plenty of videos online and websites about technique, do some research. There are lots of advanced techniques (J-hook?) but keep it simple and you’ll do fine.

    -Two words, at risk of giving out free advertising on Brian’s site: Aidan Gill. Look them up. Call them.

    All the best, thank you Brian for the article!


    • Brian Sacawa

      Thanks, as always, Tom! Great comment and great tips.

      • Tom B

        Thanks for letting me put in a word for A-G. I don’t work for them, just love them – a real (not gimmicky) old-school men’s grooming shop. Hope you get a chance to visit them next time in New Orleans. (Danger! They are across the street from Goorin Bros.. hold onto your credit card).

        • Brian Sacawa

          Danger indeed! Old-school and non-gimmicky always works for me. I will certainly make time for that next time I’m in New Orleans!

  • Chris Sarangoulis

    Haha, I remember that pic! I still shave with a safety razor when my beard is really thick. I like to rub some shaving oil on my face before I lather up to help with the task. That really helps to get the whiskers soft and keep the blade slicing efficient.

    Chris Sarangoulis

    • Brian Sacawa

      You still have it? That was pretty gruesome.

      • Chris Sarangoulis

        here you go!

        • Brian Sacawa

          That’s an image I’ll never get out of my head…

        • Dan Goldstein

          Looks like you’re on your way to a great Halloween make-up!

        • JohnnyB

          Oh god. HAHA!
          Just had my first DE shave thismorning. No blood, but not very close either.
          Now you’re freakin’ me out! Ha.

        • Juan Carrillo

          Try using a glycerin based shaving soap, and a smoother blade, i recommended Wilkinson Sword by Gillette

  • Dan Goldstein

    some more tips to add to the above: You can use the same blade for several shaves or until it starts to tug on the hair. Also, you’ll want to achieve a 20-30% angle of the blade to your skin. Using a good mirror and shaving for several days, you’ll eventually develop a second nature for how best to angle the blade/razor to your skin to cut effectively without causing skin irritation or cuts.

    Make sure to do thorough prep. This can involve showering, scrub your facial hair with a wash cloth to exfoliate and moisten the hairs. You can also do a thorough face lather and use lots of water. Shaving soap and creams can take more water than you think. Use as much as you can just before it start to get runny. You’re goal is the keep the skin and hairs moist. This helps the razor glide over the skin and more easily cut the hairs. Experiment with how much water your shave soap/cream can handle and get a feel for it. This will help you cut down shaving time going forward.

    After you’re done shaving, thoroughly rinse your skin with cold water. Any residual shave cream/soap can irritate your skin. Use a good toner or aftershave balm to calm to skin. Let your face dry, and then use a quality face moisturizer (Keihl’s Facial Fuel or equivalent).

    Make sure to clean your brush, razor handle and blade after each use. Don’t leave the razor blade in the handle. Take it out, carefully run it under water and then dab it dry with a towel or paper towel and put it in safe place.

    Once you’ve mastered a safety razor, you could start looking at straight/kamisori razors if you really want to go old school. Many say the straights give a more smooth shave. The downside is you need to have a strop to maintain the blade, and if you don’t befriend someone with a set of hones to touch them up every couple of months (they’re not that expensive, but it’s got a learning curve), then you’ll need hones and have to learn how to sharpen your own razors. The upside to all this is that a set of 2 straights could last you a lifetime and that of your next of kin if they’re well kept. No more $15-$30ea. packs of blades every couple of weeks :)

    • Brian Sacawa

      Great tips, Dan. Thanks so much for adding to the conversation! Good point about reusing blades a couple of times.

      A word on toner… I think it’s important to know your skin. I was encouraged to add a toner into my skin care routine, but had to stop using it since it was a little too much for my skin to take. I was using Baxter of California’s Herbal Mint Toner, so a quality product.

      I’ve dabble in straight razor shaving myself and have a beautiful Dovo silver steel blade. It’s not something I’ve really felt I’ve gotten the hang of or even in some kind of a groove with. A much steeper learning curve than a safety razor, though I’d like to get to the point where I can use the straight razor with the same ease as my safety razor.

      • Dan Goldstein

        Glad to contribute some words.

        On blades, I bought a sampler blade pack from West Coast Shaving (no affiliation) containing 150 blades of various brands for $30. I shave a few times a week and still have a few sets of blades left. I bought the sample pack in 2009! :)

        Like you say, knowing your skin is key! I used to use Nivea Sensitive shave balm. I thought it was the greatest thing since sliced cheese, but I had terrible razor burn issues for years. I started to break down my process after adapting to safety razors. I analysed my blades (figured out what brands/types I liked from that massive blade sampler I bought), what creams/soaps I used, how much water, hot water/cold water, and played with lots of combinations. After a lot of experimentation, I was still getting a bit of burn.

        So, one day my wife and I finally made a trip to the Keihl’s flagship store in NYC and I got a consultation. They suggested I try their toner. I did, and it cleared up 90% of my razor burn issues! It was like magic!

        They key for me was using a toner that didn’t have any alcohol in it. The alky is very harsh on most skin, dries it out and can inflame any irritation – not really what we’re going for here. So, if you’re curious about giving toner another chance, look for ones with no alky in them.

        I still think there is room for more tweaking in my routine, but everyone’s skin and hairs are different and react to shaving methods and the concoctions differently – hopefully without melting one’s face off in the process.

        I was really keen on straights a few years ago. I even picked up some, restored some antique store finds, but like you, just never really got into it. I just haven’t made the time to commit. I’m mentally trying to get over that hump just to give them a fair shot. I’ll start by getting a good strop (Illinois 827, Tony Miller Plain Vanilla 2.5″ or 3″ or Whipped Dog Straights Rich Man’s strop) and go for it. There are several great forums (badgerandblade, straightrazorplace) for inspiration and assistance from experienced folks. Lots of people (on there) write shave blogs about their trials and tribulations.

        • Brian Sacawa

          I was going to run and check out which strop I have but I just remembered that it’s packed away somewhere in my storage unit. Like you, I just need to make time to commit to the straight razor. I’ve done a couple trials in the past with mixed results. I’d love to get a lesson from someone who’s experienced with a straight razor. Hey, there’s an idea!

          • Dan Goldstein

            Great idea!

            Maybe someone at Barbiere, Freemans Sporting Club, The Hustle, Vincent’s, Barber on Pearl, Frank’s Chop Shop, Bedford Barbers, Paul Mole’, Tomcats or the like may be able to help you with that.

          • Brian Sacawa

            Will keep my ear to the ground. Thanks for the recs and for reading! Cheers!

  • Alexander

    Not bad but it’s painfully condescending lol. I’ve used both grandpas safety razor and space age octo blades, even if you only know of shaving by reading the back of the package, the idea of not dragging the edge sideways quickly becomes intuitive.